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.
Three players most likely to be moved on Trade Deadline Day
Probably not the big names fans are hoping to see. The offers for Carmelo Anthony have been so poor that as much as Phil Jackson wants to move ‘Melo he can’t take those offers. Indiana isn’t eager to trade Paul George, same with Chicago and Jimmy Butler, and it’s going to take a very unlikely Godfather offer to get those deals done (such as Boston parting with one of their Brooklyn picks). Andre Drummond likely remains a Piston.
1) Jahlil Okafor, Philadephia 76ers. He’s been in more rumors than Khloe Kardashian the past few months. The latest rumors have the Chicago Bulls making a push to land him, but demanding the Sixers take Nikola Mirotic back in the deal. The Bulls don’t need Mirotic — a stretch four shooing 29 percent from three this season — with the emergence of Cristiano Felicio. where Okafor would give Chicago more scoring inside. However, why exactly do the Sixers want Mirotic when they have Dario Saric? The Bulls are going to have to throw more in that deal.
Other teams have expressed interest in Okafor, including Indiana. The Sixers need to move people around up front, the only question is because there is a glut of centers on the market — Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, to name a few — the price is low. Bryan Colangelo may decide to wait until this summer, but he’s prefer to just get this done.
2) P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns. He’s a physical, tough defender who can get you buckets on the other end, a lot of teams could use him. The Clippers had interest and offered a couple of second round picks, but the Suns wanted a first-rounder. The Knicks also had interest at one point, but they don’t have a first-rounder they can move until basically the second coming. Still, Tucker is on the market and I expect some veteran team will come in and try to scoop him up.
3) Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings. After owner Vivek Ranadive finally changed his mind, the Kings moved quickly to trade DeMarcus Cousins and put the team on a path. A rebuilding path. One that doesn’t have a lot of roster spots for older players. That includes Darren Collison. He’s a solid point guard averaging 13.7 points per game this season, shooting 42 percent from three, and he knows how to run an offense. There’s a lot of teams that could use him, and the Kings can listen to multiple offers than take the best one. But there’s no reason to keep him around the rest of the season.
Report: Unless they trade for Jimmy Butler or Paul George, Celtics likely to keep main assets
With less than 24 hours until the NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline today, the Celtics were said to be still holding out hope that internal discussions within the Bulls and Pacers would lead to one or both making their best player available.
But short of that, the view from around the league is that the Celts are becoming more and more enamored with the idea of keeping their main assets and using the first-round draft pick they have coming from Brooklyn in June via a swap of positions. (They also have the Nets’ 2018 first-rounder unencumbered.)
Sources continued to say that, while there remains a chance things could change as the deadline draws nearer, Chicago and Indiana are more likely to retain Jimmy Butler and Paul George, respectively. Those All-Star talents have been the Celtics’ two main targets
This could just be the Celtics playing hardball — either through leaks to the media or through conversations with other teams that have trickled out. But Bulpett is well-connected, especially in Boston. This is more likely than most reports of this nature to be accurate, but it’s always difficult to break through the smokescreens this time of year.
The Nets’ upcoming first-rounder is extremely valuable, as they’ll likely finish with the NBA’s worst record. The Celtics could do far worse than keeping that pick.
But Boston’s top players — Isaiah Thomas (28) and Al Horford (30) — are already at ages where they can’t necessarily wait for a 2017 pick, even someone as talented as Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball, to develop. It makes sense to cash in chips now.
Still, the Celtics’ deep pool of assets mean the window isn’t closing yet. There should be no desperation to make a win now trade.
If Boston keeps its main assets — mainly the Nets picks — past the trade deadline, we’ll just revisit all this again in the summer.
Cavaliers sign forward Derrick Williams to second 10-day contract
The Cleveland Cavaliers have signed forward Derrick Williams to a second 10-day contract.
The NBA champions have been impressed with Williams, a former No. 2 overall pick, and it’s likely they will sign him for the remainder of the season when his current contract expires. The Cavs announced Wednesday they signed Williams again. He has averaged 9.8 points and 3.0 rebounds in 22 minutes for the Cavs, who have been bringing him off their bench with their second unit.
Before signing as a free agent with Cleveland on Feb. 9, Williams played for Miami this season before being released.
The Cavs returned from the All-Star break Wednesday and will practice before hosting the New York Knicks on Thursday, just a few hours after the trade deadline.
Hornets’ Miles Plumlee out at least two weeks with leg injury
The Hornets are essentially two different teams with and without Cody Zeller.
They’re 22-17 when he plays and 2-15 when he doesn’t. They play at a 62-win pace with him on the floor and a 29-win pace when he sits.
So, with Zeller banged up, Charlotte traded for Miles Plumee. But Plumlee hasn’t provided much, just 3.2 points and 3.8 rebounds in 13.4 minutes per game in five contests.
And now he’ll add even less.
The Charlotte Hornets announced today that center Miles Plumlee underwent a Magnetic Resonance Image (MRI), which revealed a second-degree calf strain in his right leg. Plumlee will be out for Charlotte’s game tomorrow at Detroit and will be re-evaluated in two weeks.
The Hornets incurred significant long-term costs ($37.5 million over the next three years) to use Plumlee as a short-term bandage. Without him providing even that, this situation looks bleak.
Depending on Zeller’s health, this could turn Charlotte — 2.5 games and three teams out of playoff position — into sellers before the trade deadline. At minimum, it makes the Hornets less likely to buy.