As far as trades that haven’t happened go, this one has been talked about plenty.
The idea goes something like this: Buddy Hield is one of the best high-volume three-point shooters in the NBA, the kind of marksman that is a must on a winning LeBron James roster. Myles Turner is one of the best shot blockers in the league and pairing him with Anthony Davis would make life hell on attacking offensive players.
And for the price of two future first-round picks and Russell Westbrook’s matching salary, they could both be Lakers.
Monday, with the Pacers and the Lakers meeting for the first time this season, talk of that deal dominated — only to be outdone by a tight game with Westbrook smack in the middle of all of it and a rookie ready to punctuate it.
Indiana second-round pick Andrew Nembhard swished home a three-point shot at the buzzer to cap a 17-point comeback and stun the Lakers 116-115.
“They made some big shots,” Westbrook said.
The Lakers lacked shooting, they struggled defensively on the wing and the good vibes they built crumbled late in a brutal loss.
Westbrook scored nine of his 24 points in the third quarter, pushing the Lakers out to a 16-point lead, and an assist from Westbrook on a basket by Wenyen Gabriel put the Lakers up 17 with 10 minutes left in the fourth.
But the Pacers outscored the Lakers 32-14 from there to the finish line to steal the win, re-exposing so many familiar late-game problems from earlier in the season.
James, in his third game back after missing time with a groin strain, couldn’t shake past smaller Indiana defenders and struggled from the midrange and perimeter. He had 21 points and hit a tiebreaking shot with 20.9 seconds left, but missed 14 shots — including six in the fourth quarter.
“Everything has to go wrong for you to lose a game like that and everything went wrong,” James said.
Davis, whom teammate Dennis Schroder called the best player in the NBA these last few weeks, had a team-high 25 points in his return after missing a game but took only two shots in the fourth, and out of rhythm, missed a key free throw.
And while Westbrook had eight points in the fourth, he was largely the lone focal point for the Lakers’ offense while the Pacers authored their comeback.
“Next time out, I’ll do a better job of keeping us organized,” coach Darvin Ham said.
The real problems were defensive — the Lakers couldn’t get stops at home, down the stretch, ceding momentum to a team with lower expectations and a better win-loss record.
Indiana scored on eight of its final nine possessions of the game, including Nembhard’s game-winner which came after a missed three by Turner.
The teams have been linked since early in the offseason when the first rumors of a Westrbook-Turner-Hield deal surfaced. And unlike most trade chatter, it has never really died, the Lakers holding a meeting in the final days of the offseason to again consider it.
The Lakers continued to hold their ground on deals including both future first-round picks unless they viewed the deal made them a certified contender. To date, they’ve not felt that way about a Hield-Turner package — and with a loss like Monday’s, it’s not easy to see the deal that would fix their deficiencies. Still, it was on everyone’s mind.
Before the game, Indiana coach Rick Carlisle answered a general question about increases in trade chatter by cutting through any generalities.
“Today’s players do a good job of dealing with the noise. I just think there’s so much of it,” Carlisle said. “Our guys are extremely professional — you’re talking about Buddy and Myles — we all know about that stuff. These guys have been great for us this year. They’ve been just great. They’ve been dependable veterans and they’re both having years that are among the best of their entire career. It’s been great to be with those guys.
“I can see where people would have interest in them,” he said, and laughed. “I have a lot of interest in not trading them, you know?”
Both players struggled Monday, Hield scoring 15 but making just one of six from beyond the arc. Turner was slightly better with 15 points, 13 rebounds and three blocks, but he took 17 shots.
Davis finished with 13 rebounds, Westbrook had six assists (and six turnovers), and the Pacers scored 22 second-chance points to the Lakers’ 13, despite L.A. grabbing six more offensive rebounds.
Before the game, Ham downplayed trade questions, deferring to general manager Rob Pelinka on that subject. But, with the Lakers having won five times in the last seven games to creep out of last in the West, Ham was happy with the current trajectory.
“I can just say this: We’re totally thrilled with the way our current group is progressing, and we’re excited about the success we’ve had here recently,” Ham said.
But Monday night, as the Lakers came in feeling as good as they had all season, some of the cracks in that foundation reappeared.