Los Angeles Lakers v New Orleans Hornets

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Lakers show up for a half, that’s enough in New Orleans

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while watching Bilbo Baggins going on a drunken ‘Unexpected Journey’

Lakers 103, Hornets 87: On night where Kobe Bryant became only the 5th player in NBA history to hit the 30,000 career point plateau, the Lakers also got the win. And so everyone in Laker-land can rest easy for at least one night.

This game really showed the two diverse poles of the Lakers’ personality as a team. In the first half they struggled to defend even the most simple of Hornets’ sets, not rotating on the pick and roll and not recovering to shooters on the wings. On the other side of the ball they played too much one on one basketball, the ball sticking to one side of the floor as the guy who caught the ball looked to score for himself. The result was a first half deficit and a style that looked all too familiar to those who’ve watched this team toil early this season.

In the second half, however, all that changed. The ball moved on offense and everyone started to get involved. Kobe (29 points, 4 assists) poured in his points, but also initiated the offense well by looking to set up others. Dwight Howard asserted himself and controlled the paint on both ends (18 points, 5 blocks). The bench found their stride (27 points) and everything came together for a team that sorely needed it too.
—Darius Soriano

Knicks 100, Bobcats 98: It wasn’t easy for New York, and it took some buzzer-beating heroics from J.R. Smith to ultimately get the job done, But in a classic look-ahead game for the Knicks, with a trip to Miami against the defending champion Heat up next, they’ll take a win any way it comes.

Charlotte was actually in a pretty good position to take this one, outrebounding and outshooting the Knicks on the night. But turnovers killed them, especially late, when they gave it away on their final two possessions, both times with a chance to take the lead or win the game with under 40 seconds remaining.

Kemba Walker’s 25-point, 11-assist outing was ultimately wasted, while Carmelo Anthony left the game with 2:10 to play due to a cut on his left hand which required stitches. His status for Thursday night in Miami is questionable.
—Brett Pollakoff

Spurs 110, Bucks 99: This was a tie game, 76-76, heading into the fourth quarter, the Bucks left their big guns in while Gregg Popovich rolled out a lineup of Nando De Colo, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, James Anderson, and Tiago Splitter. And the Spurs went on a 17-3 run and never looked back. Neal finished with 22, as did Tony Parker. They dominated the Bucks backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings who combined to shoot 10-for-34 for the game. That would be 29 percent for those of you scoring at home.

Clippers 112, Mavericks 90: This was a wire to wire blowout for the Clippers, who got pretty much what they wanted when they wanted it against a Mavericks team that was simply overmatched.

L.A. led by 11 after one and by 18 at the half, before turning the remainder of the game into extended garbage time where they showcased their high-flyers with dunks against little or no resistance. One interesting note for Dallas was the play of Derek Fisher, who scored 11 points in just over eight third-quarter minutes to help his team briefly get back within 12. Fisher was +2 in his time on the floor in this one, the only Maverick player on the positive end of a plus/minus statistic that is usually tells us nothing in a game as lopsided as this one.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 99, Trail Blazers 92: Portland made a run early with LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard combining for 14 first quarter points, but the Pacers cranked up the defensive pressure and this was about even through the half. Then the Pacers ended the third on 19-6 run and never looked back. Another strong game from Paul George with 22. He is taking on the role of leader on this team. David West had 12 of his 16 in the second half.

Warriors 104, Pistons 97: The first half of this game was not pretty — the Pistons struggled against the Warriors 1-2-2 zone, which forced them to be shooters. But the Warriors were not shooting any better. The third quarter was a different story because Klay Thompson was hot — he had five three pointers and he had 19 points in the quarter. The Warriors were in control… until an 18-4 late run by the Pistons made it interesting. Golden State held on for the win.

Stephen Curry had 22 points and 10 assists — that is four straight games of 20 points and 10 assists. You should have drafted him higher in your fantasy league.

Celtics 104, Timberwolves 94: Rajon Rondo was back (with 17 points but 5 turnovers), Kevin Garnett played like he was back (he came out hot and hit six of his first seven), and Jason Terry played his best game in a while with 18. It’s not a head turning win, but Boston will take it. Kevin Love had 19 points and 13 assists.

Bulls 95, Cavaliers 85: We have a Marco Belinelli sighting — he had 23 points on 15 shots. Luol Deng had 22 points on 13 shots. So for one night, there was an efficient offense from Chicago (105.7 points per 100 possessions, six better than their season average). The Bulls were in charge of this game from the first quarter on, and when the Pacers made a push late in the third quarter and Kirk Hinrich responded with a couple threes. Donald Sloan gave the Cavs 14 off the bench, if you want a bright spot.

