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.

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.