Baseline to Baseline recaps: it’s a free throw-a-palooza

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What you missed while trying to beat up a police officer with a stuffed monkey….

Cavaliers 101, Suns 90: Kyrie Irving had his best game ever matched up against Steve Nash. Our own Brett Pollakoff broke it down as our game of the night.

Magic 117, Warriors 109: Mark Jackson decided the best strategy was hack-a-Howard, which sent Dwight Howard to the free throw line an NBA record 39 times. Jackson also tried to cover Howard one-on-one so his other defenders could stay home on the Magic shooters — which is a great strategy if you have a guy who can actually slow Howard. Oklahoma City did this well, but they have Kendrick Perkins. David Lee is not that guy. The result was Howard had 45 points and 23 rebounds and got a lot of key buckets late.

At the end of the day, the problem here is less Jackson’s strategy and more that the Magic are a more talented team and had the best player on the floor. That wins way more games than strategy.

Bucks 102, Pistons 83: More free throw history here — the Bucks and Pistons combined to go 41-of-41 from the stripe on the night. The two teams were perfect from the line. That, like Howard’s assault, is an NBA record.

Stephen Jackson had maybe his best game of the season — 25 points and six assists. He not only scored but kept the ball moving. Brandon Jennings had 27 points on 15 shots. Everything was clicking for the Bucks, who scored at a 114.6 points per 100 possessions pace (well above their 97.3 average for the season). That said the Pistons hung around in this one and made a push late behind Greg Monroe’s 12 fourth-quarter points. But this was the Bucks night.

Grizzlies 94, Knicks 83: Carmelo Anthony left the game with a sprained ankle early in the third quarter not to return (he is now day-to-day), but that is not why the Knicks lost. They were just flat on the second night of a back-to-back, the offense was stagnant and the Knicks were behind from the middle of the first quarter on. Rudy Gay took advantage of ‘Melo’s defense and attacked the rim, shooting 8-of-9 from the field to start the game Gay went on to finish with 26 points.

The Knicks still are trying to find their identity and get used to new teammates. That will mean a few tough nights like this one. O.J. Mayo added 18 for the Grizzlies.

Hawks 111, Bobcats 81: Atlanta is going to miss Al Horford… but not against the Bobcats. Zaza Pachulia got the start in Horford’s place and played solidly, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Joe Johnson had little trouble getting open (Tyrus Thomas could not keep up with him running off screens) and Josh Smith’s jumper was falling. When that happens he is nearly impossible to guard. This got out of hand, and as this is the first game of a back-to-back-to-back for the Bobcats, coach Paul Silas pulled the starters in early to keep their legs fresh. Smart move.

 

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.