Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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i.jpgOur game recaps from Thursday, or what you missed while driving around to find the Kogi truck.

Cleveland 115, Orlando 106 You would have thought early on that the big men — and the referees with their tight calls — would decide this one. As the game headed into the stretch, both Shaquille O’Neal and Dwight Howard had five fouls. But neither of them fouled out.

In the final minutes, the game was decided primarily by the perimeter players. LeBron James stepped up like you expect a superstar to. Jameer Nelson continues to make my wonder what happened to the Jameer Nelson from before the injury last year. I miss him.

For most of the game the Nelson and the Orlando guards did a good job feeding the post, especially when there were mismatches. Nelson was not fantastic, but he was playing within the offense.

Until the game was on the line, then Nelson and the rest of Orlando became about the jumper. From the 5:30 mark in the fourth quarter (with the game timed 96-96) until a Vince Carter eight-footer with just over 1:00 left, the Magic went 0-6 from the floor. Five of the six shots were long jumpers (three from beyond the arc). Cleveland was part of the reason — in a game that was largely without good defense the Cavaliers picked up the intensity at that end of the floor — but Orlando’s guards settled. The inside-out ball movement was gone, the Magic went to the isolation plays.

What did Cleveland do in that same stretch? Two Shaq buckets right at the basket, a LeBron driving layup, a Delonte West three that was set up by more LeBron penetration, and a ridiculous LeBron step-back 23 footer with Mickael Pietrus in his face. Mostly, they got good looks (and hit the tough one). LeBron and the Cavaliers know how to close. They have the look of a champion.

San Antonio 111, Denver 92 This game was basically over in the second quarter. San Antonio was ready to play — they needed a big win, and seemed more focused as a team knowing they would have to do it without Tony Parker. Denver was as focused as a high school student on the Friday afternoon before Spring Break.

San Antonio not only shot well — including 47.4% from three — but they dominated the offensive glass, grabbing the rebound on 35.7% of their missed shots. Too good a team to give second chances too.

Denver on the other hand, 39% shooting, 3 of 19 from three. You’re in for a long night when Nene is your hot shooting hand (8 of 9). Can’t read much into this game long term, Denver’s players were clearly already thinking about Spring Break and the beach. Well, except for Carmelo and Billups, who were probably wondering how the heck they were going to get into snowed-out Dallas.

Check out Lakers’ stretch of hitting 15 straight shots to end third quarter (VIDEO)

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The Lakers lost to the Wizards because they are young, inconsistent, and defend like traffic cones at times.

But that young Lakers core also has its moments.

Los Angeles strung together 15 straight made buckets to end the third quarter Tuesday night. Some of it was flukey, like Corey Brewer driving and finishing contested layups like he’s Kyrie Irving, but there were things Lakers fans should want to see such as D'Angelo Russell draining threes, Jordan Clarkson working hard off the ball and his teammates finding him, and Julius Randle just attacking.

After this run the Lakers led by 13 going into the fourth, but lost the game.

It’s official: Joakim Noah cleared to play, 20-game suspension starts tonight

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What this ultimately means is next season the Knicks should have Joakim Noah available just before Thanksgiving.

Noah has been suspended 20 games for testing positive for a banned substance, but because he was out due to knee surgery the suspension did not start until he was “physically able to play.” Noah said on Tuesday that he had been cleared, but that was just by the team doctors. He also had to be cleared by the NBA’s doctors (because if teams could cheat they would).

That happened Wednesday, according to Ian Begley of ESPN.

Noah’s first season in New York after signing a four-year, $72 million deal has been a disappointment. To put it kindly. He’s not been completely healthy, and any observer of him the past few years had to wonder if he would ever be fully healthy again. He had lost a step from the 2014 Defensive Player of the Year before the Knicks signed him. The Knicks don’t need him to necessarily be that dominant a force again (although it would be nice), but they need to get more out of him and see if he is a fit next to Kristaps Porzingis for now as the Knicks try to build a roster for next season that can play a little defense. And the triangle.

Report: Pacers bring back Lance Stephenson in time for playoffs; deal for three-years, $12 million

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The Indiana Pacers need healthy bodies for their playoff run, and they had three rotation guys injured between Al Jefferson, Glenn Robinson III, and Rodney Stuckey. Wednesday, the Pacers waived Stuckey to create an open roster spot to bring in some help (they were not going to pick up his option for next season anyway).

Who are they bringing in? The prodigal son Lance Stephenson returns, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports.

The surprising part of the deal was the security Stephenson got, as first reported by Adam Zagoria at his blog — three years, $12 million, with a player option for the final year. (This has since been confirmed by other sources.) Other teams were looking at giving Stephenson a 10-day contract, the length of the Pacers’ offer is a surprise.

Stephenson played in six games for Minnesota recently, averaging 3.5 points per game off the bench, but an ankle sprain kept the Timberwolves from really having to decide whether to keep him for the season. Stephenson knows how to create shots for himself and can be a good defender when focused, something we saw with the Pelicans at the start of this season — he became a key part of their rotation averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 assists per game until he tore his groin.

It’s a little strange to see him back in Pacers colors. It will be particularly strange if the Pacers stay in the seven seed and the Cavaliers remain the two-seed setting up a first-round playoff series. Because I don’t think any of us need to see this again.

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Tuesday’s win gives Wizards first division crown since 1979

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Divisions are almost forgotten in the NBA. They exist still as quaint reminders of days gone by, but they don’t matter other than as a potential tie breaker with a non-division-winning team. Winning your division doesn’t even guarantee a team a playoff spot anymore.

Yet, the last time Washington had won a division title they were in the Atlantic division and when you turned on the radio you were likely to hear that new hit Heart Of Glass by Blondie. It was 1979.

That was until Tuesday when John Wall led a 13-point comeback in the fourth quarter against the Lakers to get the Wizards the win and the SouthEast division title.

According to CBSSports.com, that 38-year division title drought was longer than any team in any major U.S. professional sports — NHL, NFL, and MLB.

Congrats to the Wizards. They also have locked up home court in the first round, and they are currently the No. 3 seed in the playoffs (who they face in the first round is up in the air still as only three games separate seeds five through nine).

With Scott Brooks at the helm this feels like a far more dangerous — and healthy — team heading into the postseason. Wizards fans have waited a lot time for a team like this.