Baseline to Baseline recaps: Denver makes lay-ups, beats L.A.

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What you missed while breaking your New Year’s resolutions already…

Nuggets 99, Lakers 90: Best game of the night and there was a little fire to this one — second nights of a home-and-home often carry over some tension. Denver jumped out early with Kobe Bryant shooting only 1-of-10 in the first half and the Lakers as a team hitting just 32.4 percent of their shots in the first 24.

But the entire second half and fourth quarter was pretty close. It was 90-88 Lakers with 2:45 left when Denver closed it out on an 11-0 run. First Kobe took a three that Danilo Gallinari ran out on then released and nobody went with him — Kobe missed, the Nuggets rebounded and threw it down for a cherry-pick dunk. The Nuggets got their next bucket on a steal off a bad Kobe pass that became a 2-on-1 fast break. Teams can run on the Lakers and the Nuggets did it. Then Kobe missed another three (1-for-8 from deep, 6-for-28 overall for the game) and that was pretty much it.

Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were 15-of-27 (55.6 percent), the rest of the Lakers 20-of-61 (32.8 percent).

Heat 129, Bobcats 90: This game was pretty much what you would expect (as opposed to last Wednesday when the Bobcats hung tight with the Heat). Well, except for the part where LeBron James was really quiet for the night (16 points but no buckets until late in the second quarter). This was Chris Bosh’s night, he was aggressive from the start and finished with 24 points on just 13 shots. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole made a very efficient point guard combo. And we have your ridiculous Heat highlight of the night.

Magic 102, Raptors 96: Toronto was in charge of this game, playing aggressive and getting to the free throw line for a change, in part because Jose Calderon was attacking off the pick-and-roll (18 points, 13 assists, one turnover). Then midway through the fourth quarter Orlando went on a 16-0, took the lead and kept it for the win. Orlando did it first with defense, closing out Calderon and not letting Andrea Bargnani (28 points) just pick-and-pop at will. But in the crunch this looked like the 2009 Magic, with Hedo Turkoglu looking strong on the pick and roll and J.J. Redick stepping up with 21 points off the bench on Sunday (3-of-5 from deep).

Celtics 94, Wizards 86: The Celtics are better than they looked the first couple games. The Wizards are as bad as they looked the first couple games. Boston was in control of this one, mainly because Rajon Rondo putting up a triple double (18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds). Boston got a comfortable win while resting their starters for long stretches. John Wall looked better, heck Washington looked the best they have this season, but that’s not enough against Boston. Or most teams.

Cavaliers 98, Nets 82: Sloppy game. But it was close until midway through the fourth quarter when every perimeter shot the Cavaliers put up went through the hole and they went on a 20-4 run pull ahead comfortably. Among the hot hands late was Daniel Gibson who had 8 in fourth, finished with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting and knocked down 5-of-7 threes.

Timberwolves 99, Mavericks 82: This ends the Wolves 18-game losing streak going back to last season. Kevin Love had 25 points (with five threes) and 17 rebounds and knocked the biggest shots of the game. This was a two-point game when Love drained two three pointers in a row leading the Wolves to pull away. Dallas… ugh. They are inconsistent and that felt like a step backwards.

Kings 96, Hornets 80: Who needs DeMarcus Cousins? Apparently not the Kings who got their second win, this one without him. Tyreke Evans had 27 but this wasn’t really about the Kings playing great as much as it was the Hornets playing terribly (once again without Eric Gordon) — Jarrett Jack had as many turnovers as assists (eight each) and as a team New Orleans was 0-15 from three.

Bulls 104, Grizzlies 64: Home opener for the Bulls and they came out and dominated the Grizzlies from the opening gun. It was 54-28 Bulls at the half as the Grizzlies shot only 26.8 percent. It got up to 31 percent for the game. We’re going to assume the Grizzlies had a really good New Year’s Eve and this is just the hangover.

A few injuries of note. Richard Hamilton didn’t play due to a groin injury and is day-to-day. Zach Randolph left in the first half with a sprained knee. He could have returned but what was the point in this thrashing? He says he is day-to-day.

Clippers 93, Trail Blazers 88: The Clippers came out with real ball pressure and that meant Portland started out ice cold, had just 17 points in the first quarter after shooting 33 percent for the first half. The Clippers pulled away as the game went on… then Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum almost changed it around. The Blazers bench stars combined for 24 in the fourth quarter and made a game of it, but the Clippers held on. Blake Griffin had 20, Caron Butler 19.

And of course there were big dunks.

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.

Don’t like the wait for this year’s Finals? Here’s the top 10 plays from the last two (VIDEO)

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Que the Tom Petty

Nobody is enjoying the week-long break between the end of the Eastern Conference Finals and the start of the NBA Finals (except maybe a few of the older Cavaliers players trying to get healthy). For those of us basketball junkies, we just want to get on to the two best teams in the league battling it out.We need a fix.

Here’s the best we can do today: The top 10 plays from the last two NBA Finals, the last two Cavaliers/Warriors showdowns. Courtesy the folks at NBA.com. There’s plenty of LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and a big shot by Kyrie Irving made the list. Enjoy. And just try to be patient.