Baseline to Baseline recaps: Dwight Howard makes Blake Griffin look like a rookie

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What you missed while campaigning for former Fort Wayne, Ind., mayor Harry Baals to get a building named after him

Magic 101, Clippers 85: The last time these two met the Clippers struggled with the Magic’s defense, and that continued again. The Clippers do not get out in transition, take too much time to initiate the offense and let Orlando’s stingy defense get set. The result was Dwight Howard protecting the rim and Blake Griffin scoring just 10 points of 4-of-12 shooting. Nobody got going for the Clippers. Well, except Baron Davis, he almost had a triple-double with 25 points on 8-of-16 shooting. 8 rebounds, 8 assists.

It stayed close because the Magic struggled mightily in the first half hitting just 3-15 from three. What kept Orlando in it was they grabbed the 10 offensive rebounds in the first half (43.5% of their misses). In the second half, the fourth quarter in particular with a 12-0 run, they found a rhythm and pulled away scoring 59 in the second half.

Sixers 117, Hawks 83: NBA.com’s John Schuhmann was pimping the Sixers small lineups the other day (Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks, Andre Iguodala, Thaddeus Young, Elton Brand and some variations of that. It worked will here and helped he Sixers pull away. Philly led by 20 points in the first quarter and was up 33-15 after one. The Hawks were without Al Horford to make Philly pay for going small, and the result was a lot of Josh Smith jumpers.

Spurs 100, Pistons 89: Welcome to the NBA, where the good teams can execute at both ends when it gets to crunch time. This was a 1 point game at the half, 5 points after three. But no team is executing better at the end of game s now than the Spurs.

Heat 117, Pacers 112: One other thing we are seeing with the Pacers in the Frank Vogel era is a much more physical style of play. They are not backing down and they actually led this by 14 in the second half and were up a few minutes into the fourth quarter. Then they went cold and seemed to feel the moment against the Heat. LeBron James kept them in it early with a complete offensive game resulting in 41 points on the night and Chris Bosh sparked a 14-3 fourth quarter run and, well, you see the result.

Bucks 92, Raptors 74: Hey, we finally found a defense that can make the Bucks offense look good!

Grizzlies 105, Thunder 101 (OT): Fourth game in five nights for Memphis, and with no Rudy Gay for this one (sprained right big toe) but the Grizzlies played hard and got some Ewing Effect. Much of it came from Tony Allen who had 27 points on 12 shots. This was a bad game from the Thunder and only the 18 offensive rebounds really kept them in it. But once again the Thunder didn’t execute in the fourth quarter.

Timberwolves 112, Rockets 108: Entertaining back and forth series of fourth quarter runs, but Minnesota had the last one, a late 11-4 run to win it. Kevin Love had 11 fourth quarter points and Wayne Ellington chipped in 10 in the final frame. That’s two nice road wins in a row for the Wolves (they beat New Orleans Monday night).

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.

Milwaukee Bucks eager to build after strong finish to season

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — With the sting of their frantic but failed Game 6 comeback effort still fresh in their minds, the Milwaukee Bucks returned to their practice facility Friday morning to pack their things and head their separate ways.

The Bucks consider themselves a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference, a belief no doubt reinforced by a furious 14-4 run late in the season that propelled them to sixth place in the East and solidified by a strong, though inconsistent, effort against Toronto in the playoffs.

“We thought we were the better team,” forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We thought we could beat the Raptors and go to the second round. We feel like we got the Raptors’ attention so hopefully next year … we can go deeper in the playoffs.”

To get to that next step, which includes gaining home-court advantage and winning a playoff series for the first time since 2001, a lot of work needs to be done. Milwaukee needs Antetokounmpo to continue his rapid development, but will be looking to young additions like Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks’ two picks in last year’s draft, to refine their bodies and their games this summer.

Maker was one of the biggest surprises in the league. The 15th overall pick was a relative unknown and figured, at the outset, to be a draft-and-develop pick. Instead, he made a strong impression on the coaching staff with his commitment to defense and made opposing teams panic with his ability to shoot the 3 and wound up starting all six playoff games.

“It was amazing,” Maker said. “Unexpected. I thought I was just going to be on `Project: Build Maker’ and build my body but that’s (what I’m doing) this summer now. I thought that’s what this year was going to be about but everything turned around. I worked hard and it turned out to be way more than I expected. I don’t like the end results – it could have been way better – but you live with the results and you learn.”

Brogdon might have been an even bigger surprise. He was Milwaukee’s second-round pick and began the season on the bench behind free agent acquisition Matthew Dellavedova. But he, too, put in the work and by season’s end, was not only the starting point guard but a key piece of the Bucks’ core.

“I think it’s strong,” Brogdon said of Milwaukee’s nucleus. “I think it’s going to be one of the strongest in the NBA, as long as we’re able to stay together and as long as we’re able to stay healthy. I think we’re going to be one of the best teams in the NBA.”

The Bucks have been in this position before. They were considered a team on the rise in 2010, when they forced the Hawks to seven games but stumbled the next season and didn’t return to the postseason until sneaking into the eighth spot in 2013.

Two years later, Milwaukee was thought to be a sleeper after the Bucks finished .500 in Kidd’s first season at the helm, but again they faltered the next season and missed the playoffs.

Maintaining the momentum will be a major focus as preparations begin for the next season.

“My first year we had seven or eight free agents, so we knew that wasn’t going to be the same team,” forward John Henson said. “(The) second year we had a new coach, more free agents.

My third year coach Kidd coming in, we knew there was going to be some stability. He’s had the same core guys and this is what happens; not have a letdown like we did the year before.”

Milwaukee should benefit with some roster stability. The team’s young core appears set in place with Antetokounmpo, Henson and Khris Middleton locked into long-term contracts, as are Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic.

Tony Snell, who went on to start 80 games after being acquired late in training camp, is a restricted free agent. Greg Monroe, who became one of the league’s best sixth men, holds a player option for next season.

The Bucks will likely be open to bringing back veteran guard Jason Terry for a 19th season, too.

“I think that’s how you become a team that doesn’t regress next year – keeping some of the pieces together,” Henson said.

General manager John Hammond also faces a tough question with Jabari Parker, who will miss at least the first half of the 2017-18 season after tearing his ACL in February. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft is eligible for a contract extension this summer and was in line to earn something close to the $100 million Milwaukee gave Antetokounmpo last year.