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Reports: Randy Wittman already fired by Wizards, shortly after final game of season

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Well, that escalated quickly.

It was widely expected that after a disappointing season where the Washington Wizards missed the playoffs, coach Randy Wittman was going to be let go. Even the players expected it. But this was fast.

Hours after the Wizards’ final game of the season, he was informed he was released, according to Marc Stein of ESPN and Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

As for who is next, Wojnarowski has said former Thunder coach Scott Brooks is at the top of their list.

There had been some movement within the Wizards to pursue Brooks during the regular season, but that Wizards are expected to be aggressive in the marketplace with Brooks, league sources said.
Brooks isn’t the only candidate on the list, which will include interest in former Suns coach Jeff Hornacek and Philadelphia 76ers assistant Mike D’Antoni, league sources said.

Brooks would be a good fit, and the Wizards are smart to be aggressive because he will be in demand. The Lakers could lead a charge for Brooks, and Houston likely will want an interview with him as well.

Rockets clinch playoff berth with 116-81 win over Kings

Associated Press
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HOUSTON (AP) — After it looked as if they’d be heading home early just a week ago, the Houston Rockets are in the playoffs after securing the final Western Conference playoff spot on the last day of the regular season.

“A lot of people wrote us off, thought we weren’t going to make the playoffs and here we are,” James Harden said.

Harden scored 38 points to lead the Rockets to an easy 116-81 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night for the playoff spot.

The Rockets never trailed and had a 64-44 lead at halftime behind 16 points from Harden and 10 each from Dwight Howard and Michael Beasley.

They won their last three games to sneak into the playoffs after losing three of the previous four to fall behind Utah and into ninth place in the West. Houston will meet top-seed Golden State in the first round of the playoffs this weekend.

“We … sat here at the beginning of the year thinking the playoffs wouldn’t have been this big of a struggle, so we had expectations of making the playoffs,” coach J.B. Bickerstaff said. “So, now we have to get busy.”

Ben McLemore had 24 points for the Kings, in what was likely coach George Karl’s final game with the team amid reports that he could be fired as soon as Thursday. Karl went 44-68 since taking the job in February 2015, and this season is the 10th straight season in which the Kings did not make the playoffs.

Karl didn’t address his job status directly, but did reflect on his time with the Kings and said he thinks they built a good foundation for the future.

“There were many, many more good days than bad days, but there’s no question this season had a lot of negative to it,” he said. “But I think I’m proud of how we’ve persevered and fought through it and actually became a stronger team as we finished the year.”

The Rockets are in the postseason for the fourth straight year, but they certainly didn’t have the regular season they had hoped for after reaching the Western Conference finals for the first time since 1997 last season. They returned most of the pieces from that team that won 56 games, but weren’t able to build on last year’s success.

Things went wrong early this season and coach Kevin McHale was fired after the team won just four of its first 11 games. He was replaced by Bickerstaff, but it didn’t lead to more consistent play and the Rockets were never able to keep pace with the elite teams in the West.

After a loss to the Suns on Thursday, it seemed likely that Houston would miss out on the playoffs. Instead, Utah dropped two of its next three games and the Rockets got back on track to win the remainder of their games and lock up the last postseason spot.

“We needed some big wins and guys got those,” Harden said. “Tonight we played really well. Even though the Sacramento Kings were short-handed, we went out there and just took care of business. It’s about us from here on out.”

Sacramento was overmatched in this one from the start with Houston racing out to a 10-2 lead by the first media timeout. It wasn’t surprising considering the Kings dressed just eight players, with DeMarcus Cousins, Rajon Rondo, Darren Collison, Rudy Gay and Caron Butler sitting out for rest, and Omri Casspi (strained right hamstring) and Marco Belinelli (sore right foot) missing the game with injuries.

Houston led by 21 in the third quarter when Harden scored the next 10 points, with two 3-pointers, to push it to 88-57.

That spurt gave Harden his fourth straight 30-point game, which ties a career high, and it was his 38th game this season with at least 30 points. He played less than a minute in the fourth quarter, and he and the rest of Houston’s starters went to the bench for good after his 3-point play with about seven minutes remaining made it 103-71.

