Baseline-to-baseline recaps: Knicks wrap up two seed in the East, Lakers stay in playoff hunt with win over Spurs

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while planning for your digital afterlife

Heat 105, Bulls 93: The outcome of this game was no surprise, but the fact that the Bulls put up a fight after falling behind big in the second quarter showed why they’ll be a tough out in the postseason. We broke this one down in greater detail here.

Mavericks 107, Hornets 89: Dirk Nowitzki got to break out the razor. Same with O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and the rest of the Mavericks who were growing .500 beards and got to shave them when the Mavericks finally reached the threshold with this win. Well, Kaman may keep his because he is Chris Kaman.

Dallas led this one almost from the start behind 21 from Shawn Marion and 19 from Nowitzki. With one of his second quarter jump shots, Nowitzki became only the 17th player in NBA history to reach 25,000 points in his career. — Kurt Helin

Lakers 91, Spurs 86: It wasn’t pretty — the winning team shot 36.5 percent — but the Lakers played with a playoff desperation and the Spurs floated through the game and the result was a Lakers win. One Los Angeles needed — its magic number to make the playoffs is one (Utah has to beat Minnesota and Memphis on the road to force the Lakers to beat Houston on Wednesday).

The Lakers got an aggressive Dwight Howard early that demanded the ball in the post and finished with 26 points and 17 boards. They had other guys like Steve Blake (23 points) step up as well. We broke it all down in more detail here. — Kurt Helin

Rockets 121, Kings 100: We are now a step closer to the Denver/Houston first-round series I am pulling for (because not everybody should play slow-it-down, grind-it-out basketball in the postseason). Houston is now in the six seed spot, tied with Golden State but the Rockets have the tiebreaker. They control their own destiny with two games to play (beat the Suns and Lakers, both on the road, and they are the six seed). And they want the six seed — Denver is not easy but it’s no San Antonio.

Houston won this game going away, a 14-0 run late in the second (Kings didn’t score the final three minutes of the half) put them in control and the second half was a laugher.  — Kurt Helin

76ers 91, Cavaliers 77: Kyrie Irving scored a career-low four points, but as poorly as he played, he wasn’t that far behind Dorell Wright, who scored a game-high 15 points. Both teams – already eliminated from the playoff race – combined to shoot 40 percent from the field and 63 percent from the free-throw line. — Dan Feldman

Nuggets 118, Trail Blazers 109: Kenneth Faried left the game with an ankle injury, casting a dark light on Denver’s franchise-record 55th win. On the bright side, Andre Iguodala had an awesome game – 28 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks – and Evan Fournier comfortably bested his career high with 24 points. The Nuggets now have a full game lead for the No. 3 seed, which would mean avoiding the Clippers and Grizzlies in the first round.

Damian Lillard had 30 points and six assists, which should help seal his Rookie of the Year win, especially if voters overlook his eight turnovers. — Dan Feldman

Knicks 90, Pacers 80: Carmelo Anthony scored “just” 25 points – his fewest in eight games – but that was still enough for New York to secure the No. 2 seed and homecourt advantage through the second round. If seeds hold in the first round, the Knicks would then play the Pacers, who are now assured of the No. 3 seed.

The Knicks have won 14 of 15, and with a season-high 26 turnovers, the Pacers have lost four of five. — Dan Feldman

Raptors 93, Nets 87: Despite 30 points and seven assists from Deron Williams, Joe Johnson helped Brooklyn secure the No. 4 seed with his 4-of-16 shooting. The Nets will host either the Hawks or Bulls in a first-round series.

DeMar DeRozan (36) and Rudy Gay (26) each scored more than 20 points in the same game for the seventh time. — 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.