Knicks Celebrate

Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Knicks, Spurs play a game without defense


What you missed while watching the video of the homeless guy with the golden pipes

Knicks 128, Spurs 115: Remember when the Spurs were a defensive team? Actually, they are still a pretty good defensive team — sixth best in the league in defensive efficiency this season — but they forgot how to play it Tuesday. It was a fast-paced game which played to the Knicks strengths and they shot about as well as you can expect.

It wasn’t the pace — these Spurs can run, and frankly even the vintage Spurs teams used to knock off running teams by beating them at their own game — but this was about defense. The Spurs didn’t play it and the Knicks knocked down the shots when they got them. Wilson Chandler had 31 on 13 of 19 shooting, Amar’e Stoudemire and Raymond Felton had 28 each.

Heat 101, Bucks 89: Second game in a row where the Heat let a lesser team hang around for a half, then they turned up the defensive pressure in the third quarter and pulled away. The one interesting note is that Dwyane Wade and more importantly LeBron James did not settle for jumpers and attacked the rim in the half court. Do that consistently and the Heat just get better. Bad news for the Bucks, they meet the Heat again in a few days.

Bulls 111, Raptors 91: The Bulls bench really won this one — when they entered the game is when the Bulls would pull away. Hence the big wins in the second and fourth quarters (the Bulls won those quarters by 22 points combined). Taj Gibson had 16 points and 14 rebounds off the bench to lead the way.

Memphis 110, Thunder 105: The Grizzlies grabbed the offensive rebound on 30 percent of their missed shots, and that led to them getting eight more attempts on the night. In a close game, that was the difference — Memphis was more physical on the boards. Oklahoma City just looked confused on offense, even though they shot a pretty high percentage.

Mavericks 84, Blazers 81: No Dirk Nowitzki, no Brandon Roy, no Caron Butler… I could go on way to long here. With those key players gone this game was filled with all kinds of ugliness. So credit the Mavs for winning ugly. Good on them.

Lakers 108, Pistons 83: The Lakers could use any win they can get right now, no matter how ugly the slump-buster. Los Angeles looked pretty good, particularly at the start of the third quarter when they cranked up the defensive pressure and the Pistons had no real answer. But the Lakers were met with little resistance. Second night of a back-to-back and last game of the road trip for the Pistons, and Tracy McGrady was the only guy really showing a lot of fight.

Hawks 108, Kings 102: The Kings struggled to defend the Hawks swingmen — Jamal Crawford had 31 and Joe Johnson had 29. When those guys are creating the Hawks don’t lose a lot.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.