Miami Heat's Dwayne Wade and LeBron James talk during an NBA basketball game in Indianapolis

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Miami malaise means another loss

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What you missed while being freaked out by 9-pound Gambian rats….

Knicks 89, Bucks 80: It wasn’t pretty. Actually, it was put-a-bag-over-it ugly. But with this win the Knicks are far more likely to make the playoffs, and it was our game of the night.

Pacers 105, Heat 90: I don’t want to go all Jimmy Carter on you guys, but there is a malaise in Miami.

First off, let’s not take anything away from the Pacers here. Miami came in coasting, the Pacers showed up with their lunch pails. Indiana wanted this more. The game was close through the first half but Paul George hit a three at the halftime buzzer to give the Pacers the lead. Then in the third quarter the Pacers outscored the Heat 29-19 and that is where they earned a win. Danny Granger had 25 points, Darren Collison 20 and the Pacers just outworked the Heat play after play.

Miami is 4-4 in its last 8 and that is certainly not talent. Their offense has been off (just 95.7 points per 100 possessions against the Pacers) as they have slowed it down and gotten away from the “pace and space” system used earlier in the season. They are not executing. Every team suffers lulls, but it is magnified with the Heat. It’s still a month until the playoffs, but the Heat have things they need to figure out.

Pistons 79, Wizards 77: The Wizards seemed to have this one, but they shot 31.5 percent in the final quarter, meanwhile the Pistons made huge runs — 12-1 at one point, 10-4 at another. Rodney Stuckey had 12 of his game-high 24 in the fourth quarter, including the game winner. The Wizards should kick themselves for the missed opportunities.

Celtics 102, Bobcats 95: This was closer than one would expect — credit the Bobcats or blame Celtics depending on your viewpoint. The Bobcats put up 35 on whatever it was the Celtics tried to pass off for defense in the second quarter, and it was a two-point game at the half (favoring Boston). From there on the Boston held on to get the win but never pulled away for the blowout everyone expected. Paul Pierce had 36 points, 10 boards to lead Boston.

Still, a win is a win — this victory tied the Celtics with the 76ers for the lead in the Atlantic Division. With a division crown the Celtics run with the Big Three lasts a little longer.

Jazz 105, Nets 84: Utah played four overtimes the night before, got on a plane, flew to New Jersey and played with far more energy than New Jersey. Paul Millsap had 24 and Al Jefferson 19 as the Jazz pounded the Nets inside and cruised to an easy win.

Nuggets 108, Bulls 91: Chicago pushed out to a first quarter lead but Denver hung around because they hit 5-of-7 threes early on. It stayed close, then the Nuggets went on a 12-0 run to start the second half and they never looked back.

Of late Denver has looked like a team that could fall out of the playoffs in the West, but this was a gutty performance. They did a great job of pressuring the ball on the Bulls pick-and-roll and keeping them out of the paint — they forced the Bulls to be a perimeter team. It is where the Bulls really missed Derrick Rose. C.J. Watson had 17 for the Bulls, Ty Lawson had a great game for the Nuggets and finished with 27.

Magic 117, Raptors 101: Orlando raced out to an early 16 point lead, then Toronto closed the first quarter on an 18-4 run to make you think there might be a game here. Then a second quarter run by the Magic — sparked by Ryan Anderson, who and 9 of his 28 in the quarter — gave the Magic a healthy lead they never relinquished. Toronto is an inconsistent defensive team and the Magic are good enough to exploit it, which is what happened here.

Rockets 113, Kings 106 (OT): The Kings raced out to a 26-10 lead behind a monster night from DeMarcus Cousins (38 points, 14 rebounds), but slow and steady won the race in Houston. The Rockets chipped away at the lead all game, with Patrick Patterson having a big night (24 points off the bench and being a +18 for the game). Just signed Earl Boykins had 10 for the Rockets including four in overtime.

Clippers 97, Hornets 85: Consider this a little payback for last week. The Hornets were without the two players that sparked their upset win last week — Chris Kaman and Jason Smith — and the Clippers pulled away in the second quarter and never looked back. Denver made it close with a 13-0 fourth quarter run, but the game was never in doubt. Chris Paul had 25 points, Blake Griffin 20 for the Clippers.

Griffin’s midrange game is spotty still, so he has gone to getting all his buckets at the rim, where he is a beast. Smart move, he’s very difficult to stop down there. (Yes, eventually he does need to develop a midrange game to fully round out his talents, but when you are as had to stop around the rim as he is then you should get to the rim. He is. That’s smart basketball.)

Playoff preview: Four key questions about San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant, center, scores against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Between 2011 and 2014, the Spurs and Thunder combined for six Western Conferences Finals appearances with at least one reaching it each year. Last season featured Warriors vs. Rockets. This year, one – but only one – of San Antonio and Oklahoma City will return.

1. Are these Kevin Durant‘s final games with the Thunder?

Let’s get this out of the way. Durant, as you well know, will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. At this point, the best thing Oklahoma City can do to keep him is win. He knows the city. He knows the franchise. He knows the roster (which would likely return in similar form if he re-signs). Whether the Thunder send him into free agency with a good taste in his mouth is the biggest variable.

Will Durant leave just because Oklahoma City loses to the Spurs? Of course not. Will Durant stay just because Oklahoma City beats the Spurs? Of course not.

But this is a big opportunity for the Thunder to accentuate their positives – and the Spurs, another team in the Durant hunt, to do the same.

2. Who wins the Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard matchup?

More directly on the court… Durant is involved in what might be the best individual matchup of the 2016 playoffs

Durant and Leonard should both finish top five in MVP voting. If they do, it’d be the first time two players top five in MVP voting who play the same position met in the playoffs since 2012, when LeBron James and Durant faced off in the Finals.

The matchup should be fun on both ends of the court, but it’ll be particularly intriguing when Oklahoma City has the ball. Durant is one of the NBA’s best offensive players, Leonard the best defender. I can’t wait to watch them go at it.

3. How do the Spurs handle Oklahoma City’s athleticism?

In his last 20 games against San Antonio, Serge Ibaka is 15-5. Ibaka embodies the athletic advantage the Thunder hold over the Spurs. At his best, Ibaka attacks with hops and speed the Spurs’ bigs can’t match. Ibaka looked old throughout much of the regular season, but he appeared rejuvenated in the first round against the Mavericks. If he was just saving his energy for the playoffs, following the Dwight Howard model in previous years, Ibaka could play a major role.

Ditto Russell Westbrook, who will challenge Tony Parker to keep up. San Antonio could cross match with Danny Green, but that presents complications in transition.

The Spurs are collectively more skilled, but the Thunder have done a better job than most at neutralizing that advantage.

4. Has Billy Donovan found a rotation that narrows the gap?

Billy Donovan passed his first playoff test against Rick Carlisle. Now the challenge grows even greater against Gregg Popovich.

One thing Donovan did right: Putting Nick Collison, not Kyle Singler, in the playoff rotation. Collison’s minutes could be key against a Spurs team that often plays two slower bigs. I guesses Singler rather than Collison would play regularly, which lowered Oklahoma City’s adjusted net rating by a few points per 100 possessions when projecting using only players in the playoff rotation.

I’ll again use nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s postseason rotation, once the first round ends. But for now, here are San Antonio’s and Oklahoma City’s ratings, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 110.0
  • Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.1
  • Net rating: +11.1 to +13.9

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 113.6 to 117.3
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +7.6 to +12.7

Both teams — already strong by this measure — benefited from beating up on their first-round competition, and the Thunder got a bump for using Collison over Singler. Oklahoma City still trails the Spurs, but the gap is much closer than overall regular-season results would suggest.

Prediction: Spurs in 7

Report: Deron Williams opting out of Mavericks contract

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 03:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks dribbles the ball agains Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors at American Airlines Center on November 3, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Deron Williams sacrificed $16 million to leave the Nets in a buyout last summer. He recouped $5,378,974 with the Mavericks this season.

Now – instead of exercising his $5,621,026 player option – he’s looking to get more.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Deron Williams intends to opt out of the second season of his contract with the Mavericks, sources told ESPN.com.

