Baseline to Baseline recaps: Dramatic finishes all over on Monday

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wondering what made Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia think that hat was a good choice at the inauguration….

Bulls 95, Lakers 83: Chicago is what Los Angeles is not — passionate, committed to the system, hustlers on every play and defenders. So, these are the results you get. Our man Brett Pollakoff broke this game down.

Nets 88, Knicks 85: Since P.J. Carlesimo took over the Nets they have been winning games with a killer offense (best in the NBA the past 10 games) — but not Monday. Their win over the Knicks was about defense and grinding it out.

The Nets ground it out when Deron Williams and Joe Johnson had to go to the bench in the first half with foul trouble. They ground it out by outworking the Knicks on the offensive glass. This was not a high scoring game but they defended and stayed close. And ultimately they did it because Joe Johnson had 10 points in the fourth quarter, the last one of those a game-winning pull-up jumper. The Nets win brings them within one game of the Knicks in the Atlantic Division.

Pacers 82, Grizzlies 81: When the two best defenses in the NBA clash you had to expect low scoring, but this game had plenty of drama. No team ever led by double digits. Memphis was behind the entire fourth quarter but went on a 7-0 run capped off by a Mike Conley three that gave them the lead 79-78. But then Paul George (who finished with 12) answered with a three of his own.

All that set up the final play. It was 82-81 Pacers and there were 1.4 seconds remaining as Memphis inbounded the ball. George was covering Rudy Gay and knows the scouting report he wants to go right. Memphis inbounds to Gay who is forced to dribble once because of the defense then lets fly a game winner — that left his hands too late. No bucket, Pacers win.

Warriors 106, Clippers 99: This was a fun one for fans. It felt like a budding rivalry game between two of the up-and-coming teams in the west and it featured plenty of scoring and stars making plays. The star that made the most plays when it mattered was Stephan Curry — he had 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter, his six-of-8 from three for the game to spark the Warriors come-from-behind win. His three with 1:26 left, where he came off a screen to get a good look, turned out to be the dagger.

If the Clippers are looking for someone to blame, they can find the mirror and see their 12-of-22 from the free throw line. But late the Warriors just made plays, Jarrett Jack had 10 in the fourth. Blake Griffin had a huge 26 point, 13 rebound night.

Spurs 90, 76ers 85: Philly played well most of the game and led midway through the fourth quarter when the Spurs went on a 13-1 run to take a lead they would never give up. The run was just a matter of the Spurs being the Spurs and executing at a level the Sixers couldn’t match. Tim Duncan had 24 points and 17 rebounds and made some big plays down the stretch, Tony Parker added 20 for the victors. Evan Turner had 18 points and 12 boards for the Sixers.

Wizards 98 Trail Blazers 95: The visiting Wizards took the lead with a 13-2 run in the third quarter and looked like they might be able to hold on to that all the way to the end — until a late 5-0 Portland run capped off by a Wesley Matthews three. Damian Lillard took over in the fourth and had 12 of his 18.

Then Jordan Crawford happened — he had all 13 of his points in the fourth quarter topped off by the buzzer-beater game winner.

Hornets 114, Kings 105: New Orleans was in control of this game most of the way, having dominated the second quarter and leading 64-39 at the half. Sacramento tried to make a late push but never got closer than 7. Ryan Anderson had 27 to lead the Hornets. Whether it is the turmoil around the sale of the team or the 10 a.m. Pacific start time for the MLK Day matinee the Kings were just never into this one.

Rockets 100, Bobcats 94: The Bobcats led most of the way in this game but some Rockets runs in the final frame — 10-0 to start the fourth quarter and 7-0 to end the game — were the difference. James Harden was a big part of that, with 12 of his 29 points coming in the fourth quarter. Kemba Walker was on fire for the Bobcats finishing with 35 points.

Hawks 104, Timberwolves 96: Another tough loss for Minnesota as they led almost the entire game but in the fourth Atlanta woke from its slumber and scored 34 points on 80 percent shooting, took the lead on a 9-0 run and hung on to win. Jannero Pargo helped spark that run with 14 fourth quarter points, while Al Horford pitched in 7 of his 28 in the final frame.

Giannis Antetokounmpo: I could never see myself playing for Los Angeles

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All-Star Weekend was (at least) an implicit recruiting tool for the Lakers and Clippers. The host teams could show off Los Angeles – the beautiful weather in middle of winter, the nightlife, the glitz and glamour.

LeBron James‘ praise drew the most attention:

I think L.A. is a perfect place to host All-Star Weekend. It’s one of the few cities that we have in our league that can accommodate all of this. And when I mean all of this, you have over 200-plus countries that’s covering the game. You’ve got so many people from all over the world coming to watch our game and just be a part of All-Star Weekend. And we know the traffic. We understand that. But traffic is traffic and — but L.A. can accommodate that. It’s built for stars. It’s built for entertainment. It’s built for cameras and bright lights, and it’s a great place for it.

Of course, we already knew LeBron was partial to Los Angeles. He has a house there.

But not every All-Star raved about the city.

Bucks forward Antetokounmpo, via Matt Velazquez Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

“I could never see myself being out there,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s great for two, three days but it’s a little bit — things are going a little bit crazy.

“Of course, because of the All-Star Game, there was a lot of people there. … In Milwaukee — I love Milwaukee — it’s low-key. I can walk down the road, down the streets without anybody bugging me — nobody interrupts my conversation or anything. I love how quiet and calm Milwaukee is.”

