Baseline to Baseline recaps: Mikhail Prokhorov seems to know what the Nets needed

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What you missed while watching the longest shot you will see this year….

Nets 93, Grizzlies 88: The Nets won because of their tremendous bench play? Yes. The Nets bench outscored the Grizzlies bench 56-12 and it was guys like Kris Humphries off the bench that sparked a rally from 13 down in the third quarter to get the Nets the win. New Jersey is now 4-1 since Mikhail Prokhorov called off the Carmelo Anthony trade talks.

Magic 111, Pacers 96: Roy Hibbert had a great first month of the season and has fallen apart since. Dwight Howard is a rough guy to get right against. Hibbert had 4 points, 2 boards, and was -22 in less than 15 minutes. Howard had 19 points and was a +20.

Sixers 107, Raptors 94: Marreese Speights was a beast with 17 second quarter points to keep the Sixers in it early, then they pulled away in the third quarter behind strong play from Andre Iguodala. The Sixers dominated the glass against the soft interior of the Raptors and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds — meaning the Sixers go a second chance on 41.5 percent of their missed shots.

Nuggets 109, Pistons 100: You would think if one franchise had the institutional memory to know you don’t leave Chauncey Billups open late in a tight game it would be Detroit. How many games did he win for the Pistons that way? He cost them one in this one.

Billups hit four three pointers in the final three minutes and that sealed the Nuggets wins. Will Bynum took over late for the Pistons and had 17 fourth quarter points, but he was trading twos for threes with Billups late and that didn’t cut it.

Spurs 112, Jazz 105: The Jazz just get no defensive presence in the paint from their big men and that is hurting them badly lately. Tony Parker was getting into the lane early (10 first quarter points) and throughout the game other Spurs got shots inside without much resistance.

I still say Chris Paul is the best point guard in the game. Charles Barkley thinks it’s Derrick Rose. But if you want to make a case for Deron Williams, I listen and nod a lot. I hate to argue against him.

Thunder 118, Timberwolves 117 (OT): Let us marvel at Kevin Durant, he of the 47 points and taking over late. He of the beautiful step-back shot that was the game winner. He of the 18 rebounds. He deserves our awe.

The Wolves had their chances. Corey Brewer missed a tying free throw in overtime but it was tipped out top and Luke Ridnour ended up with the ball and five seconds left  — and he acted like there was 0.5 left. Rather than settle down enough to get a good shot he rushed it, Russell Westbrook contested and made him double clutch and he missed badly. The Wolves had other chances. But in the end it was too much Durant.

Bucks 98, Hawks 90: The Bucks owned the fourth quarter. Haven’t typed a sentence like that in a while. But there you go, they won the quarter 34-15 and the game with it. It was the Bucks bench that did it — Earl Boykins was creating shots for everyone and had 9 fourth quarter points, as did Carlos Delfino. Former D-Leaguer Garrett Temple added six in the fourth quarter and played well. When things got tight what did the Hawks do? Stop moving the ball and rely on a lot of Josh Smith jumpers. You can guess how that went.

Rockets 96, Clippers 83: Chuck Hayes did as good a defensive job on Blake Griffin as anyone has all season long. Hayes is strong enough to take away the muscle moves of Griffin where he just overpowers players and that turned Griffins’ usual 3 footers into 7 footers, and the result was a lot of misses. A lot of teams have tried to be physical with Griffin but it usually just leads to a lot of fouls. Hayes matched him and it was the key to the win.

Bobcats 114, Suns 107: This was a two point game with four minutes to go, and then Boris Diaw made a couple plays. He hit the 18-foot jumper, he drove the lane and created the open look for Gerald Henderson (who had a couple nice shots late). Meanwhile Channing Frye made a couple bad fouls late (and they were both fouls, sorry Frye). Suddenly the Bobcats were in total control late.

D.J. Augustin is like a new player under Paul Silas, and it changes who the Bobcats are. In a good way.

Hornets 112, Warriors 103: Chris Paul had 17 dimes and his setting people up is part of the reason New Orleans shot 62.2 percent. Teams don’t really lose when they shoot 62.2 percent.

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”

Remember when Shaq started practice naked? His former Lakers teammates do

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The Lakers are unveiling a statue for Shaquille O’Neal tonight, a perfect opportunity for his former teammates to share their favorite Shaq stories.

Mark Medina of The Orange County Register:

“We had a rule you can’t be late to the center huddle,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, who played with O’Neal as a rookie in 2003-04. “He got here where he didn’t have time to get his clothes on. So he made sure he was on time in the center circle.”

“I’m just scarred by the one where he ran out into the middle of the court naked before practice,” said former Lakers forward Rick Fox, who played with O’Neal from 1997 to 2004. “I can’t get that image out of my mind.”

“Shaq walked onto the court, put his hands up and said ‘I’m ready to practice,’ said Lakers assistant coach Mark Madsen, who was O’Neal’s teammate from 2000 to 2003. “He had not one inch of clothing on. So he was there in all of his glory.”

“He would start running around looking for guys to hug. Everybody was trying to get out of the way,” mused former Lakers guard Derek Fisher, who played with O’Neal from 1996 to 2004. “That’s’ why when I hit that shot in San Antonio in 2004, that’s why we were so good at sprinting off of the court.”

As much as he toed the line with his wardrobe choices before practice started, O’Neal always practiced with his actual uniform. Fox expressed the views of many saying he’s “not guarding him, not doubling down in the post and digging for the ball” sans uniform. As Madsen mused, “that would’ve been the day I would’ve submitted my resignation papers.”

Want to criticize Shaq for not setting a better tone of punctuality? It’s a fair argument, and you might have had Kobe Bryant on your side.

But Shaq keeping the Lakers loose was instrumental in their high-pressure pursuit of championships. Don’t discount that contribution to their three titles with him.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.