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.

If Jeff Hornacek doesn’t work out with Knicks, is David Blatt next in line?

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It’s not fair to judge Jeff Hornacek of his first season as coach of the New York Knicks. Phil Jackson made some poor roster decisions — don’t hire a coach that likes to play fast then go sign Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah — and then there was the on again, off again, on again triangle offense looming over everything.

This season Hornacek will sink or swim on his own terms, and his ability to develop Kristaps Porzingis into a true franchise cornerstone and put Tim Hardaway Jr. and other young players in good positions around them.

If not, is former Cavaliers coach David Blatt lurking? Frank Isola of the New York Daily News says it’s something to watch.

Blatt, who has enjoyed tremendous success abroad, owns an impressive resume. No question about it. But you know the old saying, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And Blatt has connections with people in high places inside the Knicks front office, namely team president Steve Mills and newly hired front office executive Craig Robinson…

Mills is going to give Hornacek every opportunity to succeed in New York but Mills, who is said to have strong opinions about how the team should be coached, also wants to see results. That begins with Hornacek repairing his relationship with Kristaps Porzingis, who did not connect with the head coach last season and ultimately skipped his exit meeting with Jackson, Hornacek and Mills in April.

Repairing that relationship with Porzingis is crucial. We’ll see if Hornacek can do that and get this team moving in the right direction.

Blatt wants to return to the NBA, but his he the guy to connect with Porzingis? Blatt’s problems in Cleveland had far less to do with Xs and Os than it did relationships with players — Blatt was saying he wanted to team to play faster long before Tyronn Lue said that when he took over, but Lue could get players to buy in and listen. Blatt couldn’t. Blatt came in expecting to be handed respect, touting his European resume (that NBA players shrugged at), and demanding deference rather than building partnerships with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. Blatt came off as needing to be the smartest guy in the room, always. Basically, Blatt could not handle the player/power dynamic in the NBA (coming out of Europe, where coaches have absolute power, like an American college coach). Has he learned how to deal with it?

Before we get to that question, Hornaced gets his shot. The real test for the Knicks comes after Christmas, when they spend most of a couple of weeks on the road (due to the Grammys coming to Madison Square Garden), it’s a tough couple of weeks, and the team could struggle in that stretch and not recover. Hornacek has to have the team playing well enough, and buying in enough by then, to survive that trip. Do that and he will stick around. If not, the sharks are circling.

Hawks commit more earnestly to rebuild, but enough?

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hawks were pretty good without a clear path forward.

Now, they’re pretty bad without a clear path forward.

Luckily for them – and despite their best efforts – they might be bad enough.

Atlanta continued its descent from its 60-win peak two years ago by losing its two best players. The Hawks let Paul Millsap leave for the Nuggets and traded Dwight Howard to the Hornets in what could be described as a salary rearrangement more than a salary dump.

After multiple half-measures toward rebuilding – refusing to offer Al Horford the max, trading Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver for first-round picks – Atlanta finally committed.

Kind of.

The Hawks hedged against full-on tanking by signing Dewayne Dedmon and Ersan Ilyasova. Those two big men – Dedmon in his prime, Ilyasova close enough to it – supply enough hustle and basketball intelligence to sabotage a proper tank. Coach Mike Budenholzer, whose teams tend to exceed the sum of their parts, won’t help Atlanta bottom out.

I can see breaking up a team with a playoff chance to torpedo high into the lottery. The Hawks aren’t doing that – not purposefully, at least. It appears they’re trying to remain credibly competitive, which could only undermine their rebuild.

Atlanta is rebuilding around Dennis Schroder, John Collins, Taurean Prince and DeAndre’ Bembry. The Hawks also have all their own first-rounders plus protected first-rounders from the Rockets, Timberwolves, and Cavaliers. But the Houston pick is the only one of those extras that can ever land in the top 10, and that’s just top-three protected this season, a season in which the Rockets project to pick in the low 20s.

