Luis Scola, Kosta Koufos, Kenneth Faried

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Suns rising while Rockets crash back to earth

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What you missed while watching the holographic Tupac set from Coachella

Clippers 92, Thunder 77: Oklahoma City scored just 25 points in the second half. It’s the kind of game that makes you go hmmmm…..

Nuggets 104, Rockets 102: In the first half, the Rockets were playing with a sense of desperation on defense. How desperate the situation for them was didn’t change at halftime but their defense did — the Nuggets shot 68 percent in the third quarter and 56 percent in the fourth to come back and win. They did it with a backcourt of Ty Lawson (25 points) and Arron Afflalo (26) providing most of the scoring. Plus, Kenneth Faried is a spark plug.

With the Rockets loss they fall out of the playoffs — they are actually tied with the Suns for the 8/9 seed but Phoenix has the tiebreaker. Losing both games to Denver in a home-and-home could be their season. On the flip side, Denver moved past Dallas (who lost to Utah, keep reading) and into the six seed.

Jazz 123, Mavericks 121 (3OT): Let’s move on from the “wet Willy” and talk about the game. This was one it looked like the Jazz had but the feisty defending champs went on a 17-6 run to close out the game and almost win it. Paul Millsap was a beast — 28 points, 26 rebounds and his putback sent the game to overtime. Dirk Nowitzki was everything you ask your star to be with 40 points and some key shots. The Jazz got good guard play from Devin Harris (23 points) and Gordon Hayward (24). This was a real battle of a game, two teams playing with some playoff desperation.

With the win, the Jazz are just half a game back of Houston and Phoenix for the 8 spot and they have a chance. Dallas, with its second overtime loss in a row (Lakers on Sunday) fall to the seven seed in the West.

Heat 101, Nets 98: This is why you want to have LeBron James on the roster — he scored the final 17 points for Miami, led his team on a 13-1 run late and got the Heat a win they really didn’t deserve. New Jersey led almost the entire game because the Heat just would not play defense — the Nets shot 53.5 percent for the first half and 50 percent for the game. Steam was coming out of Erik Spoelstra’s ears. But the Heat bench made a push to make the game close again midway through the fourth quarter, then James did his thing.

Wizards 87, Bulls 84: No Derrick Rose and no Luol Deng for Chicago and it showed — Miami had a healthy star to take over at the end and get a win when they were outplayed Tuesday, Chicago did not. Wizards big man Kevin Seraphin had 21 points, helping the Wizards score 48 in the paint. The Wizards also ran on the Bulls all night long, you can imagine how that went over with Tom Thibodeau.

Magic 113, Sixers 100: No Dwight Howard, no Glen Davis, no Hedo Turkoglu and the Magic still won this handily. Ryan Anderson had 26 points and 16 rebounds for Orlando. Philly is just a mess — they should have pounded Orlando inside and on the glass but they could not and did not, plus they didn’t defend the arc (Orlando was 11-for-18 from three).

Pacers 111, Timberwolves 88: Indiana has won 9 of 10 now, they have a balanced team — all five starters scored in double figures in this game. Teams keep trying to avoid the Heat and Bulls in the East (with reason) but the Pacers are not pushovers. Minnesota is a mess and has now lost 26 consecutive games in April, an NBA record.

Suns 125, Trail Blazers 107: The Suns went on a 14-4 run to take the lead in the first half and never looked back. The Suns were desperate and the Trail Blazers had a starting backcourt of Jonny Flynn and Luke Babbitt. If the playoffs started today the Suns would be in as the eight seed… but they don’t start today and they are tied with Houston and half a game up on Utah. They have a lot of work left to do.

Spurs 120, Warriors 99: First of three games in three nights for the Spurs so Gregg Popovich made sure his stars got plenty of rest — Tim Duncan played 13 minutes, Manu Ginobili 12 and Tony Parker just 8. That’s all the Spurs needed against a Warriors team trying to lose enough games to keep their draft pick. San Antonio went on a 14-0 first quarter run and never looked back. Gary Neal had 17 to lead them. Klay Thompson had 29 for Golden State.

Hawks 109, Raptors 87: Second night of a home-and-home and it was a complete reversal from the first game? Why? The Hawks can fall in love with their jumper and miss it a lot, which they did Sunday. Monday Jeff Teague was attacking the paint and with it the Hawks got better looks. Still, it was close for nearly three quarters, but the Hawks closed out the third on a 12-2 run and the rout was on. Ivan Johnson had 21 points for the Hawks.

Hornets 75, Bobcats 67: New Orleans has a four-game winning streak. I don’t care who it’s against, that is something worth celebrating. I don’t care how ugly this game was (in the third quarter the two teams combined to shoot 6-for-40 and score 20 points, total). A win is a win.

