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.

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.