Jermaine O'Neal Helps Rockets Clinch Playoff Berth, Lakers Recapture 8th Seed

The Rockets clinching their first playoff birth since 2009 wasn't odd. It was how they did so. Tied at 98 with the Phoenix Suns with regulation ticking away, James Harden launched what proved to be the always entertaining game winning missed three pointer. That's because Jermaine O'Neal was whistled for basket interference effectively ending the game giving Houston the 101-98 victory.

Chances are Jermaine was merely attempting to box out any Rockets defender for a game winning tip-in, but these are the type of breaks afforded when you're the Phoenix Suns and you've been thinking lottery since Black Friday. Plus, there's this. I had completely forgotten J.O. was apart of that 1996 draft which also produced Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Ray Allen and Derek Fisher; all of whom apparently still have varying levels of the Fountain of Youth in a Dasani bottle. And now I can say O'Neal has been apart of two of the most peculiar moments in the post-Jordan era including last night's playoff-clinching goaltend and when he, Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson fought an entire area and won.

How's this for fun/paranoia if you're a Thunder fan? As of today, the Rockets are slated to scrap with Oklahoma City in the first round. The basketball gods have the funniest sense of humor at times.

Speaking of the eighth seed no one apparently wants to hold for more than 36 hours, there's the Lakers. Following Utah's loss to the Thunder, Jimmy Buss' franchise once again snatched a victory away from the Hornets/Pelicans. Three interesting things about that came immediately come to mind.

metta world peace lakers
1. Metta World Peace was supposed to miss an extended period of time following a knee injury. He only missed six games and did something the Lakers haven't been able to do in recent weeks - rest Kobe Bryant.

2. Yeah, Kobe. After appearing bottled up for 36 minutes, he tortured New Orleans for what feels like the 100th time in the fourth quarter for 23 points finishing with 30. Another big performance from an all-time great, indeed, but how about giving Pau Gasol a little bit of credit? You know, the guy who alternates between irreplacable mainstay and must-trade option. His 22-11-4-3 and willingness to crash the boards and space the floor was as important as anything. I digress though.

3. There's talent in New Orleans. Young talent, too. Regardless if Eric Gordon wants to moan and groan his way out, there's a nucleus in place in place centering around Anthony Davis, Ryan Anderson and point guard Greivis Vasquez (even if he was emmascualted by Chris Paul a few weeks ago). Put a capable two guard who wants to be there - Gordon could be that guy if he ever truly commits himself there - and this team could make strides quick fast and in a hurry. I could be jumping the gun, but screw it. I swear watching Ant Davis run up and down the court impacting damn near every facet of the game in the paint on both sides of the court, it just felt like I was watching a young Kevin Garnett. At least that's what I hope he morphs into.

Nevertheless, there's three games left for the Jazz (Minnesota twice and at Memphis) and four for the Lakers. That's at Portland tonight, then home for Golden State on Friday, home versus the Spurs on Sunday and - what I've convinced myself for weeks is the "win and your in game" for L.A. - home against Houston next Wednesday. Lakers fans, if you're like me and believe in karma, here's a list of volunteer opportunities in the Los Angeles area in case some good - uhh - Zen is needed to complete the mission.

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