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.

Stan Van Gundy talks up Pistons’ rookie Luke Kennard

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Luke Kennard came out of Duke with one of the best jump shots in the draft — he’s got a skill that translates to the NBA and will help the Pistons. The questions were about his defense and athleticism, but he started to answer those when he averaged 17.2 points a game in the Orlando Summer League. He hit threes but generally just looks like a guy who just knows how to get buckets.

So far, at the Pistons’ training facility and in the Orlando Summer League, coach and decision maker with the Pistons Stan Van Gundy likes what he sees from his rookie, he told the Pistons’ official website.

“Pretty much what we thought offensively, maybe even did a better job passing the ball than I thought,” Van Gundy said. “He’s able to make plays off the dribble , that nice change of pace, and things I hadn’t seen a lot of. He really has a great feel for the game and how to play in addition to clearly his ability to shoot the ball….

“We’ve seen that a lot. He’s got great mental toughness,” Van Gundy said. “The thing I have great confidence in is that as he runs into challenges in the league – and everybody does and he’ll be no exception – I just think he’s a smart guy who’s adaptable. I think he’ll figure out a way to combat it. I’ve got great confidence in his ability to do that….

“The thing I didn’t know that he showed me is he has the ability to move his feet defensively. Now, he’s still got a long way to go in terms of handling some of the other things, rotations and things like that. But he certainly showed that he can get down in a stance and move his feet. I did not have a good feel for that going into the draft, so that was a positive.”

Yes, you should take a coach talking up a rookie before a game is played with a grain of salt.

However, the comment about the potential to defend is good news. SVG is right that mental toughness, and willingness to put in the work, is what will allow Kennard to take steps forward, but he has to have a baseline to get there and Van Gundy thinks he has that. Kennard has challenges ahead of him but if he can keep hitting shots the Pistons will give him time to work out everything else.

Kennard is going to get plenty of run as the backup to Avery Bradley at the two in Detroit. In with a second unit of guys like Stanley Johnson and Anthony Tolliver, Kennard is going to get his chances to score. He could put up decent numbers for a rookie.

 

John Wall has a strong arm, can throw a tight spiral (VIDEO)

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If the Redskins need a quarterback should Kirk Cousins go down — he has played a full 16-game schedule the past two years, which is pretty remarkable — maybe rather than Colt McCoy Washington should look at the guy who makes the Wizards’ go.

John Wall showed on Friday he has a strong arm, can throw a tight spiral, and hit his man.

I love that Wall starts calling out Tom Brady after one good pass.

Michael Beasley had his truck stolen out of his driveway

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Michael Beasley will be getting buckets, shooting long twos, and playing inconsistent defense for the New York Knicks next season (the analysis is just based on recent history).

But first, he’d like to find his truck. Which was stolen.

Well, I did see a Dodge Ram 1500 on the road today, but since I’m on the West Coast and I have no idea what color/year Beasley’s truck is, I’m going to assume the guy I saw didn’t perpetrate the heist.

Still, that sucks for Beasley, even if he can easily afford to replace it.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.