Exclusive Behind-the-Scenes Look at Kobe Bryant’s Road Trip into NBA History

NBA Senior Writer Kevin Ding followed the Los Angeles Lakers on their three-game trip to San Antonio, Minnesota and Indiana for three very different results.

Here’s a peek at what happened on and off the court during the trip…

SAN ANTONIO

It’s Friday night, and video crews from NBA Entertainment, the Lakers’ Time Warner Cable SportsNet network and Showtime (filming Kobe Bryant‘s “Muse” documentary) are all jamming into the Lakers’ training room.

The small area is set aside for player medical treatment and maintenance. It’s adjacent to the regular locker room, and the door usually stays closed for privacy. In some older arenas without proper training rooms, Lakers trainer Gary Vitti will settle for curtains or partitions—and when he really has nothing to work with, he’ll even create makeshift separation by sticking lines of athletic tape on the carpet to convey to folks like us in the media to keep out.

But in special cases for special people, such as team photographers or league-sanctioned personnel (or Bryant’s celebrity acquaintances such as Barry Bonds back in the day or Novak Djokovic more recently), access is allowed.

On this night, Bryant is threatening to pass Michael Jordan for third on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. With 30 points separating them, all the directors and producers need poetic calm-before-the-storm footage if Kobe passes Michael against the Spurs.

The footage they collect in the training room?

Kobe cutting his fingernails.

Whether he leaves a hangnail or doesn’t file well, he shoots poorly—but his teammates are brilliant. And the Spurs are “pitiful,” as Gregg Popovich puts it later, besides resting Kawhi Leonard’s sore hand.

Does the Lakers’ sharpness have something to do with Bryant scrimmaging hard and talking trash in practice the day before? Of course. Is it Bryant’s specific design? Not really, but generally speaking he is very willing to put stress on a situation to test it.

In this case, his teammates also know there is plenty of focus on them in an ESPN game against the NBA champions with Bryant nearing Jordan. And they are on point.

It turns into the Lakers’ best game of a depressing season. They win in overtime not on a Bryant shot, but on a Nick Young three. It was Young who actually initiated all the jaw-jacking with Bryant the day before—although Young’s bench unit lost the scrimmage to Bryant’s starters.

And same as in the 2013-14 season finale, which the Lakers also won in San Antonio after Bryant had ditched the dead-end team to celebrate his wedding anniversary in Paris, Young is the straw that stirs a bad drink into something surprisingly refreshing.

Young is honest in the locker room afterward about his approach to this game: He was ready to maximize his chances because he figured his idol Kobe would be taking a really big windup to blow a fastball by Michael.   

“No offense to Kobe,” Young says chirpily, looking back. “I didn’t think I was gonna get the ball that much!”

Young’s uninhibited joy fills the locker room as he brings teammates into his interviews with reporters. And yes, the swag is real: Young steals Bryant’s spotlight and struts all over it.

“Let him have a day off,” Young says of Bryant. “‘Take a break, little man. You kinda tired.’ “

 

MINNEAPOLIS

Young’s big shot leads Byron Scott to give the team the day off Saturday. The Lakers had been scheduled to stay over to practice in San Antonio instead of going ahead with a late-night postgame flight to the next city, as is customary. Scott either loves Tex-Mex food or hates the cold.

Practice would’ve been at a local San Antonio rec center the Lakers have used before. Practices in public places on the road—often the home team’s practice court is unavailable or not in close proximity—are some of the more curious days in an NBA season.

Particularly when the Lakers were on top of the basketball world, they were like rock stars descending on health clubs or small college gyms. (Check out, for example, the reactions of some students spying on Lakers practice in 2010 at Boston‘s Emerson College—and gawking at Andrew Bynum, saying: “He’s so tall! Look at that. He’s so tall.”)

Even now that they’re close to the bottom of the standings, the Lakers remain relevant largely because of Bryant.

The Lakers’ longtime brand matters, of course, but Bryant’s stature today matters more. With him on the team, they haven’t had to know the feeling of trivial games in dead arenas. Put simply, they knew better than anyone in the marketplace what they were buying when they sent that much talked-about two-year, $48.5 million contract offer to Bryant.

It’s Sunday night, and the 7-16 Lakers versus the 5-17 Timberwolves might otherwise feel like Kings-Jazz or Bucks-Pistons—but Bryant is here and set to do something special.

The Timberwolves drew 10,337 Wednesday night against then-17-4 Portland. They drew 13,557 Friday night for Oklahoma City with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

They draw 15,008 Sunday night against the Lakers.

Bryant’s Jordan-passing second-quarter free throws may not have been as dramatic to certain fans as watching second-year 6’11″ T-wolves center Gorgui Dieng come off the court just before introductions to use the public restroom slightly closer than the locker room, but watching Bryant pass Jordan on the all-time scoring list resonates in a meaningful way. Even veteran players who have reason to be a little jaded about December regular-season basketball bask in it.

