Baseline to baseline recaps: Kevin Durant is an assassin

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What you missed while watching an octopus pick the BCS matchups….

Lakers 99, Knicks 82: We broke this down as our game of the night.

Thunder 104, Mavericks 102: This was easily the best game the Mavericks have played this season. The ball movement was back, the clever veteran plays were there. Delonte West said they looked different yesterday at practice and they did.

But they don’t have Kevin Durant, so they are 0-3.

The Thunder were sloppy all night — they had 26 turnovers — and Dallas for the first time this season was a team that could take advantage of it. They kept it close behind 29 points from Dirk Nowitzki and 16 from Jason Terry (although he needed 17 shots to do it). Down the stretch a rejuvenated Russell Westbrook was making plays for the Thunder. The close game set up the dramatic finish.

A Jason Terry three leaning to his right made it 101-99, which is how it stayed after Serge Ibaka missed two free throws. Next trip down, with 9.3 seconds remaining, Nowitzki drove to his spot at the left elbow (with Perkins on him), but Durant doubled Dirk off Vince Carter. Nowitzki kicked it out to Carter for an open straight away three, he drained it with 1.4 seconds left. 102-101 Mavs, and it looked like they would get a win. Then this happened.

If the Mavs play like this every game, they will get a lot of wins. But right now the undefeated Thunder look special and the Mavericks are 0-3.

Bulls 108, Kings 98: The Bulls were up 26-11 quickly in this one as not only was Derrick Rose doing his thing but Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng were attacking the rim. The Bulls asserted themselves early for the first time this season. It set a different tone, and the Bulls held on for a comfortable win. Rose finished with 19, Boozer and Richard Hamilton each had 16. Marcus Thornton had 20 to lead the Kings and Jimmer Fredette had 14 off the bench.

Magic 94, Nets 78: Dwight Howard has 16 points and 24 rebounds, showing the Nets would could be theirs if only….

The Magic took control of this game midway through the first quarter and never really looked to be in danger. Marshaun Brooks tried to lead a comeback for the Nets, but it was not enough. So they are left to dream and wonder.

Rockets 105, Spurs 85: This was the game where the Spurs looked tired. Third game in four nights, second night of a back-to-back after spanking the Clippers and that was it for the Spurs. Luis Scola had 10 in the first quarter to help the Rockets get a lead they would never give up, Kevin Martin finished with a game high 25. DeJuan Blair led the Spurs with 22 and was feisty in this one.

Trail Blazers 111, Nuggets 102: When was the last time a team won when it had 25 turnovers compared to its opponents 7?

This was maybe the most entertaining game of the night, a real back-and-forth in the fourth quarter between two genuinely good teams. And it was played at a fast pace (106 possessions). The difference was the second half the Blazers just shot the lights out — 61 percent as a team in the half, and it seemed like every three they took fell. It was the guards that led the Blazers as Wesley Mathews had 25, Raymond Felton 23 and Jamal Crawford 22.

The Blazers are 3-0. And that is no accident.

Pacers’ Myles Turner fined $15,000 for flipping bird at Sixers fans

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Myles Turner had to know this was coming.

Frustrated after fouling Joel Embiid under the basket and being taken out of the game, the Pacers’ big man flipped off some Sixers fans as he walked to the bench.

Saturday the league announced Turner was fined $15,000 for “making an inappropriate gesture toward the spectator stands.” The league, understandably, is not a fan of its players flipping off fans.

That fine is pretty much the going rate for these kinds of incidences.

Embiid went on to score 40 Friday night in a dominant performance, but the Pacers won the game 113-101.

Why are Lakers saving their young core? Reportedly to chase Anthony Davis.

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Anthony Davis is the target at the top of the Lakers’ wish list.

He’s also at the top of the wish list for the Boston Celtics and about 27 other teams, too. But if Davis is put on the trade block — something that is not likely until this summer, New Orleans is working to keep him — the Lakers and Celtics will be at the front of the line.

Which is why, when reports that the Lakers would not include any of their young core in a trade for Trevor Ariza came out, it fit with the Lakers’ long-term thinking. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN discussed this on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“Here’s the line [the Lakers] have to walk: they’re not going to give away picks and their top young players in some deal that makes them incrementally better this season because they have to save all those assets for Anthony Davis, a big trade this summer either pre or post free agency…

“The absolute dream scenario, people talk about (how) they can trade for Anthony Davis or sign a free agent. The dream scenario is they do both.”

The dream is to sign Kawhi Leonard or Kevin Durant and get Davis, and while that dream may be a long shot the only chance they have is if they still have their core players to throw in a package.

