Baseline to Baseline recaps: Rockets, Celtics, Clippers get Christmas blowouts

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while running to the store to buy more double-AA batteries for those Christmas toys….

Celtics 93, Nets 76: The Nets are not a good defensive team, rather they are prone to lapses, like the second quarter when Boston put up 34 points. And with Deron Williams and the rest of the Nets offense struggling — especially against a good defensive team like Boston — you get the kind of blowout loss where the team CEO tweets an apology to the fans afterwards. As for Boston, they looked good, something to build on heading into a road trip out West. We broke it down in detail in this story.

Lakers 100, Knicks 94: Don’t look now, but the Lakers have won five in a row. That felt like a mirage until this win, when you started to see how Steve Nash does space the floor and Pau Gasol can work in the system. As for the Knicks, teams are taking away the three — they shot better than 40 percent the first 20 games of the season, but just 31.2 percent the last five games and were just 9-of-26 (34.6 percent) in this one. We broke the game down in more detail with Brett Pollakoff who was on the scene.

Heat 103, Thunder 97: This well could be a finals preview, and if so can we start it tomorrow. The most spirited game on Christmas Day featured the two defending conference champions and the two teams to beat for those aspiring to the finals. It featured LeBron James and a near triple-double, while Kevin Durant dropped 34. But in the end the Heat defense still takes the Thunder offense out of its rhythm and that is just enough for them to hold on for a close win. We broke this game down as well.

Rockets 120, Bulls 97: With Derrick Rose out, the Chicago Bulls have almost no margin for error — if they don’t bring their best defensive effort all night they can get blown out. The Rockets did that, pushing the pace as much as they could (31 fast break points, although the Bulls did grind this down to pretty much a league average pace game overall). The Rockets attacked and had half their points (60) in the paint, compared to 32 for the Bulls. The Rockets started to pull away in the second quarter, when Jeremy Lin had 10 points, and by the third quarter this was a rout. Nate Robinson got it as close as 15 in the fourth, but there was to be no comeback. Houston’s Omer Asik had 20 points and 18 rebounds against the team that would not match the Rockets offer sheet for him last summer. James Harden had 26.

Clippers 112, Nuggets 100: That is 14 wins in a row for the Clippers and at 22-6 Los Angeles now has the best record in the NBA. Let the historic relevance of that sink in — the Clippers have the best record in the NBA. They did it with a monster 42-point second quarter where they cranked up the defense — Denver shot 33 percent and had five turnovers — and turned those into a dozen highlight-reel fastbreak points plus 26 points in the paint. The Clippers were up 19 at the half and it was all over save for a few more dunks. Jamal Crawford had 22 off the bench (including a great move), Matt Barnes had 20 and Chris Paul continues to be the best player nobody is watching because he controls the game but doesn’t put up crazy stat lines. He just wins.

Three Things to Know: Two game suspension for Ariza, Green, without punch being thrown

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) NBA suspends Trevor Ariza, Gerald Green two games for Clippers’ locker room incident.
The NBA wanted to send a clear message: Try to enter another team’s locker room and you will pay the price. Literally. Players who do this will lose multiple game checks with a suspension. I get that — a locker room brawl has the potential to erupt into something very ugly. (James Harden and Chris Paul were not suspended because the league found them to be in more of a peacemaker role, not being the aggressors.)

However, what about guys who throw actual punches in games? On the court. That gets less of a suspension? The NBA’s suspension criteria is off.

Just a quick recap of what happened Monday night at Staples Center: It got to be a very chippy game between the Rockets and Clippers. It had been an emotional game from the start with Chris Paul’s return against his former team — an organization he ripped a couple of times since leaving. On the court Blake Griffin bumped into Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni and those two exchanged heated words. Ariza ripped Griffin’s leg tights during a play with a foul. Austin Rivers – out for the game and wearing a suit on the sidelines – was incredibly vocal (remember Paul called out nepotism between Austin and Doc) and Ariza responded, which led to another argument with Griffin. After the game, Ariza and Gerald Green tried to use a not-really-secret tunnel behind the locker rooms (where players often meet after games to talk) to try to enter the Clippers locker room and confront Rivers. There was a lot of yelling and insulting, but no punches were thrown.

