Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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Raptors_lose.jpgWhat you missed while watching Cinderella leave the ball…

Nuggets 97, Raptors 96: In a just and fair world, Denver does not win that game. Toronto gave their best effort in, well, a long time and outplayed Denver for 28 minutes (starting at the beginning of the second quarter). It was so bad JR Smith blew the chance for three dunks in transition within a minute of each other early in the fourth, including just fumbling one out of bounds. The best in-game dunker in the league was just dropping the ball. Sad.

Then Denver started its run, got physical, and got in position to give themselves a shot at the game winner.

On the final play Toronto coach Jay Triano went with Chris Bosh and a bunch of perimeter players — a lineup that lets them switch off any pick. Smart. A lineup that can be beat for rebounds. A risk. One that came back to bite them. Melo’s first miss was volleyballed and eventually rebounded by Nene, the Nuggets quickly swung the ball around the perimeter back to to Anthony. He was covered by Jarrett Jack, a full five inches shorter, so Melo got a clean look at the game winner. That’s the risk. He drained it.

Bobcats 107, Wizards 96: Usually when Charlotte’s defense isn’t great — and it wasn’t great in this game, it wasn’t good either — they are doomed. But tonight they were playing the lowly Wizards, now losers of 14 straight. Against them, even the worst offense looks like the Showtime Lakers.

Raymond Felton has developed into a consistent, rock solid point guard — 19 points of 8 of 10 shooting with 11 assists.

Pacers 122, Jazz 106: Utah got sucked into playing at Indiana’s pace — 100 possessions in the game, seven more than the average Jazz contest. Flex offense be damned, full speed ahead. Playing that style also means taking a lot of threes — Indiana took 36 and made 17 (47 percent).

Danny Granger is a flat out stud. He dropped 44 in this one on 19 shots.

Magic 106, Timberwolves 97: Al Jefferson and Darko Milicic make a nice front line on paper, or they might if they would  play up to their potential. Dwight Howard is all about the now and he wasn’t nice. He finished with 24 points, 19 rebounds and four blocks. The Magic could have played better, credit the Timberwolves for coming out fast and playing hard and making this one interesting.

Sixers 106, Hawks 98: Philadelphia is one of the few teams that can hang athletically with Atlanta. The Sixers were active on defense, which really threw Atlanta off its game. Example, with 1:25 left in the game Josh Smith got the long rebound off a Bibby missed three and drive into the lane, at 10 feet away leapt up and with no Sixer contesting the shot… tried to slip a pass between two defenders to Horford, which was stolen. The Hawks were not the aggressors we expect.

This was Iggy’s night: 25 points and 10 boards. Jrue Holiday added 13 points, 12 assists and 7 steals. Not bad rookie, not bad.

Celtics 94, Kings 86: This one went as expected. The Celtics are starting to put it together; the Kings were without Tyreke Evans. Boston was up 15 after 12 minutes and never looked back. Rondo had 18 assists.

Nets 118, Pistons 110: Break up the Nets! They have won two in a row and now have nine wins on the season — tied for the worst record ever. One win in the next three weeks and they avoid ignominy.

It is amazing what desperation — in this case to avoid embarrassment — can do. The Nets played hard on defense (not that they were still any good at it, but they tried) and got 37 from Brook Lopez and 31 from Yi Jianlian. It’s a small victory, but the Nets deserve to celebrate it.

Thunder 91, Lakers 75: Oklahoma City is long and active on defense, and that gave the Lakers huge problems at the start — they scored just 15 points on 30% shooting in the first quarter. Faced with an obstacle, the Lakers rolled over and played dead.

Kobe had nine early turnovers and was just sloppy. Darius from Forum Blue & Gold summed it up on twitter: “With all the fumbles, falling down, & passing the ball to the other team, Kobe looks like Kurt Warner, NY Giants version.”

No, Lakers fans, this game has no bearing on a future playoff meeting with the Thunder. Just relax.

Heat 87, Bucks 74: Milwaukee just could do nothing right on offense, and they finished shooting 31 percent on the night. They miss Bogut, but this wasn’t that, it was just a Mr. Magoo night. Meanwhile a Heat team that played the night before looked like they had the fresher legs.