Lakers guard Ronnie Price, who is with his sixth different team in his 10th year in the league, captured the feeling after:

“I’m used to watching these moments when I was a kid, watching NBA Classics, seeing all of the great things that all of the guys did ahead of us. Now to be actually on the court and affiliated with one of those moments is something that I’ll never forget. It’s something me and my family—my kids and my kids’ kids—can enjoy. To be a part of his history, to be a part of NBA history, is kind of a goose-bump feeling.”

Price has four steals to help the cause, but it’s Bryant this time who cuts in front of Young on a broken play to get the ball and hit a tie-breaking three-pointer with 1:02 left. The Lakers win again.

The NBA Entertainment video crew, which resorted to interviewing me about Bryant and Jordan pregame in lieu of Bryant toenail footage, gets to head home with the torch passed and Bryant’s postgame press conference a veritable retrospective on his career.

Yet in the same way that the best wedding photos are the private, almost stolen moments rather than the staged and smiled creations, the realest reality TV moment of Bryant’s big night is captured by Lakers new media manager Ty Nowell (who later brings fans onto the team plane via his Vine of the flight attendants presenting a smiling Bryant with a congratulations cake).

Nowell’s Vine of Bryant right after the final horn ends with a candid moment, right before Bryant goes on camera for his postgame interview with TWC SportsNet sideline reporter Mike Trudell. Bryant looks Trudell up and down, nods and tells him just like a regular bro: “Nice suit.”

It’s that little stuff that usually happens on the real-life road…when no one is chasing the ghost of Jordan.

 

INDIANAPOLIS

No one can peek into Vitti’s training room before the Lakers look to extend a rare winning streak Monday night, even though the double doors have small glass windows. There is paper taped up over the glass.

But after Bryant exorcised the ghost of Jordan the previous night, almost no one is trying to look in and see how Bryant is getting his heavy-mileage body ready for a third game in four nights.

It’s the same training room where Vitti got Bryant’s severely sprained left ankle ready for his first virtuoso NBA Finals act: winning Game 4 over Reggie Miller’s Pacers en route to Bryant’s first championship in 2000.

Fourteen years later, Bryant isn’t injured, but his body sure doesn’t bounce back in the way it did then. He misses nine of his first 10 shots, often short, and his teammates aren’t much better.

The Lakers miss an astounding 36 of 41 shots to start the game (12.1 percent shooting) and fall behind, 60-21. This time, it’s the Pacers who are on point as they try to snap an eight-game losing streak. And as this game will show, the course of an NBA game often comes down simply to one team trying a lot harder than the other.

Bryant gives all the folks in No. 24 Lakers jerseys on hand a little excitement in the third quarter by pushing his body into any and all activity. He junks up the game with manic, wild energy at both ends. He gets a couple of steals. He throws down a shocking dunk. He takes some bad shots and bad fouls. But he gets the team to make plays and gain a little ground.

Bryant scores 14 points in the quarter and crashes into the scorer’s table trying to reach a loose ball in the final second. Then he sits out the fourth quarter of Indiana’s 110-91 victory, leaving his shooting line at an atrocious 8 of 26. Postgame, he is not dismayed.

After this trip began with all that talk about Bryant using practice to carry a theme over to the game, he is using a game to carry a theme over to the next practice.

“In the second half, we learned a lot,” he says. “We learned what it feels like to play that hard on defense. You have to get after it. It helps to know what that feels like.”

Three days after the Lakers’ best victory, one day after he makes history, Bryant’s team is humiliated. Still, he offers the same prognosis after each game:

Progress was made.

And he’s happy to be heading home. The Lakers don’t play again till Friday.

“That time off,” he says, “will be much, much appreciated.”

 

Kevin Ding is an NBA senior writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, @KevinDing.

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LeBron James and Kevin Durant Will Race Each Other to NBA Scoring History

As soon as Kevin Durant hits either one triple, multiple two-pointers or some combination of shots from the field and attempts at the charity stripe, he’ll become the second-youngest player to 15,000 career points in NBA history. Entering Tuesday night’s contest against the Sacramento Kings, he’s sitting pretty at 14,997, so it’s a fairly safe bet he’ll gain entry to that club at 26 years, 78 days. 

The quickest to the mark? LeBron James, of course.

James reached the milestone at 25 years, 79 days, and he did it in his 540th game,” the Associated Press reported, via NBA.com, back in March of 2010. “[Kobe] Bryant [the previous record holder] was 27 years, 136 days and playing his 657th game, according to STATS LLC, when he did it for the Los Angeles Lakers.”

But here’s the fun part. 

James has an advantage in the youth department, as he entered the NBA straight out of high school, bypassing the ranks of collegiate basketball so that he could join the Cleveland Cavaliers and get his professional career off to an early start. Durant did no such thing, playing for the Texas Longhorns and declaring for the draft after his freshman season in Austin. 

So while Durant comes up right in between James and Kobe Bryant, trailing the former by a full year and coming in ahead of Bryant by about the same margin, it’s worth looking at how many games it took him to hit 15,000 points as well. 

