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.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.

Raptors’ ‘culture reset’ shines in Game 5 win over Wizards

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The Raptors promoted ball movement. They emphasized 3-point shooting. They empowered their reserves.

This was why.

Backups Delon Wright and C.J. Miles and starting center Jonas Valanciunas – who was benched in previous postseasons due to his old-fashioned style, but expanded his game beyond the arc this year – scored Toronto’s final 18 points in a 108-98 Game 5 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Stars DeMar DeRozan (0-for-4 from the field) and Kyle Lowry (0-for-1 from the field, 0-for-2 on free throws) struggled down the stretch, as the Raptors burst open what had been a one-point lead.

Though DeRozan (32 points) and Lowry (17 points and 10 assists) were good overall, they succumbed late in previous playoff games. Toronto didn’t want that duo stuck with the burden of creating so much in a stagnate offense.

Hence, Masai Ujiri’s famous “culture reset.”

The results have been mixed so far against a tougher-than-average-eight-seed Washington. But at least the Raptors – up 3-2 entering Friday’s Game 6 in Washington – are on the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

Raptors honor victims of van attack before Game 5 (photos)

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TORONTO (AP) — The Toronto Raptors honored the victims the deadly van attack Monday with a moment of silence Wednesday night before Game 5 of their playoff series against the Washington Wizards.

Players from both teams held up banners with the hashtag #TORONTOSTRONG as they stood on the court during the tribute and the national anthems that followed:

The Raptors, the Wizards and the NBA will make a donation to a fund for victims and those affected by the incident.

Raptors President Masai Ujiri spoke about the attack after the Raptors practiced Tuesday.

“What we do doesn’t really matter sometimes,” Ujiri said. “I can’t imagine what it would be like to be on that sidewalk.”

Guard Kyle Lowry said he was impressed by the actions of Const. Ken Lam, who earned international acclaim for peacefully arresting of suspect Alek Minassian.

“In America he would definitely have been shot up,” Lowry said. “He did an amazing job of making a judgment call. I think more people could learn from that.”

Coach Dwane Casey was struck by how close the carnage occurred to his own Toronto neighborhood,

“It’s not too far from up the street from where I live,” Casey said.

Casey and his coaches were in the midst of a meeting Monday afternoon when assistant Rex Kalamian’s phone buzzed with someone informing him of the tragedy. The coaches stopped their meeting and turned on a television to find out what had happened.

“It’s very unfortunate,” Casey said. “Just this weekend I was talking to people saying how safe Toronto is, how it’s a melting pot and you don’t have the same crime. Hopefully though, sport can offer a relief, some reprieve.”

Like Casey, Ujiri said he is proud of Toronto’s reputation as a safe, welcoming place.

“Everywhere I go, I brag about this city,” Ujiri said. “It’s the safest place in the world. It’s the best city in the world and it’s going to continue to be the best place and the best city in the world.”

Toronto police said the 10 people killed and 14 injured in the attack were “predominantly” women, but have declined so far to discuss a motive. The 25-year-old Minassian has been charged with 10 counts of first-degree murder and 13 counts of attempted murder.