Los Angeles Lakers Steve Nash of Canada intervenes as Kobe Bryant berates Metta World Peace for committing a foul during their NBA game in Los Angeles

Lakers continue to build chemistry, move into the playoff picture with win over Bulls

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LOS ANGELES — It’s been a long time in the making, and there’s plenty more work to be done over the regular season’s final 18 games. But for the first time all year, the Lakers can look at the standings and see themselves as an official part of the playoff picture after Sunday’s 90-81 win over the Bulls at Staples Center.

The Lakers are now 33-31 on the season, and sit in the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz.

In Friday night’s win over the Raptors, the Lakers needed several shots that were both miraculous and heroic from Kobe Bryant down the stretch to come back and get the overtime victory. They didn’t need much from him offensively in this one, however, thanks to a balanced attack and a strong third quarter from Steve Nash, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the period.

Bryant didn’t even reach double figures in scoring until he hit a three-pointer with 4:52 remaining in the third quarter, which pushed the Lakers lead to 15. He finished with a team-high 19 points, to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists, while five of his teammates finished in double digits.

The Bulls are not known for their offense, and struggled to score in this one. Chicago shot a dismal 37.1 percent from the field, and went just 4-16 from three-point distance. But the defensive effort from the Lakers was stronger than usual, led by an increasingly more active Dwight Howard, whose 21 rebounds helped L.A. dominate the Bulls on the glass for most of the contest.

Chicago was able to cut a lead that once reached 18 points down to eight with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth, but the Lakers responded by scoring the next five points, while holding the Bulls scoreless for the next three and a half minutes.

More important than this single game victory and the temporary playoff position that it earned the Lakers is the improved chemistry the team is showing on the court. The communication was constant in this one defensively, with players giving their all on loose ball and rebound opportunities, while the body language overall was genuinely positive. The change from the way these guys interacted with each other in the opening months of the season is both noticeable and substantial.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some bumps along the way — Bryant was furious with Metta World Peace at the end of the first half, after he committed an offensive foul while Bryant was dribbling down the clock to get off a final shot. He yelled at Metta as the two walked back down the floor, but all was forgiven later when Bryant was seen with his arm around his teammate on the bench early in the fourth.

The extent of how much Howard can improve from a health standpoint as the Lakers close out the regular season, along with the amount of chemistry the team can continue to build during that time will largely determine its postseason fate.

Winning can cure a lot of issues, and certainly helps the team-building a lot more than it hurts. At least after Sunday’s victory, L.A. can now, if only briefly, officially see itself as part of the playoff picture.

Paul George says he’s willing to play all 48 minutes in Game 6 against Raptors

Indiana Pacers' Paul George (13) drives to the basket as Toronto Raptors' DeMarre Carroll (5) defends during the second half of Game 5 of an NBA first-round playoff basketball series, Tuesday, April 26, 2016 in Toronto. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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The on/off splits for Paul George in the Pacers-Raptors series, which Toronto leads 3-2, are jarring:

  • On: +26 in 189 minutes
  • Off: -29 in 51 minutes

Indiana’s problems without George came to a head in Game 5. In the 6:55 George sat, the Pacers shot 0-for-10 and got outscored 19-1. That was more than enough for the Raptors, who won by three when Solomon Hill‘s game-tying 3-pointer left his hand a fraction of a second too late.

How do the Pacers solve this problem?

Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Paul George said he is willing to play 48 minutes in Friday night’s Game 6 against the Toronto Raptors if needed.

“If that’s the direction that the game is going, I’m all for it,” George said after Thursday’s practice. “Whatever we got to do to win, I’m doing it.”‘

The only player to play a full this game was Rajon Rondo, who played 48 minutes in consecutive (!) Kings games in November. The last player to do it in a playoff game was Jimmy Butler, who played all 53 minutes of a Bulls’ overtime loss to the Wizards in 2014.

So, it can be done, and George is the type of athlete who can do it.

But can George sustain his elite production without a rest? That’s the main question, including how it’d affect him for a potential Game 7. With Indiana’s season on the line, it might be worth finding out.

There are also last drastic solutions. Frank Vogel used one lineup the entire time George sat in Game 5: Ty LawsonRodney StuckeyC.J. Miles-Solomon Hill-Ian Mahinmi.

Maybe don’t run the offense through Lawson, Stuckey and Miles at any point of a must-win game? Stagger minutes between George and Monta Ellis and maybe George Hill. Ellis is the type of player who can lead a bad team in scoring, but regularly bad would be a huge step up for the George-less Pacers. George Hill has also proven capable of handling the reins without George.

Vogel’s goal should be maximizing George’s minutes but also minimizing time Indiana spends without George, Ellis or George Hill.

Kevin Durant doesn’t regret Kawhi Leonard ‘system’ comments, praises Spurs forward now

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, right, defends as San Antonio Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, left, looks for a shot in the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2015. Oklahoma City won 112-106. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Right after Kawhi Leonard won the 2014 NBA Finals MVP, Kevin Durant sent these tweets favoring Paul George over Leonard:

With Durant’s Thunder set to face Leonard’s Spurs in the second round, how does Durant feel about Leonard now?

Durant, via Travis Singleton:

He’s definitely grown as a player. He’s not a system player. I know you guys like to throw that word, that term, around.

But he’s just grown so much as a player, a guy that can – I have to be locked in every play. He can shoot the mid-range. He can post up. He can shot the 3. He can dribble. He’s just grown so much as a player. Defensively, probably one of the best guys in the league.

