Can Jazz or Mavericks catch the Lakers for the eighth seed?


The Los Angeles Lakers are back in a more familiar place — the team being chased rather than the team playing catch-up. Granted, the Lakers aren’t really used to being chased for the eighth seed, but still it’s better to be the team being chased than the other way around.

Both the Dallas Mavericks and Utah Jazz are two games back of the Lakers for the chance to face the Spurs in the first round.

Can either of those teams catch the Lakers? Maybe. Dallas is playing well and Utah’s schedule softens up, but both are going to need a lot more wins.

Dallas is 7-3 in its last 10 games and have pushed up the standings since he return of Dirk Nowitzki. While it seemed a long shot they could get back in the mix, the fall of the Jazz has put them just a couple steps behind the Lakers.

The reason we are talking about this at all is Utah has not looked like a playoff team lately — they have lost four games in a row and nine of their last 11. They were a playoff team that came back to the pack, let themselves get caught.

Players in Utah are frustrated — Paul Millsap has complained about playing time — and coach Ty Corbin can’t seem to find a rotation, a combination to turn this thing around. Two games is not going to be easy to make up on the Lakers, but it’s impossible if they don’t start winning. A lot.

Utah’s best hope is the schedule — theirs gets softer while the Lakers gets harder. Dallas has a tough stretch but could finish strong.

Utah has 12 games left, eight at home where the Jazz are 24-9 on the season. Of those dozen games, only five are against playoff teams. The Jazz have the struggling 76ers and Suns to start the week in Utah — those are must wins that could start a little run for Utah.

Dallas has a dozen games left, seven at home and five on the road. They play seven of those 12 against playoff teams but five of those are their next five games (including at the Lakers April 2). If Dallas can get through those five games and still be close, they have a chance.

The Lakers have 12 games left also, split evenly between home and road (with a four-game road trip this week). The Lakers have seven playoff teams left on their schedule including four of their last six. The Lakers had a soft schedule last week of the Suns and Wizards and lost both, a missed opportunity they could regret.

The bottom line for the Lakers is they have a cushion, they have to just keep winning and they are in. (It’s hard to see any of these teams closing a three game gap with the hot Rockets for the seven seed, or 3.5 with the Warriors at six.) But if the Lakers continue to stumble the schedule favors Utah — if Utah can keep tripping over it’s own feet. And Dallas is in the mix as well.

This could be a very interesting three weeks at the bottom of the Western Conference.

Gallinari ready to take big role in new Nuggets offense

Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler
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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari wants everyone to know this: His surgically repaired left knee, the one that took three procedures to fix and nearly two seasons to fully trust, no longer bothers him.

The Denver Nuggets forward doesn’t need to be on any sort of minutes restriction. He doesn’t need days off during the season. And he certainly doesn’t need to be coddled.

He’s Gallo again, the hard-to-guard Italian playmaker who can knock down the 3-pointer just as easily as drive to the hoop or even post up. He believes he will fit in quite nicely into new coach Michael Malone’s system.

“The thing I’m focused on is trying to get (this team) back to the same level that the Nuggets were when I got to Denver, when we were going to the playoffs easy. When we were clinching a playoff one or two weeks before the season was over,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the 2011 blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. “We need to get back to that level.”

Almost seems so long ago, given that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs two straight seasons after consistently making it for nearly a decade.

Gallinari returned last season for the first time since blowing out his knee in a game on April 4, 2013. His minutes were closely monitored early in the season. He never really got completely on track until late last season, when he averaged 20.5 points over the final 10 contests, including a career-high 47 against Dallas. He’s hoping to carry that kind of confidence this season.

“I’m good to go. I was good to go as soon as the beginning of last year,” Gallinari said. “I was not on the same page with the coach that we had.”

That would be Brian Shaw, who was fired last March after 1 1/2 seasons in charge and going 56-85. Exactly why he wasn’t on the same page with Shaw, well, Gallinari preferred the past remain the past.

“I’m ready to play the new season,” he said. “We need to win games, and get back to the same level we were before.”

Gallinari thinks the Nuggets have the personnel to do just that, especially with a rookie point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay and Gallinari’s knee feeling better than it has in a while. He feels like he has some ground to make up, too, since he said that knee robbed him of some of his prime.

“Playing my best basketball right before I got injured,” the 27-year old said. “Now, we’re back to the same level, hopefully better.

“My knee has been feeling great. It felt great last year. Feeling great during the summer. Feeling great now. I just feel good.”

He spent the summer playing for the Italian team at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game. In those games, Gallinari saw quite a bit of time at the four spot on the floor, forcing teams to either use a bulkier big man to cover him and risk getting burned on a drive or a smaller player that Gallinari could simply shoot over.

Malone plans to employ a similar type approach, something they discussed over gelato when the coach visited Gallinari in Italy soon after he was hired.

“He’s 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.”

Gallinari wants the responsibility of being the go-to player for the Nuggets this season, especially at crunch time.

“I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari said. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.

“I want to have the ball in my hands. I do want to have the ball in my hands a lot more.”

Knicks’ Rookie Jerian Grant gets up, throws it down (VIDEO)

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The Knicks did well trading for Jerian Grant on date night — he’s going to be able to walk in this year and play quality minutes off the bench.

And, he can get up and throw it down.

Carmelo Anthony had 18 points to lead the Knicks to a 94-88 win over the Sixers.