Baseline to Baseline recaps: Jeremy Lin is king of New York


What you missed while thinking that even though you didn’t love Madonna’s halftime show at the Super Bowl, it was better than the Black Eyed Peas doing Tron or whatever it was the year before….

76ers 95, Lakers 90: It was the Kobe Bryant and Lou Williams show, and it was our game of the night.

Knicks 99, Jazz 88: Jeremy Lin is not a great point guard (he turns the ball over too much, not great going to his left), but he attacks off the pick-and-roll like a pit bull, and the Knicks have been missing that. Badly. They look like a different team with a guy who can run Mike D’Antoni’s offense as it was designed.

There was no Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony pulled up injured midway through the first quarter, but the Knicks had Lin’s 28 including 13 in the fourth to seal the win. His ability to drive and draw defenders had Tyson Chandler throwing down lob passes from him, Steve Novak draining open threes and the entire Knicks offense humming. It looks like a new offense we haven’t seen this season in New York. Knicks fans are ready to name a park after Lin and put up a statue.

The Jazz looked like a tired team that had just flown across the country. Or gone out partying in New York like the city had won the Super Bow (not saying they did, saying they played like they did)l. Al Jefferson had 22 but needed 20 shots to get there. Utah looked a step slow and couldn’t catch up with the Lin momentum.

Thunder 111, Trail Blazers 107 (OT): The best game of the night, one of the most entertaining of the season.

There was controversy at the end of this one — Kevin Durant tied the game and sent it to overtime with a layup that LaMarcus Aldridge blocked but was called a goaltend. It wasn’t, he got it before it hit the glass. Look for yourself (although I think you could have called a foul here with his arm into Durant’s body):

(As a side note, this game featured two of the most homer announcing crews in the league. Both called that play with their hearts, but for the OKC crew not to admit it was a block moves them up the ladder to one of the worst homer crews in the league, right there with the Spurs.)

That controversy shouldn’t mar a fun game. Kevin Durant had 33 points (although he needed 33 shots to get there), with a lot of jumpers down the stretch that kept the Thunder in it. Russell Westbrook had 28 points and a key block on Nicolas Batum at the end of regulation. Aldridge was the best player on the floor with 39 points and 15 rebounds, OKC did not have an answer for him. The Thunder won this game because of their amazing athletes, but their end-of-game execution is not impressive and they are often left with tough shots in isolation, come the playoffs that is going to haunt them if it doesn’t improve.

Clippers 107, Magic 102 (OT): The Magic had their offense clicking in the first quarter — Dwight Howard was getting baskets at the rim (he had 13 in the quarter, 33 for the game) and Jason Richardson was knocking down a couple threes as Orlando shot 68 percent and raced out to a lead that reached 15.

But this was a game all about offense (the Magic had an offensive rating of 110 points per 100 possessions, the Clippers 115.4, both insanely high numbers) and that meant the Clippers were going to get back in it. Chris Paul dissected the Magic with dribble penetration that got him 29 points on the game (13 in the fourth quarter) and eight assists. The Clippers led by nine in the second half but it was Orlando’s turn to fight back. However, in the overtime Los Angeles secured the lead with a Caron Butler three off a Glen Davis turnover, then next trip down Paul hit a baseline step back rainbow over Howard — how anyone gets that shot off over D-12 is beyond me, let alone a PG. Clippers got a hard-fought win.

Bulls 108, Nets 87: I liked the Nets throwback uniforms. That’s about the only think Nets related I liked. Chicago’s defense suffocated New Jersey and this was a blowout from the first quarter on, Derrick Rose or not (he left with back spasms and is day-to-day). Deron Williams had 25 for New Jersey, Carlos Boozer 24 for the Bulls.

Wizards 111, Raptors 108 (OT): Washington did a good job pushing the pace early and that led to a healthy lead. John Wall had 11 of his 31 in the first quarter, Nick Young 10 of his 29. But midway through the fourth the Raptors starting hitting every three — Jarryd Bayless had four from deep in the quarter and 16 points and it was a ball game again. One headed to overtime — not a very pretty overtime as only one field goal made, everything else at the line. But the Wizards will take it.

Spurs 89, Grizzlies 84: Three Spurs stood out in this one. Tim Duncan continues to find himself, scoring 17 and playing some good defense on Marc Gasol, including having a key block. Kawhi Leonard was given the task of guarding Rudy Gay and held one of the game’s best forwards to 18 points on 9-of-26 shooting. Tony Parker is playing like an All-Star on both ends of the floor; he had 21 points, 7 assists and some good defensive plays as well.