This contest against the Kings will be the 550th of Durant’s NBA career. He’s not quite on the same pace as the four-time MVP currently playing with the Cavaliers, but it’s not as though he’s particularly far behind. 

And that gives hope that Durant might eventually finish ahead of his fellow small forward on the career scoring leaderboard. 

 

Where Will James Finish? 

At this point, James is already well beyond 15,000. 

When he broke that barrier, he was finishing up his first tenure with Cleveland, playing a mid-March contest against the Chicago Bulls while gearing up for a playoff run. Since then, he’s won two championships with the Miami Heat, scored plenty more points and returned to his hometown squad. 

While Durant prepares to hit 15k, James is coming up on 24,000 points scored, and he’s only just nearing his 30th birthday. He has plenty of years left to rack up buckets, and it won’t take all that long before we’re comparing his spot to the ones occupied by Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. 

The competition between those two shooting guards took center stage during early December, with Bryant chasing down the Bulls legend and eventually surpassing him with a pair of free throws. It was a big enough deal that play completely stopped, and that’s likely a scene we’ll see when James moves past the near-consensus G.O.A.T. years down the road. 

Let’s start there. 

Jordan and his 32,292 points now sit at No. 4 on the all-time leaderboard, trailing only Bryant (32,331 and counting), Karl Malone (36,928) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387). Is he safe from modern-day competitors? Take a look: 

Dirk Nowitzki has a realistic shot at passing Jordan if he plays beyond his current contract with the Dallas Mavericks, but it would be highly, highly unlikely that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Tim Duncan or Ray Allen (assuming he should still be called a current player) moves past him. And next up is James, which is absolutely insane since the other names mentioned in this paragraph all have quite a few years on him. 

It seems as though the Cavs stud is falling prey to declining athleticism this season, but that’s not affecting his overall performance. His efficiency is climbing back up to normal levels, and he’s still scoring 25.6 points per game, a mark that leaves him trailing only James Harden. 

The LeBron who could dunk on any player at any time is probably gone,” a league advance scout recently told ESPN.com’s Brian Windhorst. “He’s probably never been a better basketball player than he is right now, though.” 

And that’s not all.

Now, you’ll see him set the defense up and take advantage of its weaknesses,” an Eastern Conference assistant coach also explained to Windhorst. “If that means fewer dunks but more efficient shots for himself or his teammates then you could say he’s playing better offensively now than he was then.” 

That’s the beauty of James. He might lose the athleticism that has made him so feared, but he’s one of the most intelligent players of all time, and he’ll still be programmed to make the right play for quite some time. There’s no doubt he’ll keep scoring at high levels throughout his career, even if his style of play has to change. 

So, let’s assume there’s a bit of a decline throughout the rest of his career, and he averages only 22 points per game while maintaining those levels of efficiency that are so important in real action, even if they’re only tangential here. That accounts for him averaging between 24 and 26 points for the next few seasons before declining to 20 or slightly below. It’s also worth noting that James has been remarkably durable throughout his career, playing an average of 77 outings per season. 

First, imagine he continues putting up 25.6 points per game and plays in 55 more games this season to get to that 77-contest mark. He’d finish the 2014-15 campaign with 25,141 points. Then, if he scores 22 points per contest and suits up 77 times each year, playing six more seasons and retiring at 36 years old, he’d hang up the sneakers with 35,305 points under his belt. 

Feels fairly conservative, right? Nonetheless, that still puts him well clear of Jordan and within striking distance of Malone. 

But what’s crazy is that there’s a distinct possibility James could eventually dethrone Abdul-Jabbar and become the new gold standard for longstanding scoring prowess. After all, this is a man who scored 20.9 points per game during his rookie season and has been above 25 during every other go-round throughout his illustrious career. And there’s no reason to believe he can’t play past 36 years old, either. 

Even if he averages exactly 25 points per contest for the next six years after playing out the current season at his present rate, he’d finish with 36,691 points. Remember, Abdul-Jabbar is at 38,387. Add one more season to James’ career, and he’s past the sky-hook legend himself if he can play 77 times and average 22 points per game. 

So, for Durant to have any shot at surpassing his inter-conference rival, he’ll have to at least have a chance at doing the same—eventually surpassing Abdul-Jabbar. 

 

Where Will Durant Finish? 

What’s so insane about Durant’s scoring is how quickly he was able to accomplish such remarkable feats.

Already a four-time scoring champion, the Oklahoma City Thunder standout is still just 26 years old. He’s getting better, not entering into any state of decline, and he has plenty of years left to produce monstrous numbers.

He’s racking up points at a historic rate already, and to hammer that point home, here’s a visual representation of how many Durant and James had after each year of their career, up to the point of where the former is currently: 

But, somewhat surprisingly, that’s not exactly an argument in favor of the younger challenger. Though he’s been close on multiple occasions, he only bests James’ total in two of those first seven seasons. And given the injury that knocked him out of action, it’s unlikely his eighth season matches James’ total in the equivalent year (2,111). To get there, Durant would need to play in every remaining game and average 33.9 points per contest. 

