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Baseline to Baseline recaps: LeBron, Wade enough for Heat

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while trying out your stylish new Get Smart shoe-phone….

Heat 114, Rockets 108: What a fun finish. After collapsing in the finals last year against the Heat, James Harden exacted a little personal revenge. Harden was a one-man wrecking crew, scoring 36 points 10-for-16 shooting on the night. Whenever it looked like the Heat would put away the Rockets for good, Harden kept coming back with an answer, scoring 8 straight points late in the fourth quarter. Ultimately though, two was better than one, as Dwyane Wade put together his best performance all season with 31 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds, while LeBron James (32 points) just sort of did what he always does.

Despite the offensive prowess of the dynamic duo, the Rockets had a few chances late to tie the game. However, it was ultimately Miami’s role players that did what they’re paid to do. Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem drew back-to-back charges in a one possession game helping Miami to win the high-scoring 114-108 game with a little defense.
—D.J. Foster

Thunder 119, Warriors 98: Oklahoma City took control of the game with a 12-2 run in the first quarter and never looked back. It was a blowout. Sure, the Warriors got the lead down to 11 at the end of the third quarter, but the Thunder opened the fourth on a 16-4 run and that was all she wrote. Oklahoma City did a great job moving the ball all night and the Warriors defense could not keep up. Kevin Durant had 25 points and seven rebounds, Russell Westbrook added 22 points and Kevin Martin finished with 21.

Wizards 106, Knicks 96: John Wall got into the paint pretty much whenever he wanted, carving up the Knicks defense like Top Chef’s Hung Huynh with a chicken. Wall had 21 points, 9 dimes and just abused the Knicks pick-and-roll defense. Paired with that for the Wizards was the 11-for-20 shooting from three, spacing the floor and making life hard for any defense. Washington took control in the fourth quarter when it shot 68.4 percent and outscored New York 36-23.

The Knicks just seemed flat. With everyone getting healthy in Washington you can’t just show up flat and expect to roll them anymore. So much for the Knicks five-game winning streak, their defense let them down. Carmelo Anthony had 31 for the Knicks, but like the rest of the team he didn’t really have it all going at his peak.

Celtics 99, Raptors 95: If you’ve been following the Raptors this season, you know the story. They get up early, play well through three quarters, and then completely collapse down the stretch. Holding a 10-point lead going into the fourth, Toronto quickly saw it melt away, as Celtics guard Leandro Barbosa went into takeover mode by scoring 12 of his 14 points in the final period.

When it wasn’t Barbosa issuing the damage, it was Kevin Garnett, who led all scorers with 27. KG had a few ridiculous shots fall in, but his jump shooting down the stretch kept the lead cozy and gave the Celtics a 99-95 win.

As for the Rudy Gay-DeMar DeRozan experience? Not so great tonight. A lot of wing players have inefficient nights against Boston, but Gay and DeRozan combined to go 13-for-40 while the Raptors only connected on 4-for-18 as a team from behind the arc. Andrea Bargnani is probably not the savior.
—D.J. Foster

Nets 93, Pistons 90: Coming off a tough loss to the Lakers the night before, the Nets bounced back in this one and held on to beat a game Pistons team.
The first half saw the Pistons mostly control the action and actually lead after 24 minutes. The Nets struggled to hit shots (35.6% shooting in the first half) while the Pistons executed their offense and were able to get out in the open court and turn turnovers into easy baskets. Led by Greg Monroe (8 points in the first half, 23 for the game) and Jose Calderon (8 points, 9 assists for the game) it looked like the Pistons were going to give the Nets their second loss in as many nights.
In the 2nd half, however, the Nets found their stride on both sides of the ball. Defensively they were able to contain everyone but Monroe and held the Pistons to 40.5% shooting as a group. And offensively, Brooklyn controlled the action by going to Brook Lopez whose 11 points (17 for the game) on 5-6 shooting set the tone. Also chipping in was Gerald Wallace who scored 9 of his 14 points in the second half while Deron Williams controlled the action handing out 7 of his 9 assists in the final two periods. Overall, the Nets simply had too much for the Pistons down the stretch and were able to hold on by hitting key shots in the closing minutes that clinched the game.
—Darius Soriano

Spurs 104, Timberwolves 94: It was a vintage Spurs-style win to kick off their annual rodeo road trip — Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are out injured, so Danny Green steps up and scores 14 in the fourth quarter and he finishes the game with 8 three pointers and 28 points. As a team the Spurs shot 55 percent in the fourth quarter and that’s how they pulled away. Tony Parker had 31 points to lead the Spurs, because he is really good.

On the bright side for Minnesota, Ricky Rubio seems to be finding his form again and had 11 assists.

