Baseline to Baseline recaps: Lakers, Celtics both lose; it’s not the ‘80s anymore

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Our nightly recap of the games from around the NBA. Or, what you missed while going out tonight because you have to deal with your family tomorrow…

Thunder 117, Clippers 111 (OT): Nobody stops Chris Paul, but the Thunder did a better job of slowing him down than anyone has this season and that’s how they got a quality win at home and our own D.J. Foster broke it down.

Kings 113, Lakers 98: What have we all been saying about the Lakers? Right, it’s all going to be about how they defend. When you have Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and eventually Steve Nash they are going to score points in bunches no matter what offense they run. But can they defend.

They didn’t against the Kings, especially in the fourth quarter — with the game on the line the Kings shot 63 percent. Marcus Thornton tore them up for a dozen points in the quarter (and 23 for the game). Dwight Howard looked tired and out of shape all night (he had four field goal attempts on the game) and when he isn’t sharp neither is the Lakers defense. Pau Gasol was 3-of-10. Also, the turnover issue was back with the Lakers having 20

The only Laker who looked good was Kobe — 38 points on 20 shots, again breaking down defenses with the pick-and-roll. But he has now played 79 minutes on the two nights of a back-to-back and that is too many for an older player with most of the season still ahead of him.

For the Kings, it’s fun when everything clicks. Tyreke Evans had 18, Isaiah Thomas was carving up the Lakers defense in the fourth, and Jason Thompson was in a groove late. That’s how you end a losing streak with authority.

Spurs 112, Celtics 100: If you want statistical evidence of how San Antonio simply was the superior team all night, try this one on for size — Boston had zero offensive rebounds. Not one. They are not a good offensive rebounding team, but blind luck and funky bounces should grant them one or two a game. Nope. Spurs controlled it and controlled everything it felt like — Boston would try to make a run, San Antonio would answer with a better one. We saw that in the fourth quarter — the Celtics got it within six, the Spurs hit another gear and cruised to a win. Tony Parker had 26 points on 17 shots, plus six assists and was the best player on the floor.

It was so much fun to see Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett battling and trading shots all fourth quarter long. I’d say it was a throwback but both are still fully capable of games like this now.

Mavericks 114, Knicks 111: It was “turn back the clock” night in Dallas — in the fourth quarter the Knicks were getting their points from Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler while Vince Carter gave the Mavs 14 in the fourth quarter alone. Dallas took charge of the game with a 20-8 run in the third quarter. But it wasn’t over — the Knicks hit a shot cut it to four, but then the next trip down J.R. Smith was looking to gamble and sagged off a hot Carter, who drained the corner three. Give credit to Shawn Marion, who did a good job on Carmelo Anthony all night.

Nuggets 101, Timberwolves 94: Kevin Love was back and Minnesota rode the emotion of that a 17-point lead during the first half. Love was his old self — he had 14 of Minnesota’s first 18 points on his way to 34 plus 14 rebounds. But the Nuggets came out a different team in the second half, went on a 14-2 run and cranked up the defense, holding Minnesota to 27.3 percent shooting for the second half (Minnesota scored just 36 in the second half). Meanwhile Denver had three guys score 11 points in the second half — Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari had 11 points in the second half (Gallinari led the Nuggets with 19).

Heat 113, Bucks 106 (OT): Milwaukee just one of those teams that seem to give Heat trouble. It didn’t look that way at first Wednesday — Milwaukee started 6-of-27 shooting, 1-of-9 from three and a 21-2 Heat run gave them an 18-point lead early in the second quarter. But when Larry Sanders got ejected the Bucks responded with a 13-0 run and we had a game from there on. Both teams had their chances at the end of the game and Monta Ellis may have saved the day with a quality block on Dwyane Wade at the buzzer. But a Ray Allen three, some LeBron James buckets (he finished with 28) and some Chris Bosh free throws had Miami pulling away in the overtime.

Cavaliers 92, Sixers 83: No Kyrie Irving but the Cavaliers were still pushing the pace and moving the ball well early. They got up 32-17 early. But a 16-1 run early in the second quarter changed all that and we had a ballgame. And it went like that all game — the Sixers would make a run and the Cavaliers would answer with one of their own. But Cleveland had the last 13-0 run late in the fourth that Philly could not respond to. Irving’s replacement Jeremy Pargo had 28 to lead all scorers. For a night Cleveland played like they didn’t miss him.

Pacers 115, Hornets 107 (OT): Indiana needed a win. Any win would do. So the fact it was an overtime win against an undermanned New Orleans team doesn’t matter. They got a win behind a triple double — 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocks — from Roy Hibbert and 33 points on 11 three pointers from Paul George. They will take it.

Hawks 101, Wizards 100 (OT): Good news for the Wizards — Nene returned to the court. He wasn’t fantastic (you don’t expect that the first time out) but he was back. This was pretty close the whole way, with big men leading the way for both sides — Josh Smith had 25 for Atlanta and Kevin Seraphin rose up with 21 for the Wizards. But late in the first overtime Devin Harris used himself as a screen to give Kyle Korver room to knock down the three that won it. Seraphin had a chance as time ran out but air balled a hook shot, Martell Webster made the smart play and tried to grab and put it in, but his basket was just a split second late.

