Baseline to Baseline recaps: Lakers, Celtics both lose; it’s not the ‘80s anymore

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Our nightly recap of the games from around the NBA. Or, what you missed while going out tonight because you have to deal with your family tomorrow…

Thunder 117, Clippers 111 (OT): Nobody stops Chris Paul, but the Thunder did a better job of slowing him down than anyone has this season and that’s how they got a quality win at home and our own D.J. Foster broke it down.

Kings 113, Lakers 98: What have we all been saying about the Lakers? Right, it’s all going to be about how they defend. When you have Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and eventually Steve Nash they are going to score points in bunches no matter what offense they run. But can they defend.

They didn’t against the Kings, especially in the fourth quarter — with the game on the line the Kings shot 63 percent. Marcus Thornton tore them up for a dozen points in the quarter (and 23 for the game). Dwight Howard looked tired and out of shape all night (he had four field goal attempts on the game) and when he isn’t sharp neither is the Lakers defense. Pau Gasol was 3-of-10. Also, the turnover issue was back with the Lakers having 20

The only Laker who looked good was Kobe — 38 points on 20 shots, again breaking down defenses with the pick-and-roll. But he has now played 79 minutes on the two nights of a back-to-back and that is too many for an older player with most of the season still ahead of him.

For the Kings, it’s fun when everything clicks. Tyreke Evans had 18, Isaiah Thomas was carving up the Lakers defense in the fourth, and Jason Thompson was in a groove late. That’s how you end a losing streak with authority.

Spurs 112, Celtics 100: If you want statistical evidence of how San Antonio simply was the superior team all night, try this one on for size — Boston had zero offensive rebounds. Not one. They are not a good offensive rebounding team, but blind luck and funky bounces should grant them one or two a game. Nope. Spurs controlled it and controlled everything it felt like — Boston would try to make a run, San Antonio would answer with a better one. We saw that in the fourth quarter — the Celtics got it within six, the Spurs hit another gear and cruised to a win. Tony Parker had 26 points on 17 shots, plus six assists and was the best player on the floor.

It was so much fun to see Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett battling and trading shots all fourth quarter long. I’d say it was a throwback but both are still fully capable of games like this now.

Mavericks 114, Knicks 111: It was “turn back the clock” night in Dallas — in the fourth quarter the Knicks were getting their points from Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler while Vince Carter gave the Mavs 14 in the fourth quarter alone. Dallas took charge of the game with a 20-8 run in the third quarter. But it wasn’t over — the Knicks hit a shot cut it to four, but then the next trip down J.R. Smith was looking to gamble and sagged off a hot Carter, who drained the corner three. Give credit to Shawn Marion, who did a good job on Carmelo Anthony all night.

Nuggets 101, Timberwolves 94: Kevin Love was back and Minnesota rode the emotion of that a 17-point lead during the first half. Love was his old self — he had 14 of Minnesota’s first 18 points on his way to 34 plus 14 rebounds. But the Nuggets came out a different team in the second half, went on a 14-2 run and cranked up the defense, holding Minnesota to 27.3 percent shooting for the second half (Minnesota scored just 36 in the second half). Meanwhile Denver had three guys score 11 points in the second half — Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari had 11 points in the second half (Gallinari led the Nuggets with 19).

Heat 113, Bucks 106 (OT): Milwaukee just one of those teams that seem to give Heat trouble. It didn’t look that way at first Wednesday — Milwaukee started 6-of-27 shooting, 1-of-9 from three and a 21-2 Heat run gave them an 18-point lead early in the second quarter. But when Larry Sanders got ejected the Bucks responded with a 13-0 run and we had a game from there on. Both teams had their chances at the end of the game and Monta Ellis may have saved the day with a quality block on Dwyane Wade at the buzzer. But a Ray Allen three, some LeBron James buckets (he finished with 28) and some Chris Bosh free throws had Miami pulling away in the overtime.

Cavaliers 92, Sixers 83: No Kyrie Irving but the Cavaliers were still pushing the pace and moving the ball well early. They got up 32-17 early. But a 16-1 run early in the second quarter changed all that and we had a ballgame. And it went like that all game — the Sixers would make a run and the Cavaliers would answer with one of their own. But Cleveland had the last 13-0 run late in the fourth that Philly could not respond to. Irving’s replacement Jeremy Pargo had 28 to lead all scorers. For a night Cleveland played like they didn’t miss him.

Pacers 115, Hornets 107 (OT): Indiana needed a win. Any win would do. So the fact it was an overtime win against an undermanned New Orleans team doesn’t matter. They got a win behind a triple double — 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocks — from Roy Hibbert and 33 points on 11 three pointers from Paul George. They will take it.

