Kobe Bryant, Derrick Favors, Paul Millsap

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

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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.

Cory Joseph scores career-high 33 as Raptors beat Nets (VIDEO)

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NEW YORK (AP) DeMar DeRozan‘s double-double and Cory Joseph‘s career night propelled the Toronto Raptors past the free-falling Brooklyn Nets.

DeRozan had 36 points and 11 rebounds, and Joseph set a personal high by scoring 33 on Tuesday night in Toronto’s 119-109 victory over Brooklyn.

After shooting 3 for 14 in the first half, DeRozan found his stroke and finished 13 for 28.

“I just kept playing the same way,” he said. “You know, getting good looks and just going out there and I know it’s going to come, it’s just more so being patient, not really worrying about the misses.”

Toronto won its fourth straight game and extended Brooklyn’s losing streak to 11 in a row.

Joseph started in place of Kyle Lowry, given the night off to rest.

“Kyle provides a lot of scoring for us,” Joseph said. “I knew that slot would be missing today, so I took it upon myself to be more aggressive, try to be aggressive and take what the defense gives me. They were giving up a lot of layups and short floaters, so that’s what I was taking and so I happened to be making them.”

Terrence Ross added 15 points for the Raptors, who opened the game with an 11-0 run but fell behind after the first quarter.

Still, the Nets have not won since Dec. 26.

“You’ve got to keep going,” center Brook Lopez said. “We have a young group and we’re learning a lot on the fly, so you’ve got to just stay positive. We’re doing a lot well, just has not translated in the win column. I think we’re definitely going to break through soon. We’ve just got to give ourselves a chance every night.”

Lopez had 28 points for the Nets. Caris LeVert and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 14 apiece.

Toronto took a 92-85 lead into the fourth quarter and never looked back. DeRozan led the way with 10 points in the third period, equaling LeVert’s total in the quarter.

Lopez and Joseph each scored 14 in the second.

After the 11-0 spurt by the Raptors at the start, Brooklyn rallied to take a 29-26 lead at the end of the first quarter.

TIP-INS

Raptors: Coach Dwane Casey was asked what his expectations are for this season after losing in the Eastern Conference finals last year. “We always want to advance. I’m not going to put a level on where we’ve got to get to or anything like that. Our thing is to continue to get better. We can’t just try to get as many wins as we can and hope it works in the playoffs,” he said. … Joseph started for the first time since April 8, 2016. … Lucas Nogueria experienced blurred vision and was checked for a concussion in the locker room after being hit in the head during the first quarter. He did not return. . Patrick Patterson (sore left knee), Jared Sullinger (left foot surgery) and Delon Wright (right shoulder surgery) were out.

Nets: Coach Kenny Atkinson discussed what he’s seen from veteran Quincy Acy, who is nearing the end of a 10-day contract. “Love his energy. Love his pop, his aggressiveness and how competitive he is. We’ll talk about it after the game with our group. I’ve been pleasantly surprised in his limited minutes,” Atkinson said. … Jeremy Lin (strained left hamstring) was out.

UP NEXT

Raptors: Visit the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday.

Nets: Visit the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.

Watch Wesley Matthews hit the game-winner as Mavericks beat Bulls

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Wesley Matthews is a tough guy, and perhaps Tuesday night’s game-winning shot over the Chicago Bulls will see the Dallas Mavericks guard back to his old form.

Matthews, who tore his achilles in March of 2015 and has scarcely looked like the same player since, took it to Chicago with a go-ahead 3-pointer with 11.7 seconds left.

It was a good thing too, as Jimmy Butler had come down the play before to give the Bulls a two-point lead.

After Matthews hit the trey, Dwyane Wade would go on to miss a 21-foot jumper for the win as Dallas beat Chicago, 99-98.

Meanwhile, Matthews does appear to be on the verge of a mini-resurgence. In the last three games — all wins for Dallas — the former Portland Trail Blazer has averaged 16 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 2.6 assists. Perhaps more importantly, Matthews has scored in bulk from 3-point range while shooting an eye-popping 53.4 percent from deep.

The Mavericks aren’t very good, but Matthews getting better is the first step into at least giving teams like Chicago a hassle on their home court like they did on Tuesday.

