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.

Jimmy Butler hits contested deep buzzer-beating 3-pointer (video)

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Shooting buzzer-beaters is especially difficult because the defender knows your deadline to release the shot. The threat of a pump fake, drive to another location or pass disappears as the seconds tick down.

On the other hand, Jimmy Butler is very good.

Wizards’ interior defense, transition buckets earns them 103-98 win, 3-2 series lead over Hawks

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It’s one of the core tenets of the NBA analytics movement that aligns well with old-school thinking — get your buckets from the places it’s easiest to score. The ones where teams shoot the highest percentage, where they are most efficient. Basically, shoot close to the basket or corner threes.

Feeling comfortable back home, Washington took those shots away from Atlanta Wednesday night — the Hawks shot 43.6 percent inside eight feet of the rim, were just 18-of-41 in the paint (43.9 percent) and were 0-of-6 on corner threes.

Combine that with 27 points from Bradley Beal, 20 points and 14 assists for John Wall, and some transition baskets (20 fast break points) and you get a 103-98 win for the Wizards. Washington now has a 3-2 series lead with Game 6 in Atlanta Friday night (if necessary, Game 7 would be Sunday).

Washington always seemed to be the better team in this one, but they could never get a comfortable lead — when Washington would get up double digits, the Hawks would close the gap again and hang around.

A lot of credit for that goes to point guard Dennis Schroder, who had 29 points on 10-of-18 shooting, and was 5-of-6 from three, to lead the Hawks. As it has been all series, the Wizards game plan with Schroder was to go under every pick and dare him to beat them with his jumper — and he almost did. Schroder also had 11 assists on the game.

While he played well and Paul Millsap was his usual impressive self inside (21 points, although on 8-of-19 shooting), the Hawks wings were a mess. Kent Bazemore, Taurean Prince, and Tim Hardaway Jr. combined to shoot 13-of-41 (31.7 percent) and they were 3-of-18 from three (Hardaway had all the makes).

Meanwhile, Beal had one of his best games of the playoffs, and he deserves some credit for the struggles of the Hawks’ wings.

“I think (Beal) is one of the best two-way players in the league,” Brooks said. “He’s not going to tell anyone he’s a great defender, but his coaching staff, his teammates know he locks up defensively.”

Washington also got some help from Otto Porter (17 points) and Bojan Bogdanovic off the bench with 14 points. Both of them made some clutch shots.

Scott Brooks threw some new wrinkles at the Hawks that worked for stretches — using Wall to double Millsap at times, or going for a stretch with Markieff Morris at the five. Morris still had foul trouble despite the help, the veteran Millsap knows how to get calls. Still, the tweaks worked well enough to get Washington some buckets, and the win.

The question becomes will the Wizards be able to do that on the road — the home team has won every game this series. If the Hawks’ wings feel more comfortable and hit some shots, if Atlanta can get some more easy points inside Friday night, we will be watching Game 7 of this series on Sunday.

No. 1 pick in WNBA draft LAUNCHES shirt deep into stands at Spurs-Grizzlies game (video)

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If the Cleveland Browns are still considering a quarterback with the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft tomorrow, maybe they ought to take Kelsey Plum.

Plum, the No. 1 overall pick in the WNBA draft, will play for the San Antonio Stars. First, she went to San Antonio for last night’s Spurs-Grizzlies Game 5 and showed off her arm by launching a shirt far into the crowd.

And she’s witty:

Owner: Hawks will ‘make every effort imaginable’ to re-sign Paul Millsap

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Hawks general manager Wes Wilcox called re-signing Paul Millsap this summer the team’s “priority.”

Hawks owner Tony Ressler went a step further.

Ressler, via Chris Vivlamore of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

“We love Paul Millsap,” Ressler told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week. “We are trying to re-sign him. We want him to stay here. We think he is a really special player and a special person that we want on our team and in our locker room and we are going to make every effort imaginable to keep him.”

There’s certainly one effort I can imagine: Offer Millsap a max contract, which projects to be worth $205 million over five years.

That’s not necessarily a wise investment. As excellent and underrated as Millsap is now, he’s 32. He’ll be hard-pressed to maintain anywhere near this level of production over the next five years. And what’s the upside for Atlanta enduring such risk, especially late in his contract? A chance at a playoff-series victory each of the next couple years? The trade-off would make more sense for a team that can accomplish something more meaningful now.

The Hawks seem conflicted about their direction. In the last year, they’ve traded Jeff Teague and Kyle Korver but also signed Dwight Howard. Atlanta’s starting lineup is split by a glaring age divider – Millsap (32) and Howard (31) on one side, Tim Hardaway Jr. (25), Dennis Schroder (23) and Taurean Prince (23) on the other.

Do the Hawks want to rebuild or win now? It almost depends when you ask, and by the offseason, there might be a different answer. But the owner so strongly endorsing re-signing Millsap speaks volumes. Everyone in the organization, including president/coach Mike Budenholzer, answers to Ressler.

Of course, Millsap will hold the cards as an unrestricted free agent. He might prefer to leave Atlanta for a team closer to title contention or any other reason.

But the Hawks can make offer that would be darned hard to refuse.