Baseline to Baseline, where Kenyon Martin was not the difference

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What happened Saturday while you were mourning the Arrested Development movie

Spurs 104 Nuggets 85: Kenyon Martin’s back! Kenyon Martin’s back! Oh… that didn’t go quite how we planned.

The biggest way the Spurs have improved lately is that they’re catching teams off guard, finally. Those little cuts that seem to come out of nowhere, the screens and off-sets and things they do which create confusion are finally looking in sync. Denver on the other hand looked gassed and upset with the officials. Melo got tossed, and Billups and J.R. Smith both got T’d up. Richard Jefferson chewed up the Nuggets. He only had 15 and 7, but in reality, he was a huge factor for the Spurs.

I don’t want to alarm anyone, but outside of J.R. Smith, the Nuggets bench is about as bad as any team in the league outside of Memphis. They have some shot blockers, but that’s pretty much it.

Hawks 105 Wizards 95: You’ve got to hold JoeJamal to under 40. That’s just a rule. If you don’t limit Joe Johnson and Jamal Crawford to under 40 points, you’re going to have a hell of a time getting a win. The rest of the Hawks are simply too talented and consistent not to fill in the rest, and they’re going to play solid defense too often.

A big warning sign is that point guards have a ton of success against the Hawks. Mike Bibby no longer matches up, Jeff Teague isn’t ready, and guarding a good point takes too much away from Johnson and Crawford. Mo Evans is shaky there. Something to keep an eye on.

Pacers 115 Nets 102: Little bit of column A. Little bit of column B. Little bit of terrific defense from the Pacers, who were locked in, talking to one another, shutting off the movement from the Nets and dogging them into bad possession after bad possession. Those airballs resulting in shot clock violations will kill you. And they did. I don’t know if the Nets were zoned out, but they were in the game, they were in the game… and then they were not. Good win from a Pacers team that is poorly constructed, but does have some true pros on it.

I’m pretty sure absolutely every person on earth is surprised when Dahntay Jones hits a bucket. Marv Alberts is a person on earth.

Nets have secured lottery spot number one. Since like, November, but officially, now.

Bobcats 99 Pistons 95: You can call off the APB for Ben Gordon’s jumper. It’s fallen the last two games and may actually be back. The issue?  Everyone else’s took off.

I wouldn’t call it a good game for the ‘Cats, but it’s pretty typical. Lots of missed shots, lots of inconsistent play, and then someone random steps up and hits shots and everyone across America freaks out when the line goes across the bottom of the screen at your local sports bar, saying “THAT GUY had X points?!”

Larry Huges was THAT GUY. 18 points for Hughes, to go with 4 boards, 5 assists, 5 turnovers, but two steals.

Larry Brown will never cease to amaze me.

Sixers 120 Grizzlies 101: I haven’t looked it up, yet, but I’m pretty sure the Grizzlies may actually have a negative winning percentage on back to backs. I don’t mean it’s considered bad, I mean the number may actually be negative. They have zero bench, so they’ll compete for about two more quarters, and then they just run out of steam.

But they’re a bad defense anyway. And the Sixers? They earned this. Worked for it, hit huge shots, looked good. This is the best I’ve seen the Sixers all year. They looked plugged in, ready to play, and came out and executed. A big factor? Marreese Speights, who, if they will just accept his learning curve, can come out and be a decider for them. 22 and 5 in 20 minutes for the youngster. Dang.

The real issue was three point shooting. The Sixers were en fuego, and Memphis was too gassed to run ’em off. And they dropped all night long. Good win for the Sixers.

Celtics 105 Bucks 90: You know? Tony Allen really isn’t all that bad.

I don’t get it either, but he’s been good this year, His line isn’t huge (7 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks), but he was a big part of a second quarter surge for the Celtics once they got their legs under them.

The Bucks have matchup advantages against Boston… when Andrew Bogut is playing. We’re going to be saying that no matter who Milwaukee ends up against. Luke Ridnour is going to have to play better if the Bucks are going to get anything done in the playoffs, even if it’s just a first round push. He’s struggling as of late, and it’s bad timing.

Paul Pierce is still Truth-ful.

