Baseline to Baseline recaps: Mayo sticks dagger in Thunder

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What you missed while watching Kentucky win the national title they seemed destined to win….

Memphis 94, Oklahoma City 88: Apparently the Thunder are not comfortable on top of my (and everybody’s) power rankings.

This was always a dangerous letdown game for the Thunder — they beat the Heat, Lakers and Bulls in the eight days before and had the Heat coming up again Wednesday. This was the sandwich game, the one you ignored. And you can’t look past a desperate Memphis team in need of a good win. Memphis led much of the second half but you knew the Thunder run was coming. It did and this was close at the end. That’s when O.J. Mayo hit the dagger three with 17 seconds left, then celebrated with Russell Westbrook’s “six shooters in the holster” move. Nice. Mayo finished with 22. Big win for the Grizzlies who now sit fifth in the deep West.

Rockets 99, Bulls 93: The Rockets are not giving up that final playoff spot in the West without a fight. It was a roller coaster of a game with huge swings but a third-quarter 14-1 run by the Rockets tied it then a 17-2 run that spanned the third into the fourth gave Houston the win. Goran Dragic had 21 points to lead Houston.

This is two losses in a row for Chicago, the first time this season that has happened. Richard Hamilton returned and had six early points but mostly looked rusty and had five turnovers (the Bulls had 19, which was one of their problems on the night). Deng had 24 to lead Chicago, which finally looks like it needs Derrick Rose back.

Clippers 94, Mavericks 75: We knew it would take a little while for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to really develop chemistry on the pick-and-roll. We knew that but we were still impatient. . Now we’re starting to see the fruits of that play, and the rest of the West may want to tremble a little. That play was key for the Clippers. The other guy who was hot was Randy Foye who had 28 points as the weakside outlet knocking down threes. Dallas shot just 39 percent for the game. Part of it was just an off night for Dallas but the Clippers defense deserves some credit, they were running the jump-shooting Mavs off their shots and making them put it on the floor.

Jazz 102, Trail Blazers 97: In a tight game where the Jazz fought back the Trail Blazers had a chance: Down one with 28 seconds left bringing the ball inbounds. Nicolas Batum made the pass to Raymond Felton, who was casual about catching it — Jamal Tinsley jumped in, made the steal, raced to the other end where seconds later Paul Millsap got a dunk that pretty much sealed the win. The lesson here kids — you have to give up position for possession. Or, to be more blunt, go to the ball, Raymond. Good come-from-behind win for the Jazz, who remain one game out of the playoffs in the West.

Bucks 112, Wizards 98: Washington did put up a fight, this was close until midway through the fourth quarter, but the Bucks were deeper — 15 more bench points — and they had Brandon Jennings. Ekpe Udoh also had 15 and 8, he’s been a good pick up for Milwaukee. The Bucks got a win that keeps them just two games out of the playoffs in the East.

Kings 116, Timberwolves 108: Sacramento opened the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run to get the win. Tyreke Evans had 24 points, Jimmer Fredette 19. The big story for the Timberwolves is Luke Ridnour suffered what looked like a nasty sprained ankle — this is a team already without Ricky Rubio. Tough break.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.