Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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d harris.jpgOur game recaps from Tuesday, or what you missed while getting addicted to snowboard-cross from Vancouver.

Oklahoma City 99, Dallas 86 It’s going to take a while to integrate all the new players in Mavericks’ uniforms with each other. A tough way to start that process is against a very hot Oklahoma City squad.

For one quarter, the Mavericks’ play on the court looked fantastic, then the whole thing fell apart. Blame Dallas on not adjusting to their new roles, or credit the Thunder defense  — I’m not sure it was either, just ice cold shooting — but after that fast start Dallas could not find the basket. Caron Butler was 4 of 16 in his debut. Jason Terry was 4 of 15 off the bench. Dirk Nowitzki was 9 of 22. Jason Kidd 4 of 15. After an 11-point third quarter by Dallas, this one was over.

There was excitement at the end of the game, and thankfully it wasn’t about pizzas or tacos — Durant’s shot at the rim with 20 seconds left gave him 25 points for the 26th straight game. That guy is special.

New Jersey 103, Charlotte 94 Once again it was another Nets fast start, as they put up 31 points in the first quarter against one of the best defensive teams in the league. Courtney Lee led the way with 10 that first stanza. But we all know the drill, that’s not going to last, right?

Not this time. Lee stayed hot, and Brook Lopez and Devin Harris joined him. Josh Boone even made good contributions off the bench. The Nets shot 51.9 percent from the field, while Charlotte started to feel a little desperate on offense in the fourth quarter and at one point jacked up three pointers on five straight trips down the court. Charlotte was not nearly so hot from the floor as for that to be a good strategy.

The Nets are now 2-1 against the Bobcats this season.

Boston 95 Sacramento 92 The Kings are an athletic team, and that gave the Celtics trouble. For example, with 30 seconds to go Kevin Garnett was going for a game sealing dunk, when Jason Thompson raced over and blocked the shot. Then Thompson ran the floor and got the ball on the block and made his move to tie the game, but was fouled in the act, two shots.

The Kings are an inexperienced team, and that is why the Celtics won this game. Thompson missed both his free throws — Sacramento was 2-10 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter. Next trip down the Kings had to foul and Rasheed Wallace (he of a team-high 17 points), an experienced veteran who hit both his free throws. Next rookie Tyreke Evans missed a layup then Ray Allen hit both of his key late free throws. See the pattern. It won’t be like that for these teams in a year or two, but for now Boston gets these games, even when they are not pretty.

Miami 105 Philadelphia 78 The Sixers use a lot of isolation offense — you can try to blame that on the return of Allen Iverson if you want, but it is a team wide epidemic– and that can be very inconsistent. Tonight was one of the off nights, as they started 11 of 35 from the floor and were down from the start. All night the Sixers settled for jumpers and did not attack the rim with any consistent ferocity. Only one Sixer starter scored double digits (Andre Iguodala with 11).

Credit the Heat for taking advantage of this off Philadelphia team, Miami has won three straight and have looked good (Dwyane Wade dropped 24 in the win).

Chicago 118, New York 85 Basketball is a game about shooting. The Bulls shot 60.5 percent, the Knicks shot 34.6 percent. Maybe the Bulls play with trade rumors hanging over their head better than the Knicks. (Jordan Hill did not make any other GMs covet him with his 0-4 performance). Chris Duhon was back as the starter, and he was back to being his old self, with an unimpressive showing. But really, this game was all about the shooting.

Phoenix 108 Memphis 95 This was a fast-paced game — 99 possessions each. It made for an entertaining game, but one that was played on the Suns terms. They made a big run in the second quarter and essentially that was the ballgame. Amare Stoudemire tempted his suitors with possibilities, finishing with 21 and 10. Robin Lopez finished with 18 and 10 but tempted no one.

Utah 104, Houston 95 This is not that insightful, but I think it true: Utah has more talented players. Both teams play well as units, and when both play at about the same level as team units, the squad with the better players wins.

