Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error LAKERS SEE PLAYOFF PREVIEW IN ROAD SWINGDidn’t we just see you?There’s some deja vu this week for the Lakers, who are playing Memphis on Saturday and New Orleans on Sunday – two teams they’ve already faced (and beaten) since their return from the All-Star break. The Grizzlies and Pelicans also happen to be two of the teams who could be in line for a potential first-round playoff series with the Lakers come April.As of Friday morning, the Grizzlies had a grip on the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings, albeit with one of the most difficult schedules remaining in the entire league. The Pelicans were three games back, with the Portland Trail Blazers in ninth place, but with one fewer loss. While the Lakers have a difficult stretch coming up themselves, they’re the prohibitive favorite to earn the top seed with a 5-1/2-game lead on the field.It’s not that the Lakers are overly concerned with who they’ll face in the first round, but having games against the same opponent in quick succession can help promote a playoff preparation mentality, Coach Frank Vogel said. The Lakers had a similar situation earlier in the season, when they faced the Thunder at home, then flew to Oklahoma City days later, allowing them to spend more time on just one opponent.Related Articles “It’s actually a great sort of preparation for the playoffs, when you go from Game 1 to Game 2,” he said. “We treated it like a Playoff Game 1 and Game 2 – where our adjustments are going to be, what things we’ve got to do better, and all of those types of things.”So far, the Lakers are 3-0 against both the Grizzlies and the Pelicans, even though there have been a handful of spirited, close games between them. With two of the most exciting rookies in the league, Ja Morant and Zion Williamson, respectively, there’s fodder for a talked-about series either way (if not a competitive one).Adding to the Lakers’ feeling of playoff readiness is their road superiority: Their away record is tied with the Milwaukee Bucks for the best in the NBA (24-5) and they’ve yet to lose in an opposing Western Conference arena (the Clippers have beaten them in a “road” game at Staples Center).“Just knowing if we want to get to where we want to get to, you have to win on the road,” All-Star big man Anthony Davis. “Especially in the Western Conference.”INJURY UPDATESThe Lakers announced Friday afternoon that they are nursing several injuries: LeBron James, who missed Thursday’s win against the Warriors, is questionable with groin soreness, while Danny Green is doubtful with a sore right hip. Davis is probable with a sore left elbow. The last game all three missed was a Jan. 11 win at the Oklahoma City Thunder on the second day of a back-to-back.The Lakers have generally played through minor injuries – Davis has been listed as probable on the injury report for much of the season, for example. But Vogel has stressed that keeping the team healthy for the playoffs will be the biggest priority of the latter stretch of the season, and the Lakers are also trying to integrate backup power forward Markieff Morris into the rotation. How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years Trail Blazers, Grizzlies advance to NBA play-in game; Suns, Spurs see playoff dreams dashed Lakers, Clippers schedules set for first round of NBA playoffs Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s always Dwight Howard’s first impluse: Make a joke out of it.His free-throw routine, in which he stands back a few steps from the line, is becoming one of the more quaint curiosities in the NBA. And to explain it, the 34-year-old, muscle-bound center instinctually tried to go for laughs.“The weight room,” he said. “Because (I lift) so many weights, I had to step back from the free-throw line.”As silly as that explanation might sound, there might be something to it. Howard, at least, has seen a minor uptick in his free-throw percentage this month on a similar number of attempts. And the actual change, which he’s made for the last month, allows Howard to make a full follow-through with his shooting hand. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersHe’s noticed for a long time that many of his free-throw attempts go long. He had a thought initially, he said, that he should step back, “but I just felt like it was weird to be at the free-throw line and add another two or three feet on my shot.”It’s not completely novel: Former Laker Nick Van Exel was known for a similar routine. But Van Exel was also a 79 percent free-throw shooter – Howard has always struggled from the line. In his 15 seasons, he’s only averaged better than 60 percent twice.But Howard says the extra-long free throws are a routine he practices, and coaches have seen it and allowed him to do it.“It’s worked in practice, so I’ve gained more confidence in the game by doing it,” he said. “So it’s looking a lot better. So I’m pretty sure by the time the playoffs come, I’ll be the real cash app.”One supposes with Howard shooting a career-worst 48 percent at the line, a little experimentation couldn’t hurt.
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