A lot went on in the NBA on Monday, as the league celebrated Kobe Bryant Day and continued to grieve over his devastating loss. The Lakers wore their Black Mamba jerseys in honor of the late Kobe and Gianna Bryant, and perhaps it gave them some added fuel to blow out the Trail Blazers for a third straight win. The Bucks also went up 3-1 in their series against the Magic, the Heat completed the sweep over the Pacers and the Thunder proved they’re still alive and in it against the Rockets. On top of all that, numerous NBA stars and other athletes called for justice again, following the disturbing video footage released over the weekend involving Jacob Blake and three police officers. It’s a lot to recap, so here are my five biggest takeaways from Monday’s NBA action.
1. The Lakers are still the best team in the NBA
Let me start off by saying, the Lakers’ Black Mamba jerseys for Kobe Bryant Day was a nice tribute to the late Kobe Bryant, and it was only right to have a #2 patch on the right shoulder for the late Gianna Bryant as well. It’s still unfathomably heartbreaking that they’re gone. And the rest of the NBA paid tributes to the Bryant family on Monday too, showing how great of an impact Kobe made on so many people’s lives.
Now turning the focus to basketball, good lord, did the Lakers dismantle the Trail Blazers for the second time this series. LeBron James is showing why he’s still the best player in the world after dropping 30 points in consecutive games. Between Games 3 and 4, LeBron has 68 points, 18 rebounds and 18 assists. He’s shooting 70% from the field and 61.5% from three over the last two games. Anthony Davis played only 18 minutes before exiting the game early with back spasms, but he was terrific when he was on the floor, scoring 18 points with five rebounds and five assists. Davis said he’ll be fine which is obviously good news for Los Angeles, who will need Davis as they go deeper into the playoffs. The Lakers were up by as many as 38 points and never allowed Portland to take a lead in this game, and the appear destined to move on to the second round. The Trail Blazers could potentially be without Damian Lillard in Game 5, after he left the contest early with a knee injury. His post game MRI came back inconclusive so there’s not much else to report on his injury at this time. The Lakers will look to close out the series on Wednesday and I expect them to do so since they’ve looked unstoppable in the last three games. All of you who jumped off the Lakers bandwagon, welcome back on.
2. The 76ers’ problems still aren’t solved
In a highly anticipated move, the 76ers announced that they had fired head coach Brett Brown on Monday after spending seven years with the organization. This comes after the Sixers were swept by the Boston Celtics, unceremoniously capping off another disappointing season for Philadelphia. And while moving on from Brown is a step in the right direction, there is still much more to do on the 76ers’ offseason checklist. Adrian Wojnarowski hinted at general manager Elton Brand exploring changes in the front office as well. But I don’t think it should stop there. The 76ers need to at least entertain the idea of trading either Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid. The duo just hasn’t worked well together thus far, and Philly could obviously get a haul in return for one of them. But even if it’s still too early to give up on them, they need to decide if Simmons is a point guard or a power forward. And after that they still need to find shooters to compensate Simmons’ inability to knock down shots. But if Philly really did want to start from scratch, they should consider packaging up Al Horford’s horrendous contract with whomever they choose to trade to free up much needed cap space and focus on bringing in the RIGHT pieces that fit a winning basketball team. Dismissing Brett Brown was a necessary move, but don’t think that a coaching change will be able to fix the Sixers’ on-court product.
3. Don’t count out the Thunder
The Oklahoma City Thunder avoided going down a 3-1 hole by narrowly defeating the Houston Rockets 117-114 in Game 4. And just like that, the series is tied. Chris Paul has been excellent as always, scoring 26 points in each of the last two games. The Thunder received a lot of help from Dennis Schroder, who contributed 30 points off the bench. Although Nick Nurse is very deserving, Billy Donovan is my Coach of the Year and he showed why again on Monday. After trailing by as many as 15 points in the third quarter and still down heading into the fourth, Oklahoma City rallied for yet another come from behind win. The Thunder had a league-high 17 wins after trailing heading into the fourth quarter this season and they showed their heart with another such victory in Game 4. They’ll look to really apply to pressure on Houston on Wednesday as they aim to go up 3-2 in the series. Despite all the adversity the Thunder underwent over last offseason and throughout this year, they remain in the thick of things and that’s a testament to not just Donovan and Paul, but to everyone else who finds ways to chip in as well. It’s hard not to admire this team.
4. The Heat are absolutely legit
The Miami Heat proved to be too much for the Indiana Pacers in this series, after winning Game 4 to complete the sweep. Goran Dragic led the way with 23 points and he was the only player on his team to eclipse 20. It didn’t matter though, with Bam Adebayo bullying everyone in the paint to the tune of 19 rebounds. Jimmy Butler only contributed six points and they’ll need more from him consistently if they want a chance against their likely opponent Milwaukee Bucks in the second round. Adebayo is the only player in the East who can matchup against Giannis Antetokounmpo, and that’s the main reason why I say Miami is legit. We’ll see what happens when they’re finally tested, but I think the Heat have a shot at stealing a couple games against the Bucks.
5. This is why the players wear justice slogans
Another disgusting incident unfolded on Sunday as a video was released showing white police officers shooting an unarmed Black man, Jacob Blake in the back several times. This comes after a summer filled with racial protests around the country following the murder of George Floyd in May. The NBA allowed its players to wear slogans on their jerseys promoting racial equality during the games that have been played in the bubble in Orlando, Fla., and the shooting of Jacob Blake is precisely why.
“It’s what we’ve been talking about,” LeBron James said following the Lakers’ Game 4 win on Monday. “It’s very troubling.”
Many other athletes spoke out and took to social media to voice their support for the Blake family as well as to call for racial equality in America yet again. The NBA players wearing justice slogans on the backs of their jerseys serves as a reminder that the United States still has a long way to go to end racial inequality and injustice. It will take a collective effort and responsibility from every citizen to eliminate the incidents that have occurred with Blake, Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and countless others before them. As James put it, it’s still incredibly troubling.