Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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Here’s what happened Saturday, while you were Wikipedia’ing Curling

Thunder 121 Knicks 118: We’ve already told you about T-Mac, and we’ll touch on Durant for you shortly (and often), but Russell Westbrook was the story you won’t be reading about.

There may be no single point guard in the league I want taking a finger roll straight-on to the basket in transition more than Russell Westbrook. Some guards float them, others flip them, but Westbrook’s athleticism enables him to drop the ball in like he’s dropping his change in a tollbooth. Westbrook was simply astounding at the rim, as most of the Thunder were. They relentlessly attack and if they miss, surprising rookie Serge Ibaka is there.

Impressive defense from the Knicks tonight, and that’s no joke. The effort was there, the focus was there, they had their head on their shoulder and not up their trade deadlines, and it just wasn’t enough. Because Westbrook and Durant, at this point in their careers, this young, are just too good.

Raptors 109 Wizards 104: Typically, crushing defeats that result from blowing a nine point lead with five to go feel worse than this. But this one? Well…

Let me put it this way. There were wins the Wizards would peel off this season that still felt like losses. The pointless gimme game from a distracted opponent. But this was just the opposite. Jarret Jack goes off for 23 points, including seven straight down the stretch? Josh Howard goes frozen in the second half? Andrea Bargnani gets four blocks?

You can live with that, on the road, on the second game of a back to back (SEGABABA). The Wizards were there. Right there. That effort is what’s vital. The fact that that effort is translating to long stretches of cohesion and production, that’s vital. They needed someone to step up and hit a big one late, and they couldn’t. But they’ll find that guy (Josh Howard) and he’ll step up if they keep this up. It was a loss, but it didn’t feel like a loss. Small consolation to Wizards’ fans, probably.

For the Raps? If the beginning of their season was marked by superb talent not translating to production, their mid-season has been marked by the words “just getting it done.” They are not a good defensive team. But they make good defensive plays, like the double on Josh Howard with less than four minutes to go that absolutely froze the possession. Just getting it done is better than style points.

Chicago 122 Philadelphia 90: Here’s a fun trivia fact. In four games since the All-Star break, the Bulls, the offensively horrendous Bulls have averaged 113.75 points per game.

Let that one sink in. Now, they’ve played New York twice, the Wolves, and the Sixers. But the fact remains that for whatever reason, the Bulls are clicking offensively.

A lot of it is Kirk Hinrich, who became the record-holder for most threes in Bulls’ history, simply returning to form. There was a lot of talk that Hinrich had simply ‘lost it.’ But with his age, that was simply unlikely. It was a long cold spell but it looks as if Hinrich is finally coming out of it, and when you combine that wish his defense, he becomes a vital part of the team.

Then there’s Taj Gibson, 20 points and 13 rebounds with 2 blocks. Bulls fans HATED this kid to start the season. But he’s kept his head down and just worked, and worked, and worked his way to being one of the more impressive rookie bigs of his class, even if he’s not DeJuan Blair.

The Sixers had no intention of defending tonight, and couldn’t tell the locker room from the concession stand. Eddie Jordan’s club is just lost at this point.

Hakim Warrick had one of those sick, in-traffic, went up late so you have to curl the ball over the rim dunks late in the third quarter. It was nasty.

Pacers 125 Rockets 115: Let this serve as a warning game.

The Rockets’ problem as of late was not offense. So the addition of Kevin Martin is not going to cure all ills. And losing to Indiana, at home, after a two-day layoff? That’s a bad loss. The Rockets’ constant over-effort is going to take its toll, and you have to wonder if they’re going to have enough left in the tank to push for the playoffs.

The Pacers? They created free throws and kept their turnovers to a reasonable degree in a fast paced game (estimated 103 possessions). You have to love Danny Granger’s silk when it’s going. Good on the Pacers, making sure they don’t get a meaningful draft pick.

Wait.

Milwaukee 93 Charlotte 88: How do the Cats beat the Cavs one night and lose to the Bucks the next? Simple. Too much of the Cavs’ offense is “Give to LeBron, watch.”  The Bucks? They made a concerted effort to find that extra pass. In transition for trailer layups, on the perimeter to find open threes, probing, testing the defense. If you put Charlotte back on its mental heels, you limit their ability to interrupt you. Come straight at them, and they brace the lances and impale you.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute deserves defensive player of the year attention. He doesn’t deserve the award, but he deserves some attention for it.

