NBA Today April 12

NBA Today April 12

NBA Today

Denver at Utah (9 p.m. EDT). The Nuggets can clinch their fifth straight playoff berth by winning two of their final three games.

STARS

-Kobe Bryant, Lakers, had 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in a 107-104 win over the New Orleans Hornets.

-Joe Johnson, Hawks, scored 34 points in a 116-104 win over the New York Knicks.

-Danny Granger, Pacers, scored 30 points with 12 rebounds to lead Indiana to an 85-76 win over the Sixers.

CHAMPS

The Los Angeles Lakers are Pacific Division champions for the first time in four years and have a shot at the Western Conference title after winning their most important game of the season. Kobe Bryant, making a push for his first MVP award, had 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, and the Lakers held off the New Orleans Hornets 107-104 Friday night to move within a half-game of the conference-leading Hornets. Houston and San Antonio, both 54-25, trail New Orleans by one game in the tightly bunched West.

STILL ALIVE

Joe Johnson kept the Atlanta Hawks in control of the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, scoring 34 points Friday night in a 116-104 victory over the New York Knicks. Trying to end the NBA's longest postseason drought, the Hawks remained two games ahead of the Indiana Pacers with three to play for each team. Atlanta trimmed its magic number to two for its first playoff berth since 1999.

CLINGING

Danny Granger scored 15 of his 30 points in the third quarter as the Pacers kept their slim Eastern Conference playoff hopes alive with an 85-76 win over the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night. Indiana won its fourth straight but remained two games behind No. 8 Atlanta,which beat New York, with three to play. Even though the Pacers hold the tiebreaker against the Hawks, they still likely need to win their final three games to have a chance at the postseason.

ELIMINATED

Carlos Delfino scored 24 points, Chris Bosh had 21 and the Toronto Raptors eliminated the New Jersey Nets from playoff contention with a 112-85 victory Friday night. Vince Carter had 21 points and Devin Harris added 19 for the Nets, who last missed the playoffs in 2001 season.

WHO'S THE BIG WINNER?

Hakim Warrick and Kyle Lowry each scored 17 points, and the Memphis Grizzlies beat Miami 96-91 Friday night to ensure that the Heat will finish with the league's worst record. With the NBA's worst record (14-65), the Heat will have the best chance to win the draft lottery held on May 20.

STRONG IN DEFEAT

Amare Stoudemire scored 37 points for the Suns in a 101-90 loss to the Rockets on Friday night. ... LeBron James scored 34 points in Cleveland's 100-95 loss to the Chicago Bulls. ... New Orleans' Chris Paul had 15 points and 17 assists in a 107-104 loss to the Lakers.

HIRED

The Milwaukee Bucks have hired Detroit Pistons vice president John Hammond as their new general manager. Detroit won at least 50 games in all seven seasons Hammond was by the side of GM Joe Dumars, with six division titles, five straight appearances in the Eastern Conference finals and an NBA title in 2004.

SPEAKING

``We're working on a pick, I guess. We'll see what we can get for it.'' - The Heat's Ricky Davis, after a 96-91 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies ensured Miami will finish with the worst record in the NBA. With the league's worst record (14-65), the Heat will have the best chance to win the draft lottery held on May 20.

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Re: NBA Today April 12

Bulls' Gooden to miss rest of season because of lower abdominal strain
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CHICAGO (AP) -Chicago Bulls forward Drew Gooden will miss the remainder of the season because of a lower abdominal strain, interim coach Jim Boylan said.

Gooden missed his seventh straight game when the Bulls hosted Cleveland on Friday and will not be available for the final three against Orlando, Milwaukee and Toronto.

''It just really wasn't improving all that much,'' Boylan said.

Acquired from Cleveland along with Larry Hughes in the three-team deal that sent Ben Wallace to the Cavaliers, Gooden averaged 14.0 points and 9.3 rebounds in 18 games for the Bulls - 12.0 and 8.6 for the season.

''He played well,'' Boylan said. ''He needs to be more consistent, but I thought he had some good games. I thought he played with good energy, gave us something down low, which we needed. I'm looking forward to having him around next season.''

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Re: NBA Today April 12

Pacers eye fifth straight win, final playoff spot
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The Indiana Pacers hope a season-high fifth consecutive win can help them gain some ground in the race for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. They'll try to do just that by taking advantage of a home matchup against the Charlotte Bobcats.

The Pacers (35-44) are ninth in the East, two games behind Atlanta, which holds the eighth and final playoff spot. Both teams have three games left, and Indiana holds the tiebreaker between the clubs. Any combination of Indiana losses and Atlanta wins equaling two will eliminate the Pacers.

Indiana kept pace with Atlanta on Friday, winning 85-76 at Philadelphia while the Hawks beat the Knicks 116-104. Danny Granger powered the Pacers' season high-tying fourth win in a row with 30 points and 12 rebounds.

"We knew Atlanta was winning," Granger said. "We knew we had to have this one."

Granger, who leads the team with a career-high 19.1 points per game, is averaging 24.3 points and 9.0 rebounds over the last three games.

The swingman didn't play in the last meeting against the Bobcats (30-49) due to a sprained right wrist, but the Pacers still won 102-95 to improve to 5-1 in the all-time series at Conseco Fieldhouse.

Granger totaled 30 points in the first two season matchups at Charlotte - both losses.

Indiana has not dropped a season series to the Bobcats, but the teams split four contests in 2005-06 before the Pacers took two of three meetings last season.

The Bobcats, who are 10-29 on the road, will finish fourth in the Southeast Division for a fourth consecutive season.

They saw their franchise-record four-game road winning streak come to an end Wednesday, falling 109-107 at New York, where Emeka Okafor missed a potential game-tying jumper at the buzzer.

"We did a good job coming back into the game, but it's a tired, long season," said Bobcats swingman Jason Richardson, who had 25 points and 10 rebounds. "We didn't come out well in the first quarter. I think we burnt a lot of energy in the second half trying to play catch-up."

Richardson, who leads Charlotte with 21.5 points per game, is averaging 26.5 and 7.3 boards int he last six road games. He totaled team highs of 20 points and 10 rebounds at Indiana on March 19.

The Bobcats will visit New Jersey on Tuesday before ending their season against Philadelphia at home on Wednesday.

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