Baseline to Baseline recaps: Hope in Orlando… maybe

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What you missed while suddenly caring about what happens to Western Kentucky’s basketball team….

Magic 104, Heat 98 (OT): Let’s not read too much into one game. I know Dwight Howard is talking about wanting to stay and contend with this team, but I’m not on board with them as contenders yet.

That said, they were down 14 to the Heat and did not roll over. They fought back. We all know Howard is a beast — 25 points, 26 and he even hit some key free throws late. The question has always been who else could create shots and get points on the Magic. Well Jameer Nelson had 25 points and showed that when on he is a force. For a night they were good enough.

Chris Bosh had a quality 23, Dwyane Wade had 28.

Lakers 116, Grizzlies 111 (2OT): This would be a fun first round playoff series. All the other teams in the West playoffs would love to see it, too — please pit the two best front lines in the West against each other and let them beat each other up and not us.

The Grizzlies are still without one of their key front line guys in Zach Randolph, but Marreese Speights stepped up and had 25 points, many of those knocking down midrange jumpers. Which was more than we can say for O.J. Mayo, whose 7-for-25 (and 0-for-8 from three) really shot Memphis out of the second overtime.

But the best big on the court was Andrew Bynum — 37 points on 18 shots, plus 16 rebounds. The Lakers ran a great set with a wing pick-and-pop where Kobe Bryant was the ball handler and Pau Gasol did the pop. The Grizzlies would trap Kobe, he would slide the ball to Gasol who would take steps toward the basket, when the help defender would come off Bynum on the weak side Gasol would throw a lob and Bynum threw it down. The Grizzlies had no answer.

Rockets 104, Thunder 103: This felt like a lot of other Thunder games — it was close most of the way, then midway through the fourth quarter they pulled away. James Harden was orchestrating the offense (and had 9 points in the fourth) and a 16-2 run had the Thunder up 9 inside of three minutes left. Then a 13-4 run by the Rockets to end the game gave them the win. Oklahoma City normally plays its best defense late in games but the Rockets were getting to the rim and getting open looks from three. And hitting the shots. Meanwhile the Thunder went away from Harden and struggled to score.

In the middle of that run the Russell Westbook got frustrated with Goran Dragic and picked up a technical. One point. Lots for the Thunder to regret at the end of this one.

Nuggets 118, Hawks 117 (OT): The most entertaining game of the night. There was a real, back-and-forth, “anything you can do I can do better” feel to it. Of course, nobody is doing anything better than Gallinari’s three that we thought would be the game winner at the end of regulation, which was flat out ridiculous. But this game had a lot of highlights. Josh Smith’s jumper was falling and when that happens he cannot be stopped, he finished with 33 points, 13 boards and seven assists. I feel bad for Zaza Pachulia — that was a great play call to catch a Nuggets team that can fall asleep on defense at the end of the overtime, and he just missed the layup.

Raptors 96, Cavaliers 88: Toronto took control of this game in the second quarter (when the shot 72 percent) and never let it go, thanks to good games from Andrea Bargnani (19 points) and Jerryd Bayless (filling in for Jose Calderon).

Pacers 92, Trail Blazers 75: Oh, Portland, what has happened to you? Indiana is a good team with good big men, but Portland let them turn the paint into their own private playground at both ends of the court. And the Blazers had five — just 5 — assists all game. On top of it all, Marcus Camby left the game with a shoulder injury. Good win for the Pacers, but we had such hopes for Portland early in the season.

Mavericks 107, Wizards 98: This was the kind of win Dallas needed, where they simply overwhelmed and inferior and less disciplined team. They didn’t do it well — a 10-0 Washington run in the third and a 10-3 one in the fourth kept it close, but the Mavericks were in control. Dirk Nowitzki had 27 points, Jason Terry 24.

Warriors 115, Kings 89: Call it the Ewing Theory, a trade bump, whatever you want — earlier in the day Golden State shipped half their team (it seemed) away and they came out as the more motivated and cohesive team. David Lee and Nate Robinson each had 17 and Charles Jenkins had 9 of his 15 in the fourth quarter for Golden State. Six Warriors were in double digits, it was a real team effort from a team that was shaken up earlier in the day.

Shaq on free throws: ‘I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand’

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Rick Barry famously made 90% of his free throws while shooting underhand.

Shaquille O’Neal infamously shot just 53% on his free throws, inspiring hack-a-Shaq.

Why didn’t Shaq use Barry’s technique?

Shaq, via Emmanuel Ocbazghi, Noah Friedman and Graham Flanagan of Business Insider:

Shaquille O’Neal: Because it’s boring.

Business Insider: But it’s been proven to be somewhat effective.

