Baseline to Baseline recaps: No LeBron, no Wade, no problem

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What you missed while wondering what a crocodile would do with a lawn mower

Heat 116, Hawks 109 (3OT): No LeBron James or Dwyane Wade for Miami, yet the Heat were gritty (a little lucky) and get an unexpected win. This game was entertaining and dramatic, much more so than we expected going in. But can we be honest — the Hawks played terribly.

I like how Atlanta came out and stepped up the ball pressure to start, even in the back court. That was about the only thing I liked that they did. Jeff Teague should tear up the Heat point guards but he was unimpressive. Joe Johnson should have been the best wing player on the floor by a mile, but he was going half speed. Al Horford should have owned this game but he seemed a spectator. The Hawks best, most steady player was Ivan Johnson. Who, you ask? Exactly.

The game was dramatic, and once again Tracy McGrady was fantastic in the fourth quarter. But Chris Bosh sent the game to overtime with a three that is not really in his bag of tricks but it worked this time. Bosh finished with 33 points.

In the third overtime (and really much of the second half, it was Mario Chalmers who rode to the rescue for the Heat. This was a nice win for Miami. It’s the kind of game that makes you wonder if anything is different in Atlanta.

Trail Blazers 107, Lakers 97: The Portland Trail Blazers are the best team in the West right now.

They are atop the conference standings at 5-1 and this week have beaten both the Thunder and now Lakers. We’ve got questions about whether they can perform like this come playoff time, but as of early January they are playing better than anyone in the West.

In the first half the Lakers did what they wanted to on offense, getting the ball inside first as Andrew Bynum had 14 points on 7-7 shooting, plus Kobe Bryant had 17 points on 8-of-11. As a team, the Lakers shot 64 percent.

In the second half Portland stepped up their pressure — they played better defense and attacked the Lakers off missed shots. The Lakers started to settle for jump shots, hit just 32 percent of their shots for the half and Portland just ran. Gerald Wallace had 10 points in the third quarter alone while LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 28. Jamal Crawford created his own shots on the wing to the tune of 17 points and the Lakers wish they had somebody like that.

Spurs 93, Dallas 71: Sort of like the Heat, no Manu Ginobili and still no problem. This was the fourth game in five nights for an older Mavericks team and it showed, they looked old and tired. Dirk Nowitzki had just 6 points and got outplayed by Matt Boner (a team high 17 points), only two Mavs scored in double digits (Jason Terry and Delonte West) and as a team Dallas shot 1-of-19 from three. Both teams shot under 40 percent for the game, this one just wasn’t very pretty. But for a Spurs team without Manu Ginobili, this is a win they could use.

Kings 103, Bucks 100: Keith Smart is undefeated as Kings coach. The Bucks dominated the first half and were up 21 points in the third when things started to come apart. Marcus Thonton had 25 points in the second half for the Kings to lead the charge. Stephen Jackson had his chances for the Bucks, he wanted the ball and didn’t do much with it, finishing with 13. That includes a last a missed shot from the block to t The Bucks sure could have used Andrew Bogut back.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Kendall Marshall, Marshall Plumlee headline Team USA’s AmeriCup roster

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AmeriCup, previously called the FIBA Americas Championship, lost its luster when FIBA decided the continental tournament wouldn’t double as World Cup qualifying.

But the U.S. is still sending a team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The roster (team last season):

  • Billy Baron (UCAM Murcia, Spain)
  • Alec Brown (Windy City Bulls)
  • Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Detroit Pistons)
  • Jonathan Holmes (Canton Charge);
  • Kendall Marshall (Reno Bighorns)
  • Xavier Munford (Greensboro Swarm)
  • Marshall Plumlee (New York Knicks)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • C.J. Williams (Texas Legends)
  • Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue)

The Americans should still be favored, though obviously not as overwhelming as they’d be with NBA players, in a field also comprised of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama and U.S. Virgin Islands.

This will be a good benchmark, as the U.S. might take a similar roster into World Cup qualifying.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.