Dwight Howard, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace

The Lakers are hot, but are they really playing that well?

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Here’s a little secret about the Lakers — look at just their point differential this season (points scored minus points allowed) and they should be a 31-26 team. They lost a lot of games early in the season they could and should have won.

Now they are hot again — win Monday night in Denver and they are a .500 team. Even before that game they have won 11 of their last 15 and are just 2.5 games back of Houston for the eighth playoff spot. They seem to have found a sense of identity and who they are in the new system, and that is letting them win these close games.

But don’t be fooled that the Lakers are suddenly a much better team, argues Tom Ziller at SB Nation.

According to NBA.com/stats, over the last 15 games (11-4 record) the Lakers are scoring 1.04 points per possession and allowing 1.02. Over the entire season (59 games, 24-25 record) the Lakers are scoring 1.05 points per possession and allowing 1.03. The team’s efficiency differential for the season is +1.9; over the last 15 games it is +2.3. The Lakers are barely different. It’s hard to look at the data and ascertain that anything has clicked into place. This is essentially the same team that it has been: a slightly above average club. But the Lakers’ unlucky record from the first half of the season is now regressing to the mean, which the data indicates is still far short of expectations.

He’s not wrong, although he later admits what shows up when you watch the games — the Lakers are still inconsistent. They have a lot more good games than bad now as they start to figure things out, but they still have some ugly losses (by 24 to the Clippers on Valentines day, for example). The Lakers numbers have always been a little hard to read and value this season because they are so up and down.

Really that’s been about Dwight Howard, who has been up and down on the defensive end. With Kobe Bryant leading the way — shooting or passing — the Lakers offense has been good this season, it is the defense that has been the issue.

Now the Lakers are finding their stride, particularly on defense, and there are more up games. They are going to have to go catch the Rockets (who have an easy schedule the rest of the way) or Utah (hard schedule but still have Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap) if they are going to make the playoffs. Those teams are not coming back to them.

Anthony scores 35, Knicks beat depleted Heat 114-103

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MIAMI (AP) It’s been a long time since the New York Knicks were in this position.

More than three years, to be precise.

Carmelo Anthony matched a season high with 35 points, and the Knicks took advantage of second chances all night to beat the injury-ravaged Miami Heat 114-103 on Tuesday night. At 12-9, New York is three games over .500 for the first time since the end of the 2012-13 season.

“Any time you can put together some wins you feel confident, you feel comfortable, you feel like you’re heading in the right direction, and I really feel we’re doing that,” Anthony said. “We’re heading in the right direction.”

Kristaps Porzingis had 14 points and 12 rebounds for New York, which has won four straight. The Knicks lost Derrick Rose to back spasms in the third quarter, but still scored 61 points after halftime.

“We just came out in the second half knowing that we have to win the game and that we have to play better,” Porzingis said.

Goran Dragic scored 29 points and Hassan Whiteside finished with 23 points and 14 rebounds for the Heat, who fell to 2-8 at home. New York had a 31-13 edge in second-chance points, and outscored Miami 56-36 in the paint.

“Sometimes the ball goes that way,” Whiteside said.

The teams were tied at 68 late in the third quarter, when the Knicks went on a 27-13 run over the next eight minutes to take control. Anthony finished 13 for 27 from the field, and Porzingis and Joakim Noah combined for 22 rebounds.

The Heat had nine players, and might not have any more than that until next week. Justise Winslow missed his 12th consecutive game with a sore left wrist, and James Johnson (right rotator cuff), Dion Waiters (groin), Luke Babbitt (right hip) and Josh Richardson (right ankle) were also sidelined.

None are slated to travel for Miami’s three-game, four-day stretch that starts Wednesday in Atlanta. The Heat are leaving some staff in Miami to work with the injured players.

“They’re getting way more work in than they would get on the road,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.

TIP-INS

Knicks: Coach Jeff Hornacek is now 1-5 against Miami. He’s beaten every team he’s faced, and has yet to coach against his former Phoenix club. … The Knicks missed their first 11 3-point tries, then made 7 of their last 14. … New York is over .500 this late in a season for the third time in 12 years. … Not a good sign for Wednesday, when Cleveland visits the Knicks: New York is 0-4 on the second night of back-to-backs this season.

Heat: It was Dragic’s highest-scoring total as a member of the Heat. … Whiteside has led the Heat in rebounds in all 21 games this season. … Miami struggled again from the line, shooting 16 for 27.

ON PHIL

Spoelstra was asked to respond to Knicks President Phil Jackson’s comments last month about the way the Heat had to handle LeBron James when he played in Miami. Spoelstra laughed it off. “I honestly just think he gets bored and likes to throw stuff out there to get everybody all fired up,” Spoelstra said. James and the Cavaliers visit Madison Square Garden on Wednesday.

TALL ORDER

Hilarity briefly ensued in the second quarter when the 7-foot-3 Porzingis had a jump ball against Miami’s Tyler Johnson, who might be generously listed at 6-foot-4. Shocking: Porzingis won the tap.

UP NEXT

Knicks: Host Cleveland on Wednesday, preceding a five-game West Coast trip.