Dallas 97 Miami 91: Take out Jason Terry’s 0-fer-10 night. The Mavericks shot 33 of 63. And when you get efficient scoring like 97 points on 73 shots? You’re going to win quite a few games.

Here’s what’s important. You can see the Mavericks adjusting to their new teammates, and how interested those new teammates are in playing. Butler is slashing, catching, dishing, shooting. And Haywood is just relentless. Haywood isn’t going to land a knockout blow. He’s not going to dominate the game. But he’s part of the war of attrition the Mavs wage, and it’s working.

Daequan Cook lead all Heat scorers. That pretty much sums it up, no?

Clippers 99 Kings 89: It’s hare to say that the Clippers are really better than the Kings, but I will posit that they are playing better this season. The Clips can do some damage if they get a chance, and the Kings gave them that chance.  Evans is a monster, the rest of the team was a no-show, Landry had 10 points on eleven shots.

The Kings did win one battle, though. They have a future. The Clips do not.

Report: Celtics not interested in trading for Dwight Howard

HOUSTON, TX - NOVEMBER 19:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets battles for the ball with Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics at the Toyota Center on November 19, 2013 in Houston, Texas. 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Rockets and Celtics reportedly talked about a Dwight Howard trade, though at the time, it seemed Houston was averse to dealing the center.

Now, that the Rockets are reportedly shopping Howard, is Boston a potential destination?

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

The Celtics currently have almost no interest in trading for Howard, 30, a talented center with a history of back issues and a questionable work ethic. He can opt out of his contract at season’s end, and even if he wanted to re-sign with Boston, the team would have reservations about offering a long-term deal. Also, Howard is not viewed as a player who would help attract another top free agent to Boston this summer.

The Celtics are in a great spot. Not only are playing well now, they have some nice players (including All-Star Isaiah Thomas and underrated Jae Crowder) and a boatload of draft picks.

They don’t need to cash in their chips for Howard.

Howard could help this team protect the rim and score inside, even as a rental. But at that point, it’s doubtful Boston would value him enough to offer the Rockets enough to deal him.

If the Celtics don’t want to pay Howard big dollars into his 30s – especially if they don’t think other stars want to play with him – there’s really no point dealing for him.

Houston will apparently have to find a team more desperate.*

*But also with assets. Sorry, Nets.

Gregg Popovich on coaching carousel: “I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired”

MIAMI, FL - FEBRUARY 09: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs looks on during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on February 9, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — There has never been as much intrigue or confusion surrounding the All-Star coaches in both conferences. Steve Kerr is ineligible to coach the Western Conference, given that he coached them last year, but since he was officially credited with the wins that Luke Walton accrued while he was recovering from back surgery, Walton wasn’t eligible either. So that led to the selection of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, who was second in line.

Out east, the Cavaliers received the honor of having their head coach make the trip to Toronto…but they let David Blatt go while they were in first place in the conference, meaning his midseason replacement, Tyronn Lue, gets to coach the team.

Popovich was as confused as anyone about all of this, especially Blatt’s firing.

“I feel for every coach that’s ever been fired, including David,” Popovich said Friday morning at All-Star media day. “He’s a great coach. But usually people are fired for circumstances that are beyond their control, and it usually has nothing to do with whether they’re a good coach or not. I find that to be the case almost all the time. But as far as judging an organization, I’ll leave that to you guys.”

Blatt wasn’t the first coach to be fired during the 2015-16 season, and he isn’t the last, either. As we enter the All-Star break, five teams have fired coaches in-season: the Cavaliers, Rockets (Kevin McHale), Nets (Lionel Hollins), Suns (Jeff Hornacek) and Knicks (Derek Fisher).

The coaching ranks are fiercely loyal to their own, none more so than Popovich, who is the longest tenured coach in the league. Needless to say, he isn’t a fan of the shorter leash that coaches are getting.

“We all know getting into this what the volatile aspects of the job are,” Popovich said. “But being humans you still hope for fairness and that sort of thing. But the bottom line is most firings have nothing to do with the ability of the coach, and that’s the same.”

On Lue’s end, he recognizes the awkwardness of the situation that Blatt’s dismissal put him in, and has nothing but praise for his predecessor.

