NBA PM: Kobe Cedes Scoring Title to Durant
As first reported by Sam Amick of SI.com, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will cede the scoring title to Kevin Durant by sitting out the Lakers’ finale in Sacramento against the Kings.
Oklahoma City Thunder star Durant is right at 28.0 points per game this season. Kobe, at 27.9, would need 38 points against the Kings but Lakers Coach Mike Brown has chosen to sit his All-Star instead.
This will be Durant’s third-straight scoring title. More importantly, the Thunder have improved each year over that time.
For the Lakers, sitting Bryant is easily the right thing to do.
Certainly Kobe could pad his resume with another scoring title but to what end? The Lakers are locked into position in the West as the third seed. They don’t hold the tiebreaker over the Indiana Pacers should both teams make it to the NBA Finals.
The game means nothing to the Lakers. Risking injury to Bryant serves no purpose.
To that end, Brown will play a skeleton crew which will likely see the Laker debut of forward Christian Eyenga who has been with the Los Angeles D-Fenders since the Luke Walton/Ramon Sessions trade.
Bryant has been adamant for some time that he’s far less concerned with individual accolades at this point in his career. His focus is on attaining a sixth title.
The Lakers have shown this year that they’re capable of great highs (and various lows).
Metta World Peace will miss the Lakers’ first-six playoff games. LA will need to get past some combination of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Dallas Mavericks and Denver Nuggets to get to the Western Conference Finals.
A second-round matchup between the Lakers and Thunder would hold great appeal, except for fans of the Mavericks and Nuggets naturally.
Unless LA sweeps the first round, Peace will be available for (nearly) all of the second. The seven-game suspension was more than some thought was deserved and far less than others – a general sign it was on target.
Look for the Lakers to rely on second-year guard/forward Devin Ebanks in Metta’s absence. Reserve Matt Barnes is also hobbled with a sprained ankle.
Rushed Season Ends
Thursday marks the final day of the 2011/12 NBA Regular Season. It was a year that almost didn’t happen, came together quickly and packed far too many games into too tight a schedule.
Four teams have already completed their year (Indiana Pacers, Los Angeles Clippers, Phoenix Suns and Thunder). The playoff chase is done. The final 16 are in place although there remains some slight jockeying for position in the last few hours, perhaps fought by the second, third and fourth stringers.
The San Antonio Spurs will host the Utah Jazz (starting on Sunday) and while the veteran Spurs should be favored, the Jazz have some true meat in the middle with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap, Derrick Favors and Enes Kanter. That won’t be an easy series for San Antonio, even if they are the likely victor.
It would appear the Thunder will draw the reigning champions (Dallas Mavericks) while the Lakers will get the Denver Nuggets. Dallas does have the tiebreaker to climb if they beat the Atlanta Hawks and the Nuggets happen to lose to Minnesota Timberwolves. The Thunder series will begin on Saturday; the Lakers on Sunday.
The Mavericks just aren’t as good as they were last year. It’s clear that they miss Tyson Chandler and J.J. Barea but before last postseason they didn’t seem all that great either until their magical championship run. It would be foolish to write Dallas off early.
The Memphis Grizzlies simply need to win Thursday at home against the Orlando Magic to retain home court advantage over the Clippers. Look for the Grizzlies to play to win while the Magic may start Chris Duhon at center (not really).
The Clippers are average on the road. They sat out Chris Paul on Wednesday night in New York with a sore groin, saying a healthy Paul was more important than home court advantage.
Whichever team loses between Memphis and LAC will not have met expectations this year. The series will start on Sunday.
In the East, the Chicago Bulls are slotted to host the Philadelphia 76ers while the Miami HEAT are likely to draw the New York Knicks. That too can change if NY loses in Charlotte (at team that has dropped 22-straight games) and the Sixers beat the Detroit Pistons.
So far the Sixers have looked awful against the HEAT. Even if the Knicks super-tank against the Bobcats, the Sixers may not even take a shot on basket in their finale.
Both series will start on Saturday.
