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.

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, right, drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

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Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

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Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

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Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?

Russell Westbrook keeps trying to show up Rudy Gobert

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the second quarter during a NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Jazz center Rudy Gobert is having an awesome season, credibly putting himself in the mix with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol as the NBA’s best big men.

But that doesn’t mean Russell Westbrook respects him.

Before the Thunder’s win over Utah yesterday, Westbrook was asked how Oklahoma City would contain Gobert. Westbrook just laughed and walked off.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Then, in the game, Westbrook tried to jump right over the 7-foot-1 Gobert and dunk on him:

I would say Gobert proved his ability by successfully protecting the paint, but I’m just too astounded by Westbrook’s leap.

Zaza Pachulia, running up court, turns back to smack Luke Babbitt in face (video)

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Is Zaza Pachulia a dirty player?

That debate can be rekindled after the Warriors center earned this flagrant foul for smacking Heat forward Luke Babbitt.

Just don’t forget: Pachulia is more than an unskilled enforcer. He brings plenty to the table as Golden State’s fifth starter, and his ability was on display earlier in the game:

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.