Kings 100, Hornets 92: New Orleans was in charge of this one, up 18 just before the half and cruising behind its defense, holding the Kings to 33 percent shooting for the half, and Emeka Okafor, who had 11 points in the first quarter alone. But Kings’ rookie Isaiah Thomas sparked a comeback, playing with real energy and scoring 14 points and having 5 assists in the second half (he had 17 points total). That seemed to wake up DeMarcus Cousins, too, who was a beast and finished with 28 points and 19 rebounds.

Rockets 99, Denver 90: This was a tight game the whole way, the final score was actually the largest lead either team had all game. Houston took control in the fourth with a small lineup that had Kyle Lowry (20 points on the night plus he played great defense on Ty Lawson, winning that battle) and Goran Dragic in at the same time, along with Courtney Lee. Luis Scola’s face and game seemed fine, and he dropped 25. The difference in this game was the threes — the Rockets were 10-19, the Nuggets 3-22.

Between his clutch FTs, LeBron James goes out of his way to high-five Raptors G Fred VanVleet (video)

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

High-fiving the opponent between his free throws is a wellestablished trick to break concentration.

LeBron James turned the tables in the Cavaliers’ win over the Raptors last night.

Toronto guard Fred VanVleet brushed hands with LeBron between a pair of late LeBron free throws. Unfazed, LeBron turned around and got a crisp high-five from VanVleet:

LeBron made both free throws.

No matter how much better the Raptors have been than Cleveland this season, LeBron wants the mental edge. He led the Cavs to playoff-series wins over Toronto the last two years, and this only increases perception he’s in complete control when these teams meet.

Three Things to Know: Nothing but takeaways from Cavaliers beating Raptors

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Today we’re doing things a little differently, despite some other interesting games — Dwight Howard dropping 30-and-30, the genuine concern about Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ankle, and the Pelicans beating the Pacers because Anthony Davis is ridiculous — we are going to focus on the likely Eastern Conference Finals matchup of Toronto at Cleveland, which the Cavaliers won 132-129.

What we are not taking away from this is a prediction of a playoff matchup between these two teams. Forget the fact that regular season meetings are crappy predictors of playoff series in general, here are three other issues: 1) Toronto was on the second night of a back-to-back and it was their fifth game in seven days, which factored into their poor defense and late fade; 2) Cleveland is going to be healthier and have different guys in the rotation come the playoffs; 3) If Dwane Casey or Larry Drew/Tyronn Lue have a tactic they think could be a great weapon against the other side, no chance they break it out for long in a late-season game — they will save it for the playoffs. Sort of like to NFL teams playing each other in week 16 when they know they could meet in the playoffs. We didn’t see the best of either side.

That said, let’s get on to the real three things.

1) The biggest factor in the Eastern Conference remains LeBron James and his level of play. There are questions about how well the new-look Raptors will carry over to the playoffs. There are more questions (at least in my mind) about how well this Cavaliers roster can defend, even when healthy. All that said, this game was a reminder of one simple fact:

LeBron James can lift a team to the NBA Finals almost by himself — he’s been to seven straight Finals for a reason. He is the force of nature, he’s still playing at an MVP-level (at age 33 in his 15th season), and he took over this game with 35 points, 17 assists, and zero turnovers.

LeBron shot 62 percent from three on the night, had 14 points and 5 assists in the fourth quarter alone, and was the difference in this game. OG Anunoby is the guy the Raptors will likely lean on in the playoffs to make LeBron work for his buckets, but he looked like a guys still working his way back from injury (and like a rookie with tired legs late in the season), it was Pascal Siakam who did the best of any Raptor (LeBron was 4-of-10 with Siakam guarding him on the night). That’s something we would see in the postseason, but nobody really had an impact, and the Raptors need to figure out how to make LeBron work harder for his buckets.

Put simply, the Eastern Conference is all about LeBron James. Still. And it will remain so until further notice.

2) Which one of these teams will defend better come the playoffs? The Cleveland Cavaliers gave up 79 first-half points and allowed the Raptors a 135.8 offensive rating on the night (points per 100 possessions). Kyle Lowry put it this way after the game, “Disgraceful display of defense by us. We’ve got to be better than that.” The Cavaliers had an offensive rating of 140.4 (stats via Cleaning the Glass).

Neither team defended well. If this was an Eastern Conference playoff preview, the team that improves their defense the most between now and then will come out on top.

