Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.
1) Kobe Bryant wins an Oscar for “Dear Basketball” animated short. Kobe Bryant may be the tallest Oscar winner ever. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences doesn’t keep that stat, but the tallest best actor ever is John Wayne/Gary Cooper/Jimmy Stewart at 6’3,” and Kobe has three inches on any of them. Pretty sure Shaq didn’t win an Oscar for “Kazaam.” Maybe some “Best Live Action Documentary” producer was once taller, but it seems unlikely.
Kobe’s retirement announcement was turned into a well-done animated short, part of the transition for Kobe from basketball player to “storyteller.” He’s produced two stories — both good, and both about himself. First was the “Muse” documentary, and then the animated short “Dear Basketball” with Disney animation legend Glen Keane and a score from another legend, composer John Williams. It works, check it out.
It’s a notable juxtaposition that Kobe — a man who had a high-profile rape trial — is celebrated in an Oscars where the #metoo movement and changes in Hollywood were also celebrated. That incident is part of Kobe’s legacy. While Bryant himself seems to have matured in his views since that time — his apology letter to the victim after the trial/settlement was surprisingly forthright — the fact his legal team ran a blame-the-victim, scorched earth policy in this case (which was eventually dismissed because she stopped cooperating with prosecutors) was a setback for rape victims everywhere that cannot be ignored.
We’ll see what stories Kobe goes on to tell that aren’t about him ( for example, LeBron James’ production company has produced “The Wall” for NBC, “Do or Dare” for Facebook Watch, some other stuff like a brilliant Long Beach Poly High documentary, and a couple of misses like “The LeBrons” with more stuff including Space Jam 2 on the way). But Kobe, whatever he does in Los Angeles, just finds ways to win.
2) Key playoff chase games in East: Bucks come from behind to beat 76ers, Pacers knock off Wizards. In the East, the playoff teams seem pretty much set — the ninth-seed Pistons are four games behind Miami, ground Detroit is not likely to make up having lost five-of-six (Charlotte showed some hope with a five-game win streak but then hit a tough part of the schedule, have lost three in a row, and are 5.5 games out of the playoffs).
What is not set in the East is the playoff seedings — 3.5 games separate Cleveland in third and the Heat in eighth. It’s a matter of how tough the path through the postseason will be for teams, and what matters most in these seedings is games between playoff teams, and we had two of them Sunday.
The Sixers were getting brilliant play from Joel Embiid (19 points, 8 rebounds), Dario Saric (25 points), and Ben Simmons (15 assists), but they didn’t play well as a unit on offense. Defensively, they joined the long list of teams that had no answer for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who scored 35 (with nine rebounds and seven assists ) and led a 21-0 third-quarter run that made it a game and helped get the Bucks a key 118-110 win. The win moves Milwaukee (the current seventh seed) within half a game of the Sixers in the standings.
The other key game saw a potential first-round matchup where Indiana held off a late charge from Washington to get the 98-95 win — one that vaulted the Pacers to the four seed and has them just half a game back of the Cavaliers for third. Washington is currently the five seed. Indiana had staked out a big lead behind 33 points from Victor Oladipo, but Washington raced back and at the end a clearly gassed Bradley Beal and three good looks to either take the lead or tie the game at points, and just missed them all.
3) Tankapaloza game updates: Hawks beat Suns while Kings knock-off Knicks. If we’re going to talk playoff races, the most interesting and most contested may be the one to the bottom — three games separate the bottom eight teams in the league as they jockey for the best draft lottery odds. And that’s not counting the Knicks, who are five-games from the worst record but in a Kristaps Porzingis-less free fall. (That is not to say the players/coaches are actively trying to lose games, but these teams are playing youth, using odd lineup choices, and doing what they can to facilitate better lottery odds.)
Like the playoff chase, the games that matter most are the ones between tanking teams — because someone has to win — and we had two of those: The Hawks beat the Suns in just an ugly game of basketball, and the Kings knocked off the Knicks at home.
Here’s what you need to know about the Suns/Hawks game: there were 18 combined turnovers in the first 19 minutes. That sums up the quality of the game. There was also a scuffle, shoving, and ejections late, then a Taurean Prince game-winning three to give the Hawks a 113-112 win.
As for the Kings, their young players got a win on a Skal Labissiere three with less than two seconds to go (which Knicks fans saw as a win for their lottery odds hopes).