Baseline to Baseline recaps: Suns rising while Rockets crash back to earth

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What you missed while watching the holographic Tupac set from Coachella

Clippers 92, Thunder 77: Oklahoma City scored just 25 points in the second half. It’s the kind of game that makes you go hmmmm…..

Nuggets 104, Rockets 102: In the first half, the Rockets were playing with a sense of desperation on defense. How desperate the situation for them was didn’t change at halftime but their defense did — the Nuggets shot 68 percent in the third quarter and 56 percent in the fourth to come back and win. They did it with a backcourt of Ty Lawson (25 points) and Arron Afflalo (26) providing most of the scoring. Plus, Kenneth Faried is a spark plug.

With the Rockets loss they fall out of the playoffs — they are actually tied with the Suns for the 8/9 seed but Phoenix has the tiebreaker. Losing both games to Denver in a home-and-home could be their season. On the flip side, Denver moved past Dallas (who lost to Utah, keep reading) and into the six seed.

Jazz 123, Mavericks 121 (3OT): Let’s move on from the “wet Willy” and talk about the game. This was one it looked like the Jazz had but the feisty defending champs went on a 17-6 run to close out the game and almost win it. Paul Millsap was a beast — 28 points, 26 rebounds and his putback sent the game to overtime. Dirk Nowitzki was everything you ask your star to be with 40 points and some key shots. The Jazz got good guard play from Devin Harris (23 points) and Gordon Hayward (24). This was a real battle of a game, two teams playing with some playoff desperation.

With the win, the Jazz are just half a game back of Houston and Phoenix for the 8 spot and they have a chance. Dallas, with its second overtime loss in a row (Lakers on Sunday) fall to the seven seed in the West.

Heat 101, Nets 98: This is why you want to have LeBron James on the roster — he scored the final 17 points for Miami, led his team on a 13-1 run late and got the Heat a win they really didn’t deserve. New Jersey led almost the entire game because the Heat just would not play defense — the Nets shot 53.5 percent for the first half and 50 percent for the game. Steam was coming out of Erik Spoelstra’s ears. But the Heat bench made a push to make the game close again midway through the fourth quarter, then James did his thing.

Wizards 87, Bulls 84: No Derrick Rose and no Luol Deng for Chicago and it showed — Miami had a healthy star to take over at the end and get a win when they were outplayed Tuesday, Chicago did not. Wizards big man Kevin Seraphin had 21 points, helping the Wizards score 48 in the paint. The Wizards also ran on the Bulls all night long, you can imagine how that went over with Tom Thibodeau.

Magic 113, Sixers 100: No Dwight Howard, no Glen Davis, no Hedo Turkoglu and the Magic still won this handily. Ryan Anderson had 26 points and 16 rebounds for Orlando. Philly is just a mess — they should have pounded Orlando inside and on the glass but they could not and did not, plus they didn’t defend the arc (Orlando was 11-for-18 from three).

Pacers 111, Timberwolves 88: Indiana has won 9 of 10 now, they have a balanced team — all five starters scored in double figures in this game. Teams keep trying to avoid the Heat and Bulls in the East (with reason) but the Pacers are not pushovers. Minnesota is a mess and has now lost 26 consecutive games in April, an NBA record.

Suns 125, Trail Blazers 107: The Suns went on a 14-4 run to take the lead in the first half and never looked back. The Suns were desperate and the Trail Blazers had a starting backcourt of Jonny Flynn and Luke Babbitt. If the playoffs started today the Suns would be in as the eight seed… but they don’t start today and they are tied with Houston and half a game up on Utah. They have a lot of work left to do.

Spurs 120, Warriors 99: First of three games in three nights for the Spurs so Gregg Popovich made sure his stars got plenty of rest — Tim Duncan played 13 minutes, Manu Ginobili 12 and Tony Parker just 8. That’s all the Spurs needed against a Warriors team trying to lose enough games to keep their draft pick. San Antonio went on a 14-0 first quarter run and never looked back. Gary Neal had 17 to lead them. Klay Thompson had 29 for Golden State.

Hawks 109, Raptors 87: Second night of a home-and-home and it was a complete reversal from the first game? Why? The Hawks can fall in love with their jumper and miss it a lot, which they did Sunday. Monday Jeff Teague was attacking the paint and with it the Hawks got better looks. Still, it was close for nearly three quarters, but the Hawks closed out the third on a 12-2 run and the rout was on. Ivan Johnson had 21 points for the Hawks.

Hornets 75, Bobcats 67: New Orleans has a four-game winning streak. I don’t care who it’s against, that is something worth celebrating. I don’t care how ugly this game was (in the third quarter the two teams combined to shoot 6-for-40 and score 20 points, total). A win is a win.

Gregg Popovich says he was ‘guilty of over-coaching’ LaMarcus Aldridge

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LaMarcus Aldridge has been much better for the San Antonio Spurs this season. This comes after a tumultuous offseason in which it became clear that Aldridge was unhappy with his time in Texas.

That information came to light over the summer, and indeed both Aldridge and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down to have a discussion to work out their differences in preparation for the upcoming season.

The results have been stupendous, with Aldridge playing better than ever in San Antonio despite the team lacking star Kawhi Leonard. Aldridge is averaging career highs in points per-100 possessions, which makes sense given his career-high 119 offensive rating.

