Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. receives warm greeting in win over Denver

DENVER — Nearly hundreds of passionate supporters arrived two hours before tipoff in hopes to see their favorite player. They rocked his jersey. They patiently stood in line for a meet-and-greet with him. They asked him for his autograph.

Sounds like Kobe Bryant continuing his season-long farewell tour to commemorate his 20th and final NBA season. Except it wasn’t. The hoopla before the Lakers hosted the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday at Pepsi Center all centered around rookie forward Larry Nance Jr., the former University of Wyoming standout whose alma mater is two hours away from here.

So who had more fans before and after the Lakers’ 111-107 victory over the Nuggets on Tuesday at Pepsi Center? Bryant or Nance Jr.?

“Oh no, I had more fans than him,” Nance Jr. cracked before providing the split. “I would say 90-10, 90 my way.”

Nance Jr. left the 980 Cowboys fans that attended happy.

He signed countless basketballs and pictures. He signed a few baseballs. He even held of the baby of Wyoming sports publicist Amil Anderson. All of which left Nance Jr. “shocked,” mindful that the University of Wyoming campus in Laramie, Wyo. is what he called “a treacherous drive” that lasts about two hours.

“That meant a lot to me that that many people would come out and support me,” said Nance Jr., whom the Lakers drafted 27th overall. “If I had the time, I would’ve sat, taken pictures and signed every single thing for every single person that came out.”
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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant turns back clock in victory over Denver

DENVER — The last time he had stepped on a basketball court, Kobe Bryant traveled back in time by throwing down a one-handed dunk and sending teammates and fans alike in a frenzy. Bryant returned five days later, and did nearly the same thing.

But the magic Bryant performed did not hinge on one play. It hinged on basically everything. The Lakers secured a 111-107 victory over the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday at Pepsi Center by posting a complete game, tying a season-high 31 points on 10-of-22 shooting and five assists in 32 minutes. After Denver (11-17) reserve Will Barton posted 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting in the first half, Bryant defended him in the second half and limited him to one field goal.

“I’ve been watching him doing it since I was a little kid,” Lakers forward Julius Randle shrugged. “It’s nothing new.”

But it actually is new.

Bryant is 37 years old. He has come off this season fighting rust stemmed from playing a combined 41 games the last two years with overlapping injuries to his left Achilles tendon, left knee and right shoulder. He has fought the pain stemmed from Father Time’s unforgiving punch. But after missing Saturday’s game in Oklahoma City nursing a sore right shoulder, Bryant stepped on the floor here playing as if nothing ever happened to him.

“I can’t explain it. I don’t even try,” Lakers coach Byron Scott. “Seriously. What he did on both ends of the floor was amazing.”
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Lakers’ Byron Scott ranks Shaquille O’Neal as NBA’s fourth best center

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott ranked Shaq as the league's fourth best center  (Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott ranked Shaq as the league’s fourth best center
(Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

DENVER – The news hardly made Lakers coach Byron Scott flinch. Former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal became eligible as a first-ballot candidate to become inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, with festivities taking place from Sept 8-10.

“It was surprising if he wasn’t,” Scott said.

With O’Neal winning four NBA titles and ranking fifth on the league’s all-time scoring list, Scott ranked O’Neal as the NBA’s fourth-best center after former Lakers centers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as well as former Boston Celtics center Bill Russell.

What about former Houston center Hakeem Olajuwon?

“Olajuwon is up there,” Scott said. “I look at statistics, but I also look at rings. Shaq got more tings than Olajuwon.”
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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant “100% ready to go” vs Denver

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will play in Tuesday's game against Denver. (photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will play in Tuesday’s game against Denver. (photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles News Group)

DENVER — After Kobe Bryant nursed soreness in his right shoulder in recent days, Lakers Byron Scott said that Bryant is “definitely 100% ready to go” when the Lakers (3-24) play the Denver Nuggets (11-16) on Tuesday at Pepsi Center.

