Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps


Kobe_game.jpgOur game recaps from Tuesday, or what you missed while your wife had control of the remote so she could watch women’s figure skating.

L.A. Lakers 99, Memphis 98:
Kobe Bryant can cover up a multitude of sins for a team. Memphis deserved this one, largely because the Lakers decision making is often terrible. Shannon Brown over dribbles then jacks up bad shots, Jordan Farmar breaks the offense, Derek Fisher has lost a few steps, and seemingly the only guy who can consistently make a good post entry pass is Pau Gasol, but he is usually in the post.

The game winner from Kobe, and the ensuing miss by OJ Mayo, came because of better execution by the Lakers. When the Lakers had to shoot, they inbounded the ball to Gasol, who passed to Odom then Gasol set a moving downscreen pick that took Rudy right out of the play and Kobe got a clean look at a three. You cannot give Kobe a clean look like that. Cannot.

When the Grizzlies get their chance they run the high pick-and-roll for their last shot and the Lakers switch it so Pau Gasol and his massive wingspan are there to disrupt Mayo, who is forced to take a fade away a fade away three and misses it. Bottom line: Gasol and Bryant executed under pressure, and the Lakers win a lot of games because of that.

Cleveland 105, New Orleans 95: Marcus Thornton? Who? Rookie second rounder Marcus Thornton? The scouting report back on draft night said he could score and eventually might develop into a nice spark plug off the bench.  Turns out eventually is now. He had 37 on 15 of 22 shooting, with 23 in the second quarter alone.

Thornton took advantage of something that other teams are going to try to exploit in the playoffs — against really quick guards, whether on penetration or the high pick-and-roll, Shaq has to lay back and give up the jumper. He is just not quick enough to recover and guys can just blow by him, so rather than give up the layup he concedes the jumper. Which is fine, until you run into somebody as hot as Thornton with the jumper. Then all bets are off. Not that it mattered that much, Cleveland still won.

It says a lot about the Cavs — and the expectations of the fan base now — that they snapped a three-game losing streak and Cleveland guru/beat writer Brian Windhorst tweeted after the game that it still “felt like a loss.” They not only expect wins, but convincing ones. They will learn that in an 82 game season sometimes you just take the win. (Well, maybe not, Lakers fans never learned that.)

Boston 110, New York 106: For three quarters this was played exactly in the pace and style the Knicks would want — fast and without defense. Then the fourth quarter was an ugly cocktail of bad decisions, missed shots and a splash of good defense. Left a bad taste in your mouth if you watched it. The Knicks stayed true to themselves in that quarter — they kept shooting threes and they kept missing them, hitting zero of their last seven attempts. The Celtics played about five minutes of good defense. That is basically your ballgame.

But you want to know about Nate Robinson, don’t you? He looked a little uncomfortable, like he was thinking not just reacting and playing. He was trying to facilitate the offense, not just score (and when he did he was just 2 of 7 and got rejected by Lee once). Don’t read too much into one game, there is going to be an adjustment for the Celtics second unit, getting used to Nate’s game and him adjusting to their team style.

Minnesota 91, Miami 88: What do you want me to say, Miami without Wade is just not very good.

Portland 102, New Jersey 93: He’s a Blazers big man so this was bound to happen — Marcus Camby twisted his ankle five minutes into the game, left and did not return. Post-game X-rays were negative, but it is unknown how long he will be out.

As for the game itself, a very slow pace (81 possessions, about 10 off the Nets normal speed of play). But Portland jumped out early and if they had cared about playing defense at the end it wouldn’t have been this close.

Phoenix 104, Oklahoma City 102: Just like so many games this year, the Suns blow a 15 point lead and find themselves down by 10 in the fourth quarter as the Thunder were on their way to another… what do you mean the Suns came back and won? That’s not how the story has gone this year for the Suns. Well, good on them for showing some grit.

Impressive game winner for Phoenix — Jason Richardson beat the Thunder’s defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha off the dribble, found all the help defenders late to arrive and got to put up a pretty little floater in the lane that dropped in with 0.7 left. On another note, credit to Goran Dragic, who took over for Steve Nash but played within himself and didn’t make too many mistakes. He finished with 16 and 10.

Detroit 101 Sacramento 98: This is the kind of game the Pistons lost for much of the season, when Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince were out. Those two combined for 52 points on 62 percent shooting.

Philadelphia 110, Golden State 102: The Sixers were up by 24 in the third in this battle of mismatched rosters, in part because Lou Williams stepped into AI’s starting spot and had a night, finishing 26 points, 10 rebounds and 7 dimes. But the Sixers lost interest, the Warriors got hot from the outside as they do at times, and a 16-2 run later the end was in doubt. Williams hit a late three to seal Philly’s win.

NBA: Warriors wins credited to Steve Kerr, Luke Walton can win awards

Luke Walton
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Later on Tuesday it will be announced that Warriors interim coach Luke Walton is the NBA Coach of the Month for November. (That’s not official yet, but seriously who else is going to get it?)

Yet Luke Walton’s record will remain 0-0 as a head coach. Those record 19 wins to start the season belong to Steve Kerr.

The league clarified its position to the media on Tuesday with a release:

…the head coach of record is credited with team wins and losses.  Steve Kerr remains the head coach of record for the Golden State Warriors and is credited with those results.  Additionally, any team head coach, interim head coach or acting head coach is eligible to be recognized with league coaching awards.  Therefore, Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton is eligible for NBA Coach of the Month.

