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Clippers show resolve, while Lakers show why they will miss playoffs in loss

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LOS ANGELES — Playoff teams have players that step up in the face of adversity.

When the Lakers make a third-quarter push (what is it with the Clippers and the third quarter?) and took to take an 82-79 lead, the Clippers responded with their own 8-0 run — with every basket from rookies Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Landry Shamet. The Clippers moved the ball and trusted their teammates, particularly in the fourth, and it led to open looks. All night long Patrick Beverley was a pest.

In the fourth quarter and down 12 — with their season essentially hanging in the balance — the Lakers finally started to play with real urgency. Or, desperation if you prefer. It worked for a stretch, the Lakers cut the lead to five. However, to complete a comeback a team has to get stops and the Lakers defense, which has been worst in the NBA in the 10 games prior to Monday, could not stop the Clippers. With the lead at 5 LeBron James hustled hard and overhelped, which left Danilo Gallinari open, and the Clippers best shooter drilled a three.

The Lakers never got closer than those 8 points.

The Clippers responded to adversity and that earned them an important win Monday night, 113-105, both helping secure their playoff spot and putting a dagger in the Lakers’ playoff dreams.

It was the kind of win that had Clippers owner Steve Ballmer walking down the halls of Staples Center after the game yelling, “Yes! Yes!”

With this loss, the Lakers playoff chances are all but mathematically dead. They are now 5.5 games back of the eight-seed Spurs with 18 to go. Basically, the Lakers have to go 15-3 the rest of the way to get to the 45 wins it will take to make the dance in the West. That’s not happening from a team that has gone 2-4 since LeBron said he was activating playoff mode after the All-Star break, and they are 4-9 overall since LeBron returned from his groin injury (4-8 when LeBron plays).

The Clippers will be going to the playoffs (barring an utter collapse). And it’s because when this team was hit with serious adversity this season, the players rallied.

“We took a hit. When we made that trade (sending out Tobias Harris at the deadline) it hit our locker room,” Clipper coach Doc Rivers said. “But we got them to believe we want to win still, we’re going to win still. Then for them to start start doing it just shows you how resilient they are.”

The Lakers were done in Monday by three things that have plagued them all season and will have them vacationing by mid-April.

One is injuries. Brandon Ingram, who has averaged 27.8 points per game on 57 percent shooting since the All-Star break, was out with a sore shoulder. LeBron grabbed his groin and asked out at one point. Kyle Kuzma left the game in the fourth quarter after tweaking his right ankle, and while X-rays came back negative coach Luke Walton said after the game he didn’t expect Kuzma to be ready for the Lakers next game Wednesday.

“The injuries are taking their toll on us,” LeBron said after the game, noting the Lakers were basically down to a six-man rotation by the end of this one.

Without Ingram, the Lakers didn’t have a consistent secondary scorer. Rajon Rondo started that way shooting 3-of-3 from beyond the arc and hitting some driving layups. However, the Clippers kept letting him take jumpers and Rondo shot 1-of-7 the rest of the way.

Which leads to the second issue — the Lakers do not have enough shooting. The Lakers got a lot of clean looks in this game but shot just 26.2 percent outside the paint. They were 10-of-36 from three (27.8 percent). That was a design flaw in the roster from how Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka constructed it last summer — saying they thought it was more important to put playmakers around LeBron than shooters — that has come back to bite them on too many nights.

However, it is the defense — the third issue — that has done them in. While the defense was better for stretches against the Clippers than it was in recent losses to the Suns and Pelicans, it was not good. And not near good enough consistently. The Lakers didn’t close out well on shooters and didn’t protect the rim. Gallinari led the way for the Clippers with 23 points, and Lou Williams had 21 off the bench.

The Clippers stars stepped up under adversity and executed. It’s something the Lakers need to model… next season.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts makes Russell Westbrook ‘next question’ jokes (video)

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Damian Lillard took a well-deserved victory lap after his buzzer-beating 3-pointer sunk Russell Westbrook – who seemingly took a shot at Lillard last year – and the Thunder.

Trail Blazers coach Terry Stotts had fun at Westbrook’s expense, too.

Westbrook has repeatedly answered questions from Berry Tramel of The Oklahoma with, “Next question.” Though Westbrook shifted to variants of “not sure” after the last couple games of the series, he still didn’t meaningfully answer Tramel’s questions.

Stotts interjected himself into Westbrook’s feud with Tramel before Game 3.

