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.

Lakers owner on Lonzo Ball: “He’s going to bring an element that’s very similar to Magic”

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Lonzo Ball has yet to play a minute of professional basketball in the NBA, but fans in Los Angeles sure are happy to have him on board as they get ready for a new era in team history.

An exciting run through the Las Vegas Summer League in 2017 certainly showed us that Ball is ready to meet the challenges of a rookie in the NBA.

Ball won the LVSL MVP award while posting averages of 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, and 7.7 rebounds per-game. Ball and teammate Kyle Kuzma also helped the Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the championship game to close the tournament.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss is just as excited about Ball as fans in California are. Speaking on the Petros and Money Show in LA it recently, Buss compared the buzz around Ball to that of Kobe Bryant, saying, “No other draft pick, except maybe Kobe Bryant, has had this kind of excitement about him.”

Buss also has high hopes for Ball’s style of play.

Via Lakers Nation:

“There’s something special about Lonzo […] I think because he just wants to play basketball, he’s selfless. He has a certain charisma and I think the fact that his teammates at UCLA loved playing with him and all the nice things that they have to say about him, I think he’s going to bring an element that’s very similar to Magic Johnson.”

Whatever criticism of his father you want to muster aside, Ball does seem relatively at ease in Los Angeles and in the spotlight. While he will no doubt struggle as a rookie, as even the best do, but it is starting to look up for LA in the post-Kobe era now that Ball is in town.

They seem to have the right coach in Luke Walton to help develop him, and no doubt fans in LA will be hoping that Ball is a superstar sooner rather than later.

Blake Griffin on LeBron James: “I don’t see him coming to L.A.”

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Is LeBron James on his way out of Cleveland? Rumors have it swirled around The King’s exit from his kingdom as of late, which his camp has vehemently denied.

However, LeBron suffered yet another loss in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors in 2017 and his relationship with Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has appeared to sour. The history between the two is well-documented, and recently Gilbert failed to renew GM David Griffin’s contract, all without consulting James.

Meanwhile, the rumor has been that James prefers to land in Los Angeles, where he keeps a second home. James can play either with the LA Clippers or Los Angeles Lakers, which would allow him to perhaps add some of his favorite players — Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, or Dwyane Wade. The banana boat crew, as it were.

But one player already in Los Angeles doesn’t think that LeBron is on his way to California.

Speaking on a recent podcast with the Sklar Brothers, forward Blake Griffin said he did not think that James would come to L.A. Instead, he thought the best place for James to land would be in New York with the Knicks.

Via View from the Cheap Seats, h/t Complex. The LeBron conversation starts around the 50-minute mark:

“Honestly, I don’t see him coming to L.A. period. Listen, again, I have no idea. I think something is brewing with him and his group of guys. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I think something’s brewing and they’re going to try to make that work.”

“I could see him going to New York before L.A. I still think, when you go to the Garden, it’s a completely different feeling. The energy, there seems like there’s just a consistent buzz the entire game … even last year when you go play them, it’s still there.”

To give more context to this quote in case you aren’t able to actually listen to the podcast, Griffin is simply speculating based off of what he thinks could happen. He prefaces it by saying it is just a feeling, and my reading of his intonation makes me think Griffin believes there are too many roadblocks to get LeBron to Los Angeles. Couple that with an increasingly difficult Western Conference, and Griffin doesn’t think that The King will give up being able to get to the Finals every year just to come to L.A.

Given all that has happened with the Knicks over the last few decades, it also seems like a fair stretch to think the next best option would be to see LeBron in New York. Remember, with Steve Mills as president a lot of the people who torpedoed the Carmelo situation are still in place even with Phil Jackson gone. If LeBron does indeed want us to pair with Carmelo, or even if he is simply an influence on him as a friend, New York seems like an unlikely destination.

Still, it is interesting to hear the insight of other professionals in this context. It just goes to show you that even NBA players don’t know where LeBron is going to end up.

Report: Nerlens Noel switches agents in hopes of max deal with Mavericks

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Is Nerlens Noel worthy of a max contract? Not on your life.

