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.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”