Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Martin Luther King Day games

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What you missed while listening to the “I have a Dream” speech…

The Lakers defeating the Thunder in a contest that looked a lot like last-year’s playoffs was our game of the night.

Celtics 109, Magic 106: Kevin Garnett is back. Is he ever.

It was a full slate of 13 NBA games Monday and this was the best one. It felt like the playoffs. The Magic and Celtics stood toe-to-toe, trading Jameer Nelson penetrations for Ray Allen jumpers. It was chippy. The crowd was roaring. Damn, it was just fun. There were a lot of keys — like the aforementioned Allen, who seems to get ignored by the defense at key moments as if he were Jeff Teague. Everyone talks about not letting Allen get open late, but he always does.

The real difference was Kevin Garnett, and not just the dramatic game-sealing steal. The Celtics just play with a different, more intense energy when he suits up. He’s back and the Celtics get the win. Not a coincidence.

Suns 129, Knicks 121: Amar’e Stoudemire again reminded Phoenix fans what got away, putting up 41 and looking all the world like an MVP candidate. But this was won at the point guard — Steve Nash played a controlled game (15 points, 11 assists) while Raymond Felton was 3 of 13 shooting (but with 13 assists). Nash gave his team what they needed. Really impressive all-around game from Vince Carter — hitting the outside shot, driving, tipping in rebounds. Carter also passed the 20,000-point level for his career.

Wizards 108, Jazz 101: There are games where Andray Blatche comes to play and when it happens the Wizards are a much more dangerous team. This was one of those games. Blatche had 21, JaVale McGee had 11 rebounds and we could swear we saw him pass the ball, and John Wall looked as good as he has this season with 19 points (7-of-12 shooting) and 15 assists.

Bulls 96, Grizzlies 84: Memphis shot terribly against that tough Bulls defense, hitting 37.7 percent overall and 1-of-7 from three. The Bulls did a great job of jumping on the Grizzlies early, Derrick Rose had his first-ever triple-double (22 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds), Luol Deng dropped 28 on 11-of-17 shooting and Kyle Korver was raining threes.

Pistons 103, Mavericks 89: In his second game back, Dirk Nowitzki really looked like he had his legs back with 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting. The problem with Dallas remains on defense — the Pistons shot 57.5 percent (60.3 eFG%, once you count in the made threes). Once they start defending again the Mavs will break out of this slump. For the Pistons, Greg Monroe continues to grow and look like a guy starting to figure it out.

Sixers 96, Bobcats 92 (OT): This one went to overtime because the Sixers got some big shots out of Lou Williams and some smart play from Andre Iguodala down the stretch. They won it in overtime because the Sixers just executed better.

Down two with less than 20 seconds remaining in overtime, the Bobcats ran a pick-and-roll, and just as you would expect in a late game situation the Sixers switched. That left Jrue Holiday on Boris Diaw, who already had a triple double (25 points, 11 boards and 11 assists). D.J. Augustin got Diaw the ball, he backed Holiday down, made a move into the middle then seemed surprised when the help came — so he dumped it to Kwame Brown. That means the Bobcats need Kwame to make a quick, smart decision. You can see the problem there. He throws it away and from there it’s all Sixers and free throws. Which the Sixers executed.

Rockets 93, Bucks 84: The Bucks were, for a change, the better shooting team in this one — 44 percent to 36.8 percent. But the Rockets did everything else needed to win — they got to the free throw line more, got more offensive rebounds and just generally out worked the Bucks.

Hornets 85, Raptors 81: Chris Paul had six points on eight shots. He had 11 assists but he did not look right. Emeka Okafor had 12 offensive rebounds,  setting the Hornets’ franchise record for offensive rebounds in a game, and finished with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

Clippers 114, Pacers 107: Damn the Clippers and their 1-13 start to the season. I want to see this team in the playoffs, but they dug such a deep hole in a still pretty deep West that it’s going to be hard to climb out of it (they are six games out of the eight seed with four teams ahead of them). Blake Griffin is a stud.

Warriors 109, Nets 100: We have a David Lee sighting, 24 points and 10 boards. The Nets, they really could have used someone like Carmelo Anthony in this game.

Hawks 100, Kings 98: The Kings almost got a quality win, they led from the opening tip all the way until midway through the fourth quarter. With the game tied 98-98 and time running out the Hawks went to their standard end-of-game Joe Johnson isolation play (which isn’t bad when he is hot, and he had 36 in this one). With Tyreke Evans on him Johnson drove right got to a spot, pulled up and Evans caught him on the arm with the foul. Two free throws with 0.6 left and that was he ballgame.

Blazers 113, Timberwolves 102: Minnesota had Michael Beasley back from a sprained ankle, and he had 12 on 4-of-8 shooting. Portland pulled away from Minnesota in the second half because nobody on the Wolves could stop LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 37 points and 12 boards.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.