So, it’s fun. It’s fun when you get that matchup at the small forward. There’s so many great guys, but he’s one of the guys that’s in the top tier.

Does Durant regret his 2014 tweets? Durant, via Singleton:

No I don’t. At the time, I didn’t even call him a system player. I just said Paul George was better. I like Paul George better as a player. I can be a fan of the game, too. And I thought Paul George – one of my guys was debating with me and said that he was better than Paul George at the time, and I didn’t think so.

I’m not taking back. I said the system is the reason he’s out there. Pop put him in great positions to be the player that he is. So, I don’t regret it at all.

He’s grown. It’s three years ago. If he hasn’t grown, that’s on him. But he’s grown as a player.

And, yeah, I don’t take it back.

Durant was wrong two years ago. Gregg Popovich certainly helped Leonard, and the coach would’ve helped George, too. But answering whether Leonard would’ve excelled with the Pacers with a flat “no” was ridiculous. Leonard was already awesome and would’ve been with any team.

Now, the Leonard-George debate – an interesting one in 2014 – has ended. As impressive as George has been in his return from injury, Leonard has passed him.

Durant recognizes that, and he’ll get to see first-hand starting tomorrow.

Dennis Schröder held back from Isaiah Thomas after Hawks-Celtics series ends (video)

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The final game of the Hawks’ 4-2 win over the Celtics included little drama – until it was ending.

Isaiah Thomas and Dennis Schröder got into it earlier in the series, and Thomas appeared to want more as he left Game 6. The Boston guard had toward Schröder on the Atlanta bench. After the buzzer, Schröder was held back from going the direction of Thomas.

Was Schröder definitely going after Thomas? No. Players were exchanging well wishes near center court, and Schroder might have just wanted to join. But with a series against the Cavaliers upcoming, the Hawks preferred not to take any chances.

Spirits of St. Louis owner Ozzie Silna, who made incredible deal in NBA-ABA merger, dies

FILE - In this May 23, 2006 file photo, Ozzie Silna poses for a photo at his home in Malibu, Calif. Ozzie Silna, who turned a fading American Basketball Association team into a four-decade cash cow worth nearly $800 million in NBA money, has died at age 83, Tuesday, April 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes, File)
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Ozzie Silna, who turned a fading American Basketball Association franchise into a four-decade windfall of nearly $800 million from the NBA in what’s commonly called the greatest deal in sports history, has died at age 83.

Silna’s younger brother and Spirits of St. Louis co-owner Daniel Silna told The Associated Press that his brother’s funeral was held Thursday. Ozzie Silna died Tuesday at a Los Angeles hospital after a brief illness, his brother said.

The two brothers made their millions without having to pay players, build arenas or hire coaches. They only had to sit back and cash the checks.

Banking on an eventual ABA-NBA merger, they bought the failing Carolina Cougars of the ABA in 1974 for about $1 million and promptly moved it to St. Louis, then the biggest American city without a pro basketball team.

After the 1975-76 season the NBA agreed to a merger, accepting four of the six remaining teams into the league. The Denver Nuggets, Indiana Pacers, New Jersey Nets and San Antonio Spurs got in. The Kentucky Colonels, and the Spirits, did not.

As part of a concept he and attorney Donald Schupak dreamed up months earlier, Ozzie Silna negotiated to receive four-sevenths of a share of the NBA’s annual TV revenue for as long as the NBA was around.

The agreement was drawn up to be as broadly defined and open-ended as possible. It worked.

At the time, it was worth about $300,000 a year. But as the NBA and its popularity grew, the annual checks grew into the tens of millions.

“You’ve got to be lucky in a lot of this stuff,” Ozzie Silna told The Associated Press in a 2006 interview. “But you’ve got to see the stuff, too. If it’s there, and you don’t see it, you don’t have a chance to get lucky.”

By 2014 the brothers had netted nearly $300 million from the deal. By that time the NBA was challenging the arrangement in court.

That year they settled with the league in a deal that paid them $500 million and kept a much smaller stream of money coming in, according to the New York Times, which reported Silna’s death Wednesday along with TMZ Sports.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver issued a statement saying he was deeply saddened by Silna’s death.

“Ozzie and his brother Dan owned the St. Louis Spirits at a time when the ABA’s future was uncertain, but he loved the game and was determined to be part of professional basketball,” Silver’s statement said.

Born Uziel Silna in Israel in 1932, he moved to New Jersey when he was 7. He made his money in his family’s textile business before buying the Spirits.

In later years, he lived in Malibu, California, where he was a tenacious fighter for environmental causes.

In the ABA, the brothers accumulated an eclectic and unpredictable talent pool that was typical of the freewheeling league – Marvin Barnes, Moses Malone, Maurice Lucas. They also gave a young Bob Costas his first play-by-play job as their announcer.

Silna downplayed the brilliance of the deal he and Schupak drew up. In fact, Silna says, the basis for it came months earlier when only seven teams – the final six and the Virginia Squires – were left standing in the ABA.

League owners the figured six teams would be allowed in the NBA, and one would be left out. Silna wanted to be equitable to the owner who was excluded. He assumed it wouldn’t be him.

“That’s how we came up with the one-seventh” figure, he told the AP in the 2006 interview. “I thought that seventh team deserved the same benefit as the other six.”

But the Squires folded, and Silna and Schupak applied the parameters they’d set up for that team to themselves. One-seventh times four – four teams were admitted to the NBA – equals four-sevenths, which is the cut the Silnas got each year.

“Some people say it’s the best deal ever done,” Silna said. “I just looked at it as a way of being fair.”

AP National Writer Eddie Pells contributed to this story.