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.

Pistons reveal “Detroit Chrome” alternate uniform

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I’m a fan of the Pistons’ alternate uniforms in general — their “Motor City” ones may be may favorite alternates around the league.

Now they have a new one — Detroit Chrome.

The Pistons will break these out for seven home games this season. From the official release:

The inspiration for the Detroit Chrome jerseys came about as a way to honor our coolest cars from the past and the cars of the future. Detroit is universally known as the auto capital of the world, where chrome leaves an indelible mark on the cars we create. The uniforms feature a matte chrome base color with clean simple lines inspired by the classic muscle cars that have roared up and down Woodward Avenue for decades. The navy trim and Detroit emblazoned across the chest represent the blue collar work ethic that the auto industry and region was built on.

Clean, simple, cool — I like it.

That would look good in the first round of the playoffs, too. (I’m predicting they get the eight seed.)


51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.