Baseline to Baseline recaps: Dirk Nowitzki is still good

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What you missed while trying to find something to watch now that Downton Abbey is over…..

Nets 100, Knicks 92: Deron Williams would like you to know he is the best point guard in the greater New York area, and will be next year when the Nets move to Brooklyn (unless he leaves to play in Dallas). Anyway, this is our game of the night.

Mavericks 89, Celtics 73: Dirk Nowitzki re-entered midway through the second quarter, proceeded to score 14 of his 26, with that Dallas pulled away from Boston and never looked back. No real shock as Boston was without Kevin Garnett (personal reasons), Brandon Bass (knee) and Rajon Rondo (suspension). Add in the fact Jermaine O’Neal and Chris Wilcox got injured (and are likely out for Oklahoma City) and Boston had little chance. Still, All Hail Dirk!

Bulls 90, Hawks 79: Derrick Rose returned to the lineup and scored 23, but that was not the reason the Bulls won. This was about Chicago’s defense, which had Atlanta second-guessing its every shot and decision. The Hawks hesitated, they faked, and that gets you in a lot of trouble against the aggressive Bulls. Carlos Boozer had 16 points including some key threes in the second quarter to help the Bulls pull away.

Rockets 97, Grizzlies 93: Remember that the Grizzlies traded Kyle Lowry for the draft pick that became Mike Conley. Lowry always gets up for the Grizzlies and he had 24 points (on 17 shots) and 9 assists to lead the Rockets. Kevin Martin added 22 and Patrick Patterson had a good game for Houston.

Magic 93, Bucks 90: It seems odd to criticize Dwight Howard after a 28 point, 16 rebound performance — which included him stealing the ball from Brandon Jennings and scoring on the one-man fast break at one point — but we can’t help ourselves. His defensive effort is inconsistent. He is so talented he puts up numbers, but it’s hard to watch him and think he is fully invested. Ryan Anderson had the go-ahead three for the Magic in what was a close game. Jennings had 22 for the Bucks.

Thunder 101, Hornets 93: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant only combined for 62 points in this game. Slackers. This game was not as close as the final score would indicate — OKC led 60-38 at the half and by as many as 26 at points, then got bored and let New Orleans make it close late. But the talent gap in this one was HUGE.

Suns 104, Wizards 88: This game was tied early in the third quarter, but Phoenix went to a zone defense that confounded Washington, and the Suns wen on a 31-7 run and that was it. The Wizards can vacillate between good play and moments of horrible decision making so quickly, that was something the Suns happily exploited. Marcin Gortat had 20, Steve Nash had 12 points and 11 assists.

Nuggets 103, Timberwolves 101 (OT): Kenneth Faried had a good game, locked up on Kevin Love he held the All-Star forward to 7-of-22 shooting and 22 points. But Love had key free throws at the end of regulation thanks to an Al Harrington foul — Harrington had 31 and was taking on the scoring load for the Nuggets in the first half and finished with 31. This entire game had that tired-legged lockout feel to it.

Ty Lawson tweaked his ankle again, which could be bad for Denver.

Spurs 106, Jazz 102: The way the Spurs will make the extra pass is a thing of beauty— as they did up two with less than 10 seconds left, the game in the balance, and Gary Neal passed up a good look to get Richard Jefferson a great look at a three that he nailed to seal the win with six seconds left. The Jazz tried to exploit the Spurs in the paint — they outscored San Antonio by 26 in there — but Tony Parker was again the difference with 23 points and 11 assists.

Lakers 103, Trail Blazers 92: The Lakers were in total control of this one from the start, up 22 after the first quarter (29-7, Portland shot 18 percent in the opening frame) and by as much as 30 at times. The Lakers got the ball inside, the Blazers defense collapsed and the Lakers exploited them inside and on the perimeter. The Blazers made a late run to make the final score more respectable, but it was never close. Kobe Bryant had 28 to lead the Lakers.

Warriors 104, Clippers 97: When Monta Ellis is hot like he was in this game, the Warriors have a puncher’s chance against any team on a given night. The Clippers were up 2 with 2:10 left in the game, but a Brandon Rush three-pointer sparked a 9-0 Warrior run to end the game. This is the second poor closeout of a game by the Clippers in a row, and they could use the steady hand of Chauncey Billups late in games. Ellis had 32, Ekpe Udoh had a career high 19.

DeMarcus Cousins ejected after elbowing Russell Westbrook in head

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DeMarcus Cousins‘ history of flagrant fouls certainly didn’t help him here, but if anyone elbows a guy in the head, he’s going to get tossed.

And that’s what Cousins did here.

Midway through the third quarter in New Orleans, Cousins blocked a putback attempt by Russell Westbrook, then grabbed the rebound. Westbrook tried to reach in across Cousins’ body for the steal, and Cousins cleared out space with his elbow — right to Westbrook’s head. Cousins walked around saying “no, no, no” afterward, and he likely thinks the officials had it out for him here because he was just getting a guy off him, but we go back to the original point — elbow a guy in the head, get tossed. The league is cracking down on blows above the neck. Westbrook did not leave the game.

The Pelicans went on to come from 19 down to win the game 114-107, behind 36 points and 15 boards from Anthony Davis.

Damn, Paul George with the in-game bounce pass alley-oop to Jerami Grant

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The game has been close (as of midway through the third quarter), but that didn’t stop Oklahoma City from putting on a show in New Orleans.

