Russell Westbrook, Matt Barnes

Five things to watch: Thunder-Lakers

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The playoff race is heating up and with the Lakers battling for the division and the third seed and the Thunder haggling with the Spurs over the top seed in the West, Sunday’s game is the rare late season meeting with meaning. The Lakers need to get a win to lock in no-worse than fifth and drop their magic number over the Clippers to just one. The Thunder have to hang on as long as possible and hope the Spurs, facing an easier schedule, pull their starters and actually lose.

Plus, you know, these two have some history. So here are five things to keep an eye on when the Thunder face the Lakers.

1. Have  You Ever Seen The Rain?: The Thunder can score in a torrent, with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, all capable of putting up 40. The Lakers’ defense has backslid considerably, and have the fourth worst defensive efficiency over the past four games. Ramon Sessions, Metta World Peace, and Kobe Bryant are going to have to do serious work on the perimeter to contain the Thunder trio. Having help defense from Andrew Bynum (when he cares) isn’t enough. It’s going to take perimeter containment because OKC’s top three can all hit the mid-range jumper consistently off the screen. Sessions has to get through screens faster and more forcefully, Bryant has to attack Harden’s dribble to get the ball out of his hands, and MWP has to just hang on and hope KD doesn’t have a good night. He can do damage against Durant regardless, but if he’s hot, he’s hot, and that’s all there is to it.

2. Ain’t That A Kick In The Teeth?: The Thunder can bully you. They’re not a great defensive squad, but a good one, and they tend to sheepdog opponents into bad positions on the floor where they can trap. They bring help immediately and Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison are all more than willing to give you a stiff forearm to the back down low. Meanwhile, the Lakers can absolutely brutalize their opponents with MWP, Matt Barnes, Josh McRoberts, and Andrew Bynum. The battle between Perkins and Bynum for low-post supremacy remains a key matchup and whoever can establish their physical superiority is going to have a huge edge. Bynum should win based off of just physics, but if he’s not engaged, Perkins can stonewall him.

3. A Mid-Range Oven: In the first two games, Serge Ibaka was 6-11 from mid-range for 55% shooting from space when Pau Gasol was on the floor. He’s usually a 38% shooter from there. Gasol usually shoots 47 percent in the paint, non-restricted area. Against the Thunder, he shot just 33 percent, despite taking a higher than average percentage of his shots from there. Basically, whoever can take over from mid-range is going ot give their team a sizeable advantage. Gasol needs to hit a few over Ibaka using his height advantage to spook the youngster. Once that happens, Ibaka will go for the pump-fake and Gasol can create higher looks for himself and others. This is a crucial matchup for the Lakers, one they have to win.

4. Awkwardness and You: Derek Fisher is embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Players Association, with the Executive Committee having voted 8-0 for a no-confidence vote against the President Fisher and asking him to resign. Fisher refuses. In the middle of all this, Fisher has to go out and be a leader and calming influence on the Thunder, providing valuable backup point guard minutes. Fisher’s a professional, and it’s unlikely that this off-court matter will affect his on-court play. But it’s something to watch, especially in relation to how his teammates approach him.

5. Fresh Legs: The Lakers have to start thinking about resting key players. They need to get healthy and in good condition for the playoffs. They’re a win and a Clippers loss away from clinching the 3rd seed and the Clippers would need a lot of help to overtake them. If the OKC game gets away in either direction for the Lakers, Mike Brown needs to rest his guys. If they catch the Thunder napping, let the bench mob close out the game. If they get blown out of the building, sit Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum and let the Thunder have their way. Burning them out with a week to go makes little sense. Big picture is always more important.

Stephen Curry starts ridiculous Warriors fast break (VIDEO)

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Golden State is such a thing of beauty to watch in transition.

This play starts when Stephen Curry slides down to help on post defense on Clint Capela, steals the ball, saves it to a teammate and then gets it back when they start the break. James Harden tries to slow Curry down, cutting him off in the backcourt, Curry just whips a 20-foot behind-the-back pass to Andre Iguodala, who lobs it to Leandro Barbosa for the finish.

Houston fought back from 16 down early to make it interesting for a while, but Golden State pulled away late for the 123-110 win. Curry finished with 35 on the night.

