Caron Butler, Marc Gasol

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Fear Memphis, for they are a force

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What you missed while marveling at Japanese beer technology.

Grizzlies 94, Clippers 85: Why does everyone fear the Grizzlies right now? Because they have a huge front line with skill. Because they have very good wing players. Because they have depth. Because they have won 8 of 10 and that includes victories over the Lakers, Thunder, Heat and Mavericks. Now you can add the Clippers to that list.

Memphis is playing good defense and you know what the Clippers are going to run — a whole lot of pick and roll — and the Griz were ready. Blake Griffin (19 points) and DeAndre Jordan were in foul trouble at points, while Chris Paul wasn’t finding room to operate and teammates were not helping out. On the other end, it was a huge game from Marc Gasol — 18 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists. That’s one more assist than Chris Paul. Marreese Speights also had a good game for Memphis. Teams should fear the Grizzlies, they will be a very tough out come the playoffs.

Jazz 91, Spurs 84: After an 11 game win streak, somebody finally figured out how to beat the Spurs — Gregg Popovich. San Antonio’s own coach sat Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. And the Spurs still almost won — they were up 9 in the fourth quarter, before an 8-0 Jazz run made it a game again. Devin Harris came alive with 12 of  his 24 in the fourth quarter, while Paul Millsap added 9 of his 18 in the quarter. The win keeps the Jazz in the thick of the playoff race.

Lakers 93, Hornets 91: Well Andrew Bynum, you wanted to be the man on a team. With Kobe Bryant out Bynum became the focal point of the New Orleans defense. The Hornets aggressively doubled and even tripled teamed Bynum in the first half and he got frustrated, shot 2-for-7 to start. He finished 7-for-17 shooting but seemed to adapt. Gasol much more smooth in dealing with that defensive attention, much more polished, and finished with 25 points.

It took a 15-2 run late in the game for the Lakers (sparked by their defense) to get back in this and take the lead, then they held on for the win. Marco Belinelli and Carl Landry each had 20 for the Hornets.

Rockets 94, Trail Blazers 89: The Rockets went 4-0 on a tough late-season road trip and when they make the playoffs they can look back at that as when they secured it. Goran Dragic led the way with 22 points and seven assists, as he has done so often lately.

Thunder 109, Bucks 89: This game was really never in doubt, the Thunder owned it inside and out. Russell Westbrook went right at Brandon Jennings and finished with 26 points. The Thunder were able to get into the paint at will it seemed, and the Bucks only defense to that was to foul.

Orlando 119, Pistons 89: No Dwight Howard, no Hedo Turkoglu, no Chris Duhon (okay, maybe the last one doesn’t matter as much) but it didn’t slow the Magic. This one was never close as the Magic played defense like Stan Van Gundy wanted. Jason Richardson had 22, Jameer Nelson had 18 points and 9 assists. Detroit is just not very good.

Pacers 103, Raptors 98: The Pacers seemed in easy control of this one until a Linus Kleiza explosion — 18 points in the fourth quarter — sparked a 15-2 Raptors run that made a game of it late. The Pacers held on thanks to George Hill — 18 points playing the point, filling in for Darren Collison — and 18 from Danny Granger.

Nuggets 123, Warriors 89: Denver was desperate for a win to stay in the playoffs, the Warriors are rolling over. Combine that and you get a blowout. The big story was rookie Kenneth Faried, who had his best game as a pro with 27 points and 17 rebounds.

Wizards 113, Bobcats 85: Charlotte is going to have the most ping pong balls come the NBA draft lottery — and they deserve it. In a battle of the two worst teams in the league (they have been at the bottom of my power rankings for weeks) the Wizards crushed the Bobcats. The Wizards traded Nick Young in part to give more room for Jordan Crawford and he is responding, with 20 points in this one.

Suns 114, Timberwolves 90: Phoenix tore up the Minnesota “defense” (we had to put that in quotes after this performance) and the Suns shot 57 percent on the night. Rookie Markieff Morris had 21 points off of the bench. Kevin Love finished with 25 points and 13 rebounds, but it was kind of moot, the Suns ran away with this one.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.