Jazz 87, Magic 81: Utah was able to do what the Lakers were not — beat the Magic in the paint. Jefferson had 31 points and 15 rebounds, while Paul Millsap added 22 points. Which was good for Utah because the rest of the team combined to shoot 25.6 percent on the night. Utah led most of the night but a 12-2 run by the Magic had them up 79-78 lead with 3:33 left in the game. But Utah closed the game on a 9-2 run, including four more Jefferson points, to get the win.

Hawks 108, Nuggets 104: It’s not that Denver doesn’t have an identity, it’s that they can’t execute it. They want to run and gun, but they can’t do that effectively when Andre Iguodala has 5 points and 7 turnovers. They can’t do that when their best shooter — Danilo Gallinari — is 3-for-10 and is more straight-line driver than dangerous weapon.

The Hawks just beat up the Nuggets inside — they had 19 offensive rebounds as a team, Al Horford had 25 points and 12 rebounds, Josh Smith had 16 and 13, and they got Kenneth Faried out of the game and in foul trouble. Still it was close 101-101, but the Hawks made the plays late. The only reason Denver was in the game was Ty Lawson’s 32 points.

Kings 107, Raptors 100: This is how the Kings envisioned winning games — DeMarcus Cousins owns the night (25 points, 13 rebounds) then in crunch time, with the game tied 95-95, Tyreke Evans drains back-to-back threes and the Kings pull away for the win. At least they were able to do it against the Raptors. Kyle Lowry had 34 points and 11 dimes for the Raptors.

PBT Podcast: Thunder/Spurs, Hawks/Cavs, and Game 6s talk with Dan Feldman

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - OCTOBER 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder tries to block Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs during the third quarter of a NBA game at the Chesapeake Energy Center on October 28, 2015 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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Friday night sees some big Game 6s across the NBA playoffs — Indiana has the best chance of forcing a Game 7 — but everyone is looking ahead to Oklahoma vs. San Antonio in the next round.

That includes Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBCSports.com, who in this latest podcast discuss that series and the Atlanta and Cleveland series that tips off next week. Also they talk about the Friday night Game 6 matchups, and if Portland could beat Golden State if the Warriors do not get Stephen Curry back.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Report: Celtics believe they’ll get meeting with Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant (35) looks to move on Boston Celtics' Marcus Smart (36) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game in Boston, Wednesday, March 16, 2016. The Thunder won 130-109. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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The Celtics will chase Kevin Durant this summer.

Will it work?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

Ainge will be aggressive in free agency, team sources told The Vertical, and yes, that means a run at Kevin Durant. The Celtics believe Durant will meet with them this summer, but they know that meeting won’t accomplish much unless there are significant moves leading into it.

The Celtics are optimistic about meeting with Durant. The Warriors are optimistic about signing Durant.

That might just speak to different mindsets within the organizations – why shouldn’t Golden State be confident about everything? – but it also might handicap the odds of Durant’s next team. The Warriors definitely appear more likely than the Celtics.

Boston has plenty going for it: Brad Stevens, a solid young roster, extra draft picks (including the Nets’ first-rounder this year) and cap flexibility. But Durant wants to win now, so those more youthful assets mean only so much. It’s on Danny Ainge to prove he can turn that cap space into another helpful player, deal a Brooklyn pick or two for a veteran. That would become much easier if the Celtics win the lottery.

There’s a lot happening at once. If Durant isn’t coming, Boston might prefer to keep its draft picks and build slowly. Other free agents might not come. But if Durant is on board, that makes trades preferable and other free agents landable.

Of course, Durant should be the top option.

It appears the Celtics at least have their foot in the door.

Playoff preview: Four key questions about San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder

Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant, center, scores against the San Antonio Spurs during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in San Antonio. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
AP Photo/Eric Gay
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Between 2011 and 2014, the Spurs and Thunder combined for six Western Conferences Finals appearances with at least one reaching it each year. Last season featured Warriors vs. Rockets. This year, one – but only one – of San Antonio and Oklahoma City will return.

1. Are these Kevin Durant‘s final games with the Thunder?

Let’s get this out of the way. Durant, as you well know, will become an unrestricted free agent this summer. At this point, the best thing Oklahoma City can do to keep him is win. He knows the city. He knows the franchise. He knows the roster (which would likely return in similar form if he re-signs). Whether the Thunder send him into free agency with a good taste in his mouth is the biggest variable.