Lakers name Magic Johnson President of Basketball Operations

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 15:  Magic Johnson attends a ceremony honoring Jackie Robinson before the game between the San Francisco Giants and the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on April 15, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  All players are wearing #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Magic Johnson essentially publicly anointed himself in charge of the Lakers’ front office.

Now, the Lakers are actually giving him the job.

Lakers release:

Los Angeles Lakers Governor Jeanie Buss announced today that the team has named Earvin “Magic” Johnson as President of Basketball Operations. In addition, General Manager Mitch Kupchak has been relieved of his duties, effective immediately. Furthermore, Jim Buss will no longer hold his role as Lakers Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

“Today I took a series of actions I believe will return the Lakers to the heights Dr. Jerry Buss demanded and our fans rightly expect,” Jeanie Buss said. “Effective immediately, Earvin Johnson will be in charge of all basketball operations and will report directly to me. Our search for a new General Manager to work with Earvin and Coach Luke Walton is well underway and we hope to announce a new General Manager in short order. Together, Earvin, Luke and our new General Manager will establish the foundation for the next generation of Los Angeles Lakers greatness.”

“It’s a dream come true to return to the Lakers as President of Basketball Operations working closely with Jeanie Buss and the Buss family,” said Earvin “Magic” Johnson. “Since 1979, I’ve been a part of the Laker Nation and I’m passionate about this organization. I will do everything I can to build a winning culture on and off the court. We have a great coach in Luke Walton and good young players. We will work tirelessly to return our Los Angeles Lakers to NBA champions.”

Jeanie Buss added, “I took these actions today to achieve one goal: Everyone associated with the Lakers will now be pulling in the same direction, the direction established by Earvin and myself. We are determined to get back to competing to win NBA championships again.”

Regarding Mitch Kupchak, Jeanie Buss stated, “We are grateful for the many contributions Mitch has made to the Lakers over the years and we wish him all the best.”

With regard to fellow owner and brother, Jim Buss, Ms. Buss said, “Jim loves the Lakers. Although he will no longer be responsible for basketball personnel decisions, he is an owner of this team and we share the same goal: returning the Lakers to the level of greatness our father demanded. Our fans deserve no less.”

In addition to the changes made within the basketball department, the Lakers also announced they have parted ways with John Black who had been the Lakers Vice President of Public Relations. Chief Operating Officer Tim Harris will immediately begin a search for a replacement. Jeanie Buss added, “We thank John for his many years of service.”

This closes an ugly chapter in which Jeannie Buss named Johnson as an advisor, and then he went about publicly trashing Jim Buss and Kupchack while evaluating them for her and clamoring for their front-office power.

Now, the real work begins. And that doesn’t mean calling Kobe Bryant.

Johnson inherits a team with plenty of young talent: D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, Larry Nance Jr. and Ivica Zubac. That’s a great starting point.

But the Lakers also face significant hurdles back to the top.

They lose their 2017 and 2019 first-round picks if their 2017 first-round pick doesn’t land in the top three. The Lakers have the NBA’s third-worst record. In the past, Johnson has expressed an affinity for tanking.

The Lakers also have the burdensome contracts of Luol Deng and Timofey Mozgov. Those make it tough to clear cap space to sign a star.

At least they can trade Lou Williams, who’s having a special season. The deadline is Thursday, so Johnson must hit the ground running.

These conditions are the effects of Jim Buss’ misguided pledge to jolt the Lakers back to contending. Their shortsighted moves and even bigger dreams backfired so spectacularly, they backed into several high draft picks — and at least chose well. While Kupchak’s overall tenure was positive, his approach had grown stale.

The Lakers needed a change in management. I’m just not convinced Johnson was the solution.

Would they have hired him if he didn’t play for them? Probably not. Does his playing experience with the Lakers specifically, as opposed to any team, better prepare him for this job? Probably not.

But even if Johnson were hired for the wrong reasons, he can still succeed.

He thrived in business after retirement by putting the right people around him, and he can do that here. Johnson obviously knows basketball, but managing a roster and all the salary-cap complexities is a different animal. He needs staff, including a general manager, more familiar with that.

Johnson will be the franchise’s new smiling face. But, for this to truly work, Johnson will have to build a winner the old-fashioned way: With savvy drafting, trading and signing.

Reports: Bulls telling teams they won’t trade Jimmy Butler

Chicago Bulls guard/forward Jimmy Butler, top, shoots over Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry during the overtime of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 7, 2017, in Chicago. The Bulls won 123-118 in overtime. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The Bulls reportedly weren’t making Jimmy Butler available for a trade last month.

As the trade deadline approaches, it seems that hasn’t changed.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

The teams that talked to the Chicago Bulls today were told, “Just about everybody on our roster is available, but Jimmy Butler is not.”

The Bulls are not obliged to stand by that, and there’s no indication they’ve assured Butler anything. If they’re offered a package more valuable than Butler, they’ll trade him.

But that’s a lot of value.

