Utah Jazz guard Hayward watches as Miami Heat forward James reacts to a call during the second half of their NBA basketball game in Salt Lake City, Utah

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Miami’s little slump getting serious

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while getting sucked into the “Good Will Hunting” oral history

Thunder 102, Suns 90: Kevin Durant is really, really good. Not sure if you knew that. The Suns were given a first-hand reminder when KD dropped 41 on the Suns in their home building. Brett Pollakoff was there for PBT and broke it all down.

Jazz 104, Heat 97: Dwyane Wade was benched the entire fourth quarter. Chris Bosh was benched for most of it and finished the game with one rebound. And Miami lost. Again. This slump is starting to get serious (Miami has lost three of four) and clearly coach Erik Spoelstra is getting a little frustrated and sent a message.

Meanwhile LeBron James might have had Cleveland flashbacks — him against the world without enough help. Monday night the Heat faced a Jazz team with a strong front line that was already a tough matchup because it would force Miami to defend and rebound, two things they haven’t done consistently of late. They didn’t again, and it cost them.

Miami got off to a good start on offense but didn’t bother to defend and it got them in trouble as the first half wore on — Utah put up 30 points in the first quarter (on 10 points by Al Jefferson), another 29 in the second quarter. Utah shot 67.6 percent in the first half. In the third quarter Utah kept stretching out the lead, it got up to 21.

LeBron led a late charge — a 21-5 run that got the lead all the way down to two points in the fourth quarter. LeBron finished with 32 points but made that run surrounded by the Heat bench players (Ray Allen had 8 in the quarter). It wasn’t enough — with the lead at two LeBron goaltended a Gordon Hayward shot (Hayward had 22 points) then committed and offensive foul and the Jazz held on for a key win. The Heat end up with a lot more questions.

Clippers 99, Grizzlies 73: Not having your star point guard against one of the league’s most opportunistic defenses would be a problem for most teams, but most teams don’t have Eric Bledsoe. The Clippers’ young, hyper athletic backup point guard picked up right where he left off in last year’s playoff series against the Grizzlies, flustering Mike Conley into another terrible performance (2-for-11) while controlling the game with 28 minutes of turnover-free ball, all in a dominant win in Memphis.

Without Rudy Gay and the steady diet of turnovers their offense feasts on, the Grizzlies offense sputtered completely. Repeated efforts to attack the Clippers in the post were denied, and any attempts to swing the ball around the perimeter were chopped off quickly. The Grizzlies shot 30 percent from the field, which was better than the Atlanta Hawks, I suppose, but still not nearly enough to take down a team that didn’t skip a beat without CP3.
—D.J. Foster

Bulls 97, Hawks 58: You are reading that right, 58 points for Atlanta. That happens when you score 5 points in the second quarter. Again yes, just 5 points. Atlanta was 2-of-21 for the quarter and scored 20 points in the first half. For the game they shot 29.3 percent. That’s not just the Bulls good defense, which is anemic. Carlos Boozer had 12 first quarter points, 20 for the game and looked pretty good for the Bulls.

After the game Hawks coach Larry Drew — who has seen his team lose four of five — said this was an embarrassment and that there would be changes.

Celtics 100, Bobcats 89: This makes six straight wins for Boston and they can thank Rajon Rondo for this one — 17 points along with 12 assists and 10 rebounds. He looked every bit the part of the elite point guard, which is easier to do against the Bobcats defense but still, a triple-double is a triple-double. Give Charlotte credit for not rolling over — they went on a fourth quarter run and got the lead down to four. Boston responded with a 9-0 run, and that was the ballgame.

Wizards 120, Magic 91: Don’t tell anyone, but this is three straight wins for Washington.

The Wizards led this one wire to wire and were clearly the better side, led by Emeka Okafor with 19 points and 11 rebounds. Orlando tried to make it interesting in the final five minutes of the first half when Jameer Nelson started hitting shots (14 points in the second quarter) and led a 13-0 run to make it a six point game at the half. But that was pretty much it — Washington got in a groove again and ran away to be up 22 again in the third quarter. Bradley Beal was 7-of-10 shooting for 17 points and six Wizards were in double figures.

