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.

“Tired” Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

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LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest. Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game, at his own request.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

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Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

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Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.

Defense? Dramatic finish? Team LeBron wins All-Star Game that’s worth watching

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LOS ANGELES — The NBA gambled its new format — with captains picking teams playground style — would produce an All-Star Game where the players showed some pride, played hard, and the showcase again would become something that resembled basketball (unlike last season).

It worked.

For proof guys were invested this time around, check out how Team LeBron responded to winning with a defensive stop, taking away Team Stephen’s attempt to get a clean look at a game-tying three in the closing seconds.

The THRILL of #NBAAllStar VICTORY!

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“It had a real game feel to it,” LeBron James said.

Team LeBron beat Team Stephen 148-145. LeBron was named MVP with 29 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists. He also hit the game-tying and go-ahead shot that got the win.

“I played with (LeBron) a few times,” Kyrie Irving said of the play and pass that set up that LeBron game-winner. “I cut back door, (Russell Westbrook) was driving, I saw the opportunity. I saw, before even Russ even passed to me, LeBron was going to circle to the rim, and he’s one of the best finishers at the rim.”

Most importantly, this was an All-Star Game with some defense — it had 81 fewer points than the layup line game last year, and the fewest points in five years. It also proved to be the closest game in six years.

“We wanted to kind of change the narrative of the All-Star Game being a joke,” Kevin Durant said. “Today we wanted to make it a real basketball game.”

There was more defense than last year from the start of the game — for example, LeBron blocked an alley-oop pass in the first quarter. Of course, “better than last year” was not a high bar to clear, but there was some effort to not just have a layup line. Most of the time.

Also to start the game, Anthony Davis came out wearing the “0” jersey of injured teammate DeMarcus Cousins (he switched back to his own #23 before the first half was over).

On the night, Team LeBron got 19 points out of Kevin Durant, 16 from Paul George, and 14 from Andre Drummond. Team Stephen was led by 21 from both DeMar DeRozan and Damian Lillard, and 19 points and eight rebounds from Joel Embiid in his first All-Star Game.

The fantastic ending made up for what was a laughable opening skit/national anthem before tip-off that did something very rare — it unified NBA Twitter. It was awful.

Now all anybody is talking about is the game itself. And that’s what the NBA wanted.

LeBron James hits go-ahead shot in All-Star win (video)

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LOS ANGELES – LeBron James‘ team trailed by 13 midway through the fourth quarter of the All-Star game, but he led a competitive comeback.

This shot put his team up 146-145 over Stephen Curry‘s team, and Team LeBron held on for a 148-145 win:

Great penetration by Russell Westbrook, and he and Kyrie Irving moved the ball well. LeBron made it count.