Lakers vs. Jazz for eighth spot in West… it won’t be easy for L.A.


Such is the depth of the hole the Lakers have dug themselves — even in the sprint to the finish to get the eighth and final playoff spot in the West Los Angeles does not control its own destiny.

Utah is the team in the driver’s seat. Win out their remaining four games and the Jazz head to the playoffs. It doesn’t matter how many points Kobe Bryant scores or how fast Metta World Peace comes back from injury, if the Jazz win out the Lakers can do no better than tie and Utah has the tie breaker (they won the season series).

The Lakers still have a chance, but they likely need to go at least 4-1 in their last five to get there. They may need to win out. And their schedule is anything but easy.

Here is where things stand Tuesday morning — Utah is 41-37, half-a-game ahead of the Lakers at 40-37.

The Lakers have five games left:

vs. Hornets: (Tuesday night)
at Blazers (Wednesday night)
vs. Warriors
vs. Spurs
vs. Rockets

Utah has four games remaining:

vs. Thunder
vs. Timberwolves
at Timberwolves
at Grizzlies

Looking at Utah’s schedule, they should at least go 2-2. The Thunder, still in the chase for the top spot in the West, likely play their stars against the Jazz Wednesday (plus the Thunder likely are playing angry after a loss to the Knicks). The Jazz have taken both games this season they played against the injury ravaged Timberwolves. Then there is the last game — Memphis is a better team than Utah, it’s tough to say who Memphis will roll out there on the last night of the season. If the Grizzlies don’t have anything to play for they could rest guys, helping out the Jazz.

If Utah goes 2-2, the Lakers must go 4-1. If Utah goes 3-1 (and they had some big road wins recently, such as at Golden State) the Lakers have to win out.

Predicting what games the Lakers should win this season has been about as easy as predicting the next thing Dennis Rodman will do because the Lakers inconsistent defense means anyone can beat them on any night.

That said, they should beat the Hornets at home Tuesday night. Wednesday should be interesting — the Blazers are slumping badly right now but the Lakers are on the second night of a back-to-back against a team that will be up to play spoiler. You know their fans will be. That could be a deciding game for the Lakers — it’s must win but Portland will not make it easy.

Golden State and the Rockets have the kind of offenses that can shred the Lakers defense for a night, but they are also games that the Lakers can win if they get some defense on the perimeter and efficient scoring from Kobe Bryant (and if he gets some help from Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol).

Then there is the Spurs game. Gregg Popovich is resting guys down the stretch, but if the Spurs are still the top seed in the West at that point and beating the Lakers would mean Utah rather than Los Angeles in the first round, could the Spurs bring back the big guns for a game? Even if it’s the Spurs subs, they still run their system well and beat teams they shouldn’t.

There’s a lot of “ifs” in the scenario (especially for two teams that look like they will just get crushed in the first round by San Antonio or OKC) but for the players it’s much more straight forward — for Utah, win and you’re in; for Los Angeles, win then head to your local church to light a candle.

Cavaliers get Nance Jr., Thompson, Hood back from injuries

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CLEVELAND (AP) — The Cavaliers are closer to being at full strength.

Forwards Larry Nance Jr., Tristan Thompson, and Rodney Hood all returned from injuries on Friday night as Cleveland, which has been riddled with injuries all season, hosted the Phoenix Suns. Acting coach Larry Drew said none of the players will start and all will be on minutes’ restrictions.

Drew, who is filling in while coach Tyronn Lue is on leave to address his own health, plans to keep his starting lineup intact and ease the returning players into the rotation.

LeBron James, Jose Calderon, George Hill, Jeff Green and Kevin Love were scheduled to started against Phoenix, which has lost nine in a row. Drew said he and Lue will talk again Saturday about lineup changes for the upcoming trip to Brooklyn, Miami and Charlotte.

“I really didn’t want to disrupt the starting five that we have out there right now and those guys will be playing limited minutes, so I wanted to get them slowly back and acclimated to what we’re doing,” Drew said. “There’s a chance that there could be some early substitutions to get the guys in there. I’m not ruling that out, but right now I just kind of want to stay with the flow, stay with what we’ve done the last couple of ballgames and then we’ll probably after tonight we’ll see as far as where we stand as far as starters are concerned.”

Thompson missed nine games with a sprained right ankle, Nance Jr. was out four with a hamstring issue and Hood was out the past three games with a bad back.

Drew said he did not know if Lue will accompany the team on its trip.

But while the Cavs are healthier than they’ve been in weeks, the team is still missing Kyle Korver, who is with his family in Iowa following the death of his brother, and rookie Cedi Osman, who is sidelined with a left hip flexor strain.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Bulls with ankle injury

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — All-Star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will miss the Milwaukee Bucks’ home game Friday night against the Chicago Bulls with a sprained right ankle.

The Bucks ruled out Antetokounmpo earlier Friday.

Antetokounmpo got hurt in the second quarter of a 127-120 loss on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Clippers when he appeared to trip over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under the Bucks’ basket.

Antetokounmpo is fourth in the league in scoring at 27.3 points a game.


PBT Extra: What is going on in San Antonio?

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For the last two decades, there was less drama around the San Antonio Spurs than the recent Russian election. The Lakers were the soap opera, the Spurs and Tim Duncan just kept winning titles.

Not this season. Kawhi Leonard has missed all but nine games, his teammates are asking when he’s going to returnTony Parker — who is playing — says his quad tendon injury was far worse, and the Spurs organization is springing leaks like the Titanic.

What does all that mean? I get into it in this latest PBT Extra.

Short term, Leonard’s return or non-return will have a serious impact on the Western Conference playoffs.

Long term, after the Spurs offer Leonard the designated player max extension this summer (as is expected), everything will get back to normal.

The time Chauncey Billups tried to trick teams into believing he’d be a bad teammate

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In 2011, the Knicks amnestied Chauncey Billups. Unlike traditional waivers, amnesty waivers didn’t require claiming teams to pay Billups’ full salary. They could bid a partial amount – New York on the hook for the rest – and the highest bid would get Billups.

So, it was practically a forgone conclusion someone would claim Billups. The only questions were which team and for how much?

But Billups didn’t want to go to the highest bidder. He wanted to become a free agent and choose his destination – even though his contract and the Collective Bargaining Agreement put him on a different course.

So, Billups – a consummate professional throughout his career – threatened to become a problem. Adrian Wojnarowski at the time:

Wojnarowski now:

I remember talking to Chauncey on a Saturday morning one day. He was very determined that no team would put a waiver claim in on him, because he was headed to Miami. He was going to go play with the Heat. He had his bags packed. But he needed a team not to claim him. And he and I were just talking about this. I read this quote back to him recently, and we were laughing.

He went on this two-, three-minute rant about that basically, “I’m just going to be a complete asshole wherever I go if you claim me.” And so, he went on this rant. And he read that, and he kept going. And finally he stopped. I don’t even remember if I asked him a question. He just started when I called him. And at the end, there was like this pause. And he goes, “Do you think anyone is going to buy it?”

The Clippers submitted the highest bid for Billups, and he quickly got on board. Even though they traded for Chris Paul at point guard shortly after, Billups of course was a model teammate and veteran leader. Late in his career, he couldn’t stay healthy enough to contribute much on the court. But the Clippers still valued his presence. He even re-signed with them the following summer.

This was such a readable bluff – which says plenty about Billups’ character.