Baseline to Baseline recaps: Night of the living game-winning shot

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What you missed while realizing you figured out who is going to win the Darwin Award this year….

Sixers 103, Celtics 71: This battle for the top spot in the Atlantic division — and the four seed at least in the playoffs, allowing a team to avoid Miami and Chicago in the first round — was our game of the night. Although it wasn’t much of a game.

Wizards 106, Lakers 101: Lakers fans aren’t just reaching for the panic button, they are pounding it.

Los Angeles was in control of this one, coming out with renewed energy after an ugly loss in Detroit Tuesday. They pulled away in the second quarter with everyone contributing — Steve Blake the shooter came in and got 6 assists and no turnovers. Oh, that Kobe Bryant guy was pretty good, too, he had 14 in the first quarter and 20 for the half. Early in third the Lakers were up 21 and cruising.

But a 22-4 third quarter run changed everything. It was one sparked not by the Wizards stars (John Wall was awful, as Mike Prada at SBN noted, length bothers him and the Lakers are nothing if not long). No it was Nick Young and guys like Shelvin Mack, Trevor Booker and even Kevin Seraphin who dominated the Lakers bench. Mike Brown tried to ride Kobe Bryant but was 1-for-10 in the fourth quarter. Kobe had 30 points for the game but was 9-of-31 shooting to get there. In an age-old story Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined for 38 points on 12-of-18 shooting but the Lakers didn’t feed them enough, especially when things got tight.

From this, we bring you the funniest play of the night:

Bulls 106, Bucks 104: This game was pretty close the entire way, with Ersan Ilyasova keeping the Bucks within arms reach thanks to his 32, plus Drew Gooden had 16 in the first quarter and finished with 27. But really, all we need to do is show you the last two of Derrick Rose’s 30.

Nets 101, Clippers 100: Yes, the Nets won this on Jordan Farmar’s three in the final seconds, but they deserved this win — New Jersey led most of the way. If the Clippers won this they would have stolen it behind a great hustling effort from Blake Griffin (28 points, 17 rebounds, the Nets had nobody who could contain him). The Clippers defensive rotations were poor all night long so it’s fitting nobody rotated out on Farmar for the game winner. The Clippers are still learning how to be an elite team, about bringing effort every night on the road. Deron Williams had 21, MarShon Brooks 19.

Heat 89, Hawks 86: With the game on the line in a close, playoff-style game Wednesday night Dwyane Wade passed — twice to Udonis Haslem and once to Chris Bosh, all in the final 1:10. They each hit their shots and the Heat got the win. All of which is to say that the Heat are what they are — not a team of guys playing hero ball, rather a team of guys trying to make smart basketball plays. It gets them a lot of wins. Joe Johnson was out for the Hawks with his knee still bothering him.

Timberwolves 106, Trail Blazers 94: Minnesota’s win combined with a Houston loss moves Minny into the eighth playoff spot in the West. Making the postseason would be a huge accomplishment. Portland lived by Raymond Felton and the jumper in the first half and died by it when they shot 35 percent in the third quarter. Kevin Love had 29, Luke Ridnour took advantage of unimpressive Blazers perimeter defense for 22.

Raptors 116, Rockets 98: Houston falls out of the eighth spot in the West with the loss. This was a schedule makers loss — the Rockets just faded in the fourth quarter on the second night of a road back-to-back. Toronto went on a 25-5 run in the fourth to seal the win.

Jazz 99, Bobcats 93: You didn’t really expect a winning streak for Charlotte, did you? Utah took control of this game in the third and only a too-late 8-0 run by Charlotte made it look close. Al Jefferson had 31 for Utah; Corey Maggette had 25 for Charlotte.

Thunder 115, Suns 104: Another day, another come-from-behind win for Oklahoma City. Thanks to a dozen first quarter points from Marcin Gorat the Suns took control early and led by as many as 16 in the third. But midway through that quarter the Thunder went on a 16-4 run, and we had a ballgame. In the fourth it was what you expect from the Thunder — Kevin Durant with 12, Russell Westbrook with 9 and James Harden finished with 8.

