Baseline to baseline (game recaps)

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Billups_game.jpgWhat you missed while watching the Stooges finally get inducted into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame…

Rockets 125, Nuggets 123: What I was left wondering after Carmelo Anthony missed a three pointer with Shane Battier right up on him for the final shot — would that have been different if George Karl was coaching?

Denver probably thinks it shouldn’t have come to that shot in the first place, but it did because they got beat at their own game. Houston ran on them. The Rockets had 60 points in transition. They had 60 from their starting backcourt of Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin. Those guys got Chauncey Billups in foul trouble and out of the game before it was time for a final shot. The Rockets new backcourt won that one — including Aaron Brooks pull up jumper at the elbow that was the game winner — and that bodes well for their future.

Lakers 124, Warriors 121: Worst part of this for fans watching at home: Listening to Mark Jackson campaign for the Warriors coaching job all night long on a national broadcast.

The Lakers beat the Warriors at their own game — Los Angeles ran and shot jumpers rather than go inside (although Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol had good numbers). Los Angeles can’t really play at that pace and the ball over a lot to fuel the Warriors transition game. Everyone pounds the Warriors inside — the Lakers didn’t do it enough and there may be no better sign of how screwed up their offense is.

Los Angeles shot the ball better, got to the line a lot more, and controlled the glass (grabbing the offensive board on 43.8% of their missed shots).  LA didn’t play great defense and gave up a late 9-0 run to make it close. The Warriors had a chance to tie with the clock running down on threes from Stephen Curry and Monta Ellis (who settled for an off-balance three as opposed to passing to a wide open Anthony Morrow). That kind of decision is how the Warriors keep losing games.

Knicks 94, Sixers 84: Without David Lee, the Knicks are useless in the paint. He had foul trouble in the first half, he played just a handful of minutes, so Samuel Dalembert had seven offensive boards and the Sixers grabbed the rebound on more than half of their missed shots. The result: Sixers up 11 at the half.

Second half, Lee stays in (Dalembert has two offensive boards the rest of the way) and the Knicks step up their defense at the same time that the Sixers legs started to get tired on the second night of a back-to-back. Toney Douglas provided a great spark — smart move by the Knicks to pay the Lakers cash on draft day to pick him up, the guy has some game. Knicks pull away in the second half, part because of them and part because the Sixers got tired and their shot went missing.

Celtics 119, Pistons 93: It seems like cause for a party — the Celtics played up to their potential for a night. The Pistons played down to their potential for a night. The result was ugly for lovers of basketball, great for Celtics fans.

Jazz 112, Wizards 89: The Jazz are a very disciplined team that works the flex offense until they get good shots. I’m not sure the Wizards players have ever herd the word “disciplined.” They certainly don’t know what it means. Hence, your result — Utah was up 14 at half and went from there. Mehmet Okur looked good in his return from a back injury.

Hornets 108, Clippers 100: Good Baron sighting!!! There should be a league pass alert for these rare nights when Good Baron Davis shows up to play.

The appearance of Good Baron– the guy who drives and dishes and sees the game like few guards in the league — made this one interesting. The final tally: 18 points (on 14 shots) and 17 assists for Davis. He took just four shots outside the paint; the usual barrage of pull up jumpers was gone. Usually that will get the Clippers a win.

But not when the Hornets are draining every outside shot — New Orleans shot 69% in the second half. Not when the Clippers center can’t throw a pea in the ocean (Chris Kaman was 3 of 15 and a couple of those makes were dunks). Even on a rare Good Baron night the Clippers find a way to lose.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.