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Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Portland says they are contenders, too

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What you missed while Iowa was the center of the political world for a night…

Bulls 76, Hawks 74: This ugly but exciting contest was our Game of the Night.

Portland 103, Oklahoma City 93: Portland wants you to know they are contenders, too. Or they at least are starting to look like it early (we’re not convinced they are that good, but they could be a top three seed in the West). They exposed the team that is supposed to be the best in the West.

Portland pounded the ball inside early and LaMarcus Aldridge shined with 11 early points and 30 on the night. It also meant Portland got to the line 36 times on the night to 21 for a Thunder team happy to settle for jumpers. Portland — you need to do this every game. Inside out. Do not settle. As for the Thunder they need a more consistent second source of scoring because when it is the Kevin Durant show and he is 8-26 and not attacking the paint, it will be very difficult to get the win.

Can’t read much into one early season game, but Portland is making its case to be mentioned along with the other contenders out West.

Cavaliers 115, Bobcats 101: Cleveland looked good and is now over .500 on the season (3-2). Kyrie Irving was impressive, slashing into the Bobcats defense and breaking them down, just controlling the tempo. He looked like the No. 1 overall pick and finished with 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting plus six assists. Tristan Thompson showed flashes of how impressive he could be on his way to 16 points (but there were lowlights, too as he took some bad shots late). D.J. Augustin led Charlotte with 23 points.

Grizzlies 113, Kings 94: Even without Zach Randolph the Grizzlies were far the better side and were in control the entire second half. Rudy Gay had 23 and it was a good night for Sam Young with 20 off the bench. Jimmer Fredette led the Kings with 17.

Yes, DeMarcus Cousins did play, about 22 minutes, and he was 1-of-5 and wasn’t finishing well inside. But Cousins did have eight rebounds. So, pretty much the same as before he and Paul Westphal had a battle of egos. I’d say Tyreke Evans wasn’t sharp but nobody on the Kings was sharp.

Jazz 85, Bucks 73: The Bucks shot 30.5 percent as a team for the night, and that will not get it done. Not close. The Bucks hung around but were never to get over the hump. Brandon Jennings has not looked good the last couple of nights. Al Jefferson had 26 and 10 for the Jazz.

Lakers 108, Rockets 99: As promised, Kobe Bryant kept on shooting — 29 shots this time, one more than the Sunday loss to Denver. But he got to his spots on the floor — he took his shots on his terms — and hit 14 on his way to 37 points. He posted up a lot against the smaller Kyle Lowry and Kevin Martin, something the Rockets struggled to stop.. The Lakers got the ball inside the more traditional way as well, Andrew Bynum finished with 21 points and 22 rebounds, while Pau Gasol hit 7-of-11 for 14 points. The Rockets kept it pretty close until the fourth quarter, when an 11-2 Lakers run pretty much put this one away. Lowry still had 22 points.

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers:

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.