Rajon Rondo, Kobe Bryant

Celtics, Lakers play one that feels like old times

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On paper this was a battle of seven seeds, a couple teams just a few games over .500 with a lot of potential but not really contenders.

But once the ball went up, it felt like it was the 2010 NBA finals again. Or maybe the 2008 finals. Or 1985. Or 1969.

Rivalries are what make sports fun and there was some real fire and some good old-fashioned dislike between the Lakers and Celtics on a Thursday night in February. That made for an entertaining game that was close the whole way, went into overtime — and down to a blocked shot in the final second of overtime — as the Lakers get out of Boston with an 88-87 win.

Let’s be honest here, it may have felt like 2008, but the level of play was nowhere near NBA finals level. Or even good playoff ball. Both teams were sloppy in their execution, particularly late in the contest. The best example was the Celtics had a chance for one play, one shot to get the win on the last play of regulation. They ran a Boston staple where Paul Pierce has the ball, Ray Allen comes up like he’s setting a high screen then slips the screen and slides out for a jumper — and it worked, both defenders went with Pierce. And he never made the pass. Allen stood there open. Instead the result was Mickael Pietrus having to come out and help Pierce, then take a 30-footer at the buzzer.

The difference in this game was the Lakers size — they made a point of pounding the ball inside all night, crashing the boards hard and taking advantage of their skill and size advantages. In the first half, 22 of the Lakers 33 shot attempts came from Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.

Gasol responded to being snubbed for the All-Star Game by putting up 25 points on 12-20 shooting, plus grabbing 14 boards and having the game-winning block on an attempted Allen putback of a Pierce miss. Andrew Bynum (who will start in the All-Star Game) had 16 points — including the overtime tip-in putback that won the game — plus 17 rebounds and three blocked shots.

Kobe Bryant was Kobe, distributing early, putting on a display of impressive footwork in the midpost, knocking down jumpers and finishing with 27 points.

You know those three will be there most nights, but the Lakers got a solid contribution out of Matt Barnes as well. As for the point guard spot… let’s just say Derrick Fisher was so bad (0-7 shooting and getting abused on defense) that Steve Blake, in his first game back from injury, closed out the game. And Blake wasn’t good. The Lakers were 1-15 from three — if they can’t make teams pay for collapsing down on their big men they are in a lot of trouble come the playoffs.

Boston played good defense in this one — that has been their hallmark in winning five straight — but when faced with another good defensive team could not generate enough offense to get the win. They settled and shot just 39.2 percent on the night and only got to the free throw line five times. Ray Allen had 22 points, Pierce 18 but needed 18 shots to get there.

In the end, it may not have been pretty but it was fun. We fans got some free basketball in overtime, some dramatic plays from big stars, and some real passion. Rivalries are fun. Even on a random Thursday in February.

Carmelo airballs wide-open 5-foot jumper, sets Knicks scoring record (VIDEO)

New York Knicks' forward Carmelo Anthony (7) questions referee Dan Crawford (43) before he was ejected for two technical fouls in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans at Madison Square Garden in New York, Monday, Jan. 9, 2017. The Pelicans defeated the Knicks 110-96. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
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Carmelo Anthony is a gifted scorer, but the New York Knicks forward probably wants this one back.

After a slick pass from a teammate on Thursday night against the Washington Wizards, Anthony turned to drop a floater down on the net and missed by a solid foot.

Via Twitter:

The joke was on the Wizards in the end, as Anthony went on a tear after the missed bucket. He set a Knicks record with 25 points in the second quarter, ending the first half with 27 points.

Russell Westbrook isn’t an All-Star starter and the Internet is mad about it

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Russell Westbrook, the man averaging a triple-double for the Oklahoma City Thunder this season and a solid pick for NBA MVP, is not starting in the 2017 All-Star Game. Instead, Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors and James Harden of the Houston Rockets will be on the floor at tip as Westbrook watches from the bench.

That’s clearly wrong … right?

Westbrook lost the starting spot thanks to — brace yourselves — the fan vote. While players and media had Westbrook atop their voting sheets, fan votes put Westbrook No.3. That tied him with both Curry and Harden, who were Nos. 1 and 2 in the fan vote.

Of course, the fan vote is the tie breaker, which pushed the Thunder star to the reserves.

Meanwhile, the Internet was not happy about it:

Yeah … Russell Westbrook should be starting.

Miami churns up plenty of memories for Mavs’ Dirk Nowitzki

Dallas Mavericks v Miami Heat - Game Six
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MIAMI (AP) Dirk Nowitzki tries to avoid feelings of nostalgia.

That’s impossible when he’s in Miami.