Heat: Visit Atlanta on Wednesday, followed by visits to Cleveland and Chicago.

Pistons beat Bulls 102-91 for fourth win in 5 games

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) Tobias Harris scored 22 points and the Detroit Pistons beat the Chicago Bulls 102-91 on Tuesday night.

Andre Drummond added 15 points and 10 rebounds for the Pistons, who won for the fourth time in five games.

Jimmy Butler scored 32 points and Dwyane Wade added 19 points and seven assists for Chicago, which lost its third straight. The Bulls were playing their fourth game in five nights and struggled in the fourth quarter.

Drummond dominated early, scoring 10 points on three dunks and two tips. Even when he went to the bench with foul trouble, the Pistons put together an 11-0 run to lead 36-21 early in the second quarter.

Rajon Rondo had 10 points in his return to the Chicago lineup.

Detroit maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second period, but Chicago rallied after Reggie Jackson picked up his third foul. The Pistons were ahead 51-44 at the half, thanks to a 16-6 edge on points off turnovers. Drummond had 14 in the half, while Butler had 16 for the Bulls.

Chicago was within 51-50 in the first two minutes of the third, and took a 72-71 lead into the fourth. Butler and Taj Gibson both had eight points in the period, while Drummond didn’t score for Detroit.

Darrun Hillard’s 3-pointer capped Detroit’s 12-3 run to start the fourth, giving the Pistons an 83-75 lead with 7:28 to play. The Pistons pulled away down the stretch against the weary Bulls.

TIP-INS

Bulls: Rondo missed Monday’s loss to Portland due to a team suspension.

Pistons: Due to his foul problems, Jackson only played 10 minutes in the first half. He’s still on limited minutes after missing the season’s first 21 games with knee tendinitis, and played eight minutes in the second half. Ish Smith played the entire fourth quarter.

UP NEXT

Bulls: Visit the Charlotte Hornets on Wednesday.

Pistons: Host the San Antonio Spurs and Pau Gasol on Thursday.

Phil Jackson admits to smoking marijuana after back surgery

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 06:  (L-R) Assistant coach Brian Shaw, head coach Phil Jackson and assistant coach Frank Hamblen of the Los Angeles Lakers sit on the bench in the second half against the Boston Celtics Game Two of the 2010 NBA Finals at Staples Center on June 6, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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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Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr admitted to trying medicinal marijuana after a serious back injury sidelined him for part of the 2015-16 NBA season. There has been much discussion about Kerr’s comments, including support from players Draymond Green and Klay Thompson.

Now, New York Knicks impresario Phil Jackson is saying that he, too, used marijuana to dull his pain after surgery.

Speaking on CBS Sports’ “We Need to Talk” Jackson said that after a back injury in the late ’60s with the Knicks, he used it as a pain medication.

[When I was recovering from back surgery], I was smoking marijuana during that period of time,” Jackson said. “I think it was a distraction for me as much as a pain reliever. But I never thought of it as ultimately a pain medication for that type of situation … We have tried to stop [marijuana use] in the NBA. I don’t think we have been able to stop it. I think it still goes on and is still a part of the culture in the NBA. It is something that we either have to accommodate or figure out another way to deal with it.

As James Herbert at CBS points out, Jackson has admitted to drug use before — notably marijuana and LSD — and has wrongly been painted as a “hippie” because of it.

Still, the more people in the NBA talk about marijuana both recreationally and medicinally the closer we get to change from the league on it.

Whether that day ever comes, who knows, but having important voices like Kerr and Jackson speaking on it only extends the discussion.

Chriss on Draymond Green’s kick: “It’s just something that needs to be addressed”

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Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green was at it again last week, kicking Phoenix Suns rookie Marquese Chriss in the hand with an unnecessary, unnatural motion that is sure to draw league eyes once again.

Chriss, who officials decided was not fouled on the play, told reporters on Monday that he felt Green’s actions were extemporaneous and that the NBA needed to do their due diligence.

From AZ Central:

“It’s kind of funny that it happens so much,” Chriss said of Green’s kicks, like Thursday’s boot to James Harden’s head. “I was frustrated at the time but just move on from it. It happens. It’s easy to avoid. In hindsight, you don’t have to kick your leg up in the air as frequently as it’s happening. It’s just something that needs to be addressed.”

The Suns rookie was feeling the results of Green’s kick a few days after it happened, and the photo on Twitter of Chriss’ pinkie was pretty gross.

Via Paul Coro:

Yikes!

Green drew a flagrant for kicking Houston Rockets star James Harden last week as well, and then two days later kicked Chriss.

Hopefully the league can find a way to put a stop to this. They already knocked Green out of Game 5 of the 2016 NBA Finals, a move which perhaps spurred the Warriors to blow a 3-1 lead to the Cleveland Cavaliers.

At this point, it’s an unnecessary mark on Green’s stellar NBA career and story, a characterization that will follow him the rest of his career even if he becomes a champion again.

It’s disappointing if you enjoy the way Green masters the rest of the game, and as Chriss says, it’s up to the league to decide what to do next.