The Bucks ought to appreciate this outlook. Antetokounmpo once said he wanted to stay with them forever, and – as rumors swirled about his future in Milwaukee, he tweeted, “I got loyalty inside my DNA.” But he has since explained how important it is for a team to do right by its star player, supporting him with a winning supporting cast.

Maybe Antetokounmpo will eventually leave the Bucks, but it seems unlikely that’d be just to reach a bigger market. Milwaukee can’t change its location. The Bucks can somewhat control whether they put a winner around Antetokounmpo.

Still, other teams will try to poach Antetokounmpo – like Joel Embiid‘s 76ers. Antetokounmpo, via Velazquez:

“He told me I should trust the process and come play for Philly,” Antetokounmpo said with a chuckle, drawing a laugh. “That was my reaction — I just laughed.”

PBT Podcast: What to watch during stretch run of season

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Are the Cleveland Cavaliers for real? And by “real” do you mean best in the East or threat to Warriors?

Who is going to make the playoffs in the West? Is Utah going in? Portland? The Los Angeles Clippers?

Is James Harden going win MVP? Is it Ben Simmons or Donovan Mitchell for Rookie of the Year?

Those are just some of the storylines as the NBA races down the stretch run of the season (most teams have around 25 games left). Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all the things to watch from the end of the season, including if Detroit can climb up into the postseason, and how the top of the East is going to shake out.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Suns, Hawks say they won’t change strategy to tank

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Phoenix shut down healthy players in a transparent bid to tank last season. But Suns general manager Ryan McDonough said not to expect a repeat.

Scott Bordow of azcentral:

Wednesday, McDonough told azcentral sports that the Suns won’t approach the final 23 games of this season the same way. In other words, Phoenix isn’t tanking in order to improve its chances of landing the No. 1 pick in the May 15 draft lottery.

“We’re planning on doing what we have been doing, that’s playing our young players. For us, that’s not a change,” McDonough said. “… We want to continue to have them improve and get minutes and try to win as many games as we can.”

The Mike Budenholzer-coached Hawks also won’t sit their top players.

Michael Cunningham of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Some other teams near the bottom of the standings have publicly proclaimed they will favor youth over experience for the final four-plus weeks of the season, but Budenholzer said he will stay the course.

“I think we’ve been a mix of young and veteran guys all year,” he said Wednesday. “I think the way we progressed through the season — of course when you start the season you think it could be a little different — (but) right now but I think the way we’ve played, and the way we continue to play, won’t be that much different.”

To some degree, McDonough and Budenholzer are just trying to avoid a Mark Cuban-esque fine. The NBA discourages most talk of tanking.

But Phoenix and Atlanta don’t need to change their rotations to tank. They’re already good at losing! Both teams are a league-worst 18-41.

Some teams will get more serious about tanking down the stretch. The Suns and Hawks are already there. That doesn’t make them more virtuous than the Mavericks.

Still, this is a tight race for the top of the lottery. Four other teams have just 18 wins. Another has only 19, and one more has only 20. If the Suns and Hawks need to get worse to improve draft position, I wouldn’t put it past either team.

By the way, that headline can be read a couple different ways. That’s intentional.

Report: Kyrie Irving requested trade after ‘sloppy’ discussion by Cavaliers’ front office

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The Cavaliers reportedly explored trading Kyrie Irving in June. He requested a trade in July.

Since dealt to the Celtics, Irving has said he’ll never pinpoint his precise reason for leaving Cleveland. But he also said the Cavs “didn’t want me there.”

Did the Cavaliers push him out?

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

On the day of the NBA draft back in June, just days after Cleveland parted ways with former GM David Griffin, a robust Cavs contingent made up of front-office personnel, coaches and team support staff members held an impromptu, “what if?” discussion about Kyrie Irving’s future, multiple team sources confirmed to ESPN.

The discussion, characterized as “small talk” by one source familiar with its content, was less a formal straw poll of what the Cavs should do with their All-Star point guard should trade opportunities present themselves, and more a thought exercise anticipating what the market could bear for a player of Irving’s caliber.

The talk got back to Irving, multiple team sources told ESPN, and that served as the tipping point that led to Irving formally requesting a trade a little more than two weeks later.

“It was sloppy,” one league source familiar with the draft-day discussion told ESPN, adding that any talk about trading a player of Irving’s ilk — however informal it might be — should be handled strictly between the GM and owner, because of the sensitive nature of its content.

While Altman was involved in the meeting, he and Mike Gansey — at that point officially the head of the Cavs’ G League team — were only keeping the ship afloat on an interim basis and had yet to be formally elevated to their current roles as GM and assistant GM, respectively.

This is one spin on the story. Yet another: Irving initially requested a trade before the draft and considered requesting one in 2016.

Both sides are trying to blame the other for the disintegration of their relationship.

It can be difficult to read how serious the draft-day discussion was. Maybe Irving interpreted ut correctly. Maybe he didn’t. Maybe he just used it to justify a trade request he wanted to make anyway.

What’s more clear: Communication hasn’t been as strong between the front office and players under general manager Koby Altman as it was under Griffin. McMenamin:

While the Cavs were struggling in late December through early January, LeBron James questioned Altman’s absentee status on a long Cleveland road trip, team sources told ESPN.

Altman helped repair that relationship leading up to the trade deadline, looping LeBron in on discussions that culminated with three trades. LeBron appears more invested in the Cavaliers, just in time to keep him next summer.

But some mistakes can’t be fixed before it’s too late. Maybe those Irving trade talks in June were one of them.