Clay Horning of The Norman Transcript:

Also, when former Sooner standout Terry Stotts, who is head coach of the Trail Blazers, entered the pregame interview room on Friday, the first thing he said was, “Go ahead, I’ll answer your question, Berry.”

Then, Stotts really laid it on thick after Game 5 last night, as shown in the above video. He specifically called on Tramel to ask a question then joked how badly he wanted to answer with “next question.”

Stotts landed on the hot seat after Portland got swept in the first round last year. He kept his job and did a fantastic work with the Trail Blazers this year. It’s great to see him enjoying himself.

I also can’t help but wonder how Westbrook feels about Stotts.

Kyle Lowry’s ring finger “popped out” during Game 5, he will be ready for Game 1 vs. 76ers

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In the second quarter of the Raptors’ close-out win against the Magic, Kyle Lowry injured his finger, apparently dislocating the ring finger on his right hand, his shooting hand.

However, it’s the playoffs, he was back in the game quickly and he will certainly be ready to go Saturday when Toronto begins a second-round showdown against Philadelphia. Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN has the details.

Lowry jammed the finger while deflecting a ball in the second quarter. During the subsequent timeout, the Raptors’ medical staff attended to Lowry’s hand on the bench. He returned to play but went back to the locker room with 2:41 remaining in the first half.

Lowry, who was wearing a splint on the finger during the postgame news conference, started the second half for the Raptors and finished with 14 points, 9 assists and 4 rebounds in 26 minutes.

“It popped out, but it’s fine,” Lowry said. “I popped it back in. Got a couple days to get it back and recover, and hopefully it will be better by Game 1. Well, it will be better by Game 1.”

It needs to be because the Raptors can’t have another 0-of-7 shooting start from him, which is what they got in an ugly Game 1 loss to Orlando. The 76ers are not the Magic, Toronto can’t have another dreadful start in Game 1 and dig themselves a hole at home.

Lowry’s shooting and playmaking will be a big part of that next series.

Grizzlies’ Jaren Jackson Jr. wants to work out with Kevin Garnett this summer

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Last summer, Jaren Jackson Jr. did some workouts with Kevin Garnett before embarking on his rookie campaign. It made sense for a lanky 6’11” rookie who can score in the post or step out and shoot threes to work with Garnett. There’s a similarity to the style of their games.

This summer Jackson wants to go back to that well, he told David Cobb of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

Specifically, Jackson said he wants to improve his “motor” and his ball-handling and his shooting mechanics entering year two.

And he hopes to work on some of those skills with Garnett over the coming months. Jackson and Garnett spent time together last summer and again in February when Garnett visited Memphis to feature Jackson game for his “Area 21” segment on TNT.

The veteran Conley had some ideas for that workout and what Jackson needs to add to his game.

“I think for him, working out of the post, like mid-post, being able to jab and shoot off the glass, basically like Kevin Garnett would do,” Conley said.

Jackson had an impressive rookie season, averaging 13.8 points a game, shooting 35.9 percent from three, playing good rim-protecting defense, and he fit well with veteran point guard Mike Conley (and Marc Gasol, before the Grizzlies traded him). Despite being shut down with a thigh bruise after 58 games, Jackson is almost a lock for All-Rookie First Team.

He showed the potential to be a future All-Star and the cornerstone of the Grizzlies franchise into the future. Most importantly, he seems willing to put in the work to get there.

 

Kings reportedly meet with Jeff Hornacek about lead assistant coaching job

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Among the questions and frustrations with the Lakers this past season — and there were many, most of them much more significant than this — were questions about the construction of the coaching staff under Luke Walton. Brian Shaw was the lead assistant, a former NBA head coach with plenty of experience, but there were questions about the experience on the rest of the staff.

Throw in the uncertainty circling Walton right now after a sexual assault allegation against him, it makes sense to have a veteran coach right next to Walton on the bench in Sacramento. That may be Jeff Hornacek, Sam Amick of The Athletic reports.

According to sources, Walton and Kings general manager Vlade Divac met with former Phoenix Suns and New York Knicks head coach Jeff Hornacek in Sacramento about the possibility of him being the team’s lead assistant coach.

Amick’s primary point is that as of right now the Kings and Walton are moving ahead as if their working relationship will continue. They are lining up assistant coaches and taking the other steps expected this time of year for a new coach.

Both the Sacramento Kings and NBA are investigating the allegations of sexual assault against Walton, put forward in a lawsuit by a former female reporter for the Lakers’ regional sports network. Kelli Tennant, the accuser, conducted a press conference to state her case on Tuesday. Walton, through his attorney, has denied the allegations.