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.

Report: Cavaliers GM David Griffin ‘the top candidate’ in Magic’s front-office search

David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
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A week ago, David Griffin was just someone the Magic were researching to run their front office.

It seems the Cavaliers general manager has since moved up in the search.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

For now, Cleveland Cavaliers GM David Griffin remains the top candidate in the Magic’s search, but Orlando hasn’t yet asked for permission to speak with Griffin, largely because of the Cavaliers’ playoff status, sources said.

This could end a couple ways.

Here’s betting Griffin – who has LeBron James‘ endorsement – leverages the Orlando interest into a bigger offer from Cleveland. Griffin was just too integral to the Cavs’ first championship to discard him.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has shown much more willingness to spend than The Devos Family, which owns the Magic. If this is a bidding war, I’ll take Cleveland. If it isn’t a bidding war, the Cavs have a far more attractive roster than Orlando.

Thunder’s Andre Roberson entering free agency after impactful playoff series

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The Rockets were starting to pull away from the Thunder in Game 5 of their first-round series, and the Houston crowd was looking for a reason to erupt. The Rockets provided one by intentionally fouling Roberson despite holding Oklahoma City without a basket for the previous five minutes. The Thunder wing stepped to the line in the loudening arena and, of course, missed both free throws.

But Roberson didn’t go down quietly.

On the ensuing defensive possession, he picked up James Harden in the backcourt and hounded the Rockets star on the perimeter. Harden passed to Nene, and Roberson doubled the center in the post and stole the ball. Roberson passed to Russell Westbrook then laid out Patrick Beverley with an open-court screen, freeing Westbrook to score.

Of course, that wasn’t enough. Oklahoma City fell in five games, Westbrook’s supporting cast unable to keep up enough with its MVP candidate.

“That’ll definitely be one thing that haunt me, Roberson said of his free-throw shooting against Houston, “and something I’ll work on extremely hard this summer.”

Roberson’s postseason confirmed everything we thought we knew about him: He’s a defensive dynamo, and he can’t shoot.

But understanding Roberson’s skill set is only a small step in evaluating him. Teams are better than ever at exposing perimeter players who can’t shoot, and that makes Roberson’s price point difficult to read as he enters restricted free agency. The Thunder delayed the decision – extending Steven Adams and Victor Oladipo last year while allowing Roberson to complete his rookie-scale contract without an extension – but time is practically up.

For better or worse, it was all there in the playoffs.

Roberson made just 3-of-21 free throws (14%), the worst percentage by anyone with so many attempts in a postseason series (since 1964, as far as Basketball-Reference go back). Here are the worst free-throw percentages in a series since 1964 (minimum: 100 attempts):

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This was hardly out of the norm for Roberson, who made just 42% of his free throws during the regular season.

His postseason 3-point percentage (41%) was way better than his regular-season baseline (25%), but he attempted just 17 3-pointers in 185 playoff minutes. Not only is that a small sample, it speaks to another problem. The Rockets typically left him open, and he was reluctant to shoot. That allowed Houston to defend 5-on-4 elsewhere with only minimal repercussions. Despite playing more than 90% of his minutes with Westbrook, the Thunder still scored worse with Roberson on the court.

So why did Roberson receive such a prominent role in the series?

He’s a defensive stud. Roberson ranks fourth among players who regularly defend opposing guards in defensive real plus-minus:

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Roberson shadowed Harden for too much of the series to gauge on-off splits, but adding regular-season Thunder-Rockets games reveals a clearer (though still limited) picture:

James Harden Roberson on Roberson off
Minutes 320 16
Points per 36 minutes 25.3 51.8
Turnovers per 36 minutes 6.0 0.0
Free-throw attempts per 36 minutes 10.9 22.5
2-point percentage 50.5% 60.0%
3-point percentage 21.1% 60.0%
Effective field-goal percentage 41.9% 75.0%

Harden, arguably the NBA’s best offensive player, was held in relative check with Roberson on the floor. When Roberson sat, Harden went wild.

There has to be a place for a defender like Roberson in this league.

Is it in Oklahoma City?

Roberson was effective in last year’s playoffs as a small-ball big. He cut and crashed the offensive glass. That got harder with two of Adams, Taj Gibson and Enes Kanter occupying the paint. The Thunder maximizing Roberson’s production might mean losing a big man or two. Gibson will be a free agent and said he wants to return. Adams and Kanter are locked into lucrative long-term deals.

When it comes to Roberson, it’s always complicated.

Report: Magic’s search firm inquiring about Larry Bird

AP Photo/Michael Conroy
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Larry Bird resigned as Pacers president.

Not just today, but also in 2012. A year later, he was again running a front office (Indiana’s).

Could he make an even quicker leap back into NBA team presidency – with the Magic?

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

This strikes me as more as Orlando’s search firm trying to prove its usefulness than a viable option.

Whether they’re trying to generate excitement, getting used for leverage or actually serious, the Magic keep getting linked to big-name replacements for the fired Rob HenniganDoc Rivers, David Griffin and now Bird. If the Magic are willing to pay major money for name recognition, they could get plenty of people to at least listen. But I’m unconvinced about that spending.

It’d be a little weird for Bird to inherit Frank Vogel, whom Bird fired as the Pacers’ coach. But Bird did everything he could to show that was more about seeking change than losing faith in Vogel.

Report: Larry Bird stepping down as Pacers president

AP Photo/Darron Cummings
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Larry Bird put his stamp on the Pacers in the last year –  firing Frank Vogel and trading for Jeff Teague and Thaddeus Young to join hand-picked Monta Ellis and Myles Turner as Paul George‘s supporting cast on an up-tempo, offensively dynamic team.

The plan fell flat.

Indiana played at a below-average pace and produced a middling offense. The Pacers got swept by the Cavaliers in the first round of the playoffs.

Now, Indiana’s uncertain future – with Paul George a year from free agency and the Lakers courting – gets even more chaotic.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Bird had already resigned once as Pacers president, in 2012. He returned the following year.

Bird’s patience and pain tolerance for the job due to lingering back issues from his playing days has long seemed to waver. I wouldn’t write him off for good.

Indiana promoted Kevin Pritchard in 2012, when Bird previously stepped down. Pritchard previously worked as the Trail Blazers’ general manager, and he’s a qualified replacement.

The work begins immediately with a decision on George. If he doesn’t make an All-NBA team, the Pacers won’t gain as much financial advantage in his contract offer. That could open the door to a trade and rebuilding around Turner — or making a last-ditch push to convince George he can win in Indiana.