Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Bobcats and Pistons both won. Seriously.

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What you missed while playing a sport where you use stun guns on your opponents

Pistons 88, Lakers 85 (OT): This is why I can’t take the Lakers seriously as a contender — because after each of their big wins this year they turned around the next game and laid an egg (beat Boston lost to the Knicks, for example). Because they are 6-13 on the road. Because they don’t take care of business like a contender.

Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined for 50 points on 21-of-32 shooting plus had 24 rebounds (Bynum had 30 of those points and was the best player on the floor all night). So of course, those two didn’t touch the ball down the stretch of a close game. Instead the Lakers relied on Kobe Bryant and a perimeter game where they shot 3-of-22 all night. Bryant made the big shot to send the game to overtime because he was able to go right and get to his favorite spot near the elbow, but he was 8-of-26 shooting for 22 points on the night.

A play before Kobe sent it to overtime Rodney Stuckey hit a big three to give the Pistons the lead — a shot he might well have hit anyway because he was hot (he had 34 points on the night — 17 in the fourth quarter and overtime) but when Metta World Peace didn’t even try to rotate out Stuckey got to set his feet and there was no doubt that was going down. It’s those kinds of things, those kinds of nights for the Lakers that makes me question them.

Charlotte 100, Orlando 84: The Bobcats were down 20 early in the second quarter and coach Paul Silas was ejected just before the half, so this was just going to be another routine Bobcats loss, right? Wrong.

You can’t stop Corey Maggette… well, at least nobody could on Tuesday as he had 10 points during the Bobcats fourth-quarter run and finished with 29 total. Bismack Biyombo outplayed Dwight Howard for long stretches. Orlando shot just 24 percent in that fourth quarter. Magic starters not named Howard shot 30.2 percent. It was just a disastrous performance by the Magic combined with about as well as the Bobcats can play.

Dallas 95, Knicks 85: I thought if Carmelo Anthony got roasted by the New York media because of fit issues around Jeremy Lin that it would be unfair. However, if he gets roasted for this performance — 2-of-12 shooting and an inbounds play where he jaws with Shawn Marion and throws it away to the Mavs — I can see it. But he shouldn’t take all the blame, the Knicks played about 7 minutes of inspired ball all night — a 15-0 fourth quarter run that made it close. Dirk Nowitzki was the closer with 11 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter. Jeremy Lin had 14 points on 13 shots with 7 assists but was pedestrian on the night.

Miami 100, Nets 78: Miami is very, very good. The Nets are very, very bad. Not sure there is anything else we need to say, other than the Heat avoided the upsets the Lakers and Magic could not. This was over by half, so Dwyane Wade got to rest his ankle.

Celtics 97, Rockets 92 (OT): There are no easy wins over the Rockets — they make you work for everything — but this didn’t have to go to overtime if Rajon Rondo had hit the game-sealing layup with three seconds left. But he missed, Goran Dragic knocked down the shot and this one went the extra distance. Paul Pierce — the only Celtics who attacked on offense all night — had seven of his 30 in the overtime and Boston got the win. Ray Allen had 21 on the night.

Hawks 101, Pacers 96: It is test week for the Pacers and they are 0-2 now, with losses to Chicago and Atlanta. Miami and Orlando are up next. Josh Smith led Orlando with 27 points and the guy playing on revenge after being snubbed for the All-Star team did it on a night Zaza Pachulia outplayed All-Star Roy Hibbert in the fourth quarter. In fact, the Hawks won in the fourth largely thanks to a Tracy McGrady pick-and-roll play (he had six fourth quarter assists) that set up Pachulia and Jannero Pargo (11 points in the fourth quarter). If the Pacers can’t stop that combo they are in trouble.

Ryan Saunders reportedly likely to stay on as Minnesota head coach

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When Glen Taylor, the owner of the Minnesota Timberwolves, said this a few weeks back, it was pretty clear interim coach Ryan Saunders was probably staying on after the season and getting the job full time.

“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]. It’s like everything, we’re going to wait until we play out these last 20-some games and I think we’ll know and he’ll know at that time if it works out. But he is off to a good start. I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”<

Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler sabotaged the team’s season early on in a push to get out of town, a move that came with a high price coach/GM Tom Thibodeau. Remember Thibodeau wanted to speed up the winning and to get Butler traded Zach LaVine and just drafted Lauri Markkanen, but when Butler didn’t work out in Minny Thibs was doomed.

If you want more evidence that Saunders is staying on, there is this reporting from the well-connected Marc Stein of The New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

Saunders, who turns 33 in April, is known to have a strong relationship with the All-Star center Karl-Anthony Towns, who has played some of the best basketball of his career since the departures of Butler and Thibodeau.

The growing expectation around the league is that the credit Saunders will get for his impact on and the buy-in from Towns will more than offset ownership’s disappointment about returning to the draft lottery.

Towns is the franchise cornerstone, one of the top centers and top 10-12 players in the league, if Saunders can get the most out of him — and so far he has — then that is a good reason to keep him around.

