Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What you missed while playing with your beer bottle opening remote control

Spurs 99, Thunder 96: Learning to win is filled with hard lessons, and the Spurs have been dishing them out to the Thunder all season. These are teams on opposite trajectories, but the Spurs have things to teach the young Thunder.

The latest came in a game where it was painfully clear how much more athletic the Thunder are, and with the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back their legs looked tired. For a stretch late in the game, the Spurs missed six of seven while Serge Ibaka was bothering Duncan and blocking everything.

I can’t really stand the “they just find a way to win” cliché, but the Spurs just do not die. They stayed in it with smart plays then Manu Ginobili got the game winning free throws by making the veteran play of driving into Ibaka and drawing the foul. Meanwhile the Thunder were making rookie mistakes like when Russell Westbrook stepped on the line trying to inbound the ball. Oklahoma City’s final shot was not a mistake, Kevin Durant drew the double and got Thabo Sefolosha got a good look. It just missed. Hard lesson.

Magic 109, Sixers 93: If you don’t close out on Orlando’s three point shooters and mean it, it will be a long night. Orlando made 16 of 31 from beyond the arc. It was interesting early because Elton Brand went all 2006 and put up 18 early points. The Magic countered with the twin towers of Howard and Gortat. Dwight Howard had a double-double by halftime with that lineup and the Magic were in control the whole way.

Heat 99, Nets 89: Would it surprise you if I said that the Nets had the lead at halftime and got blown out in the third quarter? What if I told you the Nets made a late push but Miami held them off because Wade was 9 of 13 and the Heat just had better talent and could make the plays?

Bulls 98, Rockets 88: Hustle cannot make up for terrible shooting. Chicago played pretty good defense, but Rockets just missed open looks all night long. They shot 33 percent for the game and in the first 18 minutes of second half shot 13 percent. For the Bulls right now any win is a good one.

Bucks, 98, Hawks 95: Please, please let this be the four/five matchup in the East. It would be the best first round matchup of all the playoffs. Andrew Bogut and Al Horford are just fun to watch go at each other. Or see if the Hawks can keep John Salmons from scoring 32, 16 in the final quarter (when he was the best player on the floor).

This was not Joe Johnson’s finest hour. He fouled John Salmons late, trying to deny him the ball out near midcourt (the resulting free throws put the Bucks up 97-95). At the other end the ball was in his hand and he had a little eight-foot baseline floater that normally falls but did not this time, and that was ballgame.

Raptors 106, Timberwolves 100: Defense was banned from the Target Center for this one. Toronto just happened to shoot better on the night.

Hornets 115, Mavericks 95: Dallas has lost three of four since their 13-game post-trade wining streak, and they may now be playing their way into a tough first-round matchup. This game swung on a 23-0 Hornets run from last in the second quarter over to the start of the third. Not sure what else you think you need to know, teams that give up 23-0 runs rarely win games. Marcus Thornton had 28 after being pushed into the starting lineup.

Chris Paul looked good — not quite his spectacular self yet, but not like a guy who missed 25 games after knee surgery. He had 11 points and hit three of five from three. Good for the game to have him back.  

Jazz 110, Celtics 97: Deron Williams just abused Rajon Rondo in this one. If it is possible to be an underrated star in the NBA, Williams is it. He may be the best PG in the league. The Celtics led at half but their strategy of big guys protecting the paint left Mehmet Okur a bunch of good looks from three and he hit four of six from deep and spurred some second half runs. The Jazz at home are hard to beat and the Celtics were just not up to the task.

Grizzlies 102, Kings 85: This one was pre-ordained since Sacramento was without Tyreke Evans. Credit the Kings for hanging in and leading at the half, but this was going to end poorly for them.

Suns 133, Warriors 131: Most entertaining game of the night, by a mile. This game showcased the good and the bad of the Warriors lately — they got 29 points from Reggie Williams, a guy who has been in the NBA for 12 games after spending most of the season in the D-League. But with the game close late, the Warriors were in a situation down three where they needed Monta Ellis to make the first (he did) and miss the second, and Ellis shot it long and banked it in on accident. They find the players, they can’t execute.

Anthony Tolliver got his welcome to the NBA moment from Amare Stoudemire of the Suns. A vicious dunk.

Way too early look: Who could make up USA’s 2020 Tokyo Olympic basketball team?

