Dallas Mavericks v Boston Celtics

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Pierce, Rondo lead Celtics to win

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while watching the Sandy relief concert and thinking the Who looked really old…

Celtics 117, Mavericks 115 (2OT): This game was fun. It entertained. Oh, no it wasn’t pretty at all — Dallas had 27 turnovers — but it had its moments. Like Dallas’ comeback from 14 down to make this game close. Like O.J. Mayo’s driving layup around Rajon Rondo and pulling and up-and-under on Kevin Garnett to send the game to a second overtime. Or like Rondo’s own driving layup in that second OT that really turned the tide.

Mayo had another big game, 24 points on 10-of-19 shooting — he’s starting to make a case he should be included on the West’s All-Star team. Vince Carter found the fountain of youth and added 20, while Shawn Marion came back from injury and 16.

Paul Pierce had 8 points in the second overtime (mostly from the free throw line) and finished with 34 points on 25 shots. Rajon Rondo had 16 points and 15 assists. Jeff Green had 15 points but needed 16 shots to get them. Dallas did a good job defensively and if it hadn’t been for the turnovers they would have won it.

Warriors 97, Heat 95: Golden State has been winning games but felt left out of the conversation of really good teams in the West. So they made a statement — and that was that they could win without Stephen Curry having a monster night (9 points) and without a super efficient night from their shooters (Klay Thompson had 27 points and was 5-of-13 from three). They gutted out a win. Golden State has five straight road wins now, they are 15-7 and you have to give them some credit.

And you have to check out Draymond Green’s game winner and a smart pass from Jarrett Jack.

Suns 82, Grizzlies 80: This is your upset of the night special and the dagger fell with a Goran Dragic shot. Just like we all expected. Brett Pollakoff broke this game for us.

Bulls 96, 76ers 89: With Derrick Rose and Kirk Hinrich out (actually the Bulls only had 8 players), it was Nate Robinson to start at the point for the Bulls and that sent Jrue Holiday into gunner mode — he had 26 points but needed 28 shots to do it. He took a lot of bad shots, which seemed to be the theme of this game. Chicago doesn’t have the firepower to pull away — Joakim Noah led them with 21 — but down one in the fourth quarter the Bulls rattled off a 7-0 run to take the lead. They then had another 8-2 run, they executed better late and got the win.

Nets 94, Raptors 88: It’s a wonder that the Raptors were able to compete at all in this one, let alone hang within a couple of possessions for most of the night given their depleted roster.

But the Nets were playing on the second night of a back-to-back after an emotional loss to the Knicks on Tuesday, so perhaps the general malaise against an inferior opponent was to be expected.

Ed Davis did everything he could for the Raptors, with 24 points and 12 rebounds on 11-of-13 shooting in 45 minutes of action. Jonas Valanciunas didn’t miss a shot, and finished 6-of-6 from the field. But the other six players in uniform couldn’t prevent a big third quarter from the Nets, which ultimately turned the game around and sealed it for Brooklyn.
—Brett Pollakoff

Jazz 99, Spurs 96: Mo Williams had missed a three 10 seconds earlier, but Paul Millsap got the offensive rebound and in the end Williams got one more shot — and buried the three as time expired to lift Utah over San Antonio. This was all about a late push for Utah, who was down but got a 9-1 in the final four minutes just to tie the game and give Williams a shot at heroics.

Millsap had a big line on the night, 24 points and 12 rebounds, while Al Jefferson added 21 points and Gordon Hayward had 19. Tim Duncan had 22 points and 21 boards for the Spurs.

By the way, Gregg Popovich ripped Danny Green for his defense on this last play, saying you can never step back on williams and give him room.

Pacers 96, Cavaliers 81: You could see a letdown game coming a mile away from this Cavaliers team, after going on the road to face the Pacers the night after Kyrie Irving returned from injury to lead Cleveland past the Los Angeles Lakers. It just took a little longer than most expected.

