Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Saturday in the NBA:

Nets 104 Celtics 96: Well, on one side of the coin it was the Boston apocalypse. On the other, the biggest win of the year for the Nets. When the Nets assembled this year’s roster, this is likely what they were thinking. Courtney Lee plugging in shots, Devin Harris playing at a level which he is expected to, and Brook Lopez evolving into a dominant center.

Lopez doesn’t just make great plays on his own. Late in the game, with the Nets’ lead dwindling, he recovered the ball from a blocked Harris pass and immediately went up and drew contact to get crucial free throws. Kris Humphries was part of the reason the Nets took control, as his ability to draw fouls is becoming huge. I’ve been saying this for a while, but honestly, the Nets really aren’t that bad.

Bucks 94 Heat 71: When the Bucks are winning, it’s hard to argue with their formula. Start with the big man offensively. Spread the floor. Slow the pace down and work for quality shots. Defend like a madman and rebound all the time. The Heat were without Wade, which may have seemed manageable for a game or two, but it now is becoming evident that Riley has simply not produced a capable support squad. The Miami Heat were overwhelmed by the Milwaukee Bucks today. Outright overwhelmed. Salmons had 18, and continues to look like arguably the best mid-season pickup of anyone.

Pacers 100, Bulls 90: Three things on this one. First, the Bulls got some great opportunities early off Pacer turnovers and screw ups. Out in transition, forcing fouls, playing great ball. Then the Pacers stopping screwing up and the Bulls just kind of said “okay, then.” Second, the Bulls I would imagine are even worse than the league average on second games of back to backs.

And third, though Rose still had an okay game, he still has a habit of leaping into traffic and then trying to decide what to do with the ball. Which works out how you’d imagine most times. He has the fearlessness, it’s his imagination that needs work.

Grizzlies 120 Knicks 109: Fun. Needed Ritalin. But fun.Al Harrington is constantly derided a a terrible player but he’s able to hit tough shots which is an invaluable skill in the NBA and he kept the Knicks in this one on a night where Galinari was run roughshod over. Although he probably had something to do with the Grizzlies’ frontcourt insanity.

Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph combined for 51 points and 35 rebounds. They were simply everywhere, and the Knicks were powerless to close out. The best way I can describe it is the Knicks were handled.

Blazers 110 Wolves 91: Signs you may not be a good defensive club. Nicolas Batum goes off for 31 points on you.

Judges also would accept: “gave up 110 points to one of the slowest teams in the league  on a second night of a back to back.”

The Blazers had their way, without needing to grind much inside. LaMarcus Aldridge stepped up, Batum knocked down shots, and the Blazers rolled. The Wolves scored 10 points in the second quarter. Game over.

Jazz 133 Rockets 110
: Whatever it is about Houston that Utah has the advantage in, it’s thorough. The Jazz put on a clinic, and rested starters most of the fourth. The Rockets have improved on offense with their trade, but gotten worse defensively. Kevin Martin looked good knocking down tough shots, but the Jazz came out and kicked them in the nuts and they fell over.

Warriors 95 Pistons 88: The Pistons ran out of gas right as Stephen Curry got in gear.

One of the things that’s impressed me the most is Curry’s ball-control on passes. He knows exactly where to find guys and how to get it to them. He’s working brilliantly in Golden State and it’s paid off on stat nights like this.

The Pistons are flawed in so many ways it’s difficult to count.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.