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.

Kyrie Irving rubs salt in wound, gets 42nd point with behind-the-back ball fake (VIDEO)

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Kyrie Irving was awesome Tuesday night.

Unless you are a Boston Celtics fan, in which case it was hard to watch him carve up and embarrass your team for a career-best 42 points. He did a lot of that damage after rolling his ankle.

Particularly embarrassing was the final play of the game, when he drove past Marcus Smart and Kelly Olynyk, then went with the behind-the-back ball fake that burned Jae Crowder and opened up a lane for an uncontested layup.

Check out Irving’s entire night here.

Utah Utes forward Kyle Kuzma reportedly rising up draft boards

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Kyle Kuzma wasn’t sure how things would play out when he announced plans in late March to test the NBA draft. The Utah Utes junior forward was well aware of the doubters and didn’t immediately hire an agent to keep open the option to return for his senior year.

A month later, Kuzma has hired an agent and is rising up the pre-draft rankings after a superb NBA combine and strong individual workouts. He’s considered an early to mid second round pick.

“I just got more confident, I’m not going to lie, throughout the whole process,” Kuzma said Tuesday. “Working out every day with the NBA ball and just imagining yourself down the road. Once I declared with an agent prior to the combine, people’s ears raised up. But I just knew it in my heart it was the right decision for me. Everything’s really falling in line right now. It’s looking good.”

The Flint, Michigan, native had a pre-draft workout with the Utah Jazz on Tuesday and continued to show evaluators an ability to shoot the ball from NBA 3-point range. Kuzma was named first-team All-Pac-12 after a 2016-17 season during which he averaged 16.4 points, 9.3 rebounds. The 6-foot-9, 223-pounder has a versatile game that allows him to handle the ball on the perimeter as a playmaker with good size, but he shot just 32.1 percent from behind the arc last season.

Kuzma turned heads with 20 points and four-for-five shooting on 3-pointers in his lone 5-on-5 scrimmage at the combine.

“I changed my jump shot up a little bit,” Kuzma said. “Being more fluid and more comfortable shooting the ball from the NBA 3. I feel like I’m more comfortable shooting from that 3 than from college 3 right now. A lot of people were surprised, but I really wasn’t. I put a lot of work into my game every single day.”

Kuzma had another quality workout Tuesday, according to Jazz vice president of player personnel Walt Perrin, and continued to shoot the ball well. Perrin said Kuzma was by far the best player at the six-man workout and that he wished he could have brought Kuzma in to face a more talented group.

The versatility of Kuzma’s game is a positive even though he falls into a tweener category – a little slight to be a true power forward and not quite quick enough to be a pure small forward. That may not matter in today’s NBA.

“We’re going more and more toward positionless players,” Perrin said. “You look at Golden State … they don’t have guys that play certain positions. They have the best players on their team playing. … We’ve gone to nobody posting up, basically, to everybody being able to put the ball on the floor and create shots on the perimeter, penetrate and kick to guys wide open in the corner for threes.

“The guys on the floor have to be able to guard their so-called position. And I think we’re looking more and more at that in terms of he can have an advantage on offense, but where is his disadvantage or advantage defensively?”

The Utes were well represented at the workout with forward David Collette joining the group.

The 6-foot-8, 220-pounder hasn’t hired an agent and is expected to return to school. Perrin couldn’t discuss Collette because of that, and he couldn’t talk to the media, but Kuzma said the rising senior showed off a newly refined midrange jump shot. The Utes will rely heavily on Collette as the lone returning starter, who averaged 13.6 points and 5.1 rebounds last season.

Utah will lose its best player to the NBA draft for a third consecutive season as Kuzma follows Jakob Poeltl and Delon Wright. The process has kept Kuzma smiling as he met childhood idol Magic Johnson, watched his stock rise and is on the verge of playing basketball for a living.

“I feel like you’ve got to be two feet in with everything you do,” Kuzma said. “I definitely looked at the pros and cons, but my heart was in getting to this level and trying to prove people wrong again like I’ve done my entire life.”

Celtics’ coach knows the difference in this series: LeBron James and Kyrie Irving

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For 24 minutes Tuesday night, Boston showed Game 3 was not a fluke.

“I thought we played as well as we have played these entire playoffs in the first half,” Celtics coach Brad Steven said. “We were really good defensively. Offensively I thought we moved, and cut, and played together.

“Then, for whatever reason, all those things became a little bit more difficult. That’s what great teams do, they make it really hard on you.”

Whatever reason? What was the difference in this game?

Kyrie Irving and LeBron James, would be your two answers,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said.

Those two Cleveland All-Stars took over Game 4 Tuesday night for stretches — Irving in the third when he had 21, LeBron in the fourth — and for the game they combined for 76 points on 49 shots.

LeBron and Irving were they reason Cleveland won Game 4 Tuesday night, and they have been the difference in this series — Boston is a good team, but the Cavaliers have the two best players in this series (one could argue Kevin Love makes three) and the Celtics have no answer.

The Cavaliers are a championship team. However, they are not one that is not about the system, not one where their success is about franchise culture.

The Cavaliers are great because they have one of the game’s all-time great players, surrounded by a couple other All-Stars. They thrive by forcing teams to switch mismatches then going at right at them — Irving and LeBron were sixth and seventh in the NBA this season in percentage of isolation plays for them. Cleveland doesn’t run a motion offense like the Golden State team it will see in the finals, the Cavaliers are simple but efficient.

The mindset is straightforward: We have the better players, just try to stop us.

Boston had little success in this series playing that way — when Isaiah Thomas tried to pick apart the athletic Cavaliers defenders off the pick-and-roll both he and the Celtics struggled. Thomas had an offensive rating of 83 points per 100 possessions in this series before he was sidelined with an injury.

Without him, Boston had to rely on a more balanced, egalitarian offense — move the ball, move without the ball, find the open man, and trust him. The Celtics’ improved defense without Thomas was forcing more turnovers, and the Celtics were gang rebounding well. The result was a 123.4 points per 100 offensive rating in Game 3, then a decent 106.7 in Game 4 (despite the rough second half).

It just wasn’t enough.

Because the Cavaliers have LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Two of the elite players in the NBA.

And in the NBA, talent wins out.

Charles Barkley tells Shaq he had to ride the coattails of Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley can sometimes get into it on TNT’s programming surrounding NBA games, but Tuesday night after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Boston Celtics in Game 4, 112-99, was something different.

The two got testy — even more so than usual — as Barkley and Shaq traded insults.

Most notably, O’Neal went after the fact that Barkley only once made the NBA Finals, while Chuck told Shaq he had to ride the coattails of Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade to get his rings.

It felt at least partially real, especially if you watch Ernie Johnson’s reaction during the back-and-forth.

Via Twitter:

Game 4 was more interesting, but a 30 minute special where Chuck and Shaq actually do move the furniture and throw down might draw more viewers than these playoffs.