The Lakers had made the playoffs before they even tipped off against the Rockets on Wednesday, thanks to the Jazz losing in Memphis earlier in the evening.
The only question for L.A. was whether they’d finish as the seven or eight seed, with the seven being preferable since it would mean avoiding a first round matchup against Oklahoma City. But to get there, they had to secure a win over the Rockets, who had similar aspirations.
In the end, the Lakers pulled it out, after trailing by double digits in the third quarter and by seven with under 10 minutes to play in regulation. L.A. overcame a dreadful night of shooting (36.7 percent) by seeing five of its players finish in double figures to get the 99-95 victory which sets up a date with the Spurs in San Antonio on Sunday.
The Lakers should have had this one wrapped up in regulation, but a mad scramble on the final Rockets possession ended with the ball in the hands of Chandler Parsons, who drilled a three-pointer from a good five feet beyond the top of the arc to tie the game at the buzzer.
Houston went just 1-7 from the field in the extra session, and the Lakers’ team defense — despite a 30-point effort from James Harden — was responsible for this win more than anything else.
The Rockets open the playoffs as the eight seed against the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Sunday. That’s the matchup fans should want to see, considering that Houston ranks number one in the league in pace, while OKC is tied for the league lead in offensive efficiency with the Heat at a blistering 110.3 points per 100 possessions.
Rounding out the rest of the playoff matchups in the West, Golden State and Denver both won as expected, so the Nuggets finish as the three seed and will face the Warriors beginning in Denver on Saturday.
The Clippers ended the season on a seven-game winning streak with a win over the Kings, and will host the Grizzlies in a rematch of the epic first round series the two teams played in a season ago that ultimately went seven games. That four-five matchup gets started in Los Angeles on Saturday night.
After Thunder win, Russell Westbrook trolls Joel Embiid, waves goodbye, tells him to “go home”
That can have some serious connotations — Embiid was born in Cameroon. Westbrook may have meant “go to the locker room” or “go to where you live,” but considering Embiid is an immigrant it comes off very poorly for Westbrook.
The New Orleans Pelicans have a decision to make as they approach the trade deadline: Do they think they can re-sign DeMarcus Cousins next summer to stay in the Big Easy with Anthony Davis?
If the answer is no, then they have to consider trading Cousins at the deadline to at least get something back. There is a lot of context, however, that makes this seeming binary trade/keep decision far more complicated.
While the Pelicans have a lot to consider with the unrestricted free agent, Cousins says he is confident that he will still be playing for New Orleans after the Feb. 8 trade deadline.
“I am confident in my team,” Cousins said. “I am starting to understand this business a lot more than I did before. You can kind of tell when things are about to come about. We’re a very competitive team. A talented team. I don’t think that will be the case at all….
“A.D. hits me with little jabs about free agency all the time, but he also understands,” Cousins said. “It was Jrue in that situation last [offseason], and we understood his situation. Of course, they throw their little jabs. They throw their little jokes. But they are serious at the same time. They are respectful about it at the same time.
The Pelicans are 15-14 and the seven seed in the West entering Friday night’s games, and if New Orleans has a shot at the playoffs come the deadline there is no way he gets moved. Ownership and management want a playoff appearance. They have greenlit adding one of the game’s top centers (Cousins) to go next to Davis, and last summer they paid big to keep Jrue Holiday at the point in New Orleans. If the Pelicans don’t make the playoffs (and possibly even if they do squeak in and get swept out in an ugly fashion), everyone in the organization expects a housecleaning. They have been on edge all season. With jobs on the line, they are not trading Cousins and getting worse short term even if you could argue it was the right basketball move long term.
Will Cousins re-sign with the Pelicans next summer? That will be about the money — what the Pelicans offer, and what other teams will offer in what is expected to be a tight free agent market, especially for centers. DeAndre Jordan will be on the market as well, not to mention second-tier guys who will be more affordable for teams such as Brook Lopez. In that market, Cousins may want to stay where he likes his teammates and seems happy.
But first he has to get past the trade deadline.
Joel Embiid scores over Carmelo Anthony, then they exchange words (VIDEO)
Joel Embiid gives zero… well, you know where I’m going with that.
Embiid trolls the world and backs down from no man, and that includes Carmelo Anthony. Late in the fourth quarter of the barn burner between the Thunder and 76ers Friday night, Embiid backed ‘Melo down and scored over him, then did a little jawing — which Anthony didn’t appreciate.
I love that Embiid egged on the Sixers crowd after this. He knows his audience. After the game he said this.
Rudy Gobert missed 11 games this season due to a bone bruise in his knee. While the Jazz defense suffered as should have been expected with their anchor gone, their offense found a groove without him — and with more Donovan Mitchell and Derrick Favors — resulting in Utah going 7-4 with their star center out.
Now the Jazz will be without him again for a while — he seems to have sprained his left knee just minutes into Friday night’s game against the Celtics when Favors fell back into him. That is the same knee he injured before. Gobert was forced to leave and will not return to the game.
Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert still needs to undergo an MRI on injured left knee, but early evaluation suggests a Grade 1 MCL sprain, league source tells ESPN.
If that diagnosis holds, it will be weeks again the Jazz will be without Gobert.
The Jazz know how to play without Gobert. Favors moves to center and while he’s not near the same defender his offensive skills got them buckets and opened up the floor. The rookie Mitchell, as well as Ricky Rubio at points, took advantage of it to give the Jazz a top-10 offense with Gobert out. They need to find that groove again.
Still, Utah needs Gobert back and himself to really reach the heights they are capable of.