Mavericks 113, Timberwolves 98: Two teams going in opposite directions continued those trends Monday night in a wire-to-wire Dallas win. Dallas blitzed the Minnesota defense all night — they shot 59.7 percent as a team. Minnesota did make a run late in the second quarter, got the lead all the way down to two, but Elton Brand hit the last four shots of the half for Dallas, stretched the lead out to 10 at the half and that was it. The lead got up to 23 in the third and the game was never really in doubt. Darren Collison led the way with 23 points for Dallas, both Brand and O.J. Mayo had 20.

Kings 124, Cavaliers 118: Defense? We don’t need no stinkin’ defense.

The losing team in this game had an offensive rating of 122.7 (points per 100 possessions) as both teams seemed to score at will (which made for a pretty entertaining game but a coach’s nightmare fuel). Sacramento led from the second quarter on fueled by DeMarcus Cousins (26 points, 14 rebounds and six assists) and amazing bench play (54 points on 60-percent shooting, led by Marcus Thornton with 20 points). Cleveland had six players in double digits but the steady diet of Kyrie Irving isolations down the stretch could not get it done.

This was the best game I’ve seen Dion Waiters play (admittedly I have not seen them all) — 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting. He had 16 points in the fourth quarter and while some of those were bad shots he was hitting them this night. I would have loved to see Irving give him a couple more shots late.

New challenges face Portland guard CJ McCollum in Year four

Portland Trail Blazers guard C.J. McCollum poses for a photograph during NBA basketball media day in Portland, Ore., Monday, Sept. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Steve Dykes)
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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) CJ McCollum became a starter for the Trail Blazers last season, broke out as the NBA’s Most Improved Player then signed a big contract over the summer.

Driving him all along the way was third-year pressure.

“Because I knew that was a make-or-break year for me. I know that going into year three I hadn’t played particularly well. I’d had flashes, but I just didn’t sustain a level of consistency for a season.

“In our league you get three years, you get traded, you get put in a box and they say `This is what you are,”‘ McCollum said when the team convened this week for training camp.

The 25-year-old guard became a star in the Blazers’ backcourt with Damian Lillard last season after four of the team’s starters left in the offseason.

With one of the youngest rosters in the league, the Blazers were considered a team that was rebuilding.

But they surpassed expectations, finishing 44-38 and earning the fifth seed in the Western Conference and advancing to the second round of the playoffs.

At one point last season, Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle referred to Lillard and McCollum as “a younger version of those Golden State guys.”

McCollum averaged 20.8 points, 3.2 rebounds and 4.3 assists during the regular season. He had 197 3-pointers, fourth most for the Blazers in one season. He scored in double figures in 79 games.

He raised his scoring average by more than 14 points over the previous season and the dramatic turnaround earned him the Most Improved Player award.

That improvement was the most since Tony Campbell from an average of 6.2 points to 23.2 points with Minnesota between the ’88-89 and `89-90 seasons.

McCollum averaged 20.5 points, 3.6 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the postseason last season.

But at times he was nervous that he was just an injury away from seeing all the hard work fizzle away.

“It was nerve-wracking for me because if you get hurt so many times you fear it. You’re like, `Oh, this could be it,”‘ he said. “So for me to get through a season healthy and to play well, it was comforting.”

McCollum, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft out of Lehigh, missed the first 34 games of his rookie season with a foot injury.

The next season he was a reserve, but he started to turn heads down the stretch and into the playoffs after starter Wesley Matthews was knocked out with a ruptured Achilles. His postseason included a 33-point game against Memphis.

This summer the Blazers solidified their backcourt for years to come by signing McCollum to a four-year contract worth $106 million. It will keep him in Portland through the 2020-21 season.

While McCollum says he feels “less pressure” this season, he’s still looking to grow. The Blazers signed free agent Evan Turner in the offseason to help shore up the Blazers’ depth at guard.

