Baseline to Baseline recaps: Heat hotter than the Suns

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What you missed while wondering why someone whose job it was to smuggle cocaine into the United States would get the personalized license plate “SMUGLER”

Heat 99, Suns 95: It looked like the Suns had a road upset in their pocket — they led most of the fourth quarter and were up 10 with just more than 7 minutes to go. Then LeBron James checked into the game and Miami went on a 17-0 run. It was the kind of awesome display of team defense, fast breaks and shot making that no team in the league can match. The Heat played some defense, the Suns made just two baskets from the field in the final seven minutes.

Chris Bosh was the best Heat player on the night, especially early when he scored 11 of Heat’s first 13 points on his way to 29. Credit should go to the Suns, they are playing well as a team right now. Grant Hill had 19 to lead them but it was really the Suns bench that was strong, led by Markieff Morris and his dozen.

Knicks 106, Raptors 97: Four wins in a row for the Knicks under Mike Woodson, and the Knicks are doing it with the kind of balance (four starters with 17 points or more) that Mike D’Antoni wanted but could not get the Knicks to execute. Jeremy Lin has not faded into oblivion, he had 18 points and has played a few good games in a row. They are playing good defense.

The real test is Wednesday night against the division leading 76ers.

Pacers 102, Clippers 89: Depth matters in a shortened season. The stars get the headlines — Danny Granger played well and had 25, Blake Griffin attacked since the Pacers chose not to double him and had 14 points in the first quarter, 23 for the contest — but that’s not who decided this game. Rather, it was Tyler Hansbrough with 17 points and the kind of effort that got under the Clippers skin. Lou Amundson was out working the Clippers, too. That was the difference.

Rockets 107, Lakers 104: No Kyle Lowry, no Kevin Martin, no problem. The Rockets had Goran Dragic (16 points, 13 dimes), and who do the Lakers have who can match that? This is a game played at the Rockets tempo (faster than the Lakers like) but Los Angeles adjusted well early and put up 40 first-quarter points behind a dozen from Pau Gasol. They were up 15 and led most of the game. But the Rockets went on a late 23-6 run to come back and take the lead. Kobe Bryant (29 points on 27 shots) hit a couple clutch shots to tie it, but then Dragic nailed the corner three off a Courtney Lee assist and Kobe missed the shots to match that. (By the way, Gasol looks like the guy late on the close out on Dragic’s game winner, but that was Metta World Peace’s man on the play and he completely leaves him to go into the paint and go after Lee. Gasol just left his man to try and help when he realized what was happening.)

Mike Brown had the Lakers playing good defense early in the season but they only do that in spurts now. Also, Andrew Bynum got ejected in the third quarter and the Lakers missed him late because it became Kobe hero ball time.

Jazz 97, Thunder 90: Phoenix and Utah are really putting on a push for those last playoff seeds in the West and a chance to maybe face the Thunder in the first round. And Utah would not be an easy out. The Jazz took the lead on a 14-1 run in the second quarter and never gave it back. The real key in this game was the Jazz owned the paint at both ends, outscoring the Thunder 50-20. Also, the Thunder had 20 turnovers. Paul Millsap had 20 to lead six Jazz players in double figures. The Thunder can write that off as just one of those games if they want, but they’ve had a few of those lately and are 5-5 in their last 10. We have kind of ordained them to come out of the West in the playoffs, but they are not playing like that right now.

Bucks 116, Blazers 87: Two teams going in opposite directions — the Bucks have now won six in a row while the Blazers have come apart at the seams and are basically tanking the rest of the season. The Bucks are scrapping and playing aggressive defense — they had 10 steals in this game, and according to Bucks PR they are the first team to have 10 steals or more in three straight games in nine seasons. The Bucks started the second quarter on an 11-1 run and pulled away from there. Drew Gooden had 19 to lead six Bucks in double figures (Monta Ellis had 14, if you were wondering).

Kings 119, Grizzlies 110: The Kings are a good team if you let them get out and run, and this was an up-tempo game. Marcus Thornton had 31 on 22 shots, Tyreke Evans came off the bench but played when it mattered and had 9 of his 13 in the fourth quarter. Isaiah Thomas also had 9 in the fourth and finished with 18.

Report: Phil Jackson thought Carmelo Anthony was trying to sabotage him

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In March, Kristaps Porzingis offered a strong endorsement of the triangle.

That put him between then-Knicks president Phil Jackson and forward Carmelo Anthony.

Marc Berman of the New York Post:

According to an NBA source, Anthony was furious to read Porzingis’ positive sentiments on an offense he disdains.

“Melo really chewed him out, lit into him,’’ the source said.

Actually, some Knicks officials believe Anthony’s influence on Porzingis has been detrimental and a key reason why Jackson became adamant about removing him from the roster any way he could.

“Phil thought Carmelo was trying to sabotage him,’’ an NBA source said.

Jackson tried to pressure Anthony out of New York, tweeted criticism of Anthony, sidestepped Anthony’s requests to meet, seemingly pushed an anti-Anthony narrative, publicly called Anthony a ball hog and used racially insensitive language to discuss Anthony’s friend, LeBron James.

But Anthony was trying to sabotage Jackson?

