Seven players whose teams need them to step up big in the postseason

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Jeff Green

Since his 43-point game in mid-March (excluding Boston’s season finale, when regular players rested), Green has averaged 20.0, 5.7 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game. By any eye test, he’s looked excellent. But in that span, the Celtics have been outscored by 3.6 points per 100 possession with him on the court and outscored opponents by 12.5 points per with him on the bench. Green has suffered from playing major minutes with the Celtics’ reserves, and when he’s played with the starters, he’s posted positive net ratings. Once Boston shrinks its playoff rotation, Green should turn into a player who excels individually and helps his team become more successful.

Tayshaun Prince

Prince, once a bastion of durability, just played his first 82-game season since playing every game between the 2003-04 and 2008-09 season. The 2008-09 season was also the last time Prince made the playoffs. In a four-game sweep to LeBron James’ Cavaliers, Prince looked worn down, scoring 15 total points on 27 shots. He’s probably more rejuvenated with Memphis, but he’ll need to show he’s not too old for a long playoff run.

Jerryd Bayless

Bayless has given the Grizzlies a nice scoring punch off the bench, leading the team’s reserves with 8.7 points per game. But he also makes Mike Conley better, allowing Conley a break from full-time ball-handling duties while keeping the starting point guard on the court and contributing as a scorer. In the 64 contest the combination has been used, Bayless and Conley play 10 minutes per game together and help the Grizzlies outscore  opponents by 10.2 possessions per 100 possessions. As long as Bayless plays well, that makes managing a think backcourt much easier easier.

DeAndre Jordan

Last season, Jordan’s playing time shrunk from 27.2 minutes per game in the regular season to 21.6 minutes per game in a playoff series with the Grizzlies. Now that that Jordan is down to 24.5 minutes per game in the regular season, how much less can can he play against Memphis this year? Los Angeles had Reggie Evans and Kenyon Martin last season to battle Marc Gasol inside, but can the Clippers rely on Lamar Odom this year? If Jordan proves he can make his free throws and remain engaged, he’ll stay on the court and they won’t have to answer that question.

Jeremy Lin

In Houston’s two losses to the Thunder, Lin scored 13 points on 6-of-15 shooting. In the Rockets’ win, he scored 29 points on 12-of-22 shooting. James Harden can’t carry the scoring load alone, and Lin is the wildcard who could help him – or get shut down by Oklahoma City’s impressive defensive backcourt.

Steve Nash

Nash’s numbers are down – his win shares and win shares per 48 minutes are both his lowest in the last 13 years – partially because the Lakers’ Kobe-centric system kept the ball out of his hands. But at 39 years old, Nash is no longer close to the same player he was just two years ago. With Kobe out, the Lakers have little choice but to empower Nash to run the offense. Does he have enough left in the tank to lead one more playoff run? I doubt it, but that’s probably their only hope of advancing.

J.R. Smith

The Knicks started the season 23-10 and ended with a 16-2 stretch. Between, they went 15-16. Smith was effective during both New York’s high periods and its low period, and that illustrates the excellent season he’s having. But Smith was definitely better during the highs (shooting 45 percent) than the low (shooting 36 percent). Few players can match Smith’s talent, and when he’s using all of it, the Knicks are so much better. There risk of Smith flaming out in the playoffs is lower than most could have envisioned, but that doesn’t change how much better he can make the Knicks when he play his best.

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.