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

1 Comment

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.

Pacers head to Cleveland looking to put pressure back on Cavaliers

Getty Images
Leave a comment

CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) — The Indiana Pacers are in no better position to pull off a historic upset in this first-round playoff series with the Cleveland Cavaliers than when they awoke Sunday morning.

The Pacers had a chance to put the Cavs, at the time reeling with playoff inexperience and the crushing weight of expectations with LeBron James, squarely behind the eight ball in this series by winning Game 4.

But Indiana fell behind by a huge deficit in the first half for the second consecutive game, erased it in the third and early fourth quarters again, but couldn’t sustain the momentum. Kyle Korver and James made enough plays down the stretch for the Cavs to win, 104-100, tying this series at 2-2 with Game 5 on Wednesday in Cleveland.

James has never lost a first-round series in 12 previous playoffs. Now, he has two of the next three games at home to try and keep his streak alive.

“I think just tying the series up and coming back home is something we feel good about,” said Kevin Love, who like every other Cav not named James has mostly struggled in this series. “We feel like it’s a best-of-three type series and at the end of the day, if it comes to it, we have two games at home. We like our advantage and we’re going to use that to our advantage (Wednesday) night.”

The Pacers trailed by 17 at halftime of Game 3 but steamrolled the Cavs in the second half and pulled out a 92-90 win behind 30 points from Bojan Bogdanovic, a playoff career high. They were down 10 through two quarters in Game 4 but fought back and were ahead 93-91 with 3:49 remaining before Korver connected on two deep 3s.

Indiana won Game 1 behind a playoff career-high 32 points from Victor Oladipo, who has struggled since (19-of-53 shooting in the last three games). Domantas Sabonis played a big role in the Pacers’ comeback Sunday, scoring a playoff career-best 19 off the bench.

The Pacers are getting the best night of someone’s playoff career almost each game of this series, and it’s been good enough for two wins. Then again, the Cavs’ two wins were by a combined seven points, and outside of James (32.5 ppg this series) almost no one is scoring.

Love is the next closest at 12.0 points in this series and JR Smith is third with 10.0 points.

“We’re not losing confidence,” point guard Darren Collison said, according to the Indianapolis Star. “This team is the defending Eastern Conference champions. Whatever you want to say about them, this is a very good team. They’ve been through a lot over the last few years. We’re fine. There’s no need to overreact or panic. We’re going to go into their building and we’re going to give the same effort.”

The Cavaliers say point guard George Hill (back spasms) is questionable to play in Game 5. He missed Game 4 with the same injury — four injections before the game were not enough to ease the pain to the point where he could play.

Jose Calderon started for Hill on Sunday and scored five points in 19 minutes. The Cavs are 24-9 this year (regular season and playoffs) when Calderon starts.

Hill is the only player on either team listed on the injury report. But Love suffered an injury to his left thumb in Game 1 and it’s affected him. He’s shooting 17-of-47 in the series with 11 turnovers. Catching and gripping the ball have been obvious problems.

“I’ve been able to get up a lot of shots,” Love said. “I think initially it was painful and in the few days that followed, but now it’s kind of subsided and I’m just getting my feel back in my left thumb.”

Report: Kawhi Leonard to return to San Antonio around exit interviews. Then…

Associated Press
6 Comments

Nobody is sure how the Kawhi Leonard situation is going to play out with the Spurs. As is the nature of the NBA, the GMs of other teams are starting to circle the Spurs like vultures, on the chance that this time Gregg Popovich cannot smooth out the relationship with his star player and needs to trade him. Leonard spent the playoffs away from the team, working out and talking to doctors in New York while “his group” shielded him from attempts from San Antonio to reach out.

Now has come the time for the sides to talk, and that will happen soon reports Jabari Young of the San Antonio Express-News.

What happens during and after that meeting is anyone’s guess.

The Spurs will only move Leonard as a last resort, and they have two things on their side. First, Gregg Popovich, who has maintained a healthy relationship with his star pupil through all of this. LaMarcus Aldridge told Popovich he wanted to be traded last summer, and over the course of some dinner meetings and self-reflection, Popovich was able to both keep Aldridge in the fold and put him in positions to be an All-NBA level player this season. The key is that both sides were willing to talk with an open mind, are Leonard and his advisors open to that?

Second, the Spurs have the ultimate hammer — the $219 million designated veteran extension (the contract James Harden and Russell Westbrook signed this year). Put that on the table and Leonard will sign it. The question is will the Spurs put it out there? Probably not if Leonard makes it clear he doesn’t want to be in San Antonio any longer. That’s when the trade talks start to gain traction.