Mavs 128 Kings 106: High-post. Cut, drive. Dish. Rotate. Rotate. Three.

And that’s your ball game.

The Mavericks lit ’em up, and the Kings don’t have enough weapons in the gunfight even with Evans and Landry combining for 58 points. Mavs shot 62% from the arc. That’s reDirkulous.

Oh, and speaking of, Dirk is good.

Clippers 107 Curry 104: Clippers realized that if you pound ’em inside, the Warriors will break. That’s what happened, with Kaman dropping 27.

Stephen Curry had another great line (29, 9, 4) and another night of really pretty terrible defense.

Damian Lillard’s goal for season: Win MVP

Portland Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard (0) poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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When the PBT staff made our predictions for MVP you saw some expected names — LeBron James, James Harden — and a smart pick off some people’s radar in Kawhi Leonard. Russell Westbrook was discussed as someone with a chance.

What about Damian Lillard? You know, the hip-hop star.

Lillard told a Jay Allen of Portland area Fox Sports Radio that’s his goal.

Lillard averaged 25.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, he is unquestionably a dynamic offensive force — he has a great pull up jumper and he can get to the rim and finish. Plus, he’s just entertaining to watch.

But MVP? That’s going to take more than numbers.

Portland won 44 games last season. The MVP almost always goes to the best player on a top two or three seed, meaning a team winning around 55 games or more. For Portland to add 10 wins or so and get Lillard noticed in the MVP race is going to be about defense — Portland was bottom 10 last season in defense and they need to be at least middle of the pack this time around. Which comes back to Lillard on some level, he’s often an overmatched defender and he can lose focus on that end. He’s gotten better over the years, but Lillard is going to have to lift up the Blazers defense, not just offense, to get in the MVP discussion.

I’m skeptical (of Lillard’s chances and the Trail Blazers taking a step forward), but we all underestimated Portland last season, too.

LeBron James says he can still win MVP with reduced workload, cites Stephen Curry

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 02:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers with the ball against Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors in the fourth quarter in Game 1 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 2, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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The door is open for LeBron James to win a legacy-altering fifth MVP.

But his Cavaliers could also win another championship, leaving Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue planning to limit LeBron’s minutes in preparation of a long playoff run.

LeBron, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN

“No,” James said Saturday when asked if he was concerned that planned rest could affect his MVP case. “Because Steph played 31 minutes a game and he won the MVP.”

“Well, I’ve never set into a season saying I want to win MVP,” he said. “I’ve always thought of the season saying I want to be MVP for my team and it’s resulted in me getting four of them. So I’ve been available, for the most part, every night and I’ve been available on both sides of the floor. I’ve been healthy.

Curry won 2015 MVP while playing 32.7 minutes per game, the fewest by any MVP. He played 34.2 minutes per game last season, third-fewest by an MVP – ahead of just himself and 1978 Bill Walton, who played 33.3 minutes per game.

To contrast, LeBron has set career lows the last two seasons with 36.1 and 35.6 minutes per game. So, LeBron could get a reduced workload and still play more than Curry did.

But Curry, to some degree is an anomaly. He often sat late in games with his Warriors on the right side of blowouts. The Cavs aren’t good enough regularly rest LeBron as much in those situations.

It’s not that voters care directly about minutes. But the less LeBron plays, the lower his per-game averages will be and the less Cleveland will win. Those factors matter significantly.

LeBron can overcome that. He’s darned good, and there could be a push to reward him after the last two Finals have shown he’s still better than Curry when it matters most.

Playing fewer minutes per game won’t eliminate LeBron from the MVP race, not even close. But it will – and should – hurt his case. After all, MVP should reward the player who does the most to help his team win. MVP-caliber players don’t significantly help while sitting on the bench.

Russell Westbrook, Thunder prepare for life without Kevin Durant

DALLAS, TX - OCTOBER 11:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a preseason game at American Airlines Center on October 11, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Maybe life after Kevin Durant won’t be so bad for the Thunder.

After the longtime face of the franchise left for Golden State, crestfallen Oklahoma City fans were worried it was just a matter of time before the team’s co-star, Russell Westbrook, would follow suit. In a move that shocked many, Westbrook re-signed with Oklahoma City. The former scoring champion and two-time All-Star MVP’s return gives the team hope.