Magic 90, Pistons 74: Detroit raced out to a 19-9 lead and it looked like a game. Then came the third quarter — Orlando opened the second half on a 21-0 run, the Pistons scored just 8 points in the third quarter. And that was your ballgame. Orlando had balanced scoring but Andrew Nicholson led the way with 15.

Bobcats 98, Raptors 97: The Charlotte Bobcats are 6-4. Damn. Charlotte did it with balance, having seven players in double figures, but it was Ramon Sessions with the shooter’s bounce game winner with :28 seconds left. It was maybe the best game Toronto has played in a while defensively, they had Kyle Lowry looking like his old self and Jonas Valanciunas was knocking down jumpers. But this was the Bobcats night.

Rockets 93, Bulls 89: The Bulls just don’t have the personnel to do what’s necessary most nights offensively to win games. This one against the Rockets was a prime example of that, as Chicago struggled to 40 percent shooting from the field, and a horrific 2-of-16 as a team from three-point distance.

Nate Robinson and Luol Deng led the Bulls with 21 and 19 points respectively, but combined to shoot a brutal 16-of-42 from the field to get there.

Meanwhile, James Harden was James Harden, pouring in an efficient 28 points on 14 shots. Houston also got solid games from Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons, but Jeremy Lin was ineffective, finishing with just four points and five turnovers on 2-of-9 shooting in 26 minutes. He was benched for the game’s final 3:21, when the Rockets were trailing by three at the time.

The Bulls used their trademark defense to force 23 turnovers, which kept things close. But ultimately their offense failed them, as the team went 4:31 without a point while Houston used a 10-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into a five-point lead to take it down the stretch.
—Brett Pollakoff

Suns 114, Blazers 87: The Suns made a change to their starting lineup for this one, after falling behind by double-digits in the first half of the majority of their games this season. Luis Scola and Jared Dudley headed to the bench, and Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown were inserted to provide some scoring and toughness from the opening tip.

While the lineup changes proved successful, it was the domination of Phoenix’s frontcourt players that was the difference. Marcin Gortat had 16 first-half points on the way to 22 for the game, Morris finished with 19, and Jermaine O’Neal’s corpse even did some damage with 17.

The Blazers, meanwhile, just don’t have the talent in their frontcourt rotation to be able to hang with a team with even decent options there. We’re talking Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland, and Victor Claver — none of whom could do much of anything offensively, while the Suns exploited the mismatch on the offensive end of the floor to their advantage to lead by 13 at the end of the first half.

The third quarter saw Phoenix quickly build the lead to 21 after a 10-2 run to start the period, and that was essentially that. Rookie Damian Lillard played fine offensively, but overall, Portland’s skill players looked completely disinterested and there wasn’t any help available from the bench. The result was the blowout we saw tonight.
—Brett Pollakoff

Warriors 102, Nets 93: Remember the guy who was pegged by NBA General Managers to be the breakout player of the year? Well, he hadn’t shot over 50 percent from the field in a single game this season, and there was even talk about sending him to the bench in the first month of the season. But tonight, finally (finally!) Klay Thompson showed up for the Warriors in the second half of a tightly contested ballgame and went nuclear. Thompson connected on 8-of-11 of his second half attempts to provide the extra scoring punch the Warriors needed to separate from the visiting Nets.
—D.J. Foster

Report: John Paxson to remain in power with Bulls

Bulls executive John Paxson
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The Bulls are reportedly looking for a general manager to replace Gar Forman.

But the other half of GarPax – Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations John Paxson – apparently isn’t going anywhere. And of course neither is president/CEO Michael Reinsdorf, son of owner Jerry Reinsdorf.

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

A source familiar with the situation told the Sun-Times on Wednesday that there could be multiple people hired, as the power structure is still being determined.

Paxson and Reinsdorf are still running the show, with Paxson still considered to have a valuable seat at the table no matter what title they come up for him.

Even if it appears that Paxson will be taking a background approach, the source said don’t believe it. The Reinsdorfs still have 100 percent faith in him leading the direction of this organization.

Evaluating individual members of a front office can be extremely difficult from the outside.

But Paxson didn’t cover himself in glory when he effectively declared the Bulls, after going 27-55 in 2017-18, were done tanking. Chicago went 22-60 last season and is 19-36 this season.

The Bulls need an honest assessment of where they are. They’re not good and probably not that close to being good. They have a few interesting young players – Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White and Wendell Carter Jr. But even with a high pick in this year’s draft, Chicago’s young core isn’t strong enough to assume it will rise into a quality team.

Though Paxson has supported Jim Boylen, the Bulls could probably use a new coach.

More importantly, they must understand that remaining at the bottom and securing more high picks is their best path forward. Drafting well would accelerate the process, but drafting is hard. Sometimes, you need more bites at the apple.

Of course, that will require a patience Chicago has rarely shown.