Minnesota Timberwolves kick in more money to renovate Target Center

Flip Saunders, Glen Taylor
AP
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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Minnesota Timberwolves and Lynx owner Glen Taylor is kicking another $9-12 million into the Target Center renovation project.

The Timberwolves announced the additional funds on Tuesday. The team says the new money will be used to get new seats, railings for the lower bowl, a new skyway off of the backside of the arena and a more improved Wi-Fi platform.

Taylor says the new money is geared toward making sure the project to refurbish the dated arena in downtown Minneapolis is as effective as possible. It will push the total cost of the project to between $138-141 million.

Renovations are underway and the city-owned building is scheduled to close this summer so the project can be completed in time for the start of the 2017-18 NBA season.

John Wall, Bradley Beal and defense keying Wizards’ 12-game home streak

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 04: John Wall #2 celebrates after Bradley Beal #3 of the Washington Wizards hit a three point shot against the Atlanta Hawks in the fourth quarter of the Wizards 95-92 win at Verizon Center on November 4, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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WASHINGTON (AP) The same fans who John Wall once joked get more excited for a free chicken sandwich when an opponent misses two free throws than a victory are now being treated to something even better: A winning streak.

Wall and the Washington Wizards have won 12 in a row at home heading into the midpoint of the NBA season and haven’t lost at Verizon Center since Dec. 6. Better starts and improved defense and bench play have sparked this run, pushed Washington to fifth place in the Eastern Conference and made home feel pretty sweet.

“We like playing on our home floor, there’s no question we have a comfort level,” coach Scott Brooks said. “The baskets, everything seems to be good for us. I think our guys are comfortable, they like playing here. We want to make this a special place. Crowd’s been great. We just got to continue to give them something that they can be proud of.”

Brooks tells his players that Wizards fans don’t expect perfection but want 48 minutes of great effort. After a disappointing .500 season last year depressed turnout, this retooled team plays a more exciting, up-and-down brand of basketball that’s worth watching.

The Wizards have eclipsed 100 points in 17 of their past 20 games with Wall on pace to set a career high in points and steals. Backcourt mate Bradley Beal is also on the way to a career-high scoring season, but he points to the other end of the floor as the reason for Washington’s success and home winning streak.

“In terms of us, it’s just been our defense and just us getting after it and playing with energy,” Beal said. “It makes everything easier on offense when we get out and run. That way we don’t necessarily have to call plays all the time, we just get out and flow, and it works. In order to do so, we have to play defense and defend, and we can’t do that if we’re always taking the ball out.”

Brooks wanted the Wizards to become a defensive-minded team that could score instead of an offensive team that defended when it felt like it. Second-year guard Kelly Oubre showed that progress with on-ball defense by locking down the Portland Trail Blazers’ Damian Lillard on Monday and said that aspect of the game is better now with more familiarity of scouting reports.

Beyond starters Wall, Beal, Otto Porter, Markieff Morris and Marcin Gortat, the second unit led by Oubre, rookie Tomas Satoransky, Trey Burke and Jason Smith is coming along.

“Guys know their roles now,” Oubre said. “We’re a solid defensive team. We’re getting better. … We have a good home-court advantage coming on now. We got 12 in a row? We’ve got to keep that rolling, man. These fans want to see wins. We’re here to give it to them.”

Wall took some heat last year for suggesting that the free fast-food chicken sandwich fans get if an opponent misses both free throws in the fourth quarter generates the most excitement. It’s oftentimes the loudest cheer of the night, but not lately thanks to the Wizards winning.

He definitely notices a difference.

“We start to win, we go to the starting lineup, the gym is kind of packed more than empty and not getting packed later on,” Wall said. “There is a lot of excitement, and it’s great to know that when they call our names they are cheering for us. It’s something we can use as an advantage.”

After the finale of this home stand Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, the Wizards play five of their next six games on the road. Their challenge now is to adapt the home winning recipe to winning in less-friendly confines.

“We have to now view it the same way, respect our opponent no matter who it is and just come out with energy knowing that the crowd is against us, nobody’s there to cheer for us,” Beal said. “It’s us against everybody. Just having that same mindset in our approach to the game is probably all we need to do.”