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.”

La La Anthony: I’m staying in New York, and Carmelo Anthony prioritizes staying close to our son

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Self-serving Knicks president Phil Jackson said Carmelo Anthonywould be better off somewhere else.”

Anthony’s wife, La La Anthony, revealed a different point of view when asked whether she’d divorce the star forward and about trade rumors involving him.

La La on The Wendy Williams Show:

Not right now. I’m not. You know, marriages are tough. And you know that. We all know that. It’s filled with ups and downs. And we’re just going through a time right now.

But him and I are the best of friends, and our number one commitment is to our son, Kiyan. We have to set an example to Kiyan, and that’s what’s most important to me. So, I would absolutely never say a bad thing about my husband. That is my son’s father, and he is an amazing dad. I could not ask for a better dad.

Every day, I see a different team. That’s for sure.

The most important thing with just that is to stay close to Kiyan. That’s my priority. That’s his priority.

So, wherever he ends up, of course we want him to be happy.

I am hood, and I want to stay close to the hood. So, New York is definitely where I’m at and where I’m staying.

The Knicks are lousy, and working for Jackson is no treat. Carmelo knows all that.

But this might reveal why Anthony hasn’t – and, according to Jackson, still won’t – waive his no-trade clause to approve a deal from New York. There are things that matter more than basketball.

Danilo Gallinari: Nuggets aren’t my first choice in free agency

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Pending free agents almost always express loyalty to their current team, whether or not they actually plan to re-sign.

That’s what makes Danilo Gallinari‘s comments stand out.

Gallinari, via Premium Sport, as translated by E. Carchia of Sportando:

“Nuggets are not my first choice but they are exactly at the same level of the other teams. Denver’s advantage is that they can offer me a five-year contract while other franchises can offer me a four-year deal. Nuggets are at the same level of the others” Gallinari said.

One way to look at this: If a player stating a desire to return to his team – even if he plans to leave – is the baseline, Gallinari is definitely gone from Denver.

Another: Gallinari is being exceedingly honest, and we should just take his comments at face value.

Rule change kept Paul Millsap off All-Defensive teams

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Giannis Antetokounmpo made the All-Defensive second team at forward with 35 voting points.

Paul Millsap missed the All-Defensive second team at forward with… 35 voting points

The difference? Antetokounmpo had more first-team votes (seven to zero), and that was the tiebreaker. But not long ago, both would have made it.

The league changed its policy a few years ago to break ties rather than put both players on the All-Defensive team, league spokesman Tim Frank said.

In 2005, Dwyane Wade and Jason Kidd tied for fourth among guards with 16 voting points each. Even though Wade had more first-team votes than Kidd (six to four), both made the All-Defensive second team.

In 2013 (Tyson Chandler and Joakim Noah) and 2006 (Kobe Bryant and Jason Kidd), two players tied for the first team. So, the league awarded six first-team spots and still put five more players on the second team.

I was definitely against that. A six-man first team should have meant a four-man second team – four guards, four forwards and two centers still honored.

But with a tie for the second team, I could go either way. Having a clear policy in place – and it seems there was – is most important.

It’s just a bad break for Millsap, who, in my estimation, deserved to make an All-Defensive team based on his production.

Kid scores dribbles through Victor Oladipo’s legs to score on Thunder guard (video)

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Tired of those videos where NBA players effortlessly swat kids’ shots?

Victor Oladipo and this kid help provide an alternative: