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.

Paul George on Thunder: “This feels like a championship team”

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They have an MVP, top-five NBA player. They have another All-NBA player who is a strong wing defender. They now have an aging all-star who still can get buckets with the best of them. There is a strong collection of role players who can help form a solid defense.

On paper, there’s a lot to like with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Paul George realizes that, as he said to Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“This feels like a championship team,” George told USA TODAY Sports. “I’m in a good place. I know Russ (Westbrook) is in a good place. Melo is motivated more than ever…You put us three together, who all have something to prove still, (and) we’re going to be a special team. We have a young group, a lot of talent here, an unbelievable coach (in Billy Donovan), (and) as you see, a front office that’s willing to do whatever it takes to improve the team. It just has all the makeups to be a great organization and a chance to put championships together.”

Championships? Plural? That implies the team would stay together, and sorry Thunder fans, but that is far from a sure thing. First, financially there is no realistic way Oklahoma City can afford to sign Russell Westbrook and Paul George max deals (which they both will get) and keep Anthony if he opts into the final year of his contract for just shy of $28 million.

OKC is a small market team that simply would lose a lot of money to keep the band together, and this ownership group traded James Harden out of fear of a massive luxury tax bill. (They will pay a tax bill of about $24 million for this season if the roster stays as is.)

Also, George’s camp made it very clear during the run-up to his trade he plans to test free agency and has a strong lean to the Lakers next season. He may be more likely to stay in OKC now after the trade, but how much more?

However, George is right, this team does look like a roster that could contend for a title most years — and maybe be in the mix this year. We will put aside the Warriors challenge for a moment (they are still the clear favorites if they stay healthy) and get to the big question for the Thunder:

Will their big three learn to sacrifice, learn to mesh, learn to play together as a team as a championship team does fast enough? The 2008 Celtics did, but that team of veterans has been the exception. It took LeBron’s Miami Heat two seasons to learn how to win, and the same when he came back to Cleveland. OKC doesn’t have two seasons, they have to do it fast. It’s possible, but not easy.

George is right, this is an excellent Oklahoma City team. The Thunder are now right in the middle of that second tier in the West with Houston (another team that has to learn to mesh and sacrifice) and the Spurs. That’s a great place to be.

Is it a place George wants to stay? That question will hang over the Thunder all season.

 

Mark Cuban: Trump has “got to be able to take the blowback” from comments

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President Donald Trump used the bully pulpit of his office to, well, bully — he fired shots at the NFL over its concussion protocols and players kneeling during the national anthem. Then he rescinded his invite to the White House to the Warriors after Stephen Curry said he would vote not to go.

Sports stars fired back. LeBron James called Trump a bum, Chris Paul asked if he didn’t have better things to worry about, and the Warriors said as a team they would use their time in Washington this season to “celebrate equality, diversity and inclusion — the values that we embrace as an organization.” Even supporters of the President, such as Patriots owner Robert Craft, rebuked the president for his comments.

Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for Meet the Press Trump has to be a big enough man to handle people standing up to him.

“If the president’s going to say something condemning a person, an industry, a sport, then he’s got to be able to take the blowback that’s going to come back,” Cuban told NBC News in an exclusive interview for “Meet the Press.”

“So LeBron [James] and Steph and any athlete, any owner, it’s an open door now, and so they have every right for the same reasons to be able to say whatever’s on their mind,” he said. “Now we’ll be able to see if he can take it.”

Unlike previous presidents of both parties, Trump is not good at letting criticism of him and his administration roll off his back to stay focused on his agenda. It’s more personal with him, and that is something Warriors coach Steve Kerr said is a problem for him, and the nation.

Bottom line, NBA players are not going to back off — their base isn’t going to push back against them for their comments. Most are going to nod their heads in agreement. The NBA fan demographic is not the NFL’s. This storyline is far from over.

Three questions the Indiana Pacers must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 42-40, swept in the first round

I know what you did last summer: Larry Bird resigned then the Pacers traded Paul George for Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis, a horrible deal that got the summer off on the wrong track. Indiana also swapped Jeff Teague, C.J. Miles and Monta Ellis for Bojan Bogdanovic, Darren Collison and Cory Joseph in order to prevent bottoming out. The Pacers picked T.J. Leaf (No. 18), Ike Anigbogu (No. 47) and Edmond Sumner (No. 52) in the draft.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PACERS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Indiana escape its unsatisfying track? The Pacers are headed toward winning 30-something games, missing the playoffs and picking in the bottom of the lottery. It’s a miserable place to be.

Be just a little better, and they could make the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Be just a little worse, and they could land a premier draft pick.

