Weekend Baseline to Baseline: Up, down, and all around

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Friday Night

Hornets 110 Rockets 105 (OT): A fun little romp, but also yet another in a seemingly endless case of Houston working hard in a mad scientist’s lab to discover new ways to lose games. This time it was letting David West take over down the stretch, then playing zero defense in the extra frame. CP3 nailed the clinching jumper, then stole the desperation possession for a runaway layup just to be sure.  The Hornets have now won four in a row.

Warriors 122 clippers 112: Monta Ellis isn’t an All-Star, but he does a pretty mean impression. The Warriors kept peppering the Clippers with little bursts of offense to keep and spread the gap, and the Clippers just couldn’t find another gear. The Clips got turnover-heavy while Stephen Curry hit five threes. A weird step back for LA in-between solid games on either side.

Saturday Night

Bulls 99 Heat 96: A wild, exciting race to the finish… that never, ever should have been. The Bulls were without Joakim Noah, which is a bummer, but the Heat were without LeBron James, which is considerably worse, and lost Chris Bosh to an ankle sprain in the third. Still, the Heat kept coming. Particularly, Dwyane Wade kept coming. Three consecutive contested threes to end the game for Wade, and only a fortuitously terrible playset from the Heat on the final possession kept the ball out of Wade’s hands with a chance to tie. Derrick Rose was everything you’d dream he’d be, and continues to make his case for MVP. But to assess that this was a signature win for the Bulls without two of the Big 3 to end the game is preposterous. A good win in a season full of them, only.

Grizzlies 89 Mavericks 70: Welcome back, Dirk! You’re ejected, Dirk! Dirk Nowitzki returned from injury, didn’t play well, objected to a call strenuously, and bam, he was gone, just like that. Meanwhile, the Mavericks, without Tyson Chandler, decided that Brian Cardinal would be the one to check Zach Randolph for a while. That didn’t work out well. 23 and 20 for Z-Bo, while Darrel Athur added 17 as the Grizzlies chewed up the Mavericks inside and spit them out.

Sunday

Clippers 99 Lakers 92: If the Lakers lose to the Clippers while the country is watching football, does it count in the standings? The Clips will demand so as they put together a very Lakers-like performance, closing hard on the defending champs as Blake Griffin roused himself from a terrible afternoon. Griffin just started beating the crap out of the Lakers. I have no other word for it. Baby hooks, dunks, inside scoops, more dunks, the works. Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol, everybody got annihilated as Griffin went off. Meanwhile, Eric Gordon gave enough to keep a good day from Kobe on the shelf and the rest was your typical day of LA going through the motions. When it came down to it, the Clippers wanted it more. Yes, that felt as weird to write as it did for you to read it.

Spurs 110 Nuggets 97: Its’ entirely possible that this was the game that drove Nuggets management to the brink when we look back on it. Probably not considering the obscenely drawn-out nature of the Melo stuff, but still. The Nuggets had a double digit lead in the first. Then the Spurs woke up and handed them their bus tickets out of town. Ty Lawson had no interest in guarding the corner three, Richard Jefferson kept initiating the offense, and Parker had his step-back going. The Spurs hit another gear in the second quarter, and just like that it was over. Though no one told Melo it began, as he slept his way through a terrible shooting night (5 of 17 from the field). 30 for Parker in the win.

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.

Dallas Mavericks near agreement to sign Kemba Walker

Oklahoma City Thunder v New York Knicks
Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
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Looking for help spacing the floor and with secondary shot creation behind Luka Doncic, the Dallas Mavericks are turning to Kemba Walker.

Marc Stein was first with the news the sides were close to a deal, but since then multiple reports — plus comments from team owner Mark Cuban — confirmed it is happening.

This will be a veteran minimum contract (all the over-the-cap Mavericks can offer). To create the roster spot, the Mavericks will waive Facundo Campazzo, who was signed a few weeks ago and has barely touched the court for the team.

Walker averaged 11.6 points and 3.5 assists a game playing solidly in stretches for the Knicks last season, but the concern was his staying on the court — he appeared in just 37 games due to ongoing knee problems. Walker spent the offseason working on getting past those, but the Knicks traded him to Detroit for picks, but the Pistons were stacked at the point guard spot (at least before the season and injuries hit Cade Cunningham), so they bought out his $9.2 million for this season.

Walker worked to convince teams he still had plenty in the tank, but it was always going to take a situation where a team reached a certain level of desperation. Enter the Mavericks.

Doncic calls Antetokounmpo ‘the best player in the NBA right now’

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It was a matchup of two of the NBA’s top five players and two guys high in the way-too-early mix for MVP this season: Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic.

Doncic carried the Mavericks again with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting plus 12 assists.

Antetokounmpo was a force of nature with 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting plus 11 rebounds, plus he had more help around him leading the Bucks to a 124-115 win.

There is a mutual admiration society between these two players, and after the game Doncic called Antetokounmpo the best player in the NBA. Via Jack Maloney at CBS Sports.

“Enjoy [competing against him] is hard because I want to win, so it’s hard to go against a guy like that,” Doncic said after the Mavericks’ fourth consecutive defeat. “He’s the best player in the NBA right now. He’s almost impossible to stop. It’s really fun to see him play, but it’s not that fun to go against him.”

Antetokounmpo had praise for Doncic as well.

“That’s a great compliment and I appreciate that,” Antetokounmpo said. “When you play against the best players in the league, being able to say something like that feels good. No matter wins or losses, just being respected by your peers, it’s always a good feeling.”

We have many years of these two players testing each other, and someday it may be Antetokounmpo calling Doncic the best in the NBA.