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.

Trail Blazers trade Allen Crabbe to Nets for Andrew Nicholson

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The Nets signed Allen Crabbe to a four-year offer sheet worth nearly $75 million last summer. The Trail Blazers matched, preventing Brooklyn from acquiring him for a year.

Now, a little more than a year later, the Nets are finally getting him.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Crabbe is still owed $56,332,500 – a sizable amount for a one-dimensional 3-point shooter. The Trail Blazers obviously regret matching his deal considering they’re already dumping him for another bad contract and didn’t win a single playoff game in the interim.

But Portland is undoing that mistake in a big way.

The Trail Blazers are in line to save $54,330,160 this season with this trade – $37,842,090 in luxury tax and $16,488,070 in player salary. They’ll still have to pay Andrew Nicholson $2,844,430 each of the next seven years – no small thing – but they’re at least reducing their burden for each of the next three years, when major luxury-tax issues still loom. They can deal with 2024 later.

Competing for the playoffs, Portland will miss Crabbe off the bench. But there are reasons he was expandable.

He doesn’t create enough offense for himself or others, and his defense is passable at best (and not versatile). Crabbe’s 3-point percentage (44%) is impressive, but it’s in part due to his high selectivity. He launches 3s at a middling rate for a guard, and 77% of his long-distance attempts were classified as open or wide open by NBA.com.

Simply, Crabbe must do more to get open and/or hoist more shots that reduce his efficiency but boost’s his team’s. He could also lock in a little more defensively.

Still, Crabbe is a helpful player already. He’s also just 25, so he can improve. The Nets obviously like him.

And he apparently likes Brooklyn, waiving his $5,674,875 trade bonus to facilitate a deal. As controversy swirls over Kyrie Irving requesting a trade from one of the NBA’s best teams, it’s interesting Crabbe would leave money on the table to go from a playoff team to a cellar-dweller. The Nets offer a bigger city, probably more playing time and definitely a front office that values him. So, it’s a reasonable choice, but also one that raises eyebrows.

Former Cavaliers president candidate Chauncey Billups: Kyrie Irving’s trade request unsurprising, ‘alarming’

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Chauncey Billups declined an offer to run the Cavaliers’ front office. A few weeks later, word emerged Kyrie Irving requested a trade. LeBron James can become an unrestricted free agent and leave next summer.

If Billups dodged a bullet, it wasn’t by luck.

Billups on Altitude Sports Radio:

No, it didn’t really surprise me. Obviously, I knew as they were doing their due diligence on me, I was doing the same thing on them. So, obviously I knew so much about the situation that the rest of the world doesn’t know.

But that’s unfortunate, man, because he’s a special talent. And, in my opinion, so much of what he’s been able to accomplish on and off the floor has been – he’s been a beneficiary of having LeBron James, man.

That would be alarming to me if I was a team looking to get him, because if it’s all about winning, man you’ve got a chance to win every single year, man. Every single year, you’ve got a chance to win.

And not only that, you’re getting the ball still. You’re getting everything you want. You get all the shots you want. You’re playing for a great coach who’s letting you go to work. The game is on the line, they’re coming to you. You’re playing on TV every week.

To me, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. But everybody has their own desires.

I mean, he’s won a championship already. Maybe he’s saying, “I won a championship. I did this. I did that.” Maybe he wants to be Russell Westbrook, man, and go try to win the MVP and get all the shots.

That’s the only sense I can make of it. And, to me, that doesn’t make sense, because all I cared about was winning. That’s not anything. That’s the only sense I can make out of it.

I didn’t talk to LeBron until after. And I deliberately did that, because I go into a situation, and I’m going into it because of how I feel. And the whole LeBron leaving the next year – I’ll be honest with you: That didn’t bother me that much, and here’s why.

When you have an opportunity to really put something together and put your imprint on it, rebuilding is a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing if they’re going to have the patience with you. That really didn’t bother me. What bothered me a little more than if LeBron left or not was that I just didn’t think they had great assets if you have to do a rebuild.

So, it was more that than Bron. So, I didn’t speak to Bron until afterwards, even though Bron and I have always had an amazing relationship.

This adds new insight to a few existing storylines:

  • When did the Cavaliers know Irving wanted to leave, and what did they do about it? If Billups knew weeks ago, acting Cavaliers general manager and eventual long-term general manager Koby Altman should have known, too.
  • Maybe LeBron didn’t leak Irving’s trade request. That’s not to say Billups – who works for ESPN, whose Brian Windhorst broke the story – did. But numerous people clearly knew about Irving’s discontent and could’ve provided Windhorst with information.
  • Perhaps, the Cavaliers’ inability to lure Billups was about more than salary.

