Baseline to Baseline: 'Manu Ginobili wins at life' edition

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Duncan_Defense.jpgWhat happened while you were putting a snake in your mouth

Spurs 94 Celtics 73: Such a good game at the half. Such a demolish in the second half. Yikesabees.

You may remember these Celtics from such hits as “Christmas Through Two Weeks Ago” and “That Time The Nets Beat Them.” The Celtics had 30 points in the second half. 30 points in 24 minutes. To put that in perspective, the Tennessee Volunteers scored 28 in the second half of a good game in a loss to Michigan State.

It was a bloodbath, and Manu Ginobili played Bill the Butcher. Ginobili was everywhere, leading the defense, slicing through the Celtics’ man-help (which was unbearably slow), and doing this thing that is hard to even describe (admission, I run that site so obviously I can describe it, but you can skip my blabbing and head straight for the video).

The Celtics were not there. I mean, they were there. They weren’t absent like Kevin Garnett was in the playoffs last year. They were physically in the game. But their souls and intentions were somewhere far away. Perhaps watching Mad Men, or having tea with the queen. Where they weren’t was in TD Northbank in the second half.

Tim Duncan had two blocks in the first five minutes, and Richard Jefferson had a good game. Richard. Jefferson. Ye Gods.

Bucks 108 Grizzlies 103: There were a lot of makeup calls in this game, down the stretch.

I say that not to excuse the Grizzlies, the NBA team I so often yell in support of, but to just state a fact. The refs overlooked an Ersan Ilyasova over-the-back on Marc Gasol because apparently they had been watching college ball too much. Then they made up for it with an easy breezy tag-it foul on Brandon Jennings, based solely on the fact that the rookie made the poor decision to bite on a pump fake, even if he didn’t make contact.

Then, as if they felt bad for the make up call they made for missing another one, they no-called an obvious one on Luke Ridnour when O.J. Mayo gave him the “Paul Pierce Special” (jab-step, pumpfake, bring the arm and ball up through the defender, an easy call).

Which is too bad, because otherwise it was a fantastic game. The Grizzlies are a tough offense to stop, and while the Bucks couldn’t neutralize them, they did make them sputter at times. The Grizzlies’ bench was outscored 33-6, and you just can’t have to rely on your starters that much, every game.

It’s frustrating that the Grizzlies don’t lean on Marc Gasol for offense more. He’s a tremendous facilitator and his defense is superb (5 blocks), but he’s so efficient from the floor, you almost want to see him try and take over more. He could have done more to counter Bogut.

Hawks 94 Pacers 84: This wasn’t the perfect Hawks game. Joe Johnson was off (5-13), Josh Smith had zero blocks, and Mo Evans was very, very bad.

But it was close. That defense that had been relenting lately found itself, and Josh Smith honestly could have done anything he wanted in the post. There wasn’t a single matchup the Pacers could counter with, and the Hawks exploited it.

Al Horford somehow plays better as the season goes along, and it’s getting bizarre.

Cavs 97 Kings 90: The Kings were not about to let Z’s big return be a laugher. Big ups, Sactown. You’ve got fighters.

Tyreke Evans? Out. Brockman? Out. Spencer Hawes? Out. Dominic McGuire? Out.

And still. To the very last man, a brawl.

Beno Udrih had 18 points and 15 assists. If you have good point guard play, it freaks out the Cavs. They’re just not prepared for it, provided you can defend at the other end. They’re fine with it as long as you want to play up and down. But slow it down at either end, and you’ve got a serious chink in the armor.

But a win’s a win. And Antawn Jamison had 26 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and only 1 turnover in 41 minutes. Ruh-roh. The big acquisition found himself.

4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks. Welcome home, Zydrunas. We missed you.

Heat 97 Raps 94: I flipped it off in the third quarter. The Raps were rolling, as they can do. Hitting everything. Running, running, running. So having to rewatch this bad boy was irritating. Probably not irritating like it was for Raptors fans.

Look, I’m not big on cliches about defense, and I tend to think that defense may win championships, but if you can’t put the ball in the hole you’re just as screwed. But if you ask me how these Raps are going to do in the playoffs, I have to point wildly at this game. Gesticulate, actually.

They can’t get stops. Not when they need to. Not when it’s crucial. Not when they’ve put themselves in a position to win. They can’t communicate, can’t execute, can’t deliver. The Heat really aren’t the better overall team. I believe that, based on the talent involved. But they can do business when it matters.

Bulls 110 Pistons 103: The Bulls announcers couldn’t believe how bad Ben Gordon was. It was like when your boy scout son comes home from college with a nosering, a dragon tattoo, listening to death metal and talking about becoming a poet.

Sad, really.

The Bulls? They’ve got some life in them. They’ve got a few coals left in the fire. Not much, and a playoff caliber defense will likely extinguish them like a trashcan fire. But there’s some talent, a lot of effort, and some weird combinations of ability. I’ll likely change my mind in two days when they get blown out again.

