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.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.