Will Durant leave just because Oklahoma City loses to the Spurs? Of course not. Will Durant stay just because Oklahoma City beats the Spurs? Of course not.

But this is a big opportunity for the Thunder to accentuate their positives – and the Spurs, another team in the Durant hunt, to do the same.

2. Who wins the Kevin Durant vs. Kawhi Leonard matchup?

More directly on the court… Durant is involved in what might be the best individual matchup of the 2016 playoffs

Durant and Leonard should both finish top five in MVP voting. If they do, it’d be the first time two players top five in MVP voting who play the same position met in the playoffs since 2012, when LeBron James and Durant faced off in the Finals.

The matchup should be fun on both ends of the court, but it’ll be particularly intriguing when Oklahoma City has the ball. Durant is one of the NBA’s best offensive players, Leonard the best defender. I can’t wait to watch them go at it.

3. How do the Spurs handle Oklahoma City’s athleticism?

In his last 20 games against San Antonio, Serge Ibaka is 15-5. Ibaka embodies the athletic advantage the Thunder hold over the Spurs. At his best, Ibaka attacks with hops and speed the Spurs’ bigs can’t match. Ibaka looked old throughout much of the regular season, but he appeared rejuvenated in the first round against the Mavericks. If he was just saving his energy for the playoffs, following the Dwight Howard model in previous years, Ibaka could play a major role.

Ditto Russell Westbrook, who will challenge Tony Parker to keep up. San Antonio could cross match with Danny Green, but that presents complications in transition.

The Spurs are collectively more skilled, but the Thunder have done a better job than most at neutralizing that advantage.

4. Has Billy Donovan found a rotation that narrows the gap?

Billy Donovan passed his first playoff test against Rick Carlisle. Now the challenge grows even greater against Gregg Popovich.

One thing Donovan did right: Putting Nick Collison, not Kyle Singler, in the playoff rotation. Collison’s minutes could be key against a Spurs team that often plays two slower bigs. I guesses Singler rather than Collison would play regularly, which lowered Oklahoma City’s adjusted net rating by a few points per 100 possessions when projecting using only players in the playoff rotation.

I’ll again use nba wowy! to rank playoff teams by regular-season net rating (offensive rating minus defensive rating), counting only lineups that include five players projected to be in the team’s postseason rotation, once the first round ends. But for now, here are San Antonio’s and Oklahoma City’s ratings, from the regular season adjusted to only lineups that include five players projected to be in the playoff rotation:

2. San Antonio Spurs

  • Offensive rating: 110.5 to 110.0
  • Defensive rating: 99.4 to 96.1
  • Net rating: +11.1 to +13.9

3. Oklahoma City Thunder

  • Offensive rating: 113.6 to 117.3
  • Defensive rating: 106.0 to 104.6
  • Net rating: +7.6 to +12.7

Both teams — already strong by this measure — benefited from beating up on their first-round competition, and the Thunder got a bump for using Collison over Singler. Oklahoma City still trails the Spurs, but the gap is much closer than overall regular-season results would suggest.

Prediction: Spurs in 7

Report: Deron Williams opting out of Mavericks contract

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 03:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks dribbles the ball agains Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors at American Airlines Center on November 3, 2015 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Deron Williams sacrificed $16 million to leave the Nets in a buyout last summer. He recouped $5,378,974 with the Mavericks this season.

Now – instead of exercising his $5,621,026 player option – he’s looking to get more.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Deron Williams intends to opt out of the second season of his contract with the Mavericks, sources told ESPN.com.

Williams could return to the Mavericks. They’re one of the few teams that need a starting point guard, and two others that do – the Nets and Knicks – are probably off the table given Williams’ antipathy for a large market. Expect Dallas to at least try for an upgrade like Mike Conley first.

But even if Williams signs as a backup, he can still probably command more than $6 million next season. With the salary cap skyrocketing to about $92 million and so many teams flush with cap space, the salary picture is changing.

This also increases the Mavericks’ potential cap space.

They project to fall about $24 million under the cap, counting cap holds for Williams, Chandler Parsons (who has a player option that could go either way) and Dwight Powell. In other words, Dallas could spend that $24 million then exceed the cap to re-sign Williams, Parsons and/or Powell.

Renouncing Williams ($6,454,769 cap hold), Parsons ($19,969,950 cap hold only if he opts out) and/or Powell ($1,180,431) could clear additional cap room. Parsons opting in would restrict the Mavericks’ ability to clear space .

Williams would have been a bargain if he opted in. Instead, Dallas gains flexibility.