Portland 109, Los Angeles Clippers 87 When interim coach Kim Hughes loosened the reins on the Clipper offense, I’m sure he did not mean “play only isolation and stop all the ball movement.” But Tuesday night that was pretty much the effect. Even without Brandon Roy for a half — the Trail Blazers must have done something horrible to offend the basketball gods this year — they are a much better team than the collection of Clipper individuals.

Los Angeles Lakers 104, Golden State 94 This one was tied at 89 with 4:30 left in the contest, but the Lakers got serious about their defense and went on a 15-5 run to close the game out. The first 43 minutes of this game were just sloppy, by both teams. Actually, we shouldn’t blame all the Lakers — Andrew Bynum did what he needed to do punishing Golden State inside. Then there was Shannon Brown, who started in place of Kobe and once he stepped inside the arc (1 of 6 from three) was 10 of 13 for a career high 27 points. No Kobe for the Lakers, and their bench returned to its poor play for a night, but Golden State is not good enough to really take advantage of these things/

Detroit 105, Minnesota 85. I care about recapping this game about as much as the Timberwolves cared about defending. Which is to say not at all.

Report: Cavaliers trading Kevin Love ‘not even remotely a consideration’

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Will the Cavaliers trade Kevin Love?

Cleveland’s championship quieted, but didn’t stop, the speculation.

The Cavs’ stance might.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

While there are no shortage of suitors who would take on Love’s contract, sources close to the Cavs say moving him is not even remotely a consideration.

Some parts of the equation haven’t changed since the last trade deadline:

  • Love is a good, and probably now underrated, player who can’t reach his full potential while playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. That’s OK. Most players must sacrifice to fit their team’s needs.
  • Love helps the Cavaliers against most teams. As I said above, he’s really good.
  • The Warriors – the overwhelming championship favorites – present a particularly difficult matchup for Love. The Cavs didn’t quite win the Finals in spite of Love, but his contributions were limited.

But a few things have changed:

  • Cleveland proved it could win a title with Love. There is no longer any doubt.
  • The championship also affects perception. Teams are reluctant to break up their cores coming off a title. It’d be surprising to see Cleveland make a major move until after the 2017 postseason.
  • Specifically, LeBron’s relationship with Love might have improved. Winning cures all ills. After previous reservations, LeBron might feel a stronger connection with Love due to their experiencing a title run together.

So, I buy that the Cavs are firmly against trading Love. The question: Will that stance change once they lose in the playoffs, whether that’s in 2017 or beyond?

Report: Blake Griffin’s camp ‘adamant’ he’ll re-sign with Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06:  Blake Griffin #32 of the the Los Angeles Clippers drirbbles past Metta World Peace #37 of the the Los Angeles Lakers during a basketball game at Staples Center on April 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Doc Rivers said he doesn’t plan to break up the Clippers’ core, and that’s up to him.

For one more season.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can – very likely will – opt out of their contracts next summer, and J.J. Redick will also be a free agent. Will they stay?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he’s not open to going anywhere.

Sources close to the situation say win or lose, Rivers is not open to trade talks on Griffin or Paul and that he’s not worried about either walking away in July.

There are two possibilities:

1. Griffin is truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

2. Griffin is not truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

The second could be true if Griffin wants to spend the upcoming season in Los Angeles before evaluating his options. If Griffin states anything less than a firm commitment to stay, Rivers might trade him.

But let’s take Griffin at his reported word. Even if he honestly plans right now to re-sign, a lot can change in a year. The pressure for the Clippers to advance at least to the conference finals is only mounting. If the Clippers fall short, the resulting fallout could affect Griffin’s thinking.

At minimum, this is bad news for the Thunder – who hoped to pair Griffin with Russell Westbrook – and good news for the Clippers. Griffin leaning one direction now means something, even if it’s not definitive.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it prohibitive for Griffin to sign an extension with the Clippers. So, whatever he thinks today about re-signing, he’ll have to play out the season and evaluate July 1.

Report: Timberwolves signing Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: John Lucas III #15 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 77-69. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.

The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.

The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.

It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.

The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.

Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.

*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.

The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: James Harden ‘only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch’

Daryl Morey, James Harden
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Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?

I know I do.

Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.

His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.

But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.

Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.

Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.

Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:

“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”

Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.

But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.

For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.

I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.