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

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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.

Terrence Jones scores 36, leads Pelicans past Cavaliers 124-122

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Terrence Jones filled in brilliantly for injured All-Star Anthony Davis, scoring a season-high 36 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and blocking LeBron James‘ dunk attempt in the fourth quarter, and the New Orleans Pelicans beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 124-122 on Monday night.

Jrue Holiday added 33 points and 10 assists for the Pelicans, and Langston Galloway capped a 12-point night with a clean steal on James’ drive in the final minute, preventing the Cavs from erasing a deficit they had trimmed from 22 late in the first half to three with 1:32 left in the game.

Kyrie Irving scoring 35 of his 49 points in the second half, but the Cleveland fell to its fifth loss in seven games. James had 26 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds.

Two of Cleveland’s recent losses came against Western Conference leaders Golden State and San Antonio, but two others have come against teams currently outside the playoff picture in the West: New Orleans and Portland.

Kevin Love had 22 points for Cleveland, which could not quite keep pace with a Pelicans squad that tied a season high for 3-pointers with 16 and shot 49.4 percent (43 of 87).

Donatas Moteijunas scored 14 for New Orleans, while Dante Cunningham scored 11. Each hit a pair of 3s.

The Cavs drained 15 3s, eight by Irving, whose step-back jumper from long range had Cleveland within three with 21 seconds to go, but the Cavs got no closer until Love’s anticlimactic 3 in the final second.

Embarrassed in a 29-point loss to NBA-worst Brooklyn at home on Friday, the Pelicans were eager for a chance to redeem themselves with a competitive showing against the defending champs. That did not appear likely when New Orleans announced less than an hour before tip-off that Davis would be unable to play because of his right leg bruise lingering from a collision with the Nets’ Spencer Dinwiddie.

Coach Alvin Gentry inserted Jones for Davis as the starting center, and he responded with arguably the most dynamic half of play in the fifth-year veteran’s career. He hit all eight of his shots in the first half, scoring 22 points on an array of jumpers – including two 3s – weaving drives and feisty put-backs.

Holiday, meanwhile, got into an equally prolific rhythm, hitting three 3s and highlighting several impressive drives to the hoop with a two-handed dunk. Holiday’s pullup jumper from just inside the 3-point line with 6 seconds left in the second quarter gave him 22 points and New Orleans a 22-point lead, and Holiday pumped his fist while one of the biggest crowds of the season went wild.

In the last second of the half, James executed a long inbound pass to Love, who converted a quick-release layup to make it 70-50.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Coach Tyronn Lue was assessed a technical foul by official Leroy Richardson after the coach chastised Richardson for a late whistle giving Moteijunas free throws following a missed layup. … The Cavs won the teams’ only other meeting this season, 90-82 in Cleveland on Jan. 2. … Irving slung in what would have been a sensational, off-balance, one-handed shot from about 30 feet, but it didn’t count because it came too late after Irving was fouled by Tyreke Evans as the pair pursued a loose ball near mid-court.

Pelicans: New Orleans improved to 2-2 without Davis in the lineup. … G E'Twaun Moore, who is 6-foot-4, delighted the crowd by rejecting the 6-8 James near the basket in the first half. … New Orleans shot 60.5 percent (26 of 43) in the first half.=

 

Heat’s Dion Waiters drains game-winning three to knock off Warriors (VIDEO)

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Last week Golden State crushed Cleveland, Oklahoma City, and Houston.

But none of those teams had Dion Waiters.

The final three of Waiters’ 33 points came on a deep pull-up three with 0.6 seconds left to give Miami a 105-102 upset of the Warriors. Waiters shot 13-of-20 overall and 6-of-8 from three.

This was a night the Warriors just could not get the three ball to fall, shooting 8-of-30 (26.7 percent) from deep. This ended Golden State’s seven-game win streak and extended the Miami win streak to four.

Joakim Noah with as ugly a free throw as you’ll see. And he knows it. (VIDEO)

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Joakim Noah used to be a good free throw shooter, he’s hit 70 percent for his career. But he’s shooting just 42.9 percent this season.

And no miss was uglier than the one Monday night against the Pacers.

The best part of this airball was Noah’s reaction — he knew it was bad the second he let it go.

If you want to draw parallels with the Knicks’ season, go for it.

Stephen Curry finds Kevin Durant for tomahawks slam in transition (VIDEO)

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The Warriors in transition can be beautiful basketball.

And if you don’t stop the guy with the ball from getting a straight line to the hoop, there will be highlights. In the first half Monday night, the Heat did a good job making Stephen Curry give up the ball in transition (not letting him just pull up for a three), but he found Kevin Durant, who found a lane to the basket, and… highlight tomahawk dunk.

It was a two-point game at the half between the Heat and Warriors, after what was a second quarter both teams probably want to forget.