Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Friday while you were debating Tiger’s human touch:

Mavericks 95 Magic 85: And things were going so well for the Magic, too. Dwight Howard was beastin’-flat-out-beastin’ with 29 points, six rebounds, and five blocks. Those weren’t easy stats, either, as Brendan Haywood fits into this team like a glove. But Howard had the turnaround bank going, and that’s incredibly hard to stop. The Magic had ball movement, were rolling, everything looked good for a home win.

But two things helped sink the Magic. One, and stop me if you’ve heard this one, the Magic’s threes stopped falling, ending up just 4 for 25 (!). You’d think at some point they’d stop shooting them, but if the defense is able to deny penetration and tease them into taking 3’s, Orlando will bomb all day. And if they’re not hitting, they’re sunk.

Two, a 19-0 run between the 3rd and 4th periods. The Mavericks just absolutely blew the doors off the hinges during this stretch, and that was really the run. It was marked by contributions from everyone. Butler created off the cut, Haywood finished off of weakside draws, Shawn Marion controlled the boards, and Dirk and Terry rang up the points like a pinball machine.

I know Dirk is the obvious point here (23 points, 5 assists, 3 blocks), but you expect Dirk to do that kind of damage (and usually off fewer than 24 shots).  Throw in some defense and Dirk, and a huge road win for the Mavs.

J.J Redick, Jason Williams, and Ryan Anderson were 0-10 from the field. Now that’s a Whiteout.

Wizards 107 Nuggets 97: Hell hath no fury like scoring wings spurned. Josh Howard and Al Thornton, two scoring small forwards whose teams thought they were expendable and shipped them out before the trade deadline, went OFF. Try 15 of 23 shooting for 41 points and an inspiring win for the hard-luck Wizards.

The Wizards definitely benefited from the Nuggets being on the second game of a back to back (SEGABABA). Nuggets defenders were pretty much giving the “one-try, oh, he’s too far, nevermind”approach.And the Nuggets are built to attack super-long, big forwards in the West, like Amaré Stoudemire, Pau Gasol, etc. They’re less adept at shutting down athletic thin-wings like Horford and Howard, especially when they’re motivated.

James Singleton, largely considered a throw-away in the Butler trade, had 7 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks (including a weakside erasure of J.R. Smith at the rim early in the fourth) in 20 minutes. It’s had not to root for the Wizards, who are showing the most effort they have all year.

Bobcats 110 Cavaliers 93: We already covered the Jamison FAIL escapade, so what else fell into this little blip on the radar screen? LeBron James and Anderson Varejao had eight rebounds combined. Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson had eight rebounds each. Mo Williams got thoroughly outplayed by D.J. Augustine, who looked as if Flip Murray took whatever funk had been holding over Augustine with him.

Stephen Jackson’s ability to simply create shots is huge for this squad. It allows them to focus on the defensive end, where they are absolutely phenomenal. Charlotte kills itself to run off threes, disrupts passing lanes in whatever way it can, and and focuses on consistent, efficient offense. Big win for the Çats, who are looking more and more like the team you don’t want to run into in the playoffs, first round.

Tyrus Thomas with 9 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks in 25 minutes. Big up yourself, youngster.

Philadelphia 106, San Antonio 94: There was a time, not so many years ago, when in the fourth quarter the Spurs were always the aggressor. Those days have largely gone the way of the Dodo, especially on the road. San Antonio was up three going into the fourth but the Sixers stepped up the defensive pressure and forced five turnovers, then were rewarded with some easy transition hoops. The Sixers attacked the rim and got to the line 11 times in the final stanza. That was the ball game. In the NBA the aggressors get the calls and the wins.

Raptors 106 Nets 89: Seven Raptors were in double figures, three Nets were. This is a terrible matchup for the Nets, who don’t have many matchup advantages all season long to begin with. But a fast-paced offensively geared team with tall players? Doom.

Brook Lopez had 22 points on 12 shots, and a whole bunch of sadness.

Hornets 107 Pacers 106: The Pacers let a rookie point guard, a sensational point guard, but still, rack up 13 rebounds on his way to a triple-double. I don’t know what else to tell you about this one.

The Hornets’ focus was largely the difference in this one. The Pacers got some points, had some opportunities, but when they need a stop, when they absolutely must get a stop, they have neither the personnel nor the system to get them.

Darren Collison may not win rookie of the year, but he’s going to warrant a few votes.

Heat 100 Grizzlies 87: If the Grizzlies had not started the game in the refrigerator. or not ended the game melting in the oven, they would have beaten a Dwyane-Wade-less Heat team. But an abysmal first half that saw the Grizzlies score only 31 points total dug them a hole they spent the rest of the game crawling out of, unable to kick the Heat off towards the end of regulation thanks to Michael Beasley. Then in the second overtime, Udonis Haslem took over, and that was that.

