Baseline to Baseline recaps: Kevin Durant carries Thunder to win

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the games yesterday in NBA action. Or, what you missed while taking a car through a drive-through with an invisible driver

Lakers 113, Cavaliers 93: Dwight Howard was back playing for the Lakers and it showed — he was blocking shots, drawing double teams and generally opening up the Lakers offense. Sure, it was the Cavaliers — the second worst offense in the NBA — but after six straight losses the Lakers will take any win they can get. Brett Pollakoff broke it all down for us in a post.

Knicks 100, Hornets 87: Carmelo Anthony got off to another slow start then admitted he has been fasting for the past 15 days. Turns out a professional athlete not eating doesn’t have a lot of energy. Who knew? He found the energy in the second quarter, went 6-of-7 and the Knicks started to pull away. I detailed it in another post.

Thunder 87, Trail Blazers 83: This was a defensive struggle — the winning team had an offensive rating of just 95.9 (points per 100 possessions). The Thunder took the lead with a 15-4 run in the third quarter behind Kevin Durant, who had the kind of game an MVP has. Durant had 33 points in the game and 22 of the Thunder’s 45 in the second half.

Portland made it close at the end with a 9-0 run that got them within two 85-83, with 8.5 seconds left. Portland went to LaMarcus Aldridge who had been their guy all night — 33 points and 11 rebounds. He got a shot he had hit all night, an 18-foot turnaround and proceeded to airball it. Russell Westbrook was fouled on the rebound and that was the ballgame.

Nets 97, Pacers 86: The Pacers defense looked like it might win them another game as they led 75-69. Then the fourth quarter happened. The Nets shredded the best defense in the league, going on a 17-0 run at one point and scoring 28 points on 57.1 percent shooting for the quarter. Meanwhile the Pacers shot 13.6 percent in the quarter — 3-of-22 shooting. That was the ball game.

David West had 27 points to lead the Pacers. Deron Williams had 22 but needed 18 shots to get there for the Nets.

Nuggets 116, Warriors 105: The Nuggets looked like the team we expected from the start of the season — they pressured the ball, forced turnovers, ran off them and showed real balance scoring. Well, not all game, for a long time the Warriors seemed to get open three look after open three look and they led by eight heading into the fourth. But the Nuggets cranked up the defensive pressure and an 18-2 run to open the fourth quarter helped them pull away for good. Denver got great games out of Danilo Gallinari (21 points) and the point-guard tandem of Ty Lawson (20 points) and Andre Miller (12 points and he was aggressive all night).

Golden State made a run and got it down to three point at one point in the fourth. But a Corey Brewer three changed the momentum back to Denver.

Bucks 107, Raptors 96: The first two quarters were like completely different games. In the first Jose Calderon had 15 points and the hot Raptors were off to a 20-point lead. In the second quarter the Raptors shot 27 percent and had 10 turnovers.

The second half was close until, with just over three minutes left, Larry Sanders blocked DeMar DeRozan and that sparked a 9-0 run that was the ballgame. Brandon Jennings had 19 points and 10 assists, and we had a rookie John Henson sighting with 19 off the Milwaukee bench. DeRozan had 23.

Spurs 106, Timberwolves 88: This is a dozen straight home wins for the Spurs. This one came with runs in the second half, particularly as the Spurs went to some smaller lineups that let them space the floor better. Tony Parker scored 20 points and Tim Duncan had a dozen plus was a defensive anchor.

Slightly worrisome for Spurs fans is Manu Ginobili straining his hamstring, he limped the locker room in the second quarter and didn’t play the second half. A strain is not usually that bad, but we’ll have an eye out for the official diagnosis on Monday.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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