News and notes from around the NBA:
Although the Clippers have clinched a playoff berth, the Lakers were long-ago eliminated. On May 17, the Lakers will learn their fate in the lottery for June’s NBA draft. Barring a late-season win streak, the Lakers will have 19.9% odds for the first overall pick, 18.8% for second and 17.1% for third. To complete the ill-fated Steve Nash trade, the Lakers will send their pick to the Philadelphia 76ers if it drops to fourth or fifth in the lottery, a combined 44.2% chance.
The Lakers would be best served at first or second, where they’d have the opportunity to select either Ben Simmons from Louisiana State or Brandon Ingram from Duke. Simmons has been widely touted as the top overall prospect, but his late-season play and the Tigers’ underwhelming season may have hurt his stock slightly. As a playmaking forward, Simmons may prove to be more of a Lamar Odom than a LeBron James. Both were champions, but like Odom, Simmons may need a few years to mature and learn how to shoot. Meanwhile, Ingram is a strong shooter with great length, but his body still needs to fill out. The small forward may stand at 6 feet 9, but he has yet to crack 200 pounds.
The decision would be more of a challenge for the Lakers at the third pick, where the next best player becomes far more subjective. General Manager Mitch Kupchak recently traveled to Israel to see forward Dragan Bender play, perhaps hoping to find the next Kristaps Porzingis. Bender is likely to need more time than the New York Knicks forward to become a productive rotation player.
Another interesting option could be Oklahoma’s Buddy Hield. The shooting guard has been the standout performer through the NCAA tournament. Others include Providence point guard Kris Dunn, California small forward Jaylen Brown, Kentucky guard Jamal Murray and Utah center Jakob Poeltl. The field at third could grow as the Lakers hold draft workouts after the season — assuming they don’t drop out of the first round altogether.
Eleven teams eliminated
Playoff seedings are still in flux, but 11 of the 30 franchises have officially been eliminated from postseason play. Teams such as the 76ers, Brooklyn Nets, Phoenix Suns, Minnesota Timberwolves and Lakers had long ago dropped from the playoff picture, others such as the Knicks, Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks, New Orleans Pelicans, Sacramento Kings and Denver Nuggets gave chase for as long as they could.
In the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat and Charlotte Hornets are on the verge of clinching, to join the Cleveland Cavaliers, Toronto Raptors and Atlanta Hawks. The Boston Celtics are not far behind, while the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers hope to fend off the Chicago Bulls and Washington Wizards. The Golden State Warriors, San Antonio Spurs, Oklahoma City Thunder and Clippers will represent the West in the postseason, along with four of the following five teams: Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers, Dallas Mavericks and Houston Rockets.
Another Bryant record
Presuming Kobe Bryant plays Sunday, when the Lakers host the Celtics, the 20-year veteran will set the record for most games played in a single venue. Currently, Bryant is tied with center Hakeem Olajuwon, who played 595 contests at the Summit, later renamed Compaq Center. Bryant will reach 596 at Staples Center in his next appearance, although it’s worth noting he played the first three years of his career at the Forum in Inglewood.
With less than two weeks left in the regular season, Clippers center DeAndre Jordan is leading the league with a field-goal percentage of 70.2%. That’s actually a slight dip from last season, when Jordan shot an NBA best 71.0%. If Jordan finishes this season strong, he’ll join Hall of Fame center Wilt Chamberlain as the only players in NBA history to have two seasons with field-goal percentages above 70%. Chamberlain owns the overall record at 72.7% through the 1972-73 season.
As the Warriors (68-8) chase the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls’ all-time record with 72 wins, All-Star forward Draymond Green is putting up impressive all-around numbers. The 6-foot-7 forward, who also plays center for the reigning champions, should finish the season as the first player since Grant Hill to average at least 13 points, nine rebounds and seven assists. Hill achieved that mark with the Pistons through the 1996-97 season. Green is currently at 13.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists.
Oklahoma City at Houston
When: 12:30 p.m. PDT, Sunday. TV: ABC
In preseason many hoop gurus pegged Houston as a top-four team in the West. Now with only two weekends left in the regular season, Houston is still under.500 and scrambling to grab a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Thunder are set with the No. 3 seed. But there’s a genuine rivalry between these teams because ex-Thunder star James Harden is now Houston’s top gun. The Thunder has a 2-1 edge over the Rockets this season, but there’s only a seven-point differential from these hard-fought games.