You can file this one under oops: The NBA sent out a press release Monday announcing the four participants in the All-Star weekend dunk contest (Nate Robinson, Dwight Howard, Tyrus Thomas and Gerald Green) as well as a who’s who list of judges.
Kobe Bryant was one of the judges among the elite company of Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins, Julius Erving and Vince Carter. The work is little more than deciding whether a dunk is worth a 9 or 10. But somebody forget to tell Bryant that he agreed to participate.
Bryant was surprised to say the least when he was asked about it before Monday’s game. He said he had a conversation with the league but hadn’t officially committed. Here’s the kicker: Bryant isn’t exactly the biggest fan of the NBA office right now after his debatable one-game suspension last week.
It’s not as if Bryant is going to blow off the dunk contest and head to the Bellagio – - he’s already in for the Skills Challenge as part of All-Star Saturday night – - but you have to think the NBA now is going to find some way to get him back that $161,000 in lost pay from the suspension.
The NBA, by the way, is instituting the Nate Robinson rule for this year’s dunk contest. A player has to complete a dunk within two minutes of being given the ball. Robinson needed something like 14 tries last year to throw the ball off the backboard and dunk it. You now get two tries after the two minutes expire.
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Stop the presses: The Lakers finally beat a bad team.
Just remember that after losing twice to Charlotte and New Orleans, as well as dropping games to Memphis, Portland, Milwaukee, Seattle and New York, that Monday’s victory against the 18-29 Hawks was not a given. Atlanta had won five of seven games before taking the floor at Philips Arena.
I’m not sure how much analysis that game deserves. The Lakers were struggling with the Hawks zone before Bryant checked back in and hit four jumpers in the fourth quarter. Atlanta helped the Lakers’ cause by missing 5 of 9 free throws in the fourth quarter, possibly because they don’t go to the line that often in pressure situations.
Atlanta coach Mike Woodson said of the battle between Bryant and Joe Johnson: “I don’t look at it like that. Joe tried to do what he thought he could do. Kobe’s going to make plays. Joe’s in a situation now where he’s learning how to be a big-time player. He’s been great for us all season. He made some plays, he hit a big 3 to keep us right there. But again, we missed free throws.”
Johnson was called an offensive foul in the fourth quarter for shoving Bryant as he fought for position. He also missed 1 of 2 free throws with 4:48 left after Bryant had just hit his finger-wagging jumper. Bryant found Smush Parker for a 3 on the next possession. That was the game’s biggest shot.
Bryant on Johnson: “He’s a great all-around player. I told him on the court, `I hope this All-Star thing doesn’t discourage you. Don’t let it stop you from doing what you came here to do. Continue to play, continue to improve.’ Because he’s a hell of a basketball player and if he continues to stay the course, I’m sure he’ll be an All-Star.”
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Phil Jackson had a couple of priceless reactions in Monday’s game. When Vladimir Radmanovic had the ball stolen by Tyronn Lue in the third quarter, which led to another alleyoop dunk for Josh Smith, Jackson took the gum wrapper (or whatever was in his hands) and tossed it behind him in disgust.
When Smith scored on a three-point play with 1:56 left in the fourth – - Lamar Odom exactly the foul the Lakers couldn’t afford – - Jackson took off his glasses, as if he couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Smith did miss the free throw to keep the Lakers ahead by six.
Jackson gambled at the start of the fourth quarter by sitting Bryant with the Lakers holding a 62-57 lead. What followed wasn’t pretty – - Zaza Pachulia scored on three straight possessions and stole Jordan Farmar’s ill-advised entry pass to Andrew Bynum – - but the Lakers were able to bring a fresh Bryant back with a 68-65 advantage.
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Parker should have been ejected by referee Eric Lewis at the end of the second quarter. After getting called for a charge, Parker yelled the F-word in the direction of Lewis, who hit him with a technical. Then Parker made a move at Lewis and kept yelling. Bryant had to push Parker in the chest toward the Lakers bench.
Parker has to be more careful in that situation. Just today the NBA sent out an announcement that Gary Payton had been suspended one game for “directing obscenities and other verbal abuse at game officials upon ejection.” Parker wasn’t ejected but still you can’t do what he did.
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Forward Luke Walton wanted to return from his sprained ankle for Mondays game but decided he wasnt ready at shootaround. Walton now hopes a two-day break between games will allow him to play Thursday at Detroit.
“Im able to do more and more stuff, Walton said. “I just cant do the full-out running or the cutting yet. Until I can do that, I cant play.
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I’ve covered more than 200 games in three seasons and I’ve never seen a fan holding a sign that they named their kid after Kobe. That was easily the coolest part of Monday’s game. The father, Tim Grandstaff, said his wife let him name their son Kobe as long as the middle name was Robert after her father.
