Kobe Bryant, Lakers

Season’s wild final night shows why playoffs will be must-watch

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It was the last game on the last night of the regular season — and nobody wanted it to end. Not the  fans in Sacramento, who were loud and would not leave at the end of a wild game. Wild in every way — the shots were wild, the setting was wild,  that this last game had high stakes for playoff seeds was wild. And the ending was wild.

The Lakers were ahead 18 points at the start of the fourth quarter and were cruising past Sacramento and into the second seed when the Kings started to show the fight their fans have shown in an effort to save their team — not their politicians, not their leaders, not the Kings’ owners, but the fans — and they battled back. The Kings outscored the Lakers 29-11 and had it not been for a vintage Kobe Bryant dagger in the heart of Kings fans, Sacramento might have won. But, of course, the Lakers did in overtime. You expected otherwise?

Still, the Kings shined a light on the flaws of the two-time defending champions. What makes them vulnerable in the playoffs, which is most often themselves and their focus.

And it’s that way with the contenders — there is no clear dominant team this season. Every top team in both conferences is flawed. Others are built to expose those weaknesses.

It means as unpredictable a playoffs as the NBA has seen in years. And that may make it the most fun in a long time.

First, let’s clear up the playoff matches in the West, which were in doubt until 1:15 a.m. ET Thursday.

With the win, the Lakers are the No. 2 seed in the West and they will take on the Hornets in the first round (Chris Paul and Kobe in a battle of stars).

The Mavericks are the No. 3 seed and will face a Portland team that has a real shot to win that series. The Thunder, with their surprising overtime loss to the Bucks at home on Wednesday, are the fourth seed and will take on the Nuggets in what promises to be another first-round barn-burner.

Somebody is going to get upset in the West in the first round. Wild and unpredictable. We’re telling you.

Which is fitting — the entire season has been that way. LeBron James and the Miami Heat alternated between blowing our doors off and struggling to look like they were a threat to anyone. There was the explosion of Derrick Rose from good to jaw-dropping MVP. The move of Carmelo Anthony from Denver to New York. Jerry Sloan and Deron Williams leaving Utah. The Knicks returning to respectability. The resurgence of the San Antonio Spurs. Blake Griffin dunking everything in sight and making the Clippers a must-watch.

And the Kings sadly leaving Sacramento — with a Kobe Bryant dagger in their back.

Now the playoffs come and there is not one team you can point at and say “nobody is going to match up with them.” The Lakers may be the closest thing — they have Kobe and the ridiculously long skilled front line — but they are not as deep as previous seasons. As many around the league say — and as they showed against Sacramento in the fourth quarter Wednesday — the Lakers are the biggest threat to the Lakers. On any given night they can lose focus and lose to anyone.

Boston? They traded away Kendrick Perkins, which may not matter if Shaquille O’Neal can be healthy for the playoffs, but that’s a risk. Plus, they have looked older as the season dragged on, and Rajon Rondo is doing lord knows what lately. Do they have one more run? Can the resurgent Knicks put a real scare into them in the first round?

Miami has the three great players, but will the lack of depth around them get exposed in the playoffs? Orlando made big trades this season to bring in Gilbert Arenas and bring back Hedo Turkoglu, but did they really get better?

And Chicago, no team has played harder all season than them. But there are questions around the league if what we have seen is the best of them — Boston and veteran teams have another gear for the playoffs, does Chicago?

San Antonio runs its offense through Manu Ginobili (how healthy is he?) and Tony Parker now. They have a good supporting cast, but will their not-as-strong defense catch up with them? Can they make one more run with an older core?

Oklahoma City’s core is young, and they addressed a real need by getting Kendrick Perkins. But are they still too young? Do they have the role players that can step up and make the big plays now?

It’s a lot of questions, legitimate questions for every contender.

Let’s get some answers. Let’s start the playoffs.

Kevin Durant gets first taste of playing with Warriors teammates in USA exhibition

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Kevin Durant #5 of the United States drives against Facundo Campazzo #7 of Argentina during a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t the highest of stakes, but after a heavily hyped announcement and all the fallout that resulted from it, Kevin Durant has now played organized basketball with some of his new Golden State Warriors teammates.

In a 111-74 blowout win over Argentina in an exhibition game at Las Vegas’ brand-new T-Mobile Arena, Durant shared the court with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, who will make up three-fifths of the most formidable starting lineup in the NBA. Durant looked plenty comfortable, leading all scorers with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting and making four three-pointers. Thompson and Green came off the bench, but the three Warriors shared the court in the second quarter.

Not that Durant was really thinking about it.

“I was just lost in the game,” he said afterwards. “I didn’t really notice, I was lost in the game and trying to play the right way. We worry about what Coach K wants us to do. I’m sure they felt the same way. We didn’t talk about it.”

Green concurred.

“It was great,” he said of playing with Durant for the first time. “You don’t really pay attention to the fact that we’re teammates [in the NBA]. We’re all teammates. We’re all going for the same goal.”

To be sure, these exhibition games — and even the real games in Rio next month — are nothing like what the Warriors will experience playing together when the regular season kicks off in the fall. The Olympics feature the top talent from all over the world, but the disparity in talent between the USA’s group and any other country is so staggering that most of the games are likely going to turn out like this one.

Green didn’t want to compare this experience with something like the NBA Finals.

“It’s a little different,” Green said. “Because when you’re in the Finals, No. 1 you play a team seven times, No. 2 you already know the guys. We know [Manu] Ginobili, [Andres] Nocioni, [Luis] Scola. We’ve played against those guys a bunch of times, but not at a level where you know everything they do. When you’re in the Finals, I know everything Kyrie does. It’s just a matter of, can you stop it or not? Just because you know he’s gonna do it doesn’t mean you can stop it. Here, it’s a little different because of these guys we’ve never played before.”

