Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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nelson_game.jpgWhat happened while you were chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” (or, for our Canadian brethren, feeling blue)…

Magic 101 Cavs 95:
Let today stand as the reminder that the East is still cyclical. At different points this season, Orlando, Boston, and Cleveland have all been declared as the obvious best team in the East, with the Hawks drawing a few dark horse bids. But the Magic now have season series leads over Atlanta and Boston, and cut Cleveland’s lead to one.

Jameer Nelson tends to be the lightning rod in the Magic’s time-traveling Delorean. If he’s hot, this team is at another level. When he’s off, they look tremendously pedestrian. With Turkoglu gone and Vince Carter more of a ball-dominator, the point guard position for Orlando is vital to create motion in the half-court offense. Howard and Carter did their damage, but Jameer Nelson had a huge impact in the Magic’s win.

Nuggets 114 Celtics 105: A barnburner between two defensive squads. By the way, while everyone here at PBT wishes George Karl a speedy triumph and recovery from his current bout with cancer, there’s still a fun game to play when Karl is on the bench.

When J.R. Smith enters the game, count how many times George Karl claps when he does something brilliant, and how many times he facepalms himself when Smith does something inexplicable. Today was one where he got to clap more than facepalm.

Long story short, the Nuggets just kicked the Celtics in the face with big plays, and a fast team on the second night of a back to back (SEGABABA) for Boston was just too much to overcome.

Pistons 109 Spurs 101: Tim Duncan hit a three and the Spurs lost. If that doesn’t tell you how crazy this season has been for the Spurs, nothing will.

Rip Hamilton (27 points) apparently was just waiting for the trade deadline to be over, the Spurs used Hack-A-Ben, and it worked, but got blown off the map in overtime. We’re past panic time for San Antonio and into “damage control and hope for the best.”

Thunder 109 Wolves 104: Durant hit 25+ for the 28th time in a row, including some huge buckets down the stretch.

It’s time to start considering Durant-Westbrook-Green as one of the premier three-headed attacks in the league. When the Wolves took the lead in the fourth, Green calmly nailed a three that started the Thunder’s game-ensuring run.

The three possess the ability to simply neutralize their opponents. They brought perimeter pressure on Westbrook and he countered with drive and dish to wide open players on his way to a triple double. If you give Durantula an inch, he scores miles and miles. And Green’s ability to stretch the defense and defend bigger players makes him a matchup nightmare.

The Wolves were dialed into this one, but when you have so little offense and are leaning on Corey Brewer (even though he’s having a fantastic month), you’re in trouble. The Thunder were once again too much for an opponent. 

Grizzlies 104 Nets 94: The Nets’ versatility in losing is stunning. They should have won this game. Brook Lopez had 17 points in the first quarter, then finished with only nine more. They held a huge lead at the half, and couldn’t hold on.

For the Grizzlies, it’s this simple. If you get both O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay over 20 points, they are nigh unstoppable. When Mayo heats up, he gets white hot , and will keep looking to create shots. The Nets, as usual, had no answer to the counter punch.

Rockets 102 Hornets 94: The defense is just not right in Houston. Houston makes a living off of frustrating teams built like the Hornets. Undersized fours like David West. Offensively limited centers like Emeka Okafor. Rookie point guards like Darren Collison. And lately, their defense is just lost. It can’t commit, can’t decide, and can’t execute.

David West’s performance and leadership since Chris Paul went down has been exemplary. Darren Collison will get all the attention, because West performs very quietly, but he’s been the go-to guy, and has been a veteran leader on the floor. I’m still waiting for the Hornets’ shots to dry up, but it doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.

Warriors 108 Hawks 104: The Hawks had many, many things go wrong tonight, but there were two in particular that killed them. They failed to dominate on the glass, even against Stephen Curry (32 points, 9 boards). They won the rebounding battle, but only by three against a bad rebounding team. That’s a core value of Atlanta’s success.

Second, their ball-movement came to a crashing halt as we’ve seen before this season. The inability of the coaching staff to program a low-post set has killed them this season. They’re somehow afraid of what has gotten them so much success the rest of the games.

Curry’s making a Rookie of the Year push.

Suns 104 Kings 88: The Kings just ran out of steam. I’ve got little else to get to on this one. If the Suns keep their offense in gear and get a defensive effort that holds their opponent under 90? You’re going to have a tough time beating them, ever.

Jazz 93, Trail Blazers 89 (OT):  Portland led by 25, at home in the Rose Garden, and Marcus Camby was playing like a man who read all those reports that he can’t play defense anymore and was pissed off. Brandon Roy has to ride a stationary bike when out so his hamstring doesn’t tighten up, and he still drops 23 points. But it says everything you need to know about the mental makeup of these teams that on Utah’s fourth road game in six nights, they battled back and Blazers players coasted. How else do you explain Kyrylo Fesenko taking over for a stretch of the game? Carlos Boozer hit the hard shot to send the game to overtime, and from there everyone knew who was going to win. Another tough loss for the Blazers, another impressive road win for the Jazz. 

Paul George floors Jeremy Lamb with crossover, hits step-back 3-pointer over him (video)

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The Thunder suffered a rough home loss to the Hornets, but at least Oklahoma City produced a couple fun highlights.

Not only did Russell Westbrook have this powerful dunk, Paul George put the moves on Jeremy Lamb.

David West pump fakes past one Trail Blazer, posterizes another (video)

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David West is 37 years old.