Scott reported that Bryant admitted on Monday night that his shoulder felt “a tad sore,” but the Lakers do no expect any lingering issues. Pain in Bryant’s right shoulder emerged both before and after he threw down a right-handed dunk last Thursday against Houston forward Clint Capela.

Bryant did not talk to reporters after morning shootaround. But Scott said that Bryant arrived “earlier than normal to get some shots up.”

Scott sounded aware of the fine line he wants Bryant to take in shedding off rustiness and ovoiding overuse. He has averaged only 16.7 points on 33.9 percent shooting, 4.3 rebounds and 3.4 assists in 30.8 minutes per game. But in his last six appearances, Bryant has averaged 18.83 points per game on 48.8 percent shooting, 5.5 rebounds and four assists in 29.33 minutes. During that stretch, Bryant has also taken fewer shots (14.66 compared to his season-average of 17.2). But Bryant also reporting feel less stiff.

“I trust him enough. And he knows me enough when I say don’t take too many [shots],” Scott said. Not 200, not 500. Take a few [shots] and see how it feels and come ready to play. I have no doubt he will.”

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

Shaquille O’Neal eligible for Hall of Fame induction in 2016

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal buried the hatchet on Shaq's podcast that was released on Monday.  (Will Lester/Staff Photographer)

Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal buried the hatchet on Shaq’s podcast that was released on Monday. (Will Lester/Staff Photographer)

After collecting too many nicknames to count, former Lakers center Shaquille O’Neal will likely be able to call himself something else.

Hall of Famer.

O’Neal became eligible as a first-ballot candidate to become inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016, with festivities taking place from Sept 8-10. O’Neal is strongly expected to receive enough consideration after ending his 20-year NBA career with four NBA championships, a fifth-place standing on the league’s all-time scoring list (29,596), three Finals MVPS, one regular season MVP and 15 All-Star appearances.

O’Neal retired in 2011, but his eligibility was pushed up a year after the Hall switched from a requisite five-year waiting period to four.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

Kobe Bryant intrigued with Ben Simmons’ potential

Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant ,24, takes a shot against Portland's Al-Farouq Aminu,8, during the first quarter at the Staples Center.  Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, November,22, 2015.         (Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is intrigued with LSU freshaman prospect Ben Simmons.
(Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily Breeze)

DENVER — With the games becoming unwatchable with every loss, Lakers fans have played a parlor game in recent years.

Instead of making travel arrangements for the Lakers’ championship parade in Los Angeles, those fans have calculated the likelihood that the Lakers will strike it rich in the NBA draft lottery in May.

With the Lakers nursing only a 3-23 record, all eyes have narrowed in on LSU freshman Ben Simmons, a 6’10 versatile forward that averages 18.7 points, 13.9 rebounds and 5.8 assists. He also has posted a team-leading 22 steals and 14 blocked shots. That has already sparked considerable attention from one prominent Lakers player.

“He’s a fantastic player,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said on Monday in an NBA-sanctioned conference call with international media. “He obviously has a tremendous amount of potential.”

The Lakers currently have a 19.9 percent chance at the top pick by virtue of having the NBA’s second-worst record. But Bryant’s question marks have less to do with the Lakers’ draft odds and more to do with Simmons’ DNA.

“It’s just a matter of what he wants to take on,” Bryant said. “It’s not about handing over keys and things of that nature. It’s really about the player that’s here. Do you have the attitude that winning championships is your only mission and your only goal? If you don’t win a championship, the season is a failure. If you have that attitude, the city will absolutely love you and you’ll get this team back to playing and winning at a level that it’s accustomed to.”
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Kobe Bryant rules out playing overseas next season

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant waves to the crowd after an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 103-91. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Los Angeles Lakers’ Kobe Bryant waves to the crowd after an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2015, in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won 103-91. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

DENVER — Even through the endless grind accumulated from nearly two decades of NBA excellence, Kobe Bryant remains determined to finish out the 20th and final year of his NBA career.

But playing elsewhere after that? That becomes a different story.

