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..

 

Why is Robin Lopez holding this dog during his exit interview? (VIDEO)

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What did Chicago Bulls center Robin Lopez have to say during his exit interviews? I can’t really tell, it’s all a bunch of white noise. All I see is him holding his giant, shaggy dog named Muppet while speaking to reporters.

I can’t get over it, really. Why hasn’t someone thought of this before?

Lopez is the perfect candidate to do this if you think about it, given his propensity to be a little off-kilter.

Via Twitter:

Lopez was mostly talking about taking away positives from a weird Bulls season in which they struggled all year until miraculously making the 8-seed before challenging top-ranked Boston in round 1.

Clippers, Jazz prepare for Game 7 in Los Angeles

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LOS ANGELES  (AP) – Los Angeles Clippers guard Chris Paul was adamant the sun would not set on Paul Pierce‘s NBA run in Salt Lake City on Friday night.

“I looked over at ‘Truth’ during one of (those) timeouts and I said ‘You’re not ending your career in Utah,’ ” said Paul, referring to Pierce’s popular nickname. “We told him that. We just said we want to keep this thing going for him. Paul was big tonight. Like the 3 he hit over there on the wing, and stuff like that. Just his energy and his voice in those different timeouts I think was huge for us.”

With a crucial 98-93 victory over the Utah Jazz in Game 6, the Clippers will attempt to extend the career of the 39-year-old Pierce, who is retiring at season’s end, and capture the series Sunday in Game 7 at Staples Center.

The winner advances to the second round to meet the Golden State Warriors in a best-of-seven affair beginning Tuesday at Oracle Arena in Oakland, Calif.

Paul, whose two late free throws sealed the win against the Jazz, led the charge by scoring 29 points, dishing eight assists and allowing the Clippers to avoid elimination in the opening round for the second straight season. The Portland Trail Blazers bounced them last season in six games, aided by injuries to Paul and Blake Griffin.

And as Paul loathes to hear, the point guard has never guided a team past the second round.

“This is what we talked about before (Game 6),” said Paul, who has become the Clippers’ main force offensively with Griffin out of the playoffs again, this time with an injury to his big toe. “Doc (Rivers) said to go out there and give yourself a chance. We knew we couldn’t win both games (Friday), and we wanted to give ourselves a chance.”

Utah will have another opportunity to end Pierce’s career on Sunday despite missing a chance on its home court. After the Jazz won Game 5 on Tuesday at Staples, All-Star forward Gordon Hayward made it clear he didn’t want to return for a Game 7.

Hayward, though, is humming a different tune now.

“We’ve come a long way from where we were three years ago,” Hayward told the Salt Lake Tribune. “If you had told me at the beginning of the year you’d be in a Game 7 against the Clippers in L.A., I’d have been like, ‘Bring it on.’ ”

The Jazz will be forced to bring their best with center Rudy Gobert hobbling again. Gobert, who sustained a hyperextended left knee in Game 1 that kept him out of the lineup for two games, sprained his ankle in the second half of Game 6 and was forced to the bench because of it during critical stretches.

Gobert said the ankle wouldn’t hinder him Sunday.

“I sprained it on somebody’s foot,” said Gobert, who finished with 15 points, nine boards and three blocks, according to the Tribune. “I tried to run through it, but that didn’t work out. I’ve had a lot of sprained ankles before. I will be good.”

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.