Baseline to Baseline recaps: Kobe passed with the game on the line

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What you missed while trying to figure out how to pay off your $44 million hospital bill….

Thunder 97, Celtics 88: Boston’s fifth loss in a row was our game of the night.

Lakers 73, Mavericks 70: The Lakers won this game — and were the better shooting team — hitting 38.2 percent of their shots. They were just 1-of-10 from three, but that one was Derek Fisher’s dramatic game winner. Which is to say this game was ugly but still entertaining right down the final seconds.

Kobe Bryant’s 40-point game streak came to an end as he shot just 7-of-22. Maybe he was just emotional over Lamar Odom’s return to Staples Center. Nah. That the Lakers struggle to score when Kobe struggles speaks to the problem with the Lakers right now — they have multiple great offensive weapons yet everything goes as Kobe does. Pau Gasol struggled (Dirk Nowitzki defended him well, as he did in the playoffs) but Andrew Bynum had 17 points and 15 rebounds. But things didn’t flow through him. A better point guard might organize and balance the offense better, something the Lakers will eventually need.

But as they have done in recent games, the Lakers won this with defense. Nowitzki had his 21 points but needed 17 shots to get there as Gasol defended him with energy (and Gasol is long enough to at least challenge him). The rest of the Mavericks combined to shoot 31.8 percent (and were just 4-of-26 from three). It wasn’t all Lakers defense, Dallas had an off night, but when the Lakers hold a team down like this they win a lot. No matter what Kobe does.

Grizzlies 102, Bulls 86: No Derrick Rose and no Richard Hamilton for the Bulls — both out injured — and their defense couldn’t bail them out. Mike Conley just dominated John Lucas III on his way to 20, Rudy Gay had 24 and Marreese Speights had 16 points plus 12 rebounds. Don’t read much into the outcome because of everyone missing, but the Grizzlies could use every win they can get.

Be warned Bulls fans, Chicago is likely to sit Rose on Tuesday as well.

Magic 102, Knicks 93: This game was close with five minutes to go, but when Dwight Howard got his fifth foul Orlando decided to protect him by playing a zone — and the Knicks offense went stagnant. Knicks players tried to shoot over the top of the zone and they just missed. Meanwhile, Ryan Anderson dropped 30 and J.J. Redick 21 as the Orlando role players stepped up. Carmelo Anthony had 33 but was 9-for-27, meanwhile the Knicks as a team were just 5-for-20 from three. Also Knicks, you have Tyson Chandler, why all the doubles on Howard?

Clippers 101, Nets 91: Los Angeles was up 18 at one point and 13 early in the fourth, but fell apart and suddenly we were tied at 81-81 with 6:46 left. Why? No Chris Paul or Mo Willaims (both out injured) to take control and settle things down. But Chauncey Billups did step up and hit the dagger three to put this out of reach.

Cavaliers 102, Bobcats 94: With the game on the line — Cavs up 1 with a minute to go — Anderson Varejao caught a bad pass with one hand and turned it into a nifty spin move and basket. Then when Byron Mullens missed on a pick-and-pop Kyrie Irving got the ball and didn’t try to slow down and eat clock, he attacked and scored on a twisting layup around Mullens. Irving, who finished with 25 points, has a fantastic left hand around the rim.

Rockets 114, Wizards 106: Houston pulled away in the third quarter as the Wizards offense did what the Wizards offense does — fall apart — and the Rockets were able to capitalize with some fast break points. Samuel Dalembert had 14 in the quarter as he outplayed the Wizards bigs. The Rockets just know how to execute and the Wizards are showboating at inappropriate times. John Wall tried to lead a comeback with 18 in the fourth quarter (and 38 overall) but it was not enough.

76ers 94, Bucks 82: Not much rocket science here — it was a grinding game and the Sixers shot the ball better and turned it over less (the Bucks turned it over on 18 percent of their possessions and that led to 16 Philly points off turnovers. Jrue Holiday had 24. Andre Iguodala 21. Andrew Bogut is back for the Bucks and he had 20.

Trail Blazers 84, Hornets 77: The Hornets packed the paint on defense and it took about a half for the Blazers to get more comfortable moving the ball and creating the shots they wanted. When they did they pulled away a little bit and held on.

Timberwolves 99, Kings 86: This was close for three quarters, but in a sign of where these teams seem to be headed the Timberwolves had another gear that the Kings couldn’t match it. Kevin Love had 33 and 11, but it was Luke Ridour’s 25. Keith Smart is in a tough spot, trying to find a way to make the Kings work mid-season, but they just seem a challenged team that once something goes wrong they don’t know how to respond.

Hawks 93, Raptors 84: Atlanta led this from the middle of the first quarter on, but the pesky Raptors hung around. Josh Smith was shooting too many jumpers but was hitting them today and had 29, Joe Johnson abused the Raptors zone defense and Jose Calderon in the third and that was basically the ballgame.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”