Baseline to Baseline recaps: Crazy endings all across the league

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while you were getting your last Whopper Jr. — and I mean last Whopper Jr….

Nuggets 102, Pacers 101: It was the last game of a six-game road trip for the Pacers against an up-tempo Nuggets squad, and Indy was down 13 in the fourth quarter. Most teams roll over at this point, start thinking about sleeping in their own beds and a nice home-cooked meal. But credit the Pacers with showing fight — they went on to a 13-0 run and made this a game at the end.

And it was the very end that was interesting. Tied 101-101 both teams made a defensive play to keep it that way — Paul George blocked a Danilo Gallinari fade away, then at the other end Andre Iguodala stripped Paul George of the ball in an isolation set — and the result was Denver had one last chance with 0.5 seconds left on the clock. We’ve seen it before, the attempt at a from out of bounds alley-oop lob to the rim.

Except Paul George got called for a foul trying to defend Iguodala on the play. There was contact — George clearly backs into an airborne Iguodala — but that foul is never called. Never. It was this time. The Pacers and coach Frank Vogel blew a gasket, but the call stood and Iguodala got two free throws. He hit the first, intentionally missed the second and that was the ballgame. It’s a loss that is going to stick with the Pacers for a while.

Grizzlies 103, 76ers 100: Memphis is a defensive team but they didn’t look like it for 45 minutes on Monday — but they were when it mattered. With three minutes left in the game it was 100-97 Sixers and they got there behind Evan Turner, who pretty much got any open look he wanted on his way to 27 points. Thaddeus Young added 23 points for the Sixers.

But the Sixers wouldn’t score again in the final three minutes. A Zach Randolph tip in made it a one point game, then Rudy Gay grabbed the offensive rebound off Jerryd Bayless miss, slid into the lane and hit a little five footer to give Memphis the lead. Then with the Sixers looking to tie, Marc Gasol — he of the 27 points on the night — blocked a Nick Young corner three attempt to secure the win.

Bulls 93, Bobcats 85: Charlotte made Chicago put in some work here. The Bobcats were down nine at the half but fought back to tie it at 55-55 with less than four minutes to go in the third. That’s when the Bulls went on a 13-0 run that extended into the start of the fourth quarter and that was your ballgame. The Bulls got Luol Deng back, the All-Star forward returning after missing five games with a hamstring, and he had a dozen points. Deng bumped Jimmy Butler out of the starting lineup and he responded with 19 points off the bench to lead all Bulls scorers. Joakim Noah had an awesome line for the Bulls: 13 points, 18 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 blocks.

Nets 97, Magic 77: Late in the first quarter Brooklyn started a 23-5 run that extended into the start of the second, and it took control of the game there and never looked back. They led by 26 and this was never in doubt. The Magic did get the lead down to seven at the end of the third quarter, then the Nets opened the fourth on a 9-0 run. Deron Williams had 20 points and 9 assists.

Rockets 125, Jazz 80: This is the worst home loss in Utah Jazz history. It was like the two teams were playing at different speeds, with the Rockets taking control in the second quarter with a 17-4 run — sparked by three three-pointers by Carlos Delfino — and pouring it on from there. On the night, the Rockets had 26 fast break points to the Jazz 2. James Harden had 25 to lead the Rockets, who got to rest their starters for the fourth and empty out the bench.

Warriors 114, Raptors 102: This was a fun game – up tempo, back and forth with plenty of lead changes, until the Warriors went on a 14-2 run in the fourth to take a comfortable lead. Toronto tried to claw back in late, but Klay Thompson had a steal from Jose Calderon and Harrison Barnes had a dunk that shut the door on any comeback. Warriors All-Star David Lee’s put up 21 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists. The shock of the night was Aaron Gray with 22 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Raptors, he was fantastic for a night.

This was Andrew Bogut’s first game back from off-season ankle surgery and he looked good — 12 points, 8 rebounds and 4 blocks in 25 minutes. The scary part for Warriors fans is Stephen Curry rolled his surgically-repaired right ankle in the third quarter and did not return. It was called a mild sprain but we will watch to see.

Kings 96, Wizards 94: This ended up being a very entertaining game, but with everything on the line Isaiah Thomas had 10 of his 22 in the fourth quarter, including a floater with one second left, to give the Kings a road win. If the Wizards want to express frustration for this one, don’t blame Garrett Temple for not keeping up with Thomas on the last play, blame the 20 turnovers (which the Kings converted to 23 points). That was the ballgame. Emeka Okafor had a big night with 23 points and 15 rebounds in the loss.

Nuggets: Mason Plumlee out at least 2-4 weeks

Mason Plumlee
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Mason Plumlee got hurt in the first half, underwent x-rays he said were negative then returned in the second half to help the Nuggets beat the Timberwolves on Monday.

But he and Denver will suffer a much bigger loss.

Nuggets release:

Denver Nuggets center Mason Plumlee has been diagnosed with a right cuboid injury and his status will be reevaluated in approximately two to four weeks.

The injury occurred during the Nuggets game at Minnesota on Monday, January 20th.

Obviously, this raises questions about whether Plumlee should have returned against Minnesota.

This is another key setback for Denver, which already has Paul Millsap, Jamal Murray and Gary Harris sidelined.

The Nuggets (30-13) are locked in a high-stakes battle with the Clippers (31-13) and Jazz (30-13) for the Nos. 2-4 seeds in the Western Conference. The No. 2 seed would get home-court advantage in the second round and avoid the Lakers until the conference finals. The No. 3 seed would avoid the Lakers until the conference finals. The No. 4 seed would do neither.

Nikola Jokic is now Denver’s only healthy center. Expect Jerami Grant to play the position more often. He’s versatile enough to do it, and he can be effective there in certain matchups. But the Nuggets lose selectivity in when to deploy Grant at center, a lineup they were already reluctant to use.

Denver has played just 24 minutes all season with Grant on, Jokic and Plumlee off. (The Nuggets are a not-encouraging -11 in that time).

The trade deadline is just over two weeks away. Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez already looked like prime trade candidates. Could this push Denver toward moving one of those youngsters for immediate help? The Nuggets shouldn’t overreact to losing a backup center who should return well in advance of the playoffs. But they also don’t want to overburden Jokic/slip in the standings over the next month.

The All-Star break begins in three weeks. If Plumlee is still sidelined, that’ll at least give him longer to recover without missing games. But with the trade deadline looming, Denver has bigger decisions to make before then.

Report: Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald buys share of Phoenix Suns

Larry Fitzgerald
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Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sat in on the Phoenix Suns’ basketball-executive interviews last year.

Now, he’ll have a more formal role within the organization.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers bought a share of the Bucks in 2018.

The NBA reportedly mandates that all new minority owners buy at least a 1% share. Forbes’ last estimate valued the Suns at $1.5 billion. That’d put Fitzgerald’s minimum buy-in at $15 million.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he got in cheaper, though. Widely panned Suns owner Robert Sarver can boost his image by aligning himself with the well-liked football player. Having a local sports hero involved can also help with things like getting taxpayers to fund arena upgrades.

Three things to expect in Zion Williamson’s debut

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Finally.

At Summer League in Las Vegas, the Thomas and Mack was full but fans got just nine minutes of Zion Williamson, one half of basketball, before he was shut down following a knee-to-knee collision with another player. Zion was done for the summer as the Pelicans were overly cautious.

Preseason saw Williamson get into four games and start to look like the force of nature that he was at Duke, the franchise-changing player who was the runaway consensus No. 1 pick, and he averaged 23.3 points per game on 68.8 percent shooting. Then Williamson tore his right lateral meniscus, needed surgery, and ultimately was out far longer than the original 6-8 week projections as the Pelicans were overly cautious.

Wednesday night, Williamson finally makes his NBA debut, lacing up his Nikes against San Antonio at home in New Orleans.

What should we expect in Zion’s debut (with him likely on a minutes limit)? Here are three things to watch for.

1) Dunks. A lot of dunks.

Zion Williamson is an incredibly gifted athlete but right now his game is not filled with subtlety and craft — the manchild attacks the rim and finishes. With authority.

Look at Williamson’s shot chart from the preseason: He took just four shots outside the paint.

This is not a knock on Williamson’s game — the dunk is the most efficient shot on the court, f you can get it, take it. Williamson has skills — a crossover he uses in transition, an inside-out dribble, and more — that he uses to get to the rim, and he wants to finish every play the same way.

Which is exactly what the Pelicans need.

New Orleans has good shot creators — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram — and they have shooters such as J.J. Redick. What New Orleans could use is a threat that goes to the rim and forces defenses to collapse a little, opening up space (Derrick Favors has provided some of that). The Pelicans could use a player who can draw fouls and attacks the rim. That’s Zion. He should fit in beautifully on offense.

One scout I talked to (and he wasn’t the only person to make this comparison) said Williamson’s early career could resemble Blake Griffin’s in this sense: When he entered the league, Griffin was a high-flying dunking sensation who got his points at the rim, but eventually he developed an outside shot and a passing game that made him a much more rounded, All-NBA level player. Williamson has work to do on his other skills, but the man is going to dunk the ball in his debut.

2) The start of a playoff push in New Orleans.

Williamson’s injury was not the only one that hit the Pelicans: Derrick Favors, E’Twaun Moore, Jrue Holiday, and Lonzo Ball have all missed significant chunks of time. Combine all of that with a newly formed roster, and the Pelicans got off to a dreadful start.

However, the rest of the bottom half of the West was equally dreadful. The result is that while New Orleans is just 17-27, Williamson’s return finds the Pelicans only 3.5 games out of the final playoff spot in the West. What’s more, the Pelicans have hit a groove going 11-5 in their last 16 with Ingram playing at an All-Star level to lead the offense and Favors providing a defensive anchor. Ball is starting to find a comfort zone in Alvin Gentry’s offense, which is allowing Holiday to work more at his natural two-guard spot.

Now enter Williamson and the Pelicans are thinking playoff push — they have pulled back on trade talks to see how things shake out over the next couple of weeks.

One other thing in its favor: New Orleans has the easiest remaining schedule of any team in the Western Conference (only Atlanta is easier overall). Only one team New Orleans faces in its final 15 has a winning record — that’s a schedule set up for a closing kick.

With Zion back in the fold, the Pelicans are going to make a run at it.

3) How well do Zion and Brandon Ingram mesh?

This is the $168 million question for the Pelicans.

(It’s less expectation than a question, one that could be a five-year $202 million question if Ingram can play his way onto an All-NBA team this season, which may not be likely but certainly is possible.)

Ingram has played his way into that size max contract this summer and if the Pelicans don’t give it to him another team will (the most another team could offer is four-years, $125 million). David Griffin has talked about keeping Ingram, the team is expected to back up the Brinks truck for him, but that doesn’t change the question:

Can Ingram and Zion coexist on the court?

Before the season — and still in a lot of minds — there are doubts about how well the games of the slashing, attacking Ingram and Williamson would fit together. Could this be another version of the Ben Simmons/Joel Embiid concerns in Philly, where two elite players want to operate in the same space and it clogs things up?

Ingram has developed a reliable jump shot this season — 39.9 percent from three on 6.2 attempts per game — and that has opened up his game. It also means he should fit better next to Williamson. However, the Pelicans likely want to see how all this works before they pay Ingram all that money this summer.

Williamson and Ingram may become the cornerstones of an outstanding New Orleans team in the future, but the questions about fit will linger until the players answer them. Those are not questions that are going to be answered in Williamson’s debut, but it’s something to watch.

Officer suspended for shooting video of ex-NBA player Delonte West

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OXON HILL, Md. (AP) — A Maryland police officer has been suspended for shooting a video that shows former NBA player Delonte West as he was being questioned while shirtless and handcuffed, a police department said.

One of two videos circulating on social media shows a thin, shirtless man with tattoos sitting on a curb with his hands cuffed behind his back. Police say that man is West and that an officer shot the video.

Prince George’s County Police said they learned on Tuesday that an officer shot video of West sitting on the curb and that it was circulating on social media. An investigation followed and the suspension was announced on Tuesday.

The other video shows a man being beaten in the middle of a road.

Police said in a statement Tuesday afternoon that they responded to a call about a fight near the MGM National Harbor casino, located just across the border from Washington. When officers arrived, they saw a man bleeding from the face and “made the decision to handcuff” West.

Police said they learned that West and the second man knew each other and that they had argued earlier that morning. The men refused medical treatment and refused to press charges, police said.

The 36-year-old West played for the Boston Celtics, Seattle SuperSonics, Cleveland Cavaliers and Dallas Mavericks. He spoke in 2015 about having bipolar disorder.