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..

 

Draymond Green tells Kyrie Irving: ‘I know your moves’ (video)

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Only Draymond Green can endearingly brag about his defensive intelligence while admitting getting fooled on a play.

In the Warriors’ blowout win over the Cavaliers last night, Green guarded Kyrie Irving and anticipated the Cleveland guard would go one way. After Irving went the other way to score, the two shared a moment during a stoppage.

“I know your  moves,” Green said.

“I know,” replied Irving, whose vast offensive repertoire allowed him to find an unexpected counter.

Thaddeus Young shakes backboard with dunk on Terrence Jones (video)

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Terrence Jones isn’t much of a rim protector.

Thaddeus Young took advantage.

This ferocious jam helped the Pacers beat the Pelicans, 98-85.

Rudy Gobert block secures Utah’s win over Phoenix (VIDEO)

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At the season’s midway point, Rudy Gobert is probably the leader frontrunner in the Defensive Player of the Year race. Kawhi Leonard will have a say, and there is a lot of basketball yet to play, but Gobert anchors the NBA’s best defense and he is a force in the paint.

Just ask the Phoenix Suns.

Down three with 13 seconds left Monday night, the Suns wanted a three to tie, but when that was not easily open Eric Bledsoe decided to drive for two (then the Suns would foul and extend the game), he was cut off so Bledsoe dished to rookie Marquese Chriss, who went in for the layup — and found the long arms of Gobert. Blocked shot and game over.

Utah is for real, folks.

Three Things We Learned, Cavaliers/Warriors edition: What can we take away from Monday to NBA Finals?

OAKLAND, CA - JANUARY 16:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers holds his face after being fouled by Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on January 16, 2017 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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The NBA goes big on Martin Luther King Jr. day — as they should — but if you missed the action because you were busy counting to 100,000 for no reason, we’ve got you covered with the key takeaways from the biggest game on the schedule.

And we’re doubling our usual three things we learned to six for a day.

Six things from Warriors’ thrashing of Cavaliers that could play out in NBA Finals.
 Nothing that happens in the regular season guarantees anything come the NBA playoffs, let alone the Finals. Last season’s 73-win Warriors were just the latest in a long line of teams to prove that. Which means we need to be careful reading much into Golden State’s thrashing of Cleveland on Martin Luther King Jr. day. The Finals are a little less than six months away — both of these teams will be different by then (the Cavaliers hope to have a healthy J.R. Smith and Kevin Love by then, for example).  Remember, in January one year ago the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and how did the following Finals turn out?

However, when these teams meet some strategies are tested, little things in the game that we could see — or teams will need to at least account for — come the Finals meeting we all expect. Here are six things from Monday’s game that could well play out in June in the NBA Finals.

1) In the four straight wins the Cavaliers had in this series prior to Monday, they were very aggressive in defending Stephen Curry — they trapped him off picks, were physical, tried to pressure him into decisions to give up the ball, then when Curry tried to make the playground passes that worked against other teams the Cavaliers help defenders made steals and were off in transition the other way. All of that made Curry passive — remember the guy floating on the perimeter taking just 11 shots on Christmas Day?

On Monday night Curry took that pressure in stride, attacked Kyrie Irving from the opening tip (remember Curry’s first possession he blew right by him), used his handles to create space, used his gravity to draw defenders to him, then he whipped smart passes around the floor. In the first half, Curry had 10 assists and zero turnovers. For the game Curry had 20 shots. If he can match that, or even come close, in the Finals, the Cavs are going to struggle to slow this offense down. Like every mortal team has.

2) In January 2016 the Warriors thrashed the Cavaliers on national television, and that was a critical step in the Cavaliers deciding they needed to let David Blatt go, hire Tyronn Lue, and make changes that put them on Golden State’s level. With Monday’s loss, one thing that was evident was the depth of playmaking options the Warriors have and how that can be difficult to guard. Cleveland has two playmakers right now, Kyrie Irving and LeBron James. Cavs’ GM David Griffin has talked about wanting to add playmakers, LeBron has called for a backup point guard, but it’s clear whatever position they could use to add another playmaker or two heading into the trade deadline.

3) Can Kevin Durant guard LeBron? Chris Haynes of ESPN with an interesting stat:

The Cavaliers were on the last night of a six-game, 12-day road trip — they were not at their best. LeBron clearly wasn’t. However, if KD can even do a reasonable job on LeBron — or can switch on to him without getting torched — the Warriors will be a lot more comfortable and have more options on defense.

4) How did Warriors handle Kyle Korver? They went right at him and made him play defense, which has never been a strong suit (to put it kindly). The Warriors have enough playmakers that whoever Korver was guarding just went at him, and it worked — particularly during the stretch that saw the Warriors first push their lead north of 20. Korver didn’t have a great shooting night, by June he likely is far more comfortable, but if the Warriors can expose him on the other end it will be hard to keep Korver on the court for extended periods.

5) When JaVale McGee checked in for the Warriors, Tyronn Lue countered with Channing Frye. JaVale is not a strong defender, doesn’t step out away from the basket if he can help it, and the Cavs saw an advantage. JaVale’s offense covered that in this game scoring inside, but it’s something to watch.

6) DeAndre Liggins is a good defender, but he’s more focused on-ball than off, and in the fourth quarter Klay Thompson torched him a few times making Liggins chase him off screens away from the ball. You can be sure Steve Kerr noticed and filed that away.