Butler is playing like a superstar, 27 and locked up for two more seasons after this one. Not many teams have the assets to trade for someone like that.

Plus, Chicago could use the designated-veteran-player rule to re-sign him. No other team would hold that advantage if it trades for him.

So, Butler is probably valued more by the Bulls than any other team. But if another team with significant assets makes a suitable offer, I doubt Butler remains unavailable.

Lakers’ Lou Williams provides smooth scoring, trade intrigue

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 22:  Louis Williams #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 22, 2017 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Lou Williams declared for the 2005 NBA draft out of high school and proclaimed, “The second round is not an option.”

He was drafted with the 15th pick of the second round.

“I used to have to run through everybody,” Williams said. “Now, I don’t feel like I do. Just trying to outsmart guys.”

The last guard drafted directly out of high school, Williams has quietly refined his game. His athleticism has declined with age, but gone too is a recklessness to his play. He largely makes the plays he can and doesn’t try to make the ones he can’t.

Williams is the Lakers’ best player. As a result, he’s also one of the league’s bigger trade chips as Thursday’s trade deadline approaches.

He leads the Lakers with 18.6 points per game, and they come in just 24.2 minutes per game. He makes that time count with a historic combination of volume and efficiency.

Both his usage percentage (30.6) and true shooting percentage (60.9) lead the team. The only regularly-used players to produce full seasons with a usage percentage of at least 30 and a true shooting percentage of at least 60 are or will be Hall of Famers:

Harden (again), Isaiah Thomas and Kawhi Leonard are also on pace to do it this year. All three were All-Stars.

Williams flies under the radar, because he usually comes off the bench for Los Angeles — though that offers special opportunity for recognition later in the season.

Already a Sixth Man of the Year winner (2015 with the Raptors), Williams leads eligible players in win shares this season:

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Williams and Dwight Powell (Mavericks) are the only reserves leading their teams in win shares.

In fact, Williams has been so much better than his teammates, he could maintain his team lead even if traded. His 5.1 win shares rank well ahead of the 3.3 by Nick Young (another trade candidate) and 2.2 by Larry Nance Jr.

But there’s still a relatively high likelihood he gets moved. The Lakers are focusing more on player development, and the 30-year-old Williams could help a team ready to win now.

He’s locked in for a bargain $7 million next season. So, his more-than-just-a-rental status could help the Lakers land a first-round pick.

“I just go out and play,” Williams said. “I let the powers make deals or if they don’t.”

There’s a patience in Williams’ game that has developed in recent years. He attributes some of it to a torn ACL in 2013. No longer as quick, the pick-and-roll ace has been forced to play smarter.

Williams has mostly eliminated long 2s from his game, getting more shots at the rim, 3-pointers and free throws. His craftiness fits the modern game.

But there are still concerns about how he’ll translate to a better team.

He’s a defensive liability, and his size limits paths to reliability on that end. Not only is he 6-foot-1, he often needs to play shooting guard because his playmaking for others is only so-so for a point guard.

But as poor as he’s been defensively (400th of 450 players in defensive real plus-minus), he has been even better offensively (13th in offensive real plus-minus behind only All-Stars and Nikola Jokic). Still, he relies heavily on drawing fouls, and his tricks might not be so effective during a playoff series with plenty of time to scout him.

There are risks in acquiring Williams. But getting another player having a special season — like, say, Jimmy Butler — would be tremendously more costly. As long as a team has a plan to accentuate Williams’ strengths and hide his weaknesses, he might be one of the best bargains on the trade market.

Paul George says he’s not motivated by opportunity to earn higher max

Eastern Conference forward Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (13) reacts during the second half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
AP Photo/Max Becherer
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NEW ORLEANS — The Pacers have already granted a standing max offer to Paul George.

So, if he wants to stay in Indiana, his potential paths look relatively straightforward:

If he makes an All-NBA team this season, he can sign a designated-veteran-player extension that would kick in in 2018-19 and projects be worth about $209 million over five years (about $42 million annually).

If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team this season, he can wait to sign and try again to make one next season. If he does, he can sign a new contract in 2018 that would be worth the same $209 million or so over the same five-year period.

I think it’s this simple: If he becomes eligible to become a designated veteran player, he’ll sign then. If not, 2018 free agency projects to offer a choice of about $179 million over five years (about $36 million annually) to re-sign or about $133 million over four years (about $33 million annually) to sign elsewhere — a more difficult decision.

George says he’s not thinking about earning the higher max.

“You want to be one of the best,” George said. “And that’s the only motivation. You want to be All-NBA. That’s what you strive for. That’s what you want to play for, to be recognized as one of the league’s best players.”

That’s no small challenge for George, who was one of 12 All-Star forwards this year, joining:

With only six All-NBA forward spots, George faces long odds this season — and no easy path next season.

But at least eligibility for the higher max coincides with one of his goals.

“It’s nice. It’s nice,” George said. “But that’s not the motivation you want to play for”