Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Saturday while you were watching Sandra Bullock accept her award

Magic 96, Lakers 94: One regular season game never is a complete picture, but every once in a while one is a microcosm of a team. This defense-heavy game told us a lot about both teams.

Orlando is a just a better team when the offense is running through a finally healthy Jameer Nelson. His stats were not spectacular, but he set their offense up and it flows when he does it. Vince Carter showed why the Magic wanted him as he used the pick-and-roll to slash into the lane. The Magic played great defense to set up the win, and they pounded the boards hard. This is a team that now has beaten the Lakers and the Cavaliers in recent weeks. This is a team that after a slow start is looking like a serious title contender heading into the playoffs.

These Lakers remind me a lot of the 2004 version — a team that made it to the finals because of an amazing collection of talent, but that was not enough of a team to win it all. Los Angeles has enough pure talent to hang close in a game where they played mediocre on offense for long stretches. The Lakers are inconsistent outside shooters, which allows teams to pack the paint in and make it hard for the talented Laker bigs to have room to operate. The spacing required for the triangle comes and goes. So the Lakers go heavy Kobe isolation at the end of games. Often that is good enough. Sometimes it is not.

Pistons 110 Rockets 107: The Rockets relied twice in crunch time on pick and pop resulting in an 18 footer from Luis Scola (who is very good from that spot). The Pistons relied on Tayshaun Prince dunking in the exact same manner (left sweeping right, one hand, no pump-back) three times in the final four minutes. That explains the Detroit win.

An important thing to note here is the play of Jordan Hill for the Rockets. He was considered a bust in New York, but the kid brought a nice finish underneath and some solid rebounds, and got run late. Lot of potential for the Rockets. But then, the things they need now (like, oh, say, Kevin Martin scoring well) just aren’t showing up when they need them.

Thunder 108 Kings 102: The Kings got production from the guys they want to get production from. That’s a win for them.

But when Kevin Durant pours in points plus rebounds plus assists? When they get contributions from all over? When Russell Westbrook decides to go alpha dog in the fourth quarter? Well, at that point it’s rhetorical question time.  Too much too everything, and the Thunder keep winning.

Nuggets 118, Blazers 106: When the Blazers offense with this diminished roster is great, it creates wide open jumpers through well-timed and executed drive and dish, then the extra pass, then potentially another pass.

When the Blazers’ offense with this diminished roster is terrible, it settles for mid-range jumpers instead of forcing the issue, and often suffers with too selfless play.

See how thin the line can be?

The Blazers’ injuries are felt more than any other team. They just feel and look like such a shell of who they were at the start of the year. They have no one to kick the ball to down low, they lack perimeter personnel to fill in the gaps because one of their two perimter guys outside of Roy (banged-up), Bayless and Miller are always having to initiate the offense.

The Nuggets got the glass, made a handful of good defensive isolation plays based mostly on superior talent, and Carmelo Anthony did his thing.

Still, something’s lacking from Denver, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Either that or Birdman’s mustache is freaking me out.

Sixers 114, Raptors 101: The one sure way to get Philadelphia going is to give them some turnovers to convert to easy buckets — and that’s what Toronto did early. For the game, the Sixers turned the ball over on 20% of their possessions, one in every five trips down the court. Thaddeus Young feasted, and had a career best 32. When Toronto tried to make a late run it was rookie Jrue Holiday who took charge and basically took over the game. At age 19. There are moments of hope for the Sixers club (at least until they remember Elton Brand’s contract)

Celtics 86, Wizards 83: Boston’s whole game is based on energy and bringing that energy to the defensive end in particular. They didn’t for 42 minutes. Washington came out wanting this, they put in the energy. But in the end talent wins out in this league 99% of the time — Boston has a lot more. Washington is learning, Andray Blatche missed a turn around 10-footer with five seconds to go to tie the game — a shot he has been just drilling the last five games — and he missed it. So Boston plays six minutes of good ball in an otherwise sloppy game and gets a win. It goes like that some nights..

 

US men’s basketball enters a new world – without its stars

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The jerseys say USA, though that’s about all that will be recognizable.

When the U.S. men’s basketball team returns to action later this month, fans might be left wondering, “the red, white and who?”

The Americans are cautiously entering a whole new basketball world, one in which not only are the best U.S. players not available, but neither are any in the NBA. LeBron James, Kevin Durant and the stars might show up in a few years for the Basketball World Cup and Olympics, but only if a group of minor leaguers can get them there.

It’s all part of FIBA’s new qualifying format and the road starts at the AmeriCup 2017. It’s a tournament the Americans don’t need to win – and aren’t sure they can – but one they have to play to make themselves eligible for the events that will matter.

“It’s going to be really interesting,” USA Basketball men’s national team director Sean Ford said. “We don’t know. We’re flying blind a little bit.”

Even the Americans’ best-known commodity is a bit of an unknown now.

Jeff Van Gundy coached in the NBA Finals and is analyst for them every year on ABC, but he’s leading the U.S. team as an international basketball rookie. He is busy brushing up on the nuances of a game that can be played and officiated completely differently than in the U.S.

He begins Thursday in Houston for training camp, where he will seek the 12 players who will travel to Uruguay and possibly Argentina for the AmeriCup and the potentially better-prepared opponents who wait.

“What we have to do is match and exceed their passion, how hard we play, how together we are as a group,” Van Gundy said, “because when the U.S. has not succeeded in international competitions, it’s because there wasn’t as much maybe sacrifice as you need, or maybe you were deficient in one skill that was important.”

It’s the Americans’ first appearance in the former FIBA Americas tournament since 2007. Their starting lineup in that romp to gold – James, Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony, Jason Kidd and Dwight Howard – was one of the strongest the U.S. has ever assembled.

