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Lakers survive and advance, eliminate Nuggets in Game 7

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It wasn’t easy for the Lakers in Game 7, just as it wasn’t easy for them the entire series. But in the end, L.A. was at full strength for the first time this postseason, and played to its strengths for much of the night, ending Denver’s season 96-87 at Staples Center on Saturday, and advancing to a second-round date with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the process.

Lakers starting forward Metta World Peace, playing for the first time in these playoffs after serving his seven-game suspension for elbowing James Harden in the head a couple of weeks back, made his impact felt on the defensive end all night long, holding Danilo Gallinari to just three points on 1-of-9 shooting.

The reintroduction of World Peace into the Lakers lineup was noticeable, but more important was the assertion and re-emergence of Pau Gasol as a dominant presence inside.

Gasol played like we all know he can in this one, after two consecutive dismal playoff performances that left us wondering what needed to happen in order to snap him out of whatever funk he happened to be in. Gasol was aggressive from the start in Game 7, and dominated on the glass with 17 rebounds — 11 offensive — while leading the Lakers in scoring with 23 points.

Andrew Bynum had 18 rebounds of his own, and finished with 17 points, but did so on just 4-of-15 shooting.

Kobe Bryant finished with 17 points and eight assists, but for the most part, deferred to his teammates when he saw consistent double teams from the Denver defense all night long. Bryant uncharacteristically took just two field goal attempts in the fourth quarter, and scored just three points on an attempt behind the arc with under a mintue to play that pushed the Laker lead to eight, and out of reach for a Nuggets team that had fought back time and again all night, and all series long.

In addition to the return of World Peace and the re-assertion of Gasol, Steve Blake was huge offensively for Los Angeles. He made timely buckets throughout the game, and finished with a big 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting off the bench.

It was a tightly-contested game for most of the night, but the Lakers were able to get out to a 16-point lead with less then seven minutes to play in the third. The Nuggets refused to fold, however, and played with the heart, desire, and drive that they had all series long. Denver was able to come back to tie the game before the third quarter was through, and trailed by just a single point heading into the fourth.

Bryant’s defense took center stage at that point, as he switched onto Lawson for the remainder of the game. Lawson was controlling the game for Denver at every turn, and had 24 points on 11-of-14 shooting through three quarters. But in the fourth, with Bryant defending, he was unable to get anything going, and went 0-for-5 in the final period without a single point and just two assists.

There weren’t too many surprises in this Game 7; with World Peace back in the starting lineup, the Lakers’ defense was stronger, and with Gasol showing up and giving maximum effort, the Lakers are always going to be tough to stop. As L.A. looks forward to its matchup with Oklahoma City, consistency will be the word thrown around the most in the Lakers’ camp, especially when discussing the play of the bigs inside.

Bryant is always going to be there as an offensive option that is scary for his opponent. But if OKC chooses to take him out of the equation with frequent hard double teams as Denver did in Game 7, the Lakers now know that they have plenty of other options.

Whether or not the Lakers can stop the weapons the Thunder have offensively is another matter entirely. But at least after Saturday night’s win to closeout the Nuggets, they’ve earned themselves the opportunity to give it their best shot.

Reports: Raptors looking hard for power forward upgrade at trade deadline

Al Horford Thaddeus Young
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There are precious few windows in the NBA when everything comes together for a franchise and it can make a deep playoff run (well, unless you’re the Spurs). When those opportunities arise, teams have to grab them. Carpe Diem.

The Toronto Raptors are the clear second-best team in the Eastern Conference, and the top seed Cavaliers do not look invincible. But the Raptors have a glaring hole in their lineup at the power forward spot. The Raptors start veteran Luis Scola, but they are 10 points per 100 possessions better when he is off the court than on it — not one Raptors lineup with Scola and center Jonas Valanciunas has a positive plus-minus this season. They have Patrick Patterson off the bench, but he has a limited offensive game that would cause matchup issues in the postseason.

The Raptors want to seize their moment — expect them to be active at the trade deadline trying to upgrade at the four.

Ryan Wolstat of the Toronto Sun said that in a recent ProBasketballTalk podcast. He said their ideal player would be Al Horford of the Atlanta Hawks. However, if the Hawks decide to keep him or the price is too high, the Raptors are looking at other options as well, something Brian Windhorst discussed in a recent radio conversation in Toronto, as transcribed by The Brooklyn Game.