Though that number is unrealistic, at least it doesn’t seem like we have to worry about any recurring injuries to his foot, as the scoring stud himself and ESPN.com’s Royce Young made clear:

ESPN NBA Insider Dr. Mark Adickes said the recurrence rate of re-injury is extremely low for surgically repaired fifth metatarsal fractures in elite athletes — 5 to 10 percent — with that percentage dropping to 3 to 5 when treated with a screw, as Durant’s was. But the NBA has a long history of big men dealing with foot issues, something the nearly 7-foot Durant is well aware of.

‘I know I’m different. I know my injury was different. I know I’m a different build than most guys,’ Durant told reporters earlier in the week. ‘You can’t compare me to Yao Ming. He’s 300 pounds and he broke his foot. I didn’t break mine.’

Nor should we lose sleep over him getting less aggressive.  

“I’m one of those guys that’s going to play how I play if I’m out on the court,” Durant told Young. “If I try to hold back and worry about what may happen, that’s when I don’t bring the edge I usually play with. Whatever happens, happens.”

We’ve seen him play just under 30 minutes during most of his seven outings thus far in 2014-15, and though the Thunder will presumably be careful about his workload, it’s not as if he’s struggling to score. Durant is already averaging 20.9 points per game, and his per-36-minute mark is right in line with where it’s been for a long time now. 

For the sake of having firm numbers to work with, let’s assume Durant plays in 50 of the 58 remaining games and averages 25 points per contest. That gives him 1,250 more points to add to his current total and would leave him entering 2015-16 with 16,247 to his credit. 

But then everything gets much trickier. 

Projecting the scoring averages of one of the most talented point-producing phenoms in NBA history is not particularly easy, especially when he’s still only 26 years old. It’s all just guesstimating based on his track record and a jump shooting style that should help him defy Father Time. 

Heading into this season, Durant—just like James—had played an average of 77 games per campaign. So that’s the baseline we’ll use there. But how many points is he going to score each year? 

Given that he’s averaged 29.3 points per game over the five seasons leading up to this one and posted a career-best 32 points per contest in 2013-14, it seems a safe assumption to give him an average of 30 points per outing throughout his prime. And we’ll allow that prime to extend to 30 years old, as that’s the point where we’ve seen James’ scoring—in terms of sheer volume—begin to decline. 

After that, we can have Durant average 25 points per game for four more seasons, then drop down to, say, 21 points per game for two more years before calling it quits at 36. That number is only being chosen for the sake of similarity, as that’s when we had James pulling the plug as well. 

With those rough estimates—and again, he could dramatically exceed or fail to meet them, as there’s so much uncertainty about the future of any player—he’d retire with 36,421 points under his belt. Remember, our initial conservative estimate had James at 35,305 points, and the projection in which he averaged 25 points per game for the next six years placed him at 36,691 points. 

So, which scoring stud is going to finish with more points? 

It seems to be a surprisingly safe bet that each will eventually surpass Jordan and have a great shot to move past Bryant on the career leaderboard, unless the latter plays beyond his current contract. Malone will be in sight as well, though it will take some superhuman efforts and endurance to challenge Abdul-Jabbar, even if that No. 1 spot is indeed possible for each player. 

But right now, it’s a toss-up between the two. Durant and James, using those rough estimates, will finish quite close to one another, and it’s impossible to predict who will suffer significant injuries or end up on a team with another star scorer who eats into the late-career opportunities. 

And that’s why James, despite Durant’s penchant for putting up bigger per-game numbers, is the safer choice. He has a massive head start on the OKC forward, and that makes a big difference in this competition. Durant has more uncertainty left to navigate through, even if he seems to have more scoring upside. 

In 2000, Grant Hill entered the seventh season of his career with 9,393 points scored. He was on pace to get to 15k during the beginning of his 12th season. But injuries derailed his career, and he didn’t join the club until his 15th go-round in the Association. He’d retire just slightly over 17,000. 

After eight seasons, Tracy McGrady had 12,423 points and seemed on pace to finish with a ridiculous total. But then that pesky injury imp did its malicious job, and despite playing another seven years, McGrady finished with “only” 18,381. 

Injuries can pop up at any time, and that’s why it’s safer to take the player with the 8,736-point lead in a competition that’s otherwise too close to call. 

Is either choice objectively wrong at this stage of their respective careers? Absolutely not, but James seems to be just a bit more right. Sorry, Durant, but it’s another second-place finish.

 

Note: All stats, unless otherwise indicated, come from Basketball-Reference.com and are current heading into Dec. 16′s games. 

