Baseline to Baseline recaps: That Kevin Durant guy is pretty good

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while being more than willing to do your part to fight breast cancer….

Knicks 100, Nets 86: Battle of New York? Not really. The Knick are an elite team that got Carmelo Anthony back and he dropped 31 (that makes it 110 points on the Nets in their three meetings). The Nets are 2-8 in their last 10 and struggling on defense. We break it all down in more detail here.

Thunder 100, Hawks 92: And the Thunder are up to an even dozen wins in a row after cruising to a win over the Hawks (don’t let the final score fool you, this simply was not that close). The Thunder started to pull away at the end of the first quarter and never lost that lead. Russell Westbrook owned the first half, scoring 21 of his 27.

The Hawks fought back and early in the fourth quarter got the lead down to 4, but then it was the Kevin Durant show, he had 18 in the fourth quarter on his way to 41 for the game. The Hawks would make runs in the fourth quarter, then Durant would happen. There was nothing anyone could do. Jeff Teague led Atlanta with 19 points, Josh Smith had 17 points and 12 boards.

Rockets 125, 76ers 103: Finally, James Harden and Jeremy Lin clicked on the same night — Harden finished with 33 (and got 17 at the free throw line as he was aggressive) and Lin 18 points on 12 shots. When they both score like that the Rockets are very difficult to beat. Of course, it helps to play the Sixers, who have been a defensive disaster for a couple weeks now. Mix those two and you Houston shooting 56 percent on the night and cruising for the win.

Celtics 103, Cavaliers 91: Paul Pierce can still take over a game — he dropped 40 and keyed the win that stopped the Celtics three game losing streak. But it wasn’t easy. Boston pulled away late in the second quarter and early in the third, eventually leading by 20. But then a 20-2 run sparked by Kyrie Irving (22 points on the night) cut that all the way down to two in the fourth. It took a key layup by Rajon Rondo and some Pierce fireworks to seal the win for Boston.

It’s a win for the Celtics, but this is a 5-22 Cavaliers team, losers of five straight, who were without Anderson Varejao, and the still were in it in the fourth quarter. The Celtics still have some issues to work out.

Grizzlies 90, Bucks 80: Good defensive teams win games because even on nights their offense goes cold they stay in the game and have a chance. That’s how Memphis won this — they can win ugly as well or better than any team in the league. The Grizzlies shot just 40.9 percent on the night, but that was better than the Bucks 35.3 percent.

The king of futility in this game goes to Monta Ellis, who started 0-for-13 shooting (he hit his last shot of the game to go 1-14). On the other end of the spectrum, Zach Randolph had 15 points and 17 rebounds.

Pacers 104, Jazz 84: This was a blowout of epic proportions for the Pacers. Indiana led by as many as 32 points on the night, and had this game wrapped up by halftime after a horrific offensive second quarter from the Jazz.

Utah managed just eight second-quarter points on 3-of-20 shooting, while missing all eight of its three-point attempts in the period. Indiana wasn’t that much better, scoring just 22 points on 42.9 percent. But it was enough to build a 22-point lead by halftime that was never in jeopardy the rest of the way.

The Pacers got balanced scoring, with five players in double figures and three — Paul George, George Hill, and Gerald Green — all getting 20-plus.

The Jazz were coming off of a nice win in Brooklyn the night before, but an effort like this tends to erase that memory pretty fast. “I don’t know if we can get past this quickly,” Utah guard Gordon Hayward said afterward, which is probably the appropriate response.
—Brett Pollakoff

Kings 131, Warriors 127: We had an old-fashioned shootout in Sacramento. There were 102 possessions (the league average is close to 94) and both teams shot 50 percent. The game was tied 118-118 with 2:13 left when the Kings when John Salmoms attacked off the dribble and Stephen Curry — who had 23 points in the second half and 32 for the game — picked up his sixth foul and went to the bench. That was followed by an Aaron Brooks three and a Marcus Thornton three (he had 19 points) to get the Kings the win. Sacramento was 11-of-19 from three and that was key in the game.

DeMarcus Cousins had 24 points and Brooks had 23 — and both took just 12 shots a piece. David Lee put u 29 points and eight rebounds for Golden State, while Jarrett Jack added 28 points.

Clippers 93, Hornets 77: After the Clippers picked up their 11th win in a row, owner Donald Sterling went into the Clippers locker room and led a “hip-hip hooray” chant. Seriously.

As for the game, the Clippers are just way more talented and it showed. Lob City was in full effect, Los Angeles was having fun. They led by 10 at the half and when the Hornets made a run to get it close in the third quarter the Clippers went on a 13-3 run and that was it. Chris Paul ended up with 10 points and 12 assists.

Suns 121, Bobcats 104: Believe it or not, this game wasn’t as close as the score would indicate … which is to say, it wasn’t close at all.

A 22-6 run from Phoenix over the first six-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter ran the Suns lead to 17, and put this one out of reach. Charlotte clearly carried some feelings of disappointment from Tuesday night’s close loss to the Lakers into this one, and didn’t have the energy to fight back from a lead that reached 20 before the end of the first half.

The Suns smelled blood once the third quarter began, and Shannon Brown had 18 points in the period on 7-of-10 shooting, including hitting four of his five shots from three-point distance. It was a season-high 26-point performance for Brown, surpassing his previous season-high, which also came against the Bobcats.

The lead got as high as 30 before the fourth quarter began, and the Bobcats cut into it to get within 14 once the Suns had already checked out for the evening, but the game was never in doubt. The Suns rained down a season-best 17 three-pointers, and did so on just 28 attempts for a mark of 60.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds, and Kemba Walker led all scorers with 27 points on just 14 shots. The Bobcats players are buying what head coach Mike Dunlap is selling to a certain extent, but it was clear in the locker room afterward that the losing streak, now at 13 games, is beginning to weigh on these guys.
—Brett Pollakoff

Raptors 97, Pistons 91: Is Toronto better without Andrea Bargnani? It’s looking that way. The Raptors won their fourth straight with Bargnani sidelined due to injury, this time over a dreadful Pistons team that is now just 2-13 on the road this season.

DeMar DeRozan and Alan Anderson did the heavy lifting offensively for Toronto with 23 points and 16 points respectively, while Jose Calderon continued his strong play at the point with 17 assists.

Greg Monroe had a career-high 35 points to go along with 10 rebounds, but Rodney Stuckey was the only other Piston player to finish in double figures with 13 points.
—Brett Pollakoff

Magic 90, Wizards 83: The one thing these two teams have in common is the fact that no one expected either to be very good at all this season. While Orlando has exceeded all expectations by somehow getting out to a more-than-respectable 12-13 start, Washington seems intent on making sure those preseason projections were as accurate as possible — and then some.

This one wasn’t pretty, with each team managing to score less than 15 points in one of the two final periods; the Magic outscored the Wizards 38-33 in a fairly brutal second half.

Nene and Jordan Crawford led Washington with 20 and 19 points respectively, while the Magic got big contributions in limited minutes from two of their reserves. J.J. Redick had 17 points in 26 minutes, and E’Twaun Moore chipped in 15 in 20 minutes.

Glen Davis left the game with under a minute to play, after appearing to suffer a shoulder injury following a hard foul from Emeka Okafor. His status will be worth watching in the days ahead.

The loss dropped the Wizards to 1-11 on the road, and just 3-20 on the season.
—Brett Pollakoff

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

Rob Carr/Getty Images
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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more than Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

image

The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary (especially given Wall’s comments about not wanting him to play as much) but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.