Baseline to Baseline recaps: James Harden leads dramatic Boxing Day finishes

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of all the games yesterday in NBA action. Or, what you missed while wondering exactly what you’re going to do with the Salt-N-Pepa salt and pepper shakers you got for Christmas….

Rockets 87, Timberwolves 84: James Harden is making quite the All-Star case, and making the Rockets look more and more like a team that will not just fall out of the playoffs in the West. Minnesota took a 14-point lead in the third quarter after an 11-0 run and it seemed Minnesota was going to pull away. But the Rockets scrapped back in it with a 15-2 run and we had a ball game headed to the fourth.

That was James Harden time — he scored 17 points in the fourth quarter and had 15 of the Rockets final 17 as they pulled away at the end to get the win. Harden score pretty much every way you can imagine — he hit a three but he also attacked and drew fouls, then his final four points to give the Rockets the lead and the win were driving isolation plays where he was too quick for the defense and made shots over them anyway.

Chandler Parsons had a dozen for the Rockets. J.J. Barea had 18 to lead the Thunder, Alexey Shved added 16.

Knicks 97, Suns 95: The Knicks were without Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton due to injury, but J.R. Smith had an active all-around game to make sure his team got the win anyway. Smith finished with 27 points, six rebounds, five assists, and five steals, while also hitting the tough, fading game-winning jumper as time expired.

The Suns were without starting point guard Goran Dragic for the entire second half, thanks to the flagrant foul from Smith near the end of the first half that resulted in a non-specific wrist/back/hip injury. Smith’s performance spoiled a career night from Jared Dudley, who poured in 36 points on 11-of-17 shooting in 42 minutes of action.
—Brett Pollakoff’

Nuggets 126, Lakers 114: The Lakers saw their five-game winning streak come to an end in Denver, just one day removed from putting together a complete and impressive performance in a Christmas Day victory over the Knicks.

The emotional letdown might have had something to do with this one, but L.A. couldn’t muster the intensity defensively to slow a Nuggets team that likes to push the pace and is typically successful in scoring inside. Denver got 58 of its points in the paint and outscored the Lakers by 20 there, while outrebounding them by 10, and grabbing 20 boards as a team on the offensive end of the floor. Kenneth Faried was the poster child for this effort, and Dwight Howard was ejected in the third quarter for his overly-physical attempt to try to slow Faried down.

As is often the case against the league’s marquee teams like the Lakers, the random guys off the bench rise to the occasion and have otherworldly performances which help their team win. Corey Brewer was the one exemplifying the trend on this night, going for 27 points and hitting six of his seven three-point attempts in the process. He did all of that damage in a mere 24 minutes of action. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers by continuing his torrid scoring pace, pouring in 40 points in 44 minutes, to go along with four rebounds and six assists.
—Brett Pollakoff

Heat 105, Bobcats 92: Big surprise — the defending champs handed a team that hadn’t won in its last 15 games its 16th consecutive loss.

LeBron James finished with 27 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists, while Dwyane Wade added 29 points and nine rebounds of his own to put this one away as expected. Charlotte never led, while the Miami lead was as high as 19 at one point before the game reached its foregone conclusion.
—Brett Pollakoff

Sixers 99, Grizzlies 89: Philly coach Doug Collins had announced Dorrell Wright as a starter as a plan to match up with Rudy Gay, only Gay was not with Memphis for personal reasons. Wright started anyway and just dropped 28 and keyed the Sixers win. After the game Collins totally should have played the “that’s why I started him, I knew this was coming” line but didn’t

A little discussed issue is the last 10 games the Memphis offense has been terrible. They are at 97.3 points per 100 possessions in that stretch, which would be 29th in the league (by NBA.com’s own stats). That leaves them no margin for error. So if they have a rough night defensively there is no margin for error, and that pretty much sums up this game. The Grizzlies made a run and got the Sixers lead down to two in the fourth quarter, but the Sixers answered back with a 13-0 run and that was pretty much it. Jason Richardson had 28 in the win.

Hornets 97, Magic 94: New Orleans snapped its 11 game losing streak behind the offensive powerhouses that are Robin Lopez (29 points) and Greivis Vasquez (27). So, just what we all expected.

What really got the Hornets the win was one of the offensive draughts the Magic have gone through this season — Orlando didn’t make a field goal in the final six minutes of the game and was 5-of-24 in the fourth. Part of that was the Hornets six blocked shots in the quarter. The Hornets owned the fourth and that was enough. Jameer Nelson had 28 for Orlando, but had key turnovers in the fourth when he and was trapped by Anthony Davis out near midcourt.

