Pau Gasol with the monster slam dunk to seal Lakers win over Knicks (VIDEO)

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LOS ANGELES — With the game on the line and the Lakers clinging to a three-point lead with possession of the ball, it wasn’t Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, or Steve Nash who found themselves taking the final shot.

No, that honor went to Pau Gasol, whose diminished role on a newly-stacked team this season hasn’t impacted his will to win, or his ability to remain engaged.

Gasol’s emphatic drive and dunk down the middle of the lane sealed the Lakers win over the Knicks, a hard-fought and competitive 100-94 victory that finally brought L.A.’s record to the .500 mark on the season.

Nash was inbounding along the baseline, and appeared to be looking to get the ball to Bryant initially. As Bryant tried to free himself, however, he found two defenders right there with him — Jason Kidd, and Carmelo Anthony.

Anthony initially was checking Gasol, but passed him off to Kidd on the switch in order to stay close to a streaking Bryant. Kidd followed Bryant as well, which probably wasn’t a bad decision considering the Lakers propensity to force the ball into his hands in virtually every end-of-game situation.

After Gasol set that brief screen and once he was left by both Knicks defenders, he wisely drifted to the three-point line, where Nash found him.

Gasol had a clear path to the basket, and didn’t hesitate for a second. He immediately put the ball on the floor and drove down the lane for a powerful two-handed slam dunk that put the game in the win column for the Lakers.

Anthony was asked afterward how he saw it all unfold.

“I think Jason was trying to set a trap on Kobe,” he said. “I was trying to switch. I switched off and I think Jason was trying to trap, so it was just a miscommunication on both our behalfs.”

Anthony was also asked if he thought the play made by Nash to find Gasol was a special one that maybe not a lot of players in the league were capable of. But he laughed off that notion when giving his response.

“Well, I mean, s—, he was wide open,” Anthony said with a laugh. “You could find him. Anybody would have found that, he was wide open down the lane, and he made a crucial play.”

Gasol simply basked in the moment afterward, as well he should have. He’s been heavily criticized both this season and last, but showed in this one just how capable he remains, even as merely the occasional fourth option on a team loaded with talent.

“I don’t dunk as often as I used to so it felt good,” Gasol said. “I took it right down the lane and finished strong.”

Report: Knicks talked Kristaps Porzingis for De’Aaron Fox trade with Kings last draft

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The Knicks had made their minds up and were considering moving on from Kristaps Porzingis long before this trade deadline (when he was sent to Dallas), they were testing the waters all the way back to last June and the draft.

Last draft, the Sacramento Kings had a decision to make, too: How much did they believe in De'Aaron Fox? As a rookie, Fox had shown flashes and promise, but at No. 2 the Kings could pick Luka Doncic (or even Trae Young) and have gone in another direction.

That led to an interesting story from last June’s draft: The Knicks reached out to the Kings about a possible Porzingis for Fox swap, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN (in a fascinating piece on how this season changed things in Sacramento).

Sacramento moved up in the lottery again — to No. 2 — and faced a pivotal moment: the chance to reorient their team around Luka Doncic. Rivals sensed the dilemma and made offers for Fox — including a template from the New York Knicks centered around Kristaps Porzingis that would have required Sacramento to either send something beyond Fox or take unwanted Knicks salary (or both), sources say.

The Kings might have been able to leverage Doncic fever by trading down, but they wanted a guaranteed chance at Marvin Bagley III. The pick doubled as a vote of confidence in Fox. They didn’t need another ball handler. They wanted a springy big who could run with perhaps the league’s fastest player.

The Kings bet big on Fox. In the short term, that has worked out incredibly well for them, Fox made the kind of leap this season that will earn him a lot of Most Improved Player votes. He found his identity in pace and dragged the Kings with him to maybe the most surprising season of any team (and they were everyone’s league pass favorites). Bagley started to come on the second half of the season as he figured out how to fit his game in the NBA. How it works out long term for both teams remains to be seen, but the Kings have to feel good about how things look now.

Talks like this happen more than fans think — a lot of things are explored, very become trades. Kings fans should be glad this one didn’t.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic undergoes surgery to repair leg, full recovery expected. Eventually.

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As expected, Jusuf Nurkic underwent surgery on Tuesday repair the frightening leg injury he suffered on Monday night, a fractured left tibia and fibula that left his leg bending in a way that no leg should ever bend.

The good news is the surgery went as well as could be hoped, according to the team and Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Even with a successful surgery, this is going to take a long time to come back from.

As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, the only comparable injury like this in the NBA was Paul George‘s frightening leg injury with Team USA. George made a full recovery, but it was eight months before he got back on the court and much longer until he was comfortable enough to be the MVP candidate he is this season.

Nurkic had made a leap this season, averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting. The advanced stats loved him — his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was serving as a playmaker on offense: When he’d set a high pick for Damian Lillard, teams would trap the guard, Lillard would pass to Nurkic, and the Bosnian had become a good passer or he just take it in and scores himself

All of that came after Nurkic signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer.

His injury also devastates the Blazers heading into the postseason, where they could have been a tough matchup but have now lost a key piece of their puzzle.

 

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving to rest against Cavaliers, his former team

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving said returning to Cleveland tonight won’t mean anything to him.

He won’t even play.

The Celtics will rest rest the star against his old team, the Cavaliers.

Irving is averaging 23.8 points and the Celtics want to keep him as fresh as possible going into the postseason.

The Celtics have lost four straight and are fifth in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland.

Irving played his first six seasons with Cleveland. The six-time All-Star demanded a trade following the 2016-17 season and was dealt to Boston. He hasn’t played in Cleveland since the 2017-18 opener.

Celtics center Al Horford (sore left knee) and forward Jayson Tatum (back contusion) could return Tuesday. Coach Brad Stevens said both were “questionable to probable” at the team’s shootaround.

Kris Humphries retires

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At one point, Kris Humphries was one of the NBA’s most-hated players. Because he married Kim Kardashian, I guess. I’m not sure his critics could articulate precisely why they loathed him.

Now, two years after last playing in the NBA, Humphries is retiring.

He announced his decision in The Players’ Tribune, also elaborating on his relationship with Kardashian:

Look, I should have known what I was getting into. I was definitely naive about how much my life was going to change. But the one thing that really bothers me is whenever people say that my marriage was fake.

There’s definitely a lot about that world that is not entirely real. But our actual relationship was 100% real. When it was clear that it wasn’t working … what can I say? It sucked. It’s never easy to go through the embarrassment of something like that — with your friends, with your family…. But when it plays out so publicly, in front of the world, it’s a whole other level. It was brutal.

I didn’t know how to handle it, because I never thought I was going to be famous in that way. I remember having this moment when I was getting booed so hard in Philly, and I thought to myself, “Why exactly are they booing me, though? Is it just because I’m That Guy from TV? Do they think I was trying to be famous? Is it because they think I disrespected the game of basketball?”

The last one killed me, because all I’ve ever wanted to be known for was basketball.

Humphries’ playing style was built for anonymity. He was a rebounding journeyman who spent 13 seasons with the Jazz, Raptors, Mavericks, Nets, Celtics, Wizards, Suns and Hawks.

But he had a knack for drawing attention.

As a kid, he swam faster than Michael Phelps. As he shifted attention to basketball, he tried to take on Michael Jordan’s persona (as detailed in his essay) and came across like a jerk. Then, he hooked up with Kardashian.

Their 72-day marriage will be the lasting memory of his career. It’s what exposed him to a far wider audience.

Maybe that’s not what he wanted, and he still had a successfully long NBA career. But that’s what he got.