Only concern for heat was Jermaine O’Neal hyperextending his knee and having to be helped off the court. He will be checked in the morning.

Spurs 102, Cavaliers 97: The Cavaliers had the lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Spurs executed better down the stretch. Cleveland’s unimaginative offense makes it that much easier for a good defensive team to stop them. That could be an issue come playoff time.

Suns 132, Knicks 96: You know what this game says about Mike D’Antoni’s system? That it works better with more talented players.

Playoff Preview: Five question to answer in Miami Heat vs. Toronto Raptors

Miami Heat's Dwyane Wade, left, looks to pass as Toronto Raptors' Corey Joseph (6) and Bismack Biyombo defend during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, in Toronto. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
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The last of the four second round — or, conference semi-finals if you prefer — will tip off Tuesday with two teams that had to go seven games in the first round. That means mentally tired players who had little time to prep for Game 1 — expect some sloppy play at points. Here are five things to watch that could decide the series.

1) With a series win that led to a sigh of relief throughout Canada, will the Raptors play more free and loose? Toronto was tight in its first round series, and it was obvious to everyone. Never was that more evident than the final seven minutes of Game 7, when the Raptors had a 16-point lead and got conservative with a time-killing “prevent offense” that almost squandered the entire lead and the game. Toronto hung on thanks to some slashing Kyle Lowry layups and some Pacers turnovers, but you could see how the pressure got to this team.

If the Raptors play anywhere near that tight in the next round, they are toast. Miami showed in the first round they have guys who know how to close out games — Dwyane Wade leads that charge, but those guys are up and down the roster. Miami will not wilt late in games; we don’t know if that is true of Toronto.

2) Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan will have more room to operate, what will they do with it? After having Paul George (on DeRozan) and George Hill (on Lowry) draped all over them last series, the slower Heat defenders in the starting lineup will mean more room for the Raptors guards to operate. Wade, Goran Dragic, and Joe Johnson are not great defenders, the question is can the Raptors take advantage of that extra space? DeRozan will attack as he did in Game 7 against the Pacers, but he needs to be more efficient (he needed 32 shots to get 30 points in that final game). Lowry hasn’t been his All-Star level self for the last month of the season, whether due to a bad elbow (which has been drained) or something else we don’t know about. Whatever the reason, Toronto needs All-Star Lowry to win this series — and Miami did a good job making Kemba Walker work for his shots and be inefficient last round.

Two things to watch from Miami. First, how quickly will coach Erik Spoelstra go to Justise Winslow and Josh Richardson off the bench — those rookies are the best perimeter defenders the Heat have (along with Luol Deng, who will get time on DeRozan). Spoelstra will lean on them heavily in this series. Probably more and more each game. The second thing to watch is rim protection, which leads us to….

3) Can Hassan Whiteside stay out of foul trouble and on the floor protecting the rim? Lowry isn’t afraid to shoot the three and will make teams pay that give him space beyond the arc, but the core of his game is to drive and create. DeMar DeRozan avoids the three like he tries to avoid eating too much poutine in season — he wants to drive and attack. That is what the entire Raptors offense is based around.

Which is why Hassan Whiteside and his shot blocking is crucial to Miami’s chances this round — if Lowry and DeRozan drive and get shots erased or altered by Whiteside, an essential part of the Toronto attack becomes far less efficient. The challenge for Whiteside will be staying out of foul trouble — not only can DeRozan draw fouls with the best of them, but also the Raptors will post up Jonas Valanciunas and have him go at Whiteside, looking to tack on some fouls. If Whiteside can stay on the court it is a huge boost for Miami.

4) Conversely, how is Toronto going to protect the paint? Miami’s season took off after the All-Star break when Spoelstra’s hand was forced by the Chris Bosh injury and he went small with Luol Deng at the four. The result was an aggressive, attacking Heat team that gets a lot of points in the paint off drives (and in transition). When Charlotte was able to slow the pace and protect the paint with a big lineup that forced Miami to shoot jumpers, Miami struggled. Valanciunas gives the Raptors quality offense and a big body inside, but he’s not a rim protector. Miami is going to attack and the Raptors need to limit the Heat’s efficiency.

