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.

Stephen Curry would love to captain Team Stephen again in 2019

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Stephen Curry would love to be an NBA All-Star Game captain again next year, especially since the game will be in his hometown of Charlotte.

LeBron James would be OK with someone else taking his place, depending on who the top two vote-getters are, although his draft prowess led to Team LeBron beating Team Stephen 148-145 Sunday night.

And there’s a definite appetite for the NBA to televise the captains’ draft rather than conduct it clandestinely like it was this year.

“Televise it,” said DeMar DeRozan of Team Stephen. “Give the people what they want to see. I think everybody wants to see it. At the end of the day, every single person that gets picked, you are an All-Star, so it doesn’t matter where you really go, so I think televise it.”

Players raved about the new format of having captains draft the teams rather than the traditional format of East vs. West.

And James finally revealed his draft order: Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, his former Cleveland teammate Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins, who missed the game due to a season-ending injury.

“I know who I like watching and I had a draft board. I had a process,” James said. “Some of it went according to plan. A couple of them fell through, but I was satisfied and happy with the guys that I got.”

James’ original roster was dramatically altered by injuries to Cousins, John Wall, Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Love, who all missed the game.

“Even with the four guys that got injured we were able to get four new guys that came in and played well for us.”

James was named the game’s MVP after making the go-ahead, finger-roll layup with 34.5 seconds left and scoring a game-high 29 points.

Where did he hide his draft board?

“Ain’t none of your business. You’re going too far, man,” James said with a laugh.

Curry didn’t divulge his draft order.

“As the draft kind of unfolded, you start to game plan around positions,” he said. “For me, I tried to get the best shooters. It was kind of cool to see both teams come together as me and LeBron were picking. So that part, that vibe of the format and having two guys select from your peers will be a fun show as it unfolds year after year.”

The All-Star draft led to interesting dynamics on court.

Curry chose his Golden State teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but the trio had to play against Durant. James also chose Oklahoma City duo Westbrook and Paul George to play along with Kyrie Irving, who forced a trade away from James in Cleveland just last summer.

Irving and James had no obvious friction, even laughing and joking on the bench. Neither did Durant and Westbrook, who broke up in 2016 when Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State.

Durant helped James smother Curry in the final seconds to prevent him from getting off a potential tying shot.

And then there was Toronto’s Dwane Casey coaching Team LeBron against Raptors star DeRozan.

“I think that having the captains and selecting the guys and being able to mix them up gave it a more authentic feel of kind of what us players want to be part of in an All-Star Game,” Irving said.

“It’s great to play with guys in your conference, East-West. But when you get a chance to have Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and you know they’re teammates already, and then you mix them with myself and Kemba (Walker), and LeBron, and you could see the mix and it just worked.”

 

Will Sam Hinkie ever be an NBA GM again?

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The buzz around the NBA is that Sam Hinkie would like to get back in the game. He’s a bright guy who is teaching graduate business classes at Stanford, he’s investing in and helping some startups in the Silicon Valley. Like smart people in every walk of life, NBA GMs have interests outside of just their profession. Hinkie can live a very good life outside the NBA world if he so chooses, but the buzz is he wants back in.

Will a team let him?

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report asked other executives about the potential of a Hinkie return, in a story about his legacy. There was caution.

One owner of an Eastern Conference team said (Hinkie’s 13-page, esoteric resignation) letter—which was not intended to be shared publicly—damaged Hinkie’s chances of being hired to run a franchise again as much as anything he did while with the Sixers. Still, sources both close to Hinkie and around the league said owners and executives routinely reach out to him for counsel. Several basketball operations vice presidents and owners said they would hire him, but they wouldn’t put him in charge.

Others believe Hinkie and The Process weren’t given a full trial, and that he didn’t do anything wrong as much as the league turned on him.