At one point in the 2nd overtime, Mike Conley simply lost his dribble, right into a steal, then fouled the stealer, racking up his fifth foul. It is largely representative of his career.

Ronnie Brewer strained his hamstring, limiting the Grizzlies’ pathetic depth even more.

Michael Beasley’s jumper is as pure as mountain snow.

Bulls 100 Wolves 84: The Wolves actually hung around in this one, actually leading at the break. But Kirk Hinrich may be slowly finding his shot (7-12, 2-2 from the arc), and that makes the Bulls a lot tougher to beat when combined with that defense.

Vinny Del Negro takes a lot of flack for his coaching, but defense is tough to coach in the NBA, and the Bulls just go out and do it. Without Joakim Noah, with Derrick Rose only getting to the stripe four times, the Bulls just lock down and made a bad offensive team play badly.

Bucks 91 Pistons 84:

Dribble-dribble-dribble.

Dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble.

Dribble-dribble-miss-rebound-dribble-dribble.

And that was 48 minutes of life the fans wish
they had back. The winning t
eam shot 38% from the floor. The Pistons just are discombobulated, all the time, both sides of the floor. They know what they want to run, they just don’t know how to do it.

Ersan Ilyasova needs more attention for the Bucks. 6-6 for 16 points and his ability to have the offense run through him is notable for a rookie. He’s like the anti-Ben Gordon. Efficient, underpaid, and fluid.

Suns 88 Hawks 80: I would have expected that total at the half.

The Hawks just didn’t have it. Not their usual effort defensively, not their usual efficiency offensively. The Suns were able to get easy buckets inside when they wanted and able to deny Atlanta the same. When that happens, the Hawks become pedestrian, human, mortal. Amaré Stoudemire, who still plays for the Suns, had 22 points and 8 boards.

Celtics 96 Blazers 76: A focused, angry, veteran team came in and punched a young, injured, uncertain team in the face. They did not get up.

KG was in full-on bully mode, getting into it with Andre Miller among others. The Celtics set up shop in the paint, charged rent, with interest, and had this thing wrapped up by the end of the 1st.

Jazz 100, Warriors 89: Simplest game of the night to explain — the more talented, more disciplined team won. The Jazz ran their flex offense, exploited the mismatches with Boozer (30 points) and Kirilenko (22 points), plus played smart defense and jumped obvious passing lanes. That was more than enough. The game wasn’t as close as the final score. 

Wall has to work for recognition among top NBA point guards

Washington Wizards guard John Wall dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls, Monday, Jan. 11, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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WASHINGTON (AP) — Fresh off scoring 51 points against the Washington Wizards, reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry praised John Wall, who dropped a quiet 41 against the Warriors.

“He’s a top-tier point guard,” Curry said, “and it’s like that – not his caliber every night – but obviously at the point guard position you’re going to have some talent on the other side of the ball most nights.”

Wall has never played better in what is now a point-guard league.

It doesn’t stop with Curry. The talent pool includes Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving, Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, Boston’s Isaiah Thomas, Portland’s Damian Lillard, Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook and the Los Angeles Clippers’ Chris Paul, to name a few.

“I think I’m having a career year,” Wall said. “I can say I’m playing my best basketball, but not the way I want to play because it’s not equaling up to wins.”

Wall is an All-Star for the third time but gets lost in the packed field of “top-tier” point guards. His 20.1 points a game are sixth at the position, while his 9.9 assists are third behind only Sacramento’s Rajon Rondo and Westbrook.

But some nights there is just no denying his talents.

Like Tuesday at New York’s Madison Square Garden, Wall had 28 points and 17 assists to lead Washington past the Knicks. It was another showcase performance during a season that hasn’t gone the way he or the Wizards have wanted.

The Wizards will be a sub-.500 team and outside the Eastern Conference playoff picture at the All-Star break. Injuries to sidekick Bradley Beal and many others have hampered Washington this season.

But Wall is holding up his end and is playing like a top-five point guard.

He has an all-around game – the ability to beat defenders off the dribble, to spot up, pass, use his court vision and rebound. As Celtics coach Brad Stevens said recently, “you have to pick your poison” when defending Wall.

“Being able to shoot the ball off the pick and roll with great consistency – that’s what makes defenses choose what to do next,” Stevens said. “He’s been a great passer off the pick and roll.”

There’s no shortage of admiration around the league for Wall, who Philadelphia 76ers coach Brett Brown deemed “the fastest guard in the NBA.” Brown compared Wall to a Maserati sports car and said the 25-year-old has improved because “you learn how to drive your Maserati better.”

