Baseline to Baseline recaps: Five in a row for the Knicks

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What you missed while being thankful a rogue boulder didn’t destroy your home and car…

Knicks 82, Sixers 79: This was the ugliest win for the Knicks on their five-game winning streak, but it may also be the best. Not the best because it moves them within three games of the struggling Sixers in the Atlantic division (well, that does matter, too) but rather because they won it a grind it out game. This was one where both teams looked tired and neither could get a shot to fall (New York won shooting 36.7 percent overall and hit 2-of-13 from three) but good teams win ugly games. Mike Woodson made the adjustments — he went small and got a good game from Stoudemire (21 points) and good defense from Shumpert on Philly’s guards.

These teams are moving in opposite directions — Philly has lost 4 of 5 — and now the Sixers are just one game ahead of the Celtics and three ahead of the Knicks. The race to win the Atlantic and avoid the Bulls or Heat in the first round is now fully engaged for the next five weeks. Along those same lines, the Knicks are now four games and Boston two behind six-seed Atlanta.

Thunder 113, Clippers 91: This was close through the first quarter, when the Clippers shot 50 percent, hit 6-of-8 from three and trailed just 33-30 after one. But in the next three quarters the Clippers shot 32.2 percent and the Thunder pulled away for a relatively easy win. On the other end of the floor, the Thunder did a good job getting Kevin Durant isolated on Nick Young and Randy Foye and that led to him looking dominant getting 32 points on just 18 shots. Durant did a good job of recognizing his matchup advantages and taking Young down on the block when he could. The Clippers never really adjusted, which is another issue altogether. Russell Westbrook had 19.

Kendrick Perkins picked up an early technical when he gave a hard foul on Blake Griffin who was trying to go up and dunk over him. That’s a little payback for last time.

Lakers 109, Mavericks 93: What is it with this Lakers team winning the hard game s and losing to the bottom feeders? A night after dropping a game to a Rockets team without its starting backcourt, the Lakers go on a 20-4 run in the second quarter to take the lead and win relatively easily over Dallas.

One real key was the Lakers shot 58.4 percent on the night — Kobe Bryant was 11-of-18 (Dallas really missed Shawn Marion, who was out), Paul Gasol 13-of-16, and Ramon Sessions was 7-of-8 on his way to 17 points plus 9 assists. The Lakers offense looks so much better with the quickness that Sessions brings to the point — Mike Brown, stop the charade, start Sessions and say you are going to close with him, not Steve Blake. The Lakers ball movement all night was fantastic — the Mavericks doubled Andrew Bynum had and fast all night and while he had just 9 points he passed well out of the double team. Dirk Nowitzki had 26, Jason Terry ran the pick-and-roll well on his way to 23.

Nuggets 116, Pistons 115: On a night of entertaining games nothing beat this one. It didn’t look that way early when the Nuggets owned the first quarter and were up 22, but that’s when the Ben Gordon show started — he had 21 points in the second and 45 for the game. He was 9-of-9 from three. He was a force of nature and it looked like he was going to lead the Pistons to a rare road victory. But Denver closed the game out on an 8-0 run — and that doesn’t do it justice.

Denver was down three with 5.6 seconds left when Arron Afflalo drove and hit the spinning layup for with the foul. Hit the free throw and Denver ties the game. Afflalo misses — but the first game as a Nugget JaVale Mcgee makes the play getting around Greg Monroe for a putback slam that gave Denver the win. McGee had 15 points in the game. Gordon got a good look at his own game winner, but that seemed to be the only shot he missed all night.

Bulls 94, Raptors 82: You really cannot over-sell just how impressive all these Bulls wins this season are without Derrick Rose — they are now 12-4. Toronto led most of this game behind 23 points from DeMar DeRozan, but the Bulls went on a 20-0 fourth quarter run thanks to John Lucas III and Kyle Korver to get the win. Yes, Lucas and Korver were the heroes. Deal with it.