Harden set career marks in points (29), assists (7.5) and rebounds (6.1) to join LeBron James, Michael Jordan and Oscar Robertson as the only players in NBA history to average at least 29 points, seven assists and six rebounds in a season.

TIP-INS

Kings: Eric Moreland did not play in the second half because of a sore left foot. … James Anderson added 13 points. … Willie Cauley-Stein had six points, eight rebounds, three assists, two steals and a block.

Rockets: Howard finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds. … Patrick Beverley had nine points and his six steals and 12 assists were both career highs. … K.J. McDaniels added 11 points with four rebounds. … Clint Capela had a career-high 17 rebounds.

HOWARD HELPS OUT

Howard hosted a blood drive on Wednesday to honor Turner sideline reporter Craig Sager, who is fighting acute myeloid leukemia. Howard visited donors at the drive after shootaround, and those who gave blood received a T-shirt featuring illustrations of Howard and Sager. Sager, who is receiving treatment in Houston, attended the game and received a loud ovation when he was introduced in the first quarter.

 

Lakers’ pregame video tribute to Kobe featuring Shaq, Curry, and Jack Nicholson

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LOS ANGELES — The Lakers’ pregame tribute to Kobe Bryant on the night of his final game was fitting — classy, and fairly short. Magic Johnson was the only speaker.

And there was this tribute video featuring Shaq, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Stephen Curry, and more importantly they close with Jack Nicholson. Enjoy.

Milwaukee Bucks sign 30-year lease with arena owner

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The Milwaukee Bucks have signed a 30-year lease with the public entity that will own the team’s new arena.

The Bucks will pay at least $1 million annually to rent the arena from the Wisconsin Center District. Those lease payments will total $45 million over the term of the lease. The district board approved the terms of the lease agreement Wednesday.

Construction can now begin on the $524 million arena that will be located just north of the Bucks’ current home, the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Groundbreaking is set for June 18, with the arena expected to ready for the start of the 2018-19 season.

The arena will also host Marquette University basketball games, concerts and other events.

The team will be responsible for operating, maintenance and capital repair expenses. The agreement called for the Bucks to deposit $60 million into a capital improvements fund for the arena during the term of the lease.

A public financing package approved last year covered $250 million toward arena construction, while current and former Bucks owners have already committed $250 million. The Bucks have agreed to pay for any cost overruns during construction.

Byron Scott on Kobe finale: I’m “trying to get him as many shots as I think he can handle”

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LOS ANGELES — There hasn’t been anything close to this at Staples Center since the 2010 NBA Finals. If then.

The traffic around the arena, the inflated parking prices, the crowds in the thousands lined up more than an hour before the doors to the arena even opened, the crush of 400 or more local and national media (a huge number of them huddled around Kobe’s empty locker, filming/photographing it), the Kobe shirts on every seat inside the arena, the courtside seats holding a Kobe action figure for fans as well, and even the $12 souvenir Kobe cups at the concession stands. It’s all here.

Los Angeles has turned out to say farewell to Kobe Bryant, who plays his final NBA game Wednesday at Staples Center.

But in classic Los Angeles fashion, this is more spectacle than basketball game.

While Laker players tried to go through their normal warm-up routines — D'Angelo Russell working on his post game, or Robert Sacre practicing 30-footers because he can — coach Byron Scott understood the job ahead of him.

I’m trying to get him as many minutes as I think he can handle, trying to get him as many shots as I think he can handle, as well,” Scott said pregame. “It’s obviously going to be a focus on him — this is his night. We want him to enjoy it as much as possible.”

What Scott cherished so far was a private moment.

It was good when we walked in just to embrace him, talk for a quick second, and I think we’re both going to enjoy this night no matter what,” Scott said.

In a city and with a team known for spectacle, this may be near the top (if not a little over). But in Los Angeles, Kobe is a deity, with legions of vociferous fans who have supported him through the good times and the bad. They expect this kind of show and sendoff.

Those fans are here to thank him — and to cheer him on — one last time.