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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, April 21, 2012 at 9:52 AM

The clock keeps tick, tick, ticking down on the end of this rather bizarre lockout-shortened NBA regular season and last night's result were hardly what the New York Knicks or the Los Angeles Lakers had in mind:

Hey, it's one thing to be on a nice little run like the Knicks (see earlier-week wins against Boston and New Jersey) and then "celebrate" your playoff clinching by getting crushed 98-90 at 10-point home underdog Cleveland but the Lakers were handed the night's biggest spank-job with their 121-97 loss in San Antonio.

The Lakers (40-24) -- now just a ½-game up on the Los Angeles Clippers for the Western Conference's #3 seed - could not cash in on the return to action of mega-star Kobe Bryant who scored a modest 18 points in 30 minutes of play following his seven-game absence due to a shin injury. Okay, so the Lakers knew there would be plenty of rust on Bryant's game but shouldn't it scare Mike Brown's bunch just a wee little bit that the Spurs might wind up being the Lakers' first-round playoff opponent after all the dust settles next week?

The Spurs drained 10-of-15 trifectas in this clash and the three-headed monster that is Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili each registered 20-or-more point nights while tallying 61 points in all (and shooting a combined 24-of-38 from the floor). The Spurs (46-16) stayed atop the Western Conference with the victory and now get to take a night off before the aforementioned Cavaliers come to town Sunday night ... why does something tell us San Antonio won't suffer the same fate as did the Knicks in a late-season game with Cleveland?

One other quick-hitter note from Friday's action:

The Oklahoma State Thunder (46-17) stayed a half-game back of 46-16 San Antonio with last night's 103-92 win at 10-point pup Sacramento and sure Kevin Durant poured in 29 points to go along with his 14 rebounds and 7 assists - stat-sheet stuffer deluxe! - but how about the fact Okie City shot 40-of-75 from the floor (that's 53 percent) while the Kings shot just 38-of-93 from the field (that's 40 percent) and so maybe Scotty Brooks' club is "getting the message" on defense too these days.

The Thunder's just hoping this fight-to-the-finish for the top seed out West goes their way but it's starting to look like a fruitless type of chase, if you ask us!

Jim Hurley and his Network of Handicappers and Bloggers will continue to rock this 2012 Major-League Baseball season and remember there's still lots more NBA Regular-Season Winners too this spring and so sign up today and be sure to check in with us either right here online or else at our toll-free telephone # of 1-800-323-4453 for all the daily/nightly winners. Remember the NBA Playoffs begin later this month and you can sign up today for all the winnin' hoops action right through June.



Our official NFL Draft coverage at Jim Sez continues here as we bring you our position-by-position analyses - now here it's the top Defensive Ends. Note that we will have our Jim Sez NFL Mock Draft Preview on Wednesday, April 25th. The NFL Draft will be held at Radio City Music Hall in New York City on April 26-27-28:

QUINTON COPLES, NORTH CAROLINA - The unquestioned top defensive end in this year's NFL Draft isn't without his critics as this 6-foot-6, 284-pound pass rusher may have racked up 17 ½ quarterback sacks the past two years combined but some say he doesn't go hard each/every play. Note that Coples was moved inside to tackle for much of the 2011 season but he's projected as a DE in the pros and he shined in the Senior Bowl week. Coples is expected to be drafted somewhere in the top 12-to-15 picks and he could go as high as the #7 pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars or could drop into the mid-teens with the Philadelphia Eagles eyeballing the best defensive player on the board at #15. Ability to bull-rush an opposing lineman is a major plus for this former Tar Heels star.

COURTNEY UPSHAW, ALABAMA - This 6-foot-2, 273-pounder was a key cog on last year's national championship team but many NFL folks are not sure what's a better fit for him in the pros: OLB or DE but we'll cast him as a more likely down lineman in more conventional 4-3 alignment. Upshaw did not enjoy a great Pro Day workout at Alabama but he does display uncanny talents in stopping screens, draws and reverses and he really arrives at the quarterback with mean intentions. A four-year player in college, Upshaw is expected to land somewhere in the top 20 picks and winding up in Seattle with pick #12 makes sense to us although the New York Jets at pick #16 really crave his pass-rush skills.

NICK PERRY, USC - His 9 ½ sacks led the Pac-12 last season when the 6-foot-3, 272-pound Detroit native shined for a Southern Cal club that didn't get a whole lot of national attention. Note that Perry - like Alabama's Upshaw - could be shifted to an OLB spot with a NFL team that plays a 3-4 defense but we'll project him as a down rusher despite his so-called "tweener" size. Shows great upper-body strength and extremely quick when chasing down ball carriers, Perry is a real wild card in this draft as he could go as high as #12 to Seattle or as low as #25 to Denver. Our best guess here - right now - is that Perry will wind up with Cincinnati at pick #21, but just don't hold us to it!
ANDRE BRANCH, CLEMSON - The 6-foot-4, 260-pounder from Richmond is considered a real work-in-progress type who is often described as "raw" but no doubt Branch has major athletic abilities as last year he led the ACC champs with 10 ½ sacks and 17 tackles for losses. There is some debate as to whether or not Branch will be a first-round pick and that just might depend on how many DE's/OLBs are left on the board by the time we get to the final 10 or 12 picks in Round One but don't be shocked if Branch gets gobbled up by one of the league's elite teams such as Green Bay at pick #28 or New England at pick #31.

CHANDLER JONES, SYRACUSE - A likely early second-round selection here, this mixed martial arts student is a real hustle player who shows off a good burst but keep in mind that Jones missed five games last year follow a knee injury in the season-opening games against Wake Forest. Jones is listed at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds and definitely needs to get stronger but his ability to evade blockers and get to his target makes him a tempting proposition early in Round II with the likes of Cleveland and Jacksonville said to have major interest. P.S., Jones has seen his draft stock rise in recent weeks, thanks to a great work ethic.

NOTE: Lots more NFL Draft coverage in tomorrow's edition of Jim Sez plus stay with us right through the NBA Playoffs for all the hardwood news and notes.

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