Williams could return to the Mavericks. They’re one of the few teams that need a starting point guard, and two others that do – the Nets and Knicks – are probably off the table given Williams’ antipathy for a large market. Expect Dallas to at least try for an upgrade like Mike Conley first.

But even if Williams signs as a backup, he can still probably command more than $6 million next season. With the salary cap skyrocketing to about $92 million and so many teams flush with cap space, the salary picture is changing.

This also increases the Mavericks’ potential cap space.

They project to fall about $24 million under the cap, counting cap holds for Williams, Chandler Parsons (who has a player option that could go either way) and Dwight Powell. In other words, Dallas could spend that $24 million then exceed the cap to re-sign Williams, Parsons and/or Powell.

Renouncing Williams ($6,454,769 cap hold), Parsons ($19,969,950 cap hold only if he opts out) and/or Powell ($1,180,431) could clear additional cap room. Parsons opting in would restrict the Mavericks’ ability to clear space .

Williams would have been a bargain if he opted in. Instead, Dallas gains flexibility.

Report: Kings willing to trade DeMarcus Cousins because his moodiness bothers teammates

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins walks up court during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the San Antonio Spurs, Saturday, March 5, 2016, in San Antonio. San Antonio won 104-94. (AP Photo/Darren Abate)
AP Photo/Darren Abate
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The Kings, after years of shutting down DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors, will reportedly seriously explore the market.

What changed for Sacramento general manager Vlade Divac?

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

the sense within the organization is Divac is tempted by the prospect of pairing his center with his personally selected coach but that he has become increasingly frustrated by his center’s ongoing issues and, for the first time, is willing to test the market for the two-time All-Star.

The disconnect between Karl and Divac, and Karl and Cousins, is rivaled closely by the discord within the fragmented locker room. Apart from Rondo, Cousins has few friends among his teammates. Several players privately have complained to management about his mood swings and disrespect for those around him, including his coaches and in particular Karl.

I still doubt Sacramento trades Cousins. There’s a vast gulf between soliciting Cousins offers and actually pulling the trigger on one. He remains one of the NBA’s most valuable players – already a star, 25 and locked up for two more seasons at a reasonable $35 million combined. It’d take a haul to land him, and I doubt any team offers a package that sways Divac – though a few could have him thinking.

But Cousins’ moodiness is a problem. It gets him harmful technical fouls, takes him out of games mentally and – as we learn here – upsets his teammates.

It seems the Kings are attempting to scare him straight – reports like this leaking, including one that their next coach will have management’s backing if he wants to discipline Cousins.  They have to try something. Rajon Rondo‘s leadership, while endearing to Cousins, apparently didn’t change the center significantly enough.

I wouldn’t rule out Sacramento trading Cousins. If you put a player on the market, you might just hear an offer you like. But selling low on Cousins a – franchise-level player – would be a mistake. It’s too hard to get a player with his talent just to dump him when he’s still young.

A far better outcome would be Cousins heeding these implicit messages, maturing and cutting out the nonsense that too often overshadows his immense talent.

Tony Allen warns Mike Conley: ‘If I see you in New York or one of them places, you got a flagrant foul coming’

Memphis Grizzlies forward Tony Allen (9) and guard Mike Conley (11) react during the second half of Game 2 in a second-round NBA playoff basketball series against the Golden State Warriors in Oakland, Calif., Tuesday, May 5, 2015. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Marc Gasol has a simple plan for convincing Mike Conley to re-sign with the Grizzlies: Be nice.

Tony Allen is going another way.

Peter Fleischer of Fox 13 Memphis:

Grizzlies general manager Chris Wallace says Conley will re-sign with Memphis. Others disagree. For his part, Conley has been vague – though he left the door open for signing with the Knicks, need a point guard and could have max cap space .

Conley will have options, and he should explore them. This will be his first free agency after the Grizzlies drafted him and signed him to a contract extension. Staying with the only NBA team he has know should be appealing – but other options could be, too.

People in Memphis clearly care about him returning.

Each in their own way.