O’Neal: No, it’s not. It’s not proven. Just ’cause a couple guys did it doesn’t mean anybody can do it.

I told Rick Barry I’d rather shoot 0% than shoot underhand. I’m too cool for that.

O’Neal is somewhat trying to protect his larger-than-life, jokester image. But he’s also speaking to truth.

Barry would have been a good free-throw shooter overhand, too. Shooting underhand wasn’t necessarily going to fix Shaq’s problems at the line. Just because it worked for Barry doesn’t make it a “proven” technique.

Yet, every poor free-throw shooter – from Shaq to Andre Drummond to Andre Roberson – has been pestered about shooting underhand. It might be the right form for some players, but it’s no silver bullet.

Report: George Hill unhappy after Scott Perry promised him, Zach Randolph, Vince Carter that Kings would compete for playoffs

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After a recent Kings loss, George Hill tweeted:

Reading too much into vague tweets is often folly, but Hill hasn’t looked happy in Sacramento. Despite signing him, Zach Randolph and Vince Carter last summer, the Kings are 8-18.

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

These are vets brought in to help a young team, and according to sources, were brought in with the promise of a team aiming to be playoff competitive.

But that promise was made to them by Scott Perry, who since left Sacramento and now makes personnel decisions for the New York Knicks. So the direction of the franchise has shifted since Perry left. An organization that brought in veterans aiming to win now is aiming to lose.

Not surprisingly, Hill isn’t happy, according to multiple sources

The Kings aren’t bad because they shifted direction after Perry left for the Knicks. They’re bad because they lack talent.

This team was mostly assembled by the time Perry departed, and it looked lousy. To whatever degree Sacramento is emphasizing youth post-Perry – Garrett Temple, Randolph and Hill rank in the top four in minutes – the won-loss record wasn’t changing much.

If Hill, Randolph and Carter didn’t know that, they have nobody to blame but themselves. Smart veterans like them should have understood the bargain they accepted.

Hill ($40 million guaranteed over two years), Randolph (two years, $24 million) and Vince Carter (one year, $8 million) took the money. In exchange, they’re stuck on a bad team. And that’s fine. Many of us prioritize salary in career decisions.

But now they’re dealing with the downside of that arrangement – grinding through a long, losing season. It’s disingenuous to sulk and blame Perry (though, if Perry pledged a team realistically competing for the playoffs, he overpromised).

Unfortunately for everyone involved, Sacramento isn’t making rapid improvement overnight. So, something might have to give with Hill’s mood.

Tristan Thompson: Cavaliers’ stated 3-4-week timeline for my injury was never realistic

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When Tristan Thompson suffered a calf injury early last month, the Cavaliers announced he’d miss 3-4 weeks.

More than five weeks later, Thompson still hasn’t played.

Tom Withers of the Associated Press:

Thompson:

Who said that was the real timetable? They told you guys three to four weeks. That was never the case. The first week, I was on crutches the whole time. So, there was no chance. So, I don’t know. I don’t know who told you three to four weeks. For that, I’m sorry.

Thompson sounds close to returning, so this issue should pass. But teams are usually conservative in these estimates so as not to expose their players to criticism for not working hard enough in rehab. Thompson was left hung out to dry here.

Maybe Thompson, who’s famously low-maintenance, doesn’t mind. But if a 3-4-week timeline was never realistic, I wouldn’t blame him for resenting the Cavs.

Poor communication on injuries might not be limited to only the 76ers.

Heat’s Dion Waiters: ‘I’m not coming off no bench’

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Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Dion Waiters must be more efficient.

But Waiters’ effective field-goal percentage this season (46.1) is nearly precisely his career mark (46.2). It appears last season’s career high (48.8) in a contract year was the outlier.

What if Waiters just can’t change? Could Miami bring him off the bench?

Waiters, via Tom D’Angelo of The Palm Beach Post:

“I’m a starter in this league, man, that’s who I am. We’re going to nip that in the bud right now. I’m not coming off no bench.”

This is peak Waiters, supremely confident/cocky. He’s not good enough to demand a starting spot, but here he is doing it anyway.

That make’s Spoelstra’s job trickier if he’s considering bringing Waiters off the bench. It might be the optimal basketball move, but NBA coaches must also deal with their players egos.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think Waiters should come off the bench. Miami’s starting lineup – Goran Dragic, Waiters, Josh Richardson, Justise Winslow and Hassan Whiteside – is outscoring opponents by 6.3 points per 100 possessions. (The Heat are -3.4 per 100 overall.) That unit defends, and Waiters eases the playmaking burden on Dragic.

But if I were the Heat, I also wouldn’t take the possibility of not starting Waiters off the table. At an underwhelming 12-13, they don’t have the luxury of never experimenting – even if it might upset Waiters.