Cleveland actually came out strong, and led by 16 points late in the second period. But Indiana eventually showed up, and held the less-talented Cavaliers to just 23 second-half points.

Had C.J. Miles not dropped 28 points in 28 minutes for Cleveland, things might have been even more lopsided in favor of the Pacers.
—Brett Pollakoff

Hawks 86, Magic 80: Orlando has the ability to get you into low-scoring, grind-it-out contests, where the team hopes that execution late can help it to victory.

This was one of those games, but it’s tough to recover from a 15-point first quarter and a 34-point first half, no matter how much you make life miserable for your opponent.

The Magic cut a 16-point fourth quarter deficit down to six with just 2:10 remaining, but couldn’t pull any closer, and neither team scored in the game’s final 1:02.

Let’s just say that this one won’t exactly be sent to Springfield, Massachusetts for archiving.
—Brett Pollakoff

Rockets 99, Wizards 93: James Harden was back after missing a game with a sprained ankle and looked like his old self with 31 points on 20 shots. The Rockets led most of the way but it helped to have Chandler Parsons drop 11 of his 18 in the fourth. Washington was in this, actually taking a one-point lead in the third, but the Rockets immediately answered with a 15-2 run and never looked back. Bradley Beal dropped 20 for Washington.

Clippers 100, Bobcats 94: This makes it eight straight wins for the Clippers, a team people should start talking about as a potential contender in the West. Los Angeles led pretty much the entire way but give Charlotte credit for the fight — every time the Clippers started to pull away all game, the Bobcats clawed back. But never all the way back. Blake Griffin, Chris Paul and Matt Barnes each had 19 points, but Barnes got 11 of his in the fourth quarter.

Bucks 98, Kings 85: The Bucks led wire to wire in a game where the Kings were without DeMarcus Cousins (turns out you can’t punch a guy on the other team in the groin). That’s not to say the game wasn’t close, the Kings always seemed to be lurking, but when they started the fourth quarter 1-for-12 shooting, that pretty much did them in. Brandon Jennings scored 19 points, and Monta Ellis added 17 points and 11 assists for the victors. One bright spot for the Kings — Tyreke Evans was back and had 17 points.

Timberwolves 108, Nuggets 105: Minnesota took control of the game with a 12-5 run to start the fourth and were able to hang on for the win. A scrappy win because Kevin Love had an off night (3-of-17 shooting for 8 points). Nikola Pekovic led the Timberwolves 22 points on 7-for-10 shooting while Andrei Kirilenko added 18 points. Denver got the tempo up where they wanted it (100 possessions) and shot well (50.6 percent as a team) but Minnesota turned the ball over less, got more offensive rebounds and got to the free throw line more often. Minnesota also had J.J. Barea, who had 11 points in the fourth quarter.

Kenneth Farried had 26 points and 14 rebounds, Danilo Gallinari added 24. Denver got within three and had chances late but Ty Lawson had a key turnover inside 30 seconds left in the game, then missed (and put his foot on the line) trying to hit a game-tying three as the clock ran out.

Thunder 92, Hornets 88: The Hornets were playing well with their young roster (three rookies finished in double-digits scoring) and were up 11 late in the third quarter when Thunder coach Scott Brooks went with a small lineup off the bench — Reggie Jackson, Eric Maynor, Kevin Martin, Kevin Durant and Nick Collison. It worked, OKC went on an immediate 11-0 run and took the lead. Durant had 25 of his 35 in the second half and Jackson hit a key three. The Thunder had to work for this one but they got it.

As for the Hornets rookies, Brian Roberts had 16, Austin Rivers 12 and Anthony Davis finished with 11.

Mario Chalmers says he’s cleared to play

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers moves the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, in Washington. Chalmers was ejected in the first half. The Wizards won 100-91. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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Mario Chalmers was thriving with the Grizzlies after a midseason trade from the Heat when a torn Achilles ended his season.

Not the way Chalmers wanted to enter free agency.

Still unsigned, he says he’s progressing.

