Baseline to Baseline recaps: Turns out, the Heat and Thunder are pretty good

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while having to deal with all the people knocking on your door asking for their lost cell phones….

Heat 92, Warriors 75: As it has been with the Heat all season long, when they are focused and defend they destroy teams. Especially teams without their offensive catalyst, which the Warriors were with Stephen Curry out. Oh, and LeBron James is very good at basketball and set records. Darius Soriano broke the whole thing down for us.

Thunder 117, Nuggets 97: Denver has been playing much better basketball of late. The Thunder would like to remind them exactly who the best team is in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City opened the game on an 11-2 run and never looked back, leading by as many as 28. This was rout.

What is the difference between the Thunder and Nuggets? Russell Westbrook (32 points on 20 shots) and Kevin Durant (20 points on 12 shots). Denver has a lot of good players — Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari — but they lack a superstar. Or two. And those superstars win.

Hornets 90, Celtics 78: New Orleans had won five out of six coming in and were not to be ignored, but the Hornets were without Eric Gordon (coming off knee surgery they don’t have him playing the second game of back-to-backs). Didn’t matter.

Neither team shot well from the perimeter but the Hornets were able to get their points in the paint — they outscored Boston 24-12 in the paint in the second half and 48-32 for the game. The good Robin Lopez showed up with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, Al-Farouq Aminu had 18 points on just nine shots, and Anthony Davis chipped in 10. (Note to Monty Williams, good job giving Davis nearly 27 minutes of run — you’ve cut him back lately and you shouldn’t. He needs to learn.)

Austin Rivers played one of his better games in a while with 8 points, just to rub it in his dad’s face. The Celtics bench seemed to take the night off.

Spurs 103, Grizzlies 82: Memphis is in a slump — three straight losses by at least 20 points. Of course, the Spurs with their precise execution are only too happy to help with such things. This was close for the first half but a 12-2 Spurs early in the third quarter changed that and the Spurs never looked back. Boris Diaw led the run in the third quarter with 6-of-7 shooting. Also, Tim Duncan dropped 19 points and Tony Parker added 17 and 11 assists.

Hawks 109, Nets 95: Whatever Larry Drew shook up — or maybe the suspension of Josh Smith sent the right message — it worked. The Hawks were much better at the start of this game than they had been the last few, particularly on the defensive end. They held the Nets to 39 percent shooting in the first half and that gave the Hawks the chance to run, which they did and got some easy buckets. Look at it this way: At the half Atlanta’s backcourt of Devin Harris and Jeff Teague had outscored Joe Johnson and Deron Williams 24-11. And the third quarter was when the Hawks pulled away.

The up-and-down Jeff Teague was up and led the Hawks with 28 points. The Hawks win snapped Brooklyn’s seven-game win streak and handed P.J. Carlesimo his second loss as Nets coach.

Magic 97, Pacers 86: On the season, the Pacers allow teams to score 95.6 points per 100 possessions, the best defense in the NBA. The Magic scored 105.2 per 100. It happened because the Magic hit 10 of their first 16 threes and finished 12-of-21 (57 percent, on the season the Pacers usually allow 32.1 percent).

Indiana led early but starting midway through the first quarter the Magic went on a 32-8 run and once they had the lead they never let it go. Orlando led by as many as 22. Nikola Vucevic continued his run of double-doubles with 16 points and 15 rebounds, Glen Davis added 11 points. Paul George had 20 for Indiana, a game the Pacers should just flush and chalk up to one of those nights.

Mavericks 105, Rockets 100: Can the Dallas Mavericks make the playoffs? They are actually behind the Lakers but Dallas has won four in a row now and with this win. They are 4 games back of the eight seed, which is currently the Rockets. It is still a bit of a longshot (they likely have to go 28-14 the rest of the way) but it could happen.

Dallas too, the lead on a 19-0 run early where the Rockets turned the ball over seven times, and it looked like they would ride that to a win as they were up seven points after three quarters. Then Jeremy Lin sparked a rally — he scored 14 points in the fourth quarter (19 for the game), the Rockets went on a 15-4 run and tied the game at 97-97. But Dallas got key stops — Elton Brand blocked a James Harden shot in the lane and Dahntay Jones stole a Jeremy Lin pass. Then when the pressure was on Dallas hit their free throws late. That includes a pair from Dirk Nowitizki, who finished with a team-high 19 points.

Bulls 107, Raptors 105 (OT): For much of the first half the Bulls looked tough and the Raptors looked soft, which is why the Bulls put together an 11-0 run that had them up 52-44 at the half. That lead stretched out to 19 in the third quarter. Carlos Boozer was very impressive — seriously, he played well — and had 36 points and 12 rebounds.

In the fourth quarter Kyle Lowry won the “Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon” argument because they needed his aggressive playmaking and got it — he had a dozen points to help lead the Raptors back to tie it up and send it to the extra period. He also had a floater in overtime that tied the game up at 105-105. But a Luol Deng 18 footer was the game winner.

Cavaliers 93, Trail Blazers 88: Damian Lillard has game beyond his years, but that doesn’t mean Kyrie Irving didn’t teach him a thing or two. Irving took it right at Lillard all night, and even when the rookie played picture perfect defense, Irving managed to slip his way out of traffic with some of the fanciest pivoting you’ll see this side of Kobe Bryant.

With Lillard neutralized (3-for-9) by the length of Alonzo Gee, Portland struggled mightily to score in the first half and fell behind big. But after crawling back from a 17-point deficit at the half, Irving’s two late game buckets (a layup on a nasty crossover move and a tough kiss off the glass) and free throws put an end to the comeback and gave Portland a rare home loss.
—D.J. Foster

Kings 95, Wizards 94: Don’t let the names fool you — this was a really well played game. Part of that had to do with the lights out performance by Bradley Beal, who knocked in 6-of-7 from deep and tallied a new career-high with 26 points. Ultimately though, the game came down to the two Kentucky kids: John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

Wall (14 points, 10 assists) was wonderful in transition all night, but when the game slowed down and Washington tried to milk the clock to preserve a lead, the offense sputtered. Wall’s forgettable fourth quarter included two missed free throws in a tie game with 30 seconds left, which left the door open for Tyreke Evans to win the game with a free throw of his own. Make no mistake about it though — the Kings wouldn’t have been in that position without the post play of Cousins. His 21 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists carried an offense that has very quietly been pretty good this year.
—D.J. Foster

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.