Pau Gasol, Metta World Peace, Steve Blake, Jodie Meeks

It wasn’t pretty but Howard lifts Lakers within step of playoffs

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LOS ANGELES — Maybe it was every Laker knowing they had to step up their game with Kobe Bryant sidelined.

Maybe it was the desperation of a Lakers team trying to salvage something from a train wreck season, playing much harder than a Spurs team Gregg Popovich described as “floating” through the game

Maybe it was the law of averages — eventually somebody had to hit a shot after a rough first three-quarters of the game. It just happened to be the Lakers.

Whatever the reason the Lakers found the stroke from three when it mattered — the Lakers hit 5-of-9 threes in the fourth — and finished with a 91-86 win over San Antonio that makes the playoffs likely for them — their magic number is now one.

Utah has to beat Minnesota on Monday and Memphis on Tuesday (both on the road) or the Lakers are in. And even if the Jazz do that, the Lakers are still in if they beat the Rockets Wednesday. There are scenarios where the Lakers could finish with the six or seven seed, although smart money says they are eighth.

The Lakers are going to need to play better to do any damage in the playoffs — not harder though. You can’t question the Lakers’ effort.

“The Lakers played with a log of energy obviously for a lot of different reasons and tonight we didn’t match that,” Spurs guard Tony Parker said.

That would be the Parker who was 1-10 shooting for 4 points on the night and was on the bench when the game mattered in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t because he was resting, he was playing awful,” coach Popovich said of why he benched Parker down the stretch.

It wasn’t just Parker, this was just a flat out sloppy game. Especially for the first three quarters: The score was 61-61 entering fourth, with the Spurs shooting 33.3 percent, the Lakers 31.8 percent through the first three. Pau Gasol shot 3-of-17 on the night. Some of that was good defense, a lot of it was just guys missing good looks.

But when it mattered, the Lakers made shots — they shot 52.6 percent overall and hit 5-of-9 threes in the fourth. Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks each knocked down two threes in the fourth.

The Lakers wouldn’t have been in position for the win if it wasn’t for Dwight Howard. He was aggressive from the opening tip, working to establish his position on the block, bullying his way to the rim, running the floor and being active on defense. The Lakers looked like a pretty conventional team in the first half working inside out. Howard finished with 26 points and 17 rebounds.

Steve Blake also stepped up with 18 points in the first quarter, forcing the Spurs to adjust and put a better defender in Danny Green on him in the second half. The Spurs also started to double Howard, but that is when Jamison and Meeks hit key shots.

As for the Spurs, this almost certainly assures they are the two seed — Oklahoma City would need to lose its last two and the Spurs would need to win out to get that top spot.

But there was more to it than that and a clearly frustrated Popovich knew it. San Antonio is 5-5 in its last 10 games. Tim Duncan showed up to ball —23 points and 10 rebounds — but the rest of the Spurs seemed taken aback by the Lakers desperate energy.

“We didn’t match their energy at all, I just though we sort of floated through the game…” Popovich said. “(Duncan was) really the only guy on the team that played like somebody who wanted to win a championship. I thought other than that the group was in float most of the night. Again, a lot of that was because of the Lakers energy.”

The Lakers know that the rough start they had in this game needs to smooth out and they need to play better going forward. But they will take the win.

“We’ve seen teams where their star player goes out and they play with a ton of energy, you get a couple wins,” Blake said. “It’s when the teams start figuring you out and see what you’re running now that you’re gone that it starts to get tougher. We’re going to have to be prepared for that.”

Report: Warriors center Anderson Varejao likely out for Olympics

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 31: Dan Clark #13 of Great Britain shoots over Anderson Varejao #11 of Brazil in the Men's Basketball Preliminary Round match between Great Britain and Brazil on Day 4 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Basketball Arena on July 31, 2012 in London, England.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Warriors center Anderson Varejao left his native Brazil to have his back examined in the United States before the Rio Olympics.

The prognosis doesn’t sound good.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

That’s a bummer for Varejao, who was clearly looking forward to playing in his home Olympics. At least Brazil still has plenty of talent — including Nene, Leandro Barbosa, Raul Neto and Marcelo Huertas — to compete for a medal.

The Warriors certainly hope Varejao heals in time for the season. They might have to depend on him to back up Zaza Pachulia if rookie Damian Jones isn’t ready and they want to limit the pounding Draymond Green takes at center.

