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Baseline to Baseline recaps: Close games and playoff races

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What you missed while hiring a nude maid service….

Knicks 111, Bucks 107: In a must-win game for both teams, the Knicks got the stops and gutted out a win that likely sends them to the playoffs.

Clippers 100, Thunder 98: On the ESPN studio show, injured Clippers guard Chauncey Billups said the key to beating the Thunder in Oklahoma City is just to keep it close, hang around and turn it over to the “liitle guy” Chris Paul at the end. The Clippers did that, they got a fantastic all-around game from Blake Griffin (16 points, 12 boards and 7 assits) and some good play off the bench from Kevin Martin. They kept it close, then at the end CP3 did his thing. (Then Durant missed a game-winning three.)

When the Thunder get going and use their defense to create offense, they can beat anyone. But they were not consistent with it this game (there was plenty of lapses) and they hurt themselves with untimely turnovers. They feel vulnerable in ways a contender should not.

Lakers 98, Spurs 84: You can’t read too much into one regular game. So be careful here. But the Spurs got bumped from the playoffs last year because they could not contain the front like of the Grizzlies (and yes, Manu Ginobili was out). Then in the offseason they Spurs did not address the front line issues.

Enter Andrew Bynum and the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday. Bynum grabbed 30 rebounds. Thirty. He had 16 points, Pau Gasol had 21 and Metta World Peace had 26 (which is a bit flukey). The Lakers owned the Spurs inside and won without Kobe Bryant on the floor. It’s one regular season game, but it should be a concern for the Spurs.

Grizzlies 104, Suns 93: An 14-1 Suns run early in the fourth quarter made it look like this was going to be a game to the end, but Memphis took control behind Rudy Gay (Grant Hill was not playing and nobody else could check him) and Dante Cunningham. Gay finished with 32 points. Marcin Gortat had 19 for the Suns.

With the Suns loss and a Jazz win the Suns fall to the 10 seed, two games back of Houston in the eight seed. That is going to be hard to make up.

Jazz 103, Rockets 91: Huge road win for the Jazz who took the lead in the second quarter and withstood every Rockets rally all game long. Gordon Hayward was a machine, with 29 points on 14 shots, plus he chipped in six assists. Paul Millsap is still playing the three and it works, he had 21. Kyle Lowry led a fourth-quarter charge by the Rockets, but it was too little, to late. With the win the Jazz move into the nine seed, just 1.5 games back of the eight seed Rockets.

Celtics 88, Hawks 86 (OT): On the second night of a back-to-back, Boston was able to control the tempo — the Hawks wanted to run the Celtics out of the building but never really got to. Boston (and by that we mean Kevin Garnett) also traditionally is able to hold Josh Smith in check, and while he ended up with 20 points and 11 boards he did not score in the fourth quarter or overtime. Meanwhile, Rondo was dishing with 20 assists on his way to a triple-double (despite a 3-for-16 shooting night). Boston gutted out a tough win a night after beating the Heat, they will take it. Plus, just great to see Mickael Pietrus back on the court.

Sixers 93, Raptors 75: Philly continues to secure their playoff spot thanks to an easy schedule down the stretch (save for a couple games against the Pacers coming up). This game was close until a 17-4 fourth quarter run by the Sixers. Thaddeus Young led the 76ers with 17 points, and six boards.

Pacers 104, Cavaliers 98 (OT): It took a late fourth quarter 11-1 run by the Pacers just to force overtime, a run sparked by George Hill who had 8 in the quarter (and 17 for the game). That run was almost enough to win it, until Lester Hudson continued his amazing play of late with a game-tying floater to force overtime. Danny Granger was the best player in OT with a clutch three, scoring 5 of his 23 points coming in the bonus period.

Nuggets 113, Timberwolves 107: Minnesota had to play the end of his game without Kevin Love, who was taken to the hospital with a concussion. Denver owned the first half of this game and was up 21 at the break, But then a 27-8 Minnesota run made it a game again — a run sparked by Anthony Randolph’s 19 second half points. Martell Webster tied the game at 105-105 with a key three, but then Minnesota fell asleep and allowed Arron Aflalo to score a transition layup off the inbounds and that was the momentum Denver needed to win.