One way to do that may be more Bismack Biyombo off the bench.

5) How are Raptors going to defend Dwyane Wade and Goran Dragic? The match-ups for Raptors’ coach Dwane Casey are not ideal. Expect Lowry to matchup on Dragic for much of the series, which may not go well for Miami defensively. But the bigger challenge is DeRozan needs to guard Wade, Johnson, or Deng (who had a strong offensive first round) — Miami can attack wherever he plays. Toronto’s guards also are smaller and we could see a lot of Heat post ups this series.

Prediction: Miami in six. This is not a prediction I feel strongly about, I’d say it’s about 60 percent this and 40 percent Toronto in seven — the Raptors have a real chance in this series. But I think the matcheups favor Miami slightly, Miami was the better team after the All-Star break with a better defense, and the Heat are the team I trust to close out tight games.

Your daily Kings coaching search update: Add Jeff Hornacek, Corliss Williamson to the list

PHOENIX, AZ - NOVEMBER 18:  Head coach Jeff Hornacek of the Phoenix Suns reacts on the bench during the second half of the NBA game against the Chicago Bulls at Talking Stick Resort Arena on November 18, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Bulls defeated the Suns 103-97. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Give Vlade Divac and the Kings credit for this: They said they were going to cast a wide net and interview a lot of people for their head coaching position, and he is doing just that.

Two more names popped up as guys who will get interviews — former Suns coach Jeff Hornacek, and Corliss Williamson.

Hornacek and Williamson join Mark Jackson, Luke Walton, Nate McMillan, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Woodson, Sam Mitchell, Kevin McHale, Patrick Ewing, and David Blatt as guys that the Kings have at least reached out to, if not outright interviewed.

Who is the frontrunner? We’ll see when the second round of interviews start. Someday. Divac and the Kings are in no rush, and know they need to nail this hire.

Portland’s coach Terry Stotts has no contract after this season, but that will change soon

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 17: Head coach Terry Stotts of the Portland Trail Blazers follows the action against the Los Angeles Clippers during the second half in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center April 17, 2016, in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Portland’s Terry Stotts came in second in the Coach of the Year voting after taking a Portland team expected to be in the bottom of the West to the second round of the playoffs (where they currently are facing Golden State). He’s earned a raise.

Which he will get. But once the Trail Blazers’ season ends Stotts will be a man without a contract, reports Sam Amick of the USA Today. Just don’t expect that situation to last long.

Speaking of paydays, Portland coach Terry Stotts should be due for one in the not-so-distant future. Yet Stotts, the former head coach in Atlanta and Milwaukee who came to the Blazers in 2012 after four years as a Dallas Mavericks assistant, has a team option on his contract for next season that has yet to be picked up. What’s more, according to a person with knowledge of his situation, he has yet to discuss a possible extension with Blazers management.

The person expressed optimism that a deal will eventually get done, but one never truly knows until it happens. The person spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because of the private nature of that process.

As other reports have noted, just don’t expect this to last long.  For one thing, Trail Blazer players love him. Portland’s GM Neil Olshey is one of the smartest in the business, and it would be a pretty stupid move to let Stotts go, Olshey just doesn’t like to talk contracts during the season. Once it ends (likely to Golden State in the next couple weeks) a new deal will get worked out.

Stotts made $3 million this season, which was pretty close to average when he signed his deal but low now. Expect him to get a deal at around $5 million a year and maybe for five years — he has earned that security. And that raise.

Kyrie Irving had sensational block on Dennis Schroder (VIDEO)

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At this point the game was pretty much decided, the Cavaliers were up 11 with :50 to go, but the Hawks were not giving up. Not point guard Dennis Schroder,  who tried to use his speed to get a quick two with a layup.

Kyrie Irving shut him down.

Irving had 21 points on the night and hit some threes that the Cavaliers needed. He had a strong game.

And we may see more of this matchup, as Schroder scored 27 points and was the best Hawk player on the night, earning more run in Game 2.