Spurs 118, Knicks 115: The Spurs are Tony Parker’s team right now, he had 32 points and is playing the best of the San Antonio big three — the Spurs are following his lead. He is playing with incredible confidence. On the flip side, the Knicks are no longer Jeremy Lin’s team — they are Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire’s — and it shows in his game (Lin had 20 points, but 8 came in garbage time at the end). No Tyson Chandler so the Spurs owned the paint all night, Tim Duncan had 17. Anthony had 27 for the Knicks but was his black hole self, stopping the ball on offense all night long.

Cavaliers 100, Nuggets 98: Kyrie Irving, ladies and gentlemen. He had 10 of the Cavaliers final 12 points and seemed to get into the lane with ease all night long. It was not exactly Denver’s finest defensive performance of the year. Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo could not stay in front of him all night long. Antawn Jamison dropped 33 on Denver also. I’m guessing George Karl swore a lot after this one.

Grizzlies 110, Warriors 92: Good play inside beats good play outside. Not that Memphis doesn’t have some perimeter players — Rudy Gay had 10 in the fourth quarter and 26 overall to lead the Griz — but Marc Gasol is the kind of big man Golden State needs. Memphis took control of this game with an 11-0 run in the third and never looked back.

Kings 99, Hornets 98: Kings fans had been celebrating the new arena deal, not much on the court of late, they needed a win to pump up the crowd. They got one thanks to Isaiah Thomas’ defense.

Memphis pays tribute to Zach Randolph as he returns to FedEx Forum

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Zach Randolph found his career around in Memphis.

He had fantastic on-the-court years in Portland, then bounced to New York and Los Angeles, but it was in Memphis that he became a beloved figure in the community who embraced it, plus on the court played a big role in the best years in the Grizzlies franchise.

He took the bigger check in Sacramento last summer, and when he returned to FedEx Forum in a Kings uniform Friday he was greeted with nothing but love.

🙌🏽 The @memgrizz pay tribute to @macbo50! #ThisIsWhyWePlay

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Randolph has earned this. Hope he savored it.

 

 

Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins: All-Star nods bode well for Pelicans pairing

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins figure they’ve proved they can co-exist to spectacular and prolific effect.

Both big men have been named All-Star starters, giving them hope they’ll be paired together beyond this season, which is Cousins’ last under contract.

“First time I’ve ever been in an All-Star game with a teammate,” the 6-foot-11 Cousins noted after practice on Friday, one day after All-Star starters were announced. “This is big for the entire city, the organization and just our team moving forward. It kind of shows what this combo has the potential to have.”

The 6-10 Davis, who was the Pelicans’ lone All-Star last season, sounded equally pleased by the results a decision by New Orleans to counter the trend of guard-heavy “small ball” by pairing dynamic big men who can dominate inside, handle the ball and shoot with range.

“The biggest question was, was it going to work? I think we just proved that it is and it can work,” Davis said. “We feel like we complement each other.”

The 24-year old Davis is averaging 26.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game. Cousins, 27, has averaged 25.3 points, 12.7 rebounds, 5.1 assists and 1.6 blocks. Their exploits have filled highlight reels, sometimes on plays involving one setting up the other – above the rim or otherwise.

“I’m mostly happy for DeMarcus,” Davis said. “To be a starter, that’s huge – huge for him. He’s having a hell of a season. It’s well deserved.”

The comparable production from both Davis and Cousins shows that “both of those guys are willing to sacrifice for the betterment of the team,” coach Alvin Gentry said. “Both of those guys are willing to leave a little bit of their game off the floor so the other guy can be good.”

There’s just one problem.

New Orleans hasn’t won enough to be firmly on a path toward postseason play.

At 23-21, the Pelicans entered Friday night’s action tied with the Los Angeles Clippers for seventh in the eight-team Western Conference playoff picture.

The Pelicans’ past two results were a microcosm of their season. On Tuesday night, New Orleans beat Eastern Conference-leading Boston. The following night, they lost at Atlanta, which entered the game with the worst record in the NBA.