New faces such as shooting guard Victor Oladipo and forward Domantas Sabonis, both acquired in the deal that sent Serge Ibaka to Orlando, might take some time to fit in. Westbrook believes the team is talented enough to succeed if it is focused and the new pieces blend with the old ones who helped the Thunder reach the Western Conference Finals last season.

“Just play hard, man,” Westbrook said. “I don’t know, win or lose. The only thing I know is that as long as we play hard, we give ourselves an opportunity to win.”

Westbrook could post historic numbers. He averaged 23.5 points, 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds last season and had 18 triple-doubles, the most since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. Without Durant, more of that could be on the way.

Sabonis, a rookie out of Gonzaga who played for Lithuania’s Olympic team, played with the starters throughout the preseason. Oladipo averaged 15.9 points and 4.0 assists in three years with Orlando. He joins Westbrook to form arguably the most athletic backcourt tandem in the NBA.

“Defensively, I think we can be the best defensive backcourt in the league because we can do different things with our size and using our length and our speed,” Westbrook said.

Here are some things to watch for the Thunder:

Steven Adams

The 7-footer from New Zealand was already a top-notch defender and rebounder before stepping up his offense and averaging 10.1 points during the playoffs last season. In his final two preseason games, he scored 20 points against Minnesota and 17 points against Denver. He could be a breakout star.

“I think we’ve had an opportunity these last two nights (against Minnesota and Denver) how good he is around the basket, how smart he has become and how much of a presence he is in the middle,” Westbrook said.

Enes Kanter

The natural expectation was that Ibaka’s departure would prompt coach Billy Donovan to move Kanter, who finished third in balloting for the league’s sixth-man award last season, into the starting lineup. Instead, Donovan started Sabonis throughout the preseason. Perhaps Donovan knows best – Sabonis showed he can hang with the starters, and Kanter averaged 17.8 points and 9.4 rebounds while shooting 61.7 percent in the preseason.


Oklahoma City’s defense could slip with Ibaka in Orlando. Sabonis has great potential, but he’s young, and NBA defense takes some time to learn. Donovan said Sabonis has caught on quickly, but there still could be a dip early because Ibaka’s level of play is difficult to replace – he was a three-time first-team All-NBA defender and a two-time blocks leader.


The Thunder added several foreign players to the roster who will add depth – Spain’s Alex Abrines, France’s Joffrey Lauvergne and Turkey’s Ersan Ilyasova. Donovan said he likes the maturity foreign players add to a team. Abrines played for Spain’s national team that earned bronze medals at the Olympics. Lauvergne played for France in Rio.


Andre Roberson has shifted from the starting shooting guard to starting small forward. That means the Thunder still have Roberson’s dynamic athletic ability, defensive prowess and nose for the ball on the boards in the lineup. He was a liability on offense in the past, but he started becoming more of a factor on offense during the playoffs last season.

“I think he feels more comfortable and confident offensively,” Donovan said. “He’s put forth effort in that area. It’s just him continuing to grow offensively and trying to put him in situations where he slashes to the basket and he can cut and he can get out in transition and he can take his open corner threes.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP

Raptors’ Jared Sullinger to have foot surgery, miss “extended time”

ATLANTA, GA - APRIL 19:  Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics looks on from the bench against the Atlanta Hawks in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on April 19, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The Toronto Raptors are counting on Jared Sullinger to cover for the loss of Bismack Biyombo by crashing the boards, helping them space the floor on offense, and just being solid.

But they are going to have to get by without him for a while, something first reported by Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports, and confirmed by the team.

There is no timeline for Sullinger’s return, but it’s going to be a while. Sullinger had battled a stress reaction in his foot a year ago, this is likely an extension of that problem.

This certainly hurts the Raptors’ depth up front, but it’s also not a massive setback for a team with lofty aspirations this season. Patrick Patterson will get more minutes, which is a good thing, plus the Raptors need to play DeMarre Carroll more at the four. They can wait for Sullinger (who they signed this summer after Boston let him walk in the wake of signing Al Horford.