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What tanking? Metta World Peace scores 18 in possible final home NBA game

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As the Lakers tanked their way toward the end of the season (except for the final five games), there was nothing that made the Staples Center crowd roar like buckets from Metta World Peace. A guy on the Lakers’ roster as much as a mentor as player — he was the professional showing up early to practice, getting in his work, calling young players out when needed — World Peace was getting more run late in the season, and the fans loved it.

In likely his final home game as a Laker (and probably his second to last in the NBA), World Peace gave the fans what they wanted — 18 second half points. He did it mostly with post-up fadeaways, but he also drained pull up three pointers and seemingly everything else he threw up. It was a fun throwback half.

The Lakers beat the Pelicans 108-96, giving Los Angeles five straight wins to end the season (and costing them one spot in the lottery odds race).

Three games to watch on final day of NBA season Wednesday

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Wednesday is the final day of the NBA season, and while most of the playoff positions are set and plenty of players will be getting the night off for rest, there are still some games that matters. Here’s three races and a few games to keep your eyes on Wednesday.

1) Boston vs. Milwaukee and the race for the No. 1 seed in the East. The Cavaliers have made it clear rest matters far more to them than the No. 1 seed — LeBron James has been to six straight NBA Finals, four times his team got there out of the two seed. The fact that Cleveland rested LeBron last game and will sit him again on Wednesday — as well as possibly Kyrie Irving, although there are mixed signals there — shows they are not worried about home court in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The race for the top seed in the East is simple: Boston has a one-game lead over Cleveland, so if they win against Milwaukee Wednesday, the Celtics have home court advantage through the Eastern Conference playoffs. And the Celtics should win. The Bucks are locked into the six seed (after Atlanta’s win Tuesday) so they have nothing to play for, and four key Milwaukee rotation players — Matthew Dellavedova, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Khris Middleton and Tony Snell — are not even making the trip to Boston. This is gift-wrapped for the Celtics.

The Cavaliers have the tiebreaker against the Celtics, but the only way they get the top seed is to beat Toronto and have Boston lose. The Raptors have an interest here: They are the three seed, so they will face whoever is the two seed in the second round, and they would much rather have that be Boston than Cleveland. So expect pretty much a full on tank job from Toronto in the name of rest. That will not matter, however, unless the Celtics lay an egg.

2) Washington vs. Miami and the race for the No. 7 and 8 seeds in the East. This is the real drama on Wednesday night: There are three teams — Miami, Chicago, and Indiana — fighting for two playoff spots at the bottom of the East. At the end of the night, someone is not going to have a ticket to the dance.

What to watch starts with Washington at Miami — the Heat have to win or they are eliminated. It’s that simple. Miami should be motivated and Washington has nothing to play for (they are locked in as the four seed) so you have to like the Heat’s chances here. Washington is expected to rest John Wall and others for this game. Still, the entire process starts with Miami needing a win.

Even if they do win, Miami also needs either Chicago or Indiana to lose.

For the Bulls and Pacers Wednesday is simple: Win and you’re in.

The Bulls are hosting the Nets in a game Chicago should win, as Brooklyn is resting three key rotation players in this one: Trevor Booker, Jeremy Lin and Brook Lopez. That said, the Nets have played fairly well since the All-Star break and did beat the Bulls on Saturday. Nothing is guaranteed, but things look good for the Bulls.

Indiana hosts an Atlanta team on the second night of a back-to-back, and since the Hawks locked up the five seed with their win Tuesday they have nothing to play for. Expect a number of key Atlanta players to be rested on Wednesday, setting things up for the Pacers.

All of which is to say Miami has a chance, but it’s a slim one. They need a lot of help.

3) Sacramento vs. L.A. Clippers and the battle for home court in the first round. The matchup is already set, the Clippers will face the Jazz in the first round, an interesting series featuring two of the best defensive big men in the NBA in Rudy Gobert and DeAndre Jordan. What we don’t know is who gets home court in that series, both the Clippers and the Jazz are 50-31 heading into Wednesday.

This is very straightforward: The Clippers have the tiebreaker, so if they beat Sacramento they will be home for Game 1 this weekend. The only way the Jazz get home court in this series is if the Clippers lose and then Utah beats San Antonio. Not impossible, but not a likely outcome of events.

Grizzlies’ Mike Conley has his best season after record-setting deal

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Conley found the perfect way to answer all the questions about the Memphis Grizzlies giving an injury-prone point guard with no All-Star appearances a five-year, $153 million contract last summer.

He had the best season of his career.

“I knew people would be waiting for me to fail, and saying their opinion was right,” Conley said. “I knew that was out there, but at the same time, I was only worried about the good that has come out of it.”

The 6-foot-1 point guard usually goes unmentioned when the discussion turns to the NBA’s best players. With Conley’s history of injuries ranging from ankles to Achilles and even facial injuries in the 2015 playoffs , the contract just seemed way too much to pay to anyone outside of Memphis even if the guard has been a key piece of the longest playoff run in Grizzlies’ history.

