Baseline to Baseline; the NBA: Where overtime happens

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What you missed while figuring out how you were going to pay for Ferris Bueller’s Ferrari

Heat 105, Pacers 96 (OT):
You wouldn’t have expected a fun finish after an ugly first half, where both teams shooting 36.1 percent. It wasn’t even about great defense, it was about bad offense. But this one does get to be entertaining at the end.

It goes to overtime and the Pacers play the percentages — Dwyane Wade is shooting 29 percent from three point range this year, you want him to take that shot, not drive the lane where he is a force of nature. Two minutes left in OT, Heat up two, and two straight trips down they entice Wade into the three. And he drains them both. Ballgame. Wade has 43. What are you going to do?

Bobcats 87, Bucks 86 (OT): Larry Brown missed a good one. He got tossed two minutes into the second quarter, apparently saying something pretty special to referee Bill Spooner after a no-call on Kurt Thomas when he set what we’ll call a veteran pick (alternately, a hip check) on Gerald Wallace that flattened him. Spooner was quick with the hook, but the best part was Brown stopping at the end of the bench to plead his case to Michael Jordan. Who sat there stone-faced.

This game was a defensive coach’s dream — two that took away every easy shot, contested everything, closed out on shooters. Kind of a purists game. So I liked it. Then with everything on the line the Bobcats made some veteran plays. Stephen Jackson created some space then drained the three that was the Bobcats final points. Then when the Bobcats had the ball at the very end — five seconds in the game but two on the 24 second clock — Raymond Felton missed the shot but Tyson Chandler made the veteran move, just tipping the ball out to teammates and killing the clock rather than grabbing the board and getting fouled.

Charlotte is going to be a tough out in the playoffs.

Bulls 95, Wizards 87: The Bulls can’t afford to lose to the Wizards at this point. They can’t really afford to lose to anyone. That motivation was enough in this one.

Rockets 119, Celtics 114 (OT) : No Shane Battier. No Kevin Martin. No Trevor Ariza. But what was left was still the scrappy, tenacious Rockets that do not give up. And Chase Budinger, who looks good when he gets minutes. Once again the Celtics had trouble with speed, specifically in the form of Aaron Brooks. When the Rockets ran, even after made baskets, they got good looks. Houston recognized this and essentially stretched their offense out to 94 feet. And when they did the Celtics looked old. Sorry Danny Ainge, they did.

Paul Pierce just cannot create his own shot like he could two years ago.

Cavaliers 93, Hawks 88: As it has been in every meeting between these teams this season, it’s basically even for three quarters, then in the clutch Cleveland has another gear — particularly on defense — that the Hawks cannot match.

That intensified defense turned the slashing Hawks into jumpshooters, and Atlanta shot 31.6 percent in the fourth. Cleveland also dominated the boards in the clutch, doing that takes away Atlanta’s vital transition game. It’s the old Pat Riley coaching axiom: rebounds = rings.

Suns 109, Pistons 94: Phoenix had won nine in a row coming in. Detroit had lost nine in a row coming in. So how did you think this was going to go?

Grizzlies 107, Hornet 96: Remember before the season, the common prediction was the Grizzlies would rack up like 2 assists per game and finish as one of the worst teams in the NBA. Missed that one. This team is pretty good and going to finish over .500 (but not be rewarded with a trip to the playoffs, because that happens in the West).

As for the game, the Grizzlies jumped out early, were up 20 and this was never really in doubt.

Spurs 112, Magic 100: Thursday night the Magic looked dominant against the Mavericks, with Dallas on the second night of a back-to-back and looking a step slow. Friday night it was  the Magic’s turn. One of the best defensive teams in the land looked sluggish ad  had no answers for Manu Ginobili or Tim Duncan. Although a lot of teams have had that problem over the years.

Not much to read into this, back-to-backs do that.

Warriors 128, Knicks 117: Huge night for David Lee — 35 point, 20 boards, 10 assists. He’s busting it out there. He’s alone, most of the rest of team quit. Two high paced teams that can score, this should have been more fun to watch than it was.

Lakers 106, Jazz 92: When the Lakers really defend — like they did through most of this one — they are a very good team. (They’ll defend even better when Bynum returns.) When Lamar Odom plays well, dropping 26 and 10, the Lakers are a very good team.

