Baseline to baseline recaps: Kevin Durant is an assassin

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What you missed while watching an octopus pick the BCS matchups….

Lakers 99, Knicks 82: We broke this down as our game of the night.

Thunder 104, Mavericks 102: This was easily the best game the Mavericks have played this season. The ball movement was back, the clever veteran plays were there. Delonte West said they looked different yesterday at practice and they did.

But they don’t have Kevin Durant, so they are 0-3.

The Thunder were sloppy all night — they had 26 turnovers — and Dallas for the first time this season was a team that could take advantage of it. They kept it close behind 29 points from Dirk Nowitzki and 16 from Jason Terry (although he needed 17 shots to do it). Down the stretch a rejuvenated Russell Westbrook was making plays for the Thunder. The close game set up the dramatic finish.

A Jason Terry three leaning to his right made it 101-99, which is how it stayed after Serge Ibaka missed two free throws. Next trip down, with 9.3 seconds remaining, Nowitzki drove to his spot at the left elbow (with Perkins on him), but Durant doubled Dirk off Vince Carter. Nowitzki kicked it out to Carter for an open straight away three, he drained it with 1.4 seconds left. 102-101 Mavs, and it looked like they would get a win. Then this happened.

If the Mavs play like this every game, they will get a lot of wins. But right now the undefeated Thunder look special and the Mavericks are 0-3.

Bulls 108, Kings 98: The Bulls were up 26-11 quickly in this one as not only was Derrick Rose doing his thing but Carlos Boozer and Luol Deng were attacking the rim. The Bulls asserted themselves early for the first time this season. It set a different tone, and the Bulls held on for a comfortable win. Rose finished with 19, Boozer and Richard Hamilton each had 16. Marcus Thornton had 20 to lead the Kings and Jimmer Fredette had 14 off the bench.

Magic 94, Nets 78: Dwight Howard has 16 points and 24 rebounds, showing the Nets would could be theirs if only….

The Magic took control of this game midway through the first quarter and never really looked to be in danger. Marshaun Brooks tried to lead a comeback for the Nets, but it was not enough. So they are left to dream and wonder.

Rockets 105, Spurs 85: This was the game where the Spurs looked tired. Third game in four nights, second night of a back-to-back after spanking the Clippers and that was it for the Spurs. Luis Scola had 10 in the first quarter to help the Rockets get a lead they would never give up, Kevin Martin finished with a game high 25. DeJuan Blair led the Spurs with 22 and was feisty in this one.

Trail Blazers 111, Nuggets 102: When was the last time a team won when it had 25 turnovers compared to its opponents 7?

This was maybe the most entertaining game of the night, a real back-and-forth in the fourth quarter between two genuinely good teams. And it was played at a fast pace (106 possessions). The difference was the second half the Blazers just shot the lights out — 61 percent as a team in the half, and it seemed like every three they took fell. It was the guards that led the Blazers as Wesley Mathews had 25, Raymond Felton 23 and Jamal Crawford 22.

The Blazers are 3-0. And that is no accident.

Frustrated Kyrie Irving on another ring: “And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

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Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?

The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too.  Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…

And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.

Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.

Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.

 

Rumor: Bulls ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer

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Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?

Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?

Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.

So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.

Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”

Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.

Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”

All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.

PBT Podcast: Future of Isaiah Thomas, Ricky Rubio, also award talk with Dan Feldman

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We asked for your questions on Twitter and Facebook, and you gave myself and Dan Feldman got some fascinating discussion points:

If the Celtics land a top two pick, what does that mean for the future of Isaiah Thomas in Boston?

Is Ricky Rubio‘s run of strong play mean he remains the point guard of the future in Minnesota?

How good is Devin Booker?

We discuss all of that plus the NBA end of season awards that we are still looking at and trying to make up our minds about.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Rumor: Dell Demps out, Joe Dumars in with Pelicans?

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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is on shaky ground.

What about New Orleans general manager Dell Demps?

A long-swirling rumor is getting renewed.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

A few league sources peg the New Orleans Pelicans as a team that is going to make sweeping changes once their season ends in eight games.

The Pelicans have long been rumored to be the next stop for former Piston’s executive Joe Dumars, who is a Shreveport, Louisiana native and has close ties to the ownership and leadership of the Pelicans and Saints organization.

League sources said recently that Dumars has been active in the NBA front office circles, scouting players and reconnecting to the process.

Demps has done a lousy job building a supporting cast around Davis. Part of the reason trading for the risky DeMarcus Cousins made so much sense: The Pelicans were so underwhelming, they wouldn’t be much worse off if Cousins destroyed their culture and/or bolted in 2018 free agency.

But it’s not too late to salvage Davis’ tenure in New Orleans. He’s locked up for three more seasons, and Cousins is an extremely talented No. 2.

Is Dumars the right man to bring it all together?

He masterfully built the Pistons into the 2004 NBA champions. He also played an integral role in the team’s downfall.

Another factor: There appears to be a mutual respect between Cousins and Dumars, who coveted the big man since he was coming out of Kentucky. That could help the Pelicans re-sign Cousins in 2018.

Dumars’ success should get him general-manager job interviews, but his more-recent failings demand tough questions. I’m unconvinced the Pelicans are scrutinizing Dumars enough, and they’d probably benefit from a more-thorough search.

But Dumars might be a fine hire. Dumping Demps would at least be step in the right direction.