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.

 

Bucking trend, NBA television ratings up both nationally, locally

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Traditional television ratings are down across the board — in sports, but also in dramas and comedies and just about every other category across the board. More and more people are cutting the cord, and even for people who still pay for cable/satellite, there are countless more options and streaming choices like Netflix that divide the marketplace. That’s why the people trying to pin the NFL’s rating declines on political issues miss the point — America’s most powerful sports league is not immune to market trends.

The NBA, however, is bucking the trend.

From The Business Sports Journal.

Nationally, NBA games on ABC, ESPN, NBA TV and TNT are showing double-digit viewership increases. The combined 15 percent jump puts the league’s TV viewership at its best mark heading into All-Star weekend since the 2012-13 season.

Locally, regional sports networks are seeing a 7 percent increase in ratings so far this season. SportsBusiness Journal analyzed ratings data for 27 U.S.-based teams across the NBA. Seventeen RSNs showed increases; 10 posted decreases. Information for Memphis, Utah and Toronto was not available…

Overall, local NBA games on NBC Sports’ RSNs have seen a 16 percent jump this season. NBA games on Fox’s RSNs are up 5 percent.

The NBC regional sports networks are seeing a massive boost in part because of Boston, which has seen an 82 percent jump in ratings this season.

This is good news for the NBA, which recently signed a massive new television deal with its primary partners, ESPN/ABC and Turner Broadcasting.

Why the increase? Likely a number of factors. One, the NBA has a strong crop of young stars — and those stars are engaging fans on social media. The NBA also embraced technology and other media in a way other sports did not — you can see any NBA highlight you want on YouTube, try that with the NFL. The NBA was more willing to change with the times, but that still doesn’t fully explain why a sport with a younger demographic — more cord cutters — is seeing its ratings rise.

Anthony Davis on Pelicans if Cousins healthy: “We go to the Finals”

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On January 27, the Pelicans were 27-21 and had won seven-of-eight (including just beating the Houston Rockets), and they were solidly in as the six seed in the West. They looked like a solid playoff team in the West, and with Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins they were going to be a tough matchup in the first round.

Jan. 27 was also the day it became official that Cousins had torn his Achilles and was done for the season.

It leads to a lot of “what ifs” in New Orleans. During All-Star weekend ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Anthony Davis about that and he was more optimistic than most.

“We could have gone through the playoffs. No one could really stop us as bigs. We go to the Finals if we went,” Davis told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols in an interview over All-Star weekend.

“[Teammate Rajon Rondo] reminds us of it: ‘You guys are the two best bigs. I know what it takes to win championships; we got it.'”

Two quick thoughts here. First, no the Pelicans were not contenders. Second, I want Davis to think like this, to say this if I’m a Pelicans fan or in Pelicans management. The best players always think they can find a way to win.

The big question around the Pelicans now is how the Cousins injury impacts the future of GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry. Those two were under a mandate to make the playoffs or a housecleaning was coming, and they were clearing that bar before a catastrophic injury. Are they both back now? Neither? There are rumors out of the Big Easy they are leaning toward keeping Demps but dumping Gentry, however, it’s still unclear.

Also unclear, how much do the Pelicans re-sign Cousins for (they will) and for how many years? It’s going to be a hot summer in New Orleans one way or another.

Stephen Curry would love to captain Team Stephen again in 2019

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Stephen Curry would love to be an NBA All-Star Game captain again next year, especially since the game will be in his hometown of Charlotte.

LeBron James would be OK with someone else taking his place, depending on who the top two vote-getters are, although his draft prowess led to Team LeBron beating Team Stephen 148-145 Sunday night.

And there’s a definite appetite for the NBA to televise the captains’ draft rather than conduct it clandestinely like it was this year.

“Televise it,” said DeMar DeRozan of Team Stephen. “Give the people what they want to see. I think everybody wants to see it. At the end of the day, every single person that gets picked, you are an All-Star, so it doesn’t matter where you really go, so I think televise it.”

Players raved about the new format of having captains draft the teams rather than the traditional format of East vs. West.

And James finally revealed his draft order: Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, his former Cleveland teammate Kyrie Irving and DeMarcus Cousins, who missed the game due to a season-ending injury.

“I know who I like watching and I had a draft board. I had a process,” James said. “Some of it went according to plan. A couple of them fell through, but I was satisfied and happy with the guys that I got.”

James’ original roster was dramatically altered by injuries to Cousins, John Wall, Kristaps Porzingis and Kevin Love, who all missed the game.

“Even with the four guys that got injured we were able to get four new guys that came in and played well for us.”

James was named the game’s MVP after making the go-ahead, finger-roll layup with 34.5 seconds left and scoring a game-high 29 points.

Where did he hide his draft board?

“Ain’t none of your business. You’re going too far, man,” James said with a laugh.

Curry didn’t divulge his draft order.

“As the draft kind of unfolded, you start to game plan around positions,” he said. “For me, I tried to get the best shooters. It was kind of cool to see both teams come together as me and LeBron were picking. So that part, that vibe of the format and having two guys select from your peers will be a fun show as it unfolds year after year.”

The All-Star draft led to interesting dynamics on court.

Curry chose his Golden State teammates Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, but the trio had to play against Durant. James also chose Oklahoma City duo Westbrook and Paul George to play along with Kyrie Irving, who forced a trade away from James in Cleveland just last summer.

Irving and James had no obvious friction, even laughing and joking on the bench. Neither did Durant and Westbrook, who broke up in 2016 when Durant left Oklahoma City for Golden State.

Durant helped James smother Curry in the final seconds to prevent him from getting off a potential tying shot.

And then there was Toronto’s Dwane Casey coaching Team LeBron against Raptors star DeRozan.

“I think that having the captains and selecting the guys and being able to mix them up gave it a more authentic feel of kind of what us players want to be part of in an All-Star Game,” Irving said.

“It’s great to play with guys in your conference, East-West. But when you get a chance to have Russell Westbrook, Paul George, and you know they’re teammates already, and then you mix them with myself and Kemba (Walker), and LeBron, and you could see the mix and it just worked.”

 

Will Sam Hinkie ever be an NBA GM again?

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The buzz around the NBA is that Sam Hinkie would like to get back in the game. He’s a bright guy who is teaching graduate business classes at Stanford, he’s investing in and helping some startups in the Silicon Valley. Like smart people in every walk of life, NBA GMs have interests outside of just their profession. Hinkie can live a very good life outside the NBA world if he so chooses, but the buzz is he wants back in.

Will a team let him?

Ric Bucher of Bleacher Report asked other executives about the potential of a Hinkie return, in a story about his legacy. There was caution.

One owner of an Eastern Conference team said (Hinkie’s 13-page, esoteric resignation) letter—which was not intended to be shared publicly—damaged Hinkie’s chances of being hired to run a franchise again as much as anything he did while with the Sixers. Still, sources both close to Hinkie and around the league said owners and executives routinely reach out to him for counsel. Several basketball operations vice presidents and owners said they would hire him, but they wouldn’t put him in charge.

Others believe Hinkie and The Process weren’t given a full trial, and that he didn’t do anything wrong as much as the league turned on him.

“They clearly changed the rules on Sam,” the longtime front office executive said. “That wasn’t all on him. If he lasts five more months, maybe it all looks different and he is given credit for what they’re doing now.”…

“Once you stockpiled all those talented players, was Sam capable of flipping the switch and becoming a real GM?” the second Western Conference GM asked. “Because you don’t hire the demolitionist to do the remodel. Those are two different jobs with two different skill sets.”

Hinkie gamed the system in Philadelphia — with ownership’s blessing, at first. Until the pressure from the league and other owners, and the weight of the losses, became too much. Jerry Colangelo came in and the writing was on the wall for Hinkie and “The Process.” Every team has “tanked” to improve draft position and gain financial flexibility at some point, but nobody was as naked and extreme in their ambitions as Hinkie’s 76ers. Most Sixers fans seemed to get it, but other owners didn’t like what it said about the business of the NBA.

The Process also worked — Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz (who has yet to play but will make a difference) have the Sixers as an on-the-rise team that makes the playoffs this year. Whether they get there depends on Embiid’s health and if the right players can be put around them, but he started a process that works.

At some point, I expect a team will give Hinkie another shot, a team near the bottom of the standings in a smaller market with an owner ready to gamble. It may be, as the one executive suggested, Hinkie in some kind of executive role setting the tone while another “GM” handles the day-to-day and relationships, but I expect Hinkie will get his shot. He learned some lessons the first time around, and his model in Philly is not one size fits all (especially with the draft lottery changes that kick in for 2019).  But he deserves another turn in the big chair somewhere.