Hawks 101, Wizards 100 (OT): Good news for the Wizards — Nene returned to the court. He wasn’t fantastic (you don’t expect that the first time out) but he was back. This was pretty close the whole way, with big men leading the way for both sides — Josh Smith had 25 for Atlanta and Kevin Seraphin rose up with 21 for the Wizards. But late in the first overtime Devin Harris used himself as a screen to give Kyle Korver room to knock down the three that won it. Seraphin had a chance as time ran out but air balled a hook shot, Martell Webster made the smart play and tried to grab and put it in, but his basket was just a split second late.

Magic 90, Pistons 74: Detroit raced out to a 19-9 lead and it looked like a game. Then came the third quarter — Orlando opened the second half on a 21-0 run, the Pistons scored just 8 points in the third quarter. And that was your ballgame. Orlando had balanced scoring but Andrew Nicholson led the way with 15.

Bobcats 98, Raptors 97: The Charlotte Bobcats are 6-4. Damn. Charlotte did it with balance, having seven players in double figures, but it was Ramon Sessions with the shooter’s bounce game winner with :28 seconds left. It was maybe the best game Toronto has played in a while defensively, they had Kyle Lowry looking like his old self and Jonas Valanciunas was knocking down jumpers. But this was the Bobcats night.

Rockets 93, Bulls 89: The Bulls just don’t have the personnel to do what’s necessary most nights offensively to win games. This one against the Rockets was a prime example of that, as Chicago struggled to 40 percent shooting from the field, and a horrific 2-of-16 as a team from three-point distance.

Nate Robinson and Luol Deng led the Bulls with 21 and 19 points respectively, but combined to shoot a brutal 16-of-42 from the field to get there.

Meanwhile, James Harden was James Harden, pouring in an efficient 28 points on 14 shots. Houston also got solid games from Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons, but Jeremy Lin was ineffective, finishing with just four points and five turnovers on 2-of-9 shooting in 26 minutes. He was benched for the game’s final 3:21, when the Rockets were trailing by three at the time.

The Bulls used their trademark defense to force 23 turnovers, which kept things close. But ultimately their offense failed them, as the team went 4:31 without a point while Houston used a 10-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into a five-point lead to take it down the stretch.
—Brett Pollakoff

Suns 114, Blazers 87: The Suns made a change to their starting lineup for this one, after falling behind by double-digits in the first half of the majority of their games this season. Luis Scola and Jared Dudley headed to the bench, and Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown were inserted to provide some scoring and toughness from the opening tip.

While the lineup changes proved successful, it was the domination of Phoenix’s frontcourt players that was the difference. Marcin Gortat had 16 first-half points on the way to 22 for the game, Morris finished with 19, and Jermaine O’Neal’s corpse even did some damage with 17.

The Blazers, meanwhile, just don’t have the talent in their frontcourt rotation to be able to hang with a team with even decent options there. We’re talking Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland, and Victor Claver — none of whom could do much of anything offensively, while the Suns exploited the mismatch on the offensive end of the floor to their advantage to lead by 13 at the end of the first half.

The third quarter saw Phoenix quickly build the lead to 21 after a 10-2 run to start the period, and that was essentially that. Rookie Damian Lillard played fine offensively, but overall, Portland’s skill players looked completely disinterested and there wasn’t any help available from the bench. The result was the blowout we saw tonight.
—Brett Pollakoff

Warriors 102, Nets 93: Remember the guy who was pegged by NBA General Managers to be the breakout player of the year? Well, he hadn’t shot over 50 percent from the field in a single game this season, and there was even talk about sending him to the bench in the first month of the season. But tonight, finally (finally!) Klay Thompson showed up for the Warriors in the second half of a tightly contested ballgame and went nuclear. Thompson connected on 8-of-11 of his second half attempts to provide the extra scoring punch the Warriors needed to separate from the visiting Nets.
—D.J. Foster

Report: Dennis Smith Jr. planned to have J. Cole dunk in dunk-contest routine

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Mavericks rookie Dennis Smith Jr. seemed pretty steamed about getting eliminated in the first round of the dunk contest:

The dunk-contest scoring system – five judges ranking dunks on a scale of 6-10 – is plenty flawed. There should have been a larger difference between the Smith and Victor Oladipo dunks the Dallas point guard mentioned. But Oladipo didn’t advance, either. Personally, I thought the right two players – eventual-winner Donovan Mitchell and runner-up Larry Nance Jr. – advanced.

Maybe Smith was more upset about the missed opportunity – dunks (plural!) involving rapper J. Cole.

Amin El-Hassan of ESPN on Black Opinions Matter:

If Dennis had made it to the finals, Cole was going to throw him the alley-oop. But then the plan was, he was going to throw him the oop, Dennis would dunk it, and then Cole would catch the ball, and then he’d dunk it too. That was going to be the ill, craziest dunk-contest use of a prop or a person ever. But we never got to saw it, because they were holding out until the final round. They didn’t want to bring it out in the first round.

