Bryant was one of the game’s elite

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The worlds of basketball, sports in general and beyond were shocked and deeply saddened this past Sunday when 41-year-old and 20-season NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was killed, along with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others, in a helicopter crash on their way to Thousand Oaks, Calif., at which Kobe was to coach Gianna and her teammates in a youth basketball tournament.

His death occurred just hours after he was passed for third place on the NBA’s all time scoring list. Immediately upon being passed Kobe tweeted his congratulations to and respect for LeBron James.

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In another bit of sad irony Kobe will be up for election to the NBA Hall of Fame in just a few weeks. He almost certainly will be a unanimous selection, an honor he deserved even prior to his passing. The ultimate sadness of it all is that he and his daughter won’t be here to enjoy the crowning achievement and childhood dream of every player’s career.

Among the most cherished memories of Kobe is that of the final game of his NBA career, on April 13, 2016 in which he scored 60 points in front of a sold out and frenzied crowd at Staples Center. Most importantly to Kobe, the 3.5-point underdog Lakers upset Utah 101-96. What a way to say goodbye! It may have been one of the most powerful metaphorical “drop the mic” moments in modern culture.

I’m not one to make lists and rank the top athletes in any sport. Cases can be made for virtually everyone on such lists to be acclaimed “the greatest” based on your personal preferences and criteria.

Suffice to say Kobe Bryant belongs in the NBA conversation. He was as supremely talented and fiercely competitive as anyone who has ever played the game.

I would be remiss if I did not make mention of the respect shown Kobe by the Circa sportsbook. It was not long after the news of Kobe’s passing began to circulate that the Circa suspended betting on Sunday’s NBA card. It was a decision that should have been made by more sportsbooks as a gesture of respect.

Friday

Nuggets at Bucks: The best in the East meets one of the best in the West. Milwaukee has an eight-game lead for the top seed while Denver is just four games behind the Lakers in the West, tied for third.

With the emergence of Giannis Antetokounmpo over the past few seasons Milwaukee has become a legitimate title contender. The Bucks are tied with Miami and Philadelphia for the NBA’s best home record (21-2).

Denver is a decent 14-8 on the road and has a positive scoring margin away from home (plus 1.8 ppg). But the Bucks are outscoring foes at home by 13.8 ppg, more than three ppg more than any other team. Denver is off a home game Thursday night against Utah, with whom the Nuggets were tied for the Northwest Division lead entering Tuesday play. Win or lose, that could take a lot out of the Nuggets as they face a rested Bucks team that last played on Tuesday. BUCKS

Saturday

76ers at Celtics: This is the forth and final regular season game between a pair of longtime rivals who could meet again in the Playoffs. Philly’s won all three prior meetings by margins of 14, 6 and 11 points and covering in each with the most recent meeting at home in early January.

Despite the earlier win at Boston the 76ers are just 9-15 on the road and in losing 7 of their last 9 on the road their only two wins came in back-to-back games at the Knicks and Nets.

Both teams have injured players listed as day-to-day with Boston’s Jayson Tatum out since last Wednesday and Philly’s Joel Embiid out since January 6. CELTICS

Sunday

Pelicans at Rockets: The long-awaited debut of New Orleans top draft pick (No. 1 overall) Zion Williamson was a success last week. His minutes have increased over his three games from 18 to 21 to 27 and he’s averaged 19.3 points and 8.0 rebounds despite only partial playing time.

All three games were at home and this will be his second road game, playing at Cleveland on Tuesday before hosting fellow rookie (and favorite for Rookie of the Year) Ja Morant and Memphis on Friday. The Pelicans are 11-6 SU and an impressive 13-3-1 ATS since December 23.

Since last week’s column which detailed Houston’s 1-5 slump the Rockets have won three of four. But star James Harden’s shooting slump continued. He has gone 64 for 192 (33.3 percent) overall including 23 of 103 on three pointers (22.3 percent) over nine games since January 8. He missed the Rockets’ last two games with a thigh injury.  PELICANS

Last week: 2-1

Season: 25-17-2

 

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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