This was not a four quarter performance from Los Angeles, but if you’re going to dominate two quarters the first and the fourth are the ones. The Lakers keep making it hard to believe anybody in the West beats them, despite the inconsistent effort.

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

Suns promote GM James Jones to to President of Basketball Operations

Phoenix Suns Open Practice
Barry Gossage / NBAE via Getty Images
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James Jones put together the roster that took the Suns to the Finals two seasons ago and had the best record in the NBA last season (64 wins). At 13-6, the Suns sit atop the Western Conference this season.

The Suns have rewarded Jones, giving him the title of President of Basketball Operations on top of GM.

“In the nearly 15 years I have known James, he has excelled in every role he performed, from player to NBPA Treasurer to his roles in our front office, most recently as general manager,” Suns interim Governor Sam Garvin said. “James has the unique ability to create and lead high-performing teams in basketball operations and his commitment to collaborating with our business side, including at the C-level with partners like PayPal and Verizon, is second to none. We are fortunate for his contributions across the organization and this promotion recognizes his commitment to excellence.”

Jones moved into the Suns’ front office in 2017 at the end of a 14-year playing career, then became GM in 2019. The move gives Jones a little more stability during the sale of the franchise. Not that the new owner would come in and fire a successful GM.

“I am grateful for the privilege to work with and support the players, staff and employees of the Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury,” Jones said in a statement. “The collective efforts of our business and basketball operations have allowed us to provide an amazing atmosphere and best-in-class experience for our fans and community. I remain excited about and dedicated to driving success for our Teams on and off the court.”

Jones has made several moves that set the culture in Phoenix, including hiring Monty Williams as coach then, after an undefeated run in the bubble (that left Phoenix just out of the playoffs), he brought in Chris Paul to take charge at the point.

Report: Leaders in Lakers’ locker room think team ‘only a couple of players away’ from contending

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There’s a sense of optimism around the Lakers: They have won 5-of-6 and are expected to have both Anthony Davis and LeBron James healthy Monday night, plus Russell Westbrook has found a role and comfort level off the bench and other players are settling into roles. They may be 7-11, but it’s early enough there is a sense this could be turned around.

That is echoed by “locker room leaders” who think the team is just a couple of players away from being a contender in the West (where no team has pulled away), reports Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

There is belief shared by leaders in the Lakers’ locker room, sources said, that the team is only a couple of players away from turning this group into a legitimate contender. But acquiring the right players could take multiple trades.

Let’s unpack all of this.

• “Leaders in the Lakers’ locker room” means LeBron and Davis (both repped by Rich Paul). Let’s not pretend it’s anything else.

• If the Lakers don’t make a move to significantly upgrade the roster, how unhappy will those leaders become? How disruptive would that be?

• It is no coincidence that McMenamin’s report comes the day the Lakers face the Pacers, a team they went deep into conversations with this summer on a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade, but Los Angeles GM Rob Pelinka ultimately would not put both available Lakers’ first-round picks (2027 and 2029) in the deal and it fell apart. Turner said the Lakers should “take a hard look” at trading for him. The thing is, the Pacers are now 11-8, not tanking for Victor Wembanyama but instead thinking playoffs, so are they going to trade their elite rim protector and sharpshooter away? Not likely. At least not without an overwhelming offer, and the Lakers’ two picks may not get there anymore.

• While Westbrook has found a comfort level coming off the bench (and not sharing the court as much with LeBron), he is still a $47.1 million contract that no team is trading for without sweeteners. To use NBA parlance, he is still a negative value contract, even if it feels less negative than a month ago.

• Are the Lakers really a couple of players away from contending? While they have won 5-of-6, three of those five wins came against the tanking Spurs, the others were against the so-injured-they-might-as-well-be-tanking Pistons, and the Nets before Kyrie Irving returned. The Lakers did what they needed to do and thrived in a soft part of the schedule, but that schedule is about to turn and give the Lakers a reality check on where they really stand. After the Pacers, it’s the Trail Blazers (likely still without Damian Lillard), then an East Coast road trip that includes the Bucks, Cavaliers, Raptors and 76ers. The next couple of weeks will be a better marker for where the Lakers stand, and if they can build off of the past couple of weeks.