Baseline to Baseline (last night's game recaps)

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Our game recaps from Tuesday, or what you missed while watching Lost. (Since it was a busy night, it was a team effort)

Denver 127, Dallas 91 This was a schedule-makers loss for Dallas — only one team in the last two years (Orlando) has traveled from the West Coast to Denver for the second night of a back-to-back and won. Denver is too good a team to beat tired and at altitude. Dallas knew this would be an “L” when the schedule came out.

But the fact it was a 36-point blowout says everything you need to know about where these teams are headed right now. Denver is putting it together, playing with confidence. Guys are stepping up: Kenyon Martin had to sit out with some tendonitis in his knee, and Malik Allen stepped in and was solid. Dallas has just stopped playing defense, and Denver players took their man off the dribble and there were no defensive rotations to stop them. Dallas can write off the loss in their minds, but the blowout should bother them.

Atlanta 108 Memphis 94 This was just fun. There were moments during this game when I was actually rooting for a turnover in a half court set because it leads to beautiful fast breaks by both teams. But they will run on anything, even a made basket — which led to my favorite play of the game (mid third quarter):  OJ Mayo slipped out off a Hawks make, got the long pass ahead of the pack and was heading for a layup but Marvin Williams raced down and blocked it off the backboard, right to the hands of Zach Randolph trailing the play, and as he goes up Josh Smith comes running into the play and swats it from behind. The Hawks do not make it easy on you.

Matt Moore loved the game, too: Both teams were hitting, both teams were running, The Grizzlies were dishing, the Hawks were dunking, and it was just a fun all-around game. So of course the Grizzlies, whose depth resembles that of the Mariah Carey film “Glitter,’ faded into nothingness when once again no bench savior appeared.

Meanwhile, I get that Carl Landry is a beast. Believe me, I do. But Jamal Crawford scored 28 points on 14 shots and did everything, including setting a record for most career four-point plays (breaking Reggie Miller’s record). That man is your sixth man of the year.

Oklahoma City 89 Portland 77 Watching Kevin Durant and Nicholas Bantum go at it makes you hope that the rivalry between these two young teams grows over the next five years and we get to see these two put on a dunking show with more on the line than a February win. These two teams still played young — Westbrook had his ups and downs, for example. But the biggest difference was the benches: Portland’s was unimpressive, and OKC had James Harden, who started slow then went on a 13 point tear that helped decide this one.

Utah 109 L.A. Clippers 99 The Clippers looked a lot more comfortable second game out with their new “hey, we don’t have to wait for coach to call the play every time” offense. They found a nice balance (Kim Hughes said he wants 60% called plays, 40% improvisation). The Clippers just looked better. But they are still not as good as the Jazz. The Jazz know who they are, the Clippers are trying to figure it out. Carlos Boozer had 27 points on 10 of 13 shooting, and added 12 boards. The Clipper defense seemed helpless against him and the Jazz system of cuts and picks.

Cleveland 104, New Jersey 97 Matt Moore put it perfectly: It’s not that the Nets played badly. They really didn’t. There were times when they seemed, as they’ve seemed many times this season, like they were going to bull rush the lead. Then the fourth quarter happened, LeBron did his thing, Shaq got involved, and the lead became pregnant and gave birth to puppies. The Nets would counter great possessions with Lopez-Yi give and go’s, Lopez hooks, and nifty Lee layups with contested 18 footers early in the shot clock. The defense wasn’t great, giving up 104 points on 84 possessions, but then, this is the Cavs. The bench getting outscored 39-9, let me say that again, 39-9, that, my friends, was not okay.

Charlotte 94, Washington 92 Matt Moore again: For all the talk of Nazr Mohammed versus Tyson Chandler, the Wizards bigs won that matchup handily (Blatche with 15, Hayes with 12 and 11). But if you wanted to point to the smoking elephant playing bourre in the room, the Wizards’ point guards were outscored 30-5. Still, the Wizards got a huge three from Mike Miller (who was wearing some sort of half-t-shirt monstrosity) to go up one with less than a minute remaining, but a Raymond Felton fadeaway buried the Wizards for good. Maybe no game so clearly demonstrated how wrong most people were about both of these teams in preseason.

Philadelphia 119, Minnesota 97 If you shoot 57.4% for the game, you’re going to win just about every time. The Sixers are just a better the Jrue Holliday/Willie Green backcourt, which combined for 21 points, nine assists and just two turnovers. They Sixers play better defense, get better matchups and play more cohesive offense with them in. Allen Iverson is off dealing with a sick child, but when he comes back he has to come off the bench. Eddie Jordan knows that, but he can’t be relishing the looming fight.

Miami 99, Houston 66 Every team has a few games of the 82 where they just don’t show up. Tonight was the Rockets turn– 32% shooting and they turned the ball over one in four trips down the court in the first half. Miami was up 25 at the break and they only played the second half because the rule book requires it. Not to knock the Heat, they played fine, but this was more about the Rockets’ head being out at a South Beach club.

Sacramento 118 New York 114 (OT) John Krolik watched this one: Up six points with just over three minutes left to play, New York appeared to be in good shape. Then Tyreke Evans happened. Evans scored 10 straight points in just over two minutes, which is impressive enough. What makes it flat-out scary is that Evans scored all of his points at the rim, with four driving layups and two free throws.  In contrast, on the Knicks’ final possession of regulation was having Chris Duhon dribble around the perimeter for 22 seconds and heave up a turnaround three. (He air-balled it.) There was still technically an overtime period to play after that, but the Knicks were clearly demoralized.

What may be equally heartening to Kings fans was the play of Kevin Martin in overtime, where he scored the first nine points.

Detroit 93, Milwaukee 81 Matt More caught a lot of this one: I can tell you about Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun P
rince with impressive games,
looking like what Dumars envisioned. I can tell you about Ben Gordon with 18 points, looking like what Joe Dumars paid for. But you want to know what the difference was? Jason Maxiell. 14 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals. And you look across at Hakim Warrick and that was a huge differential. It wasn’t the box score, though. It was Maxiell making those “Oh, come ON” plays. The ones where you can almost hear Bucks fans screaming “Oh, come ON!” at the television, as Maxiell gobbles up an offensive rebound to give the Pistons another possession (which is huge in an 82 possession game

 In other news, if you’re up one point, with the opponent driving the lane in transition for the go-ahead score, there’s one guy you want between the other guy and the rim. And it’s not Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Ron Artest, or Shaquille O’Neal. It’s Andrew Bogut. Because that sneaky Aussie is drawing the charge and getting you the ball back.

Chicago 109, Indiana 101 I find the Pacers just hard to watch play. It shouldn’t be that way, they play at a fast pace, Danny Granger is a joy, but somehow all their games seem mundane. The Bulls were efficient enough, they get the win. That’s all you really need to know.

Pistons reveal “Detroit Chrome” alternate uniform

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I’m a fan of the Pistons’ alternate uniforms in general — their “Motor City” ones may be may favorite alternates around the league.

Now they have a new one — Detroit Chrome.

The Pistons will break these out for seven home games this season. From the official release:

The inspiration for the Detroit Chrome jerseys came about as a way to honor our coolest cars from the past and the cars of the future. Detroit is universally known as the auto capital of the world, where chrome leaves an indelible mark on the cars we create. The uniforms feature a matte chrome base color with clean simple lines inspired by the classic muscle cars that have roared up and down Woodward Avenue for decades. The navy trim and Detroit emblazoned across the chest represent the blue collar work ethic that the auto industry and region was built on.

Clean, simple, cool — I like it.

That would look good in the first round of the playoffs, too. (I’m predicting they get the eight seed.)


51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.