Much of Wall’s game has improved in his six pro seasons since he was the first overall pick out of Kentucky in 2010.

“His speed is probably second to none in the NBA. … He’s a one-man fast break and it’s crazy because he logs so many minutes,” Warriors guard Klay Thompson said. “His midrange jumper is also so much improved. You can tell he’s been working on his game a lot, and you like to see that from guys.”

Wall doesn’t get the headlines like Curry, Irving or even Thomas, of late. He has only scored the most points in a game he’s played in eight times this season, but Wall is the kind of player that teams have to game-plan against.

“You’ve got to build a wall against Wall,” Cavaliers star LeBron James said. “You let him play in open court one-on-one, he’s too fast, he’s too strong. He’s going to put your defense at bay.”

Opponents have tried to close off Wall’s drives to the basket and force him to take jump shots. At times, it has worked, like when the Trail Blazers limited him to 4 of 17 shooting in a victory last month.

“When you’re playing against an All-Star-caliber player like him, you work as hard as you can, you try and contain his penetration and hope he misses some jumpers,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said.

More often than not, Wall makes the most of his time and space. Even so, Washington coach Randy Wittman believes Curry should get more recognition than Wall because of team results.

“John’s body of work has been pretty good; he’s been recognized with that,” Wittman said. “You’ve got to go out and play, you’ve got to go out and win. Those are the two things in our league. You want recognition? Be a winner and play your butt off. That’s how you get recognition, and John’s gotten it.”

NBA writer Brian Mahoney contributed to this report.

Report: “Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics”

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The Boston Celtics have assets, a collection of good role players but lacking the true stars, the alpha, the No. 1 option that any team needs to really win in the NBA.

How about Al Horford?

The Hawks are testing the waters for Horford, and as you can see in the video above, Chirs Mannix of Comcast Sportsnet New England (as well as The Vertical at Yahoo Sports) sees a fit.

“I think Boston, Al Horford is a legitimate possibility for the Celtics. I think that is one of the guys across the league that Danny Ainge is the most excited about. He is a four man that would fit right into what Boston is trying to do. It would cost a lot of money to re-sign him in the offseason, but I think Boston is willing to play it, because they haven’t paid a lot of money for players in recent years.”

The question here, of course, is the cost going back. All sources around the league right now say the Hawks are asking for the moon (as Mannix mentions). The givens in this kind of deal would be David Lee‘s expiring contract (for salary reasons), and the Nets unprotected pick. But it’s going to take more. Jae Crowder? Marcus Smart? Avery Bradley? Kelly Olynyk? Isaiah Thomas? It’s going to take a couple of those guys on top of Lee and the pick.

But if you’re the Celtics, that’s the move — you have put together all these assets, now you need to consolidate them into a couple of stars. Horford’s good-at-everything will fit beautifully in Brad Stevens’s system.

Just something to keep your eyes on. Unless the Hawks decide not to move Horford at all. Which is still a possibility, they may not break this thing up.

Damian Lillard added to Team USA Olympic roster pool

Damian Lillard
Getty Images
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If you’re looking for a point guard who can flat-out score the rock, you’ll be hard-pressed to find many better than Damian Lillard. The Trail Blazers’ guard is averaging 24.2 points and 7.3 assists per game, with an above-average true shooting percentage of 54.6 percent, and a very high usage rate of 30.9.

He’s the kind of guy who might have a place on the Team USA Roster.

Which is why USA Basketball has added him to the pool to be considered for the Rio Olympics summer. The reason for the change is both Lillard’s level of play this season, and the fact he called USA Basketball Chairman Jerry Colangelo to ask for a spot, as reported by Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

Lillard deserves consideration, but there are two key reasons he likely doesn’t make the team:

1) He is still a terrible defender.

2) The list of guards for the USA Roster is ridiculous: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kyrie Irving, James Harden, Klay Thompson, John Wall, and Russell Westbrook. And now Lillard. That’s 10 guys for likely five spots. It’s hard to see Lillard making that cut.

But he deserves consideration.

Kings co-owner Shaq: Vivek Ranadivé told me George Karl would coach rest of season

Shaquille O'Neal
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Kings general manager Vlade Divac said keeping George Karl as coach was right move “for now.”

How long is “for now”?

Shaquille O’Neal, a Kings minority owner, shares insight.

Sam Amick of USA Today:

This would mean a little more if Vivek Ranadivé weren’t prone to wild swings. Remember, the Kings said Tyrone Corbin would finish last season as coach before firing him for Karl.

Divac also said in November that Karl would coach the rest of the season, and that came up for debate fewer than three months later.

Shaq’s revelation is as likely to embarrass the Kings in a few weeks as it is to signal Karl’s job security.