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.

Report: Duke guard Frank Jackson undergoes foot surgery before NBA draft

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Duke guard Frank Jackson declared for the 2017 NBA draft with an outside shot of going in the first round and a likelihood of getting picked in the second-round.

This won’t help his stock.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Duke’s Frank Jackson, a well-regarded point guard in the 2017 NBA draft class, underwent right foot surgery and is expected to be fully recovered sometime in July.

When Jackson recovers will determine whether he plays in summer league, and that can affect transition to the pros as a rookie.

The bigger questions: Will this hinder his athleticism long-term? Does this put him at greater injury risk?

Jackson, a 6-foot-4 scoring guard, relies on a strong first step to attack the basket and high elevation on his jumper.

Report: 76ers, with No. 3 pick in NBA draft, like PGs De’Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr.

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If there’s consensus on the top prospects in the 2017 NBA draft, it’s:

1. Markelle Fultz

2. Lonzo Ball

3. Josh Jackson

That squares nicely with the Celtics picking Fultz No. 1 and the Lakers taking Ball No. 2.

But what about the 76ers, who pick No. 3? They already have a playmaking forward with a shaky jumper in Ben Simmons. Jackson isn’t the cleanest fit. Even if they plan to deploy Simmons at point guard, they could still use a traditional point guard for support/insurance.

Enter De'Aaron Fox and Dennis Smith Jr.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

https://twitter.com/SBondyNYDN/status/867526157184491521

The 76ers could also get a workout with Ball. There will be point guard options.

I’m just unsure any of them, assuming Ball is off the board, trump Jackson.

Philadelphia’s starting small forward is Robert Covington – a nice player, but not someone who should influence draft decisions. We can lightly pencil Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons into the 76ers’ starting lineup the next time the team gets good, but the rest of the lineup is open. Pondering Jackson’s fit into a half-blank canvass is overthinking. Embiid is an excellent outside shooter for a center, and Philadelphia’s eventual guards (or shooting guard and power forward if Simmons plays point guard) could be good shooters.

The 76ers’ should draft the best prospect available. If that’s Jackson, so be it. They should consider Fox’s and Smith’s fit only if those point guards are in the same tier as Jackson.

That said, don’t rule out the possibility of Fox and Smith working their way into that level. They’re intriguing players.

Thunder’s Enes Kanter: ‘I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship’

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When Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter jumped fully on board the pro-Russell Westbrook, anti-Durant bandwagon.

That ride doesn’t stop with his former teammate facing the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals.

Kanter, via Fox Sports Radio:

I don’t like Golden State, so I want Cleveland to win the championship.

Kanter never misses an opportunity to take a shot at the Warriors – except when Zaza Pachulia laid out Westbrook and stood over him.

Dwane Casey: Masai Ujiri assured me I’ll return as Raptors coach

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Raptors president Masai Ujiri didn’t mince words at his season-ending press conference: Toronto’s playing style had become unacceptable.

It sounded as if he might have been planting the seed for firing Dwane Casey.

But the coach says Ujiri assured him he’d return next season.

Casey on TSN (hat tip: Blake Murphy of Raptors Republic):

I think people mistook Masai’s comments for that. We had a good meeting before that meeting, and we’ve had meeting since then – with all the coaches – as far as plans for next year and the culture reset, which I think every corporation and every team should do periodically to get the culture back in focus and that type of thing. It’s not like we’re in total chaos or anything like that. It’s just good to have roles defined, things we can do better in each of our roles.

We’re doing some good things and some things we can do much better with. And that’s what we’ll plan on doing this summer and also this fall, when we go to training camp.

The Raptors’ offensive rating has dropped from regular season to the playoffs by 8.5, 7.2 and 11.7 the last three years. Their isolation-heavy style is just easier to stop when defenses see it in consecutive games.

The big question: What does Toronto do about that?

It’d be difficult to move on from the two players most responsible for the style, DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry. DeRozan is signed long-term, and if the Raptors don’t re-sign Lowry, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent this summer, they won’t have the cap space to land a comparable replacement.

The best bet is probably changing schemes from the bench and hoping the players can adjust – and maybe Casey can handle that responsibility. Hiring a new coach obviously would been the clearest path to a shake up, but maybe Casey can evolve. I’d want to see a plan from him before committing to keeping him, but maybe Ujiri got that.

Casey has played a key role in Toronto’s improvement, it’s nice to give him an opportunity to coach differently before hiring a different coach.