Chalmers:

Can he go 100%, though? If not, when?

A few teams could use another point guard. If Chalmers shows his health, he belongs in someone’s rotation. But that might require taking a low-paying deal and working his way up from the third point guard spot – or even just onto the regular-season roster.

Report: John Wall ‘rankled’ by James Harden’s high-paying Rockets contract

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards is defended by James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in the second half at Verizon Center on March 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. 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 Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bradley Beal isn’t the only player bothering John Wall.

James Harden – who’s earning a lot of money from the Rockets and adidas – is drawing the ire of the Wizards point guard.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

One league source familiar with Wall’s state of mind simply put it this way: “Wall’s got jealousy issues. He’s always upset with someone who makes more money than him.”

A front office executive tells The Ringer that Wall was “rankled” after Harden signed a four-year, $118 million extension with the Rockets.

O’Connor also pointed out this line from Nick DePaula of Yahoo Sports on Wall rejected adidas’ offer:

“He wanted Harden money,” a source told The Vertical.

I wonder how Wall feels about Beal’s max contract, which pays much more than Wall’s deal. Wall didn’t like Reggie Jackson, another lesser player, earning the same amount as him.

The union rejecting cap smoothing in light of the new national TV contracts has certainly adversely affected Wall, who locked in long-term just before the salary cap explosion became known. As other players sign huge contracts, he’s stuck on his old-money deal.

Washington could’ve renegotiated and extended Wall’s contract, but it would have been more complicated than Harden’s arrangement. Wall has three years remaining to what was previously two for Harden. How much extra money would the Wizards have paid Wall over the next three years just to get him committed for one more year? Instead, they signed Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith.

I’m also unsure Wall would’ve accepted an extension. He doesn’t seem overly happy in Washington, and a raise via renegotiation was coming only if Wall provided something in return – an additional year of team control added to his contract.

And don’t lose track of this: Harden is better than Wall.

I don’t mind Wall monitoring other players’ contracts. That jealousy or whatever you want to call it has driven Wall to become a star NBA player. Whatever motivation works.

But demanding Harden’s deal is unrealistic. The Wizards also ought to be mindful of how Beal’s new contract affects chemistry, but that’s their problem.

Wall’s issue – as a player, not endorser – is primarily theoretical. He’s tied to his current contract, and lesser players will earn more than him due simply to timing. He must find a way to make peace with that.

51Q: Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz celebrates his three point during a timeout with Derrick Favors #15 and the bench at Staples Center on November 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Today is day two of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

The Utah Jazz barely missed the playoffs last season, but virtually no team in the middle tier of the league is as universally adored for their direction. They’re well-coached by Quin Snyder, have a roster that makes sense together and made sensible moves this summer to get better. Barring injuries, they should be a lock to make the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

In the non-Warriors category, it’s hard to argue that very many teams had better offseasons than the Jazz when it comes to filling holes on their roster without giving up any core pieces. Utah’s weakest position last season was point guard — with Dante Exum out for the year rehabbing a torn ACL, things got so bad that a midseason trade for career backup Shelvin Mack was considered a major upgrade. This summer, they flipped a lottery pick they didn’t really want to Atlanta in a three-team deal that got them George Hill, as solid a starting-caliber point guard as would realistically be available for them. Hill’s playmaking and outside shooting immediately improve Utah’s offense and gives Snyder a rock-solid veteran to take pressure off Exum coming back from missing a full year of action. Even if the Jazz view Exum as their long-term answer at point guard, it’s going to take him a full year to get back up to speed, and having Hill means he has to do less right away.

The Jazz’ other major upgrade came with the signing of seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson to a two-year, $22 million deal. Johnson isn’t a first or second option on offense anymore at this point in his career, but as a veteran scorer off the bench, he can still be effective and should be a great fit in the offense. Taking on Boris Diaw‘s contract could prove savvy, too, if he’s as engaged as he was in San Antonio.

