Baseline to Baseline recaps: It’s all about the Boston offense

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Our nightly roundup of all the action in the NBA. Or, what you missed while being scared by the idea of a Hillary Clinton decorating show….

Jazz 140, Raptors 133 (3OT): Utah got its first road win but the Raptors made them really work for it — they needed the second three of Al Jefferson’s career just to get it to the first overtime. This was easily the best game of the night and our own D.J. Foster broke it down.

Suns 110, Nuggets 100: We have a Markieff Morris sighting — he had a great game (13 points and was +24) and made some key plays at the end to help the Suns hang on for a quality win. Brett Pollakoff broke this one down for us.

Celtics 101, Bulls 95: In case you were worried about the Boston offense, they just dropped 101 points and shot 50.6 percent on the Bulls, the second best defense in the league coming into the game (granted, it’s early).

Rondo was on fire — 20 points, 10 assists, 9 rebounds and 5 steals — and he had 8 points in the first quarter as Boston put up 33 and held a lead it would never give up. Boston never really pulled away because their bench still is not the spark many expected. Boston led by 13 in the fourth quarter but the Bulls clawed back into this one and got it down to two at 95-93 with: 49 seconds left. But Rondo’s 10th assist set up Bass for a dunk that ended the threat. Luol Deng had 26 points, Joakim Noah 17 points and 11 boards. All five Celtics starters were in double digits.

Thunder 92, Pistons 90: Ever see a team win a game they didn’t deserve to? That’s how Oklahoma City should feel with this win — Detroit got more out of their talent and led most of this game. But a 17-2 fourth quarter run (because they have more talent and because they started switching picks and using their athleticism on defense) gave the Thunder the lead. The Pistons could taste it and made their own push but the Thunder held on and the Pistons are 0-8. Credit Russell Westbrook for the comeback, he had 14 in the fourth quarter (33 for the game). Kevin Durant had 11 in the fourth and 26 for the game.

Bucks 105, Sixers 96: Did anyone else get the feeling Brandon Jennings looked at Jrue Holiday this game and said “he got a contract extension and I didn’t?” then turned it on as he dropped 33 points and 8 assists (with just one turnover) to carry the Bucks to the win? He had 11 of those in the fourth quarter, this was a close game until a 9-0 Bucks run gave them a lead they would not surrender. Holiday had 25 and played well, except for the 8 turnovers, and Jason Richardson was back from his ankle injury and added 20. But this was Jenning’s show.

Heat 113, Rockets 110: It took a 7-0 run at the end for the Heat to come from behind and beat the Rockets. Which is a surprise because when LeBron James is really on his game — 38 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists — the Heat normally steamroll their opponent. And it looked like that early when the Heat jumped out to a 22-5 lead. Chris Bosh had 10 of his 24 in the first quarter as Omer Asik dared him to hit midrange jumpers — Bosh can do that all night long.

But credit the Rockets for putting up a fight. Chandler Parsons had 25, James Harden an efficient 22 and Ask had a career high 19 points plus 14 boards. But they couldn’t hold off the Heat at the end and a LeBron dunk gave the Heat the lead and the win. Jeremy Lin had a good look at a 3 with 9.9 seconds left but air balled it.

Timberwolves 90, Mavericks 82: If you love small ball, this was your game. Especially after the Wolves lost Nikola Pekovic to a sprained his ankle in the third quarter (because Pekovic outrebounded Vince Carter than landed on him). Credit Rick Adelman, who has the Wolves scrapping and playing smart despite the rash of injuries, they are no 5-2 on the season. Dallas just sloppy all night, shot 36.2 percent and have now lost three straight. The Russians came through for Minnesota with Andrei Kirilenko and Alexey Shved each scoring 16.

Hawks 95, Trailblazers 87: It started with an Al Horford dunk, then a little Horford hook shot in the lane — four points that sparked a 10-0 Hawks run to close out the game and pick up the win on the road. Credit the Blazers for getting back into this after falling back by 13 in the game’s opening minutes. Portland was inconsistent but they had their moments in the second half, plus we had a J.J. Hickson sighting (19 points, 18 rebounds). Josh Smith had 19 points and 10 boards for the Hawks.

Kenyon Martin: I once played high

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Former NBA commissioner David Stern said the league began testing for marijuana because players complained of other players playing high. Chauncey Billups said he knew teammates who played better high.

But Stephen Jackson is the rare former NBA player who admitted to playing high.

Now, he has company.

Kenyon Martin – who played for the Nets, Nuggets, Clippers, Knicks and Bucks in a 15-year career – via Bleacher Report:

We were playing in Indiana one day. I wasn’t feeling well. I had a hamstring, a hip or something. So, I smoked. I wasn’t going to play originally. So, we got to the arena, and I’m like, “I feel good.” I went and told the trainer, “I’m going to go today.” I went out there and had a great game.

If you want to guess which game this was, here are the possibilities.

This was part of a great feature on marijuana in the NBA and NFL. Matt Barnes, Al Harrington and Gary Paton also participate. I highly recommend (pun intended) watching it in full.

Nuggets president Tim Connelly: Next season playoffs or bust

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The Nuggets have steadily improved over the last four years – 30-52 to 33-49 to 40-42 to 46-36.

But even 46 wins weren’t enough to get Denver into the playoff this season, extending the postseason drought to five years.

Nuggets president Connelly, via Gina Mizell of The Denver Post:

On if next season is “playoffs or bust”:

“I think we’re there. How many times can you be the bridesmaid? Our young core, three of our best players are 23 (Gary Harris), 22 (Jokic) and 21 (Jamal Murray), and they’ve proven they’re capable of doing it at the highest level. I think all of us are, quite frankly, sick of this time of the year having a press conference.”

There’s certainly something to be said for injecting urgency. The Nuggets are already good enough to make the playoffs. They just happened to play in a historically deep Western Conference. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take more responsibility.

Denver lost to the Hawks (twice), Grizzlies (twice without Mikey Conley), Mavericks, Kings and Nets this season. Flip any of those games, and the Nuggets would have made the playoffs.

But I’m not sure what “or bust” means.

Connelly said Michael Malone would return as coach next season. If Denver misses the playoffs, would he get fired? Would Connelly come on the hot seat? What if the Nuggets again produce a record that typically qualifies for the postseason?

Even if Denver misses the playoffs next year, the 2019-20 team would have a 22-year-old Jamal Murray, 25-year-old Gary Harris and probably a 24-year-old Nikola Jokic under contract. That’s still a pretty good place to be.

Because of Jokic’s rapid ascent, the Nuggets are trying to accelerate the timeline. They most notably signed Paul Millsap last summer. (Injury cost him most of the season and contributed to Denver falling short.) They could also emphasize the present by re-signing Will Barton this offseason.

But playoffs or not next year, the Nuggets have a bright future. Connelly just doesn’t want them leaning on that excuse, though following through on his edict could create complications if Denver again narrowly misses the postseason with a good record.

Adam Silver: NBA could eventually reseed in conference finals

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver has three major talking points on 1-16 playoff seeding (rather than the current system of 1-8 seeding by conference):

1. He likes the idea of it.

2. He doesn’t feel bound by the tradition of an East vs. West format.

3. Travel is a big impediment. Not only would there be more playoff series between teams farther away, the regular-season schedule would have to be balanced and therefore include more games between teams currently in opposite conferences.

(An important point I think Silver doesn’t raise nearly enough publicly in regard to a balanced schedule: That’d mean more away games that start at 10 p.m. for Eastern Conference fans and more away games that start at 4 p.m. for Western Conference fans. That can’t be good for TV ratings.)

The NBA commissioner added another consideration in the debate.

Silver on ESPN:

The other thing you could potentially do is reseed at the conference finals. And that deals with if your two best teams are in the same conference. So, there are some other approaches to deal with. You want the two best teams to meet in the Finals.

A balanced schedule wouldn’t be necessary with this setup. The semifinals would either be fairer and produce a better NBA Finals or have the same matchup we’d get in the current system.

Even more importantly, this could pass.

As fun as it is to debate the optimal postseason format, there’s no way enough Eastern Conference owners (at least five, necessary to create a two-thirds majority) approve. They want to protect their eight playoff spots and guaranteed Finals spot.

But what if Eastern Conference teams were still guaranteed eight playoff spots and two semifinals spots? That be enough. The Rockets and Warriors – two Western Conference teams – are the NBA’s best this season. In coming years, it could be the 76ers and Celtics – two Eastern Conference teams. That’s far more variable than which conference is stronger throughout.

If teams in championship contention feel the very top of their conference will be weaker than the other conference, they could resist. But that still leaves contenders that don’t feel that way and non-contenders that want the additional shared revenue a better NBA Finals would generate.

That’s a plausible path to 20 yes votes and something we should take seriously.

Knicks owner James Dolan: Jeff Hornacek ‘way behind’ in dealing with modern players

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The Knicks fired Jeff Hornacek as soon as they returned to New York following their season-ending win in Cleveland.

Then, they really unloaded on the coach.

Knicks owner James Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“I think Hornacek had the same kind of issue that Phil did in that he didn’t grasp how different the players are now in the way they think and deal with management and the coaches,” Dolan said. “I think he was way behind on that.

“But I think Jeff is a good coach and he’ll do well when he’s hired by another team.”

“The old-style coaching doesn’t work,” Dolan said. “A coach who tries to do everything himself isn’t going to be successful.

Knicks president Steve Mills, via Marc Berman of the New York Post:

“I think just as we observed the team, there were a lot of things that we just thought would be better at, from attention to detail to player accountability, and Jeff did a good job in some areas. In some areas he could have done a bit of a better job.

Knicks general manager Scott Perry, via Berman:

“The evaluation of Jeff for 82 games, we evaluated everything — practices to games to ability to connect with guys. I think we need to be better in that area and with adjustments. It’s something we could be better at with the expectations we have for our next coach.”

“We could have been a little bit better in situational basketball,” Perry said. “We understand the roster as much as anybody. In terms of consistency, we fell a little bit short in that area.”

This is atypical candor about a fired coach. Most teams just thank him and move on.

But I appreciate it. Don’t we all want to know more of what NBA teams are thinking internally? This is revelatory.

That said, I don’t blindly trust the Dolan/Mills/Perry triumvirate. The Knicks have misevaluated too many people for too long. This more about knowing how they viewed things than knowing this is how things are.

Frank Isola of the New York Daily News:

According to a source, Dolan last season sent an email to Hornacek saying he was disappointed in him for not buying fully into the triangle offense. This took place sometime around the All Star break. So we know that as recently as last season Dolan, who loves to tell you he’s not involved, was actually pushing Phil Jackson’s offense down Hornacek’s throat in a not-so-subtle way.

Dolan had Phil’s back. And then on Wednesday, Dolan trashed Jackson for being out of touch. Man, life comes at you fast.

To be fair, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough also cited Hornacek’s lack of connection with his players when firing him. This will be something Hornacek must answer for if he pursues future head-coaching jobs. Hornacek feuded with Marcus Morris in Phoenix and Joakim Noah, Kyle O'Quinn and reportedly Kristaps Porzingis in New York.

Not that the Knicks set up Hornacek to succeed. They didn’t.

Now, they must find a coach who will perform better in all the areas they just criticized Hornacek for. That’ll be more difficult than criticizing him on the way out the door.