Chauncey Billups

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Carmelo Anthony was better but the Knicks were not

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What you missed while thinking the Big East was overrated…

Bucks 100, Knicks 95: Just when you thought things really could not get uglier for the Knick, we bring you the start to Sunday’s game. New York was dismal in the first quarter putting up just 9 points and shooting just 16 percent — the Bucks defense is good but that was about the Knicks.

The Knicks poor play meant the Bucks were up 23 early. Then the Knicks put up 32 in the second quarter (Chauncey Billups put up 13 in the quarter) and only trailed 47-41 at the half. By the middle of the third we had a game. Down the stretch the Bucks executed and got some nice buckets — Carlos Delfino on a kick-out three from John Salmons (Delfino had 30 points), Brandon Jennings with a drive into the defender then step-back elbow jumper. The Bucks executed better than the Knicks in the clutch. For a team with all that firepower New York makes some odd decisions under pressure. Carmelo Anthony was not the problem (23 points on 14 shots), but the Knicks as a whole had issues.

With this loss, the Knicks drop to seventh in the East, the Sixers have passed them.

Wizards 98, Nets 92: The Nets jumped out early with 35 first quarter points on 61.5 percent shooting and looked like they would run away with this one up 17 at one point. But they are the Nets. Washington started the second half on a 19-4 run fueled by good defense (the Nets had 12 points in the quarter) plus offense from Jordan Crawford (9 in the quarter and 21 for the game) and JaVale McGee.

But in crunch time John Wall took over. He had two pretty little free throw line jumpers and it was his play (and 26 points) that won this game.

Hawks 104, Pistons 96: Not much of a defensive showing in this one as both teams shot over 50 percent (and both finished with very good offensive efficiency numbers). But the Hawks have just a little more offensive firepower and balance — six players finished in double digits. So the Hawks get the win, but it’s not one to write home about.

Suns 108, Clippers 99: We’ve already discussed Blake Griffin fouling out on a charge call as he threw down a ridiculous dunk over Marcin Gortat. Thing is, that didn’t really matter as far as the game went. This felt like last year’s Suns team — they bench went on a 17-6 run to start the fourth quarter, open things up and pull away. Good games from both Steve Nash (23 points, 13 assists) and Channing Frye (19 points, 5 threes).

Kings 127, Timberwolves 95: Kevin Love got hurt, DeMarcus Cousins got tossed for pushing. It wasn’t a good game for big men. It was a good game for the rest of the Kings as everybody got to contribute. Maybe the most interesting one was Donte Green coming in to start the fourth quarter and had 13 points to spark a 17-0 run that turned this into a route in the third (then the Kings out scored them 42-20 in the first.

With the win, Sacramento moves out of last place in the West. Minnesota moves in.

Rockets 110, Jazz 108: This is a big win for the Rockets, moving them into 9th in the Western Conference (ahead of Phoenix and Utah), ready to pounce if Memphis or Portland or any playoff team that stumbles. Some amazing individual performances: Houston’s Kyle Lowry had his first ever triple double (28 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) while Utah’s Paul Millsap had 35 points, 10 rebounds, three blocks — not bad for a guy in his first game back from knee tendinitis.

Raptors 95, Thunder 93: It was a very sloppy game from the Thunder, yet they have so much more talent than Toronto they were still in it. Kevin Durant was 6-of-21 shooting, Russell Westbrook was slightly better at 7-of-19. OKC coach Scott Brooks tried everything, from going small to probably a war dance in the locker room. He got his comeback the Thunder were even up three late. But among the list of things Kendrick Perkins does not do well is hit free throws. So his miss of two late that could have sealed it left the door open and Amir Johnson hit a game-winning hook for the Raptors.

Mavericks 101, Warriors 73: Dallas got out fast to an 8 point lead after one, but the Warriors hung around throughout this one. Well, until the fourth quarter. That’s when a 21-2 Mavericks run made it a total blowout. Not much to see here, but Peja Stojakovic had 17.

Lakers 84, Trail Blazers 80: It’s good to have Kobe Bryant on your team. After a pretty sloppy game up to the final five minutes (5 of 15 shooting) Kobe just took over, with 8 points and an assist, which included a steal and a dunk off Andre Miller and a pretty baseline fadeaway over Brandon Roy. Not a real pretty game for the Lakers but the 14-3 run sealed it.

The Lakers will take any win without Andrew Bynum, this one just happens to give them the Pacific Division title. Again.

Report: David Lee, Tyler Zeller in line to start for Celtics; Jared Sullinger, Jonas Jerebko out of rotation

MADRID, SPAIN - OCTOBER 08: David Lee of Boston Celtics attacks during the friendlies of the NBA Global Games 2015 basketball match between Real Madrid and Boston Celtics at Barclaycard Center on October 8, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images)
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Brad Stevens has a big challenge this year – sorting the Celtics’ deep roster of similarly able players.

It seems that process is shaking out at power forward and center.

A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN Northeast:

it appears Boston’s first four bigs will be starters David Lee and Tyler Zeller, with Amir Johnson and Kelly Olynyk off the bench.

That leaves Jonas Jerebko and Jared Sullinger, potentially on the outside looking in as far as the regular rotation is concerned.

Lee is the best passer of the bunch, which could partially explain why he’s starting. Boston’s most likely starting point guard, Marcus Smart, is still growing into the role of the lead ball-handler at the NBA level. Lee and presumptive starting shooting guard Avery Bradley can take some pressure off him.

Olynyk can space the floor for Isaiah Thomas-Johnson pick-and-rolls with the reserves and run pick-and-pops with Thomas himself.

I’m a little surprised Zeller is starting over Johnson, though. The Celtics just signed Johnson to a $12 million salary, and I thought they’d rely on his defense to set a tone early. Like Johnson, Zeller is a quality pick-and-roll finisher who can thrive with Thomas.

This is particularly bad news for Sullinger, who – barring a surprising contract extension – is entering a contract year. It seems those reports of offseason conditioning haven’t yet paid off. Jerebko’s deal also isn’t guaranteed beyond this season, but at least he has already gotten his mid-sized payday. Sullinger is still on his rookie-scale contract.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.