“They clearly changed the rules on Sam,” the longtime front office executive said. “That wasn’t all on him. If he lasts five more months, maybe it all looks different and he is given credit for what they’re doing now.”…

“Once you stockpiled all those talented players, was Sam capable of flipping the switch and becoming a real GM?” the second Western Conference GM asked. “Because you don’t hire the demolitionist to do the remodel. Those are two different jobs with two different skill sets.”

Hinkie gamed the system in Philadelphia — with ownership’s blessing, at first. Until the pressure from the league and other owners, and the weight of the losses, became too much. Jerry Colangelo came in and the writing was on the wall for Hinkie and “The Process.” Every team has “tanked” to improve draft position and gain financial flexibility at some point, but nobody was as naked and extreme in their ambitions as Hinkie’s 76ers. Most Sixers fans seemed to get it, but other owners didn’t like what it said about the business of the NBA.

The Process also worked — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz (who has yet to play but will make a difference) have the Sixers as an on-the-rise team that makes the playoffs this year. Whether they get there depends on Embiid’s health and if the right players can be put around them, but he started a process that works.

At some point, I expect a team will give Hinkie another shot, a team near the bottom of the standings in a smaller market with an owner ready to gamble. It may be, as the one executive suggested, Hinkie in some kind of executive role setting the tone while another “GM” handles the day-to-day and relationships, but I expect Hinkie will get his shot. He learned some lessons the first time around, and his model in Philly is not one size fits all (especially with the draft lottery changes that kick in for 2019).  But he deserves another turn in the big chair somewhere.

Donovan Mitchell: I was at LeBron James’ Decision

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Donovan Mitchell has turned heads with the Jazz then made the most of his All-Star stage, winning the dunk contest.

But that wasn’t the first time he neared the spotlight.

Mitchell explained how he attended The Decision, LeBron James‘ 2010 free-agency TV special, where he announced he’d sign with the Heat.

Mitchell, via Dan Devine of Yahoo Sports:

“I was there, when he had The Decision,” Mitchell explained. “So that would probably be the biggest one.”

Like, there there?

“It was in Greenwich, Conn., and I went to school in Greenwich [at Greenwich Country Day School],” he said. “So, as a big LeBron fan in the sixth grade, I forced my mom to let me go. I wanted him to go to Miami. I wanted him to get his first ring.”

Young Donovan was glad to see one of his favorite players chart a course for a more successful future. Not everybody at the Greenwich Boys & Girls Club shared his enthusiasm.

“The people there who were Knicks fans … they weren’t too happy about it,” Mitchell said. “I almost got hit in the head with a Snapple bottle because they were just throwing stuff around outside. It was cool. I was just celebrating, so it was pretty cool.”

What a cool bit of happenstance.

Damian Lillard’s goal in meeting with Trail Blazers owner Paul Allen: ‘Spark that urgency’

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Alleviating Paul Allen’s fear, Damian Lillard didn’t request a trade in his requested meeting with the Trail Blazers owner.

So, what did Lillard want to accomplish?

Lillard, in an interview with Rachel Nichols of ESPN:

It was just me showing urgency, spark that urgency, figure out, “OK, what do we have to do?” We’re a five, six seed. What do we got to do to make the jump? If you don’t have a line of communication with people who can make the changes or the people who can make impact for things happening for the better, then you’re just going out there playing.

Paralyzed by a huge payroll, the Trail Blazers have been going the opposite direction. They dumped Allen Crabbe and Noah Vonleh in their last two significant trades. Portland could let Ed Davis and Shabazz Napier walk in free agency this summer. Luxury-tax concerns aren’t vanishing. Evan Turner‘s, Maurice Harkless’ and Meyers Leonard‘s are major obstacles to upgrading the roster.

The Trail Blazers could be stuck.

That’d be rough news for Lillard, who’s already 27. I understand why he’s trying to push the envelope. His prime is ticking down.

I’m just not sure Portland can help him accomplish his championship-contention goals anytime soon, as hard as he presses.