Lakers continue to build chemistry, move into the playoff picture with win over Bulls

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LOS ANGELES — It’s been a long time in the making, and there’s plenty more work to be done over the regular season’s final 18 games. But for the first time all year, the Lakers can look at the standings and see themselves as an official part of the playoff picture after Sunday’s 90-81 win over the Bulls at Staples Center.

The Lakers are now 33-31 on the season, and sit in the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, a half-game ahead of the Utah Jazz.

In Friday night’s win over the Raptors, the Lakers needed several shots that were both miraculous and heroic from Kobe Bryant down the stretch to come back and get the overtime victory. They didn’t need much from him offensively in this one, however, thanks to a balanced attack and a strong third quarter from Steve Nash, who scored 10 of his 16 points in the period.

Bryant didn’t even reach double figures in scoring until he hit a three-pointer with 4:52 remaining in the third quarter, which pushed the Lakers lead to 15. He finished with a team-high 19 points, to go along with seven rebounds and nine assists, while five of his teammates finished in double digits.

The Bulls are not known for their offense, and struggled to score in this one. Chicago shot a dismal 37.1 percent from the field, and went just 4-16 from three-point distance. But the defensive effort from the Lakers was stronger than usual, led by an increasingly more active Dwight Howard, whose 21 rebounds helped L.A. dominate the Bulls on the glass for most of the contest.

Chicago was able to cut a lead that once reached 18 points down to eight with just over eight minutes remaining in the fourth, but the Lakers responded by scoring the next five points, while holding the Bulls scoreless for the next three and a half minutes.

More important than this single game victory and the temporary playoff position that it earned the Lakers is the improved chemistry the team is showing on the court. The communication was constant in this one defensively, with players giving their all on loose ball and rebound opportunities, while the body language overall was genuinely positive. The change from the way these guys interacted with each other in the opening months of the season is both noticeable and substantial.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t some bumps along the way — Bryant was furious with Metta World Peace at the end of the first half, after he committed an offensive foul while Bryant was dribbling down the clock to get off a final shot. He yelled at Metta as the two walked back down the floor, but all was forgiven later when Bryant was seen with his arm around his teammate on the bench early in the fourth.

The extent of how much Howard can improve from a health standpoint as the Lakers close out the regular season, along with the amount of chemistry the team can continue to build during that time will largely determine its postseason fate.

Winning can cure a lot of issues, and certainly helps the team-building a lot more than it hurts. At least after Sunday’s victory, L.A. can now, if only briefly, officially see itself as part of the playoff picture.

Here’s every 50-point dunk in NBA dunk contest history (VIDEO)

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Saturday night was yet another entertaining entry into All-Star Weekend lore, with both the 3-point contest and dunk contest coming through in expected fashion.

Oklahoma City’s Hamidou Diallo won the dunk contest thanks in part to an entertaining move where he dunked over Shaquille O’Neal while wearing a Superman outfit underneath his regular uniform.

There were several 50-point dunks on Saturday night, including Diallo’s Superman dunk and Dennis Smith Jr.‘s dunk with rapper J. Cole. Despite a limited field of contestants, the contest many feel is the highlight of NBA All-Star Weekend did not disappoint.

To that end, the NBA decided to put together a video of all the 50-point dunks in NBA history. Check them out in the video above, and see if you agree on their perfect scores.

Adam Silver on Dirk Nowitzki: ‘I saw him painfully running up and down the court, and I think it was clear that this was going to be his last season’

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CHARLOTTE – For the first time in NBA history, All-Star rosters each have 13 players.

Don’t expect that to be a permanent change.

Don’t expect it never to happen again, either.

In addition to the five starters chosen by fans, players and media and the seven reserves selected by coaches, NBA commissioner Adam Silver named Dwyane Wade and Dirk Nowitzki extra All-Stars.

“I didn’t think about it in terms of the next year or whether there will be other opportunities,” Silver said. “I think that, as a league, I like to think we have the flexibility, when there are special occasions.”

Except 1971-73, when they went a whopping 14 deep, All-Star rosters have had 10, 11 or 12 players. It’d been 12 the last 36 All-Star games.

Meanwhile, the league has grown larger than ever. There are now 30 teams.

The result: It’s harder than ever for players to become All-Stars.

The NBA should use adding Wade and Nowitzki as a springboard to keeping All-Star rosters at 13 players. Going forward, the extra spot should go to someone deserving based on their current play, not used as a lifetime achievement award. Two players snubbed annually now usually deserve All-Star status based on historical standards.

Plus, 13-player All-Star rosters would match regular-season active rosters, which expanded to 13 in 2011. Most current players have spent their entire career with 13-player active rosters. It has become strange to have just 12 in the All-Star game.

But Silver – who once said he supported expanding All-Star rosters – views this as a “special occasion.”

“I thought it was a very unique situation in which you had two NBA champions, two NBA players who had long, fantastic careers, both of whom had been All-Stars multiple times in their career,” Silver said, “and both of whom, in the case of Dwyane Wade, had already announced it was going to be his last season. In the case of Dirk Nowitzki, I saw him painfully running up and down the court, and I think it was clear that this was going to be his last season. And it just seemed like a wonderful opportunity to honor two greats.”

Whoa, that is harsh about Nowitzki. (Also accurate.)

This is a nice honor for Wade and Nowitzki. But it’s also an opportunity to normalize 13-player All-Star rosters.

Hopefully, the NBA isn’t slow to seize it.

Stephen Curry brings back jacket similar to one he wore at 1992 All-Star Weekend with dad Dell (photos)

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CHARLOTTE – Stephen Curry got legitimately fired up, pumping his fists and screaming, after making his last 10 shots – including his entire money-ball rack – in last night’s 3-point contest.

That contest doesn’t usually spark so much emotion, but this is a special time for Curry and his family. He’s back in North Carolina, where he grew up, for All-Star Weekend.

Curry honored the occasion with a sweet windbreaker reminiscent of the one he wore at 1992 All-Star Weekend. Back then, he was a 3-year-old accompanying his father, Dell Curry, a Charlotte Hornets guard competing in the 3-point contest.

Jasmine Watkins:

Adorable.

Kemba Walker feels love from Charlotte fans, returns it All-Star Weekend

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Stephen Curry was only a few podiums away. Giannis Antetokounmpo and Joel Embiid were elsewhere on the court and could be seen in flashes on the big screen above. Some of the biggest stars in the basketball universe were floating around. Then the chant broke out from the stands.

KEM-BA WALK-ER. KEM-BA WALK-ER

In Charlotte, Kemba Walker is as beloved as any of them. Maybe more.

Walker raised his arm and acknowledged the chanting fans with a smile. The love is mutual.

While All-Star weekend in Charlotte has been a triumphant homecoming for Stephen Curry and a celebration of the Curry family — who Commissioner Adam Silver called the “first family of Charlotte” — there also is love for the slightly undersized point guard who was drafted by Charlotte, adopted the town, and has become its biggest NBA star and ambassador.

“The fan support has been A1, which is how it is each and every day for me,” Walker said. “For the fans, I’m happy they have this opportunity, I’m happy we got this event here. I think we deserved it.”

Walker, a three-time All-Star, said he and the city have been taking in everything around All-Star weekend — the concerts, parties, pop-up stores and more — and savoring it. Walker competed in Saturday night’s Three-Point Contest (although it was not his best outing). He admitted to being tired because of the fast pace of everything in a city that usually moves a little bit slower, but that and a little more traffic were his only complaints. And minor ones at that.

“I’m just happy to be home, honestly,” Walker said. “Excited to welcome people into the city — I’ve been getting a lot of good feedback about the city. Like today, a lot of guys have been telling me it’s their first time in Charlotte, they didn’t know how cool it was, so I was really excited to hear that.”

Walker grew up in a very different world, the Bronx in New York. However, his story of not having a lot of money — spending his days after school at the Boys and Girls Club — and having to work hard has resonated with the city and its residents.

So has his loyalty. Walker has not tried to push his way out the door despite the franchise not putting players around him who can win consistently. (Walker is a free agent this summer and will have options, although the Hornets want to re-sign him and will break the bank to do so, and Walker has professed his love for the city and sounded like a guy who wants to re-sign.)

This season’s Charlotte team is a good example of what Walker faces. It feels like Walker against the world — the team is 6.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he sits, mostly because the offense falls apart. The team’s second best player is Jeremy Lamb. Or maybe Cody Zeller. Walker has pushed Charlotte to a 27-30 record this season, good enough for seventh in the East at the All-Star break, but just half a game ahead on nine-seed Miami and one up on surging Orlando. Charlotte also has the toughest remaining schedule in the East over its final 25 games, and fivethirtyeight.com gives them a 45 percent chance to make the playoffs.

“Hopefully my teammates are getting some rest now, because when this weekend is over we need to make a strong, strong push,” Walker said of the team’s playoff drive. “We have a pretty tough schedule.”

But that’s for next week.

For the remainder of this weekend, Walker — and his mother — are around and just trying to soak it all in. He admitted it’s been surreal to be named an All-Star starter the season the game is in Charlotte, and he wants to make sure those fans who love him and chant his name get a show.

“I’m going to enjoy it, but I’m definitely going to go out there and compete and try to get a win,” Walker said. “Put on a show for the fans.”