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Warriors Start Among the Best in NBA History

After disposing of the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday afternoon, the Golden State Warriors have now won 15 consecutive games and are a ridiculous 20-2 on the season.
A total of 14 of those wins have come by double digits, as the Warriors lead the world in point differential at +11 points per game. Equally as impressive as this, 13 of the Warriors 22 games have come on the road. They are 12-1 in those matchups.
Of the top-five players in terms of plus-minus around the NBA, all five are Warriors. To put that into perspective the other five players in the top 10, have a combined plus-minus is 874. Those five Warriors who stand at the top are a combined +1,290.
Yeah, it’s been an amazing start to the season for the best team in the NBA.
But how does this compare to some other starts to the season from teams around the Association in recent history?
If Golden State wins its next three games, starting Sunday against the New Orleans Pelicans, it will tie four other NBA tams for the best 25-game start in the history

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How Does the Warriors’ 20-2 Start Compare to the Greatest Starts in NBA History?

A hot start is one thing—a dime a dozen, all sports considered.

But when a season’s opening stretch becomes historically hot? That’s when all eyes become fixed, rather than merely fleeting.

With their 105-98 road win over the Dallas Mavericks Saturday afternoon, the Golden State Warriors—now 20-2 following a 15th consecutive W and with no signs of slowing down—have made exactly that leap.

The production came from predictable places, with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combining for 54 points on 19-of-43 shooting (including 8-of-22 from distance) and the revelatory Draymond Green (20 points and eight rebounds) leading the onslaught.

Playing without sturdy center Andrew Bogut, out temporarily after having his right knee drained, the Warriors seized control early and held on despite a furious second-half comeback from Dirk Nowitzki and Co.

Needless to say, Golden State is hoping Saturday’s quasi-collapse doesn’t become a writ-large harbinger for what has been, to date, one of the NBA’s all-time best starts to the season.

Just how rare is the air the Warriors are breathing? ESPN Stats & Info explains:

To call the expectations high would be an understatement. For these Warriors, anything short of a Finals foray would, at this point, be an opportunity lost. Particularly given the gruesome gauntlet—now and in the near future—that is the Western Conference.

Time will tell whether Golden State can make golden good on its doubtless palpable promise.

But it’s in how the Warriors are dispatching the opposition—utterly, thoroughly, on both sides of the ball—that bodes best for their Larry O’Brien designs.

To wit: Through its first 22 tilts, Golden State was registering top-five numbers in the following categories (per NBA.com, subscription required for media stats): Offensive rating (fifth), defensive rating (first), net rating (first), assist ratio (third), true-shooting percentage (second) and overall plus-minus (first), just to name a few.

Not that such two-way prowess is anything new for these Warriors; they very nearly registered ORtg and DRtg top 10s last season as well. Rather, it’s the degree of dominance that—quite understandably—has the rest of the league teetering on its heels. And the Warriors’ dominance was the focal point of many conversations on Twitter:

All of the above-mentioned members of the 20-2 club could boast something similar, of course. Be it during a particular stretch or as a matter of championship makeup.

What’s a bit more difficult, however, is pinpointing precisely where on that pace-setting spectrum Golden State falls.

Statistically speaking, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls remain the gold standard: first in offensive efficiency (115.2), first in defensive efficiency (101.8), best regular-season record in league history (72-10) and arguably the greatest tandem to ever play the game (Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen), all in the service of a fourth banner in six years.

Coherent and cohesive as these Warriors have been, it’s hard to see them besting the Bulls’ beatific feat. Not without the luxury of two expansion teams (as were the Toronto Raptors and Vancouver Grizzlies) diluting the talent pool.

Teams like the 1948-49 Washington Capitols and 1966-67 Philadelphia 76ers seem far too arcane for fruitful comparison. Meanwhile, the 1990-91 Portland Trail Blazers and 1993-94 Houston Rockets each had the specter of Jordan’s Bulls hanging over their heads. For the Blazers it was in terms of an inevitable Finals run-in and for the Rockets it was as a function of the void left behind during Jordan’s two-year hiatus.

That makes the 2008-09 Boston Celtics Golden State’s most obvious comp, chronologically as well as statistically (Doc Rivers’ crew finished the season fifth in ORtg and second in DRtg).

Following the best two-loss start in league history (27-2), the Celtics—who despite dropping seven of their next nine—appeared poised to punish their way to a second consecutive NBA title. Sadly, Garnett would miss the entire postseason with a right-knee injury, as Boston succumbed to eventual East champs the Orlando Magic in the conference semifinals.

The Celtics’ fall remains one of the biggest what-ifs in recent memory. More immediately, it serves as a cautionary check for Golden State’s own charmed start.

While the Dubs don’t exactly tout an obvious Garnett analog, their finely tuned chemistry is such that any injury to a major contributor—be it Curry, Thompson, Bogut or even Green—could easily compromise Golden State’s fairy-tale travels, if not outright derail them.

Good thing, then, that first-year head coach Steve Kerr has made it his mission to oversee a team that doesn’t merely make the most of its top-tier talent, but it is dynamic enough to make up for the occasional wrench in the gears. And Kerr praises his team for its talent (via Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.com):

From Bleacher Report’s Zach Buckley:

He puts his players in positions where they are most comfortable: Bogut at the elbow, Shaun Livingston on the low block, Harrison Barnes flashing to the basket, Marreese Speights near the top of the key.