My quick thoughts, in bullet points:

• I get wanting to send the “you can’t enter the opposing locker room looking to fight” message, but does that really warrant a larger suspension than guys who throw actual punches while on the floor? Serge Ibaka and James Johnson each got one game suspensions for throwing punches in full view of the cameras, so the video could be re-shown on every highlight package coast-to-coast for 24 hours. That seems soft if you get two games for yelling at a locker room door.

• If it’s two games for Ariza and Green, how many does Aaron Afflalo get for his wild haymaker punch attempt the other day? Does he get less than Ariza/Green because Nemanja Bjelica has some Floyd Mayweather in him and knew how to duck the punch?

• Nothing for Griffin running into D’Antoni? Watch the video and it’s pretty evident to me Griffin intentionally tried to brush back the Rockets’ coach — something Mark Jackson pointed out in the broadcast Wednesday Griffin has done before. However, Griffin gets off scot-free in this. Was D’Antoni out of the coach’s box? Yes. But if that’s the enforcement rule then every coach since Phil Jackson didn’t get out of his chair can be run into because they all go out of the box and venture near (or in many cases) the court. Where D’Antoni stood was not the least bit uncommon. Griffin got lucky.

2) Those Clippers won again Wednesday, beating the Nuggets and shaking up both the West playoff race and the trade deadline. Lost in all this: The Clippers are playing good basketball right now. Wednesday night they beat the Denver Nuggets 109-104 behind 20 points from Griffin and 17 from Lou Williams, who is playing well enough coaches have to consider him for the All-Star Game next month in Staples. That’s six wins in a row for Los Angeles and if the playoffs started today they would be in. Doc Rivers has to get some consideration for Coach of the Year considering where he has this team despite losing CP3 and then a rash of injuries.

The best race to watch the second half of this season is for the final three playoff slots in the West: As of Thursday morning the Pelicans, Clippers and the Trail Blazers are all tied with records of 23-21, and the Nuggets are just half-a-game back at 23-22. (Oklahoma City is just 1.5 games ahead of the tied three, but it feels unlikely they get caught; Utah is 4.5 games behind Denver, but with the injuries to the Jazz it’s hard to imagine them making up the ground.) Using its algorithm, fivethirtyeight.com says the Clippers (78 percent chance), Pelicans (77 percent) and Nuggets (73 percent) will get in, while the Trail Blazers have just a 57 percent chance of beating one of those teams out. Over at Cleaning the Glass, Ben Falk projects the Pelicans in the sixth slot at 45 wins, Denver with 43, and the Clippers and Blazers each with 42 (he has the Clippers just slightly ahead in projected wins). The reality is much more boring: The teams among those four that can stay the healthiest the second half of the season will get in.

Unless there is a trade. The Clippers have been listening to offers for DeAndre Jordan and Lou Williams (but reportedly so far have been unimpressed with what other teams are pitching). We can talk about what team president Lawrence Frank wants to do, but in reality this is an ownership-level question: Do Steve Ballmer want to hold on to two of his three best players and make a run at a bottom three seed in the playoffs because he just wants to win, or does he approve getting a jump-start on the rebuild with whatever assets they can land in this deal. Fans love to say “blow it up” but Ballmer and the Clippers could have done that last summer when CP3 forced a trade, they didn’t. So now they’re going to do it at the deadline when they could get less back in deals? Plus, does Ballmer want to try to get approvals for his new arena while his team struggles on the court?

3) Kawhi Leonard out indefinitely. Again. Ugh. Kawhi Leonard has played in just nine NBA games this season. He didn’t return from a quad injury (which he played through last season and bothered him through the summer) until Dec. 12. He was rounding into form when he had to sit for a few games due to an injured shoulder, then on the day he was rumored to be re-entering the lineup the Spurs announced he is out again indefinitely with the same quad injury. The reports were the Spurs expect this to be shorter than the last time he was out, but there is no timetable.

With LaMarcus Aldridge playing at an All-Star level and the Spurs being the Spurs and not beating themselves, they will be fine in the regular season. They are projected to win about 50 games, and they will make the playoffs as the three or four seed.

