By Eric Pincus
8:00 AM PST, March 4, 2013
The Lakers continued their pursuit of a playoff berth, finishing Week 18 at .500 with a 30-30 record.
The team dropped the week's opener on Monday to the Denver Nuggets, 119-108.
Metta World Peace was retroactively given a flagrant foul (level 2) after the league reviewed a play in which he elbowed the Nuggets' Kenneth Faried in the face. The Lakers forward is one flagrant foul away from a mandatory suspension.
Nuggets Coach George Karl said he believes the elbow-throwing was "premeditated."
Kobe Bryant was assessed a technical foul on Monday, but that call was later rescinded, keeping his total at 13. Sixteen technicals during the regular season results in a mandatory one-game suspension.
On Thursday, the Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves with little trouble, 116-94.
After the win over the Timberwolves, Antawn Jamison said he and Coach Mike D'Antoni have improved their relationship.
The team has improved, especially defensively, but some lingering weaknesses include free-throw shooting, turnovers and transition defense. Steve Nash said the Lakers have gotten better as they've had more time together as a team.
As the Lakers started to win at a higher rate, the Houston Rockets lost enough to keep L.A. within range of a playoff berth. In fact, the Golden State Warriors, Utah Jazz and Rockets all gave up ground when the Lakers had the day off on Wednesday.
The Warriors have dropped four straight recently, potentially opening the door for the Lakers to move all the way up to the sixth seed in the West.
Against the Atlanta Hawks, the Lakers wore their "Los Lakers" jerseys in honor of the NBA's seventh annual "Noche Latina."
Bryant closed out the Hawks in a close battle Sunday at Staples Center, 99-98. The Lakers' all-star guard hit the game-winner with nine seconds left, and threw down a dunk in the final minutes that spurred the team on to the victory.
Pau Gasol got off crutches after a Feb. 8 foot injury (torn plantar fascia), but the forward/center is still weeks away from a return.
World Peace said the NBA doesn't do enough to protect Howard from unnecessary contact.
In other news, the Utah Jazz and Raja Bell remained far apart on buyout talks. While he was linked by some to the Lakers, the deadline for such a deal passed on March 1. Now, if Bell is cut from the Jazz, he won't be eligible to play in the postseason for any other team.
In a bit of history, the late Jerry Buss helped keep the Jazz in Utah back when they almost moved to Miami.
Finally, former Lakers center Andrew Bynum may not play this season for the Philadelphia 76ers.
Metta World Peace suggests NBA doesn't protect Dwight Howard
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