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Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Grizzlies and Kings with the finish of the year

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Kings 100, Grizzlies 98: Two struggling teams that could use a win and it came down to this:

Kings up 97-96 with 5.5 seconds left, no timeouts left for anyone. Memphis inbounds the ball from the sidelines to O.J. Mayo and runs a poorly-designed play — Mike Conley, who inbounded the ball, ran right past Mayo, basically just bringing the extra defender for the double-team right to the ball. Mayo ignored this and worked along the three-point line and eventually near the top of the key took an off-balanced, off-one-leg fall away two. And he drained it. Grizzlies by one.

Now there is 1.5 seconds left, and with no timeouts the Kings inbound to Tyreke Evans, who gets the ball near the free throw line, dribbles a couple of steps, shoots as time expires — and drains a 50 footer for the win. Arco Arena goes wild.

Best ending this season. Go ahead and make all the “it takes that kind of shot for the Kings to win a game” jokes you want, their fans deserve something like this.

Pistons 104, Celtics 92: At one point Tracy McGrady made the steal and Ben Wallace finished with the power dunk on the break. When that is happening, you know the Pistons are having a good night.

This was just a night when the Celtics played poor defense — Kevin Garnett’s early exit certainly was part of that — and Detroit just could not miss. As a team the Pistons shot 55.7 percent, plus they hit 10 of 15 from three. McGrady had 21 on 7 of 11 shooting. Charlie Villanueva got a little revenge — not that he was looking for it — hitting 4 of 6 from three on his way to 14 points.

This was a big win for Detroit. This was just one of those games for Boston.

Lakers 103, Hornets 88: Phil Jackson moved Andrew Bynum into the starting lineup as a surprise, and that moved Lamar Odom back to the bench. The result was better Laker defense at the start and much better player and ball movement from the Lakers bench players. That meant an easy win.

One night after the Lakers struggled to hit anything against the Spurs they shot 67.6 percent in the first half against the Hornets and put up 59 points (and had an 18-point lead). Los Angeles basically led the whole way. Bynum was big on offense, too, scoring 18. Odom had a game high 24 off the bench.

Heat 125, Rockets 119: The tempo was way up for this one — 99 possessions — and that led to a lot of offense for both teams. And not much transition defense. It shouldn’t be a shock this one was close because the Rockets are scrappy and play hard every night (Byron Scott should show his Cavs the films). But in the end, talent wins out and the Heat had too much of it. Joel Anthony has had some really impressive ends of games for the Heat.

Bobcats 101, Cavaliers 92: Tonight it was Stephen Jackson’s turn to look like he loves Paul Silas’ new system, dropping 38 on the Cavs. Jackson was able to drive into the lane at will — we love Captain Jack here at PBT, but if he is driving unimpeded to the rim you have problems, he is not that quick. The fact that Jackson was constantly in the paint tells you all you need to know about the Cavs effort in this one.

Hawks 103, Warriors 93: The fact the Hawks don’t defend the rim well should have played into the hands of the Warriors and their penetration, but Golden State just turned the ball over too much and settled for too many jumpers. Meanwhile the Hawks were efficient and able to do basically whatever they wanted on offense. This was the best the Hawks looked on offense in a while, with nice ball and player movement.

Wizards 104, Pacers 90: The dreaded second game of a back-to-back, fourth-game-in-five-nights game for the Pacers. Then throw in a team that wants to run like Washington and you get a Pacers team fading in the second half. Andray Blatche had 10 points in the fourth quarter to seal the win.

Nuggets 119, Timberwolves 113: Chris Andersen had five key points in the final two minutes for Denver:  Two on a reverse layup when his man (Kevin Love) went to help on Chauncey Billips penetration and Andersen cut baseline to the basket; Two more on free throws when he drew the offensive rebounding foul on Love; Then one more when he drew another foul on Love, this time when the two were fighting for defensive rebounding position and Andersen sold a little shove with a big flop (he hit one of two from the line).