Beyond the roster upgrades, the driving force of all the Jazz optimism this summer is how well all of their young pieces fit together, and the potential for improvement from all of them. Nobody knows what Exum will be, but even if Utah gets nothing out of him, they have an enviable core just entering its prime. Rudy Gobert is one of the most lethal rim protectors in the league at 24 years old. Derrick Favors has developed into an excellent all-around power forward. Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood provide a potent scoring combo on the perimeter, and if Alec Burks is healthy, he can help there too.

The Jazz are also the beneficiaries of the shifting balance of power in the Western Conference. The Thunder lost Kevin Durant and while they’re probably still a playoff team, they’re far from a lock. The Blazers spent a lot of money but didn’t necessarily get better, and may have overachieved last season. The Timberwolves, despite having arguably the brightest future in the league, are still probably a couple years away. The Rockets and Grizzlies are still total question marks, and the Pelicans haven’t been able to construct a solid group around Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Jazz are sitting there with the least downside of any of these bubble teams, not a lot of rotation question marks and play in a division without a clear-cut favorite.

Nobody thinks the Jazz are going to be title contenders, but looking up and down the west hierarchy, there isn’t a team that the Warriors or the Spurs should want to face less in the playoffs. And this year, they have the depth to get there.

Ryan McDonough: Suns plan to be ‘major players’ in 2017 free agency

Ryan McDonough
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The Suns have swung big in free agency the previous couple years, chasing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2014 and LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015.

But 2016 appeared to be the year Phoenix really eyed.

The Suns structured the contracts of multiple players – including Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris – to have salaries that dipped this summer. Time that flexibility correctly, and it can really pay off.

Phoenix big prize? Jared Dudley.

Dudley is a nice player, but he’s hardly the star the Suns seek. So, they’ll try again next year.

Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

That’s been one of our frustrations this summer. We were kind of on the sideline for some of the marquee free agents. But as you know, Woj, it wasn’t the deepest free agent class.

Potentially, it’s a very strong free agent class next year. And one of the things we’ve done with our contracts is we’ve lined them up to have max cap space next year without really touching the core of our roster.

I think and I hope at this time next year, we’re major players in free agency. Because as you mentioned, the Phoenix Suns are a destination franchise.

The 2017 free agent class won’t be as strong as hoped.

LeBron James locked in for multiple years with the Cavaliers. Russell Westbrook signed a contract extension with the Thunder. Kevin Durant indicated he’ll re-sign with the Warriors. So has Stephen Curry. Blake Griffin is reportedly “adamant” about re-signing with the Clippers.

Teams will almost certainly match any offer for the top restricted free agents – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel – if they don’t extend their contracts first.

That still leaves several quality unrestricted free agents – including Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap – but Paul and Lowry are point guards. Phoenix already has Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker looks like the shooting guard of the future. So, forget simply sliding Bledsoe or Knight to off guard. It’d take a major shakeup for Paul or Lowry to make sense with the Suns.

Still, McDonough’s approach is logical. If he can keep kicking the can down the road, perpetually selling that his plan is a year from taking it hold, it’ll make it easier for him to retain his prestigious job.

But if he has to make his 2017 free agency plan work rather than deferring to 2018, it could be difficult.

The Suns project to have about $17 million in cap space (under a system that could change significantly with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement). Renouncing restricted free agent Alex Len could clear about $12 million more, and just $500,000 of Leandro Barbosa‘s $4 million salary is guaranteed. Trading Tyson Chandler, Bledsoe and/or Knight could open even more space. Losing Len isn’t ideal, but for the right free agent, the upgrade would be worthwhile.

The bigger issue is winning. Phoenix has struggled to lure top free agents, because the team has missed the playoffs six straight years. That’s unlikely, though not impossible, to change this year. If the probabilities hold, what does McDonough sell then?

He always has the option of using cap space to facilitate uneven trades, a route he previously broached. Depending on the deal, that could encroach on 2017 cap space.

But if his plan holds, the Suns will keep their books relatively clear until next summer.