Magic 103 Nuggets 97: Great game. Can we just vote these two into a second round series? It’s a brutal matchup for both sides. Jameer Nelson had serious problems with Billups, who is built to beat him. And when Vince Carter went down, the door blew open to let the Nuggets take control.

But it was a Duke day.

J.J. Redick, who if you’ve been paying attention, has turned into a really pretty good NBA player, was huge. 23 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists for the former Blue Devil. And that doesn’t fully capture his work on defense.

But you know who really impressed? Ryan Anderson. 20 points in 19 minutes, with 5 boards. And most of his work was on Birdman. Anderson’s a lot like Anderson, really, except able to shoot, and a smarter defender.

The Nuggets don’t work hard enough at getting Nene involved in the offense.

Blazes 92 Thunder 87: What a weird one.

The Thunder aren’t your typical y
oung team. They’re not particularly fast, they don’t score a ton of points, and they can play defense. They’re willing to get dirty. But, if you hit that next level, you know, that playoff level? They still reel a bit when you’re trading haymakers.

And the Blazers? They’re so used to pain and suffering. Life is pain, so they’re willing to keep swinging all day.

This was as much a death knell for Thabo Sefolosha’s razor-thin defensive player of the year hopes as you’ll find. Andre Miller abused him, and when he wasn’t, Brandon Roy was. Russell Westbrook is a very good defender if you don’t know what you’re doing. These two know what they’re doing.

Suns 111, Timberwolves 105: No Robin Lopez — meaning no inside game whatsoever for the Suns — made this one interesting. Minny owned the paint. Kevin Love had 23 points and 22 rebounds, Al Jefferson had 19 points and 16 rebounds. The entire Suns team had just three more rebounds than Love and Jefferson combined.

For any other team, that would be enough. Not the Timberwolves, though, they find new and impressive ways to lose (you have to if you are going to drop 15 straight like this). Tonight they fall back on the old reliable “bad shooting night” and shoot under 40 percent, and just 25 percent from three. The Suns get the win, but nobody is going to be happy to have to watch the tape on this one later

Warriors 121, Clippers 103: In a game between two teams heading to the lottery, is the winner really the loser? Is not the goal better lottery position?

The Clippers followed the “beat the Warriors” book of slow it down and pound it inside for 10 minutes, and were up double digits in the first quarter. Then they got bored doing the right thing, brought in the subs, got a little smaller, and just start turning the ball over. Turnovers are the Warriors fuel. Golden State starts running, getting easy buckets and transition threes, and before you knew it the Warriors were up 19. Clippers made a couple mini-runs, but by then the Warriors were feeling it. And the D-Leaguers were having too much fun to lose..

LeBron James on surpassing Michael Jordan: “It’s a personal goal”

CLEVELAND, OH - SEPTEMBER 26: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers during media day at Cleveland Clinic Courts on September 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Since he was a teenager, LeBron James has been compared to Michael Jordan. That comparison has usually been used as a way to cut him down or explain why he’s not in the same class, but that’s changed since he won his third championship, and first in Cleveland, in June. Now, LeBron has started to be a lot more open about his desire to eventually surpass Jordan. He said so in an interview with the AP’s Tom Withers after practice on Tuesday:

Now that LeBron James has won a championship for the ages, he’s set a loftier goal:

Catching Michael Jordan.

Long flattered to be mentioned in the same company with Jordan and other NBA legends, James has been hesitant to publicly acknowledge that he wants to be remembered as the greatest in league history.

It’s time now.

“It’s a personal goal,” James told The Associated Press on Monday. “I just never brought it up. It’s my own personal goal to be able to be greater than great. I think that should be everybody’s personal goal.”

Now that James has indisputably cemented his legacy as one of the handful of greatest players ever to play the game, he has a lot less to lose by openly talking about these things. Five years ago, he would have gotten killed for bringing it up. Now? It just seems plausible more than anything else.

Kevin Durant says Nike didn’t influence his free-agency decision

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses for NBA team photographer Noah Graham during the Golden State Warriors Media Day at the Warriors Practice Facility on September 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Many different factors went into Kevin Durant‘s decision this summer to leave the Oklahoma City Thunder for the Golden State Warriors — basketball fit, location, his friendships with Andre Iguodala and Draymond Green, and more. But one thing he wants to make sure you know didn’t influence him is Nike. Durant told reporters this week that the shoe company, which he endorses, didn’t steer him one way or another in free agency, and they didn’t even know his plans beforehand.

It’s a little hard to believe that Nike had zero advance knowledge of Durant’s plans — if not a hard answer, at least a strong indication of which way he was leaning. Durant was one of the most popular players in the league in Oklahoma City, so Nike would have been fine either way. But his presence in Golden State, a much bigger market and the dominant story in the NBA this season, will only help them. It doesn’t hurt, either, that they now have one of their biggest athletes in the same market as Stephen Curry, who had been taking advantage of all the attention on the Warriors to raise Under Armour’s profile. Now, Nike can get some of that spotlight back in the Bay Area.

