Baseline to Baseline, where the old dogs take over

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camby_game.jpgWhat you missed while celebrating the Conan O’Brien news

Trail Blazers 103, Thunder 95: And the old men shall lead them.

This game was supposed to be about the young up and coming powerhouses in the league, the young bucks, showcasing their new-found prowess. Instead, it was 36-year-old Marcus Camby and 34-year-old Andre Miller that took this one over. Camby had 30 points on 12 of 16 shooting, and he was the one that took over when the best player on the court tonight (LaMarcus Aldridge, not KD for this one) kept having to sit with foul trouble. Camby added 10 boards. Miller added 22 points and 7 assists and was the steady hand.

In the first half the Thunder had a lead, something they built on transition basketball. But as has happened a lot lately, when the defenses tightened up and things became more half-court at the end, the Thunder offense drags, like it’s trying to run in deep mud. Suddenly they are stoppable, and teams pounce.

That offensive issue does not bode well for the playoffs. It doesn’t help that the inexperienced Thunder will now officially draw the defending champion Lakers in the first round.

Hawks
104, Bucks 96:
After the results of last night, this looks like it
was a preview of the first round of the playoffs. Not certain, but
likely. And if so, this one could be short lived.

Atlanta is relentless in attacking in the paint with their athletic
slashers and passing, you need a big center to stand up to them. Andrew
Bogut is gone. That pretty much sums up this game and likely this
series. On offense, the Bucks did a poor job trying to exploit Jennings
on Bibby, and they settled for a lot of jumpers. That isn’t going to work in the playoffs, either.

Magic 118, Pacers 98: Orlando played like an NBA title contender for one quarter — they pounded the ball inside to Howard, the pick-and-roll looked flawless, they defended like beasts. They were up 45-18 after the first quarter. They coasted after that, because they could and still win. This is the Pacers, after all.

Heat 107, 76ers 105: This one was closer than it probably needed to be, but the Heat win and slide into that five slot in the East. By the way, Dwyane Wade is good (30 on 12 of 19). Not a lot else to say here.

Raptors 111, Pistons 97: Toronto showed up to play. One day too late, but they showed up to play. Great shooting night for the Raptors, 60 percent as a team, and Amir Johnson showed up and dropped 26 on 10 of 12. He was the best player on the floor. First post-Bosh win for the Raptors.

The win puts pressure on the Bulls, who now are just half a game ahead of the Raptors with the Celtics Tuesday and the Bobcats Wednesday (and Larry Brown said he would play his starters in that game). The Raptors have the tiebreak. Could be interesting.

Bobcats 105, Nets 95: It was the final Nets game ever in the Izod center, I shed a crocodile tear over that one. Seemed appropriate this season for the final home game to be a loss, one where the Nets shot 17 percent from three but jacked up 24 from deep anyway.

Knicks 114, Wizards 103: With the game close late, Mike D’Antoni rolled out a lineup of one starter, Danilo Gallinari, with what should be (and may be next year) the bench guys of Earl Barron, Sergio Rodriguez, Bill Walker and Toney Douglas. No David Lee. And it worked, the Knicks pulled away and got the win (Andray Blatche had to sit for part of that run due to foul trouble). Washington was off and clearly studied at the Derek Fisher School of Missed Layups for tonight, because they were awful around the rim.

David lee with 26 and 8 in what could be his last game in the Garden.

Spurs 133, Timberwolves 111: This one was about even, with the Spurs up 36-35, when it was like a light bulb went on over San Antonio’s head and they realized, “Hey, we’re playing the Timberwolves.” They went on a big run and led 69-47 at the half and the blowout continued from there. Classically balanced Spurs game, with eight of their players in double figures but nobody over 17.

Nuggets 123, Grizzlies 101: The Nuggets played their most complete game in recent memory — strong on defense, shot well, looked like a team you don’t want to play in the post season. They ended this one early, so their starters got some rest late, important since they fly to Phoenix for a big showdown tomorrow night with all sorts of playoff seeding implications.