“We’ve had flashes throughout the year,” Cousins said. “We’re still trying to find that consistency. There’s still a lot of things we need to work.”

Cousins acknowledged the Pelicans have yet to master “being the team we want to be at all times … no matter if we’re playing Golden State or the Atlanta Hawks.”

The Pelicans have yet to string more than three consecutive victories together this season and had developed a habit of losing to teams with losing records well before their Atlanta collapse. New Orleans has dropped home dates with Orlando, Sacramento, Dallas and New York. They’ve lost twice at Memphis.

If that trend continues, it could sour Cousins on the prospect of re-signing with New Orleans.

“I wasn’t really concerned about accolades. I’ve gotten accolades. I’ve done everything except win,” said Cousins, who spent his first seven seasons in Sacramento before his trade to the Pelicans following the 2017 All-Star game in New Orleans. “With the whole (trade) going down, what I thought I had a chance to do was win, and that’s why I was OK with it.”

Still, Cousins sounded confident he won’t be dealt to another club when asked if he liked the league’s decision to move up the trade deadline to Feb. 8 this season, before the All-Star break.

“I don’t really care because I don’t think I’m getting traded,” Cousins said. “Hopefully I’ve never got to deal with it again.”

If the Pelicans aren’t able to make a major addition with a trade, they could get a boost from the expected return of small forward Solomon Hill from an offseason hamstring tear. Valued by the club for his defense, Hill, a former starter, is scheduled to return for the final month or so off the regular season.

In any event, the Pelicans have 38 games to make their push, starting at home Saturday night against Memphis.

 

Thunder’s Paul George finding his role, doing a little bit of everything for new team

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder coach Billy Donovan can’t pinpoint the best thing about Paul George.

Oklahoma City’s versatile forward averages just over 20 points per game, leads the league in steals and is third in 3-point goals while shooting 43 percent from beyond the arc.

“I think that’s what makes him the player he is,” Donovan said. “There’s a lot of players in the league that are great offensive players, but they’re not great defensive players. I think arguably, it would be hard to make a case either way of what end of the floor he’s better on, offense or defense, because he’s that special.”

George believes he’s having an All-Star season in first year with Oklahoma City after being traded from the Indiana Pacers. There have been challenges as he has tried to fit in with superstars Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony and it’s still unclear where he will play next season because of his upcoming free agency.

Still, he has remained focused enough to be a top-notch performer. As he has found his way, the Thunder have rallied from an 8-12 start and have gone 17-8 since heading into Saturday’s game at Cleveland.

“He can score it, attack the rim and he defends,” Lakers rookie guard Kyle Kuzma said. “Anytime you do that, you’re going to be a pretty damn good player.”

George was first team All-Defense in 2014 and second-team in 2013 and 2016, and he was a defensive stopper for Team USA when it won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. He says without hesitation that he wants to be Defensive Player of the Year this season and feels he should have won the award in the past.

“I think I have the makeup, I think I have the intangibles,” George told The Associated Press. “I’m physically capable of doing the things necessary. I thought 2013-14 I thought I was hands down the best perimeter defender on the league and I thought I was overlooked.”

George is averaging a career-best 2.2 steals per game. Having another top-notch perimeter defender in Andre Roberson to share some of the responsibility allows him to gamble more than in the past. He also credits carrying less of the offensive load.

“It gives me more energy, not having to create or generate offense every possession,” George said. “I can conserve energy that way. It allows me to really ramp up the defense on the other end, which is another reason why I’ve been able to accumulate so many steals. I have the energy, the endurance to keep flying around and keep being productive.”

An example of his all-around play this season was a five-steal performance against the Sacramento Kings. He made just 7 of 17 shots but was a critical factor in Oklahoma City’s win.

He hasn’t always emphasized defense, but he was forced to as a rookie for the Pacers during the 2010-11 season. Frank Vogel took over as coach at midseason and saw enough grit and improvement on that end to insert him into the starting lineup in March. He came of age during the playoff series that season against the Chicago Bulls when he faced league MVP Derrick Rose. George gave up some points, but he battled and helped the Pacers hold Rose to 37 percent shooting in the series.

