Around the League

Kobe on a Tear Despite the Wear

Prior to the Lakers-Spurs matchup on Monday, Sir Charles shared a favorite saying of his from co-host Kenny Smith: There’s only so many jumps in those knees. Not one to mince words, Charles went on to elaborate: “Father time always wins … old people don’t get healthy; they die.” Charles was referring to a veteran Spurs team that has put on a lot of mileage over the last decade.

In the meantime 1,000 games, 11 All-Star appearances, four championships and an Olympic gold medal have taken a toll on Laker Kobe Bryant as well. Last week, for the first time in 235 games, Kobe finally surrendered to a mounting list of physical ailments – but not before breaking a franchise record. On Monday Kobe dunked his 44th point against the Grizzlies to become the Lakers’ all-time leading scorer, overtaking Jerry West’s 25,192-point record.

Back when Jerry was playing, fourteen years made for a long career in the NBA. Though Kobe’s is far from over, he too is in his fourteenth year. He’s battled through knee, groin, elbow, back and finger injuries to stay on the court and get wins for his team this season.  But he finally conceded to his human side and sat out against the Blazers on Saturday with a sore left ankle. Andrew Bynum also went down in the first quarter with a bruised hip.

Though Kobe’s teammates seemed all too willing to let Kobe carry the team in past games, they stepped up in his absence and got the job done beating the Blazers at Portland for the first time in nine trips. Lamar Odom scored 10 points and matched his career high with 22 rebounds; Pau put up 13, Ron Artest had 21 and Shannon Brown contributed 19 off the bench. Hopefully this win will boost Kobe’s confidence in his comrades should he elect for more time off to regenerate before the playoffs.

Don’t want to leave out another Laker record breaker – LA’s two-point win over Charlotte at home gave their head coach Phil Jackson his 534th career win, which sets the franchise record for regular season wins.  Congratulations coach.

Three’s a Crowd

What a race we have for the scoring title this year. We’ve got three big time guys battling it out on winning teams. Separated by just tenths and hundredths, scoring machines LeBron and Durant blew up the box scores last week in hot pursuit of Melo’s record for league’s leading scorer. Carmelo had to sit this round out with an ankle injury, missing his eighth game with the Nuggets. But LeBron and Durant fired away, leading their teams to three wins apiece.

On Saturday LeBron let loose 47 against the Knicks, including 24 consecutive points in an incredible first half display culminating in a franchise record 35. The Cavs’ 11th straight victory tied the longest streak in the league this season. Though no less impressive, this is the type of commanding performance we’ve come expect from the NBA’s reining MVP.

But in his third year with OKC, Durant has taken the league by storm, if not surprise. An MVP in the making, Durant has emerged as a franchise player and an inspired leader. With 33 points and 11 rebounds against the Hawks, Durant became the first player since Allen Iverson nine seasons ago to score at least 25 points in 22 consecutive games. In spite of a 37-point performance by Joe Johnson, Durant’s effort propelled the Thunder to a 106-99 win over the third best team in the East. He followed up with 30 points against the Hornets on Wednesday.

Of course neither star would see wins without an effective supporting cast. Russell Westbrook came through with 26 points, ten assists and eight rebounds against Charlotte to help seal the 103-99 victory. But while LeBron’s got the advantage of a deep bench and seasoned veterans like Shaq and Z who are well versed in competing at the pro level, OKC is younger and far less experienced. This makes the fact that Durant’s heroics are translating into wins all the more impressive. James will always be the King, but he may have to share his throne.

First-Years Not Wet Behind the Ears

The Rookies will no doubt give the Sophomores a stiff challenge this weekend. Whether drafted out of college, Europe or the D League, the talented freshman class has entertained and impressed since they first stepped foot on the NBA courts. Fast out of the gates, these young guys continue to make significant contributions. Many who showed up early are showing they can go the distance – refusing to hit the rookie wall. And some new faces are coming to the fore.

Claiming to have learned from one of the best, Darren Collison went from understudy to leading man overnight when he stepped into the Hornets’ starting lineup for the team’s leading scorer Chris Paul, who’s out until after the All-Star break with a hamstring injury. Proving an apt pupil, Collison took center stage with purpose, confidence and fervor, culminating in 24 points and a win over Charlotte on Saturday. He’s quick, gets into the lane and makes good decisions.

Day-to-day with a bruised back, Charlotte’s other rookie guard Marcus Thornton followed suit scoring well above his 10.9 ppg season average over the past couple weeks. Though NOLA dropped two in a row to the Suns and Thunder, Thornton peaked with a season high 25 pts against Phoenix and followed up with 22 against OKC.

While Sacramento’s 17-34 record is nothing to boast about, the Kings do have bragging rights to buzz-worthy newcomers Tyreke Evans and Israeli Omri Casspi. Both have had an incredible first run with the Kings and both will represent Sacramento on the Rookies team. Evans is the scoring leader among all rookies with a whopping 20.3 ppg and he’s second in rebounds. Casspi’s 12-point average is good for fifth in the league among rookies and he’s fourth in rebounds.

Though hot and cold of late, Buck’s point guard Brandon Jennings is second behind Evans with 17.1 ppg. An early standout for Rookie of the Year, Jennings hasn’t come close to his high profile 55-point assault against Golden State back in November. But he’s still contributing double digits more times than not and his passing game remains consistent. He grabbed 22 points and dished three assists in Milwaukee’s win over the Knicks on Friday.

Detroit’s Jonas Jerebko, the 39th pick of the draft from Sweden, had a perfect night against the Nets on Sunday, shooting 9-for-9 from the field and scoring 20 points. While not entirely consistent, Jerebko shows the potential to develop into a threat from inside the paint and out. Fans can look forward to watching Jerebko join forces with his fellow rookies in Dallas on Friday.

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