Baseline to Baseline recaps: Kobe passed with the game on the line

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What you missed while trying to figure out how to pay off your $44 million hospital bill….

Thunder 97, Celtics 88: Boston’s fifth loss in a row was our game of the night.

Lakers 73, Mavericks 70: The Lakers won this game — and were the better shooting team — hitting 38.2 percent of their shots. They were just 1-of-10 from three, but that one was Derek Fisher’s dramatic game winner. Which is to say this game was ugly but still entertaining right down the final seconds.

Kobe Bryant’s 40-point game streak came to an end as he shot just 7-of-22. Maybe he was just emotional over Lamar Odom’s return to Staples Center. Nah. That the Lakers struggle to score when Kobe struggles speaks to the problem with the Lakers right now — they have multiple great offensive weapons yet everything goes as Kobe does. Pau Gasol struggled (Dirk Nowitzki defended him well, as he did in the playoffs) but Andrew Bynum had 17 points and 15 rebounds. But things didn’t flow through him. A better point guard might organize and balance the offense better, something the Lakers will eventually need.

But as they have done in recent games, the Lakers won this with defense. Nowitzki had his 21 points but needed 17 shots to get there as Gasol defended him with energy (and Gasol is long enough to at least challenge him). The rest of the Mavericks combined to shoot 31.8 percent (and were just 4-of-26 from three). It wasn’t all Lakers defense, Dallas had an off night, but when the Lakers hold a team down like this they win a lot. No matter what Kobe does.

Grizzlies 102, Bulls 86: No Derrick Rose and no Richard Hamilton for the Bulls — both out injured — and their defense couldn’t bail them out. Mike Conley just dominated John Lucas III on his way to 20, Rudy Gay had 24 and Marreese Speights had 16 points plus 12 rebounds. Don’t read much into the outcome because of everyone missing, but the Grizzlies could use every win they can get.

Be warned Bulls fans, Chicago is likely to sit Rose on Tuesday as well.

Magic 102, Knicks 93: This game was close with five minutes to go, but when Dwight Howard got his fifth foul Orlando decided to protect him by playing a zone — and the Knicks offense went stagnant. Knicks players tried to shoot over the top of the zone and they just missed. Meanwhile, Ryan Anderson dropped 30 and J.J. Redick 21 as the Orlando role players stepped up. Carmelo Anthony had 33 but was 9-for-27, meanwhile the Knicks as a team were just 5-for-20 from three. Also Knicks, you have Tyson Chandler, why all the doubles on Howard?

Clippers 101, Nets 91: Los Angeles was up 18 at one point and 13 early in the fourth, but fell apart and suddenly we were tied at 81-81 with 6:46 left. Why? No Chris Paul or Mo Willaims (both out injured) to take control and settle things down. But Chauncey Billups did step up and hit the dagger three to put this out of reach.

Cavaliers 102, Bobcats 94: With the game on the line — Cavs up 1 with a minute to go — Anderson Varejao caught a bad pass with one hand and turned it into a nifty spin move and basket. Then when Byron Mullens missed on a pick-and-pop Kyrie Irving got the ball and didn’t try to slow down and eat clock, he attacked and scored on a twisting layup around Mullens. Irving, who finished with 25 points, has a fantastic left hand around the rim.

Rockets 114, Wizards 106: Houston pulled away in the third quarter as the Wizards offense did what the Wizards offense does — fall apart — and the Rockets were able to capitalize with some fast break points. Samuel Dalembert had 14 in the quarter as he outplayed the Wizards bigs. The Rockets just know how to execute and the Wizards are showboating at inappropriate times. John Wall tried to lead a comeback with 18 in the fourth quarter (and 38 overall) but it was not enough.

76ers 94, Bucks 82: Not much rocket science here — it was a grinding game and the Sixers shot the ball better and turned it over less (the Bucks turned it over on 18 percent of their possessions and that led to 16 Philly points off turnovers. Jrue Holiday had 24. Andre Iguodala 21. Andrew Bogut is back for the Bucks and he had 20.

Trail Blazers 84, Hornets 77: The Hornets packed the paint on defense and it took about a half for the Blazers to get more comfortable moving the ball and creating the shots they wanted. When they did they pulled away a little bit and held on.

Timberwolves 99, Kings 86: This was close for three quarters, but in a sign of where these teams seem to be headed the Timberwolves had another gear that the Kings couldn’t match it. Kevin Love had 33 and 11, but it was Luke Ridour’s 25. Keith Smart is in a tough spot, trying to find a way to make the Kings work mid-season, but they just seem a challenged team that once something goes wrong they don’t know how to respond.

Hawks 93, Raptors 84: Atlanta led this from the middle of the first quarter on, but the pesky Raptors hung around. Josh Smith was shooting too many jumpers but was hitting them today and had 29, Joe Johnson abused the Raptors zone defense and Jose Calderon in the third and that was basically the ballgame.

John Wall returns for Wizards-Grizzlies

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Point guard John Wall was in the Washington Wizards’ lineup Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies after missing nine games with a sore left knee.

Coach Scott Brooks said Wall would play in the mid-20-minute range, perhaps a bit more.

