Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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Our game recaps from Monday, or what you missed while deciding how many bottles of the John Calipari bourbon bottles you want to buy….

Mavericks 89, Bobcats 84: Maybe the most interesting thing about this game was the jacket new Charlotte owner Michael Jordan wore. Close first half (and the Bobcats closed that second quarter out well) as Dallas looked like a team on the second night of a back-to-back. Flat as that Coke you left out last night.

But change was coming. You knew the run was coming. Everyone watching knew change was coming. Jordan’s jacket even knew the run was coming. Dallas had won seven (now eight) in a row, you don’t get that if you roll over. Charlotte did not have the players to stop the big run, the result was the Mavericks taking the lead and holding on with some key late shots.

Cavaliers 124, Knicks 93: Without Shaq or Big Z, the Cavaliers have to go small. And as Rob Mahoney pointed out, that’s not such a bad thing — especially against a Knicks team that wants to go smaller than you. The Cleveland small is so much more athletic, just so much flat out better than the Knicks’ version. Cleveland had 74 points at the half, and this was over. Of course, some New York fans want to blame this on Mike D’Antoni, as if there is some magical Xs and Os trick that turns Tracy McGrady into a superstar defender. D’Antoni could have a time machine and it would not help much with that problem.

After the game D’Antoni was asked if the 2010 plan was worth suffering losses like this. “I’ll tell you next year.”

Trail Blazers 103, Grizzlies 93: Memphis did not treat this like any other regular season game — they came in 3.5 games back of Portland for the final playoff spot in the West. It’s starting to get late, these are the wins you need. But the reason they are now 4.5 back is that Portland is the better team. Memphis was up at the half then went into hibernation on offense. They provided 15 second half turnovers to make sure the Trail Blazers got some easy transition buckets. It was ugly.

Memphis made some runs when they could get the ball inside to Zach Randolph and Mark Gasol. Still not enough, Portland’s front line defenders may be undersized but Marcus Camby and Juwan Howard did just enough, and Brandon Roy played well off the pick and roll when it mattered.

Magic 126, 76ers 105: The real Jameer Nelson is back, he had 22 points and 10 rebounds. With him at the helm Orlando played maybe their best offensive game of the season (138 points per 100 possessions), and that was far, far to much for Philly.

Hawks 116, Bulls 92: Pound it inside, work inside out. The Hawks should do that just about every night, but they really executed it in the first half against the smallish Bulls and the result was 59 first half points and a 16 point lead. The Bulls made it close in the fourth again, but when it got too close Atlanta went back to dominating inside and that was ballgame.

The result of this game — the Hawks are now two games clear of Boston for the third playoff spot in the East.

Rockets 116, Raptors 92: Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin combined for 56 points on 62.5% shooting, and they hit 9 of 17 from three. Think the Rockets may have found their backcourt?

Suns 101, Nuggets 85: In the second quarter Phoenix went to a zone, and Denver apparently has not practiced much against that. Or ever seen it before. No good shooting over the top, very little attacking the soft middle of the zone. Far too much dribble penetration, and most of it was a step slow. Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony combined for 23 first quarter points, but had none in the second. JR Smith’s always questionable shot selection killed them against the zone.

But Denver has other worries. Like that the small front line of the Suns grabbed 40% of their missed shots for offensive rebounds. Or that while Ty Lawson has been a great story, when they have to go to Anthony Carter the entire state of Colorado winces. He is not playing well.

Clippers 108, Jazz 104: The Clippers led wire-to-wife on this one. They jumped out early, and were still up 12 with 150 seconds left to play — and almost lost it. They had to hang on with free throws. Typical Clippers. Not typical Jazz, who have been red hot lately but looked like a tired team on the road.

Spurs 106, Hornets 92: The Spurs dominated this one, it looked like an old-school, vintage Spurs win. Which is to say not that fun to watch. The fun thing was Hornets rookie Marcus Thornton, who went off for 30 on 12 of 19 shooting off the bench. The kid can play. Byron Scott did a nice job of sitting on Darren Collison and Thornton to start the season, nobody knew New Orleans had this talent buried on the bench.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.