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.

 

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.

Michigan’s D.J. Wilson staying in NBA draft

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Michigan bigs D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner declared for the NBA draft in similar situations – coming off breakout seasons, particularly excelling down the stretch, and sitting on the first-round bubble for the NBA draft. Neither hired an agent, leaving their options open.

But this is where their paths diverge.

Michigan releases:

University of Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and submit the necessary paperwork to remain as an early entrant into the 2017 NBA Draft.

University of Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will return to the Wolverine basketball program after removing his name from consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Wilson and Wagner both said they’d stay in the draft only if they’d be first-round picks. I wonder whether Wilson got a first-round promise or is just confident enough he’ll get picked there. The latter wouldn’t be a bad bet. Even if the 22-year-old Wilson slips into the second round, this might be the peak of his draft value.

At times, it’s easy to forget Wilson is a 6-foot-11 big man. He shoots 3-pointers, dribbles and moves like a wing. He also too often shies from contact, which particularly hurts his rebounding.

But he’s a big. Those perimeter skills wouldn’t shine quite as brightly if he were matched up with opposing wings. Wilson has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he also protect the rim. However, his shot-blocking relies on a bounciness that’s not as effective when pressed into more physical matchups. He needs some space to launch – but when he has it, it also pays off in quality finishing at the rim.

Wilson has the tools to be a good NBA power forward, but he’s still a work in progress. In other words, he still looks like a borderline first-round pick.

Tyronn Lue imitates LeBron James’ criticism of reporter (video)

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After the Cavaliers Game 3 loss to the Celtics, LeBron James accused reporter Kenny Roda of showing up/asking questions only when Cleveland loses.

Questioned by Roda after the Cavs’ Game 4 win, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue lightheartedly lobbed the same criticism at Roda.

Coaching LeBron can be tricky. Lue must both challenge the greatest player of his generation and handle LeBron’s passive-aggressiveness. Lue can neither let LeBron walk all over him nor bark orders at him.

In this case, it seems Lue is trying to diffuse LeBron’s pettiness before it turns into something bigger. Considering how silly LeBron’s initial comments were, I bet the star is on board.

Tony Bradley becoming North Carolina’s first one-and-done in nearly a decade

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North Carolina hasn’t had a one-and-done player in eight years.

Since Brandan Wright declared for the 2008 NBA draft after his freshman year, the Tar Heels have emphasized player development over multiple years. That practice has yielded two national titles, including this year’s, in that span.

It also limited freshman center Tony Bradley’s playing time this season, as he was stuck behind seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

But Bradley shined enough in 15 minutes per game to follow Wright as one-and-done from Chapel Hill.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

Bradley is a borderline first-round pick, though this late decision when many expected him to return to school indicates he believes he’ll go in the first round. There’s certainly logic in turning pro before scouts pick apart his game over a larger sample.

Bradley is huge – 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan – but he’s not explosive. The hope is someone in the Rudy Gobert mold.

Whomever drafts Bradley will hope his elite offensive rebounding is a harbinger. But why is his defensive rebounding and rim protection so forgettable?

He moves and passes fairly well for his size, but considering he’s so big, those aren’t necessarily skills for him to hang his hat on. If a teammate sets him up, he uses his size to finish well at the rim.

Beyond his size and offensive rebounding, Bradley doesn’t set himself apart one way or the other. Whether that’s good or bad depends how deep in the draft it is.