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.

Damian Lillard ‘obsessed’ with beating Warriors

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The Warriors just eliminated the Trail Blazers for the second straight year.

Portland star Damian Lillard sounds hardened by the experience.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

After the Portland Trail Blazers were swept by the Golden State Warriors on Monday, point guard Damian Lillard told ESPN he’s developed a newfound obsession with trying to take down the Warriors.

“You have to be obsessed with that because you know that they’re so good that they’re going to be there,” Lillard said after a 128-103 loss in Game 4. “That’s who you’re going to have to get through to get to where you want to get to. That’s what it is.”

I have no doubt this will drive Lillard. He just finds way to lift himself.

But will the rest of the Trail Blazers keep up with a team that features Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson?

C.J. McCollum is a solid co-star, but it gets dicey beyond that with several players locked into expensive long-term contracts. Portland will have to pry enough production from Jusuf Nurkic, Al-Farouq Aminu, Maurice Harkless, Allen Crabbe, Noah Vonleh, Ed Davis, Meyers Leonard and the Nos. 15, 20 and 26 picks in the upcoming draft.

The Trail Blazers have a path upward, but needing to climb as high as Golden State, the road is narrow.

Pat Riley says he wishes he gave Chris Bosh’s max contract to Dwyane Wade

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Heat president Pat Riley has said he should’ve given Dwyane Wade a max contract in 2014 after LeBron James left Miami.

Instead, Wade stayed with the Heat on what became two one-year contracts. That lack of long-term security bothered Wade, who took discounts in prior years, and contributed to his exit to the Bulls.

But paying Wade and Chris Bosh, who got a max contract from Miami two years ago, so much into their late 30s likely would have cost the Heat dearly. It’s nearly impossible to build around two declining max players.

Riley apparently has a retroactive plan for that – re-signing only Wade, not Bosh.

Wright Thompson of ESPN:

But of course, Riley says, almost immediately after LeBron left, Bosh’s camp wanted to reopen a deal they’d just finished, knowing the Heat had money and felt vulnerable. Bosh threatened to sign with the Rockets. In the end, Riley gave Bosh what he wanted. Now he wishes he’d said no to Bosh’s max deal and given all that money to Wade.

Riley says that Wade’s agent asked to deal directly with the owners instead of Pat, so he merely honored that request. Mostly, he just wishes the whole thing had gone differently. “I know he feels I didn’t fight hard enough for him,” he says. “I was very, very sad when Dwyane said no. I wish I could have been there and told him why I didn’t really fight for him at the end. … I fought for the team. The one thing I wanted to do for him, and maybe this is what obscured my vision, but I wanted to get him another player so he could end his career competitive.”

When he describes his reaction to Wade’s leaving, it’s always in terms of how sad it makes him feel

Riley has done a much better job explaining to the public how sad he is about Wade leaving rather than actually doing something while he had the chance or even expressing his regret to Wade after the fact.

It’s almost as if Riley knew excommunicating a Heat Lifer would be both good for the franchise long-term and a terrible look in the short term and is trying to mitigate the damage. Wade might even realize that, too.

To a certain degree, Riley could be speaking in hindsight. Bosh’s deal has not worked out, with Riley believing the big man’s career is over due to blood-clot issues. But hindsight also says giving Wade, now 35, a five-year contract two years ago would’ve been disastrous.

There’s sentimentality at work here. Wade is the greatest player in Heat history. Riley drafted him, groomed him and built three championship teams in two eras around him.

I just can’t figure out how much Riley is exploiting that sentimentality to warm Miami fans after coldly letting Wade walk and how much Riley genuinely regrets contract negotiations with Wade. This is almost certainly shades of both.

Raptors’ Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker wear same outfit to Game 5 (photo)

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I can’t verify Raptors forwards Patrick Patterson and P.J. Tucker wearing the same outfit to last night’s Game 5 against the Bucks is the happenstance Patterson presents it as. But there’s a saying in journalism: It’s too good to check out.

Whatever led to this, Toronto ought to keep doing it. The Raptors smashed Milwaukee.

Patterson:

Isaiah Thomas’ sons giggle about Fred Hoiberg’s carrying complaint (video)

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Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg diverted attention to Isaiah Thomascarrying – perhaps the lamest attempt ever of a coach angling for calls through the media, made worse by it following one of the best of all time.

Thomas’ sons saw how silly it was, laughing as the Celtics guard responded.

“It’s not that funny,” Thomas said, sparking even more laughter.