Baseline to Baseline, where the old dogs take over


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.

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.

51 Questions: Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

Miami Heat v Phoenix Suns
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PBT is previewing the 2015-16 NBA season by tackling 51 big questions that we can’t wait to see answered once play tips off. We will answer one a day right up to the start of the season Oct. 27. Today’s question:

Do the Phoenix Suns finally have a playoff formula?

It has been five years since the Phoenix Suns made the playoffs, tying the franchise record for longest playoff drought. It’s the fourth longest active drought in the NBA (Timberwolves at 11, Kings at nine, and Pistons at six).

Think about it this way: The Magic, Sixers, and Jazz have been to the playoffs more recently than the Suns.

Phoenix hasn’t bottomed out on a rebuild, they’ve actually been pretty good — they surprised everyone and won 48 games two seasons ago, then had 39 wins last season when things went very wrong and injuries crushed the team after the All-Star break. However, in a deep Western Conference pretty good isn’t good enough.

Suns management and ownership wants that to change. They want back in the playoff dance. Now.

It’s why they went hard after LaMarcus Aldridge this summer, coming in a surprising second to a Spurs team that nobody was likely to catch in that chase.

This summer the Suns made other moves to address needs. They went out and got Tyson Chandler as a free agent. The first reaction was he was there to provide a shot blocking and defensive quarterbacking, two things the Suns sorely lacked. However, just as importantly, they needed a vocal locker room leader, a vacuum that was part of the problem in Phoenix’s implosion last season.

The Suns also needed shooting, they went out and got Mirza Teletovic and drafted Devin Booker.

It’s easy to think the Suns regressed because they lost a lot of talent since the last trade deadline — Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Gerald Green, Brandan Wright — but they believe the pieces they have now fit together better.

Phoenix believes it can make the playoffs; it thinks it finally has the right formula.

Maybe. They will be in the mix. But a four things have to happen to make that a reality.

First is Chandler has to lead a defensive renaissance on this team. Last season they were average, 17th in the NBA in defensive efficiency, but Chandler can help change that. First, he gives them defensive rebounding that they lacked. He gives them a quarterback that they needed to call things out and have everyone on the same page (reports of how he talks on defense are already pouring out of camp). And he helps protects the paint — that means Eric Bledsoe, Brandon Knight, and P.J. Tucker can pressure the ball more and take risks out on the perimeter knowing Chandler can erase some mistakes.

The second is an obvious one: Bledsoe and Knight need to be able to work well together. They are going to share playmaking duties, and both are going to spend time working off the ball, both need to be ready for that mental adjustment. We haven’t seen that much yet, we need to see how it works out.

Third, there needs to be shooting to space the floor. Bledsoe is a penetrator who is a career 32 percent from three, while Knight shot just 31.3 percent from three after being traded to the Suns (likely due to ankle injuries that required off-season surgery). Those two men will be running the pick-and-roll with Chandler, who sets a good pick, rolls hard and can finish, but doesn’t have shooting range. The Suns other two starters are likely P.J. Tucker, who is not a huge threat from three but shot a respectable 34.5 percent from there last season, and Markieff Morris, who is a career 32.8 percent from three.

If I’m an opposing defense, what’s to keep me from going under picks and packing the lane against the Suns? Phoenix needs Knight to return to the guy who is a career 36 percent from three, they need Morris to improve from the outside, and they need guys like Teletovic and Booker to play key minutes and space the floor at times.

Fourth, and finally, they need the potentially volatile mixture of an unhappy Morris and a coach in Jeff Hornacek in the last year of his contract not to combust. Everyone is saying all the right things at the start of camp, and this is why guys like Chandler and Ronnie Price were brought in, but there is the potential for things to go sideways, especially if some early losses pile up.

The biggest hurdle for the Suns in ending their playoff drought is they are in the Western Conference.

Even if all four of things mentioned above go right for them — if they run and hit more threes plus play better defense — this is likely a 45 win team (give or take a few, and probably take). The problem is that in the West that may not be enough. Barring injuries, there are likely seven lock playoff teams in the West — Spurs, Warriors, Clippers, Rockets, Thunder, Grizzlies, and Pelicans. That leaves the Suns battling teams such as the Jazz, Mavericks and maybe the Kings for that final playoff spot. It may take more than 45 wins, and things are going to have to break the Suns’ way to get there.

Maybe Robert Sarver gets his way and the playoff drought ends this season, it’s more likely than snow in Phoenix this winter. But I wouldn’t bet much on either happening.

LeBron says “get it done” message was for both Cavaliers, Thompson

LeBron James
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Everything LeBron James does and says gets magnified and scrutinized.

So when he put out this photo on Instagram standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Tristan Thompson and the caption “get it done” it seemed a message to the Cavaliers.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron clarified that on Sunday, saying this has become a distraction, and the message was for both sides to bend, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN and Chris Haynes of the Plain Dealer.

When Thompson didn’t sign the qualifying offer he surrendered a lot of leverage, the Cavaliers don’t have to raise their five-year, $80 million offer — but reportedly they still would, a little. Thompson and his agent Rich Paul have pushed for a max contract, but that’s not happening.

At some point, the two sides will come to an agreement. For the Cavaliers, this is a distraction, their star is unhappy with that, and ultimately if they are going to make a title run they need the energy and rebounding Thompson brings (even if it is just off the bench). For Thompson, he can’t make up a year of lost salary, he has to come in and start getting paid at some point.

The two sides will get it done. Eventually. Likely before the season tips off.