Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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johnson_game.jpgOur game recaps from Monday, or what you missed while bidding on Action Comics No. 1

Atlanta 105, Utah 100: The last time Atlanta won in Utah? The same year that Dr. Dre released The Chronic. We’re talking old school.

The Jazz had all kinds of excuses for this one — no Deron Williams, no Andre Kirilenko, second night of a back-to-back — and they still hung around and made it close. But at the end, with the game on the line, they defended the pick-and-roll poorly and Mike Bibby made them pay with passes to guys deep in the paint. Same thing happened when the Jazz didn’t cover some backdoor cuts. You can’t give Atlanta shots near the rim, they finish too well. Quality road win for the Atlanta.

Washington 101, Chicago 95: The Wizards are hot — 3-1 since the Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were shipped out the door. One key reason is Andray Blatche — who has teased with talent at Summer League and in short spurts over the years — has put it together for a stretch of games (he had 25 points and 11 boards). Four games not much of a stretch, you say? It is for Blatche, and the Wizards need the small victories. Also, Al Thornton has become their go-to guy down the stretch, and that is working. Against all odds.

Chicago, on the other hand, just looked lost on offense down the stretch. They don’t create or recognize mismatches well, and if Rose is not penetrating get stagnant fast. What they need is a guy who could create his own shot on the wing and just knock down jumpers all night long. A guy like Ben Gordon.

Milwaukee 83, New York 67: Maybe it’s not Chris Duhon, maybe it’s just something about the position: Sergio Rodriguez gets the start at point for the Knicks and he goes 2 for 8 from the floor with one assist and three turnovers (he did have eight steals). Okay, it is Duhon, let’s not kid ourselves. Rodriguez can get better, but for one night he joined every Knick teammate in not shooting well, and it’s hard to pick up assists when guys don’t make shots. The Knicks shot 33.8% on the night, didn’t get to the line much and were useless on the offensive glass. Just ugliness all around.

Tracy McGrady had a team high 15 on 5 of 14 shooting, plus he was limping through parts of the third quarter and clearly in some pain. We’ll see if he plays against Boston.

And credit to the Bucks — the smaller Knicks are a team you want to pound inside, and Andrew Bogut had 24 points and 20 boards on the night. This is a team doing things better night after night.

L.A. Clippers 98, Charlotte 94: Charlotte was up by six with 9 minutes left when the Clippers got settled down and made a run thanks to a lineup that included Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and Drew Gooden — all guys just picked up at the trading deadline. With those three, the Clippers bench outscored the Bobcat bench by a dozen, and was just more efficient. Again, not a pretty game, as highlighted by Stephen Jackson going a painful-to-watch 1 for 16 on the night.

With the Milwaukee win and the Charlotte loss, those two teams are tied for the eighth seed in the East. And the right to get swept by the Cavaliers in the first round.

Dallas 91, Indiana 82: Just an ugly game – the winning team shot 38.6 percent. Plus, the only thing worth watching night in, night out in Indiana is Danny Granger and he was out for personal reasons. So the Mavs keep right on rolling, four in a row now, but you can’t take much away from this one.
 

Kyrie Irving rubs salt in wound, gets 42nd point with behind-the-back ball fake (VIDEO)

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Kyrie Irving was awesome Tuesday night.

Unless you are a Boston Celtics fan, in which case it was hard to watch him carve up and embarrass your team for a career-best 42 points. He did a lot of that damage after rolling his ankle.

Particularly embarrassing was the final play of the game, when he drove past Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, then went with the behind-the-back ball fake that burned Jae Crowder and opened up a lane for an uncontested layup.

Check out Irving’s entire night here.

Utah Utes forward Kyle Kuzma reportedly rising up draft boards

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Kyle Kuzma wasn’t sure how things would play out when he announced plans in late March to test the NBA draft. The Utah Utes junior forward was well aware of the doubters and didn’t immediately hire an agent to keep open the option to return for his senior year.

A month later, Kuzma has hired an agent and is rising up the pre-draft rankings after a superb NBA combine and strong individual workouts. He’s considered an early to mid second round pick.

“I just got more confident, I’m not going to lie, throughout the whole process,” Kuzma said Tuesday. “Working out every day with the NBA ball and just imagining yourself down the road. Once I declared with an agent prior to the combine, people’s ears raised up. But I just knew it in my heart it was the right decision for me. Everything’s really falling in line right now. It’s looking good.”

The Flint, Michigan, native had a pre-draft workout with the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and continued to show evaluators an ability to shoot the ball from NBA 3-point range. Kuzma was named first-team All-Pac-12 after a 2016-17 season during which he averaged 16.4 points, 9.3 rebounds. The 6-foot-9, 223-pounder has a versatile game that allows him to handle the ball on the perimeter as a playmaker with good size, but he shot just 32.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Kuzma turned heads with 20 points and four-for-five shooting on 3-pointers in his lone 5-on-5 scrimmage at the combine.

