Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Nuggets are all back and healthy, but the Spurs won anyway

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What you missed while reading how The Onion broke down the year in basketball

Spurs 109, Nuggets 103: The band is back together in Denver, everyone was back from injury (well, everyone except Carmelo Anthony who is dealing with a death in the family). The Nuggets had Chauncey Billups back running the show at the point. They had Kenyon Martin crashing the boards.

It’s still not enough because the Spurs are deep — Gary Neal had 22 and Tiago Splitter had 12 on 6 of 7 shooting off the bench. The Spurs just keep on winning.

Bulls 87, Wizards 80: “Here, you take it.” “No, it’s yours, I insist.” “No, I really insist, you must take this.” “I’m sorry I just can’t, it’s yours.”

That’s pretty much the fourth quarter dialogue between these teams as neither squad took charge of a game that was there for the taking. Washington shot 27 percent in the fourth and had 10 points, the Bulls shot 35 percent and had 14 in the fourth. But the Bulls also have Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, who combined for 55 points and won the game.

Pistons 115, Raptors 93: Rip Hamilton can still ball. There were questions about him quitting on the team recently and to answer that he came out and showed he can still knock down shots and make the key plays to spark a win.

Hawks 98, Cavalier 84: Atlanta is the better team. Cleveland has nobody who can shoot like Joe Johnson (23 points) or score inside like Al Horford (18 points). This game basically just went to form.

Celtics 84, Sixers 80: Credit the Sixers — the night after a horrific performance against the Bulls they came out against a superior opponent and made a game of it. Credit the Sixers defense or blame the Celtics offense, whatever you want, but Boston did not shoot well, didn’t get to the line as much as Philly and it was the 12 offensive rebounds (to the Sixers six) that was the difference. Well, that and a great block by Kevin Garnett on Andre Iguodala going for the tie late. Elton Brand with 16 points and 12 boards deserves a mention.

Knicks 112, Thunder 98: The Knicks dominated this one from the start and got a quality win. If you’re the Thunder you can call this a “schedule maker’s loss” — fourth game in five nights, second night of a back-to-back on the road and you have to run with he Knicks? There were 97 possessions in this one (right at the Knicks season average but faster than the Thunder prefer). OKC has the players to run when their fresh but they did not look fresh Wednesday. New York was getting into the paint and the threes were not contested (10-21 shooting from deep for the Knicks).

Jazz 112, Timberwolves 107: Oh, Minnesota, you find new and painful ways to lose and torture your fans. After getting crushed by the Clippers on the road — a game where afterwards every player in the locker room talked about the need for the team to grow up — and they had a 15-point lead late in the third against the Jazz. They were up 7 with three minutes to go. But Utah made a steady climb back the entire fourth.

Minnesota has itself to blame for the final three minutes. There was Martel Webster fouling Paul Millsap after he grabbed a defensive rebound, stopping the clock and sending him to the line. There was Luke Ridnour launching a three with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. There was not making the quick foul when down one with just a few seconds left, instead letting the Jazz make a couple quick passes to Gordon Haywood, who was streaking in for the dunk and got a clinching and one.

When it mattered, Utah new how to execute, Minnesota did not. That simple.

Hornets 105, Nets 91: New Orleans was just getting the shots they wanted and knocking down everything — they shot 53.9 percent, or a blistering 59.2 percent eFG% which accounts for the extra points from hot three point shooting. I thought Brook Lopez looked good in this one, but it was too little.

Rockets 97, Clippers 92: This was probably the most entertaining game of the night. Blake Griffin did his Griffin thing — he almost hit his face on the rim on one dunk — but the Rockets got the fast pace they wanted (98 possessions) and they are just better in transition. The pattern of this game was for the Rockets to jump out to a big lead — they were up 27-11 early — then for the Clippers to battle back and get close, only to have the Rockets spread the lead way out again. The Clippers kept making runs but never got over the hump.

James Harden scores 34, Rockets hold off Timberwolves 129-120

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — James Harden had 34 points and 12 assists, and Houston held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 129-120 on Sunday night for the Rockets’ 26th win in 28 games.

The West’s top team led by as many as 25 before the Timberwolves, holding on for dear life in a tightening playoff race, pulled within five in the fourth. The loss dropped the Wolves into the eighth playoff spot after they started the day in a three-way tie for fifth.

Harden had 11 points in the final 6:34, including a 3-pointer with 58 seconds left that effectively secured the win.

Chris Paul and Clint Capela each had 16 points for the Rockets.

Jeff Teague led Minnesota with 23 points, Andrew Wiggins had 21, and Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford each added 20.