The Pacers will host the Dwight Howard-less Magic on Saturday, which should be a ticket to the second-round for an underrated Indiana squad.
The Boston Celtics and Hawks will meet Sunday, starting in Atlanta (unless the Hawks lose to the Mavericks and the Celtics finish off the Milwaukee Bucks). Favor Boston in the series although there will be a few bloody noses along the way.
If the run to the bottom was ugly, at least this year it was a shorter duration of misery.
The Charlotte Bobcats and Washington Wizards will have the most lottery combinations. Three teams are tied with 44 losses (Cleveland Cavaliers, Sacramento Kings and New Orleans Hornets). The New Jersey Nets and Toronto Raptors are next at 43 apiece.
The Golden State Warriors are going to need some lottery luck if they’re to keep their pick (top-seven protected) given they “only” have 42 losses. Once again, the Warriors did not tank efficiently enough.
Rounding out the lottery are the Pistons, Wolves, Portland Trail Blazers, Bucks and Houston Rockets.
The Jazz get the Warriors’ first-round pick and the Blazers will get New Jersey’s (both with some levels of protection). For such a strong draft, there are quite a few first-round swaps. The Hornets will get Minnesota’s, the Rockets get New York’s, the Wolves get Utah’s, the Celtics get the Clippers’, the Cavaliers get the Lakers’ and the Warriors get the Spurs’.
Clippers Back In It
Before the acquisition of Chris Paul, the Clippers expected to make the playoffs. Once the blockbuster went through, expectations when through the roof.
Losing Chauncey Billups was a major setback – one that sent the team reeling through a brutal March schedule. The team recovered late in March and had a strong April but if they don’t attain home court advantage on Thursday, the path to the second-round won’t be easy.
Point guard Chris Paul remains optimistic and said recently the team will need to execute defensively to have any level of sustained success.
“Just keep getting better defensively. In the postseason you’ve got to execute because they’re going to know every play that we run,” said Paul. “They’ve going to know where we like it – the sweet spots and stuff like that. It’s all about counters and doing what you do.”
The Clippers were a playoff sensation back in 2006, losing in the seventh game of the second round to the Phoenix Suns. Each year since then they’ve gotten worse and worse until last season when Blake Griffin broke out as a rookie.
Eric Gordon, who the Clippers traded for Paul, was cautiously optimistic for his former team.
“I think they’ll do fine. Let’s see what happens,” said Gordon. “They’re very talented of course. They’re very deep. We’ll see how they play. There’s a lot of other good teams in the West. We’ll see how they match up with whoever they play.”
A few 30+ players are done for the year and ready to hit free agency this summer. The biggest name is Steve Nash, who may have played his final game in Phoenix with the Suns.
At 38-years old, Nash shot over 53% from the field, 39% from three and 89% from the line. He averaged nearly 11 assists per game and hopes to continue his career for three more seasons.
Don’t count out a return to the Suns. Nash has established roots in the community and has great trust in the superb Phoenix training staff.
Still, it would not surprise if Steve took this opportunity to chase a title.
Nash’s teammate Grant Hill is also a free agent. If he keeps playing, he’ll be doing so at 40-years old. This wasn’t Hill’s best year with the Suns but he’s still one of the smartest players in the game and would be a welcome addition to a contending team.
Antawn Jamison of the Cleveland Cavaliers will be 36-years old before next season. He still averaged 17.3 points a game this year and has been one of the more capable scoring forwards in the league for most of his career.
Jamison would help a team with strong low-post scorer/rebounder like the Lakers have with Andrew Bynum.
Veteran Marcus Camby is 38-years old and yet he still averaged nine rebounds a game this past season, missing just six games. He’ll have multiple suitors this summer.
On the young side of “old,” Chris Kaman at 30 may be the top unrestricted center in free agency this summer. He was solid for the New Orleans Hornets (when they let him play).
Finally, veterans Brad Miller and Ben Wallace are expected to retire after putting up impressive careers considering neither was drafted.
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