“Me and Coach Blatt have a great relationship,” Lue said. “He did a great job. We went to the NBA Finals together, and he’s put us in this position to be number one, close to the All-Star Game. So I think Coach Blatt definitely deserves a job in this league.”

Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson headline Basketball Hall of Fame finalists

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - FEBRUARY 06:  Former NBA player Shaquille O'Neal attends Fanatics Super Bowl Party on February 6, 2016 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by C Flanigan/Getty Images)
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TORONTO —  The 2016 Basketball Hall of Fame class is shaping up to be star-studded with Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson and Yao Ming.

But today’s announcement – which named Shaq and Iverson as finalists – omitted Yao, who was nominated through the international committee. That didn’t stop Yao and Shaq from taking jabs at each other during the announcement ceremony.

“I feel very excited and very honored to be nominated,” Yao said, then mentioned Shaq and added, “I’m just worried when we stand on the podium together, can it handle our weight?”

And Yao Ming, he used to travel all the time when he’d shoot that fadeaway,” Shaq countered later.

Some Hall of Famers were already on the stage — Isiah Thomas, Reggie Miller, Oscar Robertson, Nate “Tiny” Archibald, Spencer Haywood, and Bill Russell among others — and both Iverson and Shaq acknowledged the trail those guys blazed for the players to follow.

“I want to thank all the guys on the stage, except Rick Barry,” Shaq joked. “He came to LSU and wanted me to shoot free throws underhanded. I can’t do it. I’d rather shoot zero percent than shoot free throws underhanded… And Dick Bavetta, I don’t like you either, you gave me 10 technicals and threw me out of the game twice.”

No matter the nomination process, I still expect Yao to make it, but in a departure of previous procedure, his enshrinement wasn’t announced today.

Who would join him?

Here are the four NBA finalists, via the Hall’s release:

SHAQUILLE O’NEAL [Player] – A four-time NBA Champion (2000, 2001, 2002, 2006), O’Neal played 19 years in the NBA averaging 23.7 points, 10.9 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game.  A 15-time NBA All-Star (1993-98, 2000-07, 2009), O’Neal led the league in field goal percentage for 10 seasons (1994, 1998-2002, 2004-06, 2009) and ranks seventh on the NBA All-Time scoring list. He was named NBA MVP (2000), NBA Finals MVP three times (2000-02) and NBA Rookie of the Year (1993). At Louisiana State University (1989-92), O’Neal led the country in rebounding (1991) and blocked shots (1992) while earning unanimous First-Team All America honors (1991-92). O’Neal is an Olympic gold medalist (1996) and a member of the NBA 50th Anniversary All-Time Team.

ALLEN IVERSON [Player] – A nine-time NBA All-Star (2000-06, 2008, 2009), Iverson played 14 NBA seasons averaging 26.7 points and 6.2 assists per game. A three-time All-NBA First Team selection (1999, 2001, 2005), he led the league in scoring average four times (1999, 2001, 2002, 2005), steals per game three times (2001-03) and minutes per game seven times (1999, 2001-04, 2006-08). Iverson was named NBA Rookie of the Year in 1997 and NBA MVP in 2001. The Hampton, Virginia native attended Georgetown University (1994-1996) where he set the school record for career scoring average and earned consensus First Team All-America honors (1996).

KEVIN JOHNSON [Player] – After playing for University of California Berkley from 1983-1987, Johnson played12 years in the NBA and holds the NBA Finals single-game record for most minutes played with 62.  Johnson is the first player in NBA history to average at least 20 points, 10 assists, a .500 field goal percentage and two steals per game for an entire season.  In 1989, he earned the NBA Most Improved Player award. The three-time NBA All-Star (1990, 1991, 1994) is also an All-NBA Second Team member (1989, 1990, 1991, 1994). Now the mayor of his hometown of Sacramento, CA, Johnson was a major advocate of keeping the Sacramento Kings NBA team in the city when it was at high risk of moving.

DARELL GARRETSON [Referee] – Garettson, a native of Long Point, IL, served as an NBA official for 27 years, officiating 1,798 regular season games, 269 playoff games, 41 Finals games and five All-Star games. He was instrumental in organizing and heading the first union for referees, the National Association of Basketball Referees. He is widely considered the individual who shaped modern basketball officiating with a three-person crew and a focus on “refereeing the defense”. He served as NBA Chief of Officiating Staff and Director of Officials (1981-98) and is the only person to have served as a staff referee and Chief of Staff simultaneously.

