NBA Roundup: Playoff Spots in the East, Ricky Rubio Come Back; Kobe-less Lakers Confident

Timberwolves' Spanish Star Looks Forward to Next Season

Sitting at the eighth and final playoff spot prior to their game on March 9 against the Los Angeles Lakers, Minnesota had plans to climb up through the standings in the Western Conference.  That all changed though in a matter of seconds and the season as well as their playoff hopes eventually crushed as the team lost Ricky Rubio for the remainder of the season after his knee collide with Kobe Bryant's.

The Timberwolves ended up losing that game and while they hung around for a while after dropping from the last playoff spot, the loss of it star point guard clearly hurt their playoff chances. The Timberwolves were 21-19 that night before Rubio's injury. They've gone 4-16 ever since while battling injuries to J.J. Barea, Luke Ridnour, Michael Beasley and others and have been eliminated them from postseason contention.

“Seeing the team and feeling that you can't help them is tough. They've had injuries. It's tough when you can't be healthy, when you can’t help players on the court,” said Rubio, who walked into a conference room with crutches at the Target Center on Tuesday afternoon and spoke to reporters for the first time since tearing the ACL and LCL ligaments in his left knee.

The point guard had successful surgery on March 21. He's unsure whether or not he will be ready by the time training camp rolls around.

Rubio dazzled crowds on a nightly basis with his array of highlight-worthy passes that even left opponents in awe. His teammates gushed about his on-court presence, finding a way to bounce the ball in between defenders.

He averaged 10.6 points and started in 31 of 41 games and appeared in the Rising Stars Challenge during the NBA All-Star weekend. Rubio was fifth in the NBA in assists, with 8.2 a game at the time of his injury.

Rubio felt sad during the first few days of the injury but as the days passed he said he started to feel better with the outpouring support from teammates, opposing players and fans.

“It was strange feelings. I was sad, I was mad because I was injured. But I was happy to see all the people helping me,” Rubio said.

Rubio said he will have an appointment in four weeks to see how far along the recuperation is going.

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Three Tangle in the East for 2 Spots

If the Milwaukee Bucks wanted to crash the NBA postseason party in the Eastern Conference, the entrance to it will be a bit tougher as they're now two games behind the New York Knicks for the eighth and final spot in the East. A win would have evened things up for that last spot and given the Bucks the advantage as they would have owned a head-to-head tiebreaker.

They'll have to fend for their lives as they also sit three games behind seventh-place Philadelphia.

Milwaukee is in the midst of a two-game losing streak and has eight games remaining, including three back-to-back sets. They play tonight at Detroit and go back home to face third-seeded Indiana tomorrow night. They'll be off until next Wednesday when they face Washington in D.C. and go to Indiana the following night. They then open up a string of three straight home games next Saturday against New Jersey and two nights later host Toronto. A back-to-back set to close out the season's last two days has them hosting Philadelphia and then traveling to Boston.

Not a kind schedule?

Philadelphia has eight games remaining on their schedule starting with a home game against the Nets tonight. We've all heard of those back-to-back-to back sets, right? Well it's the 76ers' turn this late in the season and they're probably not too happy with the schedule makers.

Starting next Monday they will be at Orlando, who beat them last Saturday. They will be home for the Pacers on Tuesday and next Wednesday go to Cleveland, the first of five road games. They will then be at Indiana next Saturday with a trip to New Jersey the following Monday night and close out the last two nights of the season just like the Bucks with back-to-back games at Milwaukee, which could be meaningful if the Knicks somehow surpass them for the seventh spot and a meeting at Detroit.

So how about the Knicks chances of moving up? Seventh seems reachable but you never know.

They're hosting the hapless Washington Wizards tonight and have a big showdown Sunday afternoon against Miami at The Garden. The Celtics visit Tuesday night and then it's a trip to Newark the next night. They have two road dates next weekend with Cleveland awaiting them Friday and Sunday it's fifth-seeded Atlanta. New York closes out the season just like Milwaukee and Philadelphia with a back-to-back set on the last two days of the season, hosting the Los Angeles Clippers and the traveling the next day to Charlotte.

It's too close to call and rule out the Bucks who have two proven scorers that can take over the game in Brandon Jennings and Monta Ellis. Philadelphia had lost four straight but has won its last two games. The problem with them is that although they play a great team game, they lack that big time scorer that can create his own shot in crucial moments. And that's what the Knicks have in Carmelo Anthony, who has taken the team on his shoulders with Amar'e Stoudemire and Jeremy Lin out. His game has improved in April.

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Gasol: Lakers Get Back To Basics with Kobe Missing

At many times this season the Los Angeles Lakers have turned it on and off. With Kobe Bryant out of the lineup during the team's last three games, they've gone 2-1 as the star guard recovers from a sore left shin.

Pau Gasol was pleased with the way the Lakers rebounded after a 20-point loss to Phoenix last Saturday. Gasol liked the way the Lakers played on each end of the court during their victory at San Antonio on Wednesday night. Andrew Bynum grabbed 30 rebounds and Metta World Peace had his best game of the season offensively, hitting 10 of 15 shots for 26 points.

But he warned that they can't get too happy. Instead they need to build on it and put out a better effort as the season nears to an end with the playoffs two weeks away.

"Every time we have a good win, a solid win, we need to build on it. We can't be content or too satisfied with it. It just doesn't work that way,” Gasol said according to the Press-Telegram.

“It was good step forward, proof when we do things right and play as hard as we did and we work together, we're a hard team to beat. It's a good injection for us, but we've got to focus on our next game to make this win kind of count.

The Lakers are 37-22, good for third place in the Western Conference with seven games remaining. They're not sure if Bryant will be back.

Gasol is sure that without Kobe on the floor, they're still capable of winning as long as they're all on the same page and consistent throughout 48 minutes.

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