Mavericks 105, Trail Blazers 99: If Dallas entertains any shot at making up the five games they are back and squeaking into the playoffs, their current homestand has to be a springboard. And a win against the Trail Blazers is a good start.

In the first half it was the O.J. Mayo show as he scored 20 of his 28 points on the night before the break. But the Mavericks got other key contributions as the game wore on — it was Vince Carter moving the ball to score 17 (the offense is better when he is in), Dirk Nowitzki with 16 and looking good in the pick-and-roll, and Shawn Marion with 13 points and 10 rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge always seems to play well back in his home town of Dallas and had 27 points and 10 boards. But it wasn’t enough.

Congratulations to Rick Carlisle, who gets his 500th win as a coach in this one.

Hawks 103, Grizzlies 92: The Memphis front office turned over the roster midseason and coach Lionel Hollins is struggling to find a rotation that works for him. And he is throwing everything against the wall to see if it sticks — it feels like a preseason game with the Grizzlies as everyone tries to find their way. On the other side the Hawks know who they are and with the once-stout Memphis defense still trying to find it’s footing some Hawks had big nights: Jeff Teague had 22 points and 13 assists; Josh Smith 19 points, 11 rebounds; and Al Horford finished with 17 points, and11 rebounds. Atlanta shot 51.4 percent and took control of the game with an 11-3 run in the second.

Jazz 100, Bucks 86: The Bucks got off to a fast start behind 10 first quarter points from Brandon Jennings. But as the Bucks depleted bench came on the court the Jazz took control of the game, with a 21-4 second quarter run being the big moment. The Bucks looked like a team playing the second night of a back-to-back at altitude and the Jazz took advantage by pounding Milwaukee inside to the tune of 56 points in the paint. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap each had 19 points on the night, Enes Kanter had 17 off the bench.

Pacers 88, 76ers 69: In what was an ugly display of basketball for most of the night, the Pacers were able to dispatch the short handed 76ers who were down Thadeus Young and Jason Richardson (who will miss the rest of the season).
Philadelphia could have used both players in  this one as their offense struggled to get anything going all night against a rugged Pacer defense. The Sixers shot just 34.4% from the field on the night with LaVoy Allen (12 points, 6-13 shooting) the only player scoring with any sort of efficiency. The other Sixers, however, could only hope to shoot as well with Evan Turner (1-10), Spencer Hawes (3-13), and Nick Young (4-13) having particularly rough nights.
Meanwhile the Pacers — who also shot a poor 39% from the field — ground out points they needed to win. Led by Roy Hibbert’s double-double (18 points, 14 rebounds) and solid efforts from George Hill and David West (15 points a piece), Indiana found more than enough effective offense to pair with their stifling defense to cruise to the win.
—Darius Soriano

Clippers 86, Magic 76: This was bad. Really bad. 16 minutes into the game, the Magic and the Clippers both had as many turnovers as they did made field goals. The Clippers barely shot over 40 percent from the field on the game, and the Magic checked in at a cool 34.5 percent. It’s not like shots just weren’t falling — this game had a month’s supply of airballs.

You can blame the poor offensive performances on the Clippers being without Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford and the Magic being without Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick, but there was almost nothing redeemable on either end for either team. Jameer Nelson started hot with 18 points in the first off and had the Magic in good shape, but when he fell off in the second half, so did the Magic

For the Clippers, Eric Bledsoe enjoyed the extra possessions and scored a career-high 27 points on some nice perimeter shooting to seal the 86-76 victory. But outside of him? Clippers backup center Ryan Hollins may have been the third best player in the entire game with 13 points and 8 rebounds, which kind of tells you all you need to know.
—D.J. Foster

Cavaliers 122, Bobcats 95: Kyrie Irving had 22 points, Dion Waiters 19 and this was a thrashing. Marreese Speights had 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench and the Cavaliers are 5-2 since getting him from the Grizzlies. Not much else to say about this one.

Hornets 93, Suns 84: This was a two-point game midway through the fourth quarter when the Hornets put together a 13-2 run to seal it. They got a lot of help from Phoenix who missed shots and turned the ball over during that stretch. It wasn’t pretty, but the Hornets snap a four-game losing streak so they will take it, especially since they have to hit the road for a few days with Mardis Gras coming to town. Greivis Vasquez’s led the Hornets with 19 points and 12 assists.

51Q: Did the Hornets lose too much in free agency to continue on upward track?

CHARLOTTE, NC - APRIL 25:  Teammates Courtney Lee #1 and Jeremy Lin #7 of the Charlotte Hornets react after a play against the Miami Heat during game four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Time Warner Cable Arena on April 25, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season.

