Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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Thumbnail image for marion_game.jpgWhat happened Wednesday night, while falling flat on your face in a gigantic dinosaur suit

Mavericks 101 Lakers 96: So many Mavericks played well. Jason Kidd constantly pushed the tempo, but knew not to press the Lakers’ transition defense. Brendan Haywood provides the kind of toughness critics have said they have lacked for years. Jason Terry was en fuego, and Dirk was his usual, brilliant self. And yet the Mavericks only won by five, at home with the Lakers on a back-to-back.

Why was it this close? Lamar Odom was everywhere, with rebounds, key plays, and, get this, smart plays. Odom was the one Laker that was dialed in. Even Kobe (9-23, inconsistent defense) wasn’t in till the last four possessions, but Odom was a huge reason they got there.

But when the Lakers went into the penalty with over 7 minutes to go, they were sunk. You give Dirk Nowtizki one-on-one coverage (killed Odom once, Bryant once down the stretch), and the ability to shoot free throws on touch fouls? You’re dead before the ship even sinks. Big win for the Mavs, who were without Caron Butler.

Spurs 95 Thunder 87: Manu Ginobili.

Manu freaking Ginobili.

Look, I made a bet this year with a friend that Ginobili would not score 30+ points this season (he did it within the first month of the season), so if anyone’s going to doubt the man at his age, it’s going to be me. Ginobili won this game nearly by himself.

Ginobili hit huge bucket after huge bucket, came up with a series of key offensive rebounds, and blocked Kevin Durant on a breakaway layup. He was everything he used to be. Best game of the season for Manu.

The Thunder just couldn’t get good looks to go down. It’s fitting that the Spurs were the ones to end the streak. Always the villain, SA, even when no one’s scared of the boogeyman anymore.

Grizzlies 99 Wizards 94: Novel effort from the Wizards in their first without Josh Howard, but too much Marc Gasol in this one. Gasol went 10-10 until missing everything but backboard inside two minutes once the game was out of reach.

Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Hamed Haddadi combined for 50 points. If you let the Grizzlies control the rebounds like that, you’re doomed. And the Wizards were.

Mike Conley is the worst starting point guard in professional basketball.

Blazers 101 Raptors 87: Portland was desperate, the Raptors didn’t have Bosh. One of the best offenses in the league only scored 40 in the second half. You do the math.

Brandon Roy had 20 points tonight, even if it was on 17 shots. Maybe McMillan is right and he just needs to play himself into shape.

Magic 110 Rockets 92 Call me crazy, but I think Dwight Howard may be putting it together for this season. 11-11, 30 points, 16 rebounds. That’s just ridiculous. Even against a light and small Rockets team, the way Howard has been dominating teams in the last two weeks is
astounding. Fear Big Baby Jesus.

The Rockets are in trouble. Big trouble. There’s nothing clicking right now. The effort’s waning as the season drags on, and the talent differential is killing them. Aaron Brooks’ ineffiicient scoring is at once necessary and damaging. Kevin Martin’s still not in rhythm. No on on the team seems to know where the others are, and they just seem battered. They need a break. Which they got. Two weeks ago.

Bucks 115 Hornets 95: Andrew Bogut played some of the best basketball you’re going to see out of a big man in the NBA last night. Positively brilliant. Weakside blocks, front-side blocks. Man denial. Baseline cut-off. Offensive boards, and that sweet little baby hook he’s got that when it’s working, is unstoppable.

This is probably a truer representation of this Hornets roster, but they’re made to overachieve. Just know that they have this kind of effort in them, despite Collison (22 and 9) and Thornton (25 points). This team has some older pieces that are going to get tired and throw up clunkers. Especially against a stout defensive squad like the Bucks.

Jazz 102 Bobcats 93: Carlos Boozer was unstoppable. 33 points, 16 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 1 block. The Cats were without three of their centers (Diop, Chandler, Mohammed), but even if they had Kareem down there it wouldn’t have mattered. The Jazz believe it right now.

The quiet way Deron Williams is running the offense is incredible right now. He’s got such great awareness of what the offense needs to do. He will readily reset the offense when he needs to in order to create opportunities.

Wallace tried to do it all for the Cats, as he has for years.

