New Orleans Hornets v Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe lifts Lakers to win, back into playoff picture (with help of Utah loss)

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To say the Lakers had to beat the Hornets on Tuesday is to state the obvious — they need to win just about every game from here on out to get the eight seed and make the playoffs.

But the one they really have to have now is Wednesday night in Portland.

The Lakers stumbled and bumbled but then Kobe Bryant took over with 23 fourth quarter points and lifted the Lakers to a 104-96 win over New Orleans..

Great players lifted Oklahoma City over Utah earlier in the evening — Kevin Durant had 21 points and 12 rebounds, Russell Westbrook 25 points including a final bucket on a steal and breakaway dunk that was the dagger. OKC won 90-80 and are now half a game back of San Antonio for the top spot in the West.

With the Lakers win and the Jazz’s loss Los Angeles moves half a game ahead and into the eighth and final playoff spot — and now Los Angeles control’s its own destiny. Win out and they get in the postseason.

But it’s not going to be easy — they have Portland on the second night of a back-to-back Wednesday night. While the Trail Blazers have struggled lately they have long played the Lakers tough in the Rose Garden. And they should be motivated to play spoiler. Win and the Lakers are one game up with three to play. Lose in Portland and the Lakers and Jazz are tied — and Utah has the tiebreaker. Tough spot. And the way the Lakers won this certainly didn’t alleviate any concerns about would happen to them if they make the playoffs — they still are not a great team, they just have a great player.

At least on Tuesday enough things went the Lakers way. Starting with a Utah loss.

The Jazz were going to be overmatched against the Thunder on the best of days. But add on that the Thunder were frustrated and looking for a little redemption after an ugly defensive performance against the Knicks Sunday. OKC cranked up the pressure and he Jazz shot 39.5 percent for the game and were just 7-of-25 from the 3-point line and despite that size up front had only six offensive rebounds.

The Thunder also did in the Jazz defense by moving the ball much better than they did against the Knicks. That led to a lot of easy buckets for the Thunder, who pulled away and held off the Jazz runs.

The Lakers held off the Hornets charges mostly because their stars stepped up. Kobe had 30, Gasol had 22 points and 11 boards as he went right at Anthony Davis all game. The Lakers finally started to give Gasol touches in the post (which may have been more Kobe’s orders rather than Mike D’Antoni’s) and it worked, creating mismatches to exploit.

Eric Gordon kept the Hornets in it with a 13 point second quarter (22 for the game), but it just wasn’t enough when Kobe flipped the switch. The Lakers couldn’t pull away — it was a tie game 80-80 as the Hornets made their runs, but the Lakers kept staving them off one Kobe jumper at a time. Plus Kobe had a strong defensive game against Gordon.

Los Angeles got what it wanted through all of this — they are in the playoffs as of right now. They control their own destiny. But they were inconsistent against the Hornets, a team that couldn’t exploit those lapses — the Lakers defense was hit and miss all night. Do that against the playoff teams left on the Lakers schedule — Golden State, San Antonio and Dallas — and those lapses will be much more costly.

But for now, the Lakers got what they needed. For a night.

Kyrie Irving on All-Star Game: “I would love to play in a competitive game”

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 19:  Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors reacts after the 2017 NBA All-Star Game at Smoothie King Center on February 19, 2017 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS — The NBA All-Star Game is supposed to be a star-studded exhibition, and not one necessarily aimed at the core of basketball fans. Sort of like the Super Bowl, the goal of the All-Star Game is to suck in the casual fan to watch both great athleticism and the show around it — The Roots, John Legend and on down the line. In the city the weekend of the event, it’s as much about showing league sponsors a good time as it is basketball.

Let’s be honest, the basketball itself isn’t good. From the Rising Stars challenge through the All-Star Game itself, there’s matador defense and cherry picking all game long. The defense was so bad Stephen Curry was literally laying down on the job.

Kyrie Irving would like to see that change, and he speaks for at least some players.

“For me, I would love to play in a competitive game,” Irving said. “I know we play in competitive games in the summer, pickup games, but I think going forward, the All-Star experience will probably get a little harder in terms of defense going forward.”

Will it? Guys are trying not to get hurt and — like the entire weekend itself — are focused on the fun off the court far more than anything on it.

“It’s all in good fun, but I definitely think that, if we want a competitive game, guys will probably have to talk about it before the game,” Irving said.

The onus to change this falls to the players, something. West coach Steve Kerr echoed.

“I think that in the past, at least generally in the fourth quarter, guys have picked it up. That’s what I was expecting. It didn’t happen (Sunday),” Kerr said. “I would like to see it more competitive. I’m not sure how to do it. It’s up to the players really.

“As a coach in the All-Star game, you ever seen that movie ‘Weekend At Bernie’s’? They might as well just bring a couple dead bodies on the sidelines. We’re not doing anything up there. Just prop us up.”

