Lakers' Howard challenges Bucks' Ilyasova for the ball during the second half of a NBA basketball game in Milwaukee

Lakers’ playoff position narrows after loss to the Bucks


Every game is critical for the Lakers down the stretch of the regular season, if the team hopes to maintain the hold on a tenuous playoff spot it took them essentially the entire year to secure.

Nothing is secured yet, of course, and after falling in Milwaukee on Thursday by a final of 113-103, L.A. is just a half game ahead of Utah for the eighth and final playoff spot out West.

The Lakers are tied with the Jazz in the loss column, and just a game ahead of the Mavericks there after Dallas was blown out at home at the hands of the Pacers.

L.A. hasn’t swept a back-to-back set by winning two games on consecutive nights all season long, and they’ll finish the season that way, since the loss to the Bucks was their last opportunity given the way the rest of the schedule shakes out.

As for this game in particular, there was nothing unusual that contributed to the Lakers’ woes if you’ve watched this team at all over the course of the season. The perimeter defense was dreadful, and the help rotations were nonexistent. L.A. went small for the second straight game with Metta World Peace out of the lineup by starting Jodie Meeks and shifting Kobe Bryant to the three, with predictably underwhelming defensive results.

The Lakers were out to a lead of as many as 13 points early, but in the second half, the offense went cold, and they allowed the Bucks to shoot better than 53 percent from the field over the game’s final two periods. Larry Sanders managed to not get himself ejected, and was particularly effective in tallying 15 points, seven rebounds, and two blocked shots in 17 second half minutes.

Bryant led all scorers with 30 points on 6-17 shooting, thanks to getting to the free throw line 20 times and knocking down 18 of those attempts. Steve Nash left the game with 5:13 to play and did not return thanks to a “hip spasm,” as he characterized it afterward. He’s expected to play in the Lakers’ next game on Saturday in Sacramento against the Kings.

The playoffs aren’t guaranteed for these Lakers, and with Utah regaining balance and the Mavericks playing better as of late (despite Thursday night’s struggles), L.A. can’t afford to take any nights off.

After a strong push following the All-Star break, the Lakers are just 5-5 over their last 10 games, and they’ll need to figure things out quickly over the nine games that are left in the regular season just to be able sneak into the postseason.

Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor
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The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.

On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:

The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Bulls’ Dunleavy to see specialist after suffering setback with back injury

Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah
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CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.

However, his recovery may have hit a snag.

“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”

An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.

Stan Van Gundy calls out Andre Drummond’s effort after loss to Thunder

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After a promising start to the season, the Pistons have lost three of their last four games and seven of their last 10. And although he’s been outstanding for most of the season, Andre Drummond has not been above receiving criticism from Stan Van Gundy. The coach called out Drummond’s effort on Friday night after a loss to the Thunder.

Via Sportando:

“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight,” Van Gundy said of the two beatings the Pistons received this week. “Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”

Calling out your best player in the media is bold, but Van Gundy has enough of a track record and a reputation, going back to his days in Orlando with Dwight Howard, that he can get away with it. It also sends a message to the entire team that Van Gundy isn’t going to hold his star to a different standard than the rest of the team.

Despite a couple of poor performances, Drummond is having a career year, leading the league in rebounding at 17.1 per game while also averaging 17.9 points.