Miami Heat v Orlando Magic

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Magic cool off Heat

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What you missed while watching a guy get bit in the face by a dog on live television

Magic 102, Heat 89: Maybe the Magic owner should tell the media he doesn’t want to trade Dwight Howard before every game.

Orlando played the game it wants to play — good defense (especially challenging in the midrange), have Howard dominate in the middle then play off that with open shooters from three. A lot of threes. Orlando took a franchise record 42 from beyond the arc and got half (51) of their points from there. (I’ll save you the math, they hit 17 of the 42 from three, 40 percent.)

The teams that will give Miami trouble are ones that have bigs who can score — Howard had 25 points and 24 boards as the Heat have nobody who can check him in the least. Ryan Anderson had 27. Dwyane Wade had 33 for the Heat but LeBron James had an off night. One of the other keys to this game was the Magic role players simply outplayed their Heat role players.

Cavaliers 99, Clippers 92: The concern with Chauncey Billups gone for the season was how that would impact the Clippers defense. Well, it’s just one game, but a Cleveland team that is bottom 10 in the league averaging 97.2 points per 100 possessions scored at a 111.2 pace against the Clippers. That’s 8 points per 100 higher than the Clippers average. It’s just one game, but it’s a trend to watch.

Ramon Sessions outplayed Chris Paul. You read that right. Sessions drove up his trade value getting the start for an injured Kyrie Irving (concussion) and had 24 points (on 16 shots) and 13 dimes. The other thing Cleveland has going for it is Anderson Varejao — a big man who can defend Blake Griffin straight up. Oh, Griffin got his (25 points, 14 boards) because he is impossible to stop, but Varejao made him work for it (and work at both ends).

Knicks 107, Wizards 93: Linsanity continues. Jeremy Lin was lined up opposite No. 1 overall pick John Wall and dropped 23 points and 10 boards. There’s no great secret to what Lin does — he attacks hard off the pick and roll. Those attacks are why New York shot 14 more free throws than Washington. The Wizards obliged by playing some of the worst pick-and-roll defense you will see, fighting over the top of picks and basically rolling out the red carpet for Lin to get into the lane. Help rotations were slow to non-existent, but when they came it opened up passes to Tyson Chandler who had 25 points.

Spurs 100, 76ers 90: Tony Parker was the best player on the court by far, 37 points and 8 assists, carving up the Sixers defense on the pick-and-roll. That was the top-ranked Sixers defense we are talking about. Parker was All-Star good (and the Sixers had a bad night, Jrue Holiday looked like a baseball player whose swing is off the game after facing a knuckleball pitcher… I guess Derek Fisher will do that to you). Tiago Splitter, NBA’s most improved player?

Bucks 105, Raptors 99: You can’t stop Carlos Delfino — he had 11 of his 25 in the fourth quarter, including hitting two threes, as the Bucks pulled away to get the win. The Bucks attacked more all game and shot 20 more free throws than the Raptors.

Hawks 97, Pacers 87: Atlanta was in control of this game the entire way. Josh Smith took 9 shots right at the rim and 8 from beyond 16 feet, not exactly the balance one would hope for. But he finished with 28 points and he knocked down both threes he took — it was just that kind of night for the Hawks where whatever they tried worked a lot better than whatever the Pacers were trying.

Pistons 99, Nets, 92: Well, someone had to win this game.

Grizzlies 85, Timberwolves 80: Minnesota looked a step slow — second night of a back-to-back, going without Kevin Love against a good front line, this is kind of what you expect. Memphis grabbed 21 offensive rebounds — 36 percent of the time they missed a shot, they got a second chance. That’s where Love was missed. Rudy Gay had 19 to lead Memphis.

Bulls 90, Hornets 67: The best part of the game was the player introductions. After that, the Bulls defense just smothered the Hornets, holding them to 37 percent shooting and a 74.4 points per 100 possessions pace. Carlos Boozer had 18 to lead the Bulls.