For all the cities around the world where he’s played, whether with the German national team or the Dallas Mavericks, the only place where Nowitzki celebrated the ultimate prize is Miami – where he led the Mavs to the 2011 NBA championship , avenging a loss to the Heat five years earlier. So on Thursday, before playing in Miami for the 25th time, Nowitzki was understandably reflective.

“You definitely never forget,” Nowitzki said, as he relaxed for a few minutes in a courtside seat across from the Heat bench. “You don’t always want to live in the past. You kind of want to make it work now in the present, so I don’t always think about that year, but coming here, walking in the hotel, walking in this building, it’s tough to forget.”

Nowitzki is under contract for next season, though no one seems sure if he’ll play past this season. He turns 39 in June. He’s probably just a few weeks away from reaching the 30,000-point mark. His place in the Basketball Hall of Fame was ensured long ago. And the Mavericks are in a rebuilding phase, making it fair to say that another title probably isn’t in the immediate offing.

So it’s possible that Thursday may be his Miami farewell.

Whenever he leaves the game, the Heat will tip their caps.

“At the highest level, in the biggest moments, he proved that he can be the best player in the world – period,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “What else do you need to say? His game is timeless, too.”

It’s timeless, yet evolving. Nowitzki was probably more of a small forward when he broke into the NBA, became a power forward who changed the game with his combination of 7-foot height and guard-like shooting, and now plays a hybrid center role. The one-legged step-back jumper – his signature move – has been emulated by many, including Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James.

Nowitzki went to The Finals twice, both times against Miami, and the Heat still offer him what they call ultimate respect.

“You could say that Dirk Nowitzki, in his prime, forced longer and more coaching meetings around the league, or at least as much as any player in the league,” Spoelstra said. “He was so unique. You had to have specific Nowitzki rules. The absolute best of the best require their own rulebook, and you had to design ways of defending that may not be consistent with your system but specific for him.

“Otherwise,” Spoelstra continued, “you would run around in circles looking like idiots.”

Much has changed since Nowitzki first played in Miami on April 7, 1999.

The Mavericks and the Heat both had different logos than they do now. Don Nelson was coaching Dallas, Pat Riley was still in his first of two stints coaching Miami. Vancouver and Seattle still had NBA teams. The Heat weren’t even playing in AmericanAirlines Arena at that point – they were at Miami Arena, which was demolished in 2008.

Nowitzki went scoreless in three minutes that night, and scoreless again three nights later against Golden State. He’s failed to score only twice in 1,454 games since, the last of those coming in 2003.

“I used to be a tough matchup,” Nowitzki said.

He won’t say it, but he still is.

Age has slowed him, for sure. The skills and the know-how, that doesn’t change.

“Hall of Famer,” Heat forward Udonis Haslem said. “One of the best big men to play the game. He definitely changed the game. Hell of a competitor, a champion, somebody who I have a lot of respect for.”

Haslem had the task of guarding Nowitzki in those Finals meetings.

“I really found out what I was made of as a competitor,” Haslem said.

The Mavericks don’t always stay in the same hotel when they visit Miami, but the one they got for this trip helped spark Nowitzki’s trip down memory lane. They stayed there in 2006 during the Finals when they lost three games in Miami, and stayed there again in 2011 when they left Miami with the Larry O’Brien Trophy in tow.

All the memories, good and bad, started flooding back as Nowitzki walked through the lobby.

“You know, `06 will obviously never be out of my memory,” Nowitzki said, “but `11 definitely made it sweeter.”

Kings make it official: Rudy Gay out for season with torn Achilles

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We all knew this was coming, but the MRI made it official:

Kings’ wing Rudy Gay is out for the season with a torn left Achilles, the team confirmed Thursday. He will have surgery to repair the Achilles soon, but a date has not yet been set. Recovery from this injury lasts at least nine months, often closer to a year.

This was expected after the initial diagnoses Wednesday. Still, it’s a blow to Sacramento and its playoff dreams.

Gay was the Kings’ second-leading scorer at 18.7 points per game, plus pulling down 6.4 rebounds a night, and this season the team gets outscored by 10 points per 100 possessions when he is off the court. Matt Barnes and, once he returns from his calf injury in a couple of weeks, Omri Casspi will be asked to pick up the slack. Those two are a drop off from what Gay brought to the Kings in terms of scoring.

The big picture for Gay also gets cloudy. Gay made it very clear he was not happy in Sacramento and planned to opt out of the $14.3 million final year of his contract to be a free agent next summer. That led to him being a potential trade deadline target. Those trades are off the table. At age 30 and trying to come back from a traumatic injury, it’s fair to question if Gay will even opt out.