Baseline to Baseline recaps: Indiana gets a little revenge

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What you missed while being exhausted, just like Demi Moore….

Lakers 96, Clippers 91: This was feisty like a playoff game and was our game of the night.

Pacers 95, Bulls 90: Last year in the first round of the playoffs the Bulls brushed the Pacers aside with ease — this game was evidence of how much better this year’s Pacers are. Roy Hibbert had 20 and is much tougher in the paint, David West had 14 (he wasn’t even a Pacer last year) and Indiana’s overall defense is much better. Derrick Rose had 24 points but only two in the fourth quarter — and he even kicked out a key late shot to Brian Scalabrine (who missed it). I’ll still take Chicago in a seven-game series (especially with Luol Deng and Taj Gibson back, both of whom are out injured), but the Pacers are going to be a very tough this year.

Cavaliers 91, Knicks 81: Spare me the “second night of a back-to-back” excuse for the Knicks — except for Carmelo Anthony, he has looked almost as tired as Demi Moore. But aside that this loss was all their normal issues on display, just sloppier. New York had 22 turnovers and that really was the key state here, but there were other problems as well. ‘Melo was bad. Toney Douglas was 3-12. As a team they shot 3-20 from three. On the other side Anderson Varejao was a beast (10 points, 15 boards, 7 offensive) and was a defensive force that turned this game. Trade offers are going to come rolling in for that guy soon. Antawn Jamison led the way with 15 points, but it was a balanced attack and the entire Cavaliers team fought harder.

Bucks 105, Houston 99: Milwaukee raced out to a 12-0 lead as Brandon Jennings was getting the outlet pass and just beating everyone down the court. The Rockets were getting good looks from the outside early, the Bucks were packing the lane, but the Rockets started 1-12 from three. Then things turned around late in the second quarter and that carried into the second half. Houston found its shot, its legs and the lead. That’s when the Bucks bench happened — Stephen Jackson came and scored seven quick points (when his bad shots fall he’s tough to stop) and suddenly the Bucks were on a 14-4 run and back in front. I like what Scott Skiles did — his bench was hot so he rode them the entire fourth quarter. Mike Dunleavy and Jackson each had nine points in the fourth and the Bucks held on to win.

Wizards 92, Bobcats 75: It was Randy Wittman’s first game as Wizards head coach is a win, but it wasn’t really anything he did — Charlotte is just this bad. Washington is a much more talented, better team and it showed when they were up 20 at the half. Washington’s defensive effort seemed pretty good, but again we need to see it against real competition before judging. Andray Blatche had 17 points and 10 rebounds, good luck getting that kind of production out of him consistently, Randy.

Thunder 101, Hornets 91: This pretty much typifies the Hornets this season — they never led in this game (their ninth straight loss), but they fought hard and refused to let themselves get blown out. Jarrett Jack is New Orleans primary scorer and had 20. The Thunder looked like they got a little bored in the second half, but the game was never in doubt.

Nets 97, Sixers 90 (OT): Deron Williams owned this game. Owned. He had 17 points in the fourth quarter and overtime alone, including the step-back three to win it all. He had 34 points on the night and when you throw in his 11 dimes he accounted for more than half of the Nets points all by himself. The Sixers have a beautiful, balanced attack but when they get to the playoffs and they need a bucket, who is the guy who can go get it for them? Jrue Holiday (12 points in fourth quarter and OT)? Maybe. New Jersey, for all the flaws on its roster, has one of those guys who they know can take over.

Spurs 105, Hawks 83: It’s been 14 years since the Hawks beat the Spurs in San Antonio, so how did you think this was going to end? San Antonio was solid all around and had 17 from DeJuan Blair, including 8 in the fourth quarter. Also, Tiago Splitter is tearing it up of late, he finished with 16. If he is a real inside presence for the Spurs in the playoffs, they are much more dangerous. He’s looking like the guy the Spurs thought they were getting out of Europe.

