Josh Smith

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Atlanta makes a playoff statement to Orlando

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What you missed while eating out of your Death Star cookie jar

Orlando knocking off the Suns was our Game of the Night.

Hawks 85, Magic 82: This was a preview of a first round playoff matchup in the east (Orlando is locked in at the four seed, Atlanta the five). These two teams met in the playoffs last year and the Magic just abused the Hawks and swept them in four games. Atlanta has sent a message — it will not be so easy this time.

Jason Collins held Dwight Howard to 4-of-13 shooting, providing the big defensive stopper in the paint the Hawks have needed. (Al Horford is a four forced to play the five the last few years.) Collins got Howard in foul trouble. Howard still had 17 points and 13 rebounds — you can’t stop the man — but he was not dominant. Collins was kryptonite to Dwight’s Superman.

Atlanta led most of the second half, but a late 8-0 run (fueled by Howard’s six straight points and capped by a Jameer Nelson layup) tied the game at 82-82 with 1:10 left. But then Joe Johnson hit a big one, a running 8 footer, Nelson missed a couple shots on the other end, Turkoglu missed a desperation three at the buzzer and the Hawks get the win.

Atlanta wet 3-1 against the Magic this season. There will be now blowout sweep in the playoffs this time.

Knicks 120, Nets 116: That is what Carmelo Anthony can get you. The Nets were up 10 at the half because the Knicks couldn’t be bothered to play defense and were getting out worked in pretty much every aspect of the game. Then ‘Melo put up 20 in the third and we had a ballgame. Talent still wins out in this league most nights and the Knicks have more of it — ‘Melo, Amar’e Stoudemire and Chauncey Billups combined for 95 points. (Depth? What depth? It’s all in Denver.) The other key: New Jersey had 16 turnovers, New York 5.

Sixers 104, Rockets 98: Interesting game between two teams that are making a playoff push. With the game on the line the Rockets went cold, shooting 1-for-9 in a stretch in the middle of the fourth quarter. The Sixers pulled away and picked up another quality win. This is a good team and one that will push one of the East’s big three in the first round.

Kyle Lowry is just playing amazing basketball. Don’t know what he’s been eating, but I want some. He had 19 points in this one.

Bucks 104, Raptors 98: In a matchup of the league’s second worst offense (Bucks) and worst defense (Raptors) we saw that the Bucks can score if you don’t guard them. Brandon Jennings hit 8-of-18 shots for 25 points and added seven assists to lead Milwaukee.

Bobcats 98, Cavaliers 97: Cleveland carried its momentum over from the night before. The Bobcats are desperate for wins to stay in the playoff chase. That led to an entertaining game. Not well played, but entertaining.

With the game tied late, Charlotte Boris Diaw drew a foul from Ryan Hollins (borderline call at best) and hit one of two free throws to get the Bobcats the lead. The Cavs had time but Ramon Sessions dribbled into a no-mans land then picked up his dribble and had to call a timeout. Off the inbounds play Anthony Parker had room but took time and Dominic McGuire made the aggressive play leaving his man to come out of nowhere and get the block to save the game.

Pacers 111, Pistons 101: Indiana took control of this game in the second quarter and then started the third on a 17-5 run that had them up 25. Rodney Stuckey led a fourth quarter charge with 14 points in the quarter but it was not near enough. Indiana needed the win to stay one game up on Charlotte for the eight seed in the East.

Heat 123, Wizards 107: The Wizards have played the Heat tough in every game this season (the three Heat wins over the Wizards before this game were by less than 10 points). But after a John Wall got ejected the Wizards were just overmatched. Jordan Crawford dropped 39 but there just wasn’t enough. Miami’s big three combined for 94 points.

Bulls 108, Timberwolves 91: No Joakim Noah but it didn’t matter, the Bulls defense was there and it held Minnesota to 19 first quarter points. Chicago was up 11 after one and pulled away from there. The Wolves scored at just a 98.9 points per 100 possessions pace. Derrick Rose had 23, Carlos Boozer 24 for Chicago.

Grizzlies 110, Warriors 91: Memphis was going to dominate the paint in this matchup, the Warriors were going to have to dominate the perimeter to have a chance. They shot just 6-of-21 from three. Game over.

