Baseline to Baseline recaps: Another day, another Lakers loss

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while working on your eyelid weightlifting….

Grizzlies 106, Lakers 93: The Lakers added injury to insult when Dwight Howard re-aggravated his shoulder problem in the first half, and the Grizzlies took full advantage by recording 16 offensive rebounds and 60 points in the paint en route to a blowout victory. While the Lakers struggled to address any of their issues, the Grizzlies bench responded well in their first action after the trade, as Darrell Arthur led the way with 20 points. With Mike Conley predictably burning up the Lakers’ pick-and-roll defense, Steve Nash was nothing more than a liability defensively and an afterthought offensively. We knew the Lakers were a mess, but giving up 100 points to the Grizzlies has been a feat allowed by only the worst defenses lately.
—D.J. Foster

Warriors 104, Thunder 99: Stephen Curry played like an All-Star and that was the key here. He had 31 points, but on an off shooting night (3-of-14 from three) he adjusted and went 8-of-12 inside the arc and made the biggest play of the game on defense. It was 101-99 Warriors with 30 seconds left and Golden State wisely doubled Kevin Durant to take the ball out of his hands. Kendrick Perkins made a smart play and was rolling all by himself down the lane, Durant saw him, and Curry quickly left his man and slid down with the help, stole the pass and that was the ballgame. Well, he was fouled and hit some free throws, but the defensive play was key. Kevin Durant had 33 points and 9 assists but added 6 turnovers. David Lee had 22 points and 12 boards for Golden State.

The Warriors have now beaten the Clippers and Thunder in the last week. They are the NBA’s surprise team this season.

 Heat 123, Raptors 116 (OT): You kept waiting for the Heat to make a run that never came. The Raptors led 28-22 after first quarter and 57-53 at the half — and it would have been a lot worse if the Heat hadn’t closed the half on an 11-3 run. The Heat defense was back to lazy mode and the Raptors, playing better in recent weeks, have the weapons to make you pay if you get sloppy. Toronto shot 58 percent in the first half, committed just two turnovers and got 22 points off their bench.

Jose Calderon knocked down consecutive threes inside the final two minutes to put Toronto up 108-105 and you thought they had a chance, then LeBron answered with a three of his own from the top of the key and it was tied 108-108. Then LeBron didn’t close it out — he made a terrible pass (unless he was aiming for the guy in the first row) then on the game’s final play… actually it was no play it was LeBron and isolation hero ball and he hit the back rim on contested 21 footer. We were headed to overtime, where the Heat went on a 13-2 quick run and that was the ballgame.

Bulls 85, Pistons 82: No Luol Deng (and at of course no Derrick Rose, not yet) but Bulls defense did its job and the Bulls beat the Pistons for the 17th straight time. Barely.

The end of this game was tight, back and forth after a Jason Maxiell rainbow jumper, a Tayshaun Prince contested three, then a Rodney Stuckey 10-foot pull up capped 7-0 run for Pistons to give them a one point lead. Chicago took the lead back when Nate Robinson drove, kicked it out to open Butler for a corner three. Then Maxiell tied it when Taj Gibson just left him on defense and Maxiell cut to the basket, got the pass, then had a wide-open layup

It was tied 82-82 with 29.4 seconds left when Joakim Noah made the play of the game — Marco Belinelli misses contested long two, Noah saves it going out of bounds right to cutting Belinelli for layup. As Stacy King says, “I like my meatballs spicy!”

Spurs 106, Hornets 102: No Tim Duncan (sore knee), no, Kawhi Leonard (bruised knee) and no Gregg Popovich (sick) helped make this one close — 83-83 midway in fourth. Then San Antonio cranked up their defensive pressure and that led to an 18-6 run. And that was it, although a late 8-0 Hornets run made the final score close.

Really the Spurs got back to playing defense at halftime after giving up 64 points and allowing New Orleans to shoot 63.2 percent in the first 24 minutes. In the second half the Hornets shot just 32.6 percent. Tiago Splitter led the Spurs with 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting.

Trail Blazers 100, Pacers 80: The Trail Blazers picked apart the best defense in the NBA, LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points, Damian Lillard had 20 and eight assists and the Blazers cruised. It was actually tied 24-24 early in the second quarter when Aldridge helped spark a 20-4 run and that was pretty much it. Paul George had 22, David West 21 for the Pacers.

Nuggets 105, Rockets 95: Houston wants to get out and run, but when you turn the ball over on 22 percent of your possessions — better than one in every five trips down the court — that fast pace becomes easy buckets at the other end. Which is what the Nuggets got in their win. James Harden kind of summed up the Rockets night — he had 23 points and seven assists, but also committed seven turnovers (Andre Iguodala was on him much of the night and did a good defensive job). Ty Lawson had 21 points and 7 assists to lead the Nuggets.

Hawks 104, Bobcats 92: Josh Smith had a quick 10 points and the Hawks led early in this one, but they didn’t really pull away until a 10-0 run in the third when the led by as many as 17. Smith had a monster night — 30 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. That is two straight wins for the struggling Hawks, something they haven’t done all month.