Simply, this is not an encouraging asset pool to begin a rebuild with. Atlanta would benefit greatly from a high 2018 pick.

The Hawks just don’t seem interested enough in securing one.

They also lost Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha in free agency. Like the 32-year-old Millsap, the 33-year-old Sefolosha had no place on a team mostly rebuilding. The 25-year-old Hardaway could have fit into the next era or even as a trade chip, but not on the four-year, $71 million offer sheet the Knicks signed him to. Though Atlanta wisely passed on matching, it’s a shame to lose an asset for nothing.

That’s really the story of the Hawks’ descent. Millsap, Horford, Sefolosha and DeMarre Carroll all walked in free agency. Atlanta was always reluctant to trade those players for value while it could.

I’m trying to grade only this offseason, not prior decisions. General manager Travis Schlenk took over this offseason, and he has the runway for a patient rebuild.

The Hawks wisely got a first-rounder for taking and buying out Jamal Crawford. Could they have found similar deals rather than signing Dedmon and Ilyasova? Could they have signed younger players instead?

The Hawks might hope they can trade Dedmon (two years, $12.3 million) and Ilyasova (one-year, $6 million) for even greater value, but that comes with complications. Dedmon has a $6.3 million player option for next season, so if his deal goes south, Atlanta is on the hook for another year. (If it goes well, Dedmon will become an unrestricted free agent and – fitting the theme – could just leave.) As a returning player on a one-year contract, Ilyasova can veto any trade.

If the Hawks had re-signed Millsap (and maybe Sefolosha, too), they could have made a decent case to return to the playoffs in the lowly Eastern Conference. Atlanta has the NBA’s second-longest active playoff streak, 10 seasons. That isn’t nothing, and continuing it would have been fine.

If the Hawks tried to return to the playoffs and failed, they would have ended up in a similar position to where they are now – somewhere in the lottery, but not necessarily high in it. They could have even traded Millsap – whose Denver deal guarantees him just $61 million over two years – for value.

If the future is murky either way, I’d rather be better in the interim.

Perhaps, Atlanta just tired of losing in the first or second round (though ownership and management has recently changed). That would have been the team’s likely ceiling if it re-signed Millsap.

But I just don’t see winning about 30 games as more pleasurable than reaching the playoffs, even with an early-round exit. A 30-win season doesn’t bring enough value in the draft to offset the difference.

Here’s the good news: The Hawks’ hedging probably didn’t go far enough. They might be downright terrible, anyway – positioning them to draft the elite young talent they badly need to galvanize their rebuild.

This was a D+ effort that stumbled into a slightly more favorable position – i.e., a team that struggles more than it expects.

Offseason grade: C-

Dunker Max Pearce throws down another impressive one (VIDEO)

Via _maxw3ll_ on Instagram
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These are the kinds of dunks that make me ask, should the NBA allow pro dunkers in the All-Star Saturday Dunk Contest. Some years you get the great Zach LaVine shows, but other years it’s down. NBA players need to focus on their game, not highlight dunks.

Guys like Max Pearce on the other hand…

Here is his latest.

But head to his Instagram page and you get to see a lot of dunks like this.

Stay creative 👍🏽 #Flynance 🏆

A post shared by Max Pearce (@_maxw3ll_) on

Warriors sign power forward Georges Niang to training camp contract

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The Golden State roster is locked in with 15 guaranteed contracts set for next season. We know what their opening day roster is going to look like (and it looks like a champion).

But the Warriors need extra bodies for training camp, so enter Georges Niang, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Niang was drafted in the second round, 50th overall, out of Iowa State in 2016, by Indiana. He played just 93 minutes total with the Pacers last season, he didn’t get much of a chance to impress in Summer League, and they moved on waiving him in July. Niang put up numbers in college, but there were questions about if he was athletic enough for the next level.

Staying in the G-League (formerly D-League) keeps him close to his NBA dream. If it doesn’t work out, in future years he can make a good paycheck overseas, but for now he chases the dream.