Baseline to Baseline recaps: Even when sloppy Knicks get win

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Our nightly roundup of all the action in the NBA. Or, what you missed while thanking Buddha this guy is not on your team….

Spurs 84, Lakers 82: The Bernie Bickerstaff era in Los Angeles came to an end with a missed Pau Gasol three and a loss. Bickerstaff had a .667 winning percentage as the Lakers coach. Darius Soriano broke the game down for us.

Knicks 99, Magic 89: Say it was because the Knicks didn’t take their opponent very seriously. Or say it is because the Magic are just scrappy. Probably a little of both. Bhis game was close for more than three quarters, which is not what the Knicks or their fans expected.  It took an 18-4 fourth-quarter run to pull away and seasl this for New York, and the Knicks remain the NBA’s lone undefeated team.

Carmelo Antony had 25 points, 16 of them in the first half when he was covered by Arron Afflalo and took the smaller Magic wing to the post. While Afflalo is a good defender, he could not slow ‘Melo on the block. This was close game because ‘Melo and his Knicks teammates took the night off from focused, consistent defense. The Knicks got a big boost from J.R. Smith who had 21 points on 14 shots and had the hottest hand on the floor.

It’s a win, Knicks. Savor it. But play like that this weekend against the Spurs or Grizzlies and they will throttle you.

Bobcats 92, Wizards 76: The Charlotte Bobcats are a .500 team. Read that again and think about it. They are 3-3 on the young season. Last season they won 7 games total. This is impressive. So was Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who had 15 points and looked like the best player on the court early.

Why did the Bobcats win? Washington shot 29.8 percent on night, which dragged down their percentage to a league worst average (39.5) on the season. The Bobcats can try to take some defensive credit for that, but a lot of it was just Washington being bad. Bradley Beal led the bad shooting parade with 1-of-11 from the floor. Meanwhile Ramon Sessions scored 21 points and Kemba Walker added 17 as the Charlotte backcourt owned this game.

Raptors 74, Pacers 72: Ugly wins count just the same, but make no mistake this was ugly like Phyllis Diller’s corpse — Toronto hit just 6-of-33 (18.2 percent), committed seven turnovers, and scored just 28 points in the second half and they still won the game. The only thing that wasn’t ugly was Jose Calderon with a triple-double — 13 points, 10 assists and 10 rebounds.

Trail Blazers 103, Kings 96: This game was basically even for the first 29 minutes, then Portland woke up with a 24-4 run and that was pretty much all she wrote. Portland rookie point guard Damian Lillard was the best player on the court, finishing with 22 points on 10 shots (he was 5-of-6 from three) plus 9 assists. He was key during the Blazers run. If you want one other key, Portland was 14-of-27 from three, the Kings 1-of-11.

Nets 114, Cavaliers 101: This was a game of monster individual performances. Cleveland got 35 points and 18 rebounds from Anderson Varejao and 34 points and 10 assists from Kyrie Irving. Both were just amazing and run the pick-and-roll beautifully together. Brooklyn got 26 points and 10 assists from Deron Williams, plus 25 points from Joe Johnson — those two have not figured out how to play well off each other yet, but they had great individual nights.

As for the game, Brooklyn opened the second quarter on an 11-0 run to take control of the contest, they were up 22 at the half and that’s pretty much the story. The only thing left to watch was the individual players — Cleveland got nothing beyond Varejao and Irving.

Kevin Durant coming up ‘big’ for Warriors

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DETROIT – Soft. Scared. Cupcake.

Kevin Durant can’t help but hear his detractors.

“They’re trying psychoanalyze me when they don’t know me,” Durant said. “So, it’s like you have more information about the game of basketball than you do me as a person. So, ‘you’re soft,’ ‘cupcake,’ all that stuff comes from trying figure me out as a person, not worrying about my basketball skills. But if you watch me on the basketball court, then you come up with your own observation.”

That on-court observation no longer jibes with the unflattering perception of his mindset.

Durant’s height has long been a fascination. He’s listed at 6-foot-9, but he’s almost certainly taller. Durant once said he’s 7-foot when he talks to women. “He’s 7 feet,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says plainly.

Durant just didn’t play like it.

He entered the NBA as a finesse player. He couldn’t bench press 185 pounds a single time his pre-draft combine, and he spent his rookie year in Seattle playing shooting guard – as far from the paint as a player so tall could get.

Never mind that Durant improved greatly with the Thunder as a defender and rebounder, skills that require physicality. And never mind that he was a superstar on the perimeter, giving little reason to alter his style.

When he left Oklahoma City – where he settled in at small forward – for Golden State, Durant’s on- and off-court reputations merged to form a single image. Afraid of contact, afraid of competition.

Durant is making it much harder for his critics to paint him that way. He’s playing more like a traditional big than ever.

