Kobe Bryant, Jason Maxiell

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Lakers keep it simple and win. Finally.

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Our nightly recap of every game around the NBA. We catch you up on what you missed while thinking that a 14-year-old is a whole lot better at golf than you….

Lakers 108, Pistons 79: The Lakers had a 23-5 run in the second half of the first quarter, and that was pretty much it for this game. This looked like the Lakers we all expected this season.

What happened? Well, a lot of things, all interconnected. The Lakers really simplified what they did on offense. They pushed the ball at nearly every opportunity and tried to get easy baskets in transition. And while they only scored 11 fast break points, the speed at which they got up court allowed them to get into their offense faster and take advantage of a porous Piston defense.

Once in the half court, the Lakers really did a good job at focusing on getting their big men involved, as evidenced by their 56 points in the paint. Pau Gasol started the game as the offensive focal point scoring 8 first quarter points. Dwight Howard was a presence all game long carving out space on the block and finished with 28 points on only 14 shots. The work they did down low also created tons of room on the perimeter for the Lakers’ wings to take advantage. It’s no coincidence that Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, and Steve Blake were all able to shoot so well from distance (combined 8-14 from three) as they got countless spot up chances simply due to ball movement and the play of the big men drawing defensive attention.

Defensively the Lakers were also much improved. They moved on a string more than in another game this season, helping each other when the ball penetrated and then recovering back to shooters when the ball got kicked out. Howard was also tracking the ball from the back line better than he has, allowing him to block 3 shots and contest several others.

For Pistons fans… um… there was a Jonas Jerebko sighting, he led the team with 18. Aside that, burn the tape.

Before Lakers fans start to go “The Lakers have arrived, count the ringzzzzz,” remember this was one game and it was against the Pistons (who stink). But for a team that looked to be losing some confidence this is a positive step. They looked together, for longer stretches, on both sides of the ball and that is what they need to do to win games.
—Darius Soriano

Knicks 100, 76ers 84: Two impressive games in a row for the Knicks, and coincidentally Carmelo Anthony is plying the four. Or, not so coincidentally. Our own Brett Pollakoff broke this game down for PBT.

Hawks 105, Thunder 95: The good news for the Thunder is Kevin Martin showed up gunning — 29 points including 6-of-8 from three. The bad news was he hit the last of those three pointers with 4 minutes to go in the game (a shot that got the Thunder within two) and the Thunder didn’t get him a shot the rest of the way. The Thunder went away from the hottest hand in the building. The Thunder shot 35.3 percent in the fourth

The ugly news for the Thunder was their defense, which gave up 57 points in the second half. The Hawks, without Josh Smith, completely out worked the Thunder inside all night. Al Horford had 23 points and 12 boards, Lou Williams added 19 for the Hawks off the bench. The Hawks have guys who can shoot and they found space to do it Sunday.

Durant has the ball in his hands a lot more this season, playing more point forward, and he is trying to set guys up more. He’s getting assists but has not scored more than 25 in a game this season. He’s the best scorer on the planet, he needs to shoot the rock.

Raptors 105, Timberwolves 96: Some teams just have another teams number — this is 9 straight Raptors wins at home over Minnesota, 15 of the last 16 meetings total. This time it might have been the 24 Timberwolves turnovers, but this was close until the start of the fourth quarter when a 13-6 Raptors run and they never looked back. Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan had 22 for the Raptors (Lowry has been impressive so far this season). Andrei Kirilenko’s 17 points led the Timberwolves.

Magic 115, Suns 94: Dwight who? The Magic are 2-0.

Phoenix led most of the first half and was up by 11 midway through the third quarter, then Orlando went 37-9 run over and that was it. The Suns lived (and built their lead) by the jumper and died by it when it stopped falling. Nice win for a Magic team without Jameer Nelson and Hedo Turkoglu — J.J. Redick had 24 (non in the third quarter during the run, however), Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo each had 22.

Heat hang on with Wade’s heroics, force Game 7 vs. Hornets

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 29:  Dwyane Wade #3 of the Miami Heat directs teammates against the Charlotte Hornets during game six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 29, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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“It’s a make-or-miss league” has been a worn-out cliche in the NBA for years, but it was never more apt than Friday night. Dwyane Wade, a career 28.4 percent three-point shooter who hadn’t hit a shot from beyond the arc in the calendar year of 2016, knocked down two threes late to help the Miami Heat hold on and beat the Charlotte Hornets, 97-90, to force a Game 7 on Sunday.

Wade finished with 23 points on 10-for-20 shooting along with 6 rebounds and 4 assists to lead Miami, and had a key block in the closing minute to stave off a Charlotte comeback. The Heat held off Kemba Walker‘s 37-point explosion, which kept Charlotte in the game for much of the second half even as they never led in the third or fourth quarters.

Neither team got much out of their benches, and Miami overcame a rough night from Goran Dragic (6-for-17 from the field) and Hassan Whiteside fouling out in just 28 minutes of action. A three by Walker cut Miami’s lead to 90-88, the closest the Hornets got in the second half.

The two teams will now play a Game 7 in Miami on Sunday, with the winner facing the winner of that same day’s Game 7 between the Raptors and Pacers.

Lakers announce hire of Luke Walton as head coach

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 20:  Interim head coach Luke Walton of the Golden State Warriors chats with referee Derrick Stafford #9 during a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 20, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using the photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Less than a week after firing head coach Byron Scott, the Lakers have their man to replace him: Luke Walton, who is currently associate head coach with the Warriors and coached the team to a 39-4 start to the season while Steve Kerr was out recovering from offseason back surgery.