Either direction is preferable to the apparent status quo.

The Pacers clearly don’t want to tank. Hence, their offseason strategy. But if the season goes south quickly, they could embrace losing by trading veterans and/or giving more minutes to young players.

Competing for the playoffs is a little trickier, but Indiana has enough veterans where that could take care of itself. The odds are against it, but this team is capable of sneaking in with the right breaks.

2) Can Victor Oladipo handle the expectations thrust upon him? Oladipo didn’t choose to return to the basketball-crazed state where he starred in college. He didn’t ask to be the Pacers’ main return for Paul George.

But here he is.

Oladipo is a solid player, and at 25, he might still be improving. He’ll have to in order to justify the George trade (and maybe even his four-year, $84 million contract extension that kicks in this season).

No longer playing with Russell Westbrook should help. Oladipo regressed while trying to play a spot-up role next to the Oklahoma City superstar last season. Indiana needs Oladipo to be more aggressive with the ball, a role that better suits him. Whether he’s good enough to handle those responsibilities on a good team is another question entirely, though.

3) Will Myles Turner break out? With George gone, Turner is now the Pacers’ franchise player (ignoring how the team might market Oladipo, who returns after starring with the Hoosiers).

Turner has all the potential to be a modern rim-protecting, 3-point-shooting center. He can get more comfortable beyond the arc. He must fine-tune his defense. But all the future looks bright for the 21-year-old.

He was intriguing as a rookie then even better last year. How steeply Turner continues to ascend will play a major role in whether Indiana exceeds expectations this season – and how its rebuild looks beyond.

Goran Dragic back with Heat after summer title for Slovenia

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MIAMI (AP) — A quick summary of the last few weeks in the life of Miami guard Goran Dragic:

He led Slovenia, his mother’s homeland and the place he calls home, to an improbable gold medal at the European Championships. The title game came against Serbia, his father’s homeland and a place where he still has relatives.

He was the tournament’s MVP. He received one of Slovenia’s highest civilian honors. He was brought to tears by a gift of a jersey from the mother of his idol, the late star Drazen Petrovic.

And through it all, the words of Heat coach Erik Spoelstra echoed in his head – winning a championship is usually more demanding mentally than physically.

“Now I fully understand what he means,” Dragic said.

It’s a lesson Dragic hopes to put to more use starting next week, when he returns to the U.S. and the Heat begin training camp. The only true point guard on Miami’s roster, Dragic is going to be a major key if the Heat are to return to the playoffs and contend in the Eastern Conference. And coming off his MVP showing at EuroBasket, the Heat hope his game keeps elevating.

“He looked sensational,” Spoelstra said of his point guard’s play at EuroBasket. “I’m so happy for him, so proud of that accomplishment, this most unlikely championship. Slovenia is a country of only 2 million. It’s smaller than the city of Miami. And to beat the powerhouses over there, but also to see how passionate Goran was about trying to lead this team to the title.”

Dragic averaged 22.6 points and 5.1 assists in the nine games. His 35 points in the title game was the high for the tournament.

He told Spoelstra in June he was all-in on trying to deliver Slovenia its first gold medal.

“He trained extremely diligently for this,” Spoelstra said. “And he competed and led at such a high level. You could just see the emotions pouring out of him. I talked to him on the phone after they won and he said, `This is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.”‘

The task that awaits in Miami won’t be easy.

The Heat had a strange season a year ago – starting 11-30, finishing 30-11 and missing the playoffs in a tiebreaker. Dragic averaged a career-best 20.3 points, and emerged as a locker-room leader as the year went along. He also did what he could to persuade Heat free agents like Dion Waiters and James Johnson to stay.

“It’s a lot of new challenges ahead,” Dragic said. “I’m looking forward to come to Miami and to battle for a title in Miami. Nobody gave us a chance, the Slovenian national team. Nobody is going to give us a chance in Miami. But I always believe. Why not?”

An estimated 20,000 people stood in the pouring rain to greet the Slovenian team when it arrived home. The medal ceremony after the championship game became Slovenia’s most-watched television event in the country, at least since ratings started being kept. Dragic was told 94 percent of the nation was watching.

“I’m just proud of him,” Heat President Pat Riley said. “And I’m proud that we have him.”

Before 1991, both Serbia and Slovenia were part of Yugoslavia. Hence, the family ties for Dragic still exist.

“Playing for my national team for the past 12 years, you’re always waiting to achieve something, and as soon as we won the final all the burden from my shoulders fell down,” he said. “I felt so happy. And, of course, on the other side, I have family in Serbia. But I was born in Slovenia … it was not a question that I was going to do everything to bring them a title.”