To get guys to play harder, the league is going to have to find an incentive to motivate the players. Currently, the winning team’s players get $50,000 each, the losing team $25,000 — while that extra $25K would make a big difference in your life or mine, for All-Stars with eight-figure annual salaries it doesn’t matter as much as staying healthy and getting some rest.

“It would be good to possibly incentivize the guys somehow, Kerr said. “I don’t know if you can maybe get their charities involved or winner-take-all type thing, but I think it’s possible to play a lot harder without taking a charge. We know what silly is out there, if you’re undercutting guys, but it’s almost gone too far the other way where there’s just no resistance at all. I think there’s a happy medium in there somewhere.”

There is, but until the NBA comes up with a new plan we’re not going to see it All-Star Weekend.

Kings announcer goes scorched earth on Twitter after DeMarcus Cousins trade

DALLAS, TX - DECEMBER 07:  DeMarcus Cousins #15 of the Sacramento Kings takes on the Dallas Mavericks in the second half at American Airlines Center on December 7, 2016 in Dallas, Texas. 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 Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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DeMarcus Cousins is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans, but that hasn’t stopped members of the Sacramento Kings organization from taking shots at him as he walks out the door.

In the team press release announcing the trade on Monday Sacramento GM Vlade Divac said, “Winning begins with culture and character matters.”

Subtle.

Meanwhile, the team’s play-by-play announcer Grant Napear went scorched earth on Cousins minutes after the trade was announced. The Twitter thread is pretty dang straightforward:

Yikes.

There’s definitely a contingent of Kings fans that were fed up with Boogie’s attitude — 7 years is a long time to wait for your franchise center to not consistently get kicked out of games — but it’s not a good look to flame the dude on his way out.

Saying you don’t think they could win with him is one thing, but saying he’s a “dark cloud” and that most of his teammates hated him is borderline. Plus, coming from a team-affiliated it’s just a weird thing to do.

Napear has had his issues with Cousins in the past, so perhaps it’s understandable we see this reaction with the big man now in a new uniform.

Add this to Divac saying he had a better deal lined up two days ago, and the Kings look even moreso like an organization without a direction.

Charles Barkley hung out with King Cake Baby to celebrate his birthday (VIDEO)

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One of the New Orleans Pelicans mascots is a Pelican. His name is Pierre, and after a makeover he’s looking pretty normal these days. But the Pelicans also have a second mascot of sorts. His name is King Cake Baby — named after the Mardi Gras pastry — and he’s horrifying.

So when you have an NBA All-Star Game in town, what do you do? Trot out a giant baby mascot to mix in with the league’s elite, of course.

Or at least have him bother Charles Barkley on his birthday:

Ok it’s actually weirder that Kenny Smith wanted to see what was under King Cake Baby’s bib. I can never unsee that.

Vlade Divac on DeMarcus Cousins trade: “I had a better deal two days ago”

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The DeMarcus Cousins trade to the New Orleans Pelicans just gets weirder and weirder.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Sacramento Kings GM Vlade Divac said that he had a more appetizing deal on the table for the All-Star center. Why didn’t they take it?

Divac would not say:

Perhaps even more confusing is that Divac said that owner Vivek Ranadive did not have input on the trade process. That seems highly unlikely, given how hands-on Ranadive has been in the past regarding keeping Cousins, killing Cousins trade talks for years.

“[Ranadive] didn’t have any idea,” Divac said of the trade. “I just told him what I was going to do.”

Let’s cut right to the chase here: this makes no sense.

First, because ownership in the NBA always has some kind of contact on trades, if only as a heads up. When it comes to franchise players, I’m hard-pressed to believe Ranadive wasn’t involved.

Meanwhile, what explanation could possibly be given for not pulling the trigger on a deal Divac admits was better than the one he got from New Orleans? There is one possible reason:

Cousins’ agent was very public in saying the star big man would not re-sign with the team that traded for him, some saber-rattling to try and scare teams off because Cousins didn’t want to be traded. Once traded, Cousins was no longer eligible for the Designated Player contract, meaning he would lose out on at least $30 million in his next deal.

Maybe a team pulled back because of that?

If not that, it’s hard to think of why the Kings would have not moved on a better offer.

The offer from the Pelicans was one that Ranadive has reportedly been a big fan of, particularly because he feels that Buddy Hield is has the potential to be in the range of Stephen Curry.

That’s a lot to unpack.

Then we have to get to the Kings and their press release, which takes an unsubtle potshot at Cousins with regard to his character:

“It was time for a change and I decided this was the best direction for the organization, said Divac. “Winning begins with culture and character matters. With the upcoming draft class set to be one of the strongest in a decade, this trade will allow us to build the depth needed for a talented and developing roster moving forward.”

Ah, ok. Couple that with Kings play-by-play announcer Grant Napear going nuclear on Cousins moments after he was traded and you’ve got an extremely confusing, bad looking coming out of Northern California.

The Kings are a mess.