The 17 players in camp with Van Gundy include Kendall Marshall, Reggie Williams, Darius Morris and Marshall Plumlee, players good enough to play in the NBA but not stick.

The Americans haven’t needed to play in their zone championship since because they’ve won every Olympic and world title, exempting them from qualifying. But FIBA has revamped its qualification system to look more like soccer’s, where national teams will play home-and-away games against teams in their pool.

But some of the windows are during the NBA season – the opening games are scheduled for Thanksgiving weekend – and players under NBA contract won’t be permitted to play. So the Americans plan to primarily use players from the NBA G League, with perhaps some who have been playing overseas.

“Look, no one’s going to feel sorry for us. But we know that this is different and we’re going to have to figure out how to be successful in a different model,” Ford said. “There’s always unknowns, but there’s probably more unknowns because No. 1, we don’t know how good we need to be. We don’t know how good we can be.”

Ford considers the prospective players a notch below the NBA, calling them “survivors, grinders, competitors.” That’s far from the level that suited up for Mike Krzyzewski for a decade or would play for Gregg Popovich in 2019 and 2020, but Van Gundy is eager to work with them in his first coaching assignment – not counting his daughter’s youth league – since he was fired by the Rockets in 2007.

“There’s very few LeBron James of the world – obviously one – or great players who have it easy. These guys’ careers have not been easy and so I really admire their persistence, their grit and their determination,” Van Gundy said. “To get to work with them and coach them, that was part of the pull for me.”

With limited time and options, the Americans know the AmeriCup could be a challenge. Ford said they hope to reach the semifinals in Argentina and see what happens from there.

They will need to start winning come November, when they open their first-round pool that includes Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba.

The U.S. has to finish in the top three there, playing their other windows of games in February and June-July, to advance to another pool that will include three teams among Argentina, Panama, Paraguay and Uruguay, from Sept. 2018 to Feb. 2019.

Another top-three finish then would clinch their spot in China in 2019.

They will have a deeper field of candidates later who will be in shape from playing with their G League teams. But, they also could lose a player they like if he plays well enough for them in August to get a contract in the NBA or overseas.

There are many uncertainties, though Ford said there is one constant.

“From a USA Basketball standpoint,” he said, “if we’re going to put a team together, we’re going to try to put the best team together that we can and go out and try to win.”

Former Lakers forward Tommy Hawkins dies

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Tommy Hawkins, the first black athlete to earn All-America honors in basketball at Notre Dame and who played for the Los Angeles Lakers during a 10-year NBA career, has died. He was 80.

Hawkins died Wednesday in Malibu, according to the Los Angeles Dodgers, for whom he once worked as director of communications.

He graduated from Notre Dame in 1959. Hawkins was inducted into the school’s Ring of Honor and his 1,318 career rebounds remain the oldest record on the books in Fighting Irish basketball history.

Hawkins was selected by the Minneapolis Lakers in the first round of the 1959 NBA draft. He played for them as well as the Cincinnati Royals, and notched 6,672 career points and 4,607 rebounds.

Nuggets hire assistant coach, assistant general manager

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DENVER (AP) — The Denver Nuggets have hired veteran NBA coach Bob Weiss as an assistant on Michael Malone’s staff and announced the hiring of Calvin Booth as an assistant general manager.

Weiss has coached 31 seasons in the NBA, including the last four as an assistant with the Charlotte Hornets. He’s been a head coach with four teams, compiling a 223-299 career record with the Spurs, Hawks, Clippers and SuperSonics.

Prior to coaching, Weiss played a dozen seasons in the NBA.

Also Wednesday, the Nuggets made official their hiring of Booth, 41, who spent the previous four seasons in the Minnesota Timberwolves front office, serving as director of pro personnel last season.

Booth has quietly emerged as a respected evaluator of talent. He was one of the holdovers in the front office when Tom Thibodeau was hired to take over last summer as president of basketball operations and coach.

After one season working under Thibodeau and GM Scott Layden, Booth left for a promotion with the Nuggets, taking a position that will give him more responsibility and a greater say in the direction of another young team on the rise in the Western Conference.

Booth joins a Nuggets front office that includes Tim Connelly, who was promoted earlier this summer to president of basketball operations, a move that allowed Denver to hold on to promising executive Arturas Karnisovas as the team’s general manager.

Booth spent 10 years as a player in the league. Four of those seasons were with the Washington Wizards while Connelly was working there. The two also worked together in New Orleans in 2012-13, when Connelly was the assistant GM and Booth was a scout.

 

Rasheed Wallace says Zach Randolph isn’t a drug dealer: ‘The bigger the paycheck, the bigger the party’

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Kings big man Zach Randolph is charged with possessing marijuana with intent to sell, a felony – not because law enforcement has evidence Randolph planned to sell the drug, but because of the amount of the drug found.

Randolph’s agent/attorney denied the allegations.

Also sticking up for Randolph? Rasheed Wallace, who played with Randolph on the Trail Blazers.

Wallace, via TMZ:

“It seems to be — no matter who you are — the bigger the paycheck, the bigger the party,” Sheed says.

“I know for a fact he ain’t no dope dealer.”

Charging someone for intending to distributing drugs without any proof he intends to distribute drugs is hazardously lazy. Randolph – who has earned about $175 million in his career and is on a two-year, $24 million contract with Sacramento – can afford more marijuana than most. That doesn’t mean he plans to sell it.

The stakes are high for Randolph. If he’s convicted of “a felony involving the distribution of marijuana,” per the Collective Bargaining Agreement, he’d be banned from the NBA for at least two years.