Magic 103, Suns 93: Dwight Howard got the better of a fun matchup with Marcin Gortat scoring 28 points, grabbing 16 rebounds, and adding a couple blocks for fun. But the real story was the Suns defense kept losing Ryan Anderson on pick-and-pops or just out by the arc and he made them pay with 7 three pointers on his way to 29 points. The Magic started to take control late in the first quarter and by the fourth this was garbage time.

Wizards 108, Nets 89: Nene had 22 points and 10 rebounds for Washington. Mix that in with Jordan Crawford having and efficient 21 points on 13 shots and you get a pretty comfortable Wizards win. Washington looked much more fundamentally sound and smart with Nene out there. We’ll see how long that carries over.

Hawks 103, Cavaliers 102 (OT): Josh Smith seemed to be everywhere and had 32 points and 17 rebounds. Early on it was Kyrie Irving (28 points) and Antawn Jamison (23) who had the Cavs up on the road, but the Hawks battled back and the fourth quarter was pretty tight. That’s when Joe Johnson, shooting 3-14 to start the night, hit a big three to send it to overtime. Then in overtime he hit the game winner. So I guess he really is worth all that money… nah. But he had a good night.

Warriors 101, Hornets 92: Klay Thompson (career high 27 points) and David Lee (25) fail to understand the concept of tanking and lead the Warriors to the win. The Hornets get tanking, they have been doing it all season

Spurs 116, Timberwolves 100: San Antonio was in control of this one from the start and used and 11-1 run late in the first quarter to really grab hold of a double-digit lead it would never relinquish. Tim Duncan had 21 and didn’t play the fourth quarter, Stephen Jackson had 16 for the Spurs off the bench. Kevin Love had 17 points and 12 boards because that is what he does. But the Spurs owned this one.

Tony Parker did leave in the second quarter with what was described as a tight hamstring. Something to watch.

Another report Andrew Wiggins about to sign max deal in Minnesota

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Is Andrew Wiggins a max player?

If by that you mean “does Andrew Wiggins deserve to be a max player?” then it’s a controversial question around the league. He averaged 23.6 points per game last season, shot 35.7 percent from three, played solid defense, and is just 22 years old. But he’s not a great playmaker, not consistent, and on a team with Karl-Anthony Towns and Jimmy Butler is the third best player. Is that a guy who gets max money?

However, if by max player you mean “he will make max money” then yes, Wiggins is about to be a max player. We have written before that a max deal was all but done, and Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo sports is the latest to confirm this is about to go down.

Minnesota Timberwolves forward Andrew Wiggins is progressing toward a five-year, $148 million maximum contract extension and is hopeful to sign soon, sources told The Vertical.

The Timberwolves prioritized extending Wiggins this offseason, and both sides are hopeful of completing the contract shortly, league sources told The Vertical…. Wiggins’ previous agent, Bill Duffy, negotiated a maximum contract with the Timberwolves this summer before the sides parted ways.

It’s a max contract, so there is no salary negotiating, and the delay is just likely tied to the changing of agents. That said, it will get done.

Wiggins is going to face some new challenges this year. He’ll be teamed with Jimmy Butler, the two have similar games but Butler is basically better at most things. Towns is going to (and should) get more touches. Can Wiggins make the adjustments and accept his role now? If so, he may well be worth that max money.

Warriors’ Mike Brown says Steve Kerr communicates as well as Popovich

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Mike Brown has been around the league and back as a coach. He was an assistant coach under Gregg Popovich in San Antonio, went on to be the head coach of the Cavaliers (taking them to the 2007 NBA Finals) and the Los Angeles Lakers, and now is the lead assistant under Steve Kerr with the Golden State Warriors. He’s seen a lot, and watched a lot of different styles of coaching.

Kerr played for Popovich in San Antonio, so you’d expect the Warriors coach picked up some tricks from the master. But what is most similar about them is how they communicate, Brown told Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News.

“[Steve’s] communication skills are on par with one of the greatest communicators of all time in Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs. Their style is a little bit different. But it’s just as effective, just as powerful and garners just as much as Pop does from some of the greatest players of all time because of the way he communicates. One of the attributes that I observed on a daily basis was how even keeled he was. He never got too excited, nor did he ever get too down, no matter if things were good or things were bad in front of him. Our guys, especially the veteran group we have, really feed off of that. They know if Steve was a believer in them and he was calm, cool and collected, that they would be the same and just focus on trying to do their jobs at the highest level. For me, that was one of the biggest things I wanted to concentrate on.”

