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.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.