“I changed my jump shot up a little bit,” Kuzma said. “Being more fluid and more comfortable shooting the ball from the NBA 3. I feel like I’m more comfortable shooting from that 3 than from college 3 right now. A lot of people were surprised, but I really wasn’t. I put a lot of work into my game every single day.”

Kuzma had another quality workout Tuesday, according to Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin, and continued to shoot the ball well. Perrin said Kuzma was by far the best player at the six-man workout and that he wished he could have brought Kuzma in to face a more talented group.

The versatility of Kuzma’s game is a positive even though he falls into a tweener category – a little slight to be a true power forward and not quite quick enough to be a pure small forward. That may not matter in today’s NBA.

“We’re going more and more toward positionless players,” Perrin said. “You look at Golden State … they don’t have guys that play certain positions. They have the best players on their team playing. … We’ve gone to nobody posting up, basically, to everybody being able to put the ball on the floor and create shots on the perimeter, penetrate and kick to guys wide open in the corner for threes.

“The guys on the floor have to be able to guard their so-called position. And I think we’re looking more and more at that in terms of he can have an advantage on offense, but where is his disadvantage or advantage defensively?”

The Utes were well represented at the workout with forward David Collette joining the group.

The 6-foot-8, 220-pounder hasn’t hired an agent and is expected to return to school. Perrin couldn’t discuss Collette because of that, and he couldn’t talk to the media, but Kuzma said the rising senior showed off a newly refined midrange jump shot. The Utes will rely heavily on Collette as the lone returning starter, who averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds last season.

Utah will lose its best player to the NBA draft for a third consecutive season as Kuzma follows Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright. The process has kept Kuzma smiling as he met childhood idol Magic Johnson, watched his stock rise and is on the verge of playing basketball for a living.

“I feel like you’ve got to be two feet in with everything you do,” Kuzma said. “I definitely looked at the pros and cons, but my heart was in getting to this level and trying to prove people wrong again like I’ve done my entire life.”

Celtics’ coach knows the difference in this series: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

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For 24 minutes Tuesday night, Boston showed Game 3 was not a fluke.

“I thought we played as well as we have played these entire playoffs in the first half,” Celtics coach Brad Steven said. “We were really good defensively. Offensively I thought we moved, and cut, and played together.

“Then, for whatever reason, all those things became a little bit more difficult. That’s what great teams do, they make it really hard on you.”

Whatever reason? What was the difference in this game?

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, would be your two answers,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

Those two Cleveland All-Stars took over Game 4 Tuesday night for stretches — Irving in the third when he had 21, LeBron in the fourth — and for the game they combined for 76 points on 49 shots.

LeBron and Irving were they reason Cleveland won Game 4 Tuesday night, and they have been the difference in this series — Boston is a good team, but the Cavaliers have the two best players in this series (one could argue Kevin Love makes three) and the Celtics have no answer.

The Cavaliers are a championship team. However, they are not one that is not about the system, not one where their success is about franchise culture.

The Cavaliers are great because they have one of the game’s all-time great players, surrounded by a couple other All-Stars. They thrive by forcing teams to switch mismatches then going at right at them — Irving and LeBron were sixth and seventh in the NBA this season in percentage of isolation plays for them. Cleveland doesn’t run a motion offense like the Golden State team it will see in the finals, the Cavaliers are simple but efficient.

The mindset is straightforward: We have the better players, just try to stop us.

Boston had little success in this series playing that way — when Isaiah Thomas tried to pick apart the athletic Cavaliers defenders off the pick-and-roll both he and the Celtics struggled. Thomas had an offensive rating of 83 points per 100 possessions in this series before he was sidelined with an injury.

Without him, Boston had to rely on a more balanced, egalitarian offense — move the ball, move without the ball, find the open man, and trust him. The Celtics’ improved defense without Thomas was forcing more turnovers, and the Celtics were gang rebounding well. The result was a 123.4 points per 100 offensive rating in Game 3, then a decent 106.7 in Game 4 (despite the rough second half).

It just wasn’t enough.

Because the Cavaliers have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Two of the elite players in the NBA.

And in the NBA, talent wins out.

Charles Barkley tells Shaq he had to ride the coattails of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley can sometimes get into it on TNT’s programming surrounding NBA games, but Tuesday night after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics in Game 4, 112-99, was something different.

The two got testy — even more so than usual — as Barkley and Shaq traded insults.

Most notably, O’Neal went after the fact that Barkley only once made the NBA Finals, while Chuck told Shaq he had to ride the coattails of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade to get his rings.

It felt at least partially real, especially if you watch Ernie Johnson’s reaction during the back-and-forth.

Via Twitter:

Game 4 was more interesting, but a 30 minute special where Chuck and Shaq actually do move the furniture and throw down might draw more viewers than these playoffs.