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL - AUGUST 21:  Jimmy Butler, Kevin Durant, DeAndre Jordan and Kyle Lowry #7 of United States stand on the podium after defeating Serbia in the Men's Gold medal game on Day 16 of the Rio 2016 Olympic Games at Carioca Arena 1 on August 21, 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Let’s start with the obvious: This is an exercise in futility. There is no way to predict accurately what the 2020 USA men’s basketball team headed to the Tokyo Olympics will look like. There will be injuries that sideline guys. There will be contract situations where key guys decide it’s in their best interest to sit out. Plus, there could be a guy just now entering his junior year of high school who we don’t know well yet but in four years will be a clear choice for the team.

Now that we’ve gotten through the tedious disclaimer, let’s have fun:

What will the 2020 USA Basketball team look like?

First, it will have a bit of a business attitude — Gregg Popovich is coaching now. Not that Mike Krzyzewski ran a college party Team USA, far from it, but with Popovich’s demeanor and the scare put into the 2016 team (and some improving world powers, such as Canada), expect the USA to be a little more focused next time around.

For the roster, who from the 2016 gold medal team in Rio returns for more gold? At the top of the list: A 31-year-old Kevin Durant will be back for one more run (and to climb on top of the USA Olympic scoring list). He will be the unquestioned team leader. The alpha. It will be his team.

After that? Young stars who want one more go at it such as Paul George, DeMarcus Cousins, DeAndre Jordan, and Klay Thompson will seriously consider a return. Maybe Jimmy Butler. Those guys will have a leg up having Olympic experience and a commitment to the program.

After that, some big names that passed on Rio are going to suit up in Japan. There will be far less defection of top talent this time around — the fears around Brazil will be gone, and NBA players wanting to sell more shoes in Asia will be eager to sign up. I expect you will see Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, and maybe James Harden decide they are in for the next round. LeBron James said he felt left out and may consider a return, but he will be 35 years old with 17 NBA seasons on his body by that point, does he want to put his body through an international curtain call? Probably not.

Rounding out the roster, expect a few guys from this year’s USA Select Team — the team the Olympic squad practiced against in Las Vegas at the start of camp — to make the leap up (as Kyrie Irving and others did this year).

Who? That’s the hardest thing to predict, it depends on development. Guys to watch include Victor Olidipo, Justise Winslow, Devin Booker, Brandon Ingram, and Jabari Parker — some of them will be ready to make the leap.

One clue to the 2020 roster: Players that you see in China for the 2019 FIBA World Cup will be more likely to make the 2020 team. (Yes, the World Championships are now the year before the Olympics, welcome to more of FIBA’s wisdom, as is the fact the Cup qualifiers fall during the NBA/Euroleague seasons.) Guys from the select team now that head to China in three years and perform well in that setting will likely have the USA across their chest in Japan.

Whatever team we send will have the most talent in those games. The question is will that be enough?

Check out the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays from last season

AUBURN HILLS, MI - APRIL 24: Kyrie Irving #2 and LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers prepare for tip off against the Detroit Pistons in game four of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Palace of Auburn Hills on April 24, 2016 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. 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 Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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With athletes such as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving on the team, you know the Cleveland Cavaliers Top 10 plays of last season were going to have some special moments.

Yes, the block by LeBron and the stepback three by Irving that sealed the first Cleveland title in 52 years are on top of the list.

But there are some other ridiculous Irving handles and even a Timofey Mozgov dunk in there (a $64 million dunk, apparently).

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.

Corey Brewer: “James (Harden) is going to play defense this year”

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets walks across the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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James Harden‘s defense is not as bad as its reputation.

Well, at least it wasn’t two seasons ago — his near MVP season he was in good enough shape that he could put in a respectable effort on that end and still handle his massive offensive load. There were still some mental lapses, but his focus was better and his improvement lifted the team defense. Last season, he regressed back to youtube “highlight” defense Harden — his conditioning was not where it needed to be, he didn’t expend as much effort on that end, and it showed.

Harden got a massive contract extension this summer, and Dwight Howard is Atlanta’s problem — now Harden has to lead the Rockets. By example. Corey Brewer told ESPN you’re going to see that on defense.

“I think this year he’s going to play better defense, We’re going to let the past be in the past. It’s the future of the Rockets, man. James is going to play defense this year.”

We’re all Missourians on this one: Show me.

Remember that the Rockets will be out and running — Mike D’Antoni is the coach now, and Daryl Morey is going to get the up tempo ball he wants (which Kevin McHale had them doing, but Harden didn’t like him so…). D’Antoni’s teams in Phoenix played better defense than their reputation — points per possession they were middle of the pack — but that has never been his focus.

Will Harden be able to run like he needs to on offense and still defend at a reasonable level?

If he can, it’s a big step toward the Rockets being a dangerous team in the West because if he does it others will follow. Otherwise, every Rockets game will be a shootout, which is entertaining but not going to get a team deep into the playoffs.