However, in the playoffs they need a fully-functioning Leonard to be a real threat to anyone. The Spurs need his defense and his athleticism, they are too old and slow without him and that can get exposed in a series. If Leonard is still out as we get into March, then it’s time to be concerned. Until then, the Spurs are just going to Spur — for example beating the Nets 100-95 Wednesday behind 34 from Aldridge.

PBT Extra: Better communication needed between NBA players, referees

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NBA players are frustrated. They feel the calls from NBA officials are inconsistent, but if they try to talk to an official about it they are pushed aside or handed a technical.

NBA referees feel that players seem to complain about every call and that there has been a decline in civility — players are more aggressive now toward them.

In this PBT Extra, I discuss how there needs to be a better level of communication between the two sides. There is always going to be tension between players and refs, it’s the nature of the roles. But both sides can handle this a whole lot better than they have.

Warriors beat Bulls 119-112 for 14th straight road win

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CHICAGO (AP) — When the Splash Brothers are making their shots, even Kevin Durant is content with a supporting role.

Such is life for the Golden State Warriors.

Klay Thompson scored 38 points, Stephen Curry added 30 and the Warriors beat the Chicago Bulls 119-112 on Wednesday night for their franchise record-tying 14th straight road win.

“It was an old-school Splash Brother game,” coach Steve Kerr said.

The “Splash Brothers” nickname for Thompson and Curry has faded in prominence since Durant joined the duo before last season, but the sharpshooting guards can still put on a show. Thompson was 7 for 13 from 3-point range and Curry was 6 for 11 from behind the arc; no other player made a 3 for the Warriors.

“When they got it going like that, you just play your role and know your place, man,” Durant said.

Durant had 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as Golden State moved into a tie for the third-longest road winning streak in a season in NBA history. The Los Angeles Lakers hold the record with 16 straight road wins during the 1971-72 season.

Next up for the NBA-leading Warriors (37-9) is a prime-time showdown with Houston on Saturday in the finale of a five-game trip.

“It’s going to be a very tough game Saturday, probably the toughest of the trip,” Thompson said, “and if we could go undefeated on this road trip that would be incredible.”

Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points for Chicago, which dropped to 14-8 since its 3-20 start. Robin Lopez scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, and Kris Dunn also had 16.

“We played three quarters of really good basketball, but you take one off against a team like this, you’re not going to win,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

The Warriors played without Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala due to injuries, and Jordan Bell sprained his left ankle when he challenged Lopez’s dunk on the Bulls’ first possession. Bell stayed down for a while and then was helped to his feet. He tried to put pressure on his leg and grimaced before he opted for a wheelchair ride off the court.

The 23-year-old Bell was selected by the Bulls in the second round of the June draft and then dealt to the Warriors for financial considerations. X-rays were negative, but he was using crutches and a walking boot after the win and will have an MRI on Thursday.

“It was definitely way worse than a normal sprain,” Bell said. “Like I said, I thought I broke it.”

Thompson and Curry led the way as Golden State outscored Chicago 32-12 in the third quarter to open a 95-78 lead. Curry made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 9:23 left in the period, sparking a 19-0 run for the Warriors.

The Bulls made a late charge, closing to 112-107 on Dunn’s fast-break dunk with 2:55 left. Dunn landed awkwardly on the play and his face slammed into the floor. He was being evaluated for a possible concussion after the loss.

The NBA champion Warriors responded with Thompson’s driving layup and a three-point play for Durant. Thompson also made two foul shots with 17.4 seconds left to help Golden State secure the win.

 

PBT Extra: Fan votes from twitter on MVP, other awards

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We reached the middle of the NBA season, which is a good time to consider where things stand for the end-of-season awards such as MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Coach of the Year. We have made our picks and even broken them down in a podcast.

Now it was time to ask you who you thought should win awards.

I put it out there on Twitter in some polls, and I cover your responses in this PBT Extra. I’m with you on Brad Stevens for Coach of the Year, although I think it’s close. Did you choose LeBron James or James Harden for MVP? Watch and find out.