Thunder 114, Nets 93: It was an up-tempo game and you had to know the Nets could not hang with the athletes of the Thunder at that pace. The Nets fueled that pace with 15 first-half turnovers and their habit of launching up threes that led to long rebounds.

Sixers 123, Suns 110: Vince Carter returned and had 18 points on 8 of 20 shooting, and was 1 of 6 from three.

Look, we’ve been telling anyone who will listen the last few weeks that the Sixers are better than people think. If you don’t play any defense and let them dominate the boards you make it easy. That’s what happened. The Suns defense is awful and the Sixers have the people to exploit it.

Jazz 103, Clippers 95: Eric Gordon probably had the best Clipper dunk of the night, which is disappointment. As for the game, the Clippers led at half but the Jazz came out on a 16-3 run to start the second and went on to win from there.

Report: Cavaliers trading Kevin Love ‘not even remotely a consideration’

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Will the Cavaliers trade Kevin Love?

Cleveland’s championship quieted, but didn’t stop, the speculation.

The Cavs’ stance might.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

While there are no shortage of suitors who would take on Love’s contract, sources close to the Cavs say moving him is not even remotely a consideration.

Some parts of the equation haven’t changed since the last trade deadline:

  • Love is a good, and probably now underrated, player who can’t reach his full potential while playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. That’s OK. Most players must sacrifice to fit their team’s needs.
  • Love helps the Cavaliers against most teams. As I said above, he’s really good.
  • The Warriors – the overwhelming championship favorites – present a particularly difficult matchup for Love. The Cavs didn’t quite win the Finals in spite of Love, but his contributions were limited.

But a few things have changed:

  • Cleveland proved it could win a title with Love. There is no longer any doubt.
  • The championship also affects perception. Teams are reluctant to break up their cores coming off a title. It’d be surprising to see Cleveland make a major move until after the 2017 postseason.
  • Specifically, LeBron’s relationship with Love might have improved. Winning cures all ills. After previous reservations, LeBron might feel a stronger connection with Love due to their experiencing a title run together.

So, I buy that the Cavs are firmly against trading Love. The question: Will that stance change once they lose in the playoffs, whether that’s in 2017 or beyond?

Report: Blake Griffin’s camp ‘adamant’ he’ll re-sign with Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06:  Blake Griffin #32 of the the Los Angeles Clippers drirbbles past Metta World Peace #37 of the the Los Angeles Lakers during a basketball game at Staples Center on April 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Doc Rivers said he doesn’t plan to break up the Clippers’ core, and that’s up to him.

For one more season.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can – very likely will – opt out of their contracts next summer, and J.J. Redick will also be a free agent. Will they stay?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he’s not open to going anywhere.

Sources close to the situation say win or lose, Rivers is not open to trade talks on Griffin or Paul and that he’s not worried about either walking away in July.

There are two possibilities:

1. Griffin is truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

2. Griffin is not truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

The second could be true if Griffin wants to spend the upcoming season in Los Angeles before evaluating his options. If Griffin states anything less than a firm commitment to stay, Rivers might trade him.

But let’s take Griffin at his reported word. Even if he honestly plans right now to re-sign, a lot can change in a year. The pressure for the Clippers to advance at least to the conference finals is only mounting. If the Clippers fall short, the resulting fallout could affect Griffin’s thinking.

At minimum, this is bad news for the Thunder – who hoped to pair Griffin with Russell Westbrook – and good news for the Clippers. Griffin leaning one direction now means something, even if it’s not definitive.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it prohibitive for Griffin to sign an extension with the Clippers. So, whatever he thinks today about re-signing, he’ll have to play out the season and evaluate July 1.

Report: Timberwolves signing Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: John Lucas III #15 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 77-69. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.

The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.

The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.

It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.

The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.

Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.

*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.

The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: James Harden ‘only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch’

Daryl Morey, James Harden
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Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?

I know I do.

Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.

His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.

But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.

Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.

Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.

Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:

“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”

Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.

But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.

For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.

I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.