Baseline to Baseline recaps: Nowitzki is back and the Spurs could not care less

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while starting you Christmas shopping finally….

Spurs 129, Mavericks 91: Dirk Nowitizki is back and… yikes. San Antonio just dominated that game, hitting 20-of-30 three pointers, driving into the lane, basically doing whatever they wanted whenever they wanted. Danny Green led the charge hitting 7-for-8 from three on his way to a career-high 25 points. As a team the Spurs shot 56 percent.

It was so bad that after the game Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said (via NBA.com): “I’ve got to work harder at turning these guys into a team. At this point, you know, we don’t look like we’re very close.” Dallas is now 12-16 on the season. On the bright side, Nowitzki looked pretty good in limited action, playing 20 minutes, hitting 3-of-4 shots for 8 points plus grabbing 6 boards.

Knicks 94, Timberwolves 91: Carmelo Anthony continues to make his MVP case and keeps guiding the Knicks to wins — he had 19 fourth-quarter points and scored the Knicks final dozen New York points to lead his team to a win. Minnesota led almost the entire way in this one, despite Kevin Love being out (eye injury), thanks to Nikola Pekovic’s 21 points and 17 rebounds, plus Alexy Shved had 18 and continues his run of good play. But the Knicks went on a late 10-1 run, took the lead with a ‘Melo layup with 1:13 left and all that matters is the score when the final buzzer sounds.

Clippers 103, Suns 77: You would be corrected to say that the Clippers 13-game win streak is partially the product of them playing a soft schedule, the best team they played during the streak has been the Bulls. But you have to beat the teams in front of you and the Clips are doing that and doing it convincingly. Los Angeles took the lead with an 11-0 run started when bench players came in late in the first quarter and they never looked back. No Clipper starter touched the floor in the fourth quarter. Again. Blake Griffin had 23, Jamal Crawford 22. Jared Dudley had 19 for the Suns.

Nets 95, 76ers 92: The Nets took the lead with an 18-0 run in the first quarter, built up a healthy cushion and then held on as the Sixers started draining threes late to make it a close finish. Joe Johnson had 22 for Brooklyn and hit some three pointers from seemingly White Plains late in the game (officially 27 and 31 feet). Great hustling game from Gerald Wallace that doesn’t show in the box score. Jrue Holiday had 24 points and nine assists — he looks fully recovered.

Jazz 97, Magic 93: The Magic raced out to an early 16-point lead in this one but when you turn the ball over on 22 percent of your possessions (19) you let the other team back in. Paul Millsap had 18 points and Gordon Hayward 17 for the Jazz in the win.

Kings 108, Trail Blazers 96: No Tyreke Evans (knee) and no DeMarcus Cousins (suspended by team) and suddenly the Kings had the best ball movement they have had all season. Draw your own conclusions. This was a close game until late in the third when a 21-5 Kings run gave them a lead they would never surrender. Marcus Thornton had 22 points, John Salmons and Travis Outlaw 15 a piece (Outlaw got a dozen of his in the second quarter).

Looking for a bright side Blazers fans? J.J. Hickson’s14 points and 11 rebounds gave him his eighth consecutive double-double. So there’s that.

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.

 

Warriors’ Matt Barnes on facing Kings: ‘I’m trying to kill ’em’

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The Kings were very good to Matt Barnes.

They signed him to a two-year contract worth more than $12.5 million when it seemed he wouldn’t come close to that on the market. Then they waived him, allowing him to receive all his salary and escape basketball hell for the Warriors, who make him much happier.

Yet, he’s going into tonight’s Golden State-Sacramento game with an edge.

Connor Letourneau of the San Francisco Chronicle (hat tip: CSN Bay Area):

Matt Barnes holding a grudge? Why, I never.

Surging Heat have playoffs in sight after dreadful start

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MIAMI (AP) — They have won 24 times in their last 31 games. They put together the NBA’s longest winning streak this season, a 13-game run that was beyond surprising. They are on the cusp of doing something never accomplished in NBA history.

This Miami Heat comeback tale has been an epic one.

And now comes the toughest part – finishing the job.

None of the other 125 teams in NBA history who started 11-30 or worse made the NBA playoffs. The Heat, with 10 games left on their regular-season schedule, are in position to change that. They held the second-worst record in the league in mid-January, are tied with San Antonio for the best record since, and hold a one-game lead over Chicago and Detroit for the final Eastern Conference playoff spot entering Friday’s games.

“These guys want this so bad,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra – a reluctant coach of the year candidate who cringes when players lobby on his behalf – said Thursday after a loss to the Toronto Raptors. “They want this opportunity to be in the playoffs. We’ve fought, scratched, done everything we possibly can to put ourselves into a position to fight for it.”

More fighting and scratching awaits.

Of Miami’s final 10 games, a stretch that starts Sunday in Boston, eight are against teams still battling for either a playoff spot or playoff positioning. The only two exceptions are a home-and-home next week with New York, which earlier this season was seven games ahead of the Heat in the standings and now are eight games behind Miami (35-37).

“We’ve dug ourselves out of a deep ditch,” Heat center and NBA rebounding leader Hassan Whiteside said.

True, but they’re not on firm playoff footing yet.

Under normal circumstances, Whiteside almost certainly would not have played Thursday. He needed 13 stitches to repair a cut in his right (shooting) hand on Tuesday, and a similar injury two years ago left him sidelined for three games.

Not only did he start Thursday, he led the Heat with 16 points and 14 rebounds. Afterward, he had icepacks strapped to both of his knees, covered his right hand in a clear plastic bag so the stitches wouldn’t get wet in the shower, and had his newly sprained left ankle wrapped.

“He’s a tough dude,” Heat point guard Goran Dragic said.

He hasn’t been the only one.

Factoring in that Chris Bosh‘s on-court tenure with the Heat was declared over when he failed a physical in September, Miami has had at least two players unavailable to play in every game this season because of health reasons. Since Jan. 1, it’s been at least three every game – and often more.

A huge blow came last week when shooting guard Dion Waiters sprained his left ankle. He’s at three missed games and counting, and the Heat offense has struggled since.

“This is that time of the year,” Spoelstra said. “Everybody is feeling it, so this is the mental toughness we have to get to.”

The Heat have no practice Friday, though most players will be in the training room for treatments. Practice resumes Saturday, preceding the flight to Boston. And then Sunday, the 10-game sprint to the finish begins.

“I want our guys to enjoy this,” Spoelstra said. “I don’t feel that we’re putting any undue pressure, but everybody will feel like when they lose that the world is collapsing. This playoff race is still going on. And I think we need a day to get away from it, to decompress and to get back to work on Saturday.”