It was great that they got to meet Kobe because Tim said some people told them they should change their son’s name to Robert when Bryant spent a year facing sexual assault charges in Colorado. They stood by Kobe and now they have pictures to show and a story to tell for the rest of their life.
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By Ross Siler
ATLANTA–In the fifth row across from the Lakers bench, a 5-year-old boy stood during the fourth quarter Monday night with a No. 24 jersey, a matching pair of Nike sneakers and a sign: “Kobe My Parents Named Me After You.
Kobe Robert Grandstaff had the best seat in Philips Arena to watch his namesake drill four jumpers after checking back into the game, then wag his finger and dismiss the Atlanta Hawks in a 90-83 victory.
“I was a Lakers fan my whole life, father Tim Grandstaff said, “and from when they drafted (Kobe Bryant) I liked the fact that he was a kid and nobody thought he could do anything. He proved the world wrong.
Whats in a name? Bryant scored 27 points, made 10 of 18 shots, and delivered the Lakers a victory they had to have on his eight-game road trip. Afterward he met the Grandstaffs in the locker room, greeting little Kobe with a “Whats up, sir?
“Ive heard of a few, Bryant said when asked about fans naming their kids after him. “Ive never seen one quite that old before. Father time, I guess. Its very humbling.
Tandy Grandstaff, the boys mother, told Bryant, “You made our life. Bryant also carried the night for the Lakers, who swept the Hawks for the first time since 1999-2000 and held a team to fewer than 90 points for the first time since Dec. 4.
He returned with 8:10 remaining and the Lakers holding a 68-65 lead, which could have been even smaller had Josh Childress not missed two free throws.
Lakers coach Phil Jackson thought Bryant finished the third quarter with tired legs and rested him to start the fourth. The first time he touched the ball after returning, Bryant hit a 19-footer over Joe Johnson, starting him on a memorable roll.
He connected on two more jumpers, including a 3-pointer from the corner with the 24-second clock expiring. With the crowd on its feet, Bryant then answered a 3-pointer by Johnson with a shot straight out of his highlight films.
With Johnson and Speedy Claxton trying everything to stop him, Bryant buried an 18-footer on the move to put the Lakers ahead 77-71 with 5:07 remaining. He wagged his finger all the way downcourt and to the bench as the Hawks called timeout.
“Its swagger, Bryant said. “That comes from the playground. Thats playing at the park, having fun. People watching the game . . . theyre part of it, so you want to bring them along with the ride as well and have a good time with them.
He finished the fourth quarter with 11 points and made the biggest pass of the game as well. Bryant rose for a jumper over two defenders but fired the ball at the last second to Smush Parker in the corner.
“Ive learned while playing with Kobe to expect the unexpected, Parker said.
Not only had he missed all six shots he had taken, Parker had been involved in an ugly incident with a minute left in the second quarter. After he was called for a charging foul, Parker had to be restrained by Bryant from going after referee Eric Lewis.
“Its an emotional game for me, I guess, Parker said. “I let a lot of things build up and that just put me over the top. I felt it was a bad call and I wasnt able to control myself.
Jackson deadpanned that he could have benched Parker the rest of the night but “gave him a second chance because I have a kind heart. Sure enough, Parker hit the 3-pointer to put the Lakers ahead 80-72.
“I think it shows trust, Bryant said. “I think he acknowledges that. He sees that Ill continue to come to him and continue to have confidence in him to make the right decisions. I think when you do that, it can only help carry your team a long way.
Parker finished with three points on 1-for-8 shooting but had six steals. Lamar Odom also endured a tough shooting night (4 of 17) but filled the box score with 15 points, 18 rebounds and six assists. Johnson led Atlanta with 27 points.
The Lakers shot 42.7 percent, committed 17 turnovers and improved to 3-2 on this trip. Jackson joked afterward that the Lakers took Super Bowl Monday off, something they cant afford with games left at Detroit, Toronto and Cleveland.
There was one other matter. With 28.8 seconds remaining and the Lakers in front 86-78, teenage center Andrew Bynum (14 points, 10 rebounds) inexplicably launched a corner 3-pointer with 12 seconds left on the shot clock.
Jackson immediately sent Ronny Turiaf for Bynum and said the 19-year-old had earned an automatic $50 fine. Bynum, who has attempted only one other 3-pointer in his career, jokingly said, “Im going to pay it in pennies.
“Those are things I dont want to see, Jackson said.
The Grandstaffs, meanwhile, were left with memories to last a lifetime. They were given the tickets as a Christmas present, then wound up telling their familys story. It must be noted that their son plays for a certain purple-and-gold team in pre-Kindergarten.
“Its the best feeling in the word because hes old enough to react to whats happening, Tim Grandstaff said. “Hes excited with me during the game. We high-five each other. Its a great moment.