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.

PBT Extra: Can Toronto threaten Cleveland, LeBron James in second round?

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There are a few reasons to think the Toronto Raptors can push and maybe even upset the Cleveland Cavaliers in their second round playoff series that starts Monday. For one, they went six games last playoffs and this is a deeper, more versatile Raptors team with Serge Ibaka as the power forward/center, P.J. Tucker coming off the bench, and the emergence of guys like Norman Powell. The Raptors have a great backcourt in Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. And, the Cavaliers were not a focused or good defensive team in the first round.

On the other side of the ledger, the Cavaliers have LeBron James.

I break down this series in the latest PBT Extra.

Three things to watch: Boston Celtics vs. Washington Wizards

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1. How much will these teams’ disdain for each other color the series?

Back in January, the Wizards wore all black for a figurative funeral while arriving for a game against the Celtics then buried Boston in a 123-108 win.

But the Celtics are still alive and ready for the next stage in a rivalry that has included:

Both teams appear primed for more hijinks. The Wizards taunted the Hawks throughout their first-round series, and Boston crossed the line with the Bulls.

2. Which team is actually better?

The Wizards outpaced the Celtics in my adjusted-for-playoff-rotation rankings before the postseason began. But getting a clear picture of who’s in the teams’ playoff rotations and counting the first round turns the tables.

Here’s both teams’ offensive, defensive and net ratings from the regular season to counting only lineups (regular season and first round) comprised of five players projected to be in the teams’ rotation this series:

1. Boston Celtics

  • Offensive rating: 112.4 to 116.2
  • Defensive rating: 109.8 to 110.4
  • Net rating: +2.6 to +5.8

4. Washington Wizards

  • Offensive rating: 111.7 to 115.6
  • Defensive rating:  110.0 to 110.5
  • Net rating: +1.7 to +5.1

Even with the flaws in these numbers – small sample sizes and no control for competition – the question of which team will put a better team on the floor in this series isn’t everything. Boston has home-court advantage, and that matters.

The complete updated playoff-rotation-adjusted ratings will be released Monday, after the first round ends.

3. How will the MVP-vote-getting point guards match up?

Both the Celtics and Wizards are reasonably deep, but good luck keeping your eyes off their star point guards. Isaiah Thomas and John Wall both received fifth-place MVP votes, tributes to their importance to their teams.

Thomas is Boston’s lone reliable scorer, and that brings a heavy fourth-quarter burden – which he has answered all year. Even when opponents know he’ll get the ball, they haven’t stopped him. Wall also drives Washington’s offense, though he does it with a more balanced passing and scoring attack throughout the game.

But Wall’s primary argument for superiority over other big-name point guards – including Thomas – is his defense. The 6-foot-4 Wall will have an opportunity to show that against the 5-foot-9 Thomas. Likewise, Thomas has a chance to pester Wall enough to show the defensive gap isn’t too wide.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.