Bulls 120, Pacers 110: The Pacers have packed it in for the season. The only games they are winning from here on out are the ones where they are motivated by something unique or where the other team decides to let them have open three pointers. The Pacers love them some three pointers. The Bulls gave them those threes in the second quarter, so this game stayed closer than it should have been, but in the end it was never really in doubt. The Bulls are still playing to win this season.

Suns 106, Sixers 95: Steve Nash had the extra day off, not playing the front end of the back-to-back, and the result was he had energy nobody else on the court did. Nash came out with14 points in the first quarter. He finished with 20 points, 13 assists. He controlled the game and Jason Richardson was still on the shooting high from the night before. It was all far, far to much for the Sixers.

Nash is not young, the nights off are good for him (which means watch out in the first round of the playoffs). Look for the Suns to do more resting of Nash this season, as Gregg Popovich has done with Tim Duncan and the Suns did last year with Shaq.

Hawks 98 Wolves 92: On the one hand, the Hawks got the win, but on the other, the Wolves largely just could not figure out what to do with all the opportunities they were given. On the one hand, the Hawks were lost and discombobulated on offense, but on the other, they shut down Al Jefferson and owned the glass.

Josh Smith was everywhere in this game down the stretch. When he’s integrated and motivated, he’s capable of crushing teams under his boot. And he did that late with assists and what felt like a million o
ffensive boards.

Clippers 97, Pistons 91:  Down the stretch, Rasual Butler out dueled Rip Hamilton. Didn’t think that was a sentence that I would ever type, but it’s the truth. Butler had 12 points in the fourth quarter, knocked down three threes (as did Hamilton), and had a key block late on Rodney Stuckey.

Entertaining finish not withstanding, this was not pretty basketball by any stretch — slow pace and the winning team shot 40.5 percent. Detroit had the chance to pull away in the first half but the Clippers dominated on the offensive glass, grabbing 44% of their missed shots for the game. That’s too many second chances, do that in the NBA and you’re done.

Karl-Anthony Towns beats out Isaiah Thomas to take Skills Challenge title

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TORONTO — In a new twist to the Taco Bell Skills Challenge, the NBA made the decision this year to add big men to a competition that has traditionally focused on point guards. The new wrinkle created new layers of intrigue, an unusual amount of controversy and, ultimately, a new champion: Timberwolves rookie center Karl-Anthony Towns.

Towns didn’t know what to expect in the competition, given that it was his rookie season, and practice didn’t fully prepare him.

“Oh, I came in today at I think it was 11:00 in the morning and got a practice run,” Towns said after the competition. “But it doesn’t translate to what it is when you have millions of people watching, thousands of people in the stands and also your heart racing like mine was. So just to have that instance of just a feel of how it was.”

C.J. McCollum beat out Jordan Clarkson in the first round, and Isaiah Thomas took care of Emmanuel Mudiay. In something of an upset, Towns handled Draymond Green, who is the NBA’s leader in triple-doubles.

The other matchup in the first round came with some controversy: DeMarcus Cousins missed all three attempts at the chest pass into the ring but moved on in the obstacle course and ultimately defeated Anthony Davis. This led to widespread criticism on social media for Cousins being allowed to advance without completing all the drills.

But Towns beat out Cousins in the semifinals, thereby preventing a nightmare scenario where a winner might have to have an asterisk next to his title.

Thomas beat McCollum in the guards’ semifinals. McCollum lost his dribble early on in the round and never really recovered.

The final round between Towns and Thomas went down to the wire, but Towns’ three-pointer went down first, giving him the title.

Towns sees his title as validation for the NBA’s decision to add big men to the competition, as well as a victory for bigs who are skilled in more than the traditional ways.

“The bigs were amazing today,” Towns said. “We were able to just come out with a W, and I’m glad I was able to help the bigs come out with this trophy. This is bigger than me. This is for all the bigs out there, with the game changing the way it is, to show that bigs can stand up with guards, skillwise.”

Russell Westbrook on Lakers speculation: “Nah, I like where I am now”

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 08:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Thunder defeated the Suns 122-106.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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TORONTO — No matter what Russell Westbrook does, he cannot escape the rumors that have followed him for years. He grew up in Los Angeles and played college basketball at UCLA—so, it’s only logical that when he hits free agency in the summer of 2017, he’ll look to sign with the Lakers, right?

Westbrook did his best to shut that down on Saturday after practice with the Western Conference All-Stars.