Three Things to Know: Rockets extend win streak to 10, Thunder… not so much

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Here’s a roundup of Monday night’s action you might have missed while paying for a $14,000 Uber ride.

1) Rockets fall behind in a shootout, but come back from 13 down late in the third to extend win streak to 10. This was as good a game as the Pelicans could play without Anthony Davis — they put up 103 points on 58.7 percent shooting and hitting 17 threes. DeMarcus Cousins was a beast in the paint, while Jrue Holiday and E’Twaun Moore couldn’t seem to miss from beyond the arc. Late in the third the Pelicans were up 13, and they were up 10 at the start of the fourth.

It was not enough.

James Harden had 12 points in the fourth (and finished the game with a career-high 17 assists).

Chris Paul added 11 in the fourth, and the Rockets stormed back winning the fourth 37-20 and the game 130-123, extending their win streak to 10 games.

The Rockets are 21-4 and are outscoring teams by 11.4 points per 100 possessions this season — they are the best team in the NBA right now. CP3 and Harden mesh on offense — the Rockets are +7.8 points per 100 when they are on the court together — and Houston surprisingly has the fifth best defense in the NBA this season. None of this is a fluke. This team is playing hard right now, establishing an identity, and establishing themselves as a contender.

Can they beat a healthy Warriors team in a seven-game series? I am not going that far, I think there are things that can be exploited in a series, but we are five months away from the Rockets needing to answer that question. What Houston has shown is it is the team best suited to challenge Golden State — the Rockets can play at pace and thrive, they have multiple elite scoring playmakers (and coach Mike D’Antoni staggers them so one is almost always on the court), they have a switchable defense that can attack the Warriors wings, and they have the right mindset. GM Daryl Morey put together a team to go after the Warriors, and he did it better than anyone. They are a legit threat to the title holders, and the Rockets should only get better as the season moves along.

2) Celtics lose with Kyrie Irving out. Thunder lose because… you tell me? There were a couple of upsets Monday night in the NBA, but only one was easy to excuse.

The lowly Chicago Bulls have not been quite so lowly the past week, winning three straight games, the latest one handily against the Boston Celtics 108-85. Credit best friends Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis (*cough*) who combined for 47 points, plus the improved play of Kris Dunn lately continued as he had a dozen points. We would normally call this a terrible loss for the Celtics, and you can be sure Brad Stevens didn’t like it, but with Kyrie Irving sitting out with a left quad contusion, there is at least a good reason for the off night.

There is no good reason for the Thunder — fully healthy — to lose at home to the Charlotte Hornets 116-103. The Hornets hit 13-of-25 from three, and Dwight Howard outplayed Steven Adams all night on his way to 23 points, Kemba Walker had 19 points and 9 assists, but this is the kind of game the Thunder should win. After a Russell Westbrook highlight slam over Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, the game was tied 66-66, but then the Hornets went on a 22-2 run. Of late, the Thunder looked like they were turning a corner with three straight wins, but then followed it up losing 2-of-3 now and needing to go to overtime against a shorthanded Grizzlies team to get that one win. Royce Young re-tweeted himself and hit the nail on the head.

There is no one thing wrong with the Thunder, but more and more focus is turning to Carmelo Anthony. Not just his lack of defense or his shooting slump — he had 11 points Monday and is shooting 33 percent overall and 16.7 percent from three his last five games — but the roster depth OKC gave up to get him. Paul George and Russell Westbrook have a grove together (the Thunder are +4.8 per 100 when they are paired) but things slow when Anthony is added to the mix and another star sits while Anthony plays. In ‘Melo’s last five games OKC is -1.8 per 100 with Anthony on the court.

The Thunder still have time, but each day the inconsistent play and losing get more concerning. As George said after the game, “We can say we’re going to figure it out, we can say all that, but at some point it’s got to stop.”

3) Matt Barnes retires. Barnes announced Monday on Instagram that his 15-year NBA run was over.

For a lot of fans, mention Barnes and they think of the guy who tried to get in a fight with Derek Fisher. Or the New York nightclub incident with Cousins. Or the guy who was a pest on the court and seemed a magnet for technical fouls and fines from the league office. But Barnes was the kind of guy you wanted coming off the bench on your team and hated to play against — he went hard, he could shoot threes, he defended, and he brought a spark to the game. He was the kind of opponent you hate to go against.

Barnes was a second-round pick out of UCLA who played for nine teams during his career. He was the guy teams turned to for a spark off the bench — both because he could shoot the rock and because he played a fiery, emotional game. Barnes finished his career averaging 8.2 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. Barnes won an NBA title with the Warriors last season, and he played well after Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury and Barnes was thrust into a larger role (the Warriors went on a 14-game win streak in that time).

While he had a rough exterior, off the court he was one of the more thoughtful basketball interviews out there — ask him about the game and he gave smart, calm, intelligent answers, not just clichés. He was active with charities and gave of his time and money, it wasn’t just a tax write off for him. He’ll be missed by some of us, but he’s a guy ready for life after basketball.

Rockets’ Clint Capela dunks, blocks, plays DeMarcus Cousins to standstill (VIDEO)

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Welcome to Clint Capela‘s big night.

Going toe-to-toe with DeMarcus Cousins — who has been playing at an All-NBA level this season and had 24 and 14 on Monday night — the Rockets’ athletic big played Cousins to a standstill. Capela had a career-high 28 points on 13-of-14 from the field with most of his shots being dunks (every one of this shots was at the rim), plus he had five blocks, most of Cousins.

It was the best game the Swiss national has had as a pro, who also had eight rebounds on the night. Check out his big night above.