Guys that are capable and comfortable initiating the offense, a list that includes Curry, Thompson, Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, are allowed and encouraged to do so.

Still the team’s hot start isn’t without its basic caveats: Prior to Saturday’s Mavericks matinee, the Warriors had played the league’s 17th-most difficult schedule in terms of opponent win percentage (.496).

The good news being that 13 of their first 22 games have been away from the friendly confines of Oakland’s Oracle Arena.

It’s too simplistic to say these two mathematical minutia merely cancel each other out, less so which of the two might prove the better bellwether.

With three of their next five games coming on the road, it’ll be interesting to see whether Golden State can threaten—or perhaps even usurp—Boston’s incendiary start. Ditto if the Warriors’ gangbusters play can be parlayed into playoff magic, despite one of the best top-to-bottom conferences the league has ever seen.

For a fanbase long mired in mediocrity, though, the current streak is well worth savoring. Although not as much, perhaps, as a Finals sip that somehow feels just as hot.

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Warriors Give Steve Kerr Best Start in History and Other Wednesday NBA Takeaways

Steve Kerr is officially off to the hottest start of any first-year head coach in NBA history. To accomplish that eye-opening feat, he had to lead his short-handed Golden State Warriors to a chaotic, occasionally messy, eventually inspiring 105-93 win over the Houston Rockets.

The Dubs went into battle without Andrew Bogut, whose right-knee tendinitis cost him his first game of the season. Anyone who had watched Bogut anchor Golden State on both ends this season knew going in that his absence would be a crucial one—especially against a Rockets club that hadn’t missed a beat without its own star center in the lineup.

Houston took advantage of the Warriors early, pounding the ball in to Donatas Motiejunas and daring backup Festus Ezeli to catch the ball (always a challenge for him) on the offensive end. When Ezeli proved incapable of handling duties as a relief valve for the perpetually double-teamed Stephen Curry, Kerr went with scoring stud Marreese Speights at the 5.

Speights finished with 15 points in 20 minutes, but his inability to pose even a minimal threat as a defender crippled Golden State’s stopping power.

How bad was it? Bad enough that Kerr yanked Speights with nine minutes left in the game in favor of Draymond Green—generously listed at 6’7″ and undersized at the power forward spot—at center.

Though it didn’t look promising initially, Kerr’s bold substitution proved to be the difference in the game.

Motiejunas bulled his way into the lane and drew a foul on the very first possession of Kerr’s semi-desperate, semi-inspired experiment.

From that point on, though, Golden State switched, ran, hustled and shot its way to a 25-16 closing run.

Green banged with Motiejunas, poking away entry passes twice as the rest of the undersized, yet rangy, Dubs hit the boards in gang fashion. Curry took the ball right at Patrick Beverley, and the team collectively pushed the tempo, attacking the Rockets’ interior with renewed aggression, as if finally remembering that Houston, too, was without its defensive star in the middle.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle provided a scoring comparison for the teams:

Harrison Barnes was dynamite throughout, hitting open threes, rebounding outside of his area and finishing inside with a flurry of two-handed slams. He put up 20 points on just nine shots.

Curry worked hard for his 20 points, and Klay Thompson chipped in with 21 of his own.

James Harden was masterful, bolstering his MVP case with 34 points, despite contending with whichever stout defensive wing (Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Barnes, even Green) was freshest. He took on all comers, falling short in a valiant effort.

This was the Warriors’ biggest test of the season, and they were resilient, resourceful and hungry enough to pass it. Kerr, now 19-2 as an NBA head coach, made the critical move that swung the game, but he also deserves broader credit for laying the groundwork, inspiring the confidence and trusting the talent that has brought the Warriors to this point.

And speaking of Kerr’s exceptional start as the head coach, according to GSW Stats, he’s already rewriting the history books:

He’s exceeded everyone’s wildest expectations, though he’ll always be the first to credit his top-notch staff and divert praise toward his players, as echoed in his comments (via ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelburne):

From here on, Golden State’s biggest foe will be the historically great teams from the past. On the strength of 14 straight wins, they’ve clearly separated themselves from their 2014-15 contemporaries. Marcus Thompson of the Bay Area News Group shows, through stats, just how impressive Golden State has been:

Kerr, now a history-maker himself, is proving he’s just the guy to lead them.

 

Around the Association

Miller to Beal Seals the Deal

We were all set to highlight the goofy battle between Elfrid Payton and Nene from this game, featuring the quirky, promising rookie faking out the Washington Wizards big man for a bucket on one play and the tables turning abruptly in their next encounter.

But then Bradley Beal had to go and win the game on a slick backdoor lob at the buzzer.

Washington took the contest by a final of 91-89—thanks to Beal’s feathery finish and, not to be forgotten, Andre Miller’s predictably pinpoint find.

