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

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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.

Craig Sager to get third bone marrow transplant thanks to anonymous donor

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Legendary TNT sideline reporter Craig Sager talks with Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. Sager is on a one game assignment for ESPN. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Craig Sager couldn’t be in Rio covering the Olympics for NBC, his cancer wouldn’t allow it. That didn’t stop Team USA from reaching out to him before they left. Or from Nike designing a sweet pair of shoes for him.

Now there is good news on his battle against leukemia — he will have a third bone marrow transplant, according to his son Craig Sager II.

This is fantastic news for a man and family who have been through a lot. Hopefully, this treatment is a step forward for Sager, a man beloved by everyone around the NBA.

Report: With Joffrey Lauvergne trade, Mitch McGary likely done with Thunder

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 16:  Mitch McGary #33 of the Oklahoma City Thunder at American Airlines Center on March 16, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Oklahoma City frontcourt is crowded. Enes Kanter and Steven Adams will start, and they will have Nick Collison, Ersan Ilyasova, Domantas Sabonis, and now Joffrey Lauvergne behind them.

Which likely means Mitch McGary‘s done as a member of the Thunder, according to Royce Young of ESPN.

McGary has battled injuries his two seasons in the league and got on the court for only 72 minutes total last season for the Thunder (he played in more games and put up solid numbers in the D-LEague). He was not part of the future there regardless. He’s an undersized five trying to play the four and what he brought as a rookie — energy — was not enough as a sophomore.

McGary will make $1.5 million this season. He may be tough to move because he’s suspended for the first five games he’s eligible to play next season for failing the league’s drug policy (five games is the standard suspension for testing positive for marijuana three times). Maybe a team looking to develop players will give him a shot, but there is little trade value for him.

Dwight Howard is shooting 19-footers to improve his free throw stroke

Dwight Howard
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If you can knock down a 19-foot shot, then a 15-footer should be easier. Right?

Apparently that — and just basic muscle memory — is the latest attempt to improve Dwight Howard‘s free throw shooting. And, he seems to be knocking down those shots.

It’s not hard to see the logic in this approach.

The challenge is form and reps are not the problems for Howard — or DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond or others — when it comes to hitting free throws. Anyone who says “why don’t they just practice the shot” doesn’t pay attention, these guys put in a lot of work on the shot. Pregame and in practice (I’m Los Angeles based), Jordan probably hits 65 percent from the line. At least.

The problem is mental. That can be a tougher hurdle to clear. Maybe taking 19 footers and knocking them down will have Howard feeling more confident at the stripe this season.

But we’re going to need to see it to believe it. Just like we’re going to have to see a rejuvenated Howard in Atlanta before we believe this season will be different from the last few.

Report: Veteran big man Jason Thompson agrees to deal in China

BEIJING, CHINA - OCTOBER 15:  Jason Thompson # 34 of Sacramento Kings in action during the 2014 NBA Global Games match between the Brooklyn Nets and Sacramento Kings at MasterCard Center on October 15, 2014 in Beijing, China. 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 Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Until this season, Jason Thompson had never been to the playoffs. He spent seven seasons in Sacramento before getting traded to the Warriors last offseason, and then signing with the Raptors midseason when Golden State waived him to make room on the roster for Anderson Varejao. His NBA days appear over, at least for now. International basketball reporter David Pick reports that Thompson has agreed to a deal to play in China.

Since the CBA’s season ends in March, Thompson could theoretically join an NBA team for the stretch run next year. But he didn’t appear to have much interest on the free-agent market this summer.