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: LeBron James won’t take discount from max salary

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In 2014, LeBron James made clear he’d accept no less than a max salary.

Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

James’ position on maximum contracts hasn’t changed, sources said.

Are we sure LeBron will even opt out next summer? If he opts in, he’ll earn $35,607,968 next season. If he opts out, his max starting salary projects to be $35,350,000.

Those numbers are obviously close, but LeBron will be working with imperfect information. He must decide on his player option by June 29. The salary cap, from which max salaries are derived, won’t be released until July 1.

But I doubt LeBron is fretting a few hundred thousand dollars. I don’t think he’s worried directly about the monetary difference between a max and near-max contract at all. He’s set financially, regardless.

I think this is about power. LeBron can demand a team give him as much money as allowed, and whichever one he picks will. That’s appealing from an ego standpoint, which is why I expect LeBron to opt out (or at least wield his player option to get where he wants, but more on that later).

Demanding a max salary also fits LeBron as player-union vice president. It sets a precedent teams must spend to acquire talent. That’s healthy for players as a collective.

It’s easy to say LeBron can afford to take a small discount to help his team win a championship, because that’s the paradigm. Instead, he’s challenging teams to think smartly and creatively to find a way to max him out and still build a strong supporting cast.

That doesn’t preclude LeBron from eventually relenting and taking a discount if it’s advantageous. After all, LeBron once said he’d take a discount to play with Carmelo Anthony, Dwyane Wade and Chris Paul. But he’s setting a far harder line than before.

LeBron, Wade and Chris Bosh took discounts to join Miami in 2010. Heat owner Micky Arison delighted in the championships and recognition those stars provided – then cut corners on the rest of the roster to save money. LeBron noticed then left. He’s clearly not accepting that anymore.

So, every team is on notice – which is why it’s overly simplistic to say every team wants to sign LeBron. Of course, every team wants to sign LeBron. But not every team is willing to take the steps necessary to seriously pursue LeBron.

In 2014, the Cavaliers made a salary-dump trade before securing a commitment from LeBron. That paid off, but they could have just been frittering away assets if he signed elsewhere. Worse, if they didn’t make the trade, LeBron might not have returned.

The 76ers won’t necessarily have max cap space next summer, but they’re reportedly expected to chase LeBron. That suggests they’ll make proactive moves if necessary to have a chance. The Lakers should have max cap space, regardless.

And what about the Rockets? They’re another team linked to LeBron, but they’ll be hard-pressed to clear max space for him. They already have nearly $76 million committed to just five players (James Harden, Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon, P.J. Tucker and Nene) plus three starters (Paul, Clint Capela and Trevor Ariza) headed into free agency.

But they could trade for LeBron if he opts in on condition of a deal, a la Paul last summer. How about Anderson and either Gordon or a signed-and-traded Ariza plus picks to the Cavs if they’re convinced LeBron would leave in free agency otherwise? Houston would have to send a load of picks, but it’s at least feasible.

That way, LeBron might earn more next season and re-sign for a larger max contract in 2019 – a projected $219 million over five years. That’s more than he projects to get if he re-signs with Cleveland long-term this summer ($205 million over five years).

However, that’s based on salary-cap projections that could change. And the Rockets might balk at spending so much. Of course, LeBron could also always execute the opt-in/re-sign-in-2019 plan with the Cavaliers. A trade to Houston won’t change how much money he can command from his team.

But it’s the type of no-settling thinking that might appeal to him.

Kevin Durant coming up ‘big’ for Warriors

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DETROIT – Soft. Scared. Cupcake.

Kevin Durant can’t help but hear his detractors.

“They’re trying psychoanalyze me when they don’t know me,” Durant said. “So, it’s like you have more information about the game of basketball than you do me as a person. So, ‘you’re soft,’ ‘cupcake,’ all that stuff comes from trying figure me out as a person, not worrying about my basketball skills. But if you watch me on the basketball court, then you come up with your own observation.”

That on-court observation no longer jibes with the unflattering perception of his mindset.

Durant’s height has long been a fascination. He’s listed at 6-foot-9, but he’s almost certainly taller. Durant once said he’s 7-foot when he talks to women. “He’s 7 feet,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says plainly.

Durant just didn’t play like it.

He entered the NBA as a finesse player. He couldn’t bench press 185 pounds a single time his pre-draft combine, and he spent his rookie year in Seattle playing shooting guard – as far from the paint as a player so tall could get.

Never mind that Durant improved greatly with the Thunder as a defender and rebounder, skills that require physicality. And never mind that he was a superstar on the perimeter, giving little reason to alter his style.

When he left Oklahoma City – where he settled in at small forward – for Golden State, Durant’s on- and off-court reputations merged to form a single image. Afraid of contact, afraid of competition.

