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.
Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.
As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.
Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.
Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.
Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.
Maybe a little too pumped.
That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.
Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.
(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)
The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.
While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.
“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”
Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”
We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.
Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.
Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.
His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.
Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.