Hawks 126, Pistons 119 (2OT): The Hawks have proven themselves to be fool’s gold in recent seasons, with their talented team piling up regular season wins only to go on to underachieve year after year in the postseason.

This game was a great example of that, as Atlanta got out to a 22-point fourth quarter lead, only to take the foot off the gas to the point where the Pistons were able to stage a comeback large enough to the point where they had a real chance to win. Detroit scored 39 fourth-quarter points, thanks to 26 combined from Will Bynum and Charlie Villanueva in the period. Austin Daye drained a three with four seconds left that gave the Pistons a one-point lead, but Al Horford took the ball strong to the basket on the next possession to draw the foul, and he converted one of two free throws to send the game into its first overtime session.

It took two overtimes, but some timely threes from Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver in the second OT helped the Hawks re-establish control, while the Pistons simply didn’t have enough left in the tank to sustain the attack.
—Brett Pollakoff

Bucks 108, Nets 93: Deron Williams was out, which meant a whole lot of C.J. Watson and Tyshawn Taylor for the Nets. Not so coincidentally, Monta Ellis had 20 points on 14 shots and Brandon Jennings had 25 points on 15 shots. The back court won this game for Milwaukee and did it handily — the Bucks took control with an 18-3 run in the second quarter. While the Nets tried to make it interesting in the fourth but you just never felt like they would make it all the way back. As part of the Bucks easy win, Ersan Ilyasova had a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds, as did Larry Sanders with 12 and 12.

Spurs 100, Raptors 80: Did you really think this was going to end any other way? San Antonio took control with a 14-4 run right before the half and never looked back. What changed is that the Spurs started to run, more, something they did in the second half — Toronto isn’t that good defensively when they do get to set. The Spurs killed them not so much with the fast break but the secondary break and early in the clock plays. Tim Duncan had 15 and Manu Ginobili 14.

Warriors 94, Jazz 83: Things are going like this now for Golden State — Andris Biedrins can come in, play key minutes, hold Al Jefferson in relative check (18 points) and be at the heart of another Golden State road win. They are just finding a way to get it done.

The Warriors controlled the tempo and that was key in this one as the Jazz had to work for their points (they miss Mo Williams), meanwhile Golden State got a lot of easy buckets and went on a 12-2 run right before the half, which was when they took over and never looked back.

Stephen Curry had 23 but went cold for a stretch in the third — he even shot an air-ball — but it didn’t matter because the Warriors were in control. And the Jazz were listless.

Trail Blazers 109, Kings 91: This was the opposite of Sacramento’s Sunday night win over these same Blazers. Well, except for DeMarcus Cousins not being there — he missed both games after feuding with his coach. But most everything else was different.

The Blazers had a number of guys put up double-doubles — LaMarcus Aldridge (28 points,12 rebounds), J.J. Hickson (17 points,14 rebounds), and Damian Lillard (17 points and 11 assists). Portland attacked and got 50 of their points in the paint, 20 off fast breaks, and they had a dozen dunks. John Salmons had 19 points to lead the Kings, which is something only his fantasy owners care about.

Cavaliers 87, Wizards 84: Kyrie Irving’s 26 points and eight assists were enough to get Cleveland their seventh win of the season over a woeful Wizards team that has just three wins of its own.

Washington was in this one throughout, at least. The Wizards led by 12 in the first quarter and nine midway through the third, before the Cavs ultimately were able to find their way back.

Irving found Tristan Thompson for the and-1 at the rim with 24.4 seconds left, and that ended up being the key play that finished Washington this time. Jordan Crawford had an open look at a long three at the buzzer that would have tied it, but it rimmed out, and the Cavaliers held on for their second straight victory.
—Brett Pollakoff

Bulls at Pacers, PPD: In case you missed it, this game was postponed by the league due to the storm that was largely shutting down Indianapolis. No date has yet been set for the rescheduled contest.

Report: Pelicans have discussed offering DeMarcus Cousins less than max over 2-3 years

AP Photo/Steve Dykes
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Last month, Anthony Davis said he heard DeMarcus Cousins planned to re-sign with the Pelicans. Cousins was out a torn Achilles, and New Orleans was rolling with Davis playing more center. But New Orleans’ ceiling looked higher with Cousins, and Davis made clear he wanted to keep Cousins – in itself a big deal. More important than keeping Cousins is keeping Davis, which requires keeping Davis happy.

Then, the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers, becoming the lowest seed to sweep a first-round series.

Is everyone still sure Cousins warrants a max contract, which projects to be worth about $176 million over five years?