When Sauders got the coaching job, Scott Layden took over as GM. His job is not as secure. There have been rumors about Taylor wanting to go big game hunting — specifically Chauncey Billups — but it seems the Timberwolves are likely to go another direction.

Calvin Booth, a Denver executive who the Nuggets hired away from the Timberwolves before the 2017-18 season, is increasingly mentioned as a strong candidate to replace Layden if Taylor does make a change.

Whoever gets the GM job, retooling the Timberwolves roster around Towns will now be difficult — Thibodeau showed no patience and now they are paying the price. Towns’ well-deserved max extension kicks in next season and that gives Minnesota two of max deals for young players — Andrew Wiggins is maxed out as well and an anchor on any rebuild (he has four years at the max after this season, good luck trading that). Don’t forget Gorgui Dieng will make $16.2 million next season. If Jeff Teague opts into his $19 million for next season, the Timberwolves will have very little room to maneuver and shore up the roster.

All of that will make Saunder’s job a real challenge.

Report: Knicks talked Kristaps Porzingis for De’Aaron Fox trade with Kings last draft

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The Knicks had made their minds up and were considering moving on from Kristaps Porzingis long before this trade deadline (when he was sent to Dallas), they were testing the waters all the way back to last June and the draft.

Last draft, the Sacramento Kings had a decision to make, too: How much did they believe in De'Aaron Fox? As a rookie, Fox had shown flashes and promise, but at No. 2 the Kings could pick Luka Doncic (or even Trae Young) and have gone in another direction.

That led to an interesting story from last June’s draft: The Knicks reached out to the Kings about a possible Porzingis for Fox swap, reports Zach Lowe of ESPN (in a fascinating piece on how this season changed things in Sacramento).

Sacramento moved up in the lottery again — to No. 2 — and faced a pivotal moment: the chance to reorient their team around Luka Doncic. Rivals sensed the dilemma and made offers for Fox — including a template from the New York Knicks centered around Kristaps Porzingis that would have required Sacramento to either send something beyond Fox or take unwanted Knicks salary (or both), sources say.

The Kings might have been able to leverage Doncic fever by trading down, but they wanted a guaranteed chance at Marvin Bagley III. The pick doubled as a vote of confidence in Fox. They didn’t need another ball handler. They wanted a springy big who could run with perhaps the league’s fastest player.

The Kings bet big on Fox. In the short term, that has worked out incredibly well for them, Fox made the kind of leap this season that will earn him a lot of Most Improved Player votes. He found his identity in pace and dragged the Kings with him to maybe the most surprising season of any team (and they were everyone’s league pass favorites). Bagley started to come on the second half of the season as he figured out how to fit his game in the NBA. How it works out long term for both teams remains to be seen, but the Kings have to feel good about how things look now.

Talks like this happen more than fans think — a lot of things are explored, very become trades. Kings fans should be glad this one didn’t.

 

Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic undergoes surgery to repair leg, full recovery expected. Eventually.

Associated Press
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As expected, Jusuf Nurkic underwent surgery on Tuesday repair the frightening leg injury he suffered on Monday night, a fractured left tibia and fibula that left his leg bending in a way that no leg should ever bend.

The good news is the surgery went as well as could be hoped, according to the team and Shams Charania of The Athletic.

Even with a successful surgery, this is going to take a long time to come back from.

As Jeff Stotts of In Street Clothes noted, the only comparable injury like this in the NBA was Paul George‘s frightening leg injury with Team USA. George made a full recovery, but it was eight months before he got back on the court and much longer until he was comfortable enough to be the MVP candidate he is this season.

Nurkic had made a leap this season, averaging a career-high 15.4 points per game this season on 50.7 percent shooting. The advanced stats loved him — his PER of 23.1, true shooting percentage of 57, value over replacement player of 3.5, and other advanced stats are all career bests. He was the anchor in the middle of the Portland defense, using his big body to cut off drives on pick-and-rolls. He was serving as a playmaker on offense: When he’d set a high pick for Damian Lillard, teams would trap the guard, Lillard would pass to Nurkic, and the Bosnian had become a good passer or he just take it in and scores himself

All of that came after Nurkic signed a four-year, $48 million contract extension last summer.

His injury also devastates the Blazers heading into the postseason, where they could have been a tough matchup but have now lost a key piece of their puzzle.

 

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving to rest against Cavaliers, his former team

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CLEVELAND (AP) — Kyrie Irving said returning to Cleveland tonight won’t mean anything to him.

He won’t even play.

The Celtics will rest rest the star against his old team, the Cavaliers.

Irving is averaging 23.8 points and the Celtics want to keep him as fresh as possible going into the postseason.

The Celtics have lost four straight and are fifth in the Eastern Conference entering Tuesday night’s game in Cleveland.

Irving played his first six seasons with Cleveland. The six-time All-Star demanded a trade following the 2016-17 season and was dealt to Boston. He hasn’t played in Cleveland since the 2017-18 opener.

Celtics center Al Horford (sore left knee) and forward Jayson Tatum (back contusion) could return Tuesday. Coach Brad Stevens said both were “questionable to probable” at the team’s shootaround.