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. 

Pacers erase 17-point deficit to take 2-1 lead over Cavs

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Bojan Bogdanovic scored 30 points, leading the Indiana Pacers back from a 17-point halftime deficit for a 92-90 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday night for a 2-1 lead in their first-round series.

Cleveland was 39-0 during the regular season when leading after three quarters and kept that perfect mark intact with a Game 2 win.

The incredible second-half charge came exactly one year after Indiana blew a 26-point halftime lead in a historic playoff collapse against the Cavs.

This time, the Pacers delivered a devastating blow to the three-time defending Eastern Conference champs – on a night LeBron Jones joined Michael Jordan as the only players in playoff history to record 100 double-doubles. James finished with 28 points and 12 rebounds, but it wasn’t enough to prevent Cleveland from losing its first game this season after leading following the third quarter.

The biggest reason for the collapse: Bogdanovic.

After charging back with striking distance, he completed a four-point play to finally give the Pacers an 81-77 lead with 6:10 left. Bogdanovic followed that with another to make it as seven-point game.

Then James answered with the next seven to tie it.

Bogdanovic came right back with a layup and another 3 before Thaddeus Young scored to give the Pacers a 91-84 cushion with 53 seconds left.

James knocked down a 3 to cut the deficit to four, and the Cavs got another 3 from Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to make it 91-90.

Darren Collison made 1 of 2 free throws with 5 seconds left, giving Cleveland one more chance. But J.R. Smith‘s long desperation heave came up short..

Shaq attacks verse in new TV series "Poetry in America"

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Shaquille O’Neal called himself “The Big Baryshnikov” and “The Big Socrates” in his days in the NBA. Now he can add “The Big Shakespeare.”

The basketball Hall-of-Famer, TNT TV analyst, commercial pitchman and onetime rapper is putting poetry on his lengthy resume as part of a new public television series.

He brings his best bard to a dramatic reading of a poem in his episode of the 12-part “Poetry in America ,” then discusses it with Elisa New, a Harvard English professor who hosts the show.

“I’ve always been into poetry,” O’Neal said in an interview with The Associated Press in a sunlit conference room overlooking the Los Angeles skyline. “I’ve been writing rhymes all my life.”

“Poetry in America,” distributed by American Public Television and presented by WGBH in Boston, is airing at various times on local public TV stations. Some episodes, including Shaq’s, are already available to stream.

On the show the 46-year-old former All-Star from the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat recites “Fast Break,” a poem by Edward Hirsch from his 1986 book “Wild Gratitude.” It describes some very imperfect players who manage to put together a perfect basketball play.

“A hook shot kisses the rim and hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,” the poem begins, “and for once our gangly starting center boxes out his man.”

O’Neal, whose 350-pound bulk would never be called “gangly,” still related to the center in the verse, but said he initially missed the poem’s point.

“The first mistake I made was thinking it was about basketball,” he said. “I read it real quick I said `fast break, shovel passes, sure, this is what I do.”‘

He said New, who sat next to O’Neal in the interview and like almost everyone is utterly dwarfed by him, gave him whole new insights that led to a fast friendship.

“When she broke it down intelligently for me, I was very astounded and very amazed,”

The poem is written for a close friend and playing partner of Hirsch’s who had just died. That’s easy to miss if you skip past the dedication at the top, as most readers do.

“It’s fun that only later as you’re reading, you look back at that dedication,” New said. “One line can change everything.”

Suddenly it becomes an examination of transcendent moments and human connections.

“It’s about friendship, it’s about caring, it’s about emotions,” O’Neal said. “I had missed that.”

His latest learning experience took O’Neal’s thoughts back to high school, where he had a 69 percent in English after blowing a test during the basketball playoffs, and needed a 70 to stay eligible for sports.

The teacher allowed him a retest, and suggested a tutor.

“This guy, his name was McDougal, he was a geek, he saved my academic life,” O’Neal said. “Everybody bullied him in school, except me.”

O’Neal said he took the work and “broke it down, made it seem so simple.”

“I retook the test, got an 80, and we won the state championship,” O’Neal said.

“Now,” he said, “I always tell kids I’m a geek.”

The professor had another name for him. “He’s a learner!”

O’Neal partly looked the poet during the interview in a polo shirt and jeans, having traded his basketball sneakers for a pair of slip-on Toms shoes, size 22.

When he wanted them, a company executive told him “it wouldn’t be worth it to make them in my size unless I bought 500 of them,” O’Neal said. “I told him to give me 2,000.”

 

Rumor: Grizzlies had to choose between Marc Gasol and David Fizdale

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David Fizdale has been linked to most of the NBA’s head-coaching vacancies.

He developed a legion of backers as lead a Heat assistant, and he did good things guiding the Grizzlies before they unexpectedly fired him. He deserves consideration.

But he also must explain his fractured relationship with Memphis star Marc Gasol. They weren’t speaking for a while.

And maybe the problem was even worse than that.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to a source close to Fizdale briefed on the Grizzlies’ decision, it was ownership having to make a choice — trade their All-Star center Marc Gasol, who has fallen in love with its small-market city, or fire the coach. Their relationship had gotten that bad.

If Grizzlies ownership felt it had to choose between Gasol and Fizdale, it’s not clear why.

Fizdale benched Gasol down the stretch during the coach’s last game, and Gasol publicly expressed his frustration.

But Gasol denied issuing a me-or-Fizdale ultimatum. Fizdale said focus on his relationship with Gasol was “overblown,” adding he cared far more about whether he could win with a player than whether they got along personally.

Memphis obviously sided with Gasol – probably too strongly.

LeBron James bought Cavs teammates matching designer suits to wear to game tonight

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I’m still trying to decide if this is cool or a little too Stepford.

The Cavaliers rolled into the Bakers’ Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis tonight wearing matching designer suits, all paid for by LeBron James and custom fitted to each player.

If a college team rolled into a game in four-digit designer suits, the NCAA would have questions. And not about the vests.

The Cavaliers are LeBron’s team, and if he wants to buy his teammates suits and tell them to wear them it’s going to happen. Is it a bonding thing that helps bring them together? Sure. Is it in place to make sure LeBron remembers which ones are his new teammates? Probably not.

Do the suits help on the court? No. And the Cavaliers better bring it in Game 3 because if they go down 2-1 in this series — something that is a realistic possibility — the whispers of doubt are going to get a lot louder.