Nets 91, Timberwolves 83: Brooklyn is 10-1 in January, the best record in the league for the month, and they cruised wire-to-wire here. Brook Lopez had 10 of his 22 points in the first six minutes of the game, feasting on the lack of physicality with Nikola Pekovic out of the lineup, and Lopez finished with 22. Minnesota made a run and got within two in the fourth quarter, but C.J. Watson made nine straight points for the Nets to stretch the lead back out and that was the ballgame.

Jazz 92, Wizards 88: Utah was in control of this game until late in the third quarter when Washington went on a 20-2 run that carried over into the fourth and made this a game. John Wall, Jordan Crawford and the Wizards bench made the run so coach Randy Wittman stayed with them most of the fourth quarter. But the Jazz tightened up their defense late — the Wizards had only two baskets in the final four minutes — and that was key. Utah were helped out when Paul Millsap stole the ball from Nene, got the ball ahead to Gordon Hayward and Trevor Ariza committed the clear-path foul (two free throws and the ball out of bounds to the Jazz. Millsap had 16 points and 15 rebounds on the night.

Suns 106, Kings 96: Lindsey Hunter is 1-0 as an NBA coach. The reason was good Michael Beasley showed up for a quarter — the hot and cold gunner had 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, when the Suns came from behind to win. You never know when good Beasley will make an appearance. You can always count on Luis Sclola, who had 9 of his 21 for the game in the fourth quarter. DeMarcus Cousins had 15 points and 15 boards to lead the Kings.

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.

The 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.

Rockets’ Mike D’Antoni wins the 2017 NBA Coach of the Year Award

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Houston Rockets head coach Mike D’Antoni is your 2017 NBA Coach of the Year.

If you are a Texan or a fan of the Seven Seconds or Less Phoenix Suns, today probably feels pretty good.

D’Antoni beat out the second place finisher, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, by 247 total points. D’Antoni grabbed 68 first place votes compared to Spoelstra’s nine.

This last season was an impressive one for D’Antoni, and his pairing with James Harden certainly seemed to excite fans to begin the season. D’Antoni is at least partially responsible for the way a modern NBA offense works, and putting him with one of the most efficient and exciting offensive players in Harden was at least match on paper.

But it was so, so much better on the floor.

D’Antoni immediately moved Harden over to play the point guard position full-time, a real utilization of his passing and scoring skills. The emphasis for Houston all season was getting the ball out often and early, much like it had been in Phoenix. Harden easily played the role of Steve Nash, getting the ball out on the wing to shooters early in transition, leading the break, and running the pick-and-roll in the early offense.

The result was a No. 3 finish in the Western Conference below the Golden State Warriors and the San Antonio Spurs. Harden, a leading MVP candidate, finished the year with averages of 29.1 points, 11.2 assists, and 8.1 rebounds per game. In seasons past a casual fan could find watching the Rocket a chore, with Harden whirling his arms around to draw illogical fouls. This year they became a delight.

Suddenly, the Rockets were out on the break more often and shooting more 3-pointers. They were dunking down lobs. Eric Gordon was shooting the lights out from the arc as a feel good Sixth Man of the Year candidate. It didn’t matter that Harden had somehow upped his free-throw rate to the highest it had been since 2012-13. The Rockets, with Trevor Ariza and Clint Capela and Ryan Anderson, were a dynamo with Harden leading the charge.

It doesn’t seem like an obvious change now, but adding more speed to Harden’s game was something that only a COTY like D’Antoni could have envisioned. With the addition of time, revolutionary ideas often seem like staid practices. They seem simple and blunt, which is why the execution of those ideas is what ends up making those we galvanize in the history of the game so important.

The Rockets lost a Hall of Famer — albeit an aging one — and somehow got 14 wins better. They finished 55-27 after going just .500 a year ago. They added an offense of system that took the extremes of the modern NBA and turned them up to 11.They did all of this with the coach who started that revolution more than a decade ago.

Mike D’Antoni winning the 2017 NBA Coach of the Year is about as good a story as you can get. His career has had all the acts and plot twists of a great narrative, with a rise, a crash in the middle, and a return to glory. Monday’s award puts D’Antoni right back where we thought he should be in Phoenix: at the top.

Warriors’ Bob Myers wins 2017 NBA Executive of the Year

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Give the Golden State Warriors in yet another trophy.

General Manager Bob Myers has won the 2017 NBA Executive of the Year Award, which was announced at the NBA Awards ceremony Monday night.

In a year in which the Golden State Warriors beat their rival Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals — thanks in part to the addition of free agent Kevin Durant — is it any wonder that Myers took home the top brass for an NBA executive?

The Warriors looked dominant even a year removed from their 73-9 season, with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Durant playing perfectly as they stormed through the 2017 NBA playoffs.

It wasn’t until Game 4 the NBA Finals that the Warriors actually lost a game, the only game that the Cavaliers and LeBron James would win in that series.

Golden State is on the verge of a dynasty even as they try to keep their team together. The swiping of Durant from the Oklahoma City Thunder was a huge coup, but the real magic for Myers has always been that the Warriors drafted their top three players.

The Warriors let off the gas a little bit in 2017, winning just 67 games on their way to a number one seed in the playoffs this last year.

Congratulations are in order yet again into the Warriors, who won their second NBA championship in three years thanks in part to the guidance of Myers at the helm.