Baseline to Baseline recaps: Where we watch Pistons/Clippers so you don’t have to

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What you missed while being blinded by Oregon’s home court this season

Timberwolves 112, Knicks 103: We talked about Kevin Love’s 31-31 night that sparked the come-from-behind win. Michael Beasley also dropped 35 in this one. He had 42 the other night. We’re far from convinced with him, but we’re watching now.

Jazz 90, Hawks 86: First Miami, then Orlando, now Atlanta — yup, you can give the Southeast division crown to Utah.

Of course, when the Jazz win it is a comeback. Utah was down 11 at the early in the fourth then came back, completing a trifecta of double-digit come behinds against the Southeast division.

It looked like Deron Williams was going to lead this comeback as he took over in the third quarter, scoring 11 in a row for the Jazz. Josh Smith answered for the Hawks 4-4 shooting plus a couple really nice assists and some key boards. All of which meant the Jazz were down 11 when Williams went to the bench at the start of the fourth quarter — then Earl Watson came in and led the charge to tie this one up. It’s that kind of year for the Jazz, Earl Watson is making big plays. The Jazz starters returned finished it.

All of which led to the quote of the day, courtesy Jerry Sloan (from John Hollinger at ESPN):

“Even when we had a little trouble to start the season,” said Sloan, “at least they stayed together, and worked themselves out of it. That’s the only way you have a chance. If you get [in] an ice pick fight out in the parking lot then you have to try to solve that problem.”

Yeah. Exactly like that.

Thunder 110, Blazers 108: Another classic from these two — sign me up for wanting them to meet in the first round of the playoffs. This one saw very little defense or good rebounding by either team, which helped make it all the more entertaining. The key in this one was the ability down the stretch of Oklahoma City’s best players to make plays — Russell Westbrook (36 points) and Kevin Durant (34) scored the final 18 points for the Thunder. For the Blazers Nicolas Batum and Rudy Fernandez had lots of key shots along with Brandon Roy. Fernandez had a good look to win it at the end (and he had been shooting well), but missed. Which is why you want your stars shooting in the clutch, have your best players making the plays.

Bobcats 93, Wizards 85: Charlotte really dominated this game and would have run away and hid but they turned the ball over 22 times. Gerald Wallace with 25 and 14, looking like his old self.

Raptors 110, Magic 106: How does Toronto grab the offensive rebound on 30 percent of its missed shots on against Orlando? Well, because they hustled more, played with more passion. Shockingly. Nobody on either team was really in the mood to play defense (especially in the first half), Orlando was happy to settle for the jumper (they got to the line just 6 times in the first half) and Andres Bargnani was hot early, hitting 9-12 for 21 before the break.

Every team has some clunkers, this is the Magic’s.

Rockets 102, Pacers 99: How does Darren Collison have zero assists in a game? Brad Miller gets the start at center for the Rockets and drops in 23. Chase Budinger had to be carried off the court at the end of this one but it turns out just to be a sprained ankle.

Mavericks 99, Sixers 90: Dirk Nowitzki still isn’t right, shooting 5 of 15 on his bum ankle. Some team is going to make the Mavs pay for that, but the Sixers can’t. Dallas is just too deep.

Suns 103, Kings 89: Steve Nash with 28 points, 14 assists and when the game got close midway through the fourth quarter he came in and took it over. He’s still playing at an elite level, even if the Suns are not the same.

Pistons 113, Clippers 107 (OT): Blake Griffin’s 18 and 18 would be impressive if it were not for Kevin Love. His dunks certainly were. But in a battle of two bad teams desperate for a win, Detroit played better in overtime — the Clips missed 10 shots in a row in OT. Not pretty.

Hawks trade Harkless, second-round pick to Thunder for Vit Krejci

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The Atlanta Hawks just saved some money, getting under the luxury tax line. The Oklahoma City Thunder picked up a second-round pick for their trouble of taking on a contract.

The Hawks have traded Moe Harkless and a second-round pick to the Thunder for Vit Krejci the teams announced (Shams Charania of The Athletic was first).

This saves Atlanta a little over $3 million, which moves them from above the luxury tax line to $1.3 million below it. While the almighty dollar was the primary motivation in the ATL, the Hawks also pick up a development project. Krejci showed a little promise in his rookie season, appearing in 30 games and averaging 6.2 points plus 3.4 rebounds a night, before having his knee scoped in April.

Krejci was on the bubble of making the team in Oklahoma City, now the Thunder pick up a second-round pick for a guy they might have waived anyway.

Harkless, 29, is on an expiring $4.6 million contract, which fits nicely into the Disabled Player Exception the Thunder were granted for Chet Holmgren’s season-ending foot injury.

The Thunder are expected to waive Harkless and buy him out, making him a free agent. However, they could keep him and see if another trade could net them another second-round pick.

Lonzo Ball says ‘I can’t run’ or jump; Bulls’ Donovan has to plan for extended absence

Milwaukee Bucks v Chicago Bulls
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Officially, Lonzo Ball will be out 4-6 weeks after getting his knee scoped this week.