“I think they’re gonna go for it. I think from what I understand, from what I’m hearing, they’re pretty aggressive in the trade market. They’re looking for power forwards. I’ve heard them attached to Thaddeus Young. I’ve heard them attached to (Nuggets forward) Kenneth Faried. I’ve heard them attached to (Suns forward) Markieff Morris. They have extra draft picks. I wouldn’t trade that New York Knicks pick unless it was for a blockbuster acquisition, because you can’t protect it, you can’t protect another team’s pick. I would do it if I could put, like, a top-five protection on it. But you can’t do that. You can’t say, allright, we’ll give you two of our picks if it falls in the top five. But they have assets to do it. They have some young players.”.

The Nuggets have tested the market for Faried, and he is available, his energy/glue-guy game would pair well with Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. Although, if I were Rockets GM Masai Ujiri and I was talking to Denver, the name Danilo Gallinari would come up a lot, more often than Faried. His shooting and pick-and-pop skills would fit with the Raptors guards well.

Young would be a good fit and an upgrade. Morris could be an improvement on the court, and he’s on a reasonable contract, but there are concerns about time he could miss (suspension and maybe jail) for a pending felony assault case with his brother Marcus.  The Raptors also need to ask themselves if they have the right internal structure and locker room leadership to provide the support/guidance teams need if they bring Morris on — something incidents Wednesday night emphasized. But Morris is better than anyone on the Raptors’ roster.

The Raptors have multiple first-round picks coming up they can move, the New York park would have to be included in a Horford deal but not necessarily the others. There are also young players that the team is high on, such as Lucas Nogueira, that could be moved in the right deal.

Raptors fans were angry last season at the deadline when Ujiri didn’t pull the trigger on any deals, but that seemed the right move at the time. The Raptors were a few steps away from the top rung of the East, and the reported deals would not have changed that picture.

This season feels different. Expect a bold move out of Toronto during or after All-Star weekend. Carpe Diem.

Jared Sullinger tries to invade Clippers huddle (video)

BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 22:  Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics reacts during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bulls at TD Garden on January 22, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Celtics defeat the Bulls 110-101. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Nice box out, Cole Aldrich.

Lamar Odom makes appearance at Kanye West fashion show

Workers set up the area where Kanye West will show his Yeezy collection at Madison Square Garden during Fashion Week, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in New York. West will also perform songs from his latest album, "The Life of Pablo," out on Friday. (AP Photo/Leanne Italie)
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NEW YORK (AP) — Lamar Odom made his public return at brother-in-law Kanye West’s New York Fashion Week show on Thursday.

Odom’s appearance marked the first time he’d attended a public event since he was hospitalized in critical condition in Las Vegas in October 2015 after he was found unconscious at a Nevada brothel with cocaine in his system. Odom, who is estranged from Khloe Kardashian, had been moved from a Los Angeles hospital to a private facility in January.

As West walked Odom to his seat with the Kardashian and Jenner families, the crowd at Madison Square Garden for West’s Yeezy runway show cheered and shouted Odom’s name.

J.B. Bickerstaff calls Rockets ‘broken team,’ ‘fragmented bunch’

Houston Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff rubs his head in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Washington Wizards, Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Houston. The Wizards won 123-122. (AP Photo/Pat Sullivan)
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Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff has been unafraid to sharply assess his team.

But after last night’s loss to the Trail Blazers – Houston’s third straight defeat and sixth in eight games – Bickerstaff kicked up the rhetoric even further.

Bickerstaff, via Calvin Watkins of ESPN:

“We’re broken,” Bickerstaff said. “It’s that simple. We’re a broken team, and we all need to use this break to figure out how we’re going to impact change. If we don’t want to impact change, then we need to be made aware of that, too, and we’ll go in a different direction.

“We can’t continue to go out and play this way. It’s easy to see it’s a fragmented bunch. You can’t win that way.”

This is why Dwight Howard is on the trade block. The Rockets are so incohesive, there’s no simple solution in sight. This increasingly looks like a lost season for Houston, which should emphasize future planning – like dealing Howard, who can become an unrestricted free agent at age 30 this summer.

Yet, the Rockets are just a half game from playoff position. They obviously dreamed much bigger when the season began, but at this point, merely making the postseason should qualify as a success.

It’s Bickerstaff’s job to get them there, no matter how unlikely. He has certainly shown little fear in trying, whether it’s giving these quotes or pulling all five starters simultaneously shortly into a game. He’s trying to put his mark on this team.

The players just aren’t responding, not more than periodically, at least. From James Harden down, nobody plays with the requisite focus and energy.

Nothing in Bickerstaff’s assessment is surprising. It’s just surprising he said it so bluntly publicly.

Then again, that’s nothing compared to what veteran Houston guard Jason Terry said. Eric Ringering of 750 The Game:

https://twitter.com/ringering45/status/697664478993756164