Toronto has defended better all season — they are fifth in the NBA in defensive rating — but it didn’t show Wednesday. Maybe it was the back-to-back, fifth-game-in-seven-days that took their legs out from under them, particularly for the older Serge Ibaka who had an off night on both ends. (Tired legs also would explain the lack of transition points by the Raptors on the night, they needed those easy buckets). Maybe it’s the fact nobody has a good answer for LeBron. Maybe a lot of things, but the Raptors need to do better defensively in a playoff series or the outcome will be the same.

The Cavaliers lack cohesion on defense, and while they will get better defenders back from injury — Tristan Thompson, Larry Nance Jr. — that is not going to speed up the team getting used to each other on that end. Cleveland has to have better energy, they need to close out on shooters better (the Raptors got open looks late on kickouts, they missed injured C.J. Miles), and they just need more efforts like veteran Jose Calderon gave (it was a good night for him). Cleveland has time to get its defenders on the same page, but not a lot of it.

3) Is Toronto’s bench going to matter as much in the playoffs? Toronto’s bench unit has been key to their success all season — the Raptors took a double-digit lead in the second quarter thanks to their bench (who has done that to teams all season long). The Raptors lineup of Jakab Poeltl, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam, Fred VanVleet, and Delon Wright was +6 in 10 minutes Wednesday. The Lowry plus bench unit has killed teams all season long.

Will it matter in the playoffs?

Right now coaches are going nine or 10 deep in their rotations, and the Raptors depth matters in that situation — their bench can beat your bench. It happened against the Cavaliers. However, come the playoffs the minutes that went to guys nine and 10 in the rotation go to guys one and two — the bench tightens way up, and the best players get more minutes. A deep bench doesn’t have the same impact.

What that bench will provide Casey in the playoffs is options — if Anunoby is struggling against LeBron bring in Siakam — but it’s not the same as the regular season. I love that in big games recently against the Thunder and Cavaliers Casey is still playing around with his lineups for stretches — now is the time to experiment. Now is the time to get guys used to playing with each other. That way, come the playoffs, Casey can throw the combination out there that he thinks works and there will be familiarity.

But the Raptors will need more from their starters in the playoffs because the bench will not have the same impact.

Dwight Howard posts just second 30-30 game in last 36 years

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Dwight Howard never played for the Nets. He almost got traded to Brooklyn by the Magic, but the deal never happened.

Which puts a dent in Dennis Schroder‘s theory Howard gets up for games against only his former teams.

Howard dominated Brooklyn for 32 points and 30 rebounds in the Hornets’ 111-105 win tonight. That’s just the second 30-30 game in the last 36 years, Kevin Love notching the other in 2010.

All 30-30 games since Wilt Chamberlain, who had a ton:

  • Dwight Howard (Charlotte Hornets, 3/21/2018): 32 points, 30 rebounds
  • Kevin Love (Minnesota Timberwolves, 11/12/2010): 31 points, 31 rebounds
  • Moses Malone (Houston Rockets, 2/11/1982): 38 points, 32 rebounds
  • Swen Nater (Milwaukee Bucks, 12/19/1976): 30 points, 33 rebounds
  • Elvin Hayes (Capital Bullets, 11/17/1973): 43 points, 32 rebounds

Howard helped Charlotte erase a 23-point second-half deficit and a 10-point deficit with four minutes left. The Hornets are playing out a lost season, and Brooklyn has looked overmatched most of the year, particularly at center. But no matter the situation, Howard says he still feels super-sized expectations.

Tonight, he exceeded them by leaps and bounds.

Giannis Antetokounmpo leaves Bucks’ loss to Clippers with ankle injury (video)

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The Bucks lost, 127-120, to the Clippers tonight.

More importantly, Milwaukee lost Antetokounmpo to an ankle injury.

He limped off in the second quarter and didn’t return. The Bucks called it a sprain.

Any more time Antetokounmpo misses would be a huge loss. Hopefully, he recovers quickly.

No matter how many other good players – Khris Middleton, Eric Bledsoe – Milwaukee has put on the floor, the team has struggled without its star. Antetokounmpo is a commanding force offensively who just does so much, and his defense impresses.

The Bucks (37-34) are eighth in the East. They’re safely in playoff position, five games ahead of the ninth-place Pistons. But this hurts Milwaukee’s chances of avoiding a first-round matchup with the excellent Raptors – though the way Toronto has regressed in the playoffs in previous years, that might not be so bad. Still, the Bucks should probably chase the seventh-place Heat, who are up 1.5 games on Milwaukee, and a likely first-round matchup with the injury-ravaged Celtics.

Obviously, a healthy Antetokounmpo would be central to that pursuit.