The logic is that the systems installed in Golden State were put in place by Kerr, and while Walton has managed games he is not the overall architect of their success. Which is true. With all due to respect to what Walton has done Kerr laid the foundation for this team, Walton has managed it this season. He hasn’t crashed the car.

There still is no official timeframe for Kerr’s return from his back issues. He is around the team at the practice facility all the time, but is not coaching games or traveling with the team consistently.

This performance will be a significant step toward Walton getting job where his wins and losses will count on his permanent record soon enough.

Clippers’ Chris Paul exits game with “rib muscle strain” may miss time

Chris Paul, Gerald Henderson, Mason Plumlee, Al-Farouq Aminu, C.J. McCollum
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It happened in the third quarter, although it’s not clear exactly how. All anyone saw was Chris Paul calling a timeout to remove himself from the game (an eventual Clippers’ victory over the Trail Blazers) and grabbing his left side.

After the game, the Clippers said that Paul had suffered a “rib muscle strain.” CP3 will be re-evaluated on Tuesday, and then a timetable for his return will be set. It looks like he could miss a little time. Since the term “rib muscle strain” is intentionally vague we’re left to speculate a little: This could be an oblique muscle strain and if so they can be tricky, and it takes a couple of weeks (or more) to get back.

The Clippers might be wise to give Paul a little time away from the game; he has battled through a fractured finger and a strained groin this season. A little time off could help all of this. Paul played in all 82 regular season games for the Clippers last season, the first time he had done that in his career.

Paul is averaging 17.5 points and 8.4 assists per game, and the Clippers elite offense is 13.9 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the floor rather than sitting. Look at it this way, the Clippers’ most used lineup (Paul, J.J. Redick, Lance Stephenson, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan) outscores opponents by 19 points per 100 possessions, but sub Austin Rivers in for Paul and they get outscored by 13.8 per 100 and their defense falls apart. (For the record, I know that they are trying different players at the three and that Luc Mbah a Moute got the chance Monday, but I was using the lineups with the most played minutes to lessen the sample size error.)

The Clippers are not the same without Chris Paul, if he is out for any stretch of time, it’s a setback for a team that had seemed to start finding it groove.

Will Kobe Bryant’s pending retirement change how Lakers use him?

Kobe Bryant, D'Angelo Russell, Byron Scott
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This is Kobe Bryant‘s final season in the NBA; he made that clear with his announcement on Sunday. If for the Lakers organization that means they want Kobe to go out playing his way — still trying to create and make tough shots — then go right ahead. As evidenced by the reactions at Staples Center Sunday night, the fans love it.

But what should have been the Lakers’ primary goal for this season — developing young players D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance — has seemed at cross purposes with that. At least in the mind of coach Byron Scott.

So there it was in crunch time against the Pacers’ Sunday and Kobe and Nick Young were on the court while Russell watched from the bench. It gives the perception the Lakers don’t embrace the future.

Will how they use Kobe Bryant — and by extension the younger players — change now that Kobe has made it official this is his final season?

“I don’t know that I’ll change that much, as far as I want him to play,” Scott said. “I still want him to go out on a very positive note. And there’s a part of me that feels he is going to have those glimmers, having some of those games I know he’s capable of having.”

Scott’s job as coach, at least in his mind, seems to have been to make the last couple seasons of Kobe’s career comfortable. He said that Kobe has earned the right to take his tough, contested shots but has benched the players he’s tried to develop for their mistakes (and not clearly communicated to those players why they are sitting, if you ask the youngsters).

Beyond the coach, this is an organizational decision and priority.

“We have to huddle up and decide if there is going to be anything different in terms of minutes,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “It’s not something that’s going to be decided today. But since he has made it clear this will be the last season for him, it will be more enjoyable and I think people can appreciate and will appreciate what he’s accomplished, not only in our building — with loads of love — but even more so on the road.”

Kobe isn’t going to change.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Kupchak joked. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

I understand the need to let the fans see Kobe be Kobe, to let him go out on his terms (although playing him 30+ minutes a night and saying the goal is to have him standing at the end of the season is an odd mix, Scott). The Lakers are selling Kobe while they try to develop their young players.

The question of how well they are developing them remains.

One thing I would like to see is more Kobe with the second unit, and by extension less with Russell and Randle. Kobe’s going to take his shots, but if he is taking those away from Nick Young or Lou Williams, so what? Let those guys fight over the ball a little (that would be entertaining). But then rest him and let Russell and Randle and the other youth learn to work together for long stretches without any of those ball dominating players on the court. That includes letting the kids close some games, even if it’s not pretty.

This was always going to be a rough Lakers’ season, although it is uglier than the team and its fans imagined. But that’s okay if the young players are getting their minutes, being coached up, and developing. The Lakers can’t let the Kobe farewell tour get in the way of that.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert with the crazy high alley-oop finish (VIDEO)

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I love that the Jazz were going to be themselves against the Warriors — two of our three best players are big men in Derrick Favors and Rudy Gobert, and we are going to use them whether you go small or not. Those two have the athleticism to make that work in a way few teams can’t. The result was a close game, one ultimately won by the Warriors because Stephen Curry can do Stephen Curry things, but you had to love the way the Jazz played.

And you had to love this finish by Gobert in the fourth quarter.

This alley-oop is pretty well defended, but there’s not much a defender can do when you can lob the ball above the box on the backboard, and Gobert can just go get it and finish.