Baseline to Baseline, where it got ugly in Portland

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What you missed while singing a mournful version of Anarchy in the UK

Magic 118, Knicks 103: Bombs away — 65 three point attempts between the two teams. It’s only a bad shot if you can’t hit it, and tonight everybody could hit it, with the teams shooting 47.7 percent on those threes. Defense, sheefense. The Magic win this one handily (up by 14 after the first) because they had he inside to go with the outside. Earl Baron has been nice, but Dwight Howard is niiiiiiice — 25 points on 11 of 14, plus 13 boards.

Great post-game quote from Stan Van Gundy:  “When it’s that easy to score, it’s just very difficult to get guys to really get down and defend hard.”

Bucks 95, Sixers 90: The Bucks were the wire-to-wire winners, Milwaukee jumped out to a 9-0 lead and never trailed. But they almost did. They let the Sixers get close because they let them run too much — the Sixers can finish on the break. But with the game on the line the Bucks defended well, forcing Jrue Holliday into a tough three that he missed badly.

That is four in a row for the Bucks without Bogut. This team will not fold. They will not go quietly in the first round.

Hawks 107, Raptors 101: The Hawks came out flat and put up just 14 in the first quarter. Then they got going, the Raptors played their usual defense (read: nonexistent) and the Hawks had 45 in the second quarter. They never trailed after that. Maybe the big stat in this one — without Bosh the Raptors could not control the glass, and the Hawks grabbed the offensive rebound on 37.5 percent of their missed shots.

Lakers 97, Timberwolves 88: Talent wins out in this league, and in a pretty uninspiring game the Lakers had a lot more of it. It was the Lakers much-maligned bench that was the difference, they broke this game open with a defense that created turnovers, then converted those into easy scores. The Lakers looked tired (back-to-back) and settled for jumpers all night, but they hit enough to win. And do it while Kobe sat (and Andrew Bynum, and the Wolves Al Jefferson).

This win made it official that the Lakers win the Western Conference. Again.

Wizards 106, Celtics 96: There is wailing and gnashing of teeth right now in Boston. This was not just a bad performance by the team right before the playoffs, it was maybe their worst of the season. Washington dominated this one from the outset. Dominated. Andray Blatche did whatever he wanted inside — he punked Kevin Garnett for an offensive board at one point — and finished with 31. Boston shot 30 percent in the first half and trailed 52-31 at the break. Dominated.

The fourth made it close. Washington started turning it over and Boston cut the lead down, but never came all the way back.

Pacers 116, Cavaliers 113: We have a Sebastian Telfair sighting — he had 21 on 8 of 14 shooting. The Cavaliers rested four starters and almost won this one. You can decide for yourself if that says Cleveland is deep or the Pacers just suck.

Pistons 106, Heat 99: Ben Gordon can shoot the rock — 39 points, 7 of 11 from three. They don’t miss that in Chicago from the two spot. Not a lot of defense in this one, both teams shooting over 50 percent. Not sure you can read much into that. The loss snaps the nine-game winning streak for the Heat.

Jazz 114, Hornets 103: Fun point guard battle — Darren Collison held his own. He had 28 on 11 of 19 shooting, with seven assists. Deron Williams with 27 on 9 of 16, with 16 dimes. The reason you pick up the assist is twofold — you make the pass, then your teammate makes the shot. Williams has better teammates and better shooters around him, that’s why he had more assists and why the Jazz won.

Nets 127, Bulls 116 (2OT): Man the Bulls needed this one. Right now the Bulls and Raptors are tied in the race for the eighth spot in the East, both 38-41. But Toronto has the tiebreaker. The two teams face each other Sunday, but then Toronto has an easier last two games. If the Bulls had won, had a one-game cushion going into Sunday, they had a good chance. Now Sunday is must-win for the Bulls, and even if they do it could be hard (Boston and Charlotte to close it out for Chicago).

Why didn’t they close it out? Terrence Williams is a stud. Flat out. Triple double for the man — 27 points, 13 boards, 10 assists. Another good young player for the Nets. But why did this kid sit for much of the year again? Oh, that’s right, because he plays for the Nets.

Thunder 96, Suns 91: The most entertaining game of the night. Great athletes on display all over the court. The difference in this one is the length and quickness of the Thunder forced 19 Suns turnovers — that’s 20 percent of their possessions. One every five trips up the court. Too many, and too many easy buckets in transition for Oklahoma City because of it.

Rockets 97, Bobcats 90: Two good defensive teams get together, but on this night the Rockets were just a little better on that end. And this game was all about the defense.

Grizzlies 107, Spurs 99: The Grizzlies didn’t mail this one in. Zach Randolph with 28 and 15. The loss puts the Spurs on the path to the eighth seed and the Lakers in the first round.

Mavericks, 83, Trail Blazers 77: What a circus, the fans, the officials, pretty much everything. This game was poorly officiated. They let them play, which included allowing 1990s Knicks levels of grabbing, clutching and ugliying the game up. They blew calls and did it both ways. The fans saw all this and got on the refs, to the point people were throwing things on the court while fans sitting courtside heckled so much they got tossed. The refs let it get out of control. It was ugly.

Dallas won though because they deserved to, they were the better team. It wasn’t the refs that kept giving Dirk Nowitzki good looks, so he dropped 40. It wasn’t the refs that missed a whole host of threes at the end. Bottom l
ine, Dallas dealt like the v
eteran team with the refs, the Blazers acted young and let it get into their heads.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.