Rockets 117, Kings 107: Kevin Martin returns to Sacramento with a message — remember I can fill it up, too. He drops 39, and he gets to the line 16 times (and hits every one). Tyreke Evans is a better player than Aaron Brooks, but Martin fits better next to Brooks (and that pair has Ariza looking more comfortable). The Rockets don’t play great defense in this one, just about average, but that’s better than we’ve seen in a while from them and it was good enough.

Mavericks 117, Clippers 94: Fan appreciation night for the Clippers, and in their traditional thank you they get blown out in a meaningless end of the season game.

Dallas doesn’t run as much as most think they do (17t in pace in the league) but they pushed the ball at every opportunity in this one, which was the smart thing to do because the Clippers transition defense is atrocious. Lots of open looks, and nobody closing on the kick-out threes. Marion looked good in his return, he moved well.

This was over at half, lots of garbage time. Thanks again fans.

Report: Raptors to begin contract extension talks with coach Dwane Casey

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors looks on from the sideline in the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers 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 Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Entering the season, Dwane Casey’s seat was a little warm. He was not hired by the GM now in charge, and last season the Raptors had taken a step back, especially defensively.

After Toronto just ended the greatest season in franchise history — 56 wins and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals — Casey’s job is safe. In fact, the Raptors want to make sure he sticks around a while longer, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

The Raptors and coach Dwane Casey are expected to soon begin talks on a contract extension, league sources said Friday night after Toronto’s season ended with a 113-87 loss to the Cavaliers in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.

Casey has one season left on his current contract at the Raptors’ option for $4 million next season.

Both sides want to get a deal done, which usually means things happen quickly.

This is a smart move by the Raptors, clearly Casey connects with this team and knows how to get the most out of them, and he adapted well in the playoffs looking for rosters and lineups that worked. He’s the right coach for this team.

Pelicans’ rookie guard Bryce Dejean-Jones has died at age 23

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. 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 Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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This is a sad and stunning development.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, the rookie guard of the New Orleans Pelicans, has died, the Dallas, Texas, County Coroner has confirmed to NBC Sports. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune broke the news.

Dejean-Jones was just 23.

“It is with deep sadness that the Pelicans Organization acknowledges the sudden passing of Bryce Dejean-Jones,” the Pelicans’ organization said in a statement. “We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life who had such a promising future ahead of him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family during this difficult time.”

The coroner’s office would not give a cause of death, but Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had the tragic detail.

The account of him being shot has been confirmed by multiple sources, including the Dallas Police Department, which released an incident report to the Dallas Morning News. Here is that report:

“On May 28, 2016, at approximately 3:20 a.m., Dallas officers responded to the 2500 block of Bennett Avenue regarding a shooting. Upon arrival officers found one individual had been shot. The resident of the apartment reported that an individual had kicked open the front door and entered his apartment. The resident, who was asleep in the bedroom, heard the individual enter and retrieved a handgun. He stated he called out to the individual, but was not answered. As the individual kicked the bedroom door, the resident fired his gun. The individual left the apartment and collapsed in the breezeway. The individual was transported to a local hospital where he died from his injuries. This offense is documented on case number 127685-2016 and Dallas Police Homicide is conducting an investigation.”

As someone who spent years as a crime and police reporter, let’s just say come at these initial police reports of incidents — and what people tell the police — with a critical eye.

Understandably, players who knew Dejean-Jones are greiving.

Dejean-Jones was undrafted out of Iowa State, he was picked up on a 10-day contract by New Orleans this season, but the rash of injuries the Pelicans suffered pushed him into a starting role for 11 games. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game, and to his credit did shoot 37.5 percent from three. On Feb. 19 he took a hard fall and fractured his wrist, which eventually required surgery and ended his season. He was a guy known for attitude problems at the start of his college career at USC the UNLV, but had seemed to mature and his game had as well. He looked like someone who could stick as a reserve guard in the NBA.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.