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

Bill Russell to Shaq, Kareem during awards show: “I would kick your ass”

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Bill Russell is one of the greatest basketball players to have ever lived. His dominance for the Boston Celtics is unquestioned.

And, he apparently knows it.

Russell received a lifetime achievement award on Monday night during the 2017 NBA Awards. Joined on stage by NBA big men Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, David Robinson, Alonzo Mourning, and Dikembe Mutumbo, Russell opened his acceptance speech of the award with a little joke.

Via Twitter:

Tell ’em, Bill

Russell Westbrook has to choke back tears during emotional MVP acceptance speech

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Russell Westbrook was a tornado on the court this past season, tearing fearlessly through the NBA, leading the Thunder to the playoffs, and eventually himself to winning the MVP Award on Monday night.

It was a different side of Westbrook we saw when he accepted the award, barely able to hold back the tears in thanking his parents, teammates, and everyone who helped him get to that point.

Russell Westbrook wins the 2017 NBA MVP Award

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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for the 2017 NBA MVP? We finally have our answer.

On Monday night Westbrook, the Oklahoma City Thunder star, took home the Maurice Podoloff Trophy, earning him the right to be called the league’s most valuable player for the 2016-17 NBA season.

Westbrook had 68 first-place votes, runner-up James Harden had 22, however, Harden had so many second place votes that this was the closest race in a decade (although it wasn’t that close). Kawhi Leonard finished third, LeBron James fourth, and Isaiah Thomas fifth.

The MVP debate raged on the entire regular season, but the Oklahoma City Thunder star hit new heights in 2016-17, averaging a triple-double for the entire season, a feat not seen since 1962 when Oscar Robertson did it. That pushed him over impressive numbers by Houston Rockets star Harden, who was incredible as he moved to play the point guard position full-time for NBA Coach of the Year Mike D’Antoni.

Whether you picked Westbrook or Harden, I’m not so sure that there was a wrong answer. Granted, the Rockets were a much better team and in fact gave some of the best squads in the Western Conference a run for their money. Harden and D’Antoni seemed like a natural pairing, and his move to the point guard position was inspired. Houston finished third in the Western Conference last season, a mark that most of us did not expect them to achieve without the likes of Dwight Howard.

In comparison, the Thunder were only in playoff contention because of Westbrook and even then, they scraped by the entire season. Oklahoma City had just three players with a positive VORP For the season, in stark contrast to the Rockets. While basketball purists might rightly point out that Westbrook’s contribution to his team was still centered around himself, the debate will have to rage on with the trophy now firmly in the Thunder star’s grasp.

Plus, if you ever watched the guy it would be hard not to point to him as MVP. Westbrook was just flat out ridiculous.

It is difficult to understate just how significant Westbrook’s statistical achievement is for the season. He averaged 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.4 assists per game. The ability of a player to achieve that record with modern defenses in the NBA being what they are is impressive, even if you want to argue that many teams allowed Westbrook to operate while concentrating on his lesser teammates.

In the age of advanced statistics, when an analyst with both a spreadsheet and a pair of working eyes may slide to the side of Harden, it is still an astonishing thought to think Westbrook dominated so wholly against his opponents statistically. Indeed, if you ask me who had a genuine impact and who was more impressive, the answer would have to be split between the two.

So here we are, at the end of the year and everything is as we thought it would be. Russell Westbrook is the individual season champ as a player, the best of the best. The Golden State Warriors are the team champions of 2016-17. You could argue against either of them, but I don’t think it would do you any good. Westbrooks season is a statistical anomaly we are unlikely to see again. NBA MVP voters have got it wrong a lot of the time over the years, but this isn’t one of them.

Russell Westbrook is your NBA MVP.

Draymond Green wins 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year

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There were a lot of incredible candidates for the 2017 NBA Defensive Player of the Year Award, but make no bones about it: Golden state Warriors forward Draymond Green was the most deserving.

Monday night Green was announced as the Defensive Player of the Year during the NBA’s Awards Ceremony.

In a year in which the Warriors were coming off a 73-9 season, and after an offseason where they added Kevin Durant, Green’s importance to the team was never overstated. His tenacity on defense and switchability allowed the Warriors to continue to be one of the best defensive squads in the NBA. Golden State finished second in the NBA in defensive efficiency in 2016-17, and part of that was due to Green acting as they lynchpin.

A unique defensive player, Green was able to take some of the pressure off of Durant as well as boost his impact on defense. A player who at times had to guard all five positions, Green led his team in defensive win shares.

To take home his DPOY award, Green got 73 out of a possible 100 first place votes (from select media members), comfortably beating out Utah Jazz big man Rudy Gobert, who was second, and San Antonio Spurs MVP candidate Kawhi Leonard, who was third. Robert Covington of the Philadelphia 76ers was fourth, followed by LeBron James fifth.

Much like the MVP award this season, a real argument could be made for either Leonard or Gobert’s candidacy for DPOY. However, With yet another 60+ when season under his belt, it made sense that Green was seen as the key by voters for the Golden State defensive attack.

Green finished with 73 first place votes, while Gobert trailed with 16 and Leonard with 11. Green finished with 434 total points. Gobert was second with 169.

Durant was the 2017 NBA Finals MVP, and voting for DOPY closed before the playoffs began. But if anyone watched the great playoff run by the Warriors — one where they only lost one game — Green’s importance is easily understood.