The Wizards (14-13), currently in first place in the Southeast Division, went 4-5 in Wall’s absence.

“He such a force offensively,” Brooks said of Wall. “He’s a two-way player and he’s one of the few guys in the league that can find open 3-point shooters going 100 miles an hour in transition.”

Wall, 27, is averaging 20.3 points and 9.2 assists per game.

Pacers president Kevin Pritchard likes tweets critical of Paul George trade

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Pacers general manager Kevin Pritchard was widely panned – including by me – for trading Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis.

Oops.

Oladipo and Sabonis are killing it while George has underwhelmed.

Upon George’s return to Indiana, Pritchard took the opportunity to gloat. The Pacers general manager recently liked these tweets (hat tip: Matt Ellentuck of SB Nation):

This is petty – and I love it. Pritchard earned the victory lap.

Report: Rival executives still expect Paul George to leave Thunder for Lakers

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Paul George has been pretty open about his plans.

He told plenty of people – including the Pacers – he planned to leave for the Lakers in the summer of 2018. Even after the Thunder traded for him, George spoke of the lure of playing for his hometown team.

Of course, George also left the door open to re-signing with Oklahoma City. He proclaimed he’d be dumb to leave if the Thunder reached the conference finals or upset the Warriors.

So far, Oklahoma City (12-14) doesn’t even look like a playoff lock, let alone a team capable of knocking off Golden State or reaching the conference finals. So, cue the inevitable speculation.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Rival execs still expect Paul to head for the Lakers in free agency

Do these executives have inside information into George’s thinking, or are they just speculating based on already-available information? Some executives are incentivized to drum up the Lakers threat, because they want to trade for George themselves now. If these executives insist George will leave for Los Angeles regardless, they might pry him from Oklahoma City for less.

There’s also a theory George is hyping his desire to sign with the Lakers so a team would have to trade less for him. That got him to the Thunder for what looked like a meager return (but hasn’t been). It might get him to a more favorable situation before the trade deadline without hampering his next team long-term. Of course, this theory isn’t mutually exclusive with George actually signing in Los Angeles. It could just get him better options to choose from this summer.

Surely, the Thunder are trying to parse all this noise. If their season doesn’t turn around, they should explore flipping George rather than risk losing him for nothing next summer. But they should also be wary that he’ll bolt for Los Angeles at first opportunity just because rival executives predict it.

LeBron James feels for Lonzo Ball: “The kid hasn’t said anything”

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Lonzo Ball is actually quiet and clearly isn’t comfortable talking about himself. That may not be the perception because of the swirling vortex of Kardashianesq publicity around him — drummed up by his father, whose Big Baller Brand is making money with pop-up shops and a reality series on Facebook, if not preparing his boys for a life in basketball — but Lonzo seems able to tune that out and focus on the game.

LeBron James likes that about the rookie.

Ball has called LeBron the best player in the game and the guy he looks up to, and the day before the Lakers and Cavaliers meet LeBron told Dave McMenamin of ESPN he sees some parallels between himself and Ball in terms of being drafted as a franchise savior.

“The kid hasn’t said anything,” James told ESPN when asked about the hype surrounding Ball. “It’s been everybody else. So, I love his humility. He goes out, every time someone asks him a question, he says, ‘This is not about me, man. I just want to win. I don’t care about what I did.’ I seen he had a triple-double one game and they lost. He was like, ‘I don’t care. We lost.’

“So, can I draw any parallel to my experience? I mean, of course. I guess when you’re drafted to a franchise, they want you to kind of be the savior. And it takes a while. I mean, listen, man, this guy is 20-something games into his pro career. S— doesn’t happen [that fast]. Here it goes again, it goes back to my instant oatmeal [quote]: Everybody wants it right away. Can he play ball? Absolutely. The kid can play ball. Do guys want to play with him? Absolutely, because it’s a guy who is not about him. It’s about the success of the team. And he gives the ball up, and he passes the ball, and there’s energy behind the ball.”

Ball is keeping his head down and working on his game as much as circumstances allow. He’s developing good chemistry with the potential core of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and others. However, obviously, the basketball side is still a work in progress. Ball has shown flashes this season (as he did against the Knicks), his energy and pushing of the pace have been good for the team, but Ball still struggles with his shot, his decision making is inconsistent, and his defense needs work (but is better than predicted).  He’s improving, but it’s a process.

Basically, Ball is a rookie.

And like all rookies, how much work he puts in and how he develops, if he can get the out of his talent, will determine the course of his career. Not his dad, not the hype, not the shoes, it comes down to his game — and that remains a work in progress. Right now I’m not sure he makes the NBA All-Rookie team at the end of the season, but that doesn’t mean much because it’s about where he is in three years. Is he a future All-Star? Maybe. Is he going to be a good, not great, NBA point guard? Maybe. Could he be playing in Europe (with his brothers?) in five years? It doesn’t seem likely but it’s not off the table. There’s a lot of potential in his game, and it’s up to Luke Walton and the Lakers to bring it out.

But you have to like the way Lonzo has handled himself. LeBron recognizes that.

LaVar Ball is just lucky that the level-headed and focused Lonzo was his oldest child.