“I would have loved to play overseas for a season. But it’s not going to happen,” Bryant said on Monday in an NBA-sanctioned conference call with international media. “I wish I could’ve done it. But I can’t. The body won’t let me. That is fine.”
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Lakers’ Kobe Bryant expected to play Tuesday vs Denver

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, left, seen driving around Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, in Los Angeles, suffered a sore shoulder after dunking during that game. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

The Lakers’ Kobe Bryant, left, seen driving around Houston Rockets forward Trevor Ariza Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015, in Los Angeles, suffered a sore shoulder after dunking during that game. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

DENVER — The issues appears to be a slam dunk, even if Kobe Bryant is not expected to throw down any more of those.

After sitting out of Saturday’s loss in Oklahoma City with a sore right shoulder, Bryant is expected to play when the Lakers (3-23) visit the Denver Nuggets (11-16) on Tuesday at Pepsi Center. Bryant also returned to Denver on Monday after spending time in Sunday in Los Angeles with his family.

“He’s back and feeling better. He feels good enough where he wants to play,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said following Monday’s practice. “If he’s already said he’s ready to go and good to go, I know him. That means a little pain doesn’t matter to him. He’ll be ready to play tomorrow.”

Bryant stayed at the team hotel to rest during the Lakers’ 45-minute practice. But Scott said he has told Bryant to attend morning shootaround on Tuesday to complete a light shooting session to recapture his rhythm.

Bryant has averaged 16.7 points on 33.9 percent shooting and 3.4 assists. But he has shown more efficiency recently, averaging 20.3 points on 50.8 percent shooting, 6.0 rebounds and 4.8 assists in the past five contests. Scott plans to play Bryant around his season average, which is 30.8 minutes per game.


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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mark.medina@langnews.com

Lakers’ Kobe Bryant returns to Los Angeles

 Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant sits on the bench watching game action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)


Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant sits on the bench watching game action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)

DENVER — Lakers guard Kobe Bryant traveled from Denver to Los Angeles on Sunday morning after sitting out in Saturday’s loss against Oklahoma City because of soreness in his right shoulder, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

Although Bryant is receiving treatment in hopes to play in Tuesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center, sources say Bryant does not plan to see a doctor in Los Angeles. Bryant mainly returned to Los Angeles to spend time with his family, sources said.

Bryant plans to travel back to Denver sometime on Monday. The Lakers (4-23) currently list Bryant’s status as probable to play on Tuesday against the Nuggets (11-15).

“He’s okay,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said following Saturday’s practice at the University of Denver. “No improvement. But no worse than the initial prognosis that it’s soreness.”
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Thunder’s Kevin Durant downplays dinner with Kobe Bryant

Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant will get an up-close chance to check out the young Lakers core today. Stephen Dunn — Getty Images

Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant will get an up-close chance to check out the young Lakers core today. Stephen Dunn — Getty Images

OKLAHOMA CITY — The words flowed out endlessly as Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant gushed about Kobe Bryant’s mentorship. Durant admired Bryant’s work ethic. Durant cherished playing with Bryant on two U.S. Olympic teams. Durant appreciated Bryant’s support after the Thunder’s star broke his right foot last season.

But Durant suddenly became less talkative surrounding his dinner with Bryant on Friday night in Oklahoma City.

“It was cool,” Durant said before the Lakers played the Thunder on Chesapeake Energy Arena.

What did Bryant discuss with Durant?

“We had a good meal,” Durant said, “at a nice restaurant.”

Lakers coach Byron Scott sounded amused about the subject, saying “it was just two great players and good friends having dinner.” But with the Lakers planning to pursue Durant next summer during free agency, it was only natural to wonder if Bryant made any early sales pitch.

For what it’s worth, Durant admired how Bryant will end a 20-year career solely with the Lakers, something Durant may try to do with the Thunder.

“That’s a dream. That’s a type of career you wan to have when you first come into this league,” Durant said. “When you win a title, it makes it easier to ride it out.”
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