Baseline to baseline recaps: Celtics fall, Knicks fall, Heat almost join them

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What you missed while worried about what a bad year this was for elephants

Oklahoma City 98, Memphis 95: This playoff rematch was our game of the night.

New Orleans 97, Celtics 78: Don’t hit the panic button yet, Celtics fans. Still too early. But if you want to feel uncomfortable and a little ill, go ahead. You are 0-3 on the season. On the second game of a back-to-back (and third game in four nights) the Celtics looked old and slow. And unmotivated. They had given a lot the night before in a comeback and moral victory against the Heat and looked like they had nothing left. For the third straight game they were down double digits in the second quarter and could never really crawl back.

The only bright spot was backup center Greg Stiemsma who had six blocks. Of course, he was getting run because Jermaine O’Neal was awful (1-of-6 shooting).

The Hornets played hard and looked good — and were without Eric Gordon. Jarrett Jack sliced and diced the once feared Celtics defense for 21, Carl Landry added 20 and 11 with his usual efficiency. Credit coach Monty Williams, he has this team playing hard and playing smart defense — and they are now 2-0. Thank you very much.

Heat 96, Bobcats 95: Charlotte jumped out to a fast 11-0 run, hitting their shots which let them get back on defense and get set, slowing the running onslaught the Heat try to bring. The Bobcats basically forsook offensive rebounding to get back on defense. Miami looked a little dead-legged on a back-to-back. Miami’s entire system is based on defense and the Bobcats put up 60 points in the first half.

Miami charged back from 15 down in the third behind 12 points in the quarter from LeBron James, then Chris Bosh had the momentum in the fourth. Dwyane Wade was out with a foot injury (a contusion) for most of the third but came back and hit the game winner, a little bank with 2.9 seconds left. Not a great game by Miami, but they escape with the win and a few impressive highlights.

Warriors 92, Knicks 78: Golden State had to play without Stephen Curry, meaning the Knicks could exploit the point guard matchup… oh, yea, Mike Bibby was back, so I guess not. This was not a good night for the Knick shooters — Carmelo Anthony 3-of-13, Amare Stoudemire 5-of-15 and as a team the Knicks shoot 40 percent. Tyson Chandler had two points, three rebounds, zero blocks and five fouls.

The Warriors dominated the second half, particularly the start of the fourth quarter, to pull away for the win. Monta Ellis had 22 points but needed 22 shots to get there. Brandon Rush looked good with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Kwame Brown had five offensive rebounds (not Chandler’s best night, as we mentioned). As a team the Warriors shot a pedestrian 45.5 percent but that was good enough.

Pacers 90, Raptors 85: Toronto had 11 points in the first quarter (total!) and shot 39.5 percent for the first half — and they were the better shooting team. This game was filled with some post-lockout slop. .DeMar DeRozan had zero first half points but had 16 in the fourth, but it was not enough against the balance of the Pacers starters. Danny Granger had nine points in the fourth quarter alone including some key threes, and David West hit key buckets late.

Hawks 101, Wizards 83: Two wins in two nights for the Hawks, maybe not against the best competition but they are beating the teams they are supposed to. That said, 46 of their 75 shots (61.3 percent) came from beyond 16 feet — that is not a sustainable way to win. Nick Young had 21 and John Wall had 20 but nobody on the Wizards impressed, that is not a very good team.

Cavaliers 105, Pistons 89: After an ugly NBA debut, top pick Kyrie Irving looked good, not only scoring (14 points) but he was an impressive playmaker, seeming to make the smart play every time down. Samardo Samuels (17) led six Cavs in double figures scoring. Cleveland also owned the offensive glass in this one.

Spurs 115, Clippers 90: I love watching the Clippers play but I’ve said this from the start about them as a power in the West — I need to see them play good consistent defense before I totally buy in. The Spurs shot 56.3 percent on the night and were 10-of-19 from three as a team. It was vintage Manu Ginobili as he sliced and diced the Clippers for 24 points. DeJuan Blair had 20 points and dominated the heralded Clipper front line.

Sixers 103, Suns 83: There is something very wrong with the Suns offense — Steve Nash finished with four points, one assist and six turnovers in just 17 minutes. Yikes. Philly looked good again with a balanced attack — Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young all had 15 points. Holiday left at the end after banging his knee but said post game it was not serious, he could have returned if he were needed.

Nuggets 117, Jazz 100: Two games, two impressive wins for the Nuggets. Nene had 25 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks to lead the way. Two games, two ugly losses for the Jazz. In both cases, we may be seeing a trend here.

James Harden on recruiting Chris Paul from LA: “He didn’t seem happy”

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One of the most interesting storylines of the first month of this upcoming NBA season will be the Houston Rockets.

The team has paired MVP candidate James Harden with one of the greatest point guards of all time in Chris Paul, but it remains to be seen whether the two will be able to work together with the kind of efficiency that Mike D’Antoni’s team had in 2016-17.

Harden has been the subject of some chatter already this offseason after a photo of him surfaced on Instagram. In it, Harden looked to have added a significant portion of muscle this summer, which may help him as he moves back to a more off-ball style of play with Paul in the fold.

Harden was also the subject of significant scrutiny at the end of last season, where he failed in the playoffs in spectacular fashion against the San Antonio Spurs.