Moving ahead, I’m curious how many front-office leaders share Billups’ view that Irving wanting a trade is “alarming” about Irving’s priorities. I think teams positioned to land him will be more enthralled with nabbing a young star than anything else, but the trade request could give them pause.

It would have been very interesting to see Billups handle this challenge if he were in charge. Would he have tried to get Irving back on the same page, as former general manager David Griffin repeatedly did? Or would Billups have seen Irving’s mindset as troublesome and wanted him gone?

Billups’ point about rebuilding, both in Cleveland and generally, is a worthy one. The Cavaliers’ lack long-term assets, because they pushed in to contend for a title with LeBron. They won one, making the payoff well worth the cost. But the bill is already coming due, and coming years could be rough. If ownership realizes that and approves a rebuild, that could lead to tremendous job security and freedom to craft a roster for the front-office leader. But most owners, including Dan Gilbert, aren’t that patient.

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk: ‘We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row’

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The Hawks let their best player (Paul Millsap) leave without offering him a contract. They traded their second-best player (Dwight Howard) in a salary dump that reduced the payroll only slightly. They also watched other key contributors (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha) depart in free agency.

At least Atlanta could rebuild around Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry, John Collins and what appeared increasingly likely to be a high first-round pick.

Except the Hawks signed veterans Dewayne Dedmon (1+1) and Ersan Ilyasova (one-year) to contract that help the team this year without providing long-term value.

What is Atlanta doing?

New Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, via Shaun Powell of NBA.com:

“We want to continue the success we’ve had, but realize we might have to take a step back,” Schlenk said. “We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row. We realize that young players in this league take their lumps but we don’t want to send the message that we’re (fine) with losing.”

Competitive people involved in running NBA teams and casual fans don’t want to tank. But it seems the Hawks are missing an opportunity.

Their young core is fine, but hardly inspiring. An additional high first-round pick could bring everything together, but Dedmon and Ilyasova just make it less likely Atlanta bottoms out – without significantly increasing the odds of gratifying short-term success. Even in this Eastern Conference, it’s unlikely the Hawks sneak into the playoffs. Picking in the middle of the lottery could doom Atlanta onto the treadmill of mediocrity.

To be fair, the Hawks aren’t reliant on only their own first-round pick. They’re also owed protected first-rounders from the Rockets, Timberwolves and Cavaliers. But only the Houston pick can ever land in the top 10, and it’s just top-three protected for 2018. Most likely, the Rockets win a lot next season and convey a pick in the mid-to-high 20s in the upcoming draft.

Atlanta’s own pick is, by far, the team’s most valuable mechanism for adding premier young talent. But the Hawks have downgraded the value of that pick in the name of not wanting to sink too low in the short term. That’s not a tradeoff I would have made.

Otto Porter says he’s not bothered by John Wall’s Paul George comments

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John Wall said he wanted the Wizards to acquire Paul George, explaining:

“Look at our team. We are one piece away,” Wall said. “We have the point guard, we have the shooting guard, we have the center, we have the power forward. Our 3-man, [Porter], did great for us. You can’t take nothing away from what he did. But, [George] is a guy that can guard LeBron and go back at LeBron. It’s a piece that you’re going to need to win. If you don’t have a guy who can do that, you don’t have a chance. …

You got to add another star. You got to add another piece. You got to have three guys. And that’s what it’s looking like.”

That’s kind of a slight to Otto Porter, no?

Wall said his words created no problems, but that’s not really for him to say. How did Porter feel about it?

Porter, via Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“We’re talking about Paul George here. If we could get him on our squad? We could definitely contend for a championship,” Porter said after the press conference to announce his new four-year contract worth $106.5 million on Wednesday.

“It’s just motivation. I will continue to get back into the gym. I didn’t take anything personal. I’m just going to continue to go out there and work and play my game,” Porter said.

George is better than Porter. That’s just a fact. So, I have no problem with anyone saying so or proceeding based on that truth.

But I’m also not Porter.

I would completely understand Porter chafing at Wall recruiting George to replace Porter. I’d definitely understand Porter chafing at Wall talking publicly about recruiting George to replace Porter.

Porter so easily moving past this just speaks to his way of quietly contributing. It also doesn’t hurt that the Wizards will pay him about $107 million over the next four years. That buys some willingness to fall in line.