 

Somebody Up There Likes Blake Griffin

After rimming in a game-winning three against the Phoenix Suns on Monday, Blake Griffin’s very next shot (his first field-goal attempt Wednesday against the Indiana Pacers) got a similarly favorable carom.

Perhaps in an effort to keep things from getting too obvious, whatever divine force had been intervening in Griffin’s shots of late caused the Los Angeles Clippers forward to air-ball four of his subsequent attempts on the night.

No matter; Griffin finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds as L.A. prevailed 103-96 against a Pacers squad that got horrible production from its starters and oddly competent play from its bench—C.J. Miles led all scorers with 30 points.

Chris Paul had 17 points and 15 assists, and DeAndre Jordan joined the double-double club with 12 points and 19 boards.

As for the supernatural force aiding Griffin’s shots…the Clips may not need it for a couple of weeks. Five of their next six games come against a soft slate of foes from the East.

 

Al Jefferson Ain’t Got Time for Tomfoolery

Rajon Rondo and Lance Stephenson swapped technical fouls and elbows as the Boston Celtics fell 96-87 to the Charlotte Hornets. Rondo finished with his second triple-double in the last three games, but Stephenson’s Hornets won the game.

Call it a draw, I guess—even though Rondo’s not sold on Stephenson’s reaction to his forearm shiver, as he pointed out (via Gary Washburn of The Boston Globe):

And while those two covered the jawing and unseemly extracurriculars, Al Jefferson popped his blue collar and went to work in the post, as Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer noted:

Big Al finished with 23 points and 14 boards, dominating the game where it mattered as distracting chippiness whirled around him. His performance was exactly what a struggling Hornets team needed Wednesday, and it’ll continue to be critical as they try to overcome a horrendous start to the season.

Winners of two straight, Charlotte gets the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday.

 

Meaningful Streaks Trump Meaningless Stats

The Atlanta Hawks beat the Philadelphia 76ers 95-79 for their eighth win in a row, Atlanta’s longest victorious streak in 17 years.

Michael Carter-Williams, whose gaudy counting stats grow emptier by the day, flirted with a quadruple-double. He finished with eight points, 10 rebounds, nine assists and nine turnovers. In some ways, that’s amazing. In others, it’s just sad.

The Sixers play fast and foist a ridiculous amount of responsibility on Carter-Williams, whose usage rate ranks in the league’s top 10, per Basketball-Reference.com. Hopefully, MCW’s growth isn’t suffering as a result.

 

Monta Ellis Doesn’t Stay Down Long

After scoring just two points on 1-of-11 shooting in a 114-105 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday, Monta Ellis bounced right back with 13 straight fourth-quarter points to give his Dallas Mavericks a 112-107 win over the visiting New Orleans Pelicans on Wednesday.

Anthony Davis went off for 31 points and 11 rebounds, while Jrue Holiday contributed 30 points and 10 assists for the Pellies. But the Mavs had four scorers crack the 20-point barrier, led by Ellis’ 26.

In the brutal West, facing a nonstop string of formidable opponents, it helps to have a short memory…or no conscience.

Ellis checks both boxes, and Wednesday’s performance shows why the Mavs have no problem with that.

 

It’s Not a Good Time to Be a New Yorker

Cory Jefferson isn’t the problem. The Brooklyn Nets are old, slow, full of bloated contracts and, after losing 105-80 to the Chicago Bulls on Wednesday, 8-12 in the comically weak Eastern Conference.

And so, when Jefferson fired a 24-footer that traveled roughly half the necessary distance to the hoop, we got our “Nets season in a nutshell” moment.

Elsewhere, the New York Knicks dropped a 109-95 decision to a San Antonio Spurs team playing without Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili, Tim Duncan or Kawhi Leonard.

The Knicks didn’t have Carmelo Anthony because of a sore knee, but with the way New York is playing, it’s hard to argue his presence would have been enough to change the result. That’s 10 straight L’s for the Knicks, by the way.

They’re 4-20.

So, the message for the Nets is this: Could be worse, fellas.

 

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Warriors Looking to Match Longest Winning Streak in Franchise History

Coming off 10 consecutive victories, the Golden State Warriors enter Thursday’s game against the New Orleans Pelicans looking to match the franchise record for longest winning streak, per ESPN Stats & Info.

The impressive streak nearly ended Tuesday night, when the Orlando Magic surprisingly gave the Warriors a tight game on Golden State’s home court.

Down 97-95 in the closing seconds, Warriors guard Stephen Curry drained an unassisted three-pointer with just 2.2 seconds remaining to give his team a one-point lead that would hold up.

Orlando’s following inbounds pass was batted away by Warriors forward Draymond Green, falling right into Curry’s hands as time ran out.

Now tied with the Memphis Grizzlies at a league-best 15-2 after the dramatic victory, Golden State has its fifth winning streak of 10 games or longer in franchise history, per Basketball-Reference.com’s play index.

Of the four previous streaks, three ended at exactly 10 games, including last season’s run from Dec. 21 to Jan. 7.

The only streak that went to 11 games occurred during the 1971-72 season—a campaign that ended with a 51-31 record and loss in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Golden State will again have the benefit of home court in Thursday’s game against the 8-8 Pelicans, but the Warriors will still have to deal with superstar forward Anthony Davis, who recorded a ridiculous stat line of 25 points, 10 rebounds, four assists, six steals and four blocks in Tuesday’s win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.

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Kobe Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers and the price of history

Another Kobe Bryant milestone was reached on Sunday night, and a couple of things can be concluded: The Los Angeles Lakers have very few qualms defining and paying the price…..
The post Kobe Bryant, The Los Angeles Lakers And The Price Of History appeared first on The Sports Fan Journal.

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Kobe Bryant Makes NBA History, Becoming First Player to Record 30,000 Points, 6000 Assists

Kobe Bryant of Los Angeles Lakers

LA Lakers shooting guard veteran Kobe Bryant makes NBA history by becoming the first player with over 30,000 points and 6,000 assists, according to USA Today Sports.
Sunday, the LA Lakers defeated the Toronto Raptors in an overtime victory 129-122. Kobe Bryant who destroyed Terrence Ross with a deceptive crossover finished the game with 31 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists. Last night’s game was what brought the NBA All-Star over 30,000 points.
In 1996 the five-time championship winner was drafted into the NBA by the Los Angeles Lakers. He has not signed with no other team during his career.
Kobe Bryant is a four-time All-Star MVP winner and 16-time NBA All-Star.
The post LA Lakers Kobe Bryant Makes NBA History Becoming First Player To Reach 30,000 Points appeared first on Basketball Bicker by ladyt.

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Kobe Bryant 1st Player in NBA History with 30,000 Points and 6,000 Assists

Kobe Bryant never passes.

Few NBA tropes are more tried and true and yet so tired—or have been since the late Bill Clinton Administration—than this one.

But just because something can be true (and when your most trusted second option is this guy, why should we expect otherwise?) doesn’t mean it’s always been so.

Par example:

If that smile doesn’t say, “I enjoy sharing,” I don’t know what does.

Six thousand assists. Nope, never passes.

The feat—overshadowed somewhat by Bryant’s first triple-double of the season (31 points, 11 rebounds and 12 assists)—was unfurled in the midst of the Los Angeles Lakers‘ surprising 129-122 overtime win over the red-hot Toronto Raptors on Sunday night.

L.A. now boasts just a one-game cushion over the Minnesota Timberwolves in the Reel for Jahlil [Okafor] Sweepstakes, while every team trails the Philadelphia 76ers

To say it’s been a difficult year for the 36-year-old Bryant would be an understatement. On top of watching helplessly while his once-proud franchise sinks once again into lottery-bound irrelevance, Kobe himself is registering a career-low field-goal percentage of 39 percent.

Worse still for Lakers fans, the 19-year veteran recently admitted to USA Today’s Sam Amick that he can’t envision himself playing beyond his current two-year, $48.5 million contract:

“Nah, not really,” Bryant said. “But I’m so loyal to this organization, there’s not a chance (of him leaving)…I’ve been really fortunate to win a lot of games here, a lot of championships here. You can’t (expletive) with (that).”

Cue our old friend Lloyd Christmas.

It’s not hard to appreciate Bryant’s reluctance. Following a pair of injury-deferred seasons, Bryant—buoyed by L.A.’s gargantuan cap space—was looking forward to one more championship run, ideally alongside a LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony, both of whom the Lakers courted over the summer.

Instead, Mitch Kupchak and Co. were forced to settle for an amnestied Carlos Boozer, an overpriced Jeremy Lin and these guys, among others.

Needless to say, L.A. turning Julius Randle (out for the season with a broken leg) and Rookie Sensation X into contention-quality wingmen by next season probably isn’t too high up on the list of likely outcomes. The resulting blueprint, writes Bleacher Report’s Kevin Ding, isn’t exactly encouraging:

With Bryant now 36, even though so many fans still enjoy watching him as he tries to fight off injuries and age, these Lakers fundamentally are not in development.

There’s something innately encouraging about watching kids play, from Little League to college ball. There would’ve been something special about every moment Randle was on the court this season, no matter the Lakers’ record in those moments.

Without him, it’s inescapable just how much the Lakers these days are biding their time instead of growing their future.

All of which leaves us to ponder a very sad but very real scenario: that our final image of Kobe Bryant will be one not of a glory-golden sunset, sixth trophy the token totem of a career married in merit to Michael Jordan. But rather that of a gun-slinging basketball bandit both doomed and too stubborn to do anything but what he’s always done, that doom be damned.

Let’s just not forget, as undefeated twilight fights to claim another, just how great an all-around player Kobe Bean Bryant was—even if we sometimes couldn’t be bothered to notice.

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5 most electrifying dunkers in NBA history

Eddie Johnson gives his picks for the best dunkers through the years.

      
 

 

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