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Pelicans have broached internally the idea of offering Cousins a two- or three-year deal at less than the max, per sources familiar with the discussions. I would not expect that to go over well with Cousins’ camp. But the Pelicans have the dual leverage of winning without Cousins and a tepid market for him.

Only a half-dozen or so teams have max-level space this season, and most won’t pursue Cousins at that level, sources say.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the Pelicans leaked this to test the waters. Word will get back to Cousins, and they can gauge how strenuously he objects. If they want, they can deny ever considering this and try to avoid offending Cousins.

But New Orleans has leverage.

It will be a tight market. Many of the teams with significant cap space are young and rebuilding, and they won’t want Cousins’ attitude. Even teams ready to win might not bring him into the locker room. Returning from a torn Achilles – hard for any player – will be especially difficult for the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins.

That said, Cousins has leverage on the Pelicans, too. He’s extremely talented, and players that talented are hard to come by. New Orleans would still essentially be capped out if he walked, left with only the mid-level exception to replace him. Cousins and Davis play well together, and Davis – who can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020 – wants Cousins around.

Confronted with a similar situation with Jrue Holiday last summer – capped out and no mechanism to adequately replace him – the Pelicans spent big. But Holiday wasn’t hurt and didn’t have any fit concerns with Davis.

For New Orleans, it’s clearly worth securing the 27-year-old Cousins for the next couple years. The upside is too high. But, especially given the injury, guaranteeing him money into his 30s is undesirable.

On the flip side, Cousins should want long-term security. This might be his last chance to get it.

So, maybe both the Pelicans and Cousins can meet in the middle. But finding that point is never simple.

Judge grills Suge Knight – facing murder charge – on NBA-champion pick (Rockets)

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Suge Knight is facing a murder, threat and robbery charges in three separate cases.

The former rap mogul was in court yesterday to set a trial date for the murder charge.

Marisa Gerber of the Los Angeles Times:

A few minutes later, during a separate hearing in the criminal threats proceeding, another judge asked Knight to return to his courtroom in May. The judge then turned to Knight, asking who he thought would win the NBA playoffs.

“At this time…” Knight said, before the judge cut him off, saying he wanted a once-and-for-all answer.

“Houston,” Knight responded.

“Alright, Houston. Good pick,” the judge said.

Knight smiled.

What?

Milwaukee taco restaurant releases security footage showing manager greeting Giannis Antetokounmpo

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Shortly after Giannis Antetokounmpo led the Bucks to a Game 4 win over the Celtics on Sunday, someone eating at a Milwaukee taco restaurant tweeted a photo of the Greek Freak waiting for a table. According to the tweeter, nobody helped Antetokounmpo at all.

The picture went viral.

But!

The restaurant claims a manager greeted Antetokounmpo and released surveillance footage to prove it:

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“We appreciate everyone’s passion for treating Giannis and all customers with great customer service,” Monday’s follow-up read. “It is something we strive to do every day. We reviewed the entryway footage from last night, and we are proud to reaffirm that Giannis was promptly greeted by our manager and told the wait time. Giannis has been a customer many times and he has graciously accepted our apology for not being able to seat him and other customers more quickly last night.  Our focus is now on supporting our team on this playoff run. Go Bucks.”

The release concluded with the hashtag #TacoBoutAMisunderstanding.

TacoBoutAMisunderstanding, indeed.

For his part, Antetokounmpo never griped publicly about the taco restaurant. The wait was longer then he wanted so he went elsewhere.

He has more important issues to focus on – like Game 5 in Boston tonight.

Kevin Durant: Liking anti-Russell Westbrook Instagram comment was ‘total accident’

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Kevin Durant liked an Instagram comment critical of Russell Westbrook.

Here we go again?

Royce Young of ESPN:

I’m not inside Durant’s mind. He could be lying to cover another burner Instagram snafu.

But I tend to believe him. It’s easy enough to accidentally click like, and the greater context is on his side.

Durant has always tried to downplay a feud with Westbrook. Even at the personal rivalry’s peak, Durant just seemed as if he wanted Westbrook to like him. So, it’s nearly impossible to believe Durant – even for a button-pushing moment – wanted to publicly slight Westbrook.

But maybe Durant wanted quiresultan or some other alter-ego to do so? Maybe, as beaten down as he looked by the controversy over those deleted tweets last summer, Durant didn’t learn his lesson and still uses burner accounts. I certainly wouldn’t rule that out.

Again, though, this would be a weird message. Last summer’s deleted tweets praised Westbrook while slamming the rest of the Thunder. Durant was going to have a burner account take the opposite stance now? That doesn’t really add up.