Rudy Gay: Kings aren’t handling trade rumors right way

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 03:  Rudy Gay #8 of the Sacramento Kings during the first half at American Airlines Center on March 3, 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Rudy Gay has come up again and again in trade rumors.

The Kings forward doesn’t seem thrilled with that.

Gay, in a Q&A with Blake Ellington of Sactown Royalty:

You mentioned people are wondering if you are going to be here next season. I imagine you are like most of the guys in the league and try not to pay attention to that stuff, but do you pay attention to trade rumors and does it bother you?

I mean it’s been pretty loud as of late so it’s hard not to pay attention to it. I think it just goes to, I don’t know, I think there’s always ways to do things and in this situation I don’t think it’s going about the right way. No matter what your intentions to do with your players, I would think the first thing you want to do is make sure people are happy with what you are doing. That hasn’t been the case.

So you haven’t had much communication with the franchise as far as your future?

No, I haven’t. I’ve had communication, but not the kind of communication that I would say I like.

If you had your ideal communication situation, what would you like to hear from the franchise?

You don’t want to hear things on the internet, on Twitter. You would like to hear it from out of the horse’s mouth. Just be upfront with people, that’s all you have to do.

Toward the end of the last couple of seasons you have made it clear you don’t think the franchise has a direction. I assume you still feel that way. What do you think the direction of the team is right now?

I have no idea. I suit up and give it my all. That’s all I can do in this situation, that’s all you can do. Go out there and play as much as you can. Obviously, we don’t have anything to really build on. We have a new coach. I think that’s the only thing we can really build on. New coach and seeing how it plays out.

Remember, this is only Gay’s side of the story. The Kings might have a different point of view.

But after repeatedly putting players in unfavorable positions, Sacramento probably doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt.

Beyond communication issues, the Kings are likely having a tough time dealing Gay. He’s owed $13,333,333 this season and has a $14,263,566 player option for 2017-18. That’s not egregious, but it’s also not great value for someone who perpetually produces short of his athletic capabilities. Gay having Achilles surgery this offseason — revealed in the same interview — doesn’t help. He’ll turn 30 next month.

Sacramento, trying to win a reasonable amount as it opens a new arena, probably isn’t ready just to dump Gay and turn the small forward position over to Omri Casspi and Matt Barnes. Even if he’s just an average player, Gay can still help.

This is clearly an imperfect partnership between Gay and the Kings. But both sides might have to endure a little longer.

Sacramento — if nothing else, for the sake of its own reputation — should probably do more so Gay doesn’t feel like staying is such a burden.

Hornets sign undrafted Virginia center Mike Tobey

CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 27:  Mike Tobey #10 of the Virginia Cavaliers celebrates in the second half against the Syracuse Orange during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament Midwest Regional Final at United Center on March 27, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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The Hornets are plenty deep at center with Cody Zeller, Roy Hibbert, Spencer Hawes and Frank Kaminsky.

Just in case…

Hornets release:

Charlotte Hornets General Manager Rich Cho announced today that the team has signed center Mike Tobey.

Tobey went undrafted after four seasons at Virginia then played well for the Hornets’ summer-league team. He’s a good offensive rebounder, and he has some touch with the ball. But his lack of length and athleticism really limit him.

There’s an outside chance Tobey competes with Aaron Harrison, whose salary is unguaranteed, for Charlotte’s final regular-season roster spot. Tobey’s standing and the Hornets’ center depth will work against him.

Most likely, this is just a way for Charlotte to stock its new D-League affiliate, the Greensboro Swarm. The Hornets can waive Tobey after training camp and assign his D-League rights to the Swarm. A partial guarantee on his NBA contract would probably entice him to join the D-League rather than play overseas.

Ex-Wizard Glen Rice Jr. charged with felony robbery, aggravated battery and possession of marijuana

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 02: Glen Rice Jr. #14 of the Washington Wizards looks to pass while being guarded by Solomon Jones #22 and E'Twaun Moore #55 of the Orlando Magic during the second half at Verizon Center on December 2, 2013 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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Glen Rice Jr. — the No. 35 pick in the 2013 NBA draft — continues his fall.

He spent a couple years with the Wizards, got waived and then was shot and arrested in a single incident.

Now, he faces more charges.

TMZ:

the 25-year-old was arrested for robbery Monday morning in Georgia … less than a year after he was shot in a bizarre gunfight at T.I.’s restaurant.

Here’s what we know … Rice was booked at 6:37 AM this morning for felony robbery, aggravated battery and possession of marijuana. He has since been released from custody.