The NBA Loses a Legend

Saturday night provided a moment to reflect on the greatness of Kobe Bryant. In a 108-91 loss to the Sixers that evening, LeBron James scored 29 points, in the process eclipsing Bryant as the third-leading scoring in the game’s history. But less than 24 hours later, tragedy struck, as Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, CA. It’s an unspeakable, unprecedented loss for the NBA, one which will weigh heavily on Bryant’s widow, Vanessa, and their surviving three daughters, as well as the league.

Bryant and his daughter were on their way to his youth basketball academy, where Bryant was her coach. Clearly, Bryant was a devoted father, full of pride in what Gianna had already accomplished and what lay ahead for her. As evidence, one needs only to look at the videos and anecdotes that flooded social media in the aftermath of the accident.

Talking about Gianna with Jimmy Kimmel during a 2018 interview, he smiled as he told the talk show host, “The best thing that happens is when we go out and fans come up to me, and she’ll be standing next to me and they’ll be like: ‘You’ve got to have a boy… someone to carry on the tradition, the legacy.’ And she’s like, ‘Oh, I got this.’”

It’s a tragic loss for the league, its players and fans, but there are still games to be played, and you know Bryant would’ve wanted them to go on. That said, the league has taken the unusual — though totally understandable — step of postponing Tuesday’s game between the Lakers and Clippers.

Tuesday, January 28
Boston Celtics (30-15) vs Miami Heat (32-14)
7:30pm ET on TNT
In spite of Kemba Walker’s 35-5-4 night, the Celtics on Sunday fell victim to Zion Williamson and the New Orleans Pelicans, losing 123-108, as Jayson Tatum continues to nurse a bum groin. Bam Adebayo led the charge Monday with a triple-double, going 20-10-10 in the Heats’ 113-92 win over the Magic.

Wednesday, January 29
Detroit Pistons (17-31) vs Brooklyn Nets (19-26)
7:30pm ET on ESPN
Andre Drummond had his streak of 11 straight double-doubles come to an end on Monday, as he posted just 15 and 8 in the Pistons’ 115-100 loss to the Cavs. The Nets were without the services of Kyrie Irving for Sunday’s 110-97 loss to the Knicks as star guard Kyrie Irving couldn’t bring himself to take the court after hearing the news that his mentor, Bryant, had died. “Obviously, our leader, Ky, wasn’t able to play. Our thoughts go out to him as well as to the families, the Bryant family as well as the other families on the helicopter, parents, the pilots,” Nets guard Garrett Temple told ESPN.

Houston Rockets (29-17) vs Portland Trail Blazers (20-27)
10pm ET on ESPN
On Monday, Eric Gordon stepped into the void left by the absence of James Harden and Russell Westbrook to drop 50 on the Jazz to fuel a 126-117 Rockets victory. Damian Lillard on Sunday honored Bryant’s memory the best way he knew how to, by dropping 50 on the Pacers in the Blazers’ 139-129 win. “I think it was the right decision for us to go out there and compete today in his honor. I think that’s what he would have wanted,” Lillard said afterward.

Thursday, January 30
Golden State Warriors (10-37) vs Boston Celtics (30-15)
8pm ET on TNT
D’Angelo Russell on Friday provided Warriors’ fans with a reminder of the glory days of the Dubs, draining 9 of 13 3-pointers en route to 37 points. However, the final score was a reminder of the present, as the Warriors fell 129-118 to the Pacers for their 13th loss in the last 14 games. The C’s are suffering through a 5-8 skid that has dropped them to 4th place in the East, with just one game between them and a road trip for the first round of the playoffs.

Utah Jazz (32-14) vs Denver Nuggets (32-14)
10:30pm ET on TNT
The Jazz failed to capitalize Monday on the absences of James Harden and Russell Westbrook, falling 126-117 to the Rockets, despite 30 points from Bojan Bogdanovic. In Denver, Sunday’s game was preceded by a moment of silence followed by chants of “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!” before the Nuggets beat the Rockets 117-110 behind Nikola Jokic’s 24-12-11 triple double.

Friday, January 31
Dallas Mavericks (29-17) vs Houston Rockets (29-17)
8pm ET on ESPN
The Mavs dusted the Thunder 107-97 on Monday, with Luka Dončić once again leading the charge with a 29-11-5 effort. Barring injury, James Harden this week will get the nine turnovers he needs to tie Clyde Drexler for 30th all time at 2,977.

Portland Trail Blazers (20-27) vs Los Angeles Lakers (36-10)
10:30pm ET on ESPN
With his 50-point effort Sunday, Lillard became the first player in Blazers history to score 40+ in three straight games, having previously scored 47 against Dallas and 61 against Golden State. LeBron needs 3,273 more points to catch Karl Malone and move up to #2 on the all-time scoring list, which probably won’t happen before Christmas 2022.

Saturday, February 1
Philadelphia 76ers (30-17) vs Boston Celtics (30-15)
8:30pm ET on ABC/ESPN3
Ben Simmons went 28-10-8 with 4 steals and Tobias Harris kicked in 29 points Friday to lead the Sixers to a 108-91 win over the Lakers and there’s an outside chance Joel Embiid could return to the fold this week. The Celtics could really use a center, couldn’t they?

Sunday, February 2
New Orleans Pelicans (18-29) vs Houston Rockets (29-17)
2pm ET on ABC/ESPN3
The Pelicans’ 123-108 win Sunday’s over the Celtics was the first of the Zion Williamson Era, as the young man posted 21-11 in 27 minutes. James Harden is on pace to become just the second player ever to average 35+ points per game; Wilt Chamberlain did it for the first five seasons of his career, from 1959-60 to 1963-64, during which time he averaged 41.7 ppg.

Stats through Monday, courtesy ESPN and Basketball Reference