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.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.

Report: In surprise to nobody, Bismack Biyombo will decline option, become free agent

TORONTO, ON - MAY 27:  Bismack Biyombo #8 of the Toronto Raptors reacts after being called for a foul against the Cleveland Cavaliers in the first quarter in game six of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Air Canada Centre on May 27, 2016 in Toronto, Canada. 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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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This is not only expected, but it’s also the move all of us would make. Unless you hate money.

Raptors big man Bismack Biyombo has a player option on his contract for next year, pick it up and he returns to the Raptors at $2.9 million. Or, he can decline the option and become a free agent, where he may make about $17 million a season. So what do you think he’s doing? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Certainly, the Raptors can’t retain Biyombo’s services, it’s just going to be expensive to do so.

If $15 million (at least) seems a lot for a player who can only impact the defensive end of the floor because of poor hands and a limited offensive game, you would be correct. Welcome to the crazy cap-spike summer the NBA is about to experience. The market will be flooded with cash (at least 20 teams will be able to afford a max player) and players with a valuable skill hitting that market are going to get PAID. Biyombo can block shots and rebound like a beast, and in an increasingly small-ball NBA era those skills have value. Teams will live with having to play 4-on-5 on offense to have those skills on the roster.

The real question is which teams — the Lakers? — and how much of that cap space are they willing to give up for him? It’s going to be an interesting July.