Steve Nash returns, Lakers come from 14 down to get overtime win over Warriors

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The Lakers played far from their best game of the season on Saturday. But it may end up being one of their most important.

L.A. showed true grit in this one, and playing at full strength for the first time since Oct. 31 with Steve Nash back in the starting lineup, came from 14 down in the fourth quarter to beat a more-than-solid Warriors team in overtime 118-115.

Nash appeared to be all the way back from a non-displaced leg fracture that kept him sidelined for the last 24 games. He played 41 minutes, and finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting, to go along with 9 assists, three rebounds, and two steals.

While Nash looked more than competent in his return, the play of Kobe Bryant didn’t leave him with a lot of opportunity to run the offense and create the easy looks for his teammates that Lakers fans hoped would be a consistent benefit of the new-look offense.

That may come with time and trust, but on this night, Bryant trusted only himself, and with very mixed results.

Bryant took an incredible 41 shot attempts in under 44 minutes of action. He made just 16, good for a mark of 39 percent. We’ve become numb to these types of performances from Bryant, where he continues to shoot no matter the consequences. On a team with Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, however, and even Nash, who is one of the game’s premier shooters and always does so while making a high percentage, it’s really unconscionable.

It appeared for the first three quarters as if this one would end up as so many have for the Lakers this season — a disappointing loss to a better team, while playing nowhere near the level of the collective talent the team has assembled. Bryant seemed hell-bent on shooting his team out of the game, Howard and Gasol were slow to rotate defensively, and there was no offensive rhythm to be found with Bryant forcing so many tough shots.

The Lakers’ fortunes changed in the fourth quarter, and the fact that Bryant was on the bench during the stretch that it happened was in no way a coincidence.

The Warriors led 90-76 with 10:35 remaining in the fourth, and that’s when a 10-0 run featuring key plays from Jordan Hill and Jodie Meeks sparked the Lakers comeback. When Bryant returned, he immediately scored inside to further cut the lead to two, and it was back and forth the rest of the way in one of the most entertaining contests we’ve seen all season.

The Lakers had a chance to win in regulation, and with the game tied, Nash flipped the ball to Bryant and let him go at it alone in isolation. He forced a tough jumper on the wing that fell short, and we headed to the extra session.

Once in overtime, Bryant continued to gun away, but the shots he made came once he received the ball following the defense choosing to collapse on a Nash-Howard pick-and-roll. A variation of that play should be run virtually every single time down the floor when that trio is in the game, and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t be a staple in the future once the coaching staff gets more time to work things out with Nash back in action.

The Warriors are for real, but you knew that already. Jarrett Jack was a monster off the bench for them with 29 points and 11 assists, and Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson did their thing with 20 and 18 points respectively, but each shot a lower percentage than Bryant in the process.

The way this game began for the lakers wasn’t pretty, and was reminiscent of the poor play we’ve seen from this team too often this season. But the way it ended may prove to be something the team can build upon, and with Nash back in the lineup, you have to like their chances.

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
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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.