Orlando Magic's Jameer Nelson, Ryan Anderson and Glen Davis guard Boston Celtics Paul Pierce as he makes a shot in front of Orlando Magic Jason Richardson in the second half of their NBA basketball game at TD Garden in Boston

Baseline to Baseline recaps: It’s all about playoff positioning

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What you missed while realizing why you act the way you do at games

Thunder 108, Suns 97: The Thunder hung with the Spurs at the top of the conference, but at the expense of the Suns chances. Brett Pollakoff was at this game for PBT and tells us that James Harden is really, really good.

Celtics 102, Magic 98: Orlando still can’t defend well without Dwight Howard, but they showed a little fight in this one, and that’s something. The Magic’s biggest push was a 14-2 run in the fourth quarter that made this one close through the end. Both teams were without key players — no Howard, no Hedo Turkoglu, no Rajon Rondo, no Ray Allen — but the Celtics did have Paul Pierce. He had a key jumper and a free throw in the final 10 seconds to seal the win and cap off his 29 points (on just 14 shots). The Celtics are locked in at the four basically; Orlando will be the six seed unless Atlanta stumbles.

Jazz 112, Trail Blazers 91: Utah is your new eight seed in the West. For a day. But this win combined with Phoenix and Houston losing has Utah half a game up into the playoffs. As for the game, the Jazz took control in the second half of the second quarter with a 20-6 run and never looked back. Utah dominated in the backcourt with Devin Harris dropping 27 and Gordon Hayward 23.

Mavericks 117, Rockets 110: This is five straight losses for a Rockets team that needs to find some wins to make the playoffs — they are now half a game behind the new eight-seed Jazz (tied with the Suns). Most frustrating to Kevin McHale and crew is that they had the lead in the fourth but a 20-6 run doomed them. Dirk Nowitzki was at the heart of that run — he had 21 of his 35 in the fourth quarter, seemingly getting to the line every time he touched the ball. Dallas also defended better in the second half (they started switching all picks) and the Rockets hot outside shooting cooled.

Dallas stays in the six seed spot, half a game up on Denver.

Heat 96, Raptors 82: No Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh, didn’t matter mostly because Toronto has mentally packed it in for the season. LeBron James had 28 points on 15 shots. Pretty much everybody was focused on the Thursday night showdown with the Bulls.

Knicks 104, Nets 95: Carmelo Anthony came out on fire — 21 first quarter points — and he pushed the Knicks out to an early lead, and from there they cruised to a win. The win keeps them in the seven seed. They get Amare Stoudemire back Friday and there will be an adjustment period, and we all also get to see how ready Stoudemire and his back really are. As for the Nets… ugh.

Sixers 103, Cavaliers 87: This was close until a 24-2 run in the third quarter — sparked when Lou Williams entered the game, even though he wasn’t scoring it changed the matchups and energy. The guy who was scoring was Jrue Holiday, who had 19 of his team high 24 in the third. Good to see Kyrie Irving back — he played 20 minutes and looked rusty as you would expect.

Wizards 121, Bucks 112: Stick a fork in the Bucks, they are done. They needed this win and now are 2.5 games back of the 76ers. They are not going to catch them. The Wizards took charge with a 17-6 run to open the second half and then when a desperate Bucks team would make a push late Jordan Crawford responded. Crawford had 32.

Clippers 104, Nuggets 98: With Ty Lawson and Andre Miller, Denver did a good job of pressuring Chris Paul and trying to get the ball out of his hands. That worked to a degree — the Clippers had 12 turnovers in the first half. But it also left open Clippers three point shooters and they hit 14-24 from deep and that kept them in it. Then the Clippers closed the game on an 8-2 run to win — a run sparked by Kenyon Martin. With the win the Clippers keep pressure on the Lakers for the top spot in the Pacific.

Grizzlies 103, Hornets 91: Memphis took control of this game with an 18-2 run in the third and never looked back. It was sparked by Rudy Gay, who had 13 of his 26 in the third, plus Mike Conley who had 20 points on the night.

Bulls 100, Bobcats 68: No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng, no problem. Rip Hamilton started the game 7-of-7 from the floor, the Bulls pulled away and Tom Thibodeau was able to lean on his bench so key players are not to tired for the showdown with the Heat.

Hawks 116, Pistons 84: This was an old-school, empty the bench blowout where Atlanta led by as many as 41 at times. The only thing of interest here is that Tracy McGrady led the Hawks in scoring with 17.

Spurs 127, Kings 102: Not exactly a defensive struggle, but the Spurs owned the game from the third quarter on. Which is impressive because it was the third game in three nights and Gregg Popovich sat Tim Duncan. Seven different Spurs scored in double figures and they got 71 points out of their bench.

Lakers 99, Warriors 87: Golden State likes to play small ball, which is why Andrew Bynum had 17 points in the first quarter and 31 for the game, while Paul Gasol had a triple-double (22 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists). This game pretty much followed the script you would expect.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.