The larger point also is valid — the Lakers are not going to beat the Warriors come the playoffs this season (assuming the Warriors are healthy) and L.A. should keep its powder dry for bigger battles. And Davis will be the biggest of battles.

New Orleans wants to keep Davis, they are actively trying to be buyers at the trade deadline, not sellers. Sources have told me the Pelicans’ plan is to win as much as possible this season and show Davis they are serious, then come July 1 offer Davis a designated veteran contract extension worth $230 million (or a little more, depending upon the cap). It’s roughly $40 million more than any other team can offer guaranteed. If Davis and his agent Rich Paul — the same agent as LeBron James — turn down that contract then the Pelicans will be forced to consider a trade.

If we get to that point, then all bets are off and the Lakers are all in. Until then, the Lakers are wise just to be patient.

Despite fast start in Toronto, Kawhi Leonard reportedly still eyeing return to Los Angeles

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The Toronto Raptors are making their case to Kawhi Leonard this season — Toronto is 23-8, in first place in the East by 2.5 games, and look like a real threat to make the NBA Finals. Leonard, averaging 26.2 points and 8.2 rebounds a game, is a guy who has returned to the MVP conversation.

Still, the Raptors don’t know if he’s staying, or what he’s thinking, because Leonard doesn’t talk about it in a meaningful way.

“It’s been good so far,” Leonard told NBC Sports of the fit in Toronto. “Like I said, we’ve been winning, everyone’s playing well. Can’t complain.”

Nothing he’s done has slowed the speculation and buzz about what Leonard will do as a free agent next summer… which Leonard is working to ignore.

“I don’t buy into reading media, don’t have no social media, so just focus on what’s in front of me,” Leonard said before the Raptors faced the Clippers last week. “At that time it’s either my family or playing basketball.”

A lot of the speculation around the league has remained that Leonard is headed back to Los Angeles next summer, most likely with the Clippers. Here is what Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on a special trade season preview broadcast Saturday morning (transcription via Real GM).

“They can’t change the geography. They can’t change the weather in Toronto. Those were always be things against them in this,” said Adrian Wojnarowski. “Home and L.A. has been the focus for Kawhi Leonard through all of this.”

“Just wear a jacket,” Leonard said about the weather. “We’re in a building. We’re not outside playing in the snow. And it’s good scenery.”

Clippers president Lawrence Frank and other Clippers executives have been a fixture at Raptors games this season, doing their part to recruit him early. They are going to make a strong play for him. So will the Lakers, although I have heard from multiple sources he’s not likely to play with LeBron and in that spotlight.

Nobody knows what Leonard will do next summer, or even what he’s thinking. Leonard doesn’t speak much, and when he does it’s in cautious cliches providing little if any insight. As long as that is the case, the speculation will continue.

Why didn’t Lakers trade for Trevor Ariza? Suns owner reportedly blocked it.

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There were eight teams (that we know of) having some level of contact with Phoenix about getting in on a Trevor Ariza trade. The Lakers were one and — as with all things Lakers — were the most talked about.

But the Lakers were never going to pull off that trade because the Suns’ owner, Robert Sarver, didn’t want it to happen, according to David Aldridge of The Athletic.

Sarver — a very hands-on owner when it comes to basketball decisions — is probably still stung by buying out Tyson Chandler and watching him go to the Lakers and dramatically helping their defense (the Lakers are allowing less than a point per possession when Chandler is on the court). And certainly spiting the Lakers will play well with the Suns’ fan base.

However, the best franchises put aside petty thinking and do what’s best for them. If the Lakers had made the best offer (and we don’t know if it was) then take it. If it makes the Lakers better this season, or even the next few seasons, so what? If you’re the Suns, you’re in a rebuilding process and should be focused on the long term.

That said, the Laker trade was always going to be complicated and hard to pull off, LeBron James wasn’t going to be able to call up Suns GM James Jones and make this one happen. The Lakers wanted to land Ariza but also wanted to send out Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and KCP doesn’t fit with what the Suns wanted (a point guard and young players or draft assets). That means a third team was going to have to get involved, maybe Philadelphia, and possibly even a fourth. The Lakers were not going to trade any of their four core young players, making this trade even harder.

What the Suns got in the trade with Washington was what they wanted: A point guard (Austin Rivers, who is not all that good, as evidenced by his 7.1 PER this season, but is better than anyone the Suns have) and a young wing in Kelly Oubre who fits on the timeline of Devin Booker and the other young Suns. Phoenix did reasonably well in this trade.

Could they have done better? Doesn’t matter, if the owner is shooting down an idea then it’s dead. That’s his prerogative.