But will he get it? That remains to be seen after reports that Noel recently fired his agent and will make the switch to Dan Fagen.

According to NBC 5 in Dallas, Noel has done just that and will be seeking a huge deal from Mark Cuban’s organization.

From NBC 5’s Newy Scruggs:

No other NBA clubs tried to sign the restricted 6-11 center. He has a one year qualifying offer of $5.8 million on the table but it’s not to his liking so he switched agents.

“We’re in a holding pattern,” is what Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle told me back in July on NBC Sports Radio when I brought up the contract talks between Dallas and Noel. The NBA salary cap didn’t go up has high as many previously projected, so the summer of 2017 was not a bonanza some players hoped for.

Even with the increase in the cap, and with big contracts flying around for young talent, Noel has done nothing to prove himself worthy of an offer like that for the Dallas Mavericks. Yes, his advanced numbers from his third season in the NBA looked much better, and that was great news as young big men often take time to develop.

Yet the body of work for Noel is simply not there. Fifty games of good play over a 200 game career does not, or should not, earn you a max contract.

Then again, this could simply be Noel preying on Cuban’s need to rebuild.

With Dennis Smith Jr. at the helm, an aging Dirk Nowitzki, and the team that could soon be irrelevant in a increasingly tough Western Conference, Noel stands as a future franchise piece if he does indeed fulfill his potential.

The question now is, especially after how this summer has gone, do you pay upfront for potential talent to an extent that seems unreasonable to a fault?

I would still doubt that Noel ends up with that max contract, but some positioning here could earn him a few extra bucks.

NBA confirms Lakers under investigation for potential tampering with Paul George

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Paul George is not a member of the the Los Angeles Lakers. Yet.

The California native has one year to go on his contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder after being traded there by the Indiana Pacers. Rumors have been swirling for months about whether George would stay in Indiana, a new city, or if he would bolt for his hometown in LA after the upcoming season comes to a close.

Even more rumors have said that the Lakers have felt confident enough that they are going to get George in the summer of 2018 that they weren’t grabbing him wasn’t considered so urgent that it was a matter of life or death.

Meanwhile, the NBA has confirmed that the Pacers have filed tampering charges against the Lakers, and that the league has hired an independent law firm to conduct the investigation.

From the NBA’s press release:

At the request of the Indiana Pacers, the NBA opened an investigation into alleged tampering by the Los Angeles Lakers. The independent investigation is being conducted by the law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. The Lakers have been cooperative and, at this point, no findings have been made. We have asked both teams to refrain from commenting all the investigation is ongoing.

The rumor first broke this weekend when Peter Vecsey published it on his Patreon.

Magic Johnson has spoken publicly about George, explicitly stating that he knows he is not supposed to tamper with players. However, on an episode of the Jimmy Kimmel show, Johnson did say that he would give a wink to George if you happen to see him.

Via Jimmy Kimmel:

“I had to go to school. I had to go to CBA school, salary cap school and tampering school. You can’t tamper with somebody else’s player.”

“We gonna say hi because we know each other. You just can’t say, ‘Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,’ even though I’ll be wink-winking like, ‘You know what that means, right?’

Punishment from tampering charges are rare in the NBA but are not unheard of. In 2013, the Atlanta Hawks, Houston Rockets and Sacramento Kings were fined for name dropping Dwight Howard and Chris Paul.

According to ESPN, Johnson is at the center of the investigation for tampering with George. If evidence is found, the punishment could be significant for LA, and could include future restrictions when it comes time to acquire George.

Via ESPN:

The Lakers are denying the allegations filed by the Pacers, insisting that there is no evidence of tampering, and they expect to be cleared in the matter, a team source told ESPN.

If the league office’s probe can prove the Lakers were guilty of tampering with George while under contract with Indiana, Los Angeles can be punished in several ways, including a loss of draft picks, financial fines up to $5 million, future restrictions on acquiring George and possible suspensions of offending officials.

It’s still unclear at this point if anything is going to come out of this investigation, but it certainly does seem as though Los Angeles is confident that they are going to be able to sign George next summer.