Baseline to Baseline recaps: Sixers get win despite Vince Carter heroics

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while watching a Christmas lights show timed out to “Gangnam Style”

Pacers 79, Lakers 77: Sometimes you watch a game and think neither team deserves to win it. That was this game. It was ugly. But despite 40 from Kobe Bryant it was a George Hill high-arcing layup that won Indy the game, and we broke it all down right here.

Sixers 100, Mavericks 98: This game was decided in the middle of the fourth quarter — it was 81-81 with 8:30 remaining when the Mavericks turned the ball over on six consecutive possessions and that led to a 12-0 Sixers run and a lead Philly would never relinquish.

It seemed over, Philly up seven inside two minutes to go when Vince Carter happened. First he drained a ridiculously deep three, about five feet behind the arc. After a defensive stop for Dallas, the next trip down Carter had a spinning driving layup. Suddenly the lead was just two with 17 seconds left. Jrue Holiday, who had 18 points and was good most of the night, had two possessions where he over-dribbled and got no good shot. He did it again and with time running out Dallas had one last shot to win. Dallas got the ball to Carter but Philly wisely doubled-teamed him, so he passed and with some nice ball movement the Mavs found O.J. Mayo in the lane and he was fouled

Mavs double Carter, two passes to cutting O.J. Mayo who was fouled on a bad reach by Holiday. Two free throws to tie it. Mayo missed first, intentionally missed second, Dallas rookie Jae Crowder actually got the rebound had a shot at a three to win but just missed.

Evan Turner had 22 points on 13 shots for Philly.

Rockets 117, Raptors 101: This game was not exactly a defensive struggle — the Rockets shot 53 percent overall and hit 13-of-26 threes. The Rockets put the nail in this at the start of the third quarter when James Harden hit two threes — he had 24 points and a career-best 12 assists. Toronto, who has struggled on defense all season, let the Rockets put of points at a 124.2 points per 100 possessions pace. The bright spots for Toronto were rookie Terrence Ross, who had his best game as a pro with 19 points, and Andrea Bargnani who had 21 points on 12 shots.

Suns 91, Cavaliers 78: It was the second night of a back-to-back and the fourth game in five nights for Cleveland and it showed — they hung tight until late in the third quarter when a 14-0 run turned a two point deficit into a comfortable win. The Suns pushed the pace and ran during hat stretch and Cleveland just could not keep up. Goran Dragic had 19 points, Michael Beasley added 15. If Cavs fans want a bright spot, Anderson Varejao totally outplayed Marcin Gortat

Timberwolves 97, Kings 89: The Timberwolves led this one from the second quarter on, but they never pulled away so it was interesting at the end. Kevin Love put up a line like we expect from him — 23 points, 24 rebounds — and that included a prayer that was answered in the final minute solidifying the Minnesota lead. Love needed to hit that shot because the Kings zone defense in the fourth quarter seemed to throw the Timberwolves off and make it a game. Nikola Pekovic added 16 for Minny. DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans each added 20 for the Kings. This snapped a five-game losing streak for Minnesota.

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Suns, Hawks say they won’t change strategy to tank

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Phoenix shut down healthy players in a transparent bid to tank last season. But Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said not to expect a repeat.

Scott Bordow of azcentral:

Wednesday, McDonough told azcentral sports that the Suns won’t approach the final 23 games of this season the same way. In other words, Phoenix isn’t tanking in order to improve its chances of landing the No. 1 pick in the May 15 draft lottery.

“We’re planning on doing what we have been doing, that’s playing our young players. For us, that’s not a change,” McDonough said. “… We want to continue to have them improve and get minutes and try to win as many games as we can.”

The Mike Budenholzer-coached Hawks also won’t sit their top players.

Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Some other teams near the bottom of the standings have publicly proclaimed they will favor youth over experience for the final four-plus weeks of the season, but Budenholzer said he will stay the course.

“I think we’ve been a mix of young and veteran guys all year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the way we progressed through the season — of course when you start the season you think it could be a little different — (but) right now but I think the way we’ve played, and the way we continue to play, won’t be that much different.”

To some degree, McDonough and Budenholzer are just trying to avoid a Mark Cuban-esque fine. The NBA discourages most talk of tanking.

But Phoenix and Atlanta don’t need to change their rotations to tank. They’re already good at losing! Both teams are a league-worst 18-41.

Some teams will get more serious about tanking down the stretch. The Suns and Hawks are already there. That doesn’t make them more virtuous than the Mavericks.

