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.

 

Russell Westbrook ejected (video)

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Russell Westbrook jumped from fifth to second in the NBA in technical fouls in about two seconds.

The Thunder star received two technical fouls and an automatic ejection late in Oklahoma City’s win over the Kings last night, leaving his nine technical fouls behind only Draymond Green‘s 11.

Westbrook got hit in the face on a drive, but instead of a foul being called on Sacramento, Westbrook was whistled for travelling. That’s quite a turnaround from the expected call to the actual call, so I understand why Westbrook was so upset. But I also wouldn’t be surprised if Westbrook said something that warranted ejection. Thunder coach Billy Donovan also got a technical foul in the sequence.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

The league used to crack down on that more with public fines, but the Thunder have skirted the rule this season.

Report: ‘Several prominent’ Cavaliers express concern about aging, defenseless, redundant roster

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The Cavaliers look like they can’t hang with the Warriors, which is troubling enough for a team with championship aspirations.

But for that realization to come during a miserable 2-8 stretch only puts more stress on the Cavs, who already appeared to be ripping at the seems. LeBron James is performativity howling at his teammates. They’re pointing the finger back at him. Coach Tyronn Lue is talking about personal agendas.

And tensions aren’t easing.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

Following the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 118-108 loss to the Golden State Warriors on Monday, multiple players acknowledged growing discontent and a strong sense of concern that unlike past seasons, the team does not have the capability to fix its problems and get back on a championship track.

Several prominent players, speaking on condition of anonymity to ESPN, Cleveland.com and The Athletic, expressed doubt that the problems — an aging roster, defensively challenged personnel and a glut of redundant role players — could simply be worked out through patience and a chance to coalesce when fully healthy.

The Cavaliers have one preeminent player: LeBron. It’d be disingenuous to frame this article this way without including him, and I doubt McMenamin is doing that.

These concerns are perfectly valid.

Cleveland is the NBA’s oldest team, weighted by playing time, in a decade. That doesn’t bode well for building up steam toward and in a long playoff run. This is an even more extreme version of the problem LeBron’s last Heat team succumbed to.

Isaiah Thomas is a defensive liability, and Kevin Love – playing a lot of center – isn’t a rim protector. Several other players – LeBron, J.R. Smith, Kyle Korver, Dwyane Wade, Kyle Korver, Jose Calderon, Channing Frye and Derrick Rose – are well past their defensive peaks, which weren’t necessarily high in the first place. The Cavs’ defense ranks 29, ahead of only the Kings.

Wade, Calderon and Rose can’t all serve as lead playmaker while LeBron sits – leaving the other two without clear roles when everyone is healthy. Smith and Korver would both be spot-up 3-point specialists if Smith were hitting shots. Jae Crowder and Jeff Green look similar (a compliment to Green, but a telltale sign of how underwhelming Crowder has been). Frye is a lesser version of Love as a stretch five. Tristan Thompson can’t get going, and Iman Shumpert can’t get healthy.

To be fair, the Cavaliers are 26-17 – hardly bad, but not quite championship-caliber. This portrait of doom and gloom is accurate only when measured against the highest of expectations.

The Cavs can still trade the Nets’ first-round pick to upgrade the roster, though they’re reportedly disinclined to do so. This report sounds like a plea from top players for the team to reconsider. And if owner Dan Gilbert and general manager Koby Altman don’t, it’ll read as LeBron framing his exit in free agency next summer.

Danny Green tugs down Dennis Schroder’s shorts (video)

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We collectively made a federal case out of J.R. Smith untying shoelaces.

We probably ought to at least question what the heck Danny Green was doing to Dennis Schroder here.

At least Schroder got the last laugh with 26 points, seven assists and five rebounds in the Hawks’ win over the Spurs.

Chris Paul says Clippers should play through Lou Williams, which sounds like a slight of Blake Griffin

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After the Clippers’ win over the Rockets last night, Chris Paul didn’t go after Blake Griffin just through a back entrance into the Clippers’ locker room.

He also seemingly went after Griffin in his post-game interview.

Asked to assess playing against his former team, Paul:

They’ve got Lou Will. Lou Will is the guy. You know what I mean? That’s the go-to guy, the guy that they should play through and stuff like that. He having a great year, and he tough. He tough, man.

Williams is having a great year, especially by the standards of career as a solid sub-star. But Griffin is a bona fide star – a tremendously skilled scorer, ball-handler and passer for a power forward. He’s clearly the Clippers’ go-to player when healthy. It’s great Williams stepped up when Griffin was injured, and Williams can run second units while Griffin is healthy. But Griffin is the go-to player.

I can’t read Paul’s intent. Maybe he genuinely disagrees and believes the Clippers should play through Williams. But – given Paul’s nd Griffin’s history and how heated last night’s game was – it sounds as if Paul is just trying to create friction within his former team and take a dig at Griffin. That’d be petty, but… yeah. Nobody would put that past Paul.