Shaq and Iverson are locks. Johnson’s inclusion makes me more uneasy than anything. No offense to Garretson, but the Hall of Fame features too many referees already.

The other finalists:

TOM IZZO [Coach] – A native of Iron Mountain, Michigan, Izzo has led Mighican State to seven NCAA Final Four appearances (1999-01, 2005, 2009, 2010, 2015). With 18 consecutive trips to the NCAA tournament, his team won the NCAA National Championship in 2000. Izzo has coached Michigan State to seven Big Ten regular season championships (1998-2001, 2009, 2010, 2012), four Big Ten Tournament championships (1999, 2000, 2012, 2014), and 13 Sweet Sixteen appearances. He was named Big Ten Coach of the Year three times (1998, 2009, 2012), NABC Coach of the Year twice (2001, 2012), Clair Bee Coach of the Year (2005) and Associated Press National Coach of the Year (1998).

BO RYAN [Coach] – A native of Chester, Pennsylvania, Ryan has been named the Big Ten Coach of the Year four times (2002, 2003, 2013, 2015) while coaching at University of Wisconsin. Prior to Wisconsin, he coached at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (1999-2000) and University of Wisconsin-Platteville (1984-1999) where his team won four NCAA Division III Championships (1991, 1995, 1998, 1999). Ryan led Wisconsin to four Big Ten regular season championships (2002, 2003, 2008, 2015), three Big Ten Tournament championships (2004, 2008, 2015), and the NCAA Final Four twice (2014, 2015). Ryan is a recipient of the Clair Bee Coach of the Year Award (2007), NABC Outstanding Service Award (2009) and Coaches vs. Cancer Champion Award (2013).

EDDIE SUTTON [Coach] – The four-time National Coach of the Year (1977, 1978, 1986, 1995) and eight-time Conference Coach of the Year (1975, 1977, 1979, 1981, 1986, 1993, 1998, 2004) is the first coach in NCAA history to lead four different schools in the NCAA Tournament. Sutton currently ranks seventh among Division I coaches in all-time victories and has recorded only one losing season in 37 years of coaching. He coached Oklahoma State University from 1991-2006 and tied the conference record for wins by a first-year coach with 24. Sutton guided his teams to three Final Fours, six Elite Eights and 12 Sweet Sixteen appearances.

CHARLES “LEFTY’ DRIESELL [Coach] – A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Driesell is the only coach in NCAA history to win 100 games at four different schools and just one of four coaches to lead four schools to the NCAA Tournament. He is the only coach in NCAA history to be named Conference Coach of the Year in four different conferences. He currently ranks eighth among Division I coaches in all-time victories with an overall coaching record of 786-394 (.666). He received the NCAA Award of Valor in 1974 after saving children from a house fire and was inducted in the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

JOHN MCLENDON [Coach] – A native of Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon was the first coach to win three consecutive national championships, leading Tennessee State to NAIA National Championships in 1957, 1958 and 1959. He compiled a collegiate coaching record of 522-165 (.760) and was named NAIA Coach of the Year in 1958. He was the first African-American coach to accomplish many feats including winning a national tournament (1954), winning a national championship (1957) and winning an AAU national championship (1961). He was the first African-American coach to coach in a professional league, the ABA. Already enshrined in the Hall of Fame as a “Contributor,” he is now named a finalist by the North American Committee as a coach.

ROBERT HUGHES [Coach] – Hughes coached high school basketball in Texas for 47 years during periods of both segregation and integration – for which he was a great advocate. He ranks first on the all-time wins list for boy’s high school coaches and has compiled an overall high school coaching record of 1,333-247 (.844), leading his teams to 35 district championships and five state championships. He served as head coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2001). He was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2003) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). He has been inducted into the Texas Basketball Hall of Fame (1993) and High School Basketball Hall of Fame (2003).

LETA ANDREWS [Coach] – Andrews has coached high school basketball for over 50 years and is the all-time winningest high school coach, male or female. She has coached five high schools in Texas since 1962 and has led them to 16 state Final Four appearances, plus a state championship in 1990. Andrews also served as Head Coach of the McDonald’s All-American Game West team (2004). She was named the NHSCA National High School Coach of the Year (2007) and recipient of the Morgan Wootten Lifetime Achievement Award (2007). She has been inducted into the High School Basketball Hall of Fame (1995) and Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2010).

