Baseline to Baseline recaps: Turns out LeBron can score a lot

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What you missed while watching Baylor win the national title and thinking Brittney Griner can flat out ball….

Heat 99, Sixers 93: The Heat needed a win and they had LeBron James in a scoring mood — those things go together like Oreos and milk for Miami. The result was James putting up a season high 41 (while Dwyane Wade sat with what officially is a sore knee but he had looked tired lately) and the Heat got a win they needed.

The 76ers led most of the second quarter thanks to Evan Turner’s 11 points in the period (he had 26 for the game), but the Heat opened the second half on a 12-1 run and never looked back. The other key turning point was when Mario Chalmers accidentally poked Andre Iguodala in the eye in the third quarter — Iggy left and did not return. Without his defense, James had 15 of his points in the fourth to keep the game out of reach.

With the win the Heat are 2.5 back of the Bulls for the best record in the East, the Sixers are now 1.5 back of the Celtics for the Atlantic Division crown. Both of them could catch the teams above them, but both will need help.

Pacers 112, Knicks 104: New York led by 15 heading into the fourth quarter then got outscored 40-17 in the final frame and lost. Indiana shot 59 percent in the fourth — Danny Granger had 14 of his 27 in the final frame including some key threes — while the Knicks hit just 35 percent. Tyler Hansbrough had a dozen points in the fourth, Leandro Barbosa six as it was the Pacers’ bench (with Granger) that made the run. Lou Amundson deserves a shoutout too for his efforts — he is one of the best energy off the bench bigs in the game.

Carmelo Anthony had 39 points and played well most of the night — he is so obviously happy being the top dog where the offense must go through him. But this is a potentially soul-crushing loss for the Knicks, we’ll have to see how they bounce back.

Spurs 125, Cavaliers 90: The Spurs did what the Spurs do — they got in the lane (Tony Parker on drives) and either made shots close to the basket or got fouled, then when you adjust they kick out for threes and knock them down. They are an efficient machine. Patty Mills had 20 off the bench to lead six Spurs in double figures. San Antonio’s Danny Green dropped 19 on the team that cut him as some sweet revenge. Cleveland looked like a team playing out the string.

Pistons 102, Magic 95: Once again no Dwight Howard and this time no Ryan Anderson for the Magic. Without Howard to defend him Greg Monroe had 22 points on 11 shots, plus grabbed 11 boards. Glen Davis had 31 trying to balance out the Magic’s offense, but he can’t defend anywhere near like Howard.

Lakers 91, Nets 87: This looked like the Lakers cruising to a win, up 12 entering the fourth quarter. But then Los Angeles went cold, shooting 30 percent in the final frame and scoring just 13 points and letting the Nets come back to tie it. Five of the Lakers fourth quarter points came on late Kobe buckets (including the dagger three) to save the day, but it shouldn’t have come to that if you ask the Lakers. With Andrew Bynum out Pau Gasol had a good game with 22 points and he got 16 of his shots at the rim. Deron Williams had 20 — 10 during the fourth quarter — to lead the Nets.

Grizzlies 98, Warriors 94: Memphis needed a 17-2 run to come back from a dozen down in the fourth quarter and get this win. Memphis outscored Golden State 28-15 in the final frame. Mike Conley was back and had 18 points for Memphis, who also got nine points in the fourth quarter from Dante Cunningham. The on-fire Nate Robinson showed up for the Warriors and had 18 — it’s always entertaining when good Nate is at the party — and David Lee had 22.

Raptors 92, Bobcats 87: Toronto led from the second quarter on but never pulled away because… well, because they’re Toronto. Andrea Bargnani had 30 while DeMar DeRozan had 20 and controlled the second half. Good game from Byron Mullins, who had 20 and 14 for Charlotte.

Suns 109, Kings 100: First things first — DeMarcus Cousins was a full on beast and had 41 points. He helped the Kings erase a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to make a game of it. But there was Steve Nash at the end — he had 18 points and 12 assists and in the final minutes was controlling the game. With the win, the Suns slim playoff hopes stay alive.

 

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.