Hornets 105, Kings 93: New Orleans took control with a 17-3 fourth-quarter run and never looked back. All you really need to know is Jason Smith scored 22 and outplayed DeMarcus Cousins.

Trail Blazers 118, Warriors 110: A 10-0 Warriors run to open the fourth made this a game, but Portland closed the game on their own 7-0 run to secure the win. Jamal Crawford had 34 and looked like his old self for the Blazers.

Report: Jimmy Butler telling people he will be back for playoffs

Associated Press
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We don’t know a lot about Jimmy Butler‘s meniscus injury (other than that it’s not an ACL injury as feared). Because of that, it’s impossible to put a timeline on his return. We don’t know what kind of surgery he likely needs — a traditional meniscus partial removal takes six weeks or so to get a player back on the court (but is harder on the knee long-term as cushioning in it is removed, Dwyane Wade had this), but a repair could take three months or more before he is back on the court. Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau said this pregame Saturday:

However, Butler himself is telling people he will be back for the playoffs.

Is that the optimism of a fierce competitor? Players are often the worst judge of their ability to return from injury.

Or, does he know that a meniscus repair is out of the question with his injury, that a partial removal is the only option (as is true in some cases)? That has a speedier return that could have him back for the playoffs.

In the short-term, Minnesota is going to need a lot more out of Andrew Wiggins, and they need to play a lot better team defense, to hold on to a playoff slot in the West. The Timberwolves have been -8.3 per 100 possessions without Butler this season, but went 2-2 in the four games he missed. Minnesota is currently the four seed in the West at 36-26, but just three games from falling out of the postseason in a crowded conference.

Jimmy Butler has meniscus injury, not ACL. Will miss time, return TBD.

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Rarely is a meniscus injury good news, but it is for the Timberwolves.

It looked like Jimmy Butler had torn his ACL in a loss to Houston Friday night, he had to be helped off the court and he could not put weight on it. But instead, he has an injured meniscus in his right knee, an MRI revealed.

Notice the report says meniscus “injury” not “tear.” Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reported it is a tear.

If surgery is needed and recovery times differ depending on the severity of the injury. Officially, there is no timetable for his return yet — he could be back for the playoffs. Or not.

If it is a tear, as expected, that means surgery. Most of the time a surgical meniscus repair will keep a player out at least three months, which would end Butler’s season (a meniscus removal heals faster, but is rarely done anymore because long-term it is harder for the knee and the player, think of Dwyane Wade as an example).

Butler leads the NBA in minutes played per game, although he had eight days off before Friday’s game. He was selected an All-Star reserve by the coaches but chose to sit out the big game because he said he needed rest for the rest of the season. His coach, Tom Thibodeau, leans heavily on his best players and does not subscribe to the kind of rest we see in Golden State, San Antonio, and other programs trying to keep players fresh.

Minnesota has to hang on for the playoffs, the team is -8.3 points per 100 possessions when Butler is not on the court this season. At 36-26, the Timberwolves are currently the four seed in the West, but just three games from falling out of the playoffs.

Steve Ballmer: “Difficult” Blake Griffin trade moves Clippers toward modern NBA

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Last summer, Clippers owner Steve Ballmer went all-in on Blake Griffin. They wooed him with a mini-museum tour of his life, did a mock jersey retirement, told him they wanted him to be a “Clipper for life,” then sealed the deal with a five-year, $173 million maximum contract offer. Griffin accepted and never even met with another team.

Within eight months, the Clippers traded Griffin to Detroit for Tobias Harris, Avery Bradley, Boban Marjanovich, and a lightly protected 2018 first-round pick.

What changed? Was it another injury to Griffin that sidelined him and had the Clippers questioning their investment? Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN asked Ballmer about the decision.

“[Griffin] is obviously a superstar player,” said Ballmer. “But if you look at what happened injury-wise, if you look at the kind of chemistry we were getting on our team, the thing you can see at the high level with the numbers when I started — one guy got all the assists, one guy got all the points and one guy got all the rebounds. It’s not all quite that way, but I think in the modern NBA, we were seeing it more and more — there’s a greater distribution of responsibility….

“We have to add some pieces obviously, but I think we’re building for what I think is the modern NBA, and that trend has only accelerated since we signed Blake last summer.”