It’s unhealthy for a team’s president and highest-paid players to be on such different pages, but it’s also unhealthy for a team to be caught up on an antiquated offensive system. Anthony acquiescing to Jackson might have made the Knicks’ better in the short term. But if he widened the fractures that eventually caused the Knicks to split from Jackson, Anthony did the team a favor in the long run.

Report: Masai Ujiri’s salary about half what Phil Jackson’s was

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James Dolan isn’t fixing the Knicks’ biggest problem – James Dolan.

But the owner took a step in the right direction a few years ago by pouring a ton of money into the front office. Of course, Dolan did it in the worst way. Offering a five-year, $60 million contract, he didn’t target general managers with proven track records of success. He hired front-office novice Phil Jackson, whose tenure was a wreck.

With Jackson out, will Dolan get it right this time?

The Knicks are reportedly interested in Raptors president Masai Ujiri, but it will be more complicated now, because Ujiri just signed a contract extension and the Knicks are still paying Jackson.

But can New York lure Ujiri from Toronto?

Michael Grange of Sportsnet:

As a source close to MLSE ownership told me Wednesday morning: “Don’t even waste your time on this.”

But as one NBA source put it: “This is not fake news, the Knicks will be coming hard.”

Sam Amick of USA Today:

Ujiri signed a five-year extension worth $32 million last September

Bruce Arthur of the Star:

All that just makes the Knicks more desperate for a new saviour, and league sources indicate the Knicks are already confident Ujiri is coming to New York.

Despite the contract, sources indicate Ujiri can leave if he wants to leave. It’s really up to him.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

As for reports that the Knicks were interested in Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri, sources told ESPN that the Knicks have a deep respect for him, but he’s under contract and thus would require permission to speak to and compensation — likely draft picks — which the Knicks would be very reluctant to consider.

Dolan has the fortune to offer Ujiri a significant raise and buy him out of his Raptors contract. Money goes a long way in these negotiations, though it’s unclear how much Dolan would spend on a less-flashy name – and whether the Raptors want more than just cash.

Sending Toronto first-round picks as compensation would hurt the Knicks, but not as much as hiring another incompetent front-office head.

Will Ujiri land in New York? There are so many mixed signals, but it appears the Knicks at least have a chance.

Report: James Harden recruited Chris Paul to Rockets throughout season

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Chris Paul to the Rockets seemed to come out of nowhere.

It didn’t.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

According to one NBA executive, James Harden, the Rockets’ all-star guard, had been recruiting Paul throughout the season. An executive from another team said Harden had already told a fellow NBA player that Paul’s going to Houston was a done deal.

This is how the league works now. James Harden continues to be a enthusiastic recruiter, and that’s a huge asset to the Rockets. It goes toward explaining why Houston general manager Daryl Morey has bestowed so much faith in Harden.

The NBA has simply decided nothing players do constitutes tampering. So, Harden was free to convey Houston’s message to Paul – and this went beyond the typical bonding of two stars. The Rockets had to orchestrate a complex series of transactions, including getting Paul to waive most of his trade bonus, to make the deal work. Harden was part lead recruiter, part middleman communicating with the front office.

Getting Paul was truly the Harden-Morey partnership at its finest.

Report: Thunder have planned Blake Griffin pursuit for months

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The Clippers sound confident about re-signing Blake Griffin in the wake Chris Paul going to the Rockets.

But L.A. will have competition for the star forward – from the Nuggets, Celtics (depending how their primary plan goes), Heat and Griffin’s home-state Thunder.

Royce Young of ESPN:

It’s a shame for the Thunder they backed off their plan to sign Griffin last summer, signing Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo to contract extensions, only to resume it a few months later.

Letting Adams and Oladipo hit unrestricted free agency would have given Oklahoma City an additional $22,514,699 in cap flexibility while maintaining Adams’ and Oladipo’s Bird Rights. That alone wouldn’t have been enough to offer Griffin a max salary, but dumping Enes Kanter, Kyle Singler and either Doug McDermott or Domantas Sabonis would’ve projected to get the Thunder there. In that scenario, Oklahoma City could have also exceeded the cap to re-sign Adams and Oladipo after inking Griffin.

Alas, the Thunder are now limited to dumping contributors that make the team appealing to someone like Griffin in the first place or executing a sign-and-trade. But a sign-and-trade gets complicated. Adams’ salary alone isn’t enough to return Griffin on a max, and it’s not even clear the Clippers – with DeAndre Jordan – would want Adams (though losing Griffin could initiate an even greater rebuild that includes trading Jordan). And again, the Clippers reportedly want to keep Griffin rather than go this route.

This was all foreseeable, though some surprising factors worsened the consequences of the extensions for Oklahoma City.

Griffin seemed more certain last summer to stay in L.A. The 2017-18 salary cap appeared on track to be higher. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement won’t raise cap holds for first-round picks until next year. So, Adams’ deal projects to save the Thunder just $6,425,000 over the next four years relative to a max offer sheet – a paltry sum in the face of the potential cap flexibility lost this year by extending him instead of waiting to re-sign him.

The Thunder making moves earlier than necessary and salary-cap developments turning those plans especially imprudent – where have I heard this one before?