The Hornets improved from 33 wins in 2014-15 to 48 in 2015-16, a 15-win jump no other team topped. Their 48-34 record was their best since reemerging as the Bobcats in 2004. They won their first three playoff games in this era.

The key?

Buying low on players heading into unrestricted free agency and reaping the rewards before their contracts expired.

Charlotte traded for Nicolas Batum and Courtney Lee on ending deals and signed Jeremy Lin to a contract that allowed him to re-test the market again a year later. Those three joined Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson among Hornets with expiring contracts.

Management and fans can decide whether Charlotte’s fine, though unspectacular, season justified the risk. But the Hornets predictably paid a price this summer.

On the bright side, considering free agency was always going to treat them poorly, they took as small a beating as possible.

Charlotte somehow convinced Batum to re-sign for less than the max and Williams to re-sign through his early Bird Rights. So, though they lost Lin (Nets), Lee (Knicks) and Jefferson (Pacers), the Hornets still had money left to limit their net losses. They signed Ramon Sessions to replace Lin and Roy Hibbert to replace Jefferson. (In a far less inspiring move, they also replaced Lee by trading their first-round pick for Marco Belinelli.)

But the biggest “addition” will come from within: Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, who missed nearly all of last season due to injury.

Kidd-Gilchrist is an ace defender whose motor keeps him helpful offensively. He’s a jumper and good health away from stardom, though both have escaped him throughout his career. At just 23, he could still tap into a higher level.

Otherwise, internal improvement could be limited. Frank Kaminsky (23), Cody Zeller (23) and Walker (26) aren’t finished products, but they’re all relatively polished, with their actual production closing on their ceilings fast.

With the new acquisitions, it’s less about improvement and more about limiting lost production. Sessions will attack the rim a little better than Lin, but Session’s lackluster outside shooting will hinder his ability to share the court with Walker – a role that served Lin, and Charlotte, well last season. Hibbert is a defensive upgrade over Jefferson, maybe even a big one depending on Hibbert’s mindset. But the Hornets go from strong to zero in the offensive post. Belinelli, on the wrong side of 30, is trying to rebound from an awful season with the Kings.

Beyond their individual production, it also can’t be understated how well Lin and Lee jelled with their Charlotte teammates. Jefferson, even though his fit devolved during his tenure, still set an example by trying to make it work.

The Hornets were a feel-good team last season, but they built their success on a shaky foundation. When the storms came, they kept their house in as much order as possible, but there was only so much they could do at that point.

They didn’t experience the disaster of losing Batum. They kept another top free agent in Williams. Yes, Lin, Lee and Jefferson got away, but it’s not the end of the world – especially if Kidd-Gilchrist fulfills his potential.

After relying on players with expiring contracts last year, Charlotte is dependent on a new questionable source of production this year: Kidd-Gilchrist. Will he perform as well as those pending free agents did? The Hornets’ opportunity is greater this time around. Locked up for three more years, Kidd-Gilchrist could be a path to sustained success rather than the fleeting version experienced last season.

But first, Kidd-Gilchrist must provide immediate production to keep the good vibes going after the Hornets downgraded elsewhere. They’re putting a lot on his shoulders.

Tyronn Lue hid Cavaliers’ cash in Warriors-arena ceiling after Game 5, returned some of it after Game 7 win – but LeBron says he didn’t get repaid

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Head coach Tyronn Lue of the Cleveland Cavaliers reacts during the first half in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals against the Golden State Warriors at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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There’s always money in the banana stand ceiling of an NBA arena where Doc Rivers or one of his coaching disciples is trying to prove a point.

As Rivers did in Los Angeles with the 2010 Celtics, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue – a Rivers assistant in Boston and with the Clippers – collected cash from his team as a motivational tactic during the NBA Finals.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

After the Cavs’ 112-97 win at Golden State in Game 5, coach Tyronn Lue entered his jovial locker room and asked for $100 from everyone.

Not just from LeBron James, or Kyrie Irving, or Kevin Love — you know, the players who print money. But everyone in the room, from owner Dan Gilbert (also not poor) down to Cavs’ public relations staffers and equipment managers.

Lue took the wad of cash — senior vice president of communications Tad Carper says it was $4,500 — and hid it in the ceiling of the coaches’ dressing room in the corner of the Oracle Arena visitor’s locker room.

“They were like, ‘Where is the money going?'” Lue said Tuesday, following the Cavs’ first practice as defending champs. “I’m like, ‘It’s going to me and I’m going to wrap it up and put it in the ceiling in the coaches locker room and we’re going to come back, get our money and get our trophy for Game 7.'”

Of course, Cleveland overcame its 3-1 deficit and everyone got their money back. Right?

Vardon:

Lue was assessed a $25,000 fine after Game 4 for ripping the officials, and he said some of what he collected after Game 5 went to pay his fine.