Ballmer thinks he can use this trade and the Chris Paul one last summer to begin to retool a roster in that fashion, saying that winning a ring is his goal. Maybe he can, but…

The Clippers are a long way from being that kind of a modern NBA team.

Talent still wins out in basketball. Those elite “modern NBA” have superstars — Stephen Curry, James Harden, etc. — who rack up a lot of numbers, but also where the other players are versatile threats. With Brad Stevens in charge, Boston runs a modern, egalitarian offense, but at the heart of it is Kyrie Irving and, eventually, Gordon Hayward as stars who can just get buckets and use their gravity to draw defenders, opening things up for others. Then there are All-Star level players around them such as Al Horford.

Without Chris Paul and J.J. Redick this season, the Clippers had to run the offense through Griffin because, well, who else? Danilo Gallinari can create some when healthy, but he’s really a second or third option and works better of the ball. DeAndre Jordan is a threat as a roll man but it takes a special point guard and passer to bring out the best in him. Austin Rivers has developed into a solid rotation point guard in the NBA, but he’s not a No. 1 option. Lou Williams is really their only other guy who can create at that level. The Clippers may have leaned on Griffin too much, but it’s not like Doc Rivers had better choices sitting around.

What is going to be interesting is to see what the Clippers do this summer — do they back up the Brinks truck and re-sign DeAndre Jordan? Do they try to bring back Bradley and Patrick Beverley? Do they keep or trade Lou Williams, who just extended with the team but at a very reasonable price ($8 million per year)? Can they move Danilo Gallinari (which would require attaching a first-round pick)?

Ballmer says he doesn’t want to bottom out and rebuild, but if Jordan leaves how much does that change the scenario? The Clippers 2019 first-round pick belongs to Boston but is lottery protected. What the Clippers don’t want is for a year from now to be exactly where they are today in the standings — on the cusp of the playoffs trying to get in. While the lottery odds change in 2019, they need to either be a rebuilding team that’s going to keep that pick, or find a way to push up into the standings (which is not going to be easy in a deep West).

It’s good to be moving toward a more modern NBA, but it’s going to be a process for the Clippers.

 

Lonzo Ball rusty in return, likes playing with Isaiah Thomas

Associated Press
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LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball took the pass and set his feet at the arc. Dallas’ Dennis Smith Jr. gave him space, so Ball put up the shot — and drained it.

And Staples Center erupted.

Lonzo Ball returned to the Lakers for the first time in 15 games following an MCL sprain. He was up and down (3-of-8 shooting) as to be expected, but had nine points, seven rebounds, and six assists in 17 minutes. (He will not play Saturday in a back-to-back in Sacramento.)

“I feel pretty good, only played 17 minutes so nothing crazy out there…” Ball said. “I could feel (his MCL), but the doc says I can get no worse. Just sliding a little bit, especially going right. Other than that it was OK.”

“I thought he looked good, I thought his shot looked good,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton, noting that he could have played Ball a little more under the minutes restriction.

Ball had three three-pointers on the night (3-of-6 from three). His shooting motion isn’t any quicker or less quirky, but he’s gotten much better and knowing when he has the room to get it off. When his feet are set and he has room, he can knock it down.

His ability to push the pace, find teammates and pick up the pace is a welcome return to the Lakers.

Ball fit in well as part of a blowout win over a Dallas team that, to use coach Rick Carlisle’s words, “played without any force.” The final was 124-102 and it was never really in doubt for Los Angeles. The Mavs looked like a team tanking, not that their owner would ever tell them to… oh, wait. Carlise and the Mavs are not trying to lose, but this is a time when Dallas needs to get a look at its players about to be free agents — Nerlens Noel, Doug McDermott, Yogi Ferrell — and young players to see who will be part of the future. The question is how to best utilize them.

“You got to trust your gut in a lot of instances,” Carlisle said of how to evaluate his young players. “It’s not rocket science, certain things become obvious. But it’s important to compete.

Luke Walton is doing the exact same thing and he liked how his team competed. He tried something different playing Ball and Isaiah Thomas together for stretches.

“I liked it a lot,” Ball said of being on the court with IT. “Two playmakers on the court, I think we benefit from it. Look forward to playing with him all the time.”

The two were -6 when on the court in a game the Lakers won in a blowout. Still, expect to see more of that and some other odd combos the rest of the way.

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