Baseline to Baseline (your game recaps): Where the Clippers are fun to watch

1 Comment

Our game of the night was Kevin Durant doing Durant like things all over the Bulls in the closing minutes. Which was a great choice because after the slog of ugly basketball that was much of Heat/Celtics opening night we needed new energy.

But that wasn’t the only good show Wednesday night. Blake Griffin’s first regular season game was a dunk fest, and Baron Davis looked like he was having fun. Halfway through a Clippers game people across the nation were saying, “I like these guys, they’re entertaining.” Griffin is a monster on the offensive glass. East Coasters, stay up late and watch you some Clippers.

Here’s a rundown of the fun.

Miami 97, Philadelphia 87: Early on it looked like the same movie as Tuesday — LeBron dominated the ball and had five turnovers in the first quarter alone. And the Sixers want to run, so those turnovers fueled them and kept it closer than it should have been. But the Sixers defense is not the Celtics defense and Miami found the gaps, blowing it open with a 31-13 third. James Jones was bombing threes, playing the Mike Miller role, and that in part is what opened up everything else.

We should note that Evan Turner, the rookie No. 2 pick overall of Philadelphia, looked pretty good (which if you saw him in Summer League is a change). He had 16 points on 7-10 shooting. Not bad rook.

New York 98, Toronto 93: It was not pretty. Especially the rebounding. By both teams. But an 18-9 run by the Knicks in the fourth quarter was the difference. A run that came with starting center Timofey Mozgov sitting and Wilson Chandler in — Chandler had 22 and looked like a guy who wants to be Sixth Man of the year.

New Jersey 101, Detroit 98: The Nets had success when they could get a stop and push the pace, which was not often enough. That is, until an 11-0 run late in the fourth quarter that put this one away. A run that started just as Ben Wallace replaced Jason Maxiell in the lineup. The Pistons bench played well in this one, but why ride the hot hand. Go back to your starters, what could go wrong? Oh, that.

New Orleans 95, Milwaukee 91: The Bucks looked like a team whose players did not really get the chance to play together during the preseason and were rusty. Coincidence? New Orleans, on the other hand, has Chris Paul (17 points 16 assists) and David West (22 points) and that is enough some nights.

Sacramento 117, Minnesota 116: The Kings were without Tyreke Evans (suspension for reckless driving arrest), so Francisco Garcia stepped up with 22 points. Carl Landry had 22 and 11. Key for the Kings was getting to the line 19 more times. Well, that and the ability to hang on for deer life at the end.

Note to Kurt Rambis — Michael Beasley is playing 34 minutes but Kevin Love got 23? Really? What do you have against this guy?

Atlanta 119, Memphis 104: All hail Zaza Pachulia, who had 17 and 11 for the Hawks is this one. Why Zaza? With Marc Gasol out for the Grizzlies, his team had nobody who could really do the job for him protecting the paint. Atlanta owned this one the whole way.

Dallas 101, Charlotte 86: The Mavericks controlled this one in the second half and here isthe big secret why — they shoot better. Dallas hit 54.7 percent of their shots, Charlotte 39.7 percent. Game over.

San Antonio 122, Indiana 109: San Antonio got out and ran with the Pacers, 101 possessions on the night — that is faster than Golden State were tonight. Spurs pulled away with a 15-2 run in the fourth fueled by their bench. Spurs bench outscored the Pacers 32-17.

Denver 109, Utah 88: This was just an old school, “go get me my belt” whooping. Denver started on a 9-0 run and never looked back. Utah, try to put it behind you and just move on, it happens to everyone.

Golden State 132, Houston 128: Defense? We don’t need no stinkin’ defense. Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry can’t play together, it’s not like they’ll score 71 points between them… oh, yes they will. Both teams put up gaudy offensive numbers, but the Rockets did what teams do on the second night of back-to-backs — they were a step slower and shot just missed some shot.

Portland 98, LA Clippers 88: Blake Griffin is just fun to watch — he had two highlight dunks, one off an ally-oop, another off an offensive rebound, that brought the house down. He just overwhelms. Really, the Clippers could become everybody’s guilty pleasure this season. But Griffin and Chris Kaman allowed 21 offensive rebounds for Portland and it is far too good a team to just give it second chances. Blazers closed this game on an 18-1 run to win it.