“Nah,” Westbrook said. “I like where I am now. Oklahoma City is a great place for me.”

Westbrook admitted that he grew up a Lakers fan, but said he never thought of playing there as a kid.

“I never thought I’d play in the NBA,” he said. “I was just watching them.”

Westbrook has another full season to go before his contract with the Thunder is up, so it’s going to be a while before there’s any resolution here. A lot, of course, will depend on what Kevin Durant does this summer.

If Durant sticks around and the Thunder make another deep playoff run next season, it becomes more likely that Westbrook will stay. But if Durant goes somewhere else, there’s a good chance Westbrook follows suit. For now, all they can do is deflect the speculation that will be there no matter what they say.

Gregg Popovich says he thinks more about Warriors than any team he ever faced

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Gregg Popovich and his Spurs have gone up against some powerhouse teams in the past 17 years. There were the Shaq/Kobe Bryant Lakers, Steve Nash and the seven-seconds-or-less Suns, The Kobe/Pau Gasol Lakers, LeBron James‘ Miami Heat teams, and the list goes on.

But nobody has given him more to think about than Stephen Curry and the Warriors.

That’s what he said on ESPN Radio Friday, as reported by Marc Stein of ESPN.

“I’ve spent more time thinking about Golden State than I have any other team I’ve ever thought about in my whole career,” Popovich told ESPN Radio on Friday. “Because they are really fun. I’d go buy a ticket and go watch them play. And when I see them move the ball, I get very envious. When I see them shoot uncontested shots more than anybody else in the league, it’s inspiring. It’s just great basketball.

“So I’m actually enjoying them very much. You try to solve them, but they’re in a sense unsolvable because it’s a particular mix of talent that they have. It’s not just that Steph [Curry] can make shots or that Klay can make shots or that Draymond Green is versatile. Everybody on the court can pass, catch and shoot. And they all get it.”

When you think about those legendary teams Popovich faced, they may have been a little less mentally taxing to gameplan for. The Shaq/Kobe Lakers ran the triangle (an offense Popovich was familiar with), but most of what made them great was exceptional talent — two future Hall of Famers at their peaks. The Spurs tried to bully the Suns, and then they developed a motion offense that eventually shredded the Heat.

The Warriors are different, and Popovich gets to a fundamental problem in defeating them:

“They’re talented. But they’re also very, very smart.”

That’s what’s hard to plan for — smart players and smart teams adjust, and the Warriors by design loaded their roster with high IQ guys. If you adjust, they counter. And for the last season-and-a-half, that has worked brilliantly.

LeBron James on Kevin Love trade rumors: “They’re false”

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TORONTO — The rumors were out there: the Boston Celtics were interested in Kevin Love and were talking trade with Cleveland.

LeBron James would have none of that.

“It’s false,” LeBron said of the rumors when speaking to the media after the Eastern Conference’s All-Star Game practice Saturday. “It’s the only thing I can look at it and say it’s false. That’s the last thing guys are worried about right now are trade talks from our team.”

That echoed what Carmelo Anthony said. The buzz around Toronto (where the NBA has gathered for All-Star Weekend) that there wasn’t a lot of to the talks and if there was any momentum has stalled out.

Still, there will be talks, and there will be plenty of Cavaliers trade rumors in the run-up to the Feb. 18 trade deadline. Cleveland could use some shooting from the wing and quality depth to provide versatility going up against Golden State or San Antonio in the Finals.

LeBron just wants to make sure the talks don’t impact the locker room.

“One thing about this business is you can only control what you can control. Things that you can’t control, you can’t let it bother you, and I’ve learned that over the years,” LeBron said. “There is so much that goes on in professional sports that if you just focus on what you can control, everything else will take care of itself.”

The Love rumors likely will continue to flare up this week, but they are not going to move him unless another team makes a Godfather offer.

The Cavaliers have been 10.1 points per 100 possessions better this season when Love is on the court compared to off it (and their defense does get marginally better when he plays). When Love, LeBron, and Kyrie Irving are on the court together the Cavaliers outscore opponents by 11.7 points per 100 possessions. Those are massive numbers.

The Cavaliers are a win-now team, if you’re going to break up part of that trio it has to be for something that makes the team demonstrably better. And that kind of superstar trade is rare at the February deadline anymore.