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


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.

Stephen Curry out at least three weeks with Grade 2 MCL sprain


The Warriors will have to go the rest of the season and probably the start the playoffs without the guy their offense is built around.

Stephen Curry will be out at least three weeks after suffering a Grade 2 MCL sprain Friday night when JaVale McGee accidentally fell into his knee, the team announced Saturday. It’s about as good of news as could have been hoped for, considering the injury and the timing, that said the team will “re-evaluate” Curry in three weeks, and Grade 2 MCL’s often take a month or more to fully heal.

The playoffs begin in exactly three weeks. Curry could be back around the start of those games or, more likely, will miss part of the postseason depending upon how his recovery goes. The Warriors are essentially locked in as the two seed right now, but in a jumbled West it’s unclear who they will play in the first round and what matchup challenges that presents. The Warriors should be much healthier by then, they will get Draymond Green back from his hip injury on Sunday vs. the Jazz. Kevin Durant is expected later next week. Klay Thompson will be a little after that, but before the playoffs.

Curry, however, is the fuel that turns the Warriors offense into something elite. Curry is averaging 26.3 points and 6.2 assists per game, shooting 42.4 percent from three this season. The Warriors offense is 14 points per 100 possessions better this season when Curry is on the court.

Kyrie Irving out 3-6 weeks following surgery on his knee

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Kyrie Irving could be back right around the start of the playoffs, somewhere during the first round, or maybe not until the beginning of the second (if the Celtics are still playing).

Irving had his knee surgery Saturday and the timeline for his return is 3-6 weeks, the Celtics announced Saturday. This is the official press release.

Celtics guard Kyrie Irving today underwent a minimally-invasive procedure to remove a tension wire in his left knee. The wire was originally placed as part of the surgical repair of a fractured patella sustained during the 2015 NBA Finals. While removal of the wire should relieve irritation it was causing in Irving’s patellar tendon, the fractured patella has fully healed and Irving’s knee has been found to be completely structurally sound. Irving is expected to return to basketball activities in 3-6 weeks.

When Irving has been off the court this season, the Celtics have been 7.7 points worse per 100 possessions, with an offensive rating of 101, which is right at the bottom of the league. In the last five games, when Irving has been sidelined, the Celtics have gone 3-2 with an offensive rating of 100.4.

The Celtics are all but formally locked in as the two seed in the East.

With no Gordon Hayward or Daniel Theis for these playoffs, no Marcus Smart to start, and now questions about Irving’s availability, the question is how hard should Boston push to get Irving back for this postseason? Irving will push, it’s his nature, but the Celtics need to think bigger picture. Boston is poised to be a force in the East and maybe the team to beat next season, that should not be risked to make a splash this season. How motivated are the Celtics to push Irving for this season’s playoffs with a roster already decimated by injuries?

Doctor working with Kristaps Porzingis: “He’ll be better than ever”

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A disclaimer up front: I’m instantly suspicious of very optimistic people with grandiose claims. It feels like they are selling something, usually a form of snake oil.

Enter Dr. Carlon Colker, who is working with Knicks big man and franchise cornerstone Kristaps Porzingis on his recovery from a torn ACL last season. Porzingis is targeted for a return in the middle of next season (like when the calendar flips to 2019).

Colker has a much more aggressive and optimistic outlook for Porzingis, as he told the New York Post.

“Despite the talk, ‘The sky is falling, he’ll never be the same,’ that’s a bunch of horse s–t,’’ Colker told The Post. “He’ll be better than ever. He’s going to blow people away. If you’re around people who know what they’re doing, it’s not the end of the world. It’s the end of the world if you have the wrong people around you.”

With a doctorate specializing in sports performance, Colker’s job is strengthening Porzingis’ frame — everything but his damaged left knee….

“We have to deal with the ACL aspect in addition to the bigger picture. Rehabbing an ACL is straightforward. The important thing is be mindful of we’re rehabbing an ACL, but start establishing a power base, getting our balance, our flexibility back, working in conjunction with what the guys are doing on the ACL front. We’re bulking him up and giving him more muscle mass and strength, working on his upper body, doing a lot of hamstring work.”

Colker is part of an aggressive faction regarding ACL timetables. While the Knicks likely won’t let Porzingis play until around Christmas (the 10-month mark) at the earliest, Colker says he’ll have him ready for opening night.

Did anyone actually say the sky was falling?

Much of this makes a lot of sense — strengthening Porzingis’ base matters (it’s what has helped turn Rudy Gobert into a defensive force, the Jazz staff focused on his base, core, and hips). Functional training that strengthens muscles around the ACL matters. And with time, Porzingis can be back to what he was before and better.

The faster timeline… I’m not sold.

There’s a lot of data here. We’ve seen the recovery curve for a lot of NBA players with torn ACLs — and all of them are working with elite trainers, both with teams and personal ones. It takes 10 months or so to get back on the court, and usually another few months (at least) before the player really trusts the leg and starts to play with the same intensity and abandon.

For the Knicks, hopefully when Porzingis does get back on the court next season — whatever the date — he is close to his old self. The league is better with him in it.

Also, hopefully, there will be a coaching system in place in Madison Square Garden to maximize KP’s talents when he does return.

Former Kings players DeMarcus Cousins, Matt Barnes reach out to pay for funeral of Stephon Clark

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Whatever Kings fans thought of DeMarcus Cousins on the court — it was a divisive topic with changing opinions over time — he was fully committed to the city of Sacramento. He was all in.

Still is, despite playing for New Orleans. Cousins and another former King, Matt Barnes (a Sacramento native), have reached out to the family of Stephon Clark — the unarmed young black man shot by Sacramento police in his grandmother’s backyard a week ago — and offered to pay for the funeral, reports Jason Jones of the Sacramento Bee.

It is a generous gesture. The family had set up a gofundme page and has raised enough to pay for the funeral expenses through it as well.

Clark’s shooting has sparked protests throughout Sacramento, including blocking entrance to a Kings game on Thursday night. According to reports and the Sacramento PD’s own account, the shooting occurred when police were looking for a car burglary suspect and officers had tracked the suspect through yards, then confronted Clark in the backyard of his grandmother’s house, where he lived. Police allegedly thought he was armed and shot him 20 times, but he was holding only a cellphone.

The shooting has sparked reactions around the nation and from NBA players, including Barnes.

Steve Kerr and David West of the Golden State Warriors had these comments, via Logan Murdock of the San Jose Mercury News.

“I was very proud of how the Kings handled it, the way the NBA handled it,” Kerr said Friday. “I thought they did everything they could…

“The main sentiment, though, is horror and sadness for the family involved and there’s not much else to say,” Kerr said.

“You want to go through this song and dance again?” West asked. “I’m done. I stopped. I don’t have the optimism anymore.”

“We’ve been dealing with these issues for hundreds of years and so they continue.” West continued. “We won’t look at real solutions so these things continue to happen.”