Hornets 95, Trail Blazers 91: This should have felt like a playoff game, with big seeding questions for both teams, but both teams looked flat for stretches. Problem for Portland was one of those stretches was the start of the fourth quarter when the Hornets went on a 16-4 run to take a lead they never gave up. Willie Green had 10 in the fourth quarter for the Hornets.

Nuggets 104, Kings 90: Tyreke Evans had 22 points and looked like his old self, but Denver was the better team. The Nuggets got to the line 16 more times than the Kings, were better on the offensive glass and just played better team basketball.

Mavericks 106, Clippers 100: The Clippers made a couple of late runs to make this closer than it should have been, but J.J. Barea had 16 points in the fourth quarter and helped Dallas get the win.

Heat’s Josh McRoberts says he broke foot in Game 6 vs. Raptors, remains out

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Josh McRoberts #4 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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To call Josh McRoberts‘ time in Miami injury plagued might be the understatement of the decade.

Now with Chris Bosh out, the Heat could really use McRoberts at the four, but “shockingly” he is not healthy. Wednesday he finally admitted the reason he has been limited in training camp with foot issues.

McRoberts run of bad luck continues. And foot injuries — when your job involves running up and down a hardwood floor — are something that has to be taken seriously and allowed to fully heal, lest they become chronic. I’m not sure the Heat can bet on a lot out of McRoberts this season.

With no Bosh and McRoberts, expect Derrick Williams, Udonis Haslem, and maybe Luke Babbitt will get some run there. Coach Erik Spoelstra also likely will have some small lineups where Justise Winslow will play the four.

51Q: Will Larry Bird’s renovation of the Pacers pay off?

Larry Bird, Paul George
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

There are two types of basketball analysts: Those who believe the Pacers improved by swapping George Hill for Jeff Teague and those who believe Indiana got worse in the trade.

Teague uses his superior quickness in the pick-and-roll to score and assist more. Hill defends better, commits fewer turnovers and shoots more efficiently.

I prefer Hill. Larry Bird opted for Teague.

I can’t wait to see who’s right.

Though I’m inclined to value Hill’s less-flashy contributions – and like his lead-guard skills if he were called upon for that role – I’m also not arrogant enough to believe I certainly know better than Bird. An all-time great who has excelled as a player, coach and executive deserves some benefit of the doubt.

Bird is leveraging it now.

Seemingly unsatisfied with the team that reached consecutive conference finals in 2013 and 2014, Bird has now fully torn down the roster to build a more dynamic offense around Paul George. The Pacers president has long talked about the change, and we’ll learn this season whether his vision will bear fruit.

In addition to trading Hill for Teague, Bird let Lance Stephenson leave in free agency, deemphasized and traded Roy Hibbert, offended David West into leaving and fired Frank Vogel. In came Monta Ellis, Rodney Stuckey, Myles Turner, Thaddeus Young, Teague and Nate McMillian.

And Bird hasn’t stopped after jettisoning everyone who regularly started with George in those conference-finals runs. Indiana will miss Ian Mahinmi‘s defense – maybe more than Al Jefferson works as a change-of-pace in the low post. But Bird is fully embracing the course of trading defense for offense.

Debate how he addressed it, but the team’s identity was clear. In the last four years, the Pacers stunk offensively and thrived defensively. Their rank in points per possession:

  • Offense: 20th, 23rd, 23rd, 25th
  • Defense: 1st, 1st, 7th, 3rd

The beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I see an excellent defense propping up an offense that could have been better. Bird saw a struggling offense and couldn’t look past it.

Indiana now has a deep squad of players who can break down opponents off the dribble. They will have matchup advantages – if they pass well enough to find the player in favorable position. The ball will move plenty between the hardwood and the dribbler’s hands. Between players? That’s a major question mark.

It’s one of numerous hitches in Bird’s plan.

He tried to fast-track the offense last year by moving George from small forward to power forward. Despite Bird’s demands, George resisted. The plan was largely scrapped early in the season.

McMillian was also a curious choice given Bird’s stated goals. McMillian’s Trail Blazers and SuperSonics teams usually played slow. Still, perhaps the coach can adapt his scheme to fit his players (and appease his boss). Bird chose McMillian for a reason, after all.

Bird chose it all.

This is the team he long desired – for better or worse.

