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. 

Evan Fournier “hated” being left off the French national team

ORLANDO, FL - NOVEMBER 11:  Evan Fournier #10 of the Orlando Magic sets up the offense during the game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Amway Center on November 11, 2015 in Orlando, 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.  (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)
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One of the most surprising developments of the summer came when Evan Fournier, coming off an excellent year with the Magic, was left off the French national team that went to Rio to compete in the Olympics. Fournier himself doesn’t have a good answer for why he wasn’t included, according to an interview with the French magazine L’Equipe (translation via EuroHoops.net).

“I hated not being in the Olympic Games,” he said. “I had suspected that I won’t make the cut a week before I was informed about it. I was reading interviews where only Rudy (Gobert) was mentioned among the players who didn’t play in the OQT but would go to Rio. In the end, I received a voicemail by Vincent Collet that briefly explained the reasons I was left out.”

Fournier said he didn’t have much communication with the national team, except for when head coach Vincent Collet asked him for tickets to a Magic game.

“The only time I’ve heard from the Federation this year was during a visit from Patrick Beesley (French NT technical director) in Orlando where he told me the dates of the qualifying tournament and Olympics. He didn’t tell me ‘If you do not come in Manila, then you do not come in Rio’. The second time was from an sms by Vincent Collet. It was our only contact outside competitions in the last three years. He was asking me for tickets to a game for his friends. I never closed the door to the French national team but these events sent me a clear message. That i’m not in the project. It’s that simple and it hurts.”

It’s a little bizarre that Fournier, at 23 years old and one of the better basketball players from France, isn’t on the team and a clear reason hasn’t been given. But it sounds like that isn’t going to change anytime soon.

Jamal Crawford rocks Seattle pro-am defender with fake behind-the-back dribble (video)

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 27:  Jamal Crawford #11 of the Los Angeles Clippers reacts to a foul called on his team in a 108-98 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers during Game Five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on April 27, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.   NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Seattle pro-am always produces great highlights.

Here’s another.

Jamal Crawford pretends to go behind his back with his dribble, leaving his defender off balance and whining about a carry. In a pro-am. However you can try to preserve your dignity, I guess.

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.