The Wolves got a burst of energy after a fourth-quarter scuffle between Gorgui Dieng, Paul and Gerald Green. Green was ejected for coming to Paul’s defense after a frustrated Dieng pushed him down after a foul. With the pumped-up crowd chanting “Gor-Gui!,” Derek Rose had back-to-back layups to pull the Wolves to 109-102. But Paul hit a jumper with Crawford in his face, and Harden easily drove past Dieng for a layup to give the Rockets some breathing room.

Minnesota’s 19-6 run made it 115-110 with 3:58 to play before Trevor Ariza hit a 3, and the Rockets were able to answer every Wolves bucket to hold off the rally.

The game was seemingly over by halftime; Houston shot 63 percent, hit 11 3-pointers and led by as many as 24 in the first half while turning the ball over only three times. Harden had 10 assists in the first half, when the Wolves were as close as three before Houston reeled off a 12-0 run and didn’t allow Minnesota to recover.


Jimmy Butler targeting return to Timberwolves before end of season

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) Jimmy Butler could return to the court for the Minnesota Timberwolves before the end of the regular season, if he stays on track with his rehabilitation from knee surgery.

Butler spoke to reporters Sunday for the first time since the meniscus injury he suffered Feb. 23 at Houston . He confirmed an initial recovery estimate of four to six weeks. Even on the long end of that timetable, he’d likely have two games with the Timberwolves before the postseason.

Butler said he’s confident in both his ability to heal in time and the team’s ability to hang on to a spot in the playoffs. The Wolves entered their game against the Rockets in a three-way tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, but no room for a slump.

For more AP NBA coverage:

Gerald Green ejected for pushing Gorgui Dieng into stands (VIDEO)

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I don’t know why everyone in the NBA is so geeked this weekend. Coaches are getting fined, referees are throwing dudes out left and right. Maybe it’s because most of us recently saw the sun for the first time in five months, although I couldn’t tell you for certain.

As the Minnesota Timberwolves and Houston Rockets went head-to-head on Sunday, something had players on both sides itching. Early in the fourth quarter, Timberwolves big man Gorgui Dieng got into it with Houston’s Chris Paul and Gerald Green.

The incident came as Dieng was being defended by Paul in the low post. Paul was whistled for a foul while trying to get the ball away from Dieng, but even after the whistle blew the Rockets guard did not stop trying to get the ball. Dieng responded by pushing Paul, who fell to the ground as if someone cut the strings on him.

That prompted another whistle from the refs, and a crowd of players ensued. Green rushed to push Dieng, sending the Timberwolves center into the stands.

When the scene settled, Dieng was issued a technical foul and Green was ejected.

After the game, Dieng told reporters he thought Paul’s constant digging for the ball was a cheap shot, so he responded in kind.

Minnesota, energized, tried to make a late push on the top team in the Western Conference but came up just short. Houston beat the Timberwolves, 129-120.

Alvin Gentry, Stan Van Gundy fined $15,000 each for criticizing officials

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All is not right between NBA players, coaches, and the referees. What else is new?

After contentious games on Saturday night, both Detroit Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy and New Orleans Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry expressed their opinions about what they felt was a poor officiating.

Van Gundy — whose team lost to the Portland Trail Blazers as they continued on to their 12th straight win — complained that his players were being “screwed” as they were knocked down, hammered, and hit. Gentry was especially infuriated after a late foul call went against his team as James Harden was hit on the hand while shooting a 3-pointer.

Now, the NBA has announced that both coaches have been fined $15,000 each for public criticism of officials.

Things were slated to get better between the NBRA and NBPA after the All-Star break. The two sides were supposed to have a meeting which discussed some of the more concerning trends that players and coaches have publicly complained about this year. That meeting got moved up to December, with more talks to come later. It’s not clear if they’ve done any good.

Right after All-Star Weekend guys like LeBron James were still making waves about how they are being officiated. Coaches like Doc Rivers continue to openly complain about the referees and draw fines. Van Gundy and Gentry are just the latest additions to the list, and it’s unlikely they’ll be the last before the season ends.

Hell, the end of the game between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Toronto Raptors was just about as bad as we’ve seen all year. In that game, Raptors coach Dwane Casey was ejected after a comment made by a fan sitting near the floor was incorrectly attributed to him.

The NBA lost a lot of veteran officials due to retirement in the changeover to this season, and the transition has been rough. They’re going to need to figure some things out over the summer. I expect bigger announcements about those efforts to come out after the NBA Finals as a means to restore public faith in the officiating crews.