Next week, Durant will play his first game at his new home when the USA faces off with China on Tuesday in Oakland. They’re all looking forward to it, especially Green.

“Definitely looking forward to getting back home,” Green said. “I think it will be something special, especially with the KD announcement. Him coming in there for the first time with a USA jersey. It’ll be pretty unique.”

The last time Durant played at Oracle Arena, the circumstances were very different. Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder took an unexpected 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before dropping three straight games, leading to a Warriors trip to the Finals and, ultimately, Durant’s exit from Oklahoma City.

This time around, Durant will have the fans at Oracle on his side. Not that he needs any preparation.

Said Green, with a smile: “He knows all about Oracle.”

NBA, New Orleans ‘deep in negotiations’ for 2017 All-Star game

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16:  Western Conference Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors moves the ball across mid court during 2014 NBA All-Star game against the Eastern Conference at the Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The East defeated the West 163-155.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — As the NBA looks for a new home for the 2017 All-Star Game, cities are lining up with open arms to welcome LeBron James, Stephen Curry and the hundred million or so dollars the festivities would bring to the local economy.

New Orleans is the favorite, a person close to the situation told The Associated Press. The person said the league and city are “deep in negotiations” to stage the game there for a third time. The person spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the details of the discussions have not been publicly announced.

The league moved the game out of Charlotte on Thursday because of its objections to a North Carolina law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people. The league also said it hoped to announce a new location for next February’s events shortly and will reschedule the 2019 game for Charlotte if there is a resolution to the matter.

Even before the announcement, the league had heard from cities that were available and interested in taking over the weekend – which has grown into more like a week.

Besides having open dates in arenas, cities would need to have necessary hotel space. Officials from several have expressed interest, including Boston and Atlanta.

But New Orleans, with its good February weather and endless entertainment options, is the “heavy favorite,” the person told AP.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said in a statement it would be an “honor” to have the game return to New Orleans.

“Louisiana is rich in diversity of heritage, culture, cuisine and people, and we believe the NBA could not select a better place for everyone to come and enjoy this spectacular sporting event,” he said.

Besides multiple Super Bowls and college football bowl games, New Orleans hosted the 2008 and 2014 NBA All-Star Games. The city is easily walkable and has moderate temperatures that time of year, a bonus after frigid temperatures the last two years in New York and Toronto.

The NBA announced plans for the 2008 game just nine months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. The weekend brought about $100 million into the city to aid its recovery, and now New Orleans could benefit again because of Charlotte’s loss.

The National Basketball Players Association said Friday it supported the league’s decision to move the game that would have been in Curry’s hometown.

“North Carolina is home to a sizable number of current and former NBPA members. They and our entire membership looked forward to participating in the All-Star week activities in the Charlotte community,” the union said in a statement. “However, the enactment of legislation that challenges the right of all Americans from discrimination threatened the ability of every attendee to enjoy the All-Star festivities.”

Northern cities were excluded for years due to owners’ preferences for warm weather. But with the league being open to those locations under Commissioner Adam Silver, cities such as Cleveland, Portland and Boston have shown interest in hosting an All-Star Game.

Orlando held the 2012 game, boasts loads of hotel and entertainment options, and could be a fitting choice for the LGBT community after a gunman killed 49 patrons at a gay nightclub in the city last month.

But with the league hoping to announce a new destination in the coming weeks, New Orleans is “well on its way” to being selected, the official said.

“It would be an honor to have this event return to New Orleans, and we look forward to sharing our hospitality with basketball fans from around the country,” Edwards said. “My office will support and assist Tom Benson and the New Orleans Pelicans in any way possible to help bring the NBA All-Stars back.”

Hornets president: NBA assured Charlotte 2019 All-Star game if North Carolina law changes

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When pulling the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, the NBA said it hoped to hold the 2019 event there. (2018 is already scheduled for Los Angeles.)

It seems the 2019 plans are more concrete than just hoping.

Katherine Peralta and Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Hornets President Fred Whitfield told the Observer the NBA has no plans to put 2019 – the next available All-Star Weekend – out to general bid.

“We’ve been assured if the HB2 situation is resolved, we’ll be hosting” All-Star Weekend, Whitfield said.

I wonder whether this was before or after the league office read Hornets minority owner Felix Sabates’ email.

Even beyond Sabates — no small thorn — there’s no guaranteed North Carolina’s anti-gay law is satisfactorily modified. The state’s lawmakers have dug in their heels.

But no matter what’s happening now, 2019 is a long way off. It seems the NBA will — once again — give Charlotte as much time as possible to be a suitable location for the All-Star game.

Jae Crowder told Al Horford not to sign with the Wizards because they couldn’t beat Celtics

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Al Horford #15 of the Atlanta Hawks battles for a rebound against Jae Crowder #99 of the Boston Celtics in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  NOTE TO USER User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Celtics forward Jae Crowder is going scorched earth.

Kevin Durant and the Warriors? Check.

Raptors? Check.

Wizards?

Crowder on newly signed Boston center Al Horford, who also considered the Wizards, via Tom Westerholm of MassLive:

“He’s a perfect fit,” Crowder said. “That’s what we were telling him. He had Washington and some other teams looking at him, but we beat them four times this year. You don’t want to go there.

This is the tamest of Crowder’s rampages. Bust lest you think it’s just an innocent statement of facts — the Celtics were 4-0 against Washington this year — Wizards center Marcin Gortat seemed to take it more personally:

Interestingly, Gortat is probably still starting only because Washington missed out on Durant. Starting over Ian Mahinmi is one thing. Gortat probably would’ve had to move to the bench for Horford.

Whatever his role, Gortat will have a little more motivation against the Celtics — just like the Warriors and Raptors will.