MUFFET MCGRAW [Coach] – McGraw is a three-time Consensus National College Coach of the Year (2001, 2013, 2014) and five-time Conference Coach of the Year (1983,1988, 1991, 2001, 2013). As the coach of Notre Dame women’s basketball since 1987, she ranks seventh on the active coaches win list. She has led Notre Dame to 22 trips to the NCAA Tournament, including 13 NCAA Sweet Sixteens, seven NCAA Elite Eights and seven NCAA Final Fours (1997, 2001, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015) with one National Championship in 2001. In 2001, 2013 and 2014 she was named the Naismith Coach of the Year, Associated Press College Basketball Coach of the Year, WBCA National Coach of the Year and USBWA National Coach of the Year.

SHERYL SWOOPES [Player] – A six-time WNBA All-Star (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006), Swoopes played 12 WNBA seasons averaging 15 points, 4.9 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game. A five-time All-WNBA First Team selection (1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005), she was also named Defensive Player of the Year three times (2000, 2002, 2003) and WNBA MVP three times (2000, 2002, 2005). As a member of the Houston Comets, Swoopes won four WNBA Championships (1997-2000). While setting an NCCA championship record for points scored with 47, the Brownfield, Texas native won an NCAA Championship with Texas Tech (1993). Swoopes is a three-time Olympic gold medalist (1996, 2000, 2004) and a member of the WNBA All-Decade Team.

WAYLAND BAPTIST UNIVERSITY [Team] – Coached by Hall of Fame nominee Harley Redin, the Wayland Baptist University women’s basketball team won 131 consecutive games from 1953-58 and 10 AAU National Championships overall (1954, 1955, 1956, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1970, 1971, 1974, 1975).  Rosters included exceptional players such as Marsha Sharp, a three-time AAU All-American Patsy Neal, two-time FIBA World Championships gold medalist Katherine Washington, co-captain of the 1980 United States Olympic team Jill Rankin, and AAU national tournament MVP Lometa Odom. Coach Redin and team sponsor Claude Hucherson, as well as five players have been enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. The team as a whole was recognized as Trailblazers of the Game in 2013.

Kurt Helin contributed to this story from Toronto.

Report: Andrew Wiggins vexes Timberwolves by skipping weightlift sessions

Minnesota Timberwolves guard Andrew Wiggins, right, shoots as Los Angeles Lakers center Tarik Black defends during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, Feb. 2, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Lakers won 119-115. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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The Timberwolves suffered through a miserable 16-win season last year with a teenage shooting guard running point for them.

Their reward?

The teen, Zach LaVine, picked up valuable ball-handling and distributing experience that should serve him well. Andrew Wiggins, who won Rookie of the Year, spent significant time at shooting guard without having to battle more physically developed forwards. And – best of all – Minnesota lost enough to land the No. 1 pick in the draft, Karl-Anthony Towns.

This team looks primed for a bright future with LaVine at shooting guard, Wiggins at small forward and Towns at center. The Timberwolves must still determine whether they want to ride with Ricky Rubio at point guard and find a power forward, but they’re well on their way.

There is a hitch in the plan, though

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

One of the keys to Minnesota’s future success is for Wiggins, 20, to be strong enough to be a full-time small forward and open up the shooting-guard position for LaVine, also 20. Team insiders, though, lament how many weightlifting sessions Wiggins skips, and the supposedly slim-fit, sleeved jerseys the Wolves love to wear show the ample room to grow in his arms.

I think this assessment underrates Wiggins strength. He certainly has more room to fill out, but it’s not as if he’s some weakling out there.

Wiggins even uses his strength to his advantage in clear ways. He ranks in the 96th percentile when defending a post-up that ends a play. His 7.2 free-attempts per game rank eighth in the NBA.

That’s not because he’s a crafty veteran with a bag of tricks. It’s because he’s reasonably strong.

That said, the Timberwolves aren’t necessarily wrong for being dismayed with Wiggins. If he’s skipping weightlifting sessions – especially in Minnesota emphasized them to increase his viability with LaVine – that’s problematic. LaVine, who’s coming off the bench, should be especially perturbed.

These are the types of issues that come up with young teams trying to make the next step. Some figure it out. Some just move past the noise.

I don’t know how the Timberwolves will handle this, but – with Wiggins, LaVine and Towns – they have potential to be special if they figure it out.