Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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James_dunk.jpgOur game recaps from Thursday, or what you missed while trying to figure out who are the worst parents on LOST

Cavaliers 108, Celtics 88: Yes Celtics fans, that was as bad as you think. Not the game itself, although that wasn’t good for you. But because this game was a vision of your eventual playoff demise.

In the first half, the Cavaliers (whose front office has been obsessed with adding size and will get more when Big Z returns) tried to match up with the long front line of Boston. Didn’t work. The Celtics gave the Cavs trouble with penetration — Rondo got into the lane at will. He hit shots at the rim (or high banks off the backboard), and when Cleveland finally started to collapse on him Rondo set up teammates. The Celtics ran and got easy buckets.

Cleveland made its run after Shaq went out and Mike Brown was forced to go small, with an Atlanta Hawks like lineup. Something the Celtics struggled with all season. Plus Brown was forced to play JJ Hickson again, something he never should have stopped doing. Basically, Shaq’s sprained thumb forced Brown to be a smart coach. On accident.

Small, athletic bigs are hard for Boston to deal with. Cleveland moved better on defense and started trapping Rondo to take the ball out his hands. The result: Boston went 9 of 41 from the floor in the second half. The small lineup also allowed the Cavaliers to run, something else they should do more of, and they got those easy buckets.

Cleveland is one of only a handful of teams that had the roster depth and versatility to win that game. But what they did in it was provide the blueprint for the rest of the league on how to beat the Celtics come April and May.

Bucks 112, Pacers 110: The Bucks are hot and showed why they are looking like a playoff team — they controlled the tempo, they got offensive boards (30 percent of their missed shots), and they were hitting their jumpers (well, except Brandon Jennings, again). They deserved the win, it wasn’t really in doubt.

The Pacers almost stole the win anyway. Down 14 with 5:30 remaining in the game, Indiana got on fire from three, as they do. Brandon Rush hit one, Troy Murphy a couple, even T.J. Ford (who did his the old-fashioned way with the foul). But the Bucks hit their free throws (even Jennings) at the end and held on.

Nuggets 127, Warriors 112: Denver is the far superior team with the superior athletes, when they cared even a little they ran away with it. They jumped out early, were up 19, got bored and gave most of it back, got focused again and won going away. Not much else to it, but it was entertaining. JR Smith draining the three, stealing the inbounds pass then dribbling to the arc and hitting another three. Billups doing whatever he wanted on the way to 37. And it’s just fun to watch Steph Curry play. And Ronny Turiaf dunk. Fun show if not that competitive. 

Add Kobe Bryant to don’t change hack-a-player crowd

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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LeBron James is already there. So is Kevin Durant. Same with a lot of other old-school GMs and coaches around the league.

Their response to the rapid rise in hack-a-player (shouldn’t it always be hack-a-Shaq?) instances is “tell the guy to hit the free throws.”

Add Kobe Bryant to their ranks, reports Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is starting to feel differently. He realizes he runs an entertainment business and a parade of guys to the free throw line without because of a non-basketball play — you can’t begin to tell me fouling a guy 50 feet from the ball is a basketball play in the spirit of the rules — is bad for that business. It is unwatchable. And while every coach in the NBA “I hate to do it” they all do it with more and more frequency, there will be more than twice as many instances this season as there were a year ago, with more and more players involved. Because it works, and because they are paid to win, not play beautiful basketball.

Change is coming. Old-school types always bemoan change, and that’s not just a basketball thing. But the rest of the world has rules in place to stop this because they realize it’s not basketball, it’s gaming the system. And it needs to change.

Timofey Mozgov with maybe “best” missed dunk of the season (VIDEO)

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On this play the Sacramento Kings played defense like only they can — and you wonder why George Karl’s job is in danger — and gave Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov a wide-open lane right down the middle for an easy dunk.

Ooof.

LeBron James had a triple-double (the 40th of his career) and the Cavaliers got a needed easy win, but this is the play you’ll remember.

Karl-Anthony Towns with nasty poster dunk on Dante Cunningham (VIDEO)

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Karl-Anthony Towns is a beast.

While the Timberwolves have plenty of question marks around him, but Towns has been exceptional. Coming into Monday night, he was averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games.

Then Monday he did that to Dante Cunningham.

The Pelicans went on to win the game 116-102, but Towns continues to play well.

Report: Come 2017, Knicks have real shot to land Russell Westbrook

during the first half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on February 8, 2016 in Phoenix, Arizona.  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.
Russell Westbrook
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The summer of 2016 is all about Kevin Durant — and we don’t know what Durant is going to do as a free agent because Durant doesn’t yet know what Durant is going to do as a free agent. Stay in Oklahoma City, bolt to the Bay Area or maybe Washington D.C.? These playoffs, meetings with teams and his advisors, plus personal factors all will play a role in Durant’s decision. Which he will get around to announcing in early July sometime.

But the sense around the league is that while Durant may very well stay in Oklahoma City, Russell Westbrook was drawn to the bright lights of big markets. If an elite player were to bolt OKC, this was the more likely guy. Westbrook is a free agent in 2017.

In an article about Phil Jackson and the Knicks in the wake of Derek Fisher’s firing, Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports said the Knicks have a real shot at Westbrook in a couple of summers.

The Knicks have a real chance to sell Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook in 2017 – New York and Porzingis have his attention, yes – and Jackson ought to start constructing an elite coaching staff to begin that process with Westbrook and with free agents beyond him.

Come 2017, expect Westbrook to meet with a number of big market teams on both coasts, and then make a decision. The summer of 2017 is a couple of NBA lifetimes away, it’s impossible to say what Westbrook will do (he may well decide to stay in OKC if they win enough), but the big market teams looking for a star will get their turn in the batter’s box.

Which is why I still think Durant signs a 1+1 deal this summer to stay in Oklahoma City for another season — he’s going to give everything another chance to come together for the Thunder, then when the salary cap is at its peak in 2017 (an estimated $108 million) he makes his peak seasons decision. He and Westbrook and Serge Ibaka will all be free agents at the same time, and they can make their calls.

And the Knicks could be involved in all of it.