Lakers’ playoff position narrows after loss to the Bucks

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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.

It’s official: Phil Jackson out as president of the New York Knicks

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The build up was slow. It began simmering when the feud with Carmelo Anthony became public, as talk of a trade and then a buyout started to come to become louder and louder. It picked up steam when the triangle offense was being forced on players and a coaching staff that didn’t like or fit it. Things really got hot when Kristaps Porzingis skipped his exit meeting last April, and rather than try to smooth things over and find a solution it became about sending a message and threating to trade the team’s best player and the face of the franchise.

Wednesday everything boiled over — Phil Jackson and the New York Knicks have parted ways, the sides announced.

“After careful thought and consideration, we mutually agreed that the Knicks will be going in a different direction,” Knicks owner James Dolan said in a released statement. “Phil Jackson is one of the most celebrated and successful individuals in the history of the NBA. His legacy in the game of basketball is unmatched. We wish him the best and thank him for his service to the Knicks as both a player and an executive.”

“The New York Knicks will always hold a special place in my heart,” Jackson said. “This team and this town launched my NBA career. I will forever be indebted to them. I am grateful to Mr. Dolan for giving me the opportunity to return here. I had hoped, of course, to bring another NBA championship to the Garden. As someone who treasures winning, I am deeply disappointed that we weren’t able to do that. New York fans deserve nothing less.”

All this just three days before free agency opens.

Current Knicks GM and trusted Dolan confidant Steve Mills will run basketball operations for now. Former Raptors executive Tim Leiweke will work with Mills and with Dolan to find a new head of the Knicks’ front office.

Dolan reportedly wants to hire Toronto’s Masai Ujiri, one of the most respected team presidents in the league — and the guy who fleeced the Knicks in the Carmelo Anthony trade from Denver and the Andrea Bargnani trade with Toronto. However, Ujiri signed a contract extension — with a raise and a title bump — a year ago, the Raptors have no obligation to let him out of that deal. If he does leave, it will cost the Knicks plenty.

Other viable options, such as just-released by the Cavaliers David Griffin, are available. What the Knicks need to do is hire someone with experience.

Despite the public issues with Anthony and Porzingis, plus the insistence on running the triangle, Phil Jackson did some good with the Knicks. He drafted Porzingis, as well as Willy Hernangomez and the recent Frank Ntilikina (we will see how he pans out). He also stopped the Knicks ridiculous of trading away their first-round picks, the Knicks have theirs going forward (he did move some second rounders). Whoever replaces Jackson will have a foundation to work with that was not there when Jackson arrived.

However, Jackson’s unquestioned knowledge of the game — he does have 11 championship rings as a player and a coach for a reason — did not translate well into the front office. The mind-games Jackson liked to play, such as calling out a player in the media, work when as a coach and you see the players every day, if they have a problem they can come talk to you. It comes off very differently from the ivory tower of the front office. Jackson kept changing his team vision and plans, brought in expensive older players such as Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, and continued feuding with the team’s stars.

Now the Knicks are starting over. A good thing, but the timing of the move just days before the start of free agency was very Knicks.

What’s next for Knicks? Owner reportedly targeting Raptors’ Masai Ujiri, but it’s longshot

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Phil Jackson is out as the Knicks head of basketball operations. The Knicks just made it official.

That’s a good thing for the future of the franchise and has New York fans celebrating, but making this move just four days before the start of free agency is the most Knicks of timing. While other teams are laying back-channel groundwork for the July 1 free agency onslaught, the Knicks will be trying to figure out who is in charge (likely trusted GM Steve Mills for a while).

Who is next in line to lead the Knicks? Before you say “anyone is better” think back over owner James Dolan’s hires. The worst of the lot was Isiah Thomas, and he and Dolan are still friends. Plus there are the times Dolan himself was involved in the basketball decision making.

There are a lot of potential quality candidates available, but Dolan appears to be going with the “if you can’t beat them, join them” idea of chasing Raptors president Masai Ujiri, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Marc Stein of ESPN adds:

Leiweke hired Ujiri in Toronto.

