Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Spurs remain kings of end game execution

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Carmelo Anthony’s debut as a Knick was our game of the night.

Spurs 109, Thunder 105: Fantastic effort by the Thunder on the second night of a back-to-back on the road, but it’s the little things in these games. Like Gary Neal stepping back to take a three in transition that was a bad decision but he knocked it down. Or Jeff Green shooting (and airballing) a contested three with 5 seconds left in the game and the chance to tie when the play wasn’t designed for him. The Spurs still are executing better in the clutch than anyone in the West.

Sixers 117, Wizards 94: Philly outscored Washington by 31 in the second and third quarters combined. It was a balanced Sixers attack with seven guys in double figures and nobody scoring more than 20 (Jrue Holiday). Rashard Lewis was terrible, he missed both of the shots he took and had 1 point in 12 minutes.

Pacers 102, Pistons 101: Fun finish to this one. Austin Daye put the Pistons up one with 11 seconds to go when he drove left and hit a 15-footer along the baseline over Danny Granger. Then Granger countered trying to work the right side but finding nothing. Brandon Rush had set up at the three point line on the weak side as an outlet but he dove to the basket, his man lost him but Granger found him and Rush had a dunk to give the Pacers the lead with five seconds left. That was enough time for Rodney Stuckey to get the ball out top, drive hard right, get into the lane, pull up and… try to pass. There were Pistons under the basket but they had turned their back to get the rebound because you shoot in that situation. Stuckey didn’t, he tried to pass. Ball out of bounds, Pacers win.

Rockets 124, Cavaliers 119: Down the stretch of a close game the athleticism inside of Chase Budinger was too much for Cleveland. Budinger dropped 30 and had key buckets late. It’s just one of the challenges for the Cavs, they do not have the athletes to hang with guys like Budinger

Raptors 118, Bulls 113: The Bulls had an off defensive night as a team. Toronto has some guys who can score the rock — they shot 58 percent as a team and DeMar DeRozan and Andrea Bargnani each had 24 — but the Bulls defense was bad. On a key late possession where the Bulls needed a stop the Raptors went right at Carlos Boozer with Amir Johnson and Johnson abused him to seal the game (Johnson was 8-of-8 on the night). When the games get serious in the playoffs you’re going to see teams go at him.

Kings 111, Magic 105: The Sacramento Kings out executed the Magic down the stretch. That is the same Kings team on the second night of a back-to-back that got thumped by the Heat Tuesday. The Kings shot 11-of-17 in the fourth quarter and were often getting open looks. They got some bounces, they got some calls, but those things often go to the aggressor. The Magic in the fourth quarter shot 4-of-16 at one point. There are some issues in Orlando. Potentially big issues.

Grizzlies 104, Timberwolves 95: The Grizzlies defense held the Timberwolves to 37 percent shooting on the night and that was the ball game. This one was just not a thing of beauty to watch.

Mavericks 118, Jazz 95: With everything that happened in Utah Wednesday, how did you expect this to turn out?

Suns 105, Hawks 97: A shorthanded Hawks team after the trade got to see first hand how a good point guard can control the game. No, we’re not talking Jeff Teague, either.

Hornets 97, Clipper 88: The Clippers had 23 turnovers, which was 22.8 percent of their possessions. You cannot give Chris Paul extra chances like that, you will pay. CP3 had 19 points, 10 assists.

Lakers 106, Trail Blazers 101 (OT): This is a good win for the Lakers — the Rose Garden is this team’s house of horrors for the. And Portland was up by 8 with four minutes to go. Ron Artest was key for the Lakers with 24 points and he had maybe is best game of the season… actually, no maybe about it. Kobe Bryant took over in overtime. Of course he did.

James Harden is playing with a bruised right knee

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James Harden, Chris Paul, and the Houston Rockets are on a 13-game winning streak. They have a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference. But it’s not all rosy in Space City.

Harden suffered a bruised right knee against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday, and almost had to sit out the Rockets’ win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters after the win over the Bucks, Harden said that he was in some pain but a doctor told him he would be able to play and that he would not make the condition worse.

Via ESPN:

“I wasn’t feeling well at all, but the doc came in and just told me that there’s going to be pain for a bit, but you can play through it,” Harden said. “It can’t get worse, but it’s going to be pretty painful until obviously you give it some time. Once he said that, I was like, ‘Let’s go.'”

“I wasn’t moving like I usually move, but we won,” said Harden.

If Harden wasn’t feeling well, it sure didn’t show. He had 31 points, although on 8-of-21 shooting against Milwaukee. Chris Paul chipped in with 25 points, six assists, and five rebounds.

It doesn’t sound like Harden will be missing a game any time soon, which is par for the course for him. He’s played in a minimum of 89 percent of his team’s regular season games since entering the league in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Rockets are blasting their way into 2018. They play the Warriors next on January 4.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: ‘It would mean a lot’

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).