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BBNBA: Lakers First Game Since Kobe’s Passing

(Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

(Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images)

Good afternoon, folks. The Lakers’ tribute to Kobe was beautiful. Let’s talk NBA.

“Have a good time. Life is too short to get bogged down and be discouraged. You have to keep moving. You have to keep going. Put one foot in front of the other, smile and just keep on rolling.” — Kobe Bryant

RECAP

Dame pops off again in Lakers first game since tragedy

The Los Angeles Lakers had not played a game since Saturday, just a few short hours before Kobe Bryant would tragically die in a freak helicopter accident. A special request from the Lakers organization to postpone a game originally scheduled against the Clippers for Tuesday had been granted. It gave the city and franchise some extra time to grieve and prepare for the emotions of the first game without Bryant. And they produced a 30-minute tribute spectacular ahead of the Friday night’s game that didn’t leave one dry eye across the viewing world. If you happened to miss the game or didn’t see the pregame ceremonies, you can watch it in its entirety below. I would encourage every single one of you to watch the entire video. I cried literally the entire time. It was beautiful and heartbreaking all at the same time.

I’m sure most of you know now that I’m a long-time LeBron James fan. He’s been an idol that I’ve looked up to for over a decade now. He’s my “larger than life” figure. Watching him break down while the National Anthem played in the background was something I never expected, but it was important that the cameras captured that moment. It was a reminder that even the world’s greatest are pure humans with the same emotions as everyone else. Kobe’s death still doesn’t seem real and it probably won’t for a while. LeBron’s speech helped smooth the transition. It added the human element to something that didn’t seem possible.

Now let’s talk about the game, which was one of the best I’ve watched all season long. Portland stole a win over the Lakers, 127-119.

For starters, Damian Lillard poured in 48 points for the Portland Trail Blazers and has now dropped at least 30 points in seven consecutive games. Over that span, he’s averaging 44.3 points (yes, that’s real), 6.0 rebounds, 9.3 assists, and 1.3 steals on shooting splits of 52.4/51.6/86.8. Portland is 4-3 in those games and has won three straight. Lillard recorded his first career triple-double in the previous game and nearly followed it up with another against L.A., finishing with nine rebounds and 10 assists. I don’t think there’s any denying it anymore, Lillard is the most exciting player in the NBA right now (sorry, Ja).

If you did get a chance to watch the game, you might have noticed a familiar face sneaking into the starting lineup. Former Wildcat Wenyen Gabriel made his Trail Blazers debut following a recent trade from the Sacrament Kings. Gabriel – who is technically a rookie after spending all of last season in the G League – got the start for a few different reasons. The main one is Carmelo Anthony – an incredibly close friend to Kobe – did not travel with the team for personal reasons. The other is the Blazers are dealing with a slew of injuries to important role players. This resulted in Gabriel starting and switching between guarding Anthony Davis and LeBron James. Surprisingly, Gabriel actually played a solid game. But this tweet had me laughing for about six whole minutes.

He recorded just 12 minutes and fouled out early in the second half, but it was his first-half effort that impressed me. Gabriel finished with zero points, one rebound, and one assist on a 0-3 shooting clip, but he hustled on every play and did a solid job on defending two All-Stars. Considering the circumstances of everything that happened on Friday, Gabriel did a fantastic job and I’d expect the Blazers to feed him some more minutes in the future. I’ve said in the past that he’d make a good NBA player down the road and this is his first step. He’s not going to make an immediate impact as a scorer, but he can help his team with nonstop hustle and intense defense.

Anthony Davis finished with a BBNBA-high of 37 points in addition to 15 rebounds, six assists, and five blocks while shooting 14-22 from the floor and 3-5 from beyond the arc. Rajon Rondo added two points and five boards in 14 minutes.

Suns blow an important win

The Phoenix Suns and Oklahoma City Thunder were in action on Friday, too, with OKC securing a clutch win over the Suns, 111-107. Behind 27 points, three rebounds, and five assists from Devin Booker, the Suns actually blew a late lead that would have pushed them closer into the playoff picture against a playoff-bound team.

Trailing 99-92 late in the game, the Thunder rattled off a 13-0 run that gave them a 105-99 advantage with just 25 seconds left. As good as Booker has been this season, he played poorly down the stretch. He fouled out with six seconds left and took several bad shots that could have kept Phoenix in the game. Some were rushed, others were just bad shots. It was unusual to see Booker play so out-of-sorts with the game on the line.

For OKC, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander went for 12 points, nine rebounds, and four assists. He shot 5-16 from the floor and missed all five of his shots from deep. Hamidou Diallo played 11 minutes and did record a point while Nerlens Noel contributed 10 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals in 25 minutes.

With the loss, Phoenix now sits at 20-28, 3.5 games out of the eight seed out West. OKC moved up to 30-20 and continue to rocket up the standings.

Other notes

  • Eric Bledsoe went for 15 points, three rebounds, seven assists, and two steals on 6-11 shooting for the Milwaukee Bucks, who fell to the Denver Nuggets, 127-115.
  • Willie Cauley-Stein appeared in his second game for the Dallas Mavericks, playing 11 minutes while recording two points, six rebounds, and two assists.

Check out the full stat sheet below.

STATISTICS

PlayerResult PointsFG (3FG)Reb.Ast.StealsBlocksTOs+/-Mins.
Anthony Davis (LAL)119-127 L vs. POR3714-22 (3-5)156153-1338
Devin Booker (PHX)107-111 L vs. OKC279-18 (1-5)35007-1539
Eric Bledsoe (MIL)115-127 L vs. DEN156-11 (1-5)37204-1231
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander (OKC)111-107 W @ PHX125-16 (0-5)94011+1934
Nerlens Noel (OKC)111-107 W @ PHX105-7 (0-1)73210+1525
Willie Cauley-Stein (DAL)121-128 L @ HOU21-2 (0-0)62011+811
Rajon Rondo (LAL)119-127 L vs. POR21-3 (0-1)05002-1114
Hamidou Diallo (OKC)111-107 W @ PHX00-3 (0-1)20001-211
Wenyen Gabriel (POR)127-119 W @ LAL00-3 (0-1)11010+512
Jarred Vanderbilt (DEN)127-115 W @ MILDNP-CD----------------
Jamal Murray (DEN)127-115 W @ MILDNP-Ankle----------------
Skal Labissiere (POR)127-119 W @ LALDNP-Knee----------------
Darius Miller (NOP)139-111 W vs. MEMDNP-Achilles----------------

TONIGHT IN THE NBA

3:30: Timberwolves (Towns) @ Clippers (Patterson)

7:00: Knicks (Knox, Randle) @ Pacers

7:00: Heat (Adebayo, Herro) @ Magic

8:00: Warriors @ Cavaliers (Knight-out)

8:00: Nets @ Wizards (Wall-out)

8:30 (ABC): 76ers @ Celtics (Kanter)

8:30: Hawks @ Mavericks

9:00: Hornets (Kidd-Gilchrist, Monk, Washington) @ Spurs (Johnson, Lyles)

10:00: Lakers (Davis, Rondo) @ Kings (Fox) 

10:30: Jazz @ Trail Blazers (Gabriel, Labissiere-out)

Article written by Zack Geoghegan

Covering all things NBA. Follow me on Twitter: @ZackGeoghegan