Durant is making it much harder for his critics to paint him that way. He’s playing more like a traditional big than ever.

His 2.1 blocks per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward since Andrei Kirilenko and Josh Smith more than a decade ago (minimum: two games). His 5.3 post touches per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward in the NBA.com database (which dates back to 2013-14).

“Getting in the mix with the bigs a little bit, I think that’s one role that I always wanted to play and always appreciated about my teammates in the past – from Kendrick Perkins to Thabo Sefolosha to Draymond to David West to Serge Ibaka,” Durant said. “I appreciated those guys for doing the dirty work and allowing me to be the player that I am on the offensive end.”

The Warriors are spoiled to have Durant assume this responsibility.

Many of his post touches come on split cuts, an action Kerr popularized in Golden State. A player – often Andrew Bogut when Kerr first implemented the play – posts up while a teammate screens for another teammate on the perimeter. Most teams would kill to have a shooter like Durant set or receive the screen. But the Warriors have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to do that. So, Durant serves as the post man, surveying the screen carnage and occasionally just taking matters into his own hands. This video from Eric Apricot of Golden State of Mind excellently shows a few variations:

Defensively, Durant has become more comfortable defending power forwards and centers. Sometimes, he blocks their shots:

Other times, guarding a big just positions Durant to protect the basket:

“He’s just being active,” Kerr said. “When he’s active on the weak side of the play, he’s a devastating defender.”

Durant still just bottles up an opponent in a traditional wing matchup for him and blocks a jumper. He also blocks shots in transition.

But he leads non-centers, non-power forwards with 4.8 shots defended at the rim per game (minimum: two games). His block numbers aren’t telling a misleading story. Durant is doing work in the paint.

It helps that the league has shifted toward small-ball. When the slender Durant matches up against fours and fives, his opponents aren’t as big as they would have been a few years ago.

The Warriors played Durant at center to great effect in last year’s Finals, and it’d be a shock if they didn’t turn to him there again in high-leverage situations.

Make no mistake, though: Durant remains a generational perimeter player. He’s a dead-eye shooter with tight handles and jaw-dropping fluidity. Whatever time Durant spends moonlighting as an interior player, he can always switch into the style that made him a future Hall of Famer in the first place.

His ability to play both ways just makes him even more dangerous.

Still, Durant has made his name as a small forward. He says he has always played the role coaches gave him, but it’s tough to look past the fears of Kevin Garnett, another skilled tall player who worried when he was younger he’d get pigeonholed inside if he were listed as a 7-footer. As we talked, Durant picked up on my line of questioning and interjected.

“You trying to turn me into a four guy?” Durant said.

“Maybe even a five,” I said.

“Maybe,” Durant. “I don’t know. Maybe. That’s the way the league is going.”

Listen to what LeBron James told Lonzo Ball on court (video)

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LeBron Jameson-court conversation with Lonzo Ball after the Cavaliers beat the Lakers last night quickly became a fascination.

With LeBron-to-the-Lakers rumorsfueled by Ball himself – swirling, did LeBron tip his plans for free agency?

Here’s what LeBron said after the game:

LeBron:

I don’t see the reaction, because I don’t get involved in it. I don’t do it to get a reaction.

I do it because he’s said over and over since he was growing up and who he modeled his game after. And who was his favorite player? And it was me, and I was humbled by that. So me wishing him a happy birthday was kind of a salute back to him.

I see all the stupid noise that happens, and I can’t buy a place in L.A. I can’t live in L.A. It’s funny noise. But I don’t get involved in it, because when I post things, I don’t look at comments. I’m so far removed of the white noise and the noise doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to me.

Were you mentoring Ball or giving him advice? LeBron:

None of y’all business.

Unfortunately for LeBron, a microphone picked up most of the conversation (hat tip: reddit user IT-3):

LeBron, best I can tell:

Find your zone and just stay f—ing locked in. The media is going to ask you what I told you right now. Tell them nothing. Just be aggressive every single day.

It’s white noise to you. That’s all it is. Alright? Let’s go.

LeBron was never going to say something controversial in front of all those cameras. He knows better, especially after attention drawn by his on-court conversation with Dwyane Wade a few years ago.

Unsurprisingly, LeBron’s words directly to Ball mirror what he told the media after the game. There’s no secret plot here – just someone who has been in the spotlight for years trying to help someone going through it now.

Who needs good form? Hawks fan nails halfcourt shot for $10k (video)

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Former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson didn’t want guys like this shooting this shot.

I’m so glad this fan got the opportunity. This was Atlanta’s biggest highlight while losing to the Pistons — and John Collins had a nice dunk over Luke Kennard: