Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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Our game recaps from Friday, or what you missed while filling out your Oscars pool

Bobcats 98, Lakers 83: The Lakers are not playing well right now, they are playing without confidence in the offensive system. That said, they are not playing as poorly as Lakers fans think they are.

Before we get too far into that, lets give the Bobcats some credit. This is a good defensive team that saves some of its best efforts for the Lakers. Larry Brown breaks out that 2004 Finals defense that pushes the triangle out higher on the floor, and the Lakers just can’t adjust. On offense, Charlotte ran the pick-and-roll well and hit their midrange jumpers consistently. This was a quality win.

This was always a trap game for the Lakers — second game of a back-to-back with everyone talking about the Orlando rematch on Sunday. But right now the Lakers look like a team killing time until the playoffs. And these Lakers are just not good enough to win doing that. They need to be engaged in the game — or for at least part of the game, as they were against Denver. The Lakers are in a funk — they are lazy taking care of the ball, their bigs are missing shots and every night different players seem to take the night off.

This, however, does not mean they are not title contenders, that they are not going to turn it on. There are 19 games left until a first round playoff matchup where they will be the heavy favorites. Kobe ad Phil Jackson have been down this road before, they can get a team functioning and focused. But it has to happen pretty soon.

Cavaliers 99, Pistons 92: The only important thing out of this game is that Rodney Stuckey is okay.

The incident may have had an impact on the outcome. The Pistons had been up on a rather lazy and unfocused Cavaliers team, by 21 at one point in the first half, nine at halftime and six at the time of Stuckey’s collapse. Pistons players admitted they were the ones not focused after that. LeBron James dropped 40.

Thunder 104, Clippers 87: Here is all you need to know about Kevin Durant: I was at this game, sitting next to two advanced scouts, and at least four different times Durant would make a play — slashing to the hoop or a jumper with a man in his face — and these scouts just shook their heads in disbelief. Twice once scout turned to the other and said, “How the hell are you supposed to defend that?” When you are wowing the oft-jaded advanced scouts, you are good.

This was really about the Thunder getting focused on defense and the Clippers having no good offensive answer for that.

Celtics 96, Sixers 86: There were some great games tonight. This was not one of them. Two teams played uninspired perimeter defense, and the big difference was that the Celtics have better outside shooters than the Sixers. Well, except for Paul “1-9” Pierce. But KG is 5 of 7 from the outside. Bottom line, ugly wins are still wins.

Raptors 102, Knicks 96: Here’s one of the things you have to like about David Lee — he still cares. The Raptors were without an ill Chris Bosh and they still scored 62 of their points in the paint. When the New York media called Lee on it after the game (as if it was all his fault, he’s a 6’9″ center), he took responsibility. Nobody else on that team still seems to be taking responsibility.

Bucks 102, Wizards 74: These two play a home-and-home and the Bucks win them both by a combined 44 points. The Wizards fans were booing, and Flip Saunders should have joined in as his charges had just 10 assists all game. We’ve all seen his offense at other stops, it’s not about isolation. (Although part of the reason for the 10 assists is that somebody has to hit the shot off the pass for their to be an assist, and the Wizards shot a woeful 37.8%.) Bogut with a double-double, he has been the second best center in the East the last few weeks.

Hawks 127, Warriors 122: If Mike Bibby could have played his entire career against the Warriors he might have been talked about like MJ — he torched his favorite opponent again, this time for 23 on 8 of 10, with seven three pointers. Al Horford had 25 and a big game inside for Atlanta because every decent center has a big game inside against the Warriors. At least Steph Curry is still fun to watch for Golden State, they’d kill to have that in New York right now.

Magic 97, Nets 87: The Magic acted like they cared for a quarter, and jumped out to 32-18 lead (Matt Barnes had 14 of those), then started thinking about the Lakers showdown Sunday and coasted. Against the Nets that’s still enough to get them a win.

Mavericks 108, Kings 100: Brendan Haywood hurt his back on the opening tip (it had been bothering him some before) and played just seven minutes. Rick Carlisle joined him in the locker room after getting tossed arguing for Dirk to get some calls. Doesn’t matter when you are as hot as Dallas. Key stat: The Mavericks won the turnover battle handily, giving it up eight time but having 10 steals and forcing the Kings into 17 turnovers.

Nuggets 122, Pacers 114: Denver is banged up and did not play very well. Fortunately for them, they played the Pacers.

