Baseline to Baseline recaps: Joakim Noah is all the offense Bulls need

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while watching the Golden Eagle snatches kid video over and over…

Lakers 101, Bobcats 100: Pau Gasol returned but that kind of got overshadowed by the Lakers barely winning a game they were supposed to cruise in. We’ve got all the details in our Game of the Night post.

Bulls 100, Celtics 89: The Bulls played the night before in Memphis, while the Celtics had been in Chicago resting. But it didn’t look like that at all — the Bulls moved faster, played with more energy and just looked younger and fresher. Which is troubling for a Celtics team that falls to .500 on the season and has lost three straight. They do some things well (Rajon Rondo had 26), but their defense was the weakness as Joakim Noah racked up a triple-double with 11 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists, while Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer each had 21. Chicago shot 56 percent from three on the night. Their bench outscored Boston 37-16.

Heat 103, Timberwolves 92: When Miami is hitting threes they are very difficult to beat — in the second half the Heat went 8-of-16 from three and pulled away from Minnesota to get the win. What is the other rule when playing the Heat? Don’t turn the ball over or they will run you into the ground. Minny turned the ball over 19 times (with Ricky Rubio out). Dwyane Wade had 24 points, while LeBron James flirted with the triple-double — 22 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Andrei Kirilenko had 22 points for Minny.

Jazz 92, Nets 90: Brooklyn found another way to lose one in the second half. They led by as many as 13 but the Jazz came back in the third because they grabbed 8 offensive rebounds in the quarter while the Nets turned the ball over 7 times in the same span. Still they had a chance at the end, on a crazy play Joe Johnson made a steal but eventually passed on a three giving it to Gerald Wallace for a three that missed, then Reggie Evans missed the putback and the Jazz held on. Mo Williams had 19 for Utah, Al Jefferson added 16 points and 11 rebounds.

Mavericks 107, 76ers 100: Dorell Wright almost brought the Sixers back. Almost. Dallas had stretched out their lead with a 14-4 run and were up 12 with four minutes left, looking like they would cruise in for the win. But Wright hit four threes in the final 3:15 of the game and got it down to 5, but the Mavs held on thanks to O.J. Mayo and… Chris Kaman? Yes, Kaman. Mayo and Kaman combined for 17 of the Mavericks final 19. That is four straight losses for Philly.

Nuggets 112, Spurs 106: Vintage Tim Duncan showed up for this one — 31 points (12 in the fourth quarter), 18 rebounds, six assists and five blocked shots. But it wasn’t enough. Denver took the lead in the second quarter and never gave it up. The up and down Nuggets picked up a gritty win behind Danilo Gallinari, who had 28 points and drained some key three-pointers in the final minutes that Gregg Popovich said were the difference. With this Denver has won four of their last five and maybe they will start to build on this kind of win. But we’ve thought that before this season.

Bucks 98, Pacers 93: This was a tight one — tied 85-85 — but Brandon Jennings broke that tie, had 13 of his 34 in the fourth quarter and that was the difference. Monta Ellis added 19. When one or the other of the Bucks guards is hot they stand a good chance of winning, that’s hat happened here. On the flip side, not one of the Pacers starters shot over 50 percent, but George Hill still had 18.

Raptors 113, Cavaliers 99: Andrea Bargnani has missed three games and the Raptors have a three game winning streak. Coincidence? Toronto used a 14-4 run at the start of the fourth quarter to pull away and get a win on the road. Toronto had balance — 23 from Jose Calderon, 18 from Alan Anderson, 17 from Amir Johnson. Kyrie Irving had 23 points and seven assists, Anderson Varejao dropped 22 points and had 10 rebounds for the Cavs.

Hawks 100, Wizards 95 (OT): Another tough loss for the Wizards, one that came despite Jordan Crawford having a triple-double with 27 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists. Lou Williams had 24 points, Josh Smith added 17 points and 13 rebounds. Also, in overtime there was a key three from DeShawn Stevenson.

Warriors 103, Hornets 96: Credit the young Hornets for having some fight — they were down a dozen midway through the fourth quarter and fought back to tie this game at 92-92 on an Anthony Davis and-1 (he finished with 15 points and 16 rebounds). But the Warriors have shooters — Jarrett Jack drew a foul and sank a couple free throws, Stephen Curry drained a jumper, Jack got a couple more free throws and that was it. David Lee had 26 points and nine rebounds for Golden State. Ryan Anderson had 28 points for the Hornets.

Stephen Curry says talk of lack of competitive balance “disrespectful” to Warriors, Cavaliers

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This year’s NBA playoffs have been horribly lopsided and they lacked drama because we all knew where it was headed: Golden State vs. Cleveland. They were so dominant that between them they lost one playoff game so far. This has brought up discussions of competitive balance — we have seen the same Finals three years in a row, and we will almost certainly head into next season expecting a fourth. Then maybe a fifth.

Not surprisingly, Stephen Curry isn’t a fan of the lack of competition argument, saying it disrespects the Warriors and the Cavaliers.

“That almost is kind of disrespectful, because it’s not like it’s easy for us to get here. It wasn’t that at all. Us and Cleveland worked our butts off all year to put ourselves in a position to be playing for a championship. The league is as strong talent-wise across the board as it’s ever been. Every night we get challenged. Obviously, we had that one stat I guess, point differential, all year. We had a pretty solid showing in that respect. But, every night was hard. Every night was challenging. You can’t just sleepwalk through a season and sleep walk through the playoffs and expect to be here. You got to do something. You got to come out every night and prove yourself. Granted, anybody who was betting on who was gonna be in the Finals probably picked those two. It’s easy for them to say that and just wake up in June and see it happen. We had to put that work in all year long to make it happen.”

Curry is right in that nobody should question the work the Warriors and Cavaliers put in to get to this point, and that the other teams did not just roll over for them. Also, both teams did get a little lucky with injuries.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that right now there is a dominant team in each conference, and that sucks the drama out of the postseason. (Maybe a healthy San Antonio team could have pushed the Warriors, we didn’t get to find out.) Golden State has four of the top 15-20 players in the NBA, and that makes them a juggernaut — again, regardless of the work put in. Other teams don’t have much of a chance if the Warriors are healthy and focused, not in a seven game series. The fact that it was flukey circumstances that put a dominant team in each conference — there isn’t another LeBron James returning home, and out West it took a one-time salary cap spike to add Kevin Durant to a 73-win team — doesn’t change the fact this season has felt like a foregone conclusion from the start.

Right now we’ve got what we wanted and expected, the trilogy between the Warriors and Cavaliers. But if we head into next season expecting (and maybe getting) round four of this matchup in the Finals, is that good for the league? Why watch the movie if you know how it ends before it starts?

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.