Heat 101, Pistons 98: This was another game where the Heat were much more talented but not necessarily the team playing harder. (To be fair, fourth game in five nights and still no Dwyane Wade; but the Pistons were shorthanded as well.) Austin Daye had his best game of the season and single-handedly kept it close with 18 first half points (Detroit was down six at the break). Detroit came back from being 10 down midway through the fourth quarter to tie it all up at 90-90 with 3:30 left. Brandon Knight and Greg Monroe played well, reminding us there is a youth movement in Detroit.

Down the stretch the Heat played better defense and LeBron first set up Chris Bosh with some sweet passes (Bosh finished with 27 points) then got to the line himself for four key free throws (32 total points). Miami is now 8-1 without Wade.

Timberwolves 105, Mavericks 90: Yes, but Dallas now has those shiny rings. Minnesota got good games from its stars — Kevin Love had 31 points and 10 rebounds; Ricky Rubio had 17 points and 12 assists. Minnesota played good defense in the second half and Dallas fell in love with the jump shot and didn’t attack. As a result, Minny took 33 free throws, Dallas 10. When Dallas’ jumpers didn’t fall at an alarming rate, they were in trouble.

Raptors 111, Jazz 106 (2OT): I didn’t put Dwane Casey in my list of guys up for coach of the year, but he has made the Raptors a team you have to respect. Toronto was down 18 early but fought back. They trailed by 7 midway through the fourth but fought back. Linas Kleiza was a monster, with 17 points in the fourth quarter and overtimes he was the Raptors best player. Jose Calderon hit some big shots as well, but those felt a lot more like prayers than shots. This is an impressive road win on back-to-back nights for Toronto (they beat Phoenix the night before).

Nuggets 122, Kings 93: These two teams just play at different paces with different levels of energy. Denver was beat Sacramento to every spot on the floor all night long. The Nuggets took control of this game with a 13-0 run in the second quarter and that was that. Denver had 92 of its points in the paint. Think about that. Ninety-two.

Warriors 101, Portland 93: On its third game in three nights Portland tried to pound the soft interior of the Warriors defense, and that worked for a while with LaMarcus Aldridge leading the way (he finished with 18 points). But Golden State came back because they just shot lights out all night. They shot 51.9 percent as a team and hit 11-20 threes including 5-of-6 during a key stretch in the third when they took the lead for good. Hot shooting nights win games and Portland didn’t have the legs under them to respond.

LeBron James has tepid response when asked about Tyronn Lue’s job safty

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LeBron James was no fan of David Blatt, so he was let go around the All-Star break with the Cavaliers a couple of years ago when the team had the best record in the East.

Now the Cavaliers have fallen to third in the East and have lost 8-of-11, were blown out by the Thunder on national television on Saturday, have one of the worst defenses in the NBA, and have a brutal stretch of games against good teams ahead.

Is Tyronn Lue’s job in danger? That question has been asked around Cleveland, and when LeBron was asked about it after the OKC loss his response was tepid (via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com)

Is a coaching change really the answer? I’m not Lue’s biggest fan as a coach, I think Cleveland’s offense has too much isolation and can get simplistic, but he’s got an older team that lost Kyrie Irving (and replaced him with Isaiah Thomas, who just returned to the rotation a couple of weeks ago and is still getting his legs under him).

Maybe that wakes the team up, but the more likely change is a trade or two at the deadline. If Cleveland isn’t willing to put the Brooklyn pick in the mix (reportedly they will only do that for an elite superstar) it’s hard to see them getting a player that really makes a difference. However, get one who wakes the team up out of its malaise and plays a little defense, and the Cavaliers become more likely to out of the East.

It’s going to be an interesting few weeks in Cleveland.

Thunder drop 148 points on defenseless Cavaliers, win in rout

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If you wondered why Cleveland is so active in the trade market as the deadline nears — and why they are hunting out guys who can play defense — all you had to do was watch the Thunder dismantle the Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon on national television, 148-124.

The Thunder went into Quicken Loans Arena and list of offensive accolades is long (and ugly if you’re a Cleveland fan):

• Oklahoma City dropped 148 points.

• Oklahoma City shot 58 percent overall.

• Oklahoma City shot 46.7 percent from three.

• Oklahoma City got 44 percent of its shots within four feet of the rim.

• Oklahoma City’s big three of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony, and Paul George combined for 88 points.

• Westbrook had 23 points and 20 assists.

• Paul George had 36 points on 12-of-19 shooting.

Steven Adams had 25 points and 10 rebounds.

• Westbrook, George, Adams, and Anthony combined for 113 points on 66 shots.

To be fair, this was also about the Thunder playing one of their most complete offensive games of the season. They moved the ball beautifully, there wasn’t the “your turn/my turn” issues from earlier this season.

For a team still unsure of its identity and looking for validation, this game provided it.

It also provided another glimpse into the troubles in Cleveland.

Last season the Cavaliers counted on an exceptional offense to cover up for a defense that was decent when they cared and horrific when they didn’t, but when it got time in the playoffs Cleveland was able to flip the switch (it just wasn’t enough in the Finals). LeBron James has another gear and was able to lift his teammates up with it.

This season, they don’t seem to know where the switch is. The good defensive habits they had built over time seem lost and forgotten, as they run out a litany of minus defenders in their regular rotation.

Cleveland looks like a team that needs help at the trade deadline to ensure it gets out of the East. The question becomes will they throw in the Brooklyn pick to do it? And even if they did, would DeAndre Jordan really solve their issues right now?

 

Giannis Antetokounmpo out a couple of games to manage sore knee

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It’s not discussed much, but Giannis Antetokounmpo has a chronically sore knee that has been an issue since last summer. It’s not debilitating, it doesn’t require surgery, but it’s something Antetokounmpo and the Bucks need to actively manage.

Hence, Antetokounmpo is sitting out the next couple of games. From Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Milwaukee Bucks all-star Giannis Antetokounmpo will sit out Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers as well as Monday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns as the team actively manages the health of Antetokounmpo’s sore right knee….

Antetokounmpo’s injury, which is not considered to be tendinitis, is regarded as something that is always going to bother him to some extent, according to a league source. There will be days where the discomfort is higher and some when it’s lower, and the team’s goal is to manage that on a daily basis to keep the injury from becoming severe or significant — something it is not considered to be at this point.

Antetokounmpo is going to get eight days of rest this way, which is the smart long-term move for the Bucks.

The challenge is the Bucks may be sixth in the East as you read this, but they are just one game up on the nine seed Pistons. They need to get wins without Antetokounmpo, which is hard because they have been outscored by 10.6 points per 100 possessions. However, they could be without him a lot longer if Antetokounmpo’s knee isn’t managed now.

Kristaps Porzingis: “Players know” he’s All-Star starter

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When picking the East All-Star starters, two of the three frontcourt choices were obvious: LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

For the third slot there were a few players who could make a case. The fans chose Joel Embiid third, Kristaps Porzingis fourth, and Kevin Love fifth. The media also had Embiid third and Porzingis fourth, but Al Horford fifth. That was enough to earn Embiid the starting nod.

The players voted Porzingis third, Embiid fourth, and Andre Drummond fifth. Needless to say, Porzingis thinks the players got it right, as he told Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

“Players know,” he said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

If one were cynical, one would note the players also voted for Tyler Cavanaugh and Tyler Zeller, so how much do we trust their vote? Fortunately, we’re above such crass things.

Porzingis is a lock to make his first All-Star Game this year as a reserve (picked by the coaches).

What separated the two? Embiid has been a little more efficient this season, he’s stronger on the boards and had been a bigger defensive presence. Also, the Sixers have a better record than the Knicks, who have stumbled of late. Or, maybe the fans just like Embiid’s big personality more — he’s blowing off Rihanna.

Both of these guys should have a lot of All-Star starts in their future. This year it goes to Embiid.