Report: Pelicans’ Tyreke Evans out for season due to planned knee surgery

NEW ORLEANS, LA - JANUARY 19: Tyreke Evans #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans shoots the ball during the game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on January 19, 2016 at the Smoothie King Center in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Pelicans’ just can’t get and stay healthy. Tyreke Evans just can’t stay healthy this season.

Evans — who has averaged 15.2 points and a team-high 6.6 assists per game this season — will be done for the season following planned knee surgery, reports Shams Charania of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Pelicans had been looking at potential trades for Evans, all of that is dead now. (New Orleans would like to move Eric Gordon, but most other teams are more interested in Ryan Anderson.)

The Pelicans have been 3.2 points per 100 possessions better this season with Evans on the court. However, in recent weeks coach Alvin Gentry has given increasing minutes and increasing responsibilities to Jrue Holiday.

It is possible Gentry keeps Bryce Dejean-Jones starting and bringing Holiday off the bench (as he did last game), just to keep the bench rotations where he wants them. Also, expect Norris Cole to get more run.

None of this matters much, this has been a lost season for the 19-32 Pelicans. They are the current 12 seed, 6.5 games out of the last playoff spot, they are not catching anyone. Don’t be shocked if Anthony Davis is shut down early for the season as well.

John Wall, Wizards ruin Rambis’ Knicks debut with 111-108 win

during their game at Madison Square Garden on February 9, 2016 in New York City.   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.
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NEW YORK (AP) — John Wall had 28 points and 17 assists, Bradley Beal scored 26, and the Washington Wizards beat New York 111-108 on Tuesday night in the Knicks’ first game under Kurt Rambis.

Wall made four free throws in the final 6.6 seconds and the Wizards held on when Langston Galloway‘s 3-pointer at the buzzer was just short.

Carmelo Anthony had 33 points and 13 rebounds, but the Knicks lost their sixth straight in their first game since firing Derek Fisher on Monday. They have dropped 10 of 11 and started Rambis’ era the same way Fisher’s ended, by quickly falling in a huge early hole.

Rookie Kristaps Porzingis scored 20 points, but just two after his 14-point third quarter.

Beal also took a charge against Arron Afflalo when a video replay overturned what had been ruled a blocking foul on a basket with 44 seconds left, a play that could have cut Washington’s lead to two.

Wall then kept the Wizards ahead with his free throws and they won for the third time in nine games. The All-Star made the go-ahead basket midway through the fourth, and later added a pair of jumpers before a 3-pointer that seemed to put it away at 106-96 with about 1:50 left.

The Knicks fired Fisher on Monday and appointed Rambis the interim coach through the remainder of the season. Drafted by the Knicks in the third round in 1980, Rambis said for the second straight day that it’s important for the Knicks to get into the playoffs, but that will take a huge turnaround after the All-Star break.

They allowed 63 first-half points, trying their most this season, after he said they had to toughen up their defense.

Porzingis hit a couple of 3-pointers early in the third, but his signature play came much closer to the basket, when he spun baseline around Jared Dudley and threw down a powerful dunk with Marcin Gortat nearby. That put a buzz in the building as only the rookie can and it stayed there as the Knicks caught up at 83-all to end the period.

But Porzingis was on the bench to start the fourth and the Wizards had just gone ahead for good before he returned.

TIP-INS

Wizards: Washington has won five straight at Madison Square Garden. … Guard Gary Neal missed the game with a sore right leg.

Knicks: Phil Jackson, during an interview with MSG Network, said the chances of a trade before next week’s deadline were “very slim” but that they would be looking. … Reserve forward Lance Thomas returned after missing two games because of a concussion. … F Thanasis Antetokounmpo rejoined Westchester of the NBA Development League after playing two games for the Knicks.

 

Hassan Whiteside ejected for elbowing Boban Marjanovic in face (video)

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Hassan Whiteside defends himself when questions about his maturity early in his career with the Kings arise:

“That was a long time ago,” Whiteside said. “If they want to think about things that happened four, five years ago, that’s up to them.

“I don’t think it’s something that should follow me, but I really don’t know right now. That was years ago. Things didn’t work out in Sacramento. I worked my way to get back here. I could’ve easily gave up and went back home and just chilled. But I put in the work, and I feel like I’m a hard worker or I wouldn’t be here.”

But then he does something like this.