Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Knicks’ streak reaches 13

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wondering what to do with five tons of Nutella

Lakers 104, Hornets 96 ; & Thunder 90, Jazz 80: We combine these two because together they put the Lakers in as the eight seed in the West and in control of their own destiny. Kobe Bryant pulled the Lakers bacon out of the fire — Los Angeles played inconsistent defense all night but Kobe had 23 points in the third. Meanwhile Utah ran into a Thunder team looking to show it can play defense after a rough outing against the Knicks Sunday. They also ran into Russell Westbrook (25 points) and Kevin Durant 21). We broke these games down in more detail.

Knicks 120, Wizards 99: After running their win streak to 12 straight by beating the Thunder in OKC on Sunday, there was virtually no way that the Knicks would stumble at home against the dismal Wizards.

New York led by 15 at the half, and by as many as 31 points in the 4th before it was all said and done.

The win gave the Knicks their first division title since 1994, but the night ended on a bit of a sour note as Kenyon Martin sprained his left ankle with about 10:30 remaining, and with his team up by 25 points. X-rays were negative, but Mike Woodson said afterward that maybe he should have had Martin on the bench given the fact that the game was out of hand.
—Brett Pollakoff

Heat 94, Bucks 83: This could be the 1 vs. 8 matchup we see in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but if this game was any indication, the prospects might be even more grim than expected for the Bucks.

The Heat won fairly easily on this night, and did so without both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, sitting this one out due to injury and illness, respectively. A 13-point third quarter doomed Milwaukee’s chances, and while Brandon Jennings scored a game-high 30 points, no other Bucks player finished in double figures.

Miami got its 61st win of the season, tying a franchise record that will undoubtedly be broken at some point over the team’s final five games.
—Brett Pollakoff

Raptors 101, Bulls 98: Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 28 points, but without Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng, the Bulls’ defense betrayed them. Though Noah played 21 minutes in Chicago’s previous game, all three missed tonight’s contest, and – against Detroit and Toronto, no less – the Bulls have allowed 114.9 points per 100 possessions in their last two games.
Chicago leads Atlanta by just a half game for the No. 5 seed and a much more favorable matchup with the Nets rather than facing the Pacers. Unless the Bulls get healthy enough to play their trademark defense, their opponent won’t matter much, anyway.
—Dan Feldman

Pacers 99, Cavaliers 94: Cleveland actually led this one by 20 after three quarters, but the Pacers put together a furious rally and outscored the Cavs 35-10 in the fourth to come away with the victory.

A three-pointer from Paul George with 29 seconds remaining put the Pacers up for good. Indiana remains in third place in the East, two and a half games back of the Knicks for second with just four games remaining in the regular season.
—Brett Pollakoff

Grizzlies 94, Bobcats 75: Mike Conley was the only Memphis starter to play more minutes than his season average, and he used the time against the NBA’s worst team to pad his stats. In 36 minutes (season average: 35), Conley had 20 points, seven assists and two steals.
Considering Memphis has won 13 straight home game and Charlotte has lost 13 straight road games, the Grizzlies easily increased their lead for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Nets 104, Sixers 83: This was a destruction from the very first quarter, and a demoralizing one for a Philadelphia team that was helpless to stop the damage the Nets were doing inside.

Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans were both dominant, and Brooklyn finished with an insane rebounding edge of 64-37 for the game.

With the win, the Nets remain firmly in fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, on track to host either the Bulls or the Hawks in a first round playoff matchup.
—Brett Pollakoff

Rockets 101, Suns 98: You want to talk about the particulars of the game, or would you like instead to just fast forward to the final possession, where Jermaine O’Neal managed to get called for goaltending on James Harden’s three-point shot at the buzzer to give the Rockets the win?

I thought so.
—Brett Pollakoff

Warriors 105, Timberwolves 89: Golden State clinched its first playoff berth since 2006-07 and just the second time since 1993-94. Klay Thompson scored 25 of his 30 points in the game’s first 19 minutes, but he cooled in the second half. Three other Warriors – Stephen Curry (24 points and 10 assists), David Lee (15 points and 12 rebounds) and Harris Barnes (15 points and 10 rebounds) – had double-doubles.
—Dan Feldman

Watch Pacers’ Andrew Nembhard drain game-winning 3 to beat Lakers

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LeBron James and Anthony Davis were on the court together (and combined for 46 points and 20 rebounds). Russell Westbrook continued to thrive as a sixth man with 24 points.

But the biggest shot of the night belonged to Pacers’ rookie Andrew Nembhard — a game-winning 3-pointer as time expired.

It was a well-designed play and when Westbrook chased and doubled Bennedict Mathurin in the corner it left the screen setter, Myles Turner, wide open for a clean look at a 3 — but he hit the front of the rim. The long rebound caromed out, Tyrese Haliburton grabbed it and tried to create, but then he saw Nembhard wide open and kicked him the rock.

Ballgame.

The Pacers split their two games in Los Angeles at the start of a seven-game road trip through the West that will test the surprising Pacers.

For the Lakers… they have some hard decisions to make coming up.

Karl-Anthony Towns helped off court after non-contact calf injury

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Hopefully this is not as bad as it looks.

Timberwolves big man Karl-Anthony was trying to run back upcourt and went to the ground — without contact — grabbing his knee and calf. He had to be helped off the court.

The Timberwolves officially ruled Towns out for the rest of the night with a calf strain.

A right calf strain would be the best possible outcome, but an MRI will provide more details in the next 24 hours. This had the markings of something much worse, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports optimism that Towns avoided something serious.

Towns is averaging 214 points and 8.5 rebounds a game, and while his numbers are off this season — just 32.8% on 3-pointers, down from 39.3% for his career — as he tries to adjust to playing next to Rudy Gobert, he’s still one of the game’s elite big men.

The Wizards went on to beat the Timberwolves 142-127 behind 41 from Kristaps Porzingis.

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.