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Duke in the NBA: Kyrie Irving makes franchise history honoring Kobe Bryant

<p>Kyrie Irving is back and finding his groove.</p>

Kyrie Irving is back and finding his groove.

The tragedy that happened in Calabasas, California, last Sunday left the basketball world shaken as the NBA family mourns the deaths of Kobe Bryant, Gianna Bryant and the other seven victims in the helicopter crash. The Blue Zone gives you a recap of some big news from former Blue Devils in this emotional week:

Kyrie Irving, Brooklyn Nets

Irving is probably one of the biggest Kobe fans in the NBA right now. When Irving won the 2016 NBA championship with the Cleveland Cavaliers, he FaceTimed Kobe Bryant in the locker room to share his joy. The Brooklyn star missed the game against the Knicks for personal reasons after the tragedy was confirmed earlier that day. In his first game back Jan. 29 against the Detroit Pistons, the crafty point guard posted 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in a comfortable victory.

Irving channeled his 'Mamba Mentality' and put it on full display in his second game back against the Chicago Bulls. He was firing on all cylinders right from the tip, draining triples, finishing acrobatically around the rim and hitting classic turnaround jumpers from the low post. With an insane 19 for 23 shooting night from the floor, Irving dropped 54 points in the Barclays Center and became the first player in franchise history to record multiple 50-point games in a single season. 

Zion Williamson, New Orleans Pelicans

Williamson made his debut Jan. 22 and in the five games he played so far, the rookie efficiently contributed 19.2 points and 7.8 rebounds to keep the Pelicans in the playoff conversation. The most notable aspect of his performance in this early stretch was the productivity around the rim. With just 25 minutes of floor time per game, the big man still managed to score 72 points in the paint, which put him second only to fellow former Blue Devil Jahlil Okafor in NBA history for points scored in the paint during the first five career games. 

Then in a much-anticipated showdown between the top two overall picks in the 2019 NBA draft this past Friday, Williamson delivered a season-high 24 points along with six rebounds to help New Orleans cruise past the Grizzlies. On the opposing end, leading Rookie of the Year candidate Ja Morant tallied 16 points. The two South Carolina natives exchanged jerseys after the game to celebrate a friendship that dated back to being AAU teammates. 

Brandon Ingram, New Orleans Pelicans, and Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics 

Brandon Ingram and Jayson Tatum both made it to the NBA All-Star Game for the first time in their careers this season. The two players have long been compared with each other, being one year apart from Duke and playing similar positions on the floor.

This year Ingram has emerged as the primary offensive weapon for the Pelicans, averaging a career-high 24.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.3 assists per contest.

Jayson Tatum stepped up his game to another level this year after being criticized for limited progress in his second year. The versatile forward has posted 21.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, helping the Celtics remain a top-3 seed in the East. Tatum’s best game of the season was against the Ingram and Pelicans, dropping 41 points in a big win.

Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets, and Jahlil Okafor, New Orleans Pelicans

Bryant’s death triggered league-wide tributes for the Laker legend, and many players opted to change their jersey number out of respect, unofficially retiring No. 24 and No. 8. Three former Duke players also joined in this act as Mason Plumlee switched his number from No. 24 to No. 7, while Okafor changed from No. 8 to No. 9. Quinn Cook, who shared the No. 2 with Gianna Bryant, changed his jersey to No. 28, a combination of her and Kobe's numbers.


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