Around the Rim: Lakers show off their vertical leap


1. Leaping up the standings
If the Lakers end up with the top seed in the West, nobody can say they don’t deserve it. With just days left in the most highly contested conference race in history, Los Angeles took care of business in a big way by knocking off the Hornets and the Spurs in back-to-back games over the weekend. Kobe Bryant’s boys defeated New Orleans by three points, 107-104, on Friday and then throttled the defending champs 106-85 on Sunday. The Lakers jumped from third to first in the conference with the wins, giving them a half-game lead over New Orleans with their season finale coming on Tuesday against the Kings. Bryant finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists in just three quarters of work against the Spurs while Lamar Odom (17 pts, 14 reb) and Pau Gasol (14 pts, 11 reb) each recorded a double-double. San Antonio could have used some of Manu Ginobili’s point production late in the game, but for the second consecutive game, a strained groin kept him on the sideline watching as the Spurs scored just 32 points in the second half.

2. Nuggets get closer

The Nuggets took one step closer to making the playoffs on Sunday when they romped the Rockets 111-94 behind 33 points from Allen Iverson. Denver also got a stellar performance out of sixth man J.R. Smith who scored 23 points. The Rockets dream of grabbing the conference’s top record is still attainable, but it’s defiantly fading fast. In order to grab the top record in the West, Houston must win both of its remaining games and have Los Angeles and New Orleans to lose on Tuesday.

3. Sonics sendoff
If the Sonics played their final game in Seattle last night, then they went out with a bang. With just 12 home victories to their name this season, the Sonics added a 13th on Sunday when they knocked off the Mavericks 99-95, overcoming a six-point deficit in the final three minutes. Led by Earl Watson’s 21 points and Kevin Durant’s 19, four of Seattle’s starters finished in double-figures to outpace the Mavericks who got 32 points and seven rebounds out of Dirk Nowitzki. Jason Terry chipped in 25 for Dallas. The Sonics appear to be heading for Oklahoma after heading out to Golden State for the franchise’s final game.

I almost cried, to be honest with you. People kept saying it might be the last game in Seattle,” Durant said. “It was phenomenal.

Sunday’s Player of the Day: Allen Iverson vs. Houston 41 min, 33 pts (FG: 13-20, 3FG: 1-4, FT: 6-11), 7 reb, 7 ast, 4 stl, 1 blk

Monday’s Game to Watch: Golden State (48-32) @ Phoenix (53-27)
After falling to the Nuggets on Thursday, the Warriors basically sealed their fate. However, nothing is over until it’s officially over in the wild, wild West. But Golden State is in a must-win situation against the Suns tonight, needing a victory to even think about grabbing the conference’s last spot and go on to shock the world once again. Phoenix lost a heartbreaker to Houston on Friday to drop its record to 6-4 over the last games. Their will be no homecourt advantage for the Suns in the opening round of the postseason, so they will be looking to improve their 28-11 record in Phoenix before being forced to hit the road in the second season.

Buzzer Beater: Sitting comfortably in the second seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race, the Pistons have absolutely nothing to play for as the regular season draws to a close. But that isn’t keeping them from winning. No starter played more than 25 minutes against the Raptors on Sunday and the Pistons till took a 91-84 victory, shoving Toronto into sixth place in the East – a horrible place for a team with a 16-24 road record. As it stands, the Raptors would be looking at a first round matchup against these Pistons. Well, not exactly these exact Pistons; they’d be a much, much better Pistons squad.

We’ve been struggling for a while now — that’s no secret — and tonight we had to go up against one of the best teams in the league,” Rasho Nesterovic said after Toronto dropped to 8-16 in its last 24 games. “Whoever we play in the first round, we’re going to have to change our mentality if we want to have a chance.

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