Mavericks 105, Nuggets 95: Really entertaining offensive basketball game — both teams are just hard to defend when they have it going. Dirk Nowitzki has found his mojo (or health or conditioning or whatever it was) and dropped a cool 25. Denver’s ball movement was good but Dallas was active on defense.

Rockets 103, Trail Blazers 96: Portland looked like it never fully got over the heartbreaking overtime loss to the Thunder the night before — they looked physically and mentally tired. By the way, that is back-to-back Trail Blazers losses at home, which just doesn’t happen. Chase Budinger had 22 points on 14 shots and Goran Dragic played well for Houston once Kyle Lowry went down with an arm injury.

Byron Scott doesn’t see reason D’Angelo Russell should play more in fourth

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The Lakers’ clear top priority for this season should be simple: develop their young stars.

Julius Randle is a beast with the ball in his hands, but a one-handed beast who needs to work on his right hand. D'Angelo Russell has shown flashes but is trying to adapt to the speed and style of the NBA game. Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. can be pieces on a good team, eventually. The Lakers need to build that foundation.

Which is why coach Byron Scott sitting Russell in the fourth quarter of games, even blowouts, is perplexing. As were his responses when asked about it after the Lakers’ lastest blowout loss, Tuesday night to the Golden state Warriors. So Scott, is there value in playing Russell in blowouts to get him more time on the court? Mark Medina of the LA Daily News had the answer.

“Nah. There’s really no reason to. At that particular time we’re down 30 [points],” Scott said. “I wanted to get Ryan [Kelly] some time and Marcelo [Huertas] as well and some other guys that haven’t played a lot.”

That would be 32-year-old Marcelo Huertas, who played the fourth quarter Tuesday while Russell sat.

This is not Gregg Popovich resting his stars to keep them fresh for the playoffs here. We are talking about a 19-year-old rookie point guard whose game is based on court vision, anticipation, and angles, a guy who has to learn how to apply those in a league where everybody is long and fast. He needs time on the court to adapt. Is he going to make mistakes? Yes. A lot of them. That’s what rookies do. If you coach them up, they learn from those mistakes and make fewer each time out. It’s a sometimes painful process, but it’s how rookies learn.

Except in Byron Scott’s world where they get benched. Because that will teach them. Meanwhile Kobe can do whatever he wants, because he was once great and that gives him carte blanche.

Nuggets’ Emmanuel Mudiay apologizes for verbal spat with coach

Emmanuel Mudiay, Michael Malone
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Nuggets’ coach Mike Malone was willing to get into it with just about anyone Tuesday night. He had a few words with Blake Griffin.

And he had a few words with his rookie point guard Emmanuel Mudiay — and Mudiay gave it right back. Then got benched. Later the rookie realized he should be a little more deferential to the guy who controls his minutes, and apologized. Malone played it down. Everything is fine in Denver (well, except for the four straight losses). Here are the quotes, via Chris Dempsey of the Denver Post.

Said Mudiay: “It’s just both of us being competitors. It probably was my fault, I could have been doing a lot more. So I kind of put the blame on myself. I’ve got nothing against Coach, I respect him. He’s a great person, and I have all the respect in the world for him.

“Me and him are both competitive. We want to win. We hate losing. We’re on a four-game losing streak, something like that. It’s just us trying to win. At the same time, it’s over with. It’s on to the next game. It’s been like that my whole life. He’s just trying to challenge me, which I accept.”

“There is frustration on our end, having lost four games in a row now,” Malone said. “Just trying to find way to get a win. Winning is a great cure-all for anybody, like it was for (the Clippers) tonight, coming in having lost three in a row. So this is a very competitive game, guys are out there working hard trying to do their best, and sometimes emotions get involved. By no means is there an issue with Emmanuel or anybody else on this team. We are together, we are unified and we’re going to continue to fight to stay together to get this thing turned around.”


These kinds of little flare-ups are a common part of the NBA season — if the Nuggets were not frustrated after losing four straight, it would be a bigger concern. That Mudiay pushed back is some fire I want to see from a rookie.