It’s been known for more than a year that if/when Jackson was pushed out, Ujiri would be the Knicks target. Dolan wants to hire the guy that keeps beating him. Ujiri was the GM in Denver when the Knicks traded far too many young assets for Carmelo Anthony, stripping the team of any chance to win by gutting it to get a star. Then when he was in Toronto, Ujiri orchestrated the trade that sent Andrea Bargnani and his massive contract from the Raptors to the Knicks. Dolan reportedly was so worried about being fleeced by Ujiri again he blocked a trade for Kyle Lowry out of fear of being burned (of course, the Lowry trade would’ve been a good one for the Knicks).

However, this is a longshot. Last year, Toronto gave Ujiri and extension and the title of President of Basketball Operations. The Raptors can simply refuse to let him talk to the Knicks, and even if Ujiri wanted the job (which is not clear) then it will be very expensive to buy him out.

If not Ujiri, then the Knicks could and should consider just released David Griffin, who was able to help turn the Cavaliers into a contender when LeBron James decided to return home. Griffin did an impressive job, came up with creating ways to get more talent on a capped-out roster, all while working for a notoriously difficult owner. That seems like the right resume for New York.

There are a number of other qualified candidates available, or the Knicks could hire a smart up-and-comer ready to make the leap such as Mike Zarren out of Boston, or a host of others in that spot.

What would be a mistake is to chase big name who has no front office experience. Or one with a questionable history as GM. Which is to say, don’t make the Phil Jackson mistake all over again. The Knicks need quality front office experience, someone who has proven they can do the job well. With Kristaps Porzingis on the roster, the Knicks have what can be the cornerstone piece of a championship roster in place — drafting him was Jackson’s one shining moment in the job. Building a team around him needs to be the priority (not getting in stupid squabbles with the star and threatening to trade him).

Knicks fans are right to celebrate Jackson being gone, but until the next shoe drops they shouldn’t completely relax.

Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns ticked he didn’t make All-NBA team

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Players in their first few years in the NBA almost never make an All-NBA team. There are exceptions — Larry Bird was First Team All-NBA as a rookie, for example — but it usually takes time and development before a player can crack the top 15 in the league.

Karl-Anthony Towns is frustrated he didn’t make All-NBA in his second year, he felt snubbed. He was the person with the most points/votes of anyone not to make the team, but the Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan had one more first team vote (three to two) and ended up just four points ahead of Towns. Here’s what KAT told Sean Deveney of The Sporting News about that.

Karl-Anthony Towns averaged 25.1 points, 12.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists in just his second season, but still was snubbed from the All-NBA team, beaten out by a mere four points by DeAndre Jordan.  And now it can be told: It bothered him — a little.

“You know what, it did a little bit, it did a little damage to me,” Towns told Sporting News. “But that’s all right, because it is all about team success. You’ve got to win. You’ve got to win to be respected in this league. You have to do little things, there are things we can do as a team. We have to come back as a stronger team and win in the playoffs, because the playoffs are the most important thing.”

For the record, I was one of those official voters who had Jordan in front of Towns (Jordan was my third team All-NBA center). It was close and something I debated (and watched film on, and talked to people around the league about), but for me the deciding factor was not winning, it was defensive impact.

Towns is improving fast on both ends, and the Timberwolves should win more with the addition of Jimmy Butler next season. Having Butler and Andrew Wiggins on the wings should help the Timberwolves defense that held the team back last season. Minnesota is poised to make the leap into the playoffs (although it will not be easy, with the Nuggets and Pelicans both improving the final few slots in the West could be tough to get).

Towns is going to end up with a ridiculous amount of All-NBA honors before his career is done. However, the best players use anything as motivational fuel, and if this is what fires Towns up, then go for it. We’re all expecting big things from him next season.

Suns’ Dudley has surgery on left toe ligament and bone

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PHOENIX (AP) Phoenix Suns forward Jared Dudley has undergone a left toe ligament and bone procedure.

The Suns issued a statement on Tuesday saying Dudley had surgery last Friday and is expected to return to full basketball activities in 3-4 months.

The 31-year-old averaged 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds in 64 games with Phoenix last season. Dudley is in his sixth season and second stint with the Suns. He has two years and nearly $20 million left on his contract.

Dudley has career averages of 8.3 points and 3.4 rebounds in 10 NBA seasons.