This certainly would have been unprecedented and cool. But unless Smith had something amazing planned for the alley-oop, the best element would have been Cole dunking. That would have upstaged Smith, who’s presumably the one being judged.

For what it’s worth, Cole can dunk. We’ve seen it in the celebrity game:

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard returns this season

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When announcing last month Kawhi Leonard was out indefinitely due to a lingering quad injury, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich dismissed the idea his star forward would miss the rest of the season:

Apparently, Popovich’s expectation has changed.

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

The Spurs (35-24) are third in the West despite Leonard playing just nine games. Popovich has done a great job (maybe Coach of the Year-worthy). LaMarcus Aldridge is having a bounce-back season in a leading role. Pau Gasol leads a supporting cast of players good in their roles.

But San Antonio’s ceiling is so much lower without Leonard.

He’s an elite defender who shuts down opposing scorers on the perimeter and can comfortably switch inside. He can isolate offensively to score efficiently, and he spaces the floor off the ball with strong 3-point shooting. Those are all skills that translate to the playoffs.

Without him, the Spurs rely too heavily on older, slower defenders. That’s ripe to be exploited in the postseason.

Teams might even jockey to match up with San Antonio – the most vulnerable-appearing Western Conference team in line to get home-court advantage in the first round.

Of course, this doesn’t eliminate the possibility of Leonard returning. Popovich could just be trying to shut down speculation. He clearly doesn’t like discussing this issue.

But the Spurs are the most cautious team on injuries. If Leonard risks further injury, they’ll keep him sidelined.

This injury has already caused tension. This won’t help.

Mark Cuban’s fine third-largest known fine in NBA history

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While explaining how he told his players the team was better off losing this season, Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said “I’m probably not supposed to say this” and “Adam would hate hearing that.”

Cuban was right.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver fined Cuban $600,000 for “public statements detrimental to the NBA.” The league doesn’t announce all its fines, but that’s the third-largest known fine in NBA history.

The leaderboard:

1. Timberwolves, $3.5 million in 2000 (signing under-the-table agreement with Joe Smith)

2. Clippers owner Donald Sterling, $2.5 million in 2014 (making racist comments)

3. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $600,000 in 2018 (saying he told his players the team is better off losing)

4. Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, $500,000 in 2002 (criticizing officiating)

4. Knicks, $500,000 in 2006 (fighting Nuggets)

4. Nuggets, $500,000 2006 (fighting Knicks)

4. Vladimir Radmanovic, $500,000 in 2007 (injuring his shoulder while snowboarding)

4. Pistons general manager Joe Dumars, $500,000 in 2010 (leaking confidential league memos)

4. Heat owner Micky Arison, $500,000 in 2011 (tweets during the lockout breaking rank with other owners)

I’d be on Cuban (and/or the Mavericks) getting yet another spot on this list following the investigation of the franchise for a culture tolerant of sexual harassment and domestic abuse. That one will probably be deserved – not just the league trying to preserve the illusion of pure competition amid a system that incentivizes losing.

Mark Cuban fined $600,000 for telling team “losing is our best option”

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Of all the hot water Mark Cuban is in right now with the Mavericks and the NBA league office, this is probably the smallest tub. And the least expensive fine.

Cuban recently went on Julius Erving’s podcast, House Call with Dr. J, and said:

“I’m probably not supposed to say this, but I just had dinner with a bunch of our guys the other night. And here we are, we weren’t competing for the playoffs. I was like, “Look, losing is our best option.” Adam would hate hearing that, but at least I sat down, and I explained it to them. And I explained what our plans were going to be this summer, that we’re not going to tank again.”

You were not supposed to say that — the NBA Wednesday fined Cuban $600,000 for “for public statements detrimental to the NBA.”

Cuban’s not wrong, it’s just a matter of perception. The NBA has worked very hard to lessen the image that teams are tanking for draft position (why do you think there was pressure on the Sixers to replace Sam Hinkie?), they don’t need an owner saying it’s the smart thing to do. Even though it is. Teams tank — it is still the only way for a small or medium market team to get a superstar, get high in the draft and hopefully pick one (it’s not that simple, ask the Magic) — but the league wants at least the facade that all of its teams are competitive. All the way through the end of the season.

As you read this, the bottom eight teams in the NBA are within three games of each other for the worst record — and a higher lottery slot. Does anyone think any of them are not going to roll out young, less-talented rosters in the name of development when the real goal is to lose as many games as they can the rest of the way? Most scouts think there is some real talent at the top of this draft, and teams are going to try to get up there and get it.

Just nobody can talk about it.