Lakers retire Shaq’s number then retire Mavs playoff hopes with win

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LOS ANGELES — Lakers fans celebrated Shaquille O’Neal getting his number retired Tuesday night.

They did so by dancing about on the fresh grave of the Mavericks playoff chances. And while they did that, they could celebrate that the Lakers still have playoff life.

From the opening tip the Lakers pounded the Mavericks on the glass — 19 offensive rebounds — and got a triple-double from an active and energetic Kobe Bryant to beat Dallas 101-81. The win ties the Lakers with the Jazz at 39-36 on the season for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West (Utah has the tie breaker winning the season series). That race is on.

Dallas is now 2.5 games back of them with 7 games to play and both Utah and the Lakers have the tiebreaker on Dallas. While it’s not mathematically impossible that is going to be too big a mountain to climb and the Mavs know it. The Mavericks playoff streak ends at 12. You could sense it in a Dallas locker room that felt like a morgue after the game.

“It’s disappointing,” Elton Brand said. “This is one we really thought we were supposed to get, we had a chance. So losing this one really dampens the spirits (in the locker room).”

“We have some inexperienced guys that haven’t been (in an important playoff-like game) so this is a valuable learning experience for them, but it has a price,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said.

Carlisle tried to counter the Lakers size by starting Chris Kaman, who played solidly, but the Lakers length still controlled the game. Los Angeles grabbed 39.6 percent of their own missed shots with the offensive board.

But the bigger issue was the Lakers length really bothered Mavericks shooters — particularly Dirk Nowitzki, who had to deal with Pau Gasol much of the night. In his previous three games Nowitzki had shot 63 percent but the Lakers held him to 4-of-15 shooting and often took the ball out of his hands.

“They had long bodies on him, they were physical with him,” Carlisle said. “When we got him touches a lot of times he was forced to pass. Unfortunately, we were unable to hit a lot of the shot where he kicked out.”

Meanwhile Kobe Bryant was dishing and the Lakers were hitting, particularly late in the second quarter when they started to pull away. Kobe had a triple double with 23 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists.

When the Mavs doubled Kobe or Dwight Howard, the other guys made them pay (usually). Earl Clark was back from his slump and had 17 points (and played some good defense on Nowitzki as well). Steve Blake, starting for the injured Steve Nash (who will return Friday) had 11 points.

Kobe played heavy minutes — more than 47 — but never showed it, throwing down some big dunks — the kind he used to have when he played with Shaq — and being more active on defense than we have seen in recent games. It mattered.

“I feel sore right now,” Bryant said after the game, his feet and ankles soaking in ice. “My back is a little sore and my hamstrings are a little sore. I just have to get ready for next week.

“I just have to push through a little bit right now. Hopefully we can get a game and a little breathing room.”

Don’t bet on it. The Jazz have won five in a row and have and easier schedule the rest of the way than the Lakers. Every game is still must win for Los Angeles.

Starting with a tough one Friday night against Memphis. A team that can match that Lakers length that overwhelmed Dallas in the paint.

Report: Houston kicking tires on J.R. Smith trade with Cavaliers

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The Houston Rockets desperately need help on the wing (among other things, but wing is the personnel focus). The Rockets would also like to have less salary on the books next season, giving them some flexibility and lowering the tax bill.

J.R. Smith fits both of those bills, so Houston and GM Daryl Morey are at least taking a look at a potential trade, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

While there is some logic to this, we are a long way from it being a reality. Smith does not exactly have a positive trade value, at least as a player right now.

Smith was part of the rotation that helped the LeBron-led Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals last season, but he will be best remembered for the Game 1 blunder in the Finals that deflated the Cavs. Without the playmaking of LeBron, Smith struggled to start this season, shooting 34 percent for the Cavaliers in limited minutes, before going on hiatus from the team. That said, in a better situation where he was asked to play a small and specific role, maybe he could still help.

Smith is guaranteed $18.59 million this season but only $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed.

Houston seems a logical fit. Money wise, a Brandon Knight for Smith trade works, but the Rockets will have to throw in picks or other sweeteners to get the Cavaliers interested. Cleveland also likely will be patient, hoping that as the deadline gets closer there is a little bidding war for Smith.

Still, the Rockets are active on the trade market (as always), and they need wings, so this is worth keeping an eye on.

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo has fluid drained from hand slowing his recovery from surgery

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Rajon Rondo has been out more than three weeks following surgery to repair the third metacarpal bone in his shooting hand (his right hand), and while there has been no official timeline he was expected back in the next week or two. He’s been out on the court before recent Lakers’ games getting in some work.