The Lakers announced the hiring of Walton in a press release on Friday evening:

Earlier today, the Los Angeles Lakers and Luke Walton reached an agreement on a multi-year contract for Walton to become the next Head Coach of the team, it was announced by General Manager Mitch Kupchak. Walton will begin his new duties at the conclusion of the Golden State Warriors season.
“We’re excited to bring Luke back to Los Angeles, where we feel he’s going to start an outstanding coaching career,” said Kupchak. “He’s one of the brightest young coaching minds in the game and we feel fortunate that he’ll be leading the on-court future of our team.”

The Warriors released statements from Kerr and GM Bob Myers after the Lakers’ announcement:

“We are thrilled for Luke,” said Warriors GM Bob Myers.  “This is a tremendous opportunity for him to return home and serve as head coach for one of the most storied franchises in sports.   Luke has done an incredible job during his two-year stint with our team and has played a significant role in our success, including last year’s championship and again this season under some very unique circumstances.  We are certainly going to miss Luke after we conclude our playoff run this season, but we wish him the very best with the Lakers.”

“I’m incredibly happy for Luke,” said Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr.  “As we witnessed earlier this season, he has all of the intangibles necessary to be an outstanding head coach in this league, including a terrific understanding of the game the ability to communicate with a wide range of people.   He’s certainly ready for this opportunity and I’m confident he’ll do a great job with the Lakers once our season is complete.”

Walton had long been rumored to be the Lakers’ top target, given his successful run with the Warriors and his ties to the organization, where he played for nine seasons. It’s a solid hire, not a big name but someone with a good reputation around the league.

Drake performs free concert outside Air Canada Centre before Raptors playoff game

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26:  Singer Drake celebrates after Terrance Ross #31 of the Toronto Raptors sinks a 3-pointer in the second half of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 26, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Game 6 of the Raptors-Pacers series is in Indianapolis, but that didn’t stop a large crowd from gathering outside the Air Canada Centre to watch it. And those people got rewarded for their trouble with a free impromptu performance by Drake. Here’s a video:

https://twitter.com/DilTamber/status/726213270986579968/video/1

Drake just released his latest album, Views, last night, and it includes several NBA references in the lyrics.

Optimism high as Celtics enter a likely active offseason

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BOSTON — The emergence of an All-Star and lots of victories made the Celtics one of the biggest surprises in the NBA this season.

It also left Boston with lots of questions following its second straight first-round exit from the playoffs – this one, a six-game loss to the Atlanta Hawks – with a young roster that probably still needs a few more pieces to make the next step.

It has lots of draft picks and salary cap space to play with, which promises to make the summer an active one for the Celtics.

“This is probably the closest them I’ve been on. I love being around the guys. But everybody sees it. We do need a little more,” said point guard Isaiah Thomas, who averaged a career-best 22.2 points and was named to his first All-Star appearance in February. “(Celtics President Danny Ainge) will do his part. I know he will and this organization will come back even better.”

The rebuilding project that began three years ago under coach Brad Stevens is clearly ahead of schedule. The franchise that hit the reset button after the departure of Doc Rivers and its Big Three has gotten production from a young core anchored by Thomas, Avery Bradley and Jae Crowder.

Under Stevens’ defensive-minded approach Boston blossomed into one of the NBA’s stingiest teams.

“You go from…under .500 and barely making the playoffs and kind of eking in at the end by winning six straight, to being in the mix for being a top-four seed in the East. And so yes, there’s progress,” he said.

As much as Stevens recognizes the improvements, he said he also knows the bar only goes up from here.

“People have told me all along there’s two really tough tasks, right? One is getting to be a very good, competitive team at a top 10-15 level on offense and defense and give yourself a chance to be in the discussion we’re in now. And that’s been a path in the last three years to get there,” Stevens said.

Here are some other things to note as the Celtics head into the offseason:

HEALING UP: Before the Celtics can think about potential roster changes, they first have to make sure the players they have are healthy. Seven-footer Kelly Olynyk was only able to suit up in four of Boston’s playoff games after aggravating a right shoulder injury in Game 1 against the Hawks. Guard Avery Bradley was lost for the playoffs in that game with a strained right hamstring.

Olynyk said he planned to get multiple opinions from doctors on what his next step will be. They haven’t discussed a need for surgery, though he said nothing has been ruled out.

DRAFT PICKS GALORE: Ainge is known for his deal-making abilities and will have eight total draft picks in June, including three in the first round. The biggest, is the Nets’ unprotected first-round pick Boston acquired in 2013 when it traded Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn. The Nets finished with the league’s third-worst record and have about a 16 percent chance of landing the No. 1 overall pick in May’s lottery.

Ainge has made it clear to Thomas that he wants him to be involved in the wooing of potential free agents this summer, and is in a symbolic move will send Thomas to represent the team at the lottery.

“I can get a few guys here,” Thomas said. “I’m gonna do my job…I’m gonna do the best I can to put my recruiting hat on.”

DECISIONS, DECISIONS: Boston only has a handful of decisions to make with the roster it currently has. Tyler Zeller and Jared Sullinger are both restricted free agents who could be expendable. Meanwhile the contacts of Amir Johnson and Jonas Jerebko aren’t fully guaranteed for next season if they are waived by July 3. The most interesting question is what to do with unrestricted free agent Evan Turner. His second year in Boston was his best season since 2013-14, but his production will certainly garner interest around the league. He said he wants to return, but that could depend on just how high his price tag winds up being.

Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower