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.

Dwight Howard still feeling ‘super’ expectations with Hornets

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DETROIT – Dwight Howard went from leading Orlando in the NBA Finals to playing in star-studded Los Angeles to joining a Houston team that also fancied itself a contender to being the highest-paid player in his hometown Atlanta to… landing in Charlotte, a small-market franchise with modest ambitions.

The spotlight finally off the former No. 1 pick, Howard doesn’t feel reduced pressure.

“Everybody expects me to be Superman every single night,” Howard said.

Howard is diving into his new situation – his third team in three years – headfirst. He’s leading pregame huddles and the Hornets onto the court.

“I have the most experience,” said Howard, in his 14th season. “So, it’s not to come in and fit in. It’s to come in and be a leader.”

This is the latest referendum on Howard. Despite eight All-NBA selections (most of them first-team) and three Defensive Player of the Year awards, he faces relentless criticism of his legacy.

His exit from the Magic was so ugly, it’s known as the Dwightmare. His feuding with the Lakers great is the stuff of legend in Kobe Bryant mythology. Howard never clicked with James Harden with the Rockets. The Hawks unloaded him for a paltry return in what was more salary rearrangement than salary dump, and his former teammates reportedly cheered.

Howard just seems to rub people the wrong way.

That makes his latest test in Charlotte so interesting. Howard is supplanting maybe Kemba Walker as the face of the team and definitely Cody Zeller as starting center. The Hornets have found success with Zeller, going 63-53 when he starts and 57-73 otherwise the last three seasons.

“The nature of his game, he plays in a way to help other people play better,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said of Zeller. “He is a screener. He is a ball-mover.”

In other words, the type of player teammates love.

Is Howard?

Howard is still solidly productive. In Charlotte’s season-opening loss to the Pistons, he posted 10 points, 15 rebounds and two blocks – and ruffled a few feathers. Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

https://twitter.com/Vincent_Ellis56/status/921100491362365440

Dirty-work players who irritate opponents are revered. High-priced players who irritate their teammates are loathed.

Howard walks a fine line.

He returned to Atlanta with emotion and expectations. By the end of his time with the Hawks, everyone seemed unhappy. Still, Howard says he’s grateful for the opportunity to play in front of people, especially his grandparents, who watched him grow up.

“Atlanta is going to be my home,” Howard said. “The Hawks is always going to be my favorite team.”

It’s just never easy for Howard.

Even a career Basketball Reference pegs as 99% likely to end in the Hall of Fame based on his tangible accomplishments stirs controversy.

“He’s a Hall of Famer right now if he never played another game,” Clifford said.

Said Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy, who coached Howard in Orlando: “It’s mind-boggling to me that would be any debate there.”

It’s probably easier for Van Gundy and Howard to recall their time together fondly than it was to enjoy it while partnered. Clifford, who was an assistant in Orlando and Los Angeles while Howard was there, is just getting into his time as Howard’s head coach.

It’s those middle moments, in the throes of long seasons, that have proven difficult for Howard and those around him.

Here he is in Charlotte, hosting the Hawks tonight, and facing another challenge. The Hornets would probably be happy just making the playoffs and ecstatic advancing, which would be their first playoff-series victory since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. Howard, who has reached three conference finals, is counting on himself to lead them there – even if nobody else is anymore.

Kobe Bryant still has it, bounces shot in from near half court

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This was a Nike gala, an event with a basketball theme. The court was lit up from below, there were tables at half court, and people had drinks in their hands.

Kobe Bryant was there, stylishly dressed in black. So was famous model Winnie Harlow.

Know that regardless of the setting, Kobe still has game.

Draymond Green, Andre Iguodala cleared to play vs. Pelicans Friday

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Without Draymond Green in the fourth quarter Tuesday night in the opener, and with Andre Iguodala out for the game, the Warriors defense fell apart against Houston. The Rockets scored 34 points in the quarter and came from behind to beat a Warriors team that had been in control of the game up to that point. There was more to it than just Green’s balky knee, but without the Defensive Player of the Year they are not the same.

Bad news for the Pelicans: Green and Iguodala have been cleared to play in New Orleans Friday. Green had an MRI and it came back negative.

Green admitted he was concerned that the injury, via Anthony Slater of The Athletic.

Now it is the Pelicans who should be concerned. The Warriors will want to wash the feeling of that opening night loss off them.

Report: Kevin Love was frustrated with move to center

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With Derrick Rose having to start at point guard (until Isiah Thomas returns sometime in early 2018) and Dwyane Wade starting at the two, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue had no choice but to move Kevin Love to starting at center. The Cavaliers desperately need the floor spacing to open up driving lanes and options for LeBron James. Start Tristan Thompson at the five (with Love at the four and Jae Crowder coming off the bench) and it adds another non-shooter to the mix that allows opposing defenses to just pack the paint and force LeBron to be a jump shooter.

That doesn’t mean everyone liked the change.

Love admitted to Chris Fedor of the Cleveland Plain Dealer he was frustrated with the move at first.

“It’s been a little bit of a change for me,” Love admitted. “I still find myself spacing a little bit wanting to roll a little bit more and on the defensive end just playing the primary big on their team the whole time on the defensive end. It’s been a little bit different figuring things out on that end, but it comes with the growth I’m talking about. We need to do that and hopefully be a machine when things start clicking.”

Lue put it this way.

“We’re going to try it out and see how it works. He was frustrated at first, but now he’s enjoying it.”

While in certain matchups, when the opposition has a more traditional center, the Cavs may go back to the Love/Thompson front line for a stretch. But the small ball lineup is the way Cleveland should be leaning, even with its clear defensive deficiencies. We saw that in the opener with Love’s dagger three in the fourth quarter.

Love is adjusting, he’s already sacrificed a lot to play with LeBron. This is just another step in that evolution.