Baseline to Baseline, where we had ourselves a heck of a night

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What happened Wednesday while you were challenging Akinator

Cavs 101 Bucks 98: The Bucks are terrible at drawing fouls, fifth worst in the league, actually. Cleveland’s very good. So while the Bucks can probably rightfully complain about a 45-9 free throw advantage, they can’t complain too much. This team looked like they were willing to invest in the game, but not enough to force the issue against a great Cleveland defense. Lot of jump shots, lot of settling, not a lot of drive and finish.

And still, the Bucks were right there. You know what the difference was? Scott Skiles’ love of Luke Ridnour has helped him out all season, and Ridnour’s been terrific most nights. Tonight was not such a night. Not only was he the glaring shooting problem on the field, but he capped off the night by telegraphing and then missing on the pass for the game winning attempt, watching as LeBron snuck it out of the air. Even an average night from Ridnour and the Bucks walk away with this one. I don’t know if that’s better or worse.

Hawks 109 Lakers 92: The Lakers wanted to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. The Hawks? They looked pretty comfy. One step faster to the bucket, to the offensive rebound, to the defensive position. Lot of jog and watch by the Lakers. Pau Gasol. Wow. I don’t know how a guy finishes with 16 and 11 and looks worse.

Early in the third, Ron Artest clubbed Mo Evans with an elbow. Evans shoved him, picking up a tech, and then Artest decided to get up in his face as the teams came together. Zaza Pachulia parted the seas and walked Artest off. Pachulia isn’t a great talent, and he’s no All-Star. But if you want to go to battle? Pachulia will have your back.

Bobcats 103 Sixers 84: The Bobcats may be teh best team in the league at gamble-and-recover. They push to the perimeter edges, to the catch point so often,  you’d think they would have a much worse defense. But instead, they push to those edges, sending the offense reeling just to settle itself, and use that time to reset the defense and get position. They know where their teammates are and they race to help each other.

The Sixers are simply incomplete. And with this much money in them, they’re going to need a complete overhaul.

Suns 116 Nets 105: Steve Nash is still in that category of “guys who if you do not have a specific plan for will absolutely destroy you.”

Guess what happened?

Brook Lopez is still incredible, and consistent. There’s no fluctuation in his performance from play to play. Same effort, same ability, same focus.

Thunder 109 Celtics 104: Terrific game. The Celtics are all flustered because of the number of fouls called. Interesting development there. Usually a foul differential exists because one team was more aggressive than the other. Either that, or it’s 2002. But it wasn’t that the Thunder were more aggressive, it’s that that the Celtics were too aggressive.

The C’s depend on bullying you as part of their plan. They rely on getting away with a lot of extra contact, a lot of sneaky plays, a lot of bruising. If you call those fouls and don’t set that tone as your baseline, the game stays out of trouble and the Celtics are limited.

Russell Westbrook and Rondo didn’t know what else to do with each other outside of going to the rim a lot. And it worked.

Jeff Green nailed two threes down the stretch that were perfectly executed. Both times he peeled off KG with a back-cut screen to a perimeter curl. The Celtics didn’t know what to do with it. And it was pretty much the ballgame.

Wolves 108 Kings 99: Some young teams can keep it going to the end. but you need a lot to go your way, and you need to have the carrot of wins and a playoff series to keep them interested. The Kings have neither. And so, the things that have made them shakey all year have made them pretty bad late.

The Wolves won! 16 game losing streak snapped! This is kind of what has been built there. A terrible team that can occasionally beat other terrible teams when things go their way. The bright spot for them is Corey Brewer, who has become a serious playmaker. Hopefully he’ll end up somewhere that teaches him the things he needs to be a complete player.

Jazz 128 Warriors 104: The Jazz scored 76 points in the first half. 76.

There is no piece of analysis I can give you that will explain how one team can score 76 points in 24 minutes while the other scores 49, other than, “The losing team is not very well coached defensively.”

The Jazz mean business. Top to bottom, they’re focused, confident, and mad as hell.

Trail Blazers 118, Knicks 90: This was as bad as the Knicks have played all season. Which is saying something, this team lost to the Nets twice. New York’s defense was just a frightful mess, their rebounding nonexistent. They let a Portland team — granted, one playing well right now — put up 60 first half points on their way to a 131 points per 100 possessions pace. Which is insanely good.

Portland, that’s 12 out of the last 14, congrats. But don’t read much into beating this team on this night.

Wizards 96, Hornets, 91: The Wizards 16-game losing streak ended because Shaun Livingston outplayed Chris Paul. No, I mean it. Totally one sided. Livingston is bigger and longer and they were not afraid to post him up on CP3, usually with good result. Livingston finished with 18 points and 8 assists, Paul with 8 points and 9 assists. Credit Quinton Ross, who also saw come time on Chris Paul and defended him well.

Still, David West got a good look at a three in the final 10 seconds to tie the game — Andray Blatche played some pretty lazy defense on that one despite the game being on the line — but West missed it. Just that kind of night for the Hornets.

Heat 98, Pistons 81: Jermaine O’Neal was out and meant there was room inside and Michael Beasley stepped up, getting into the paint and scoring 28. You know, the kind of thing the Heat expect him to do nightly but actually see so rarely. Don’t bet on a repeat performance. But it got them a win Wednesday.

Raptors 114, Clippers 92: I haven’t watched a game with this little defense since Paul Westhead left the college coaching ranks. It actually offended me as a basketball fan. Drew Gooden could not begin to contain Chris Bosh down low, he got no help, so Bosh had 33. But it was all the Raptors scoring at will. The Cl
ippers tried everything, eve
n some zone, but it didn’t work.

Still Los Angeles led at the half 53-48 because they dominated the glass — in the first half they grabbed the offensive board on 40 percent of their missed shots. Then the Clippers bailed out the horrid Toronto defense in the third by settling for jumpers. Long jumpers. When they started to miss, Toronto pulled away.

Spurs 119, Rockets 102: Remember when the Rockets were a really good defensive team…

The Spurs had their way on offense, and not really simply because Manu was back (although that helped and he sas. They shot 56.8 percent as a team, led by George Hill going 11 of 15 for a career high 30. The Spurs played like a team with a purpose, like a playoff team. They were the only ones.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”