Conley has provided Memphis fans – and ownership – quite a return on the team’s investment:

– Ten of his 15 career 30-point games have come this season.

– Scored a career-high 38 points against Phoenix in January.

– Averaging 20.6 pts a game. That’s seven points higher than his career average, while also averaging a career-best shooting percentage outside the arc (40.7 percent) and at the free throw line (86.1 percent).

– Became the career scoring leader for the Grizzlies, and also has made more 3-pointers than anyone else in franchise history.

– Joined LeBron James, Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook as the only players with at least 10,000 career points, 4,000 career assists and 1,000 career steals since entering the NBA in 2007-08.

“He’s been playing phenomenal,” Grizzlies guard Tony Allen said. “He’s one of the top five point guards in the league. He’s definitely an All-NBA caliber kind of guy. He’s been showing that.”

Coaches and other players around the league often talk about how Conley is underappreciated for what he brings to the Grizzlies. After a 110-97 win over Indiana a couple of weeks ago, Pacers forward Paul George talked about Conley’s 36 points – including seven 3s, six assists, four steals and only one turnover.

“We allowed him to kind of orchestrate the whole offense, and he got comfortable early,” George said. “He’s a flame thrower. Once he gets hot, it’s over.”

It’s why Conley has nicknames from Captain Clutch to the Conductor – the last from a video the Grizzlies put together featuring minority owner Justin Timberlake and directed by Craig Brewer to ensure Conley re-signed with Memphis last summer.

Then first-year coach David Fizdale asked even more of Conley starting with having the guard coach a quarter in a preseason game. The switch in roles wasn’t a stunt or a lark. Fizdale wanted Conley to understand the role the coach wanted from him as a leader along with running the team.

“He’s really tried to embrace that for me and take his aggressiveness up another level,” Fizdale said. “He is truly the glue to this whole thing connecting everyone, and he does it without an ego.”

Injuries continue to be an issue for the 175-pound guard, yet he keeps coming back faster than anyone expects. Conley was back in three weeks after breaking vertebrae in his lower back in late-November , an injury expected to keep him out six weeks. He needed 13 stitches over his right eye after butting heads with Kawhi Leonard on April 4, which kept him out of one game only because he couldn’t see out of the swollen eye.

Conley said his thought process returning from injury is simple. If he can play, he’ll play. And he missed only the one game after cutting his eye to send a message of the urgency the Grizzlies need going into the postseason. Memphis has earned the No. 7 seed and will play the second-seeded San Antonio Spurs in the opening round.

Conley feels like he is ready.

The 29-year-old guard said, “I’m better for having had the pressure of the contract and having the opportunity and the responsibility to lead this team.”

More AP NBA: apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Stephen Curry leads all players in jersey sales, Warriors are No. 1 in team sales

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It’s more than just long-distance threes or doing car pool karaoke. It’s that Stephen Curry looks like an overachieving everyman, as opposed to a 6’9″ man-child blessed by the gods with physical gifts none of us relate to. (Which is far from entirely true, but the narrative sells.)

Curry is the most popular player in the NBA, and for the second straight year that showed up again in the NBA’s annual report on jersey sales, as tallied by the NBA.com store.  LeBron James was second. Here’s the list:

Top 15 Most Popular NBA Jerseys:
1. Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors
2. LeBron James, Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Kevin Durant, Golden State Warriors
4. Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder
5. Kyrie Irving, Cleveland Cavaliers
6. Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio Spurs
7. Kristaps Porzingis, New York Knicks
8. Jimmy Butler, Chicago Bulls
9. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
10. James Harden, Houston Rockets
11. Dwyane Wade, Chicago Bulls
12. Derrick Rose, New York Knicks
13. Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors
14. Isaiah Thomas, Boston Celtics
15. Damian Lillard, Portland Trail Blazers

As for the most popular teams, Curry and LeBron are on the top of the list again. It also shouldn’t be a shock that the Lakers, Knicks, and Bulls are in the mix despite their play — those are the NBA’s biggest brands. Here’s the list.

Top 10 Most Popular Team Merchandise:
1. Golden State Warriors
2. Cleveland Cavaliers
3. Chicago Bulls
4. Los Angeles Lakers
5. New York Knicks
6. San Antonio Spurs
7. Oklahoma City Thunder
8. Boston Celtics
9. Philadelphia 76ers
10. Toronto Raptors

Knicks favorite Charles Oakley arraigned on assault charge

Associated Press
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NEW YORK (AP) — New York Knicks favorite Charles Oakley has made his first court appearance since his arrest and ejection in February at Madison Square Garden.

Oakley was arraigned Tuesday in criminal court in Manhattan on misdemeanor assault and other charges before being released without bail.

Prosecutors have accused the 53-year-old Oakley of striking a security guard in the fracas. They say two other people who intervened were pushed and received cuts.

Oakley says he’ll fight the charges. He told The Associated Press in an interview this week that he didn’t do anything wrong.

Oakley played for the Knicks from 1988 to 1998.