“My mindset was I knew I was outmatched from a standpoint of staying in front of him,” George said. “That’s what really got me going in trying to think things through, trying to see what I can do that can disrupt the MVP. I tried to use my length. I tried to make it as hard as possible. I knew he was going to get his 20s, get his 30s, but how can I make it as hard as possible, and how can I wear this guy down? You’re not going to be able to shut down a guy like that at that stage.”

From that point, George embraced the role of defensive stopper while evolving into an all-around offensive player. He was the league’s Most Improved Player in 2013 and made the first of his four All-Star appearances. Last season, he averaged a career-best 23.7 points for the Pacers. Now, he can still create when needed and he has learned to be more of a catch-and-shoot scorer.

“He’s a beast out there,” Kings guard Buddy Hield said. “He’s great. He can score the ball from three, the mid-range and the post. He’s tough to guard so you have to pick your poison with him, and it’s hard to do.”

Three Kemba Walker trades that could work for both sides

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Kemba Walker doesn’t want to be traded.

Michael Jordan and the Charlotte front office are exploring the idea anyway.

As they should. The Hornets are stuck in the NBA’s purgatory of a middle-ground with one All-Star level player in Walker and not enough around him to make this team a threat. The Hornets are 17.3 points per 100 possessions better when Walker is on the court — when he plays they look like a borderline playoff team, when he sits they are a disaster. Because of some big contracts, that situation is not likely to change. Charlotte may finally be proactive with this — trade Walker but attach a bad contract to it, and get some pieces to jump-start a rebuild back. That’s less than ideal in a smaller market like Charlotte, but it’s the right basketball move — test the market and see if they can get an offer that works for them.

Here are three potential trades that would fit the parameters being discussed. These are not likely, but this is the kind of deals that we would see.

Kemba Walker to the New York Knicks

Charlotte gets: Frank Ntilikina, Ron Baker, and either Jarrett Jack or Lance Thomas

New York gets: Kemba Walker

The ups and downs of slowly rebuilding do not play well in New York — and right now they are in a downward spin after a fast start to the season. Still, the Knicks are just 2.5 games out of the playoffs in the East and Walker instantly puts them back in the playoff conversation. Walker gives New York another shot creator and scoring threat, someone to run pick-and-pops with Kristaps Porzingis, set up Tim Hardaway Jr., and just improve an offense that is middle of the pack. For the Hornets, they get the point guard of the future in Ntilikina, one building block as they move forward. This might be the best deal for the Hornets — if the Knicks would consider moving Ntilikina. That is far from certain.

Kemba Walker to the Detroit Pistons

Charlotte gets: Reggie Jackson, Stanley Johnson, draft picks, plus some other players to make the salaries fit such as Anthony Tolliver.

Detroit gets: Walker and Marvin Williams.

The promise of the Jackson/Andre Drummond connection in Detroit has faded, and Walker would bring the spark and scoring that the Pistons need to be a real threat come the postseason. I like this for Detroit, but less so because Jackson has two-years, $35 million left on his contract after next season, and that’s a lot of money to take on for a team trying to strip it down. That said, if the Hornets think they can develop Johnson on offense (he’s good defensively, a black hole on offense) and the picks are good, they should consider it.

Kemba Walker to the Cleveland Cavaliers

Charlotte gets: Isaiah Thomas, the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick (plus another player to make the money work such as Channing Frye

Cleveland gets: Kemba Walker, maybe another deep bench player to round out the salary.

This seems the longest shot. Cleveland wants to upgrade their backcourt, that’s why they are talking to Sacramento about George Hill. However, the talk around the league is the Cavaliers are not moving that Brooklyn pick for anything less than a total game changer who makes them a real threat to Golden State. Is that Walker? Probably not. This is also probably not a move Cleveland makes unless it thinks Thomas is not going to get back to All-Star level performance, but if they think that’s not going to happen this would be a serious upgrade. The Hornets would do this to get the Nets pick, giving them a couple of lottery picks (their own is the other) in this draft to start a rebuild.