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.

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.