Twitter reaction All-Star pre-game, Fergie’s national anthem vicious, priceless

Getty Images
1 Comment

LOS ANGLES — In an intensely polarized nation, few things unite Americans anymore. Sunday night the NBA and its All-Star Game broadcast gave us one of those unifying forces — a pre-game run-up so bad it was universally panned.

The NBA is lucky the new format seemed to work and we had a dramatic, actual basketball game to talk about, helping us move on a pre-game show that, to put it kindly, simply did not work.

It started with a roughly 20-minute singing and dancing skit that was supposed to be about comedian Kevin Hart’s journey to being an NBA player (I think that’s what it was, anyway, it made as much sense as the movie “Wild, Wild West”). It felt forced, was not funny, and just dragged on and on. Even a Kardashian thought this was terrible television.

And that wasn’t even the worst part of the pregame, nor the part that sparked the most outrage online.

Fergie’s sexy, slow, bluesy rendition of the national anthem became the lightning rod.

Charles Barkley joked on TNT that he “needed a cigarette” after the Black Eye’d Peas’ singer’s performance. Shaquille O’Neal jumped in quickly to defend her (“Fergie, I love you. It was different. It was sexy. I liked it.”) as the broadcast quickly pivoted away from that topic.

Twitter was not so kind, and Draymond Green‘s face caught by camera’s during the anthem became a quick meme.

Twitter had a field day with Fergie’s rendition.

Now, let us never discuss this All-Star opening ever again. Please.

Three things to know from All-Star Weekend: New format worked, for now

Getty Images
3 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Our regular feature “Three Things to Know” usually wraps up and breaks down the news of the day in the NBA, but in this case we are stepping back to take in all of All-Star Weekend. Three Things will then be off this week until Friday (there are no games until Thursday night as the league takes a little break).

1) The new “captains pick teams” format may have worked as intended. But will it last? This much we can agree on: This was the best played, most dramatic All-Star Game we have seen in a while. There was some actual defense played, guys tried and played with a little pride, they played hard, we had a close and intense ending, and (unlike last season) the night featured something that resembled basketball. There was even a game-tying and game-winning shot.

The new format — where captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry (the highest vote-getters from fans) picked the teams playground-style — got the credit for the change.

“The great thing about our commissioner, he’s absolutely okay with trying something new, to change the format, and it definitely worked out for everybody,” said LeBron, who scored 29 points including the go-ahead bucket late, and was named MVP. “It worked out not only for the players, not only for the league but for our fans, for everybody. It was a great weekend, and we capped it off the right way.”

Was it really the format that led to the change? Tune in next year, and frankly the next few years, to find out.

First off, the players were genuinely embarrassed by the lack of defense and level of play in last year’s game, they talked about it afterwards in New Orleans and it was players’ union president Chris Paul who first pushed for the format change as a way to inject some energy into the game. To a man, the players and coaches talked about “changing the narrative” around the game.

The reality is the game was close, and often in the past when the All-Star Game was close late we got real energy and something resembling defense the final six minutes or so of the game. This year’s game was close, so the genuine energy late was not wildly out of character.

If the league had stuck with East vs. West (but upped the payout to winners and kept the new charity component) would the players have come out and played with this same energy and defense from the start to change the narrative anyway? My sense is probably, again they didn’t want to embarrass themselves again. We’ll never know for sure, but the format got credit for bringing a new energy to the game that may have been coming anyway.

The NBA is going to keep this format — although expect the player draft to be televised next time around — so we will see in Charlotte next February and in Chicago in 2020 if the change was about the format or just a conscious effort by the players to make the product better.

Either way, let’s hope it continues.

2) Donovan Mitchell, welcome to the spotlight. Utah’s rookie Donovan Mitchell is averaging 19.6 points and 4.5 assists a game (and much more than that the past couple of months), has become the Jazz’s go-to scorer and shot creator late in games, and for my money is the current frontrunner for Rookie of the Year (with Ben Simmons a close second). Yet for casual fans Mitchell was flying under the radar — people don’t really tune in to see the Jazz play (they don’t get on national television much) and in a deep rookie class with big names the No. 13 pick out of Louisville was not one of the pre-draft hype guys.

People know who he is now — he took over the spotlight in Los Angeles for a while. He was featured Friday’s Rising Stars challenge, then on Saturday went out and won the Dunk Contest.

“I’ve always been a player who’s not really been talked about a lot,” Mitchell told NBC Sports heading into the weekend. “Never really hyped coming out of high school — I was ranked top 50, but I wasn’t a name that was all over Ball is Life and all those platforms. Then coming into college I wasn’t a McDonald’s All-American, I wasn’t one of those guys averaging 30.