But he has now hit a bit of a setback, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on Wednesday. Here is what Walton said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“There’s a little bit of swelling,” Walton said at Lakers shootaround on Monday in advance of his team’s game against the Miami Heat. “We’re going to shut him down for a few days then get back out after it again.”

It’s not clear when Rondo will return. He was averaging 8.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game before the injury.

The Lakers have gone 8-4 since Rondo went to the bench with his fractured hand. Without the veteran point guard, LeBron James has had the ball in his hands more as a playmaker (to Magic Johnson’s frustration at times), paired with Lonzo Ball (who has started to show some real chemistry with LeBron). The Lakers offense hasn’t been particularly good in these past dozen games, bottom 10 in the league, but they have balanced that with a top 7 defense. The Lakers are getting wins thanks to that defense and enough LeBron shot creation to get it done.

The Lakers are going to have to keep getting it done and now without Brandon Ingram, too, who is expected to miss a few more games with a sprained ankle.

Report: Bulls execs John Paxson and Gar Forman backing Jim Boylen

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Bulls players have made clear their thoughts on new coach Jim Boylen’s abnormally frequent and lengthy practices, his harsh public critiques, his five-man substitutions:

They don’t like it.

Not every player feels the exact same way, but enough were fed up to refuse to practice yesterday – the day after a back-to-back, a time teams almost never practice. Everyone compromised on a team meeting, though players reportedly also complained to their union.

But Boylen says he isn’t backing down – and it sounds as if his superiors support him.

Boylen, via Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My job…is to try to push our guys to a place they can’t take themselves,” he said. “That’s pushing them outside their comfort zone. That’s what my job is. That’s what the Reinsdorfs are paying me for.

“I explained that to them – ‘Hey guys, everybody wants it comfortable, everybody wants it safe. Well, I don’t think you become great in that.’ So it’s going to be a little raw for a while, it’s going to be a little rough for a while. And maybe there’s a point where it gets not as rough but all of a sudden it’s got to be rough again.”

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The fact Boylen cited ownership is telling. Phil Jackson praised Boylen to Bulls Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf after Boylen met with the Hall of Fame coach last summer. And according to team and league sources, executive vice president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman raved to ownership about Boylen’s message during Sunday’s meeting, which Paxson and Forman attended.

I wonder whether Paxson and Forman actually believe in Boylen or just feel as if they have no choice but to support him. Their last coaching hire, Fred Hoiberg, flopped to the point questions emerged about Forman’s job security. Paxson already declared a plan to keep Boylen for next season. Maybe Paxson and Forman can’t dump Boylen without bringing too much scrutiny upon themselves.

But the status quo isn’t sustainable. Boylen can’t keep belittling his players and running them into the ground without inciting a rebellion. He must ease up at least a little.

A theory that gives the Bulls the benefit of the doubt (that they don’t necessarily deserve): They already know this is a lost season, and playing for a higher draft pick is their best strategy. Boylen’s harsh practices will both help them lose and instill good long-term habits. Plus, his presence ensures players will welcome Chicago’s next coach. Even someone more demanding than Hoiberg would now suddenly be a reprieve.

Bulls coach Jim Boylen: ‘It’s going to be rough for a while’

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For the past few years, as the lead assistant to Fred Hoiberg with the Bulls, Jim Boylen got to be the “bad cop” to Hoiberg’s more mild personality. When Hoiberg was fired and Boylen moved into the big chair, he ramped up that old-school style — he called out the team’s conditioning and had them running suicides and doing pushups in practice (things rarely seen at the NBA level). Boylen was running long, grueling practices — including one the day after the team got back from a four-game road trip. He had film sessions right after games when guys were still emotional. Boylen did hockey substitutions a couple of times, taking out all five starters at once.

When he called for a practice the day after a back-to-back that ended with a 56-point loss to the Celtics, players pushed back. There were team meetings called by the players (and coaches, there’s a lot of people trying to spin this). Boylen said this is how he coached and he learned from Greg Popovich, the players had to trust him, and the players said you’re no Gregg Popovich and that trust is not there yet. It’s earned, not given.

The day after a series of meetings, the tone was a little softer, although Boylen was not about to back down. He said that it was only a couple of players who pushed back against the practice, not all of them, and he is clearly frustrated in this NBC Sports Chicago video.

Boylen also admitted things would not be easy, but he wants the players to trust him, as several Bulls writers Tweeted.

Boylen feels he’s in the right place. Will the players learn to trust him? One day after the meetings, things appeared better.

That’s easy to say at practice, we’ll see what it’s like when adversity hits.