Knicks’ former player, G-League GM Allan Houston could get promotion

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There was a time when former Knicks All-Star player Allan Houston was seen as the rising front office star of the team. Since then, he has risen to assistant GM (before the Phil Jackson era), survived multiple management changes, and bounced around to different roles, most recently as the GM of the G-League Westchester Knicks.

Now he could be seeing a promotion under soon-to-arrive team president Leon Rose, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

As Leon Rose prepares for his imminent takeover, Garden constant Allan Houston has emerged as a candidate for a front office promotion, a league source told the Daily News…

According to a source, Craig Robinson, the current Knicks’ vice president of player development, has already had his responsibilities cut. Robinson, who is Michelle Obama’s brother, was hired by his Princeton buddy Steve Mills to oversee a comprehensive player development initiative…

The future of GM Scott Perry is unknown but it’s worth noting he has a strong relationship with Rose’s confidante, William Wesley.

Nobody knows exactly what the Knicks front office will look like after Rose officially takes the reins (he is still finishing up commitments to his CAA clients before coming over). We know William “World Wide Wes” Wesley will not have a role with the team, staying with CAA, but he will likely still have Rose’s ear. There will be a host of changes.

A deep house cleaning is in order in New York as the Knicks need to change their culture, not just their players. There is a lot of work to be done to develop players and build a foundation that will attract star players — right now the Knicks are not that kind of draw.  Houston apparently is going to get a chance to be part of whatever is next.

Steve Kerr says Stephen Curry will play this season once healthy

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“What’s the point? The Warriors have 12 wins, the worst record in the NBA, and are not sniffing the playoffs this season, so why bring Stephen Curry back this season at all? Why risk the injury? Why not tank?”

Steve Kerr has no use for that attitude.

Curry started practicing with the Warriors again on Wednesday. He will be re-evaluated the first week of March and could return to play soon after — and Kerr wants that. He wants Andrew Wiggins to get used to playing with Curry. Kerr defended the idea at Warriors practice on Wednesday (quotes via Monte Poole at NBC Sports Bay Area).

“It’s important for Steph and Andrew to get to know each other and to play together,” coach Steve Kerr said Tuesday night after practice at Chase Center. “It’s important for Steph to play without all of the guys we’ve lost who are not going to be back next year: Kevin (Durant) and Andre (Iguodala) and Shaun (Livingston). Steph in many ways has depended on those guys as sort of a giant security blanket.

“For a guy who is so skilled and talented, this has still been a team effort over the years. And he’s been blessed with some of the smartest players and most talented players in the league…

“He’s perfectly healthy. If the point is he might get hurt, what’s the point of ever playing anybody? I guess the argument is we’re not making the playoffs. So, are we not trying to entertain our fans?”

Kerr wants to build some familiarity and some momentum heading into next season. They might win a few more games, but with the flattened out draft lottery odds that’s not going to hurt the Warriors in terms of position. Beyond that, this is a down draft — in our podcast last week, NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster described it as the top three picks in this draft would be 6-10 most seasons — so Warriors fans may want to temper expectations about how much help this draft can provide.

Curry wants to play, he’s healthy, he should play. Load management has a role in the league, but this is not it.

Target score ending likely returns to All-Star Game next year

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It seemed obvious this is the direction the NBA would go after the most competitive All-Star Game in recent memory, after it generated an incredibly positive buzz. Now we have some confirmation.

A league executive told Zach Lowe of ESPN that yes, it’s highly likely the target score idea will be back next All-Star Game.

It is a “good assumption” the NBA will use a target score to end next season’s All-Star Game after experimenting with the concept for the first time Sunday, Byron Spruell, the NBA’s president of league operations, told ESPN on Wednesday in New York…

“The intensity popped,” Spruell said. “The guys really bought in…”

If the NBA uses the target score at next season’s All Star Game, they may tinker with the rules so that the game cannot end on a free throw, Spruell said. They have already discussed taking points away from any team that commits a shooting foul on a potential winning shot instead of awarding free throws, Spruell said. They could also force that team to remove the player who committed the foul and replace him with someone else for a certain number of possessions, Spruell said.

If this were used in a regular-season NBA game, then essentially sending a player to the “penalty box” after a foul on a game-winning attempt would have some impact. In the All-Star Game, not so much. For example, if Kyle Lowry had been sent to the bench after fouling Anthony Davis, then Nick Nurse could have replaced him with Jimmy Butler or Trae Young or some other elite player. It’s not that damaging.

Removing points makes more sense.

While the Elam-style ending was a success in the All-Star Game (and next season they may bump the point total up from 24, even though it took 15 minutes of game time to play the quarter, because that is an outlier for the All-Star Game), it’s not coming to the NBA. Which means it’s not coming to the G-League either, Lowe was told. A discussion about Summer League doesn’t seem to be on the table, either.

Where could the target score ending pop up? If/when the NBA starts playing a mid-season tournament, Lowe was told — and those playoff games could be just 40 minutes. Also, the G-League showcase every December makes some sense, Lowe was told.

The target score ending was a huge hit in the All-Star Game, it only makes sense to bring it back. But for the NBA, it will remain more special occasion gimmick than a daily part of the league.