For a coach at the NBA level, it’s in large part about the culture and having a feel for the team. Is it a young team that needs more discipline? A veteran team that needs more rest? Being able to communicate what is needed in a way that the players listen to and respect can be a hard line to walk. In the case of the Warriors, with a lot of driven players in their prime, it’s partially about keeping the game fun. The NBA is a business, players need to be professional and held accountable, but at the end of the day it’s still a game and there should be joy in playing it. The Warriors players and coaches use that word a lot, “joy.” It’s a priority for them, and it shows on the court (and in the locker room).

Part of Kerr’s job is making sure the joy is there, and to make sure he is clear in his communication about what work needs to be done along with it. His cerebral, level-headed style works for these players. Which is just another reason the Warriors will be racking up more rings in the coming years.

Bulls’ John Paxson: Dwyane Wade buyout must be “advantageous” for team

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When Bulls’ training camp opens next week, it looks like Dwyane Wade will be there — and it will be awkward.

Wade wants to be bought out and doesn’t want to be there. The Bulls want to move on from the Wade/Jimmy Butler year. But of course, it comes down to money — Wade is owed $23.5 million and wants as much of that as he can get and still get out the door, the Bulls want to save money paying a guy who will not play for them.

Bulls’ VP of basketball operations John Paxson was on  “The Mully and Hanley” show on WSCR-670 AM Thursday and said there has been some early dialogue between the sides, and the Bulls are open to buying Wade out, but made it clear he’s going to have to give up plenty of cash to make it “advantageous” for the team. Here’s part of what Paxson said, via K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune.

“Some dialogue is going on,” Paxson said on The Score. “We understand where (Wade) is at this time of his career. We’re more than willing to work with him. But as I said when we had the press conference to introduce the new players after the draft, we have to always do what’s in our best interest. So there has to be something that is mutually agreed upon. It can’t be something the player wins because that’s what he wants.

“We want to work with Dwyane because we respect him very much. If he doesn’t want to be here, then we want to do (the buyout). But again, the bottom line is always — and it has to be — that we have to do what’s in our best interest.”

The two sides will come to a number and Wade will get bought out, the only questions are when and for how much? Will it happen during training camp or will the season have started? The All-Star break? It’s just a matter of settling on a number, but Wade is not going to be eager to give up that cash knowing he’s not got another payday like that coming.

When the buyout does happen,  a number of teams — the Cavaliers, Heat, and Lakers are known, there will be others — will be waiting and interested.

 

Pacers’ Lance Stephenson will get his chance, but coming off the bench

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Indiana is Myles Turner‘s team now. Gone from last season are Paul George, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks and more. More than just Turner, everyone on the Pacers’ roster is going to get a chance to shine.

That includes Lance Stephenson.

But he will do that coming off the bench, coach Nate McMillan told the Pacers’ website.

Coach Nate McMillan said he has a starting lineup in mind heading into training camp, but wouldn’t reveal it. He did acknowledge, however, that Lance Stephenson likely will start the season as the sixth man…

“I hope he can establish (that role),” McMillan said. “A sixth man is like a starter, and he can be a guy who can do a lot of things with that second group with his ability to handle the ball, score the ball. He’s an unselfish player.”

Stephenson was only with the Pacers for a few games at the end of last season, but he was their second best player in the postseason brought an energy and toughness the team lacked. He hit threes (62 percent for the Pacers), played hard, and looked more like the guy Indiana had years ago than the guy who has bounced around the league since. But that was a very small sample size, it’s something else to do this over the course of a season.

Indiana is rebuilding but they did not bottom out and tank, they brought in guys who can handle the ball such as Victor Oladipo (the George trade), Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph. Stephenson is going to have to accept and find a role behind and with those guys. But he’s going to get a chance, and he has played his best ball in a Pacers’ uniform.