Spurs 102, Hornets 91: Darren Collison continues to be the man — 32 points on 14 of 19 shooting.  But the Spurs played a very good and balanced  offensive game — seven players in double figures — and they get the win because they are the better team.

Paul George on Thunder: “This feels like a championship team”

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They have an MVP, top-five NBA player. They have another All-NBA player who is a strong wing defender. They now have an aging all-star who still can get buckets with the best of them. There is a strong collection of role players who can help form a solid defense.

On paper, there’s a lot to like with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Paul George realizes that, as he said to Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“This feels like a championship team,” George told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m in a good place. I know Russ (Westbrook) is in a good place. Melo is motivated more than ever…You put us three together, who all have something to prove still, (and) we’re going to be a special team. We have a young group, a lot of talent here, an unbelievable coach (in Billy Donovan), (and) as you see, a front office that’s willing to do whatever it takes to improve the team. It just has all the makeups to be a great organization and a chance to put championships together.”

Championships? Plural? That implies the team would stay together, and sorry Thunder fans, but that is far from a sure thing. First, financially there is no realistic way Oklahoma City can afford to sign Russell Westbrook and Paul George max deals (which they both will get) and keep Anthony if he opts into the final year of his contract for just shy of $28 million.

OKC is a small market team that simply would lose a lot of money to keep the band together, and this ownership group traded James Harden out of fear of a massive luxury tax bill. (They will pay a tax bill of about $24 million for this season if the roster stays as is.)

Also, George’s camp made it very clear during the run-up to his trade he plans to test free agency and has a strong lean to the Lakers next season. He may be more likely to stay in OKC now after the trade, but how much more?

However, George is right, this team does look like a roster that could contend for a title most years — and maybe be in the mix this year. We will put aside the Warriors challenge for a moment (they are still the clear favorites if they stay healthy) and get to the big question for the Thunder:

Will their big three learn to sacrifice, learn to mesh, learn to play together as a team as a championship team does fast enough? The 2008 Celtics did, but that team of veterans has been the exception. It took LeBron’s Miami Heat two seasons to learn how to win, and the same when he came back to Cleveland. OKC doesn’t have two seasons, they have to do it fast. It’s possible, but not easy.

George is right, this is an excellent Oklahoma City team. The Thunder are now right in the middle of that second tier in the West with Houston (another team that has to learn to mesh and sacrifice) and the Spurs. That’s a great place to be.

Is it a place George wants to stay? That question will hang over the Thunder all season.

 

Mark Cuban: Trump has “got to be able to take the blowback” from comments

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President Donald Trump used the bully pulpit of his office to, well, bully — he fired shots at the NFL over its concussion protocols and players kneeling during the national anthem. Then he rescinded his invite to the White House to the Warriors after Stephen Curry said he would vote not to go.

Sports stars fired back. LeBron James called Trump a bum, Chris Paul asked if he didn’t have better things to worry about, and the Warriors said as a team they would use their time in Washington this season to “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.” Even supporters of the President, such as Patriots owner Robert Craft, rebuked the president for his comments.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for Meet the Press Trump has to be a big enough man to handle people standing up to him.

“If the president’s going to say something condemning a person, an industry, a sport, then he’s got to be able to take the blowback that’s going to come back,” Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for “Meet the Press.”

“So LeBron [James] and Steph and any athlete, any owner, it’s an open door now, and so they have every right for the same reasons to be able to say whatever’s on their mind,” he said. “Now we’ll be able to see if he can take it.”

Unlike previous presidents of both parties, Trump is not good at letting criticism of him and his administration roll off his back to stay focused on his agenda. It’s more personal with him, and that is something Warriors coach Steve Kerr said is a problem for him, and the nation.

Bottom line, NBA players are not going to back off — their base isn’t going to push back against them for their comments. Most are going to nod their heads in agreement. The NBA fan demographic is not the NFL’s. This storyline is far from over.

Three questions the Indiana Pacers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 42-40, swept in the first round

I know what you did last summer: Larry Bird resigned then the Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, a horrible deal that got the summer off on the wrong track. Indiana also swapped Jeff Teague, C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis for Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph in order to prevent bottoming out. The Pacers picked T.J. Leaf (No. 18), Ike Anigbogu (No. 47) and Edmond Sumner (No. 52) in the draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PACERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Indiana escape its unsatisfying track? The Pacers are headed toward winning 30-something games, missing the playoffs and picking in the bottom of the lottery. It’s a miserable place to be.

Be just a little better, and they could make the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Be just a little worse, and they could land a premier draft pick.

Either direction is preferable to the apparent status quo.

The Pacers clearly don’t want to tank. Hence, their offseason strategy. But if the season goes south quickly, they could embrace losing by trading veterans and/or giving more minutes to young players.

Competing for the playoffs is a little trickier, but Indiana has enough veterans where that could take care of itself. The odds are against it, but this team is capable of sneaking in with the right breaks.

2) Can Victor Oladipo handle the expectations thrust upon him? Oladipo didn’t choose to return to the basketball-crazed state where he starred in college. He didn’t ask to be the Pacers’ main return for Paul George.

But here he is.

Oladipo is a solid player, and at 25, he might still be improving. He’ll have to in order to justify the George trade (and maybe even his four-year, $84 million contract extension that kicks in this season).

No longer playing with Russell Westbrook should help. Oladipo regressed while trying to play a spot-up role next to the Oklahoma City superstar last season. Indiana needs Oladipo to be more aggressive with the ball, a role that better suits him. Whether he’s good enough to handle those responsibilities on a good team is another question entirely, though.

3) Will Myles Turner break out? With George gone, Turner is now the Pacers’ franchise player (ignoring how the team might market Oladipo, who returns after starring with the Hoosiers).

Turner has all the potential to be a modern rim-protecting, 3-point-shooting center. He can get more comfortable beyond the arc. He must fine-tune his defense. But all the future looks bright for the 21-year-old.

He was intriguing as a rookie then even better last year. How steeply Turner continues to ascend will play a major role in whether Indiana exceeds expectations this season – and how its rebuild looks beyond.

Goran Dragic back with Heat after summer title for Slovenia

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MIAMI (AP) — A quick summary of the last few weeks in the life of Miami guard Goran Dragic:

He led Slovenia, his mother’s homeland and the place he calls home, to an improbable gold medal at the European Championships. The title game came against Serbia, his father’s homeland and a place where he still has relatives.

He was the tournament’s MVP. He received one of Slovenia’s highest civilian honors. He was brought to tears by a gift of a jersey from the mother of his idol, the late star Drazen Petrovic.

And through it all, the words of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra echoed in his head – winning a championship is usually more demanding mentally than physically.

“Now I fully understand what he means,” Dragic said.

It’s a lesson Dragic hopes to put to more use starting next week, when he returns to the U.S. and the Heat begin training camp. The only true point guard on Miami’s roster, Dragic is going to be a major key if the Heat are to return to the playoffs and contend in the Eastern Conference. And coming off his MVP showing at EuroBasket, the Heat hope his game keeps elevating.

“He looked sensational,” Spoelstra said of his point guard’s play at EuroBasket. “I’m so happy for him, so proud of that accomplishment, this most unlikely championship. Slovenia is a country of only 2 million. It’s smaller than the city of Miami. And to beat the powerhouses over there, but also to see how passionate Goran was about trying to lead this team to the title.”

Dragic averaged 22.6 points and 5.1 assists in the nine games. His 35 points in the title game was the high for the tournament.

He told Spoelstra in June he was all-in on trying to deliver Slovenia its first gold medal.

“He trained extremely diligently for this,” Spoelstra said. “And he competed and led at such a high level. You could just see the emotions pouring out of him. I talked to him on the phone after they won and he said, `This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”‘

The task that awaits in Miami won’t be easy.

The Heat had a strange season a year ago – starting 11-30, finishing 30-11 and missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker. Dragic averaged a career-best 20.3 points, and emerged as a locker-room leader as the year went along. He also did what he could to persuade Heat free agents like Dion Waiters and James Johnson to stay.

“It’s a lot of new challenges ahead,” Dragic said. “I’m looking forward to come to Miami and to battle for a title in Miami. Nobody gave us a chance, the Slovenian national team. Nobody is going to give us a chance in Miami. But I always believe. Why not?”

An estimated 20,000 people stood in the pouring rain to greet the Slovenian team when it arrived home. The medal ceremony after the championship game became Slovenia’s most-watched television event in the country, at least since ratings started being kept. Dragic was told 94 percent of the nation was watching.

“I’m just proud of him,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “And I’m proud that we have him.”

Before 1991, both Serbia and Slovenia were part of Yugoslavia. Hence, the family ties for Dragic still exist.

“Playing for my national team for the past 12 years, you’re always waiting to achieve something, and as soon as we won the final all the burden from my shoulders fell down,” he said. “I felt so happy. And, of course, on the other side, I have family in Serbia. But I was born in Slovenia … it was not a question that I was going to do everything to bring them a title.”