Baseline to Baseline recaps: Dallas can still close out games

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What you missed while wondering why a man would try to rob a store wearing only chocolate and peanut butter

Mavericks 96, Clippers 92: What do you need to do to win in tight fourth quarters in the NBA? Execute. For example, don’t turn the ball over — the Clippers has seven fourth quarter turnovers. Or, hit your free throws — Blake Griffin was 2-of-9 from the charity stripe on the night. The Clippers look like a team learning what it means to be elite.

Dallas is finding its footing after a slow start this season, went on an 11-1 run in the fourth quarter because this team still knows how to execute late, and held on for a quality win. Dirk Nowitzki looked like his old self on the way to 22 points. That said, the Clippers had a late look at the win — they made a steal and rather than call timeout pushed the ball up court, had the Dallas defense scrambling in transition and the result was a wide open three to win it for Caron Butler — he was 5-of-10 from beyond the arc in this game but this was one of his misses.

Make no mistake by the way, the Clippers are Chris Paul’s team. He’s in control when on the court (which makes it odd that Vinny Del Negro pulled him when the Clippers made a run to take the lead in the third). Paul is the guy who decides their fate late most nights. And that’s not a bad thing.

Heat 114, Bucks 96: This was about as good a LeBron James performance as you are going to see — 35 points on 16-of-21 shooting as he just destroyed Carlos Delfino. Miami stepped up the defensive pressure in the second half and got out and ran — nobody is stopping James or Dwyane Wade (22 points on 14 shots) in the open court. Delfino did have 24 points but Drew Gooden and Brandon Jennings were taken out of their games.

Sixers 98, Bobcats 89: Charlotte made a game of this behind Kemba Walker’s 14 fourth quarter points — a 12-4 Bobcats run made it a 2 point game with 6:30 left. But in the end, the Sixers rebounded behind Lou Williams 10 points in the fourth (23 overall) and handed the Bobcats their 15th straight loss. Good game from Jrue Holiday, especially early, when he was very aggressive and had 11 of his 19 points.

Magic 102, Timberwolves 89: The Magic started to pull away in the second quarter as their defense tightened up and Jameer Nelson began to exploit the fact he was being covered by the even-smaller J.J. Barea. Nelson also did a good job of setting up Ryan Anderson, who had 10 points in the first half and 13 for the game. Then the Magic started the third quarter on a 10-1 run and Jason Richardson got hot (13 in the quarter, 17 for the game). Good win for Orlando on a night Dwight Howard is quiet due to foul trouble (11 points).

Hornets 86, Jazz 80: Second night of a back-to-back for the Jazz and it showed as they fell apart down the stretch. The loss dropped them to 3-8 on the road this season.  The Utah front line could not contain Chris Kaman, who had 27 points and 13 rebounds — numbers that might boost his trade value.

Warriors 102, Suns 96: That makes three wins in a row for the Warriors, who had guys step up all night long. David Lee sparked the third quarter run when Golden State went from 12 down to make this a tight game (Lee had 15 of his 28 points in the third). Nate Robinson and Klay Thompson hit ke threes to extend the Golden State lead midway through the fourth. Then with less than a minute left and the Warriors up three, a loose ball came to Ekpe Udoh, who drove the lane and finsished with authority to basically seal the win. Marcin Gortat had 25 and Channing Frye 18, but it wasn’t enough.

Coach Tyronn Lue says not to expect LeBron James to have “rest” games

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LeBron James has not missed one Cleveland Cavaliers game this season. At age 33 in his 15th NBA season, LeBron is fourth in the league in total minutes played, third in the league in minutes per game at 37, and is top 10 in the NBA in usage rate.

Don’t expect that to change.

LeBron doesn’t want to take games off — he even dominated the All-Star Game — and do you really think Lue is going to force him to sit while the Cavaliers try to adapt to a radical roster shakeup at the trade deadline? From Dave McMenamin at ESPN.

“I just think being the leader of this team, I don’t think he thinks he can take games off, because, you know, guys being hurt and going through a rough patch, and now new guys coming in,” Lue said before the Cavs’ 112-89 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday. “So, I think he’s trying to lead and lead by example … I think we still got to be smart about the situation, but [the training staff] say he feels good.”

LeBron said this last month and things have not changed.

“I told you I want to play every game,” James said. “If my health continues as it is right now, then that’s what it is.”

While “load management” is a buzzword around the NBA — one ignored in Minnesota — LeBron has responded to his increased workload with an MVP level season. LeBron is averaging 26.5 points, 8.2 rebounds, and 8.9 assists per game, is shooting 35.9 percent from three, and has the highest value over replacement player in the league. (His less energized play in January likely cost him any real shot at his fifth MVP.) With the league emphasizing not resting players — particularly in nationally televised games, which the Cavaliers have a lot of — LeBron is not getting much if any rest. He wants to play in a full 82.

The only concern is will he wear down. LeBron is going to have to dominate in the playoffs for the Cavaliers to come out of the East. How much gas will LeBron have in the tank come May? There’s a reason Gregg Popovich, Steve Kerr, and a lot of other elite coaches give players a night off. That’s not going to happen with LeBron, at least not likely in a meaningful way.