Lakers GM Kupchak tries to brush off Jim Buss’ timeline discussion

Los Angeles Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak speaks to reporters at team headquarters in El Segundo, Calif., Friday, April 15, 2016. With Kobe Bryant's $25 million salary, ravenous shot selection and dominant personality gone from the basketball team after 20 years, Kupchak says he will meet with head coach Byron Scott and owner Jim Buss in a few days to discuss their options for the Lakers, which finished with the NBA's second-worst record at 17-65 in Bryant's farewell season. (AP Photo/Greg Beacham)
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Consider this a little preview: On Thursday the ProBasketballTalk podcast returns, opening with a discussion of the Lakers and the Pacific division with Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News. We talk about the young core — D'Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, etc. — and how Luke Walton fits with them. How this is a team that if handled properly could develop into something of quality in a couple of years as these players come along. Patience is key.

But then we got to what Medina called the “elephant in the room”: Jim Buss’ timeline for returning to contending. He’s the head of basketball operations and vowed to at least make the second round of the playoffs at least by this season. Which is not happening. Will Buss be patient? Is he grounded in today’s NBA reality? Will the woman with the hammer, Jeanie Buss, hold him to that timeline? Does she have the backing of the other Buss children to push him out? (Reportedly she does.) It has Shakespearian drama potential.

Laker GM Mitch Kupchak was asked about that Tuesday and wanted no part of the question. Via Medina at the Daily News.

“I’m not in a position to debate the stuff you talked about,” Kupchak said on Tuesday at UC Santa Barbara. “I’m not sure what was said with certainty. From my point of view, we’ve created a team that has a lot of young talent that can grow into really good NBA players that can leave an imprint on this league. I think we’ve surrounded them with older veterans to help us win games. I’m excited about our coaching staff….

“Wins and losses, I couldn’t pick a number,” Kupchak said. “I could guess. But I would not guess in front of you. That’s not something I would do. That’s something I would stare at for the rest of the year.”

The Lakers should win more than the 17 of last year, maybe climb into the upper 20s, with 30 wins being the goal. That would signify a good season. But what matters is development, and if the Lakers are better at the end of the season, if their young players are on the right track, then that is success for this season.

Everyone around the Lakers understands that.

But is that enough to save Jim Buss’ job? That’s a different question.

New challenges face Portland guard CJ McCollum in Year four

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) CJ McCollum became a starter for the Trail Blazers last season, broke out as the NBA’s Most Improved Player then signed a big contract over the summer.

Driving him all along the way was third-year pressure.

“Because I knew that was a make-or-break year for me. I know that going into year three I hadn’t played particularly well. I’d had flashes, but I just didn’t sustain a level of consistency for a season.

“In our league you get three years, you get traded, you get put in a box and they say `This is what you are,”‘ McCollum said when the team convened this week for training camp.

The 25-year-old guard became a star in the Blazers’ backcourt with Damian Lillard last season after four of the team’s starters left in the offseason.

With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Blazers were considered a team that was rebuilding.

But they surpassed expectations, finishing 44-38 and earning the fifth seed in the Western Conference and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

At one point last season, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle referred to Lillard and McCollum as “a younger version of those Golden State guys.”

McCollum averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists during the regular season. He had 197 3-pointers, fourth most for the Blazers in one season. He scored in double figures in 79 games.

He raised his scoring average by more than 14 points over the previous season and the dramatic turnaround earned him the Most Improved Player award.

That improvement was the most since Tony Campbell from an average of 6.2 points to 23.2 points with Minnesota between the ’88-89 and `89-90 seasons.

McCollum averaged 20.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the postseason last season.

But at times he was nervous that he was just an injury away from seeing all the hard work fizzle away.

“It was nerve-wracking for me because if you get hurt so many times you fear it. You’re like, `Oh, this could be it,”‘ he said. “So for me to get through a season healthy and to play well, it was comforting.”

McCollum, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Lehigh, missed the first 34 games of his rookie season with a foot injury.

The next season he was a reserve, but he started to turn heads down the stretch and into the playoffs after starter Wesley Matthews was knocked out with a ruptured Achilles. His postseason included a 33-point game against Memphis.

This summer the Blazers solidified their backcourt for years to come by signing McCollum to a four-year contract worth $106 million. It will keep him in Portland through the 2020-21 season.

While McCollum says he feels “less pressure” this season, he’s still looking to grow. The Blazers signed free agent Evan Turner in the offseason to help shore up the Blazers’ depth at guard.

“As a younger player you just play and react,” McCollum said. “As an older player you start to get more experience and you start to `think’ the game. I think once I put those two things together I can be a special player.”