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.

Tampering is common in the NBA, but proving it is very difficult

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Want proof there is tampering in the NBA: Free agency starts on July 1 at midnight Eastern every year, and every year a number of new contracts for players with new teams are announced at 12:01 a.m. There is no way that a complicated NBA contract — even one where the two sides are both interested and will agree quickly on the price — is negotiated faster than it takes to get an In-N-Out Burger (or Five Guys burger, if you prefer the inferior).

Those deals are announced that fast because everything’s already been agreed to through back channels. Same with meetings when a major (or even mediocre) free agent starts talking to teams on July 1. Yet, the NBA rarely investigates, and even more rarely punishes a team for tampering. Why? Because it’s very difficult to prove.

The Lakers are being investigated for tampering with Paul George while he was under contract to the Indiana Pacers, an investigation reportedly started at the request of Pacers’ owner Herb Simon. Teams are not allowed to recruit or entice players under contract. The Lakers have denied any wrongdoing. Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” and, with a wink, joked about what he’d tell George if they met this summer, and that ticked Simon off. The Pacers had to trade George, and because everyone around the league knows he more likely than not is a Laker next summer (long before Magic went on TV), his trade value was diminished. The Pacers got back Victor Oladipo and Domantas Sabonis for him the day before free agency opened (although there may have been better offers on the table, and the choice and timing were odd). The Pacers think if there is an agreement in place between the Lakers and George that would have driven down the trade market (because he was a one-year rental, that market was already depressed).

Good luck proving tampering. Unless Magic did something stupid like text George directly, it will be almost impossible to prove.

NBA agents and front offices know how to avoid tampering using “back channels” — not unlike how governments who are public enemies still communicate. Someone, a couple of people removed from the agent/GM, can talk with someone a couple of people removed from the other side and set something up that gets brought back and agreed to. Or, an agent can have one of his other players do some of the work for him — players recruit each other all the time on social media (and off it), and the league doesn’t see that as tampering, unless specifically ordered by a GM/owner. James Harden recruited Chris PaulDraymond Green and other Warriors recruited Kevin Durant, and the league shrugged, but GM Bob Myers could not have done that (or directed the players to do that… again, good luck proving it if you think he did).

There are a few reasons it will be hard to prove the Lakers did anything. First, the Lakers’ GM Rob Pelinka is a former agent and knows how to work the system — he’s not getting caught. Look what another agent told Kevin O’Connor at The Ringer.

“Pelinka for sure knows how to tamper without getting caught,” one agent told me. “Pelinka will do whatever it takes to get players. Magic could easily have done something dumb and got caught for it, though.”

To prove tampering, Magic needs to have left a “paper trail,” which more accurately is a digital trail of texts or emails. But even that can get tricky. If Magic was texting with George’s agent Aaron Mintz that alone proves nothing, he also represents Julius Randle on the Lakers and D'Angelo Russell, who the Lakers traded a week before the George trade. It will take an email or text specifically talking about George for the Lakers to get in trouble, and Magic is smarter than that. Well, we think he is.

The bottom line is tampering is common and almost impossible to prove. Unless Magic screwed up, it will be unprovable here. Maybe the Pacers made their point, maybe Simon feels better, but it’s hard to see how this is going to be tampering.

Joakim Noah talks of “bounce back” year for himself, Knicks

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In a season of disappointments in New York, none was bigger than Joakim Noah.

There was plenty of scoffing around the league in the summer of 2016 when Phil Jackson signed the oft-injured, already declining Noah to a four-year, $72 million contract that was seen as one of the worst of a summer (and it was an ugly summer for contracts). He only played in 46 games, averaging 5.5 points on 49 percent shooting, plus 8.8 rebounds a game in those (and basically being averaged on offense and a step slow defensively). He missed time with a rotator cuff surgery and got a 20-game suspension for testing positive for Androgen (he has 13 of those games left and can’t play until Nov. 13).

Noah realizes how poorly last season went he told the “Truth Barrel’’ podcast, doesn’t think Jackson deserves all the blame, and said his goal is to make it up this season (hat tip The New York Post for the transcription).

“It’s tough, man, because I got a lot of love and respect for Phil,’’ Noah said. “He gave me an opportunity to play back home. Somebody I read all his books as a kid. I was just a big fan and still am. I have a lot of respect for him. It didn’t work out. That sucks. It’s something I have to live with. He believed in me, and I kind of let him down. That’s frustrating. He got a lot of blame that it was his fault. But we didn’t lose all those games because of Phil Jackson…

“I went through a lot of adversity,’’ Noah said. “You go through injuries. I lost my confidence this year. It’s about bouncing back and showing who I am through these tough times. It can really show what you’re made of.”

This is the only attitude Noah should have — look forward, get healthy, and look to right his wrongs next season.

Once he finishes his suspension, Noah likely will come off the bench behind Willy Hernangomez. (The Knicks should spend more time with Kristaps Porzingis at the five, but that’s another discussion.) Noah is going to get his chances, but nothing he has shown the past few seasons should have Knicks’ fans expecting a return to form. Noah has been an average to below-average player for a couple of seasons, he’s not moving the same way, and he’s not getting younger.

Noah can still have a positive impact on this team, he has a role to play, but it has to start with him getting back on the court.

Add Milos Teodosic to long list of stars missing EuroBasket

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The last Olympics in Rio saw a long list of NBA players sitting it out, either due to injuries, concerns about Zika virus, a serious dislike of açaí berries or just choosing to do something else with their time.

Now it looks like EuroBasket is suffering the same fate.

The latest name to come up is Milos Teodosic, who signed this summer with the Clippers, could never get healthy, and is out for Serbia. He joins a long list — Sportando put together a list of NBA players and stars who are out.

More than just one someone is missing, guys such as Ivica Zubac, Mario Hezonja, Paul Zipster, and others are out as well.

Spain, led by Pau Gasol, remain the heavy favorites to win EuroBasket 2017, with Serbia, France, and Lithuania potential contenders. There may be a lot of players missing, but there is still a lot of talent, and when guys are playing for national pride there is plenty of emotion and fire as well.

Lakers owner on Lonzo Ball: “He’s going to bring an element that’s very similar to Magic”

AP
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Lonzo Ball has yet to play a minute of professional basketball in the NBA, but fans in Los Angeles sure are happy to have him on board as they get ready for a new era in team history.

An exciting run through the Las Vegas Summer League in 2017 certainly showed us that Ball is ready to meet the challenges of a rookie in the NBA.

Ball won the LVSL MVP award while posting averages of 16.3 points, 9.3 assists, and 7.7 rebounds per-game. Ball and teammate Kyle Kuzma also helped the Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers in the championship game to close the tournament.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss is just as excited about Ball as fans in California are. Speaking on the Petros and Money Show in LA it recently, Buss compared the buzz around Ball to that of Kobe Bryant, saying, “No other draft pick, except maybe Kobe Bryant, has had this kind of excitement about him.”

Buss also has high hopes for Ball’s style of play.

Via Lakers Nation:

“There’s something special about Lonzo […] I think because he just wants to play basketball, he’s selfless. He has a certain charisma and I think the fact that his teammates at UCLA loved playing with him and all the nice things that they have to say about him, I think he’s going to bring an element that’s very similar to Magic Johnson.”

Whatever criticism of his father you want to muster aside, Ball does seem relatively at ease in Los Angeles and in the spotlight. While he will no doubt struggle as a rookie, as even the best do, but it is starting to look up for LA in the post-Kobe era now that Ball is in town.

They seem to have the right coach in Luke Walton to help develop him, and no doubt fans in LA will be hoping that Ball is a superstar sooner rather than later.