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. 

Rumor: Jeff Hornacek shoved Joakim Noah during confrontation

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The saga between the New York Knicks and Joakim Noah has been ongoing for sometime, with the latest story being that there was some kind of verbal altercation between the former All-Star big man and head coach Jeff Hornacek.

Noah has not played for the team since Jan. 23, and he is now separated from the Knicks as they try to find a solution to shed him from their roster.

We now have a better idea of what kind of urgency New York has to make that move.

A report from the New York Daily News has given us more information about the confrontation between Noah and Hornacek. The latest addition to the story is that it was not just words between the Knicks coach and Noah, and that Hornacek actually pushed Noah first during the confrontation.

The two then had to be separated.

Via NYDN:

Noah was banished from the Knicks after an altercation with coach Jeff Hornacek during a practice last month. The disagreement stemmed from Noah’s lack of playing time, and it turned physical the day after he logged only five minutes against the Warriors.

While no punches were thrown, the Daily News learned that Hornacek was the first to shove Noah before they had to be separated.

In our last update on this story, Dan outlined how that could be made possible. No team is going to trade for Noah at this juncture in his career, so the only real option for New York is to waive him.

Here’s how that looks, according to our own Dan Feldman:

If the Knicks waive Noah without a buyout, they’d have two options after paying out the rest of his $17,765,000 salary this season:

Pay Noah $18,530,000 next season and $19,295,000 the following season
Pay Noah $7,565,000 each of the following five years via the stretch provision

It just keeps getting weirder and weirder during a lost season in the Big Apple.

Kobe Bryant tells Shaq he was planning to leave Lakers for Bulls (VIDEO)

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Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal got their three championships together as members of the Los Angeles Lakers. The two stars were part of the three-peat team that won in 2000, 2001, and 2002. But the story that perhaps overshadows those accomplishments in the modern era is the story of Kobe vs. Shaq, and the long-standing beef that was between the players even after they split in 2004.

The back-and-forth between the two is part of the fabric not just of the Lakers, but of pop culture as it surrounds basketball. The Shaq/Kobe beef even has it’s own Wikipedia page that’s longer and more well-sourced than most of the papers I wrote in college. It’s impressive.

Meanwhile, Kobe and Shaq sat down in a long special that aired on Saturday as All-Star Weekend ramped up that revealed quite a bit about their time together and their relationship. One of the more interesting anecdotes was Kobe telling Shaq that he was planning on leaving the Lakers for the Chicago Bulls in 2004. That plan was quashed when the team sent O’Neal to the Miami Heat in July.

Via Twitter:

That would have been a major shift for LA and for Chicago. The Bulls drafted both Ben Gordon and Chris Duhon that year, and traded for Luol Deng. The team improved by 24 wins the following season, and adding Bryant may have altered that trajectory and of course sent shockwave of consequential changes through the league. Heck, Scottie Pippen retired that October, but perhaps he would have stayed for one more year with Kobe?

The rest of the interview was interesting, and there were lots of tidbits of information that had people talking. Bryant and O’Neal rehashed their fights, Shaq’s infamous rap dissing Kobe, and mooning Sacramento Kings fans after beating them in the 2002 playoffs.

The biggest takeaway from the interview was how the one-upsmanship between Shaq and Kobe, although subtle, still remains.

As context, Bryant has done a fair bit of career revisionism as he tries to alter his public image now that he’s not a player. He’s painted himself as a “storyteller” and has tried to make his single-mindedness appear praiseworthy rather than destructive. It’s mostly so he can sell shoes well into his 50s à la Michael Jordan.

In the sit down between the two Lakers greats, Shaq did some legacy revision of his own. He played off his continuous egging of Bryant over their careers as simple media manipulation, calling himself a master marketer. It really was a thing to see something that hilariously disingenuous, especially as much of the conversation between the two — including many admissions on each side — were about times they made each other sincerely angry.

The two finished the interview by taking photos next to some championship trophies (Kobe with more, of course) and exchanging laughs and hugs.

You can watch the full interview in the video above.

JJ Redick appears to use racial slur toward Chinese fans

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Chinese New Year was February 16, and now we’ve rolled over to the Year of the Dog. The NBA has a huge presence internationally in China, and so its video partner across the Pacific put together a compilation video of NBA players wishing people a happy new year.

The only problem? In one cut of the video that has been making the rounds on social media, Philadelphia 76ers guard JJ Redick appears to use a racial slur aimed at those of Chinese descent.

The instance is absent from the official video, but a reaction-style YouTube video captured a different edit of the Year of the Dog video with Redick still in it. Redick appears to say, “I just wanted to wish all the NBA c—k fans in China a very happy Chinese New Year.”

Redick responded on Twitter, saying he was simply tongue-tied.

It’s difficult to judge intention from a distance, but the result is certainly disappointing. Even with Redick’s apology, it seems possible he’s contacted by the league office as part of a disciplinary inquiry.

Adam Silver says change to 1-16 playoff format has gotten “serious consideration”

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LOS ANGELES — Going into this season, continuing off the recent past went the Western Conference has been deeper in talent than the East., there was a lot of discussion among fans and media about switching to a 1-16 playoff format that ignores the current conference system.

The league has always balked at that — there is tradition, the conferences play an unbalanced schedule so it’s not a fair matchup now, and travel is an issue — but things have gotten more serious, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said during All-Star weekend.

“That is something that’s gotten serious attention, not just recently, but over the last few years at the league office,” Silver said in an address to the media. “I think, as I’ve said in the past, the obstacle is travel, and it’s not tradition in my mind, at least. It’s that as we’ve added an extra week to the regular season, as we’ve tried to reduce the number of back-to-backs, that we are concerned about teams crisscrossing the country in the first round, for example. We are just concerned about the overall travel that we would have in the top 16 teams.

“Having said that, you also would like to have a format where your two best teams are ultimately going to meet in The Finals, and obviously, if it’s the top team in the East and top team in the West, I’m not saying this is the case this year, but you could have a situation where the top two teams in the league are meeting in the Conference Finals or somewhere else.

“So we’re going to continue to look at that. It’s still my hope that we’re going to figure out ways.”

There is no vote scheduled, no change on the immediate horizon.

The idea of teams playing a more balanced regular season schedule, then having the best 16 teams in the playoffs, is appealing. This season, the Finals should be the Warriors and Rockets, a matchup of the two best teams. Instead, it will be the Western Conference Finals.

Fixing it is not simple. If travel is the concern — having something like the Golden State and Philadelphia in a 2-2-1-1-1 series that drags out in the first or second rounds (if the playoffs started today we would get Boston vs. Portland) — there is no easy answer, short of a Star Trek teleporter. Faster travel across the nation is not on the immediate horizon.

As Silver said, the only real answer would be to build the potential for more time into the schedule. However, the NBA is already starting in mid-October and running through June, how much longer are they really willing to go?

The obvious answer is reducing the number of games, but we know that’s not happening. Don’t expect much of a change here.