However, this is his second surgery on his left knee this year — he had meniscus surgery in January, after which he was never able to return to the court — and there are concerns Ball could miss significant time again. And coach Billy Donovan has no choice but to plan for an extended absence.

Ball did a Zoom call with reporters on Tuesday and it’s hard to come away from what he said overly optimistic. Rob Schaefer reported on the call for NBC Sports Chicago:

“Literally, I really can’t run. I can’t run or jump. There’s a range from, like, 30 to 60 degrees when my knee is bent that I have, like, no force and I can’t, like, catch myself. Until I can do those things I can’t play,” Ball said. “I did rehab, it was getting better, but it was not to a point where I could get out there and run full speed or jump. So surgery is the next step.”

The symptoms are something Ball said he has never dealt with and have left doctors, in his words, “a little surprised.”

It’s never good when doctors are surprised. Ball said the doctors don’t see anything on the MRI, but there is clearly something wrong, so they are going in and looking to find the issue and fix it.

Ball has been diligent in his recovery work from the start, the problem was pain in his knee. Something was still not right after the first surgery. Whatever it is.

The 4-6 week timeline would have Ball back in early November, but you know they will be overly cautious with him after the past year. Coach Billy Donovan was honest — he has to plan for a season without Ball.

The Bulls need Ball in a deep and challenging East. He brings defense, pushes the pace in transition, and takes care of the rock. Chicago has other players who can do those things individually — Alex Caruso can defend, Coby White pushes in transition, Goran Dragic takes care of the ball — but the Bulls lack one player who can do all those things. At least they lack one until Ball returns.

Whenever that may be.

Deandre Ayton says he hasn’t spoken to coach Williams since Game 7

Phoenix Suns v New Orleans Pelicans - Game Four
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In a Game 7 against the Mavericks last May, Suns coach Monty Williams benched center Deandre Ayton, who ended up playing just 17 minutes in an ugly, blowout loss for Phoenix. When asked about it after the game Williams said, “It’s internal.”

Ayton and Williams have not spoken since then, according to Ayton.

Yikes. Remember that includes a summer where the Suns would not offer Ayton a max contract extension so he went out and got one from the Pacers, then the Suns instantly matched it. Ayton did not sound thrilled to be back in Phoenix on Media Day, and he was rather matter-of-fact about dealing with his coach.

It’s what every fan wants to hear — “this is just my job.”

Reporters asked Williams about this and he played it off, saying he hasn’t spoken with a lot of players yet.

It’s just day one of training camp, but there are a lot of red flags around the Suns: owner Robert Sarver being suspended and selling the team, Jae Crowder not in camp waiting to be traded, and now not a lot of communication between the team’s star center and its coach.

Maybe it all amounts to nothing. Maybe the Suns get on the court, Chris Paul looks rejuvenated, Devin Booker looks like Devin Booker, and none of this matters. But what had looked like a stable situation not that long ago now has a lot of red flags flying heading into the season, and that has to concern Suns fans.

 

Report: Lakers would have traded both first-round picks for Irving, Mitchell

Utah Jazz v Brooklyn Nets
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“If you make that trade, it has to be the right one, you have one shot to do it,” Lakers GM Rob Pelinka said at media day, pulling back the curtain a little on his thinking of trading two first-round picks. “So we’re being very thoughtful around the decisions on when and how to use draft capital in a way that will improve our roster.”

That tracks with the consistent messaging out of Los Angeles all summer: The Lakers would only trade the only two first-round picks they fully control for the rest of this decade (2027 and 2029) for a deal that made them a contender.

That meant landing Kyrie Irving or Donovan Mitchell, ESPN’s Dave McMenamin said on The Hoop Collective Podcast.

“I’ve been told that had the Lakers been able to acquire, Kyrie Irving, or the Lakers been able to acquire Donovan Mitchell, either of those players, the Lakers were willing and able to move both those [first-round] picks to do it.”

The problem for the Lakers is the market price for elite talent has moved beyond two first-round picks. The Jazz got three unprotected first-round picks (2025, 2027 and 2029) plus the rights to two pick swaps (2026 and 2028) in the Mitchell trade, not to mention three players: Lauri Markkanen (who they will try to trade for another pick), Collin Sexton, and Ochair Agbaji. The price for Kyrie Irving would have been at least as high, if the Nets really wanted to trade him.

The Lakers traded all of their young players and most of their picks to land Anthony Davis and Russell Westbrook, except for the ones they let walk away (Alex Caruso). Before he was judicious in making trades like he was this offseason, Pelinka made deals that backed him into this corner.

The Lakers likely could use both picks to acquire Buddy Hield and Myles Turner out of Indiana (sending Westbrook back), but that doesn’t make Los Angeles a contender (a playoff team, but not a title threat) and it messes with the plan to have around $30 million in cap space next summer to chase a big name.

The Lakers you see in training camp are the Lakers you get. At least for now.