“As a younger player you just play and react,” McCollum said. “As an older player you start to get more experience and you start to `think’ the game. I think once I put those two things together I can be a special player.”

Report: With new building set to open, Sacramento pushes to host 2020 All-Star Game

The Sacramento Kings released the NBA basketball team's new logo, Tuesday, April 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. The new logo has a reshaped crown and new typeface meant to convey a modern look. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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In just a few weeks, the new arena that kept the Kings in Sacramento is set to open. It’s a well-designed basketball-first facility that both the fans and players should love.

Now the Kings want to show that building off to everybody and host a future All-Star Game, reports James Ham of CSNCalifornia.com.

It’s not uncommon for a team with a new building to get to host the All-Star Game. The 2017 game is in New Orleans, 2018 is in Los Angeles, 2019 will go to Charlotte if the “bathroom bill” is repealed (or strongly modified). That makes 2020 the next one up.

The Kings new building is in downtown Sacramento, in a growing area close to the California state capital. The only question is whether that area has enough hotel rooms and nearby convention space to handle the massive influx of people that come to an All-Star Game. The league office has this mapped out, it knows how many hotel rooms it needs in close proximity to the arena, for example. If Sacramento can meet all those qualifications, it could well land the February showdown.

Sixers players have dinner with Will Smith

HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 24:  Actor Will Smith attends the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures' "Focus" at TCL Chinese Theatre on February 24, 2015 in Hollywood, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Ali. Men in Black. I am Legend. Fresh Prince. Suicide Squad. Independence Day. Plus more than a few movies he’d like us to forget (hello Hancock).

Will Smith is all that — and part owner of the Philadephia 76ers.

As training camp opened, Smith took his team out to dinner, according to the Sixers official site.

Jahlil Okafor and his teammates weren’t told that the Oscar-nominated and Grammy-winning entertainer from West Philadelphia would be dining with them.

“It was great, it was a lot of fun,” said Okafor, who participated in Tuesday’s practice, despite sustaining a minor ankle sprain a few weeks ago. “Will Smith is my favorite celebrity, my favorite actor. It was great to hear him speak.”

Smith shared stories and passed along advice to a crowd consisting mostly of early to mid 20-year olds who grew up on his movies and albums.

“I think the main thing he said is the company you have around you,” Joel Embiid said. “He was trying to explain the people you have around you affect the type of person you are. He was just trying to tell us to have good people around. That’s the main thing I got from that.”

It’s a good lesson for the Sixers in what could be a season of lessons coming for the Philadephia. This team is going to be better than it was a year ago, but don’t confuse that with good. They may get there someday, but there are a lot of hard lessons to learn between now and then.

But it’s a lot more fun to get some of those lessons from Will Smith.

Report: Other teams offered Denver first round picks for Will Barton, answer was no

PHOENIX, AZ - DECEMBER 23:  Will Barton #5 of the Denver Nuggets reacts after scoring against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 23, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Nuggets defeated the Suns 104-96. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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Picking up Will Barton as part of the Arron Afflalo trade a couple of seasons back was one of the smartest moves of the Nuggets front office. Before last season they signed him to a three-year, $10 million deal and he blossomed as his jumper became a real weapon — this season he’s a guy to watch in the Sixth Man of the Year race.

A good player on a good contract? You can be sure other teams will try to poach him.

Which is exactly what happened, reports Christopher Dempsy at the Denver Post.

Now he’s being praised after a breakout season that landed him in the thick of the conversation for postseason awards, that had other teams offering first-round picks to nab him, and that had opponents highlighting him on scouting reports as a player to stop.

At age 25 Barton is part of a young core in Denver that includes Emanuel Mudiay, Gary Harris, Nikola Jokic and others. Why would Denver let Barton go?

At some point maybe Denver will move him to get a player at a position they need more. But that time is not today, Barton is still part of the plan in Denver. And it’s going to take him a lot to pry him away (that first round pick is going to have to be high up the board).