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.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.