Barnes, Bogut highlight latest round of changes for Mavs

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 08:  Harrison Barnes #40 of the Golden State Warriors reacts in Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on June 8, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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DALLAS (AP) Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut are in, Chandler Parsons and Zaza Pachulia are out and Dallas coach Rick Carlisle has a retooled roster for the sixth consecutive time since winning a championship.

“Well, we love it,” Carlisle said at media day this week as someone chuckled. “What’s more exciting than getting seven new guys? New blood. It’s fresh every year.

“Really, that wasn’t meant to be a joke,” he added. “If you view it as a negative, there’s a pretty good chance it’s going to be a negative. I don’t look at it that way.”

The Mavericks have made the playoffs all but one season since the constant turnover started after owner Mark Cuban chose salary cap flexibility over keeping a few key players when a new labor agreement was reached six months after his team won the title in 2011.

But Dallas still hasn’t won a postseason series since beating Miami in six games in those NBA Finals.

Repeated efforts to land big names in free agency failed, which this year led to the additions of Barnes and Bogut from 2015 champion Golden State after the Warriors lured Kevin Durant from Oklahoma City and had to unload both starters to make cap room for the four-time NBA scoring champion.

Barnes headlines the group of newcomers because he’ll be a top option on offense after signing a four-year, $94 million max contract. Over his four seasons with the Warriors, he was always a role player behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson.

“It’s going to be bigger expectations and I’m going to have a larger role on this team,” Barnes said. “I feel like we have a lot of pieces this year, either coming back off injury, guys who are motivated, have a lot to prove. So hopefully we can all come together and do something special.”

There’s actually some stability in the starting five because point guard Deron Williams is back for a second season with his hometown team.

Nowitzki, going into his 19th season at age 38, says Williams was the best player on the team at times last season, and the Mavericks missed him in their five-game loss to Oklahoma City. He was limited by a sports hernia injury that required offseason surgery.

Parsons signed a max deal with Memphis, and Pachulia went to the Warriors after the trade that landed Dallas the 7-footer Bogut, who should be a much stronger shot-blocking presence than his predecessor.

The changes fit the formula of at least two new starters each season going back to the title year.

“There are similarities to other years,” Carlisle said. “The ability to add Bogut and Barnes was huge for us. We caught some good luck on that.”

The other notable newcomer is Curry’s younger brother, Seth Curry, who is on his fifth team in his fourth season but finally had a more prominent role last season in Sacramento. Former Baylor standout Quincy Acy is in Dallas after bouncing around his first four years.

The Mavericks are deep at guard with holders J.J. Barea and Devin Harris behind Williams and Wes Matthews, in his second season as the shooting guard and now more than a year removed from tearing an Achilles tendon his final season in Portland.

Also returning are athletic young forwards Justin Anderson and Dwight Powell along with 7-2 Tunisian center Salah Mejri, a surprising shot-blocking presence last season as a 30-year-old rookie.

“They’re definitely athletes and we should be able to have a great defensive lineup once I’m out,” said Nowitzki, poking fun at his defensive skills. “I think we have a (backup) lineup out there that could be really, really good, and obviously youth and athleticism is a big part.”

Barnes wanted to be a part of it even though the Mavericks appear further from championship contention than other Western Conference teams.

“I think when you look at what this franchise has done year in, year out, stable on their ship,” Barnes said. “And be able to learn from a guy named Dirk who’s done it year in, year out. He’s pretty much built this place through his work ethic.”

And now Nowitzki is getting used to another new collection of teammates.

Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler

Jazz’s Dante Exum says his knee is completely healed from 2015 ACL tear

MIAMI, FL - DECEMBER 17:  Dante Exum #11 of the Utah Jazz drives to the lane during a game against the Miami Heat at American Airlines Arena on December 17, 2014 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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After a promising rookie season, Dante Exum missed all of 2015-16 rehabbing a torn left ACL he suffered during an exhibition game with the Australian national team in summer 2015. As the Jazz kick off training camp, Exum says he’s fully recovered after his year off and he’s ready to go.

Via Jody Gennessy of the Deseret News:

“I was just excited to get back out there,” Exum said after the first of two practices Tuesday. “I was feeling good. … I was just ready to come out there, talk when I can and run between every drill.”

Both his attitude and his body were at 100 percent as he returned from a yearlong rehab that followed his September 2015 surgery on his left knee that had been injured in a friendly international game with the Australian team.

With the Jazz’s trade for George Hill over the summer, Exum won’t have to be the starting point guard, which will take some pressure off of him to get back to full strength right away. A torn ACL is something that usually takes time to return from, and having guard depth to ease his workload will help with the transition. If the Jazz get good production out of Exum, it will be a bonus for what looks to be one of the most exciting young teams in the Western Conference.