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.

What’s Kyrie Irving’s problem with LeBron James?

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Kyrie Irving reportedly requested a trade from the Cavaliers because he no longer wants to play with LeBron James.

But what does that actually mean?

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Much of Irving’s disenchantment with James was rooted in game play, sources said. James, as a once-in-a-lifetime talent, controlled the ball more than any other forward perhaps in league history.

But there were ancillary issues that bothered Irving, too, such as how James’ good friend Randy Mims had a position on the Cavs’ staff and traveled on the team plane while none of Irving’s close friends were afforded the same opportunity.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In registering his preference for a trade, league sources said, Irving divulged to Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert that he’s become increasingly uneasy about a future that includes a roster constructed to complement LeBron James — a roster that could be devoid of James come free agency in 2018.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Irving wants to take his show away from James so he can grow his career (his on-court acclaim and notoriety, his brand, his voice) outside of James’ shadow.

Numerous people who’ve talked to Irving over the past month have said to cleveland.com that he told them he wanted to leave to grow his career, and it was the message Irving sent to Cavs owner Dan Gilbert when he asked to be traded last week.

These can all simultaneously be true. There needn’t be one singular reason Irving wants a trade.

It can also be true that former general manager David Griffin might have soothed Irving’s discontent. It can also be true that the Warriors’ dominance influenced Irving, as he might have been more willing to remain in a secondary role if it were more likely to result in a championship.

But so much of this comes back to LeBron, a massive presence around whom everything in Cleveland revolves.

Being the top player on a team means so many things – dictating on-court action, having the supporting cast built around you, influencing team staff, building a larger sponsorship presence. Irving can’t get any of that while playing with LeBron.

Irving led the Cavs in shots and usage percentage last season, but that happened only because LeBron allowed it. LeBron obviously retook control in the playoffs. There’s no question whose team this is.

There is also no indication Irving is fighting that. He’s not trying to usurp LeBron’s power, and Irving has molded his game the last few years to fit with LeBron.

But now Irving his exercising his own power so he can get even more the only place possible – somewhere away from LeBron.

Did Cavaliers dropping David Griffin lead to Kyrie Irving’s trade request?

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Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said he had the NBA’s hardest coaching job. Following that thinking, former Cavaliers general manager David Griffin might have had the most difficult front-office job.

Not only did he face the same championship-or-bust pressure and oversee the same players (and their egos) as Lue, Griffin also reported directly to Dan Gilbert, the Cavs’ sometimes-difficult owner. The Gilbert aspect is often discussed, as is working with great/brilliant/passive-aggressive LeBron James. But it has probably been undersold how high-maintenance Kyrie Irving – who requested a trade – also was for Griffin before the general manager was ousted last month.

Ramona Shelburne, Dave McMenamin and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

Over the previous few months, the Cavs had been worried about Irving’s mindset. They knew at times he’d grown unhappy with playing a secondary role on the team. Griffin had several conversations with Irving throughout the year, sources said, trying to find ways to work on the situation.

After the season, there was a desire to arrange a meeting to clear the air from all sides, sources said, but it didn’t take place. Unlike most teams, the Cavs did not have postseason exit meetings with their players.

What followed was a whirlwind, with the Cavs putting forth a series of trade packages looking to acquire either Butler or George. Some of these talks included Irving, which upset him even more when he found out about it, sources said. Previously, Griffin had worked to keep lines of communication with Irving open, but now Irving was in the dark.

Irving’s trade request had been building for years. The reported timing is vague, but Irving might have even requested a trade while Griffin was still in charge.

Either way, there’s no guarantee the Cavs keeping Griffin would have placated Irving. But it seems an experienced voice running the front office could have only helped.

Now, the task of trading Irving or mending fences falls to new general manager Koby Altman – who must solve this issue in a spotlight he never wanted.

If only Cleveland had Phil Jackson to insist on exit meetings. Maybe this would have been smoothed over a month ago.

LaVar Ball gets technical foul, pulls his AAU team off the court, forfeits game it was winning (video)

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Magic Johnson said he’s convinced LaVar Ball’s outlandishness is just marketing and that the father of Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball is truly committed to developing younger players.

This didn’t look like someone who put youth player development over his own image.

With LaVar Ball’s AAU team leading by nine, he got a technical foul then pulled his team off the court:

He (kind of) explained why after the game (warning: profanity):

He also touched on his reasons in a video that, of course, quickly turns to promoting his brand:

This doesn’t mean Johnson is completely wrong, but the Lakers president seemingly misdiagnosed Ball’s priorities. What if Johnson is also wrong about Ball staying clear of the Lakers? That could create problems – if it hasn’t already.

I was never convinced, as NBA commissioner Adam Silver predicted, LaVar would settle down after Lonzo was drafted. I still believe Lonzo’s talent justifies managing LaVar, but that appears increasingly likely to be a burden the Lakers must actually handle rather than just brush off.

James Dolan’s MSG threatens to sue Steve Ballmer’s Los Angeles Clippers

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This story requires a little background.

The Forum in Inglewood was best known for decades as being both fabulous and the home of the Los Angeles Lakers, back from the Jerry West era and through Magic’s “Showtime” teams. Then in 2001 the Lakers moved downtown to Staples Center, and after that the Forum went through some rough times. It was a number of things, including a mega church for a while, but mostly it was empty. Then several years ago the Madison Square Garden company (owned by Knicks owner James Dolan) bought the Forum, fixed it up, and started booking it again. Now the Forum is one of the hot major concert/event spaces in Los Angeles again, and it’s about to get a boost because it’s adjacent to where Stan Kroenke is building the new Los Angeles Rams stadium. Hello gentrification!

Now enter Steve Ballmer. The Clippers’ owner wants out of Staples Center and the Lakers’ shadow, so he has proposed to build his new arena in Inglewood in another space adjacent to the Rams stadium — land that MSG used to lease. As you might imagine, Dolan’s MSG is not thrilled — they are already battling with Staples to fill their space, now a state-of-the-art arena is moving in down the street.

In a proxy Knicks/Clippers battle, MSG may sue to Clippers and Inglewood in an attempt to block the new building. Here is what Dolan’s attorney in the case, Marvin Putnam, told the Daily Breeze in Los Angeles.

“The mayor made it extremely clear that he needed that piece of land back for a kind of ‘Silicon Beach,’ ” said Marvin Putnam, a partner with the law firm Latham & Watkins, which filed the damage claim that serves as a precursor to a lawsuit. “They’re attempting to flat-out trick people.”

(Inglewood Mayor James) Butts declined to comment, and there is no proof that he made those statements. But when Madison Square Garden Co. relinquished the parking lease to the city, its approved contract states that the land would not be used for anything that would hurt the Forum’s business, according to documents.

Right now the Clippers and Inglewood are in an exclusive negotiating agreement to come to terms on the sale and plans for the property. Putnam told the paper — and the Inglewood City Council — that if the deal goes forward they will sue to block it.

It’s impossible to say how this will turn out, although as a former government reporter I will say these cases tend to be decided in favor of the side about to spend a ton of money on a new building.