Mudiay is learning, his turnovers are down of late (although they flared up against Golden State). His shooting is still an issue, and his decision making has a ways to go, but there is progress.  Which is all you can ask of a rookie. And it helps to have a coach who will push him. (And play him in the fourth quarter — Byron Scott, we’re looking at you.)

Rockets conduct “mini training camp” to try and right ship

J.B. Bickerstaff
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One of the reasons Kevin McHale was fired and J.B. Bickerstaff hired last week was the Rockets’ schedule — it got softer, and there were a couple longish breaks (for the NBA) where he could schedule practices and install changes. It gave Bickerstaff a fighting chance for success.

One of those breaks was the past few days. Houston had three days between games after they lost to New York Sunday, Wednesday night against Memphis is the next time they take the court. Bickerstaff used the time to have a “mini training camp” and try to return the team to some basics, he told the Houston Chronicle.

“Our attitude has changed over the past week and a half,” Bickerstaff said. “We’ve taken a more serious approach in what we’re doing. Guys are more disciplined in what we’re doing and they were hungry for that. As a group, we brought them together. That was the first thing they were calling for, some more discipline, more structure and more rules.”


“It was a hard practice,” Jason Terry said. “It was attention to detail. There were consequences for not paying attention to detail. Just getting back to our roots, that’s defense first, executing on offense and making the extra pass. We got to put the work in if we want to get the results. Though we thought we were doing that before, we weren’t doing that enough, obviously. It was good to see. It felt great. Today was a day, mentally we got better.

“The next step is winning basketball games. I believe in this group. If we do the things we practiced the last two days, we were going to put ourselves in great position to win. We’ll have to get that results, but I think we’ll have that opportunity.”

We will see if that carries over Wednesday night. Memphis has been playing better of late as well; this will be a tough test.

The bigger question is can Houston’s leaders — Terry, James Harden, Dwight Howard — make sure this improved foundation carries over a week from now? Then a month from now? Bickerstaff can talk discipline all he wants, he can tweak the rotations — finally separating Harden and Ty Lawson more — and sit guys playing poorly, but if the leaders in the locker room are not the ones keeping everyone in line everything will fall apart. You think Tim Duncan would have allowed the Rockets’ mindless, sloppy start in San Antonio? (Or Tony Parker? Or David West? Or a lot of guys in that locker room?)

There is so much talent on the Houston roster it’s still hard to imagine they don’t get it together and become a playoff team in the West. But whether they are a playoff team to truly fear remains to be seen.

Frank Vogel says Paul George is best two-way player in game

Paul George, John Wall

The moniker of the “best two-way player” sounds more like something an agent made up to gain a little leverage contract negotiations. It’s a nebulous concept. It’s an intentional dig at whomever is perceived as a better player, suggesting they don’t play enough defense.

But it’s part of the NBA lexicon now, and Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel thinks he has the best two-way player in the game in the resurgent Paul George. Tuesday night George dropped 40 points on Wizards and Vogel said this after the game, via the Washington Post.

“It’s tough to quantify in words,” Pacers Coach Frank Vogel said. “I mean, he just does so much. He’s capable of going for 40, carrying the offensive load and being the best defensive player on either team. He’s a special player, and the best two-way player in the game. We’re a different team with him out there.”

Paul George’s return to an elite level of play is one of the best stories of this young NBA season — for nine straight games now he has scored at least 25 points, he has pushed the Pacers to a 9-5 record with a top 10 NBA offense and defense. Tuesday night John Wall talked about how George’s improved jumper has made him a far more dangerous, more difficult to guard player. And he’s still a lock-down defender.

But George is not the best two-way player in the game — that’s Stephen Curry. George does not have the offensive impact that Curry brings to the Warriors, plus Curry has developed into a solid NBA defender. Curry gets steals, plays smart, and is a positive on defense, plus he’s the best offensive player in the league right now.

That doesn’t make the return of Paul George any less fun, any less good for the game. It’s great to see George back. Whatever you want to call him.