Still, this is a tight race for the top of the lottery. Four other teams have just 18 wins. Another has only 19, and one more has only 20. If the Suns and Hawks need to get worse to improve draft position, I wouldn’t put it past either team.

By the way, that headline can be read a couple different ways. That’s intentional.

Report: Kyrie Irving requested trade after ‘sloppy’ discussion by Cavaliers’ front office

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The Cavaliers reportedly explored trading Kyrie Irving in June. He requested a trade in July.

Since dealt to the Celtics, Irving has said he’ll never pinpoint his precise reason for leaving Cleveland. But he also said the Cavs “didn’t want me there.”

Did the Cavaliers push him out?

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

On the day of the NBA draft back in June, just days after Cleveland parted ways with former GM David Griffin, a robust Cavs contingent made up of front-office personnel, coaches and team support staff members held an impromptu, “what if?” discussion about Kyrie Irving’s future, multiple team sources confirmed to ESPN.

The discussion, characterized as “small talk” by one source familiar with its content, was less a formal straw poll of what the Cavs should do with their All-Star point guard should trade opportunities present themselves, and more a thought exercise anticipating what the market could bear for a player of Irving’s caliber.

The talk got back to Irving, multiple team sources told ESPN, and that served as the tipping point that led to Irving formally requesting a trade a little more than two weeks later.

“It was sloppy,” one league source familiar with the draft-day discussion told ESPN, adding that any talk about trading a player of Irving’s ilk — however informal it might be — should be handled strictly between the GM and owner, because of the sensitive nature of its content.

While Altman was involved in the meeting, he and Mike Gansey — at that point officially the head of the Cavs’ G League team — were only keeping the ship afloat on an interim basis and had yet to be formally elevated to their current roles as GM and assistant GM, respectively.

This is one spin on the story. Yet another: Irving initially requested a trade before the draft and considered requesting one in 2016.

Both sides are trying to blame the other for the disintegration of their relationship.

It can be difficult to read how serious the draft-day discussion was. Maybe Irving interpreted ut correctly. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just used it to justify a trade request he wanted to make anyway.

What’s more clear: Communication hasn’t been as strong between the front office and players under general manager Koby Altman as it was under Griffin. McMenamin:

While the Cavs were struggling in late December through early January, LeBron James questioned Altman’s absentee status on a long Cleveland road trip, team sources told ESPN.

Altman helped repair that relationship leading up to the trade deadline, looping LeBron in on discussions that culminated with three trades. LeBron appears more invested in the Cavaliers, just in time to keep him next summer.

But some mistakes can’t be fixed before it’s too late. Maybe those Irving trade talks in June were one of them.

Report: NBA considering play-in tournament for playoffs

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Adam Silver and LeBron James are publicly arguing about 1-16 playoff seeding.

But that’s not the only change to the NBA’s postseason potentially afoot.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

sources say there is also some behind-the-scenes momentum for the idea of a play-in tournament determining the last two seeds in each conference — to the point that two specific proposals are circulating at the highest levels within teams and the league office.

The play-in proposal that has generated the most discussion, according to several sources: two four-team tournaments featuring the seventh, eighth, ninth, and 10th seeds in each conference. The seventh seed would host the eighth seed, with the winner of that single game nabbing the seventh spot, sources say. Meanwhile, the ninth seed would host the 10th seed, with the winner of that game facing the loser of the 7-versus-8 matchup for the final playoff spot.

It is not coming next season, and it would be a shock if the NBA adopted it in time for 2020 or even 2021. It may never happen. Any such change would need approval from the competition committee, and then from a supermajority of 23 NBA teams. That process has not even started.

The NBA playoffs, with best-of-seven series, makes it more likely the better team advances. The NCAA tournament, with one game per team per round, generates excitement with increased variance and upsets.

Each format presents its own pros and cons, and I think too many NBA people seek the unpredictability of college basketball without considering the tradeoffs.

But I actually like this, because it makes the long regular season matter more. Each play-in seed faces a progressively easier route to the real playoffs:

  • No. 7 seed: Win one of up to two home games
  • No. 8 seed: Win one road or one home game
  • No. 9 seed: Win one home and one road game
  • No. 10: Win two road games

With more doors open to post-regular-season basketball, that’d theoretically curb tanking. Most tanking occurs lower in the standings, and the NBA hopes its lottery reform will address that. But this could incentivize teams otherwise be out of the playoff race to keep competing.

There are still plenty of questions to answer: How is revenue from the play-in tournament distributed? Could it work in conjunction with 1-16 seeding? How are are play-in-tournament teams treated in the lottery?

But this at least seems plausible.