Apparently part of Popovich’s change in dealing with Aldridge was how he coached him. Popovich told NBA.com recently that he made the mistake of over coaching Aldridge, saying that the veteran didn’t need as much guidance as young star players did when they came to him in the past.

Via NBA.com:

“We broke bread a few times, talked about it, laughed about it, discussed what we thought needed to happen, and frankly 95 percent of it fell on me because I made an error in trying to change him too much. That might sound odd, but he’d been in the league nine years and there’s one way he plays on the offensive end and feels comfortable with. I tried to turn him into Jack Sikma, told him I was going to teach you how to play on the elbow, go on the wing, face up. It was confusing for him. It really didn’t fit his style of play. I was guilty of over coaching in a sense.

“We came to an agreement on what had to happen. Well, on defense, I told him ‘I’m going to get on you like I do everyone else. But on offense, I don’t even want to talk to you. When they double you, kick it. Other than that, you be LaMarcus Aldridge.’ You see the result right now. He’s happy, confident and kicking everybody’s butt.”

Now that everything is sorted for the Spurs, we just have to watch out for them as they gain momentum heading into 2018. Leonard made his debut for the season on Tuesday night against the Dallas Mavericks, and as a publication time he had nine points in 10 minutes.

God help us if Gregg Popovich has finally found a way to make the mercurial LaMarcus Aldridge happy and pair him with a fully healthy Leonard.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas offers advice to Ball brothers on Lithuania

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Lithuania is a hoops-mad country.

The Baltic nation has fewer people in it than the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, yet it has three players in the NBA right now — Jonas Valanciunas, Donatas Motiejunas, and Mindaugas Kuzminskas — and has put 11 players in the league total (such as Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Arvydas Sabonis, and Sarunas Marciulionis). The country has won three bronze medals in the Olympics ( 1992, 1996, and 2000). It’s Lithuanian league also has been the launching pad for Celtics’ Aron Baynes to make the NBA.

Now the Ball brothers LiAngelo and LaMelo are headed there on professional contracts.

One of those players — the Raptors’ Valanciunas, had advice for the Ball brothers, speaking to ESPN.

“They’re getting themselves into a great opportunity. Lithuania is beautiful country… We have great basketball history. We’re such a small country, but we have many, many great players. Our basketball school is good., so they chose a really good school. They just gotta work hard — it’s all about working. You can be as good as you can be by working. Talent is one thing, but work you put in, that’s gonna show up.

“If they have any problems, let me know. I can help them out.”

Good luck finding anyone around the NBA who thinks this ends well, especially those who know the Ball family. They are sending a college freshman and a high school junior to a small city in a former Soviet bloc country with a very different culture, that will be a major adjustment. The coach doesn’t speak English and his former American players have not spoken highly of him. The Lithuanian league itself has men — far more physically developed than the Ball brothers — and is known for a physical style of play. It’s also known as a league where the players have a reasonably high hoops IQ and don’t like undisciplined players.

But if LiAngelo and LaMelo have any problems, they can call Valanciunas.

Paul George on return to Indiana Wednesday: “For whatever reason, I’ll be booed”

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This week is the Oklahoma City Thunder’s “you can’t go home again” week of the schedule. On Saturday night, Carmelo Anthony will return to New York where Knicks fans should welcome him with cheers and open arms — he meant a lot to that franchise in recent years — but may very well not.

First up, however, Paul George returns to Indiana in a Thunder uniform Wednesday night.

There’s little doubt how he will be greeted by Indiana fans, who felt betrayed by a man they stuck by through recovery from a severe injury. George knows what is coming,

Here are the key lines from PG13:

“Boos. I honestly wouldn’t think it would be any other way. The Pacers fans outweigh the Paul George fans. That’s what I’m looking forward to. For whatever reason, I’ll be booed, but I’m gonna embrace that. I’m gonna thrive on that.”

For whatever reason? You asked to be traded and fans take that personally. There is no loyalty in sports — I have no problem with players asking out because teams show no hesitancy in dumping players they no longer have a use for (and fans are almost always good with that) — but he had to know how this would be taken in Indiana.

What George might want to worry about is stopping the red-hot Victor Oladipo (he averaged 35.7 points per game last week), because he and the Pacers are playing better than the Thunder right now.

Kawhi Leonard returns Tuesday on minutes restriction

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The Spurs have been the Spurs this season, going 19-8 with an elite defense and offense that’s good enough to get them wins, thanks to LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level.

Starting Tuesday, they add Kawhi Leonard back to the mix.

He will return to the lineup against Dallas, but will be on a minutes restriction, coach Gregg Popovich said on Tuesday. He would not say how many minutes, although around 20 seems a logical starting spot.

Leonard is one of the five best players in the NBA (and that may be selling him short). He averaged a career-high 25.5 points a game last season, he’s arguably the best perimeter defender in the NBA, and he finished third in the MVP voting last season.

However, there are going to be adjustments. LaMarcus Aldridge has been the focal point of the offense, but he could see fewer touches, particularly in crunch time. Kyle Anderson could see fewer minutes, and Rudy Gay may as well because Popovich liked some small-ball lineups last season with Leonard at the four. A lot of players will see their rotations change.

That said, it’s the Spurs. Do we really expect them to be anything but an incredibly good regular season team? One that is about to get better?