Baseline to Baseline recaps: Suns stay alive, Rockets don’t in playoff chase

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What you missed while cracking up at the Californian’s skit from Saturday Night Live (seriously, we all talk about traffic like that)….

Heat 83, Bulls 72: It was a physical, low scoring playoff-style game — and the fact the Heat won should give them some confidence.

Suns 93, Clippers 90: Phoenix played desperate at the end — lose and they were likely toast in the playoff race, but with the win they tie the Jazz for the eighth spot in the West. Big win for them. On the other bench, this loss was a gut shot to the Clippers chances of winning the Pacific division — they are just one game back of the Lakers with three games to play, but the Lakers own the tiebreaker.

For a stretch near the end this was the Chris Paul and Steve Nash show, and the Suns closed the game out on a 10-4 run because Nash got better support. Nash was doing what he does, drawing defenders and finding the open guy and when forced to shoot he was hitting ridiculous high banks off the glass. Credit the Suns for some defense, too — Blake Griffin got 14 points in the first quarter but just two the rest of the way as Channing Frye and friends fronted the post and worked to keep the ball out of his hands. It wasn’t a smooth win for the Suns, but it was one they needed.

Hornets 105, Rockets 99 (OT): You can stick a fork in the Rockets — they are officially out of the playoff race, a game back of both the Jazz and Suns (and without either tiebreaker). In some ways this game felt like a synopsis of the season — the Rockets had nice double digit lead at points in the second then the Hornets doubled up Rockets 26 to 13 in the third. In the fourth the Rockets attacked and it was tight. Courtney Lee almost saved the Rockets playoff chances when he made a great steal and drew a foul, but when Lee only hit one of two free throws he tied the game and did not get the Rockets the lead, the result was overtime. In OT the Hornets went on a 12-1 run and it was over. Credit Carl Landry with a big night inside, 20 points and 10 boards.

Pacers 118, Bucks 109: This win cements the Pacers as the three seed in the East, and it leaves the Bucks on the outside looking in at the playoffs. This game was chippy and felt like two teams fighting for playoff spots, although Larry Sanders just lost it at one point and got tossed. David West was the best player on the floor — 21 points (on 14 shots), 13 rebounds and seven assists.

Timberwolves 91, Pistons 80: Detroit has a good young center in Greg Monroe but he was no match for Nikola Pekovic, who had 23 points and 9 boards on the night. Detroit tried in the last quarter — Will Bynum has been buried on the Pistons bench most of the season (they tried to move him at the deadline), and he didn’t play the first three quarters of this game then dropped 17 in the fourth. But with a double-double from Anthony Randolph (15 and 10) the Timberwolves cruised.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.