Baseline to Baseline, final night of the regular season

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What happened Wednesday while you were crying over the end of League Pass…


Magic 125 Sixers 111: The Sixers did their part, showing up to let the fans in Orlando have something to cheer against. Marreesse Speights needs to learn to play better defense, but he can score. 23 points for the young 22 year old, and if the Sixers are going to rebuild with a new coach, he’s got to be part of the plan. 
Howard did what Howard does, and dominated. The Magic followed suit. SVG commented post game that they’ve drilled bad teams in the second half of the season. 
No more gimmes. But the Magic look ready. 
Heat 94, Nets 86 (2OT): Best thing about this game?
It’s over. 
Let us never speak of it again. 
Bucks 106 Celtics 95: A gimme game, a no-point game, a useless game. And you’re still left asking “The Bucks put up 106 on the Celtics without Bogut? Wow.” And that says a lot about Milwaukee’s balance and about how many C’s missed this game. Perkins didn’t play, which meant…
The Dan Gadzuric show! Gadzey scored 14 and added 9 boards. If the Hawks were scouting this game, they wanted to focus in on Ilyasova, who played fantastic, and could be a matchup issue if his range is working. 
Bulls 98 Bobcats 89: The ‘Cats can zone out with the best of ’em, and the Bulls can plug in with the same. 
Joakim Noah looked healthy, folks. Really healthy. Best play of the night was Noah in transition, running point on the break (you read that right), picking up his dribble, leaving his feet, and dishing to a driving Gibson for the and-one lay-in. It was Deron Williams-esque. 
After Tyson Chandler went down, Bobcats couldn’t be bothered. The Cats were just happy to not have their season ending for once. Good for you, ‘Cats. Good on you, Bulls. 
Wizards 98 Pacers 97: Cedric Jackson, a D-Leaguer, hit the game winning shot with 1:31 to play for the Wizards in a meaningless comeback win for the Wizards over the Pacers. 
And that pretty much tells you about their seasons. 
No one, not even the Nets, is happier this season is over than the Wizards. 
Mavs 96 Spurs 89: The Spurs hung here. The Mavericks played their starters but were obviously tuned out, and once they got the lead, they just cultivated it enough to hang on. But the San Antonio bench showed a lot, even if both schemes were vanilla since they meet in four days for Game 1. 
DeJuan Blair had 27 and 23. Knees or no knees, those are some huge numbers. And he actually frustrated Dirk Nowitzki a bit. Something to keep an eye on. 

Thunder 114 Grizzles 105: Grizzlies checked out once Marc Gasol went out for the season a few weeks ago. And that should be noted because for as good as Z-Bo has been, Gasol is the heart of this squad. 
Meanwhile, the Thunder were tuning up sharp. Good ball rotations, good movement, good speed, good everything. They had the answers and they had the stroke. 
Rudy Gay is still as one-sided as he was at the beginning of last season .
Pistons 103 Wolves 98: Corey Brewer was brilliant, but Charlie Villanueva came through huge in the fourth. He forced the issue and created tons of baseline space. When that happened, the Wolves lost control. And they’re not a team that can get it back. 
Darko Milicic, the franchise savior, had six rebounds. 
Hornets 123 Rockets 115: The Rockets just ran out of steam. Much like their season. 
The Hornets looked good, and forced a lot of penetration. David West was lost in the failures of the Hornets this season, but he’s been tremendous in the second half of the season, and his 35 tonight was the type of dominance that the Hornets can win with next year. 

Suns 100 Jazz 86: Be afraid of this Suns team. The threes are there, sure. Nash, yeah. Amar’e, for sure. But there was defense out there tonight. Stifling, interrupting, bothering, frustrating defense. Don’t sleep on that. 
The Jazz without Carlos Boozer are frighteningly toothless, and couldn’t counter anything for the Suns defensively. 
Warriors 122 Blazers 116: Don Nelson dressed 8 players. Then three got hurt. Then one fouled out. The refs made him play an injured guy, before eventually letting him play the fouled out guy (Devean George) in exchange for a technical. 
And that’s the Dubs. 
Portland heads to postseason play with a dark cloud over them and Stephen Curry blasting them into pieces can’t make them feel any better.

Raptors 131, Knicks 113: Not a lot of defense in this one. And by not a lot we mean none. Made it fairly entertaining to watch. The difference here was simply that Toronto played like a team that wanted it and New York played like a team that wanted its season to end. They get their wish.

Hawks 99, Cavaliers 83: You could make really good team out of the guys who did not suit up for this one: LeBron James, Josh Smith, Joe Johnson, Al Horford, Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Bibby.

Without LeBron to create shots, the Cavaliers shooting percentage plummeted, particularly the 1 for 14 from three part. It was the kind of game where Jeff Teague takes over, he had 24 points on 11 of 19 shooting. Jeff Teague. It was that kind of game.

Clippers 107, Lakers 91: How seriously did the Lakers take this one?  Early in the third quarter, the Lakers had Adam Morrison trying to hang with Travis Outlaw. He can’t, by the way. But you probably already guessed that.

Steve Blake had the triple-double in this one — 23 points, 10 boards, and 11 assists. The Lakers bad defensive habits helped out, at one point Derek Fisher left Blake at the three-point arc to run down to the post and help Pau Gasol (covering DeAndre Jordan). Kick out and a buried three. Kept happening in variations all game long. But credit the Clippers for taking advantage.

Now, where is the lottery party again?

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 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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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.