His 2.1 blocks per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward since Andrei Kirilenko and Josh Smith more than a decade ago (minimum: two games). His 5.3 post touches per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward in the NBA.com database (which dates back to 2013-14).

“Getting in the mix with the bigs a little bit, I think that’s one role that I always wanted to play and always appreciated about my teammates in the past – from Kendrick Perkins to Thabo Sefolosha to Draymond to David West to Serge Ibaka,” Durant said. “I appreciated those guys for doing the dirty work and allowing me to be the player that I am on the offensive end.”

The Warriors are spoiled to have Durant assume this responsibility.

Many of his post touches come on split cuts, an action Kerr popularized in Golden State. A player – often Andrew Bogut when Kerr first implemented the play – posts up while a teammate screens for another teammate on the perimeter. Most teams would kill to have a shooter like Durant set or receive the screen. But the Warriors have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to do that. So, Durant serves as the post man, surveying the screen carnage and occasionally just taking matters into his own hands. This video from Eric Apricot of Golden State of Mind excellently shows a few variations:

Defensively, Durant has become more comfortable defending power forwards and centers. Sometimes, he blocks their shots:

Other times, guarding a big just positions Durant to protect the basket:

“He’s just being active,” Kerr said. “When he’s active on the weak side of the play, he’s a devastating defender.”

Durant still just bottles up an opponent in a traditional wing matchup for him and blocks a jumper. He also blocks shots in transition.

But he leads non-centers, non-power forwards with 4.8 shots defended at the rim per game (minimum: two games). His block numbers aren’t telling a misleading story. Durant is doing work in the paint.

It helps that the league has shifted toward small-ball. When the slender Durant matches up against fours and fives, his opponents aren’t as big as they would have been a few years ago.

The Warriors played Durant at center to great effect in last year’s Finals, and it’d be a shock if they didn’t turn to him there again in high-leverage situations.

Make no mistake, though: Durant remains a generational perimeter player. He’s a dead-eye shooter with tight handles and jaw-dropping fluidity. Whatever time Durant spends moonlighting as an interior player, he can always switch into the style that made him a future Hall of Famer in the first place.

His ability to play both ways just makes him even more dangerous.

Still, Durant has made his name as a small forward. He says he has always played the role coaches gave him, but it’s tough to look past the fears of Kevin Garnett, another skilled tall player who worried when he was younger he’d get pigeonholed inside if he were listed as a 7-footer. As we talked, Durant picked up on my line of questioning and interjected.

“You trying to turn me into a four guy?” Durant said.

“Maybe even a five,” I said.

“Maybe,” Durant. “I don’t know. Maybe. That’s the way the league is going.”

Listen to what LeBron James told Lonzo Ball on court (video)

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LeBron Jameson-court conversation with Lonzo Ball after the Cavaliers beat the Lakers last night quickly became a fascination.

With LeBron-to-the-Lakers rumorsfueled by Ball himself – swirling, did LeBron tip his plans for free agency?

Here’s what LeBron said after the game:

LeBron:

I don’t see the reaction, because I don’t get involved in it. I don’t do it to get a reaction.

I do it because he’s said over and over since he was growing up and who he modeled his game after. And who was his favorite player? And it was me, and I was humbled by that. So me wishing him a happy birthday was kind of a salute back to him.

I see all the stupid noise that happens, and I can’t buy a place in L.A. I can’t live in L.A. It’s funny noise. But I don’t get involved in it, because when I post things, I don’t look at comments. I’m so far removed of the white noise and the noise doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to me.

Were you mentoring Ball or giving him advice? LeBron:

None of y’all business.

Unfortunately for LeBron, a microphone picked up most of the conversation (hat tip: reddit user IT-3):

LeBron, best I can tell:

Find your zone and just stay f—ing locked in. The media is going to ask you what I told you right now. Tell them nothing. Just be aggressive every single day.

It’s white noise to you. That’s all it is. Alright? Let’s go.

LeBron was never going to say something controversial in front of all those cameras. He knows better, especially after attention drawn by his on-court conversation with Dwyane Wade a few years ago.

Unsurprisingly, LeBron’s words directly to Ball mirror what he told the media after the game. There’s no secret plot here – just someone who has been in the spotlight for years trying to help someone going through it now.

Who needs good form? Hawks fan nails halfcourt shot for $10k (video)

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Former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson didn’t want guys like this shooting this shot.

I’m so glad this fan got the opportunity. This was Atlanta’s biggest highlight while losing to the Pistons — and John Collins had a nice dunk over Luke Kennard:

Kevin Durant kisses fan hit by ball (video)

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Kevin Durant‘s final line in the Warriors’ win over the Mavericks: 36 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks… and one kiss.

He has done this before.