“Playing under (Rick) Pitino (in college), it’s grit and grind basketball, and that’s how I was perceived. That just adds to the chip I have on my shoulder.”

Mitchell had plenty of style and flash in Los Angeles. First, he brought out a second backboard, and did a self-alley-oop off one to the other.

Then he sealed his Dunk Contest win with a tribute to Vince Carter and one of his legendary dunks.

No player did more for his national profile over the three-days in Los Angeles than Donovan Mitchell.

3) Dunk of the weekend? Give that one to Larry Nance Jr. The newly-minted Cleveland Cavalier Larry Nance Jr. (he was traded from the Lakers at the deadline just more than a week before) may have come in second in the Dunk Contest to Mitchell, but he had the best dunk of the weekend. No doubt.

It was the double self-alley-oop off the backboard.

That was the dunk we’ll be talking about out of the weekend.

‘Tired’ Jimmy Butler sits out All-Star Game at his own request

Getty Images
7 Comments

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game at 37.3. He’s ninth in the league in total minutes played and played 77:35 minutes in the two games leading up to All-Star Weekend.

Butler was tired and asked Mike D’Antoni to give him some rest, according to both parties (despite speculation this was really a win for the Los Angeles nightlife). Butler did not play in Sunday’s All-Star Game.

“Rest,” Butler said when asked why he didn’t play. “I have to rest. I have to rest my body up. This Timberwolves season is very, very important to me. I’ve got to make sure I’m ready to roll when I get back there.”

“He was tired and he just felt like his legs weren’t there,” Team Stephen head coach Mike D’Antoni. “He didn’t practice yesterday or play today. You have to respect that. He plays hard. Sometimes your body just needs a rest.”

Butler is having the kind of season that has him in the discussion for a place on the MVP ballot. He’s averaging 22.4 points per game with a very efficient true shooting percentage of 59.3, plus he’s playing strong defense. He and Karl-Anthony Towns have led the Timberwolves to a 36-25 record that has them as the current four seed in the West, poised to break an 11-year playoff drought for the franchise.

Still thankful, LeBron James breaks Michael Jordan’s record for years between All-Star MVPs

AP Photo
2 Comments

Los Angeles – When LeBron James became the youngest-ever NBA All-Star MVP in 2006, he said during the trophy presentation: “I’d like to thank the fans for voting me in as a starter.”

Twelve years later, he sounds similar, maybe just a little more thoughtful: “It’s always been my fans who voted me in. For 14 straight years, my fans have voted me in as an All-Star starter, and it’s been up to me to go out and let them know and show them, listen, I appreciate that, and here’s what I’m going to give to you every time you vote me in.”

He plays similarly, too.

LeBron again won All-Star MVP, leading his team to a 148-145 victory Sunday. He finished with 29 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

“Every night I step on the floor, I have to lead my guys or prove to myself that I’m still able to play at a high level,” said LeBron, 33. “I feel great.”

The 12-year gap between LeBron’s first and last All-Star MVP – he also won in 2008 – is the longest in NBA history. It tops the 10 years between Michael Jordan’s first (1988) and last (1998).

Here’s the difference between the first and last All-Star MVP for every multi-time winner:

image

Players’ effort in this exhibition game comes and goes, but LeBron appeared invigorated .

When LeBron’s team trailed by 15 in the second quarter, he checked in and quickly led it back into the lead. When his team fell behind by 13 midway through the fourth quarter, he again led a spirited comeback. He hit the go-ahead bucket.

Despite playing a game-high 31 minutes, his intensity lasted all the way through the final buzzer.

His coach, the Raptors’ Dwane Casey, said he asked LeBron whether to foul or defend on the final possession while up three. LeBron said defend.

“If he says that, or any great players say that, you want to go with them because it was their idea, their belief, and he had it,” Casey said. “…He got the guys jacked up and juiced up as far as wanting to get a stop.”

LeBron and Kevin Durant swarmed Stephen Curry, who couldn’t shoot and could barely pass. Curry’s team didn’t even get a shot off:

“As you can hear in my voice, that tells how competitive it was,” LeBron said scratchily.

Again, his message echoed 2006: “We’re competitors, and our competitive nature kicked in and said let’s get some defensive stops.”

A lot will get made about the format change, and it might have mattered.

But maybe LeBron is just uniquely capable of dominating and embracing of this stage all these years later.