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.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.