But we’re not there yet. Not even close. Let the meetings play out first.

Back home, Thunder try to avoid elimination against Jazz

Getty Images
4 Comments

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma City was built this offseason around three All-Stars with the hopes of contending for the Western Conference crown.

The Utah Jazz started the year 18-26 without center Rudy Gobert. However, Gobert returned and the Jazz rolled off 11 straight wins into Valentine’s Day with the help of a surprise rookie of the year contender.

One more win and the Jazz will reach the second round for the second straight year. They’ll send the Thunder home with a second straight first-round exit — despite Oklahoma City’s overhauled, star-studded roster.

After losing the first game on the road, Utah won decisively in each of the past three games, including a 17-point victory in Game 4 — a game the Thunder called a must-win in Salt Lake City.

“It’s the playoffs, it’s gonna be war,” Utah point guard Ricky Rubio, who had a triple-double in Game 3, told the Salt Lake Tribune after Utah’s 113-96 victory in Game 4. “We know that it’s gonna be another war next game. We just have to be tough but at the same time, mentally ready for that.”

Game 5 is set for 9:30 p.m. EST Wednesday at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Jazz rookie Donovan Mitchell, who averaged 20 points per game during the regular season, has averaged 27.6 points during the past three games — taking his play to another level to lead a balanced Jazz attack that has five players averaging in double figures. Mitchell, who was the 13th overall pick in last year’s draft, has scored 110 points through the first four games, the most by a rookie in his first four games since Michael Jordan’s 117 in 1985, according to nba.com.

“To be honest, a lot of this is surreal. I’m just taking it game-by-game and not really getting caught up in the big picture,” Mitchell told the Salt Lake City Tribune. “Just focusing on game-by-game. My teammates have helped me out a lot as far as that goes. But we’re playing together.”

Oklahoma City point guard Russell Westbrook picked up four fouls before halftime in Game 4 and was fined $10,000 for an altercation with Gobert late in the game. Luckily for the Thunder, he was not suspended following his altercation with the Utah center.

Westbrook’s foul trouble has hardly been the Thunder’s biggest issue.

Oklahoma City was inconsistent much of the year, but it has had to contend with shooting woes from offseason acquisition Carmelo Anthony, who has hit just 25 percent of his 3-pointers in the first four games of the playoffs.

“We gotta win, nothing to it,” Anthony said after the Game 4 loss. “We’ve just gotta win. We can sit here and say what we gotta do, or what we didn’t do or what we did do, but it comes down to having the will to win that game Wednesday and forcing a Game 6 back in Utah.”

Winning in Utah won’t to be easy, where the Jazz have won six straight. Oklahoma City has to get back to Salt Lake City first and stave off elimination. But Utah hasn’t lost three straight games since Gobert’s return to the lineup in mid-January.

“Every game’s been physical,” Gobert said to reporters. “We just got to watch the tape, see how much better we can get and get ready to play basketball.”

Any end to one-and-done rule remains a couple of years away

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Condoleezza Rice and the Commission on College Basketball released their much-anticipated report and…

Yawn.

We’ll see how much the NCAA wishes to police itself and ban coaches caught cheating from the sport, or to do anything that would stem the flow of money from shoe companies and boosters into college hoops. Will the NCAA make an organizational shift to focus less on enforcement and more on involvement with players before they get to college?

One thing the report wants is an end to the one-and-done rule with the NBA, and it issues some veiled threats about getting back together and coming up with new recommendations if the NBA and its players’ union does not act within a year. Yawn. The NBA will continue to work toward this at its own pace, as Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN notes.

Allowing guys to go back to college if not drafted — even if they had an agent — is a good step.

The NBA will move at its own pace with reforms to its draft rules, and we are still years away from that (if the owners can be herded into a consensus in the first place). This commission’s report changes none of that, and without the NBA and players’ union’s cooperation the commission can’t accomplish some of its goals anyway.

The NBA is moving toward ending one-and-done, NBA commissioner Adam Silver had said they were waiting on this report to take the next steps down that road. With the assistance of the NCAA, the league could move to something more akin to the baseball model (players can be drafted out of high school to the NBA, but if they go to college they have to stay two or three seasons). However, this remains years away. For now, players such as Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley III will continue to be one-and-dones. Nobody likes it, but it is the rule for now.