Paul George had the ball on a 2-on-0 fast break and decided to throw the playground bounce-pass alley-oop, which Jerami Grant got up and finished with authority. This could be one of the dunks of the year.

We’re going to see that highlight for a while.

Jusuf Nurkic’s agent says big man wants to stay in Portland this summer

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Last season, after his trade from frustrated backup big in Denver to new starter in Portland, there was a honeymoon — the Blazers went 14-6, their defense was better, and Nurkic was a big man setting big picks for quick guards in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.

This season the honeymoon is over, things have been up and down, but far from time to say the marriage should end, as he is a free agent next summer. Nurkic is the only real starting center on the roster (even if coach Terry Stotts left him on the bench in the fourth quarter in favor of Ed Davis a few games back). Nurkic is averaging 14.6 points and 7.2 rebounds a game, and the Blazers’ defense is 1.5 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court. However, his effort level has been up and down, and his shot is off, with a true shooting percentage of just 49.4, and he is shooting just 56.6 percent in the restricted area.

Nurkic wants to stay in Portland, his agent told Ben Golliver in a story at Sports Illustrated (that story is worth the read for the Nurkic origin story, which is amazing).

“I feel like the Blazers are very happy with Jusuf and Jusuf is very happy there,” Tesch, the agent, told The Crossover by telephone this week. “We had some [extension] talks but we decided to play it out this year and engage in talks again in July. He has already proven that he can help the team. There is a fit for Jusuf in Portland and he’s looking to stay there long-term.”

The two sides talked extension before the season, but Portland understandably wanted to make sure there was more to this relationship than just a honeymoon. It gave Nurkic a chance to drive up his asking price.

Portland and Nurkic likely will find a long-term deal next summer because it just makes sense for both sides. There are not a lot of teams with max free agent money next summer (4-6, I was told by an insider), or a lot of money to spend in general, and both DeAndre Jordan and DeMarcus would be centers on the market who rank ahead of Nurkic. Portland will offer more than other free agent destinations, if not as much as Nurkic dreamed of, and they will find common ground.

But there is a lot of season to play out before then. The Blazers feel like a team that should be better than its record so far, and Nurkic is part of that untapped potential. If things change, that’s good for Nurkic — and the Blazers.

Celtics look to push win streak to 16 vs. Mavs

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DALLAS (AP) — The Boston Celtics aren’t yet halfway to the NBA record for consecutive victories, a mark the 1971-72 Los Angeles Lakers still hold, but at 15 in a row, they are in rare territory.

Since 1946-47, there have only been 35 instances of a 15-game win streak or longer. And of all the legendary Celtics teams, this squad already holds the franchise’s fifth-longest win streak. A victory Monday night against the Dallas Mavericks, who are an NBA-worst 3-14 overall and 2-8 at American Airlines Center, would tie the 1964-65 Boston team’s 16-game win streak.

If the Celtics (15-2) get the win, they would climb closer to the 1959-60 team’s 18-game win streak, and then comes the club mark of 19 in a row accomplished by the 2008-09 team.

This version of the Celtics has to be considered the most unexpected to string together so many wins. The team has a slew of new players, starting with guard Kyrie Irving, and Boston lost another prized newcomer, forward Gordon Hayward, in the season opener.

After starting 0-2, Boston hasn’t lost. Yet, it’s not exactly as if the Celtics are steamrolling the league. For the Mavericks, who are coming off snapping the Milwaukee Bucks’ four-game win streak Saturday, the fact that Boston has actually had to rally to get a handful of its wins must be seen as an opportunity to steal a decision.

In fact, four of the Celtics’ victories during the streak have come after Boston trailed by 16 points, including a 110-109 win against the Atlanta Hawks on Saturday.

“Most of us have never been on a winning streak like this,” Irving said following the win over Atlanta. “I don’t know if we even know how to pay attention to all the hoopla that goes on in terms of the excitement of it. I just think that every single game we take it as a challenge.”

Irving has been accepting that challenge with tremendous success after asking to be traded away from Cleveland, where he won one title with LeBron James and lost twice in the NBA Finals to the Golden State Warriors.

He closed out those same Warriors last week, scoring 11 of the last 15 points in the final 4:21. The clutch play has Irving already being talked about as an MVP candidate.

“He’s so good in those moments that you want to give him the appropriate amount of room,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens told the Boston Globe about Irving. “Maybe it’s finding a matchup. Maybe it’s creating a two-man game with Al (Horford).”

Irving will be a major test for Mavs rookie point guard Dennis Smith Jr., who has displayed some tremendous flashes while also showing he is a green 19-year-old with one season of college ball under his belt.

Dallas, one of the league’s lowest-scoring offensive teams, is relying heavily on Smith and Harrison Barnes to carry the load. Dirk Nowitzki, 39, has dropped off significantly, averaging just 10.3 points a game, his lowest output since his rookie season in 1998-99.

Unlike the Celtics, Dallas has lost its share of games by being unable to close out games late. On Saturday, the Mavericks won a rare game going away, blitzing the Bucks with a franchise-tying 19 3-pointers. Guard Wesley Matthews said he thinks all the hard work is starting to pay off.

The history-chasing Celtics will put that claim to test.

“We can actually see everything that we’ve been trying to do come together, and hopefully that just carries the momentum into the off day where everybody’s feeling good,” Matthews said after Dallas’ victory. “We’ve got another tough battle Monday against Boston, who is the hottest team in the league right now, but it’s another opportunity for us.”