Consider it something to file away and remember if the Cavaliers and LeBron look a step slower in the postseason.

Watch Kyrie Irving drop 31 on Knicks in Celtics’ win

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NEW YORK (AP) — Kyrie Irving had 31 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, leading the Boston Celtics over the New York Knicks 121-112 on Saturday for their second victory in two nights since the All-Star break.

Irving scored 15 points in a dazzling third quarter and then helped the Celtics finish it off with his passing in the fourth, highlighted by a behind-the-back dish to Jaylen Brown for a dunk that made it 115-106.

Brown had 24 points for the Celtics, who went into the break with three straight losses but came back with a victory in Detroit on Friday.

Trey Burke scored 26 points off the bench for the second straight game for the Knicks, but they couldn’t win this one after beating Orlando on Thursday to end an eight-game skid.

Irving was just 1 for 6 behind the arc in the first half but showed no lack of confidence in the third. He scored 14 straight Boston points, hitting four 3-pointers and pushing the ball right at the Knicks.

His last 3-pointer in that spurt gave the Celtics a 10-point lead, but the Knicks chipped away while he rested and it was a two-point game by the time he returned with 8:14 remaining.

Irving soon made another 3, and passed to Al Horford for a 3 that pushed the lead back to double digits.

Horford finished with 13 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Damian Lillard scores 40, hits game-winner to beat Suns (VIDEO)

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PHOENIX (AP) — Passing the ball inbounds at a critical time proved too big a challenge for the sputtering Phoenix Suns. So, Damian Lillard got one final chance.

Of course, he came through.

Lillard scored 40 points, the last two on a driving layup with nine-tenths of a second to play, and the Portland Trail Blazers rallied from 15 down in the final 7 1/2 minutes to beat Phoenix 106-104 on Saturday night, the Suns’ ninth straight loss.

Lillard called it one of his “more significant performances” of the season.

“Obviously, Damian was huge, showed his leadership, showed his talent,” Portland coach Terry Stotts said. “We overcame a horrendous shooting night for most of the night and found a way.”

Lillard, who scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, got the final chance because Phoenix’s Troy Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds on a five-second call that turned possession over to Portland with 20.6 seconds to play.

“We knew they didn’t have any time outs left,” Stotts said, “so we gave it a shot and made some good reads and didn’t give them any outlets.”‘

Devin Booker scored 30 points for the Suns, losers of 14 of their last 15.

His two free throws gave Phoenix its biggest lead, 93-78, with 7:26 to play. Lillard triggered the subsequent 18-4 outburst that caught the Suns at 97-97 on his 3-point play. Booker’s fifth and final 3-pointer gave the Suns a 100-97 lead with 2:19 to go. Lillard’s 3 tied it at 100 with 1:10 left.

Booker’s powerful driving basket put Phoenix up 104-102 with 33.6 seconds to go. But, after a timeout, Lillard’s step-back 15-footer tied it at 104-104 with 28 seconds left. The Suns called time out to set up the play but, on the sidelines, Daniels couldn’t get the ball inbounds for the five-second call.

“We had no timeouts. I didn’t see anybody open. If I did, I would have thrown it obviously,” Daniels said. “I’ve been in that position a lot of times, but like I said, it’s tough to be in that position when you have no timeouts. You learn from and you get it better.”

On the play, Portland’s CJ McCollum said “I just tried to take away Booker.”

“I saw how they were set up and I just guarded him normal and when I turned and saw him run toward half-court I just shaded toward him,” McCollum said.

Booker never broke open, Daniels decided not to chance it, and the last opportunity was gifted to Portland.

“There was 20 seconds left and I just wanted to make sure I got the last shot,” Lillard said. “I really just wanted to get the clock down, keep it towards half-court where it is further out and I can get downhill. I took a peek, the clock was at six and I got downhill.”

The Blazers, coming off a win at Utah the previous night, have won three straight and five of six.

The game was tied 10 times before Portland finished the first half with a 7-2 spurt take a 55-50 lead at the break.

But the Suns turned it on in the third quarter, outscoring the cold-shooting Blazers 31-16. Portland scored the first five of the second half to take its biggest lead, 60-50. But Phoenix overwhelmed the Trail Blazers 29-5 to go up 79-65 on Booker’s 3.

 

Russell Westbrook, Paul George call out Zaza Pachulia for “dirty” fall on Westbrook

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Zaza Pachulia has a reputation. The league even created a rule — the “Zaza rule”  — after he stepped under Kawhi Leonard last playoffs and twisted the forward’s ankle, ending Leonard’s playoffs and the Spurs chances.

Then Saturday night, as the Warriors pulled away in the second half and routed the Thunder, this play happened, where Pachulia fell on Westbrook’s leg.

While there was some contact, was that really enough to knock Pachulia over? It doesn’t look like it, it looks intentional, but remember Pachulia falls into a lot of guys — including Kevin Durant last season. This, however, was ugly.

After the game Westbrook and Paul George called Pachulia out.

Even the Celtics’ Kyrie Irving chipped in on this.

It will be interesting to see if the league does follow up. There is some history here.