In a recent interview with Sam Amick of USA Today, Harden said his newfound weight gain has been part of his plan to combat late-season fatigue. Harden has also introduced yoga and pilates into his workout routine.

Perhaps more interesting information from Harden’s interview with Amick revealed just how much impact he had recruiting Chris Paul in the trade from Los Angeles Clippers, and Paul’s attitude at the end of the season toward his former team.

Via USA Today:

Harden, who signed a four-year extension this summer and will earn a combined $228 million by the end of the 2022-23 season, had everything to do with the move.

“I just knew that in the summertime obviously (Paul) was a free agent, and I wanted to see where his head was,” Harden said of Paul, who will now be a free agent next summer. “He didn’t seem happy, so after that we just took it from there.

“Obviously Golden State has been in the Finals and won two out of three, so that’s what everybody is trying to build up against. But we’re right there. We’re right there. Obviously, we have a lot of work to do, but it definitely puts us in a better chance.”

It certainly makes sense that after years of perpetual playoff failure by the Clippers that Paul would want to move on. Harden and CP3 seem to enjoy each other at the moment, and a pairing does seem to make sense on paper. We will see how that plays out over the course of next season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo announces he will not play for Greece in Eurobasket

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Giannis Antetokounmpo said had big plans to play for the Greek national team this summer, taking his country back to the top of the European ladder at EuroBasket (they had won the tournament a dozen years ago).

Instead, a sore knee will keep the Greek Freak out of EuroBasket. He made the announcement on his Facebook page.

Antetokounmpo had missed all but one of Greece’s early EuroBasket tune-ups due to a sore knee. That, understandably, concerned the Bucks, especially with his four-year, $100 million contract extension about to kick in next season.

Antetokounmpo is in China promoting shoes, but said he on Facebook he took a physical while there and was not able to complete the exercises due to pain.

“It is by far the biggest disappointment in my career. I must deal with the problem,” Antetokounmpo said in the Facebook post (written in Greek).

Within hours of the post going up, the Greek basketball federation released a statement slamming the Bucks and Antetokounmpo, saying they had done an MRI of his knee and found no damage.

“The simultaneous report by the Milwaukee Bucks and Giannis Antetokounmpo himself, by phone and social media from faraway China, and not by the appropriate official manner, of his inability to join the national men’s team saddens us … but is not surprising… A series of indications … had convinced us of the existence of an organized and well-staged plan by (the Bucks), with the full knowledge if not encouragement of the NBA that put the athlete on the spot and forced him to announce today that he is no longer part of the men’s national team.”

Great, just what the world needs, another conspiracy theory.

While NBA teams generally are not huge fans of their stars playing in national team tournaments (due to the injury risk), teams cannot stop a healthy player from playing. Antetokounmpo said this was his decision because he is in pain and has to think about the upcoming NBA season.

Whatever the Greek Federation believes internally, slamming the player and his team publicly like this is one good way to make sure he will not want to play for them in the future. He’s got knee pain, they are saying “you’re fine, walk it off, ” and that must have Antetokounmpo and the people around him wondering if the Greek Federation has his best interests — or theirs — at heart.

Akron store already selling “Stay Home 23” shirts, hats as LeBron decision looms

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We’ve seen this movie before.

There is all sorts of buzz around the league that LeBron James has one foot out the door in Cleveland. While people around LeBron denied he the rumor he is “100 percent” leaving, good luck finding any league source who thinks he is staying put next summer. Nothing is set in stone, his options — including staying — remain open, but we’ve all been down this road before.

The hometown fans are going to do their part to urge LeBron to stay.

Fan sentiment has some pull with LeBron (he came back to win the city a title). However, what matters more is a sense of a plan to keep the Cavaliers as title contenders for the coming years — and that is more than just Dan Gilbert paying the tax. The Cavs did nothing this summer that got them closer to beating Golden State, and while they swung for the fences with Paul George, what they really needed was wing defenders and athletes, and they didn’t get those either. Luc Mbah a Moute signed a one-year deal for the minimum somewhere else. Instead, Cleveland overpaid Kyle Korver.

Despite all that, the Cavs remain the team to beat in the East. If Cleveland gets to the Finals — LeBron’s eighth in a row — and they win or make it close, he may see staying as his best option. A season can be a lifetime in the NBA in terms of shifting attitudes. Still, I wouldn’t bet the rent on it.

Marshall Plumlee gets camp invite, partially guaranteed contract from Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers have 14 fully guaranteed contracts on their roster, plus a partial guarantee for DeAndre Liggins (who likely is on the roster opening day). They also are pretty much set at center with DeAndre Jordan and Willie Reed (plus when they go small they can play Blake Griffin there, something I wish they’d do a little more).

That said, Doc Rivers — just a coach now — needs bodies for camp, so in comes former Duke star and Knick Marshall Plumlee, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Plumlee played in 21 games for the Knicks last season, logging a total of 190 minutes. He bounced between New York and the D-League Westchester Knicks, when down he averaged 12.3 points and 9.8 rebounds a game.

He’s not making the Clippers’ squad (barring injury), but he could show well and get noticed by other teams. Over the course of a season, there will be a need for bigs as guys go down injured, Plumlee is getting a chance to show how his game has developed. And he makes some money in the process.