“I’m still looking for my money. I didn’t get mine back,” James said.

This is why so many Cavaliers employees deserves a championship ring. Even modestly paid staffers had to front their own money so the coach could prove a point.

This is the perfect example of winning curing all ills. This will be seen as a fun story, but what if Cleveland lost Game 7 – or even Game 6 and never returned to California?

Player or other employee, I’d quickly grow tired of a coach whose motivational tactic is taking my money. He can’t think of anything better?

Even as is – whether Lue was joking or not, whether LeBron is legitimately upset or not – the players association shouldn’t take kindly to a coach taking money from a player to pay the coach’s fine,

Bryan Colangelo: Nerlens Noel’s center comments ‘understandable,’ but he’s too young to dictate terms

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Nerlens Noel called the 76ers’ center situation – with himself, Jahlil Okafor and Joel Embiid – “just silly” and said, “It doesn’t make any sense.” Then, he doubled down at media day.

How is management taking the public criticism?

76ers general manager Bryan Colangelo, via Bob Cooney of the Philadelphia Daily News:

“It’s not disappointing. I think it’s understandable. I think Nerlens did a pretty good job sizing up what we have. There is a lot of depth and a lot of talent at that position. I want to correct one aspect of it, though. He left out someone who has made great strides and improved significantly over the summer through hard work and his performance in the Summer League, but Richaun Holmes has really emerged as another player we’re excited about in terms of what, potentially, he is going to bring to this team.”

Colangelo, via Derek Bodner of Philadelphia magazine:

“These are all young players not in a position necessarily to dictate circumstances other than through hard work and effort,” Colangelo continued

In other words: Nerlens, you don’t have leverage.

Colangelo is mostly right. Noel is under contract this season, and if he doesn’t sign a contract extension by Oct. 31, he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer. Philadelphia has major control over his future, no matter how much he gripes.

As coach Brett Brown said, Noel’s best path to getting paid – by the 76ers or another team – is playing hard and playing to his strengths. He’ll have to earn minutes in a field that, as Colangelo noted, also includes Richaun Holmes. Colangelo is challenging Noel right back.

Colangelo is also correct that Noel’s complaints are understandable. Noel never asked to be put on a team that cared more about asset accumulation than winning, but he’s paying the price. Because the 76ers have so many centers, they’re unlikely to extend his contract now. That stinks for Noel.

Colangelo certainly has a higher tolerance for roster criticism, because his predecessor, Sam Hinkie, acquired all four centers. That’s Colangelo’s problem now, and he’s seeking a trade. But most understand the pros and cons of what he inherited.

Neither Noel nor Colangelo seems happy about Philadelphia’s center situation. They also seem unhappy with how the other is addressing it – though that could flip on a dime if Colangelo finds a trade and/or Noel provides inspired play.

Justise Winslow wants his own team one day, developing into role with Heat

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 30: Justise Winslow #20 of the Miami Heat drives down court during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on October 30, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)  *** Local Caption *** Justise Winslow
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PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) — Justise Winslow‘s position with the Miami Heat has finally been clarified.

He’s their small forward.

That is, unless he’s playing power forward.

Or shooting guard. Or defending the opposition’s point guard. Or playing at center, as he did at times out of necessity in last season’s Eastern Conference semifinal series against Toronto.

In Heat vernacular, the second-year player out of Duke is a Swiss Army knife, a jack-of-all-trades whose role is fast increasing. Not only will Winslow be called upon to play multiple positions, he’s also being asked to take more of a leadership role now for a team that – without Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh – is rebuilding on the fly this season.

“That’s what I want,” Winslow said Wednesday. “That’s what I’ve been working for my whole life, to make it to the NBA – not only that, but to be a star and have my own team one day. This is the next step in me progressing and getting there, expanding my role and growing as a leader. And I accept whatever the coaching staff throws at me.”

Winslow was one of the last players to leave the court after Wednesday’s morning practice, a full-contact session that had players diving on floors and crashing into one another throughout. And after it was over, Winslow spent a good half-hour working on his shot.

The oldest Heat player is taking notice of the extra work the youngest Heat player is doing.

“He’s going to play a little bit of everything,” said 36-year-old Heat forward Udonis Haslem. “Just be Justise Winslow. Be that Swiss Army knife we need. One night it might be 10 rebounds. Another night it might be seven assists. Another night it might be 15 to 20 points. Just be Justise Winslow. He has the ability to do all those things and he has a high-enough basketball IQ where he knows when he needs to be aggressive, make plays and do other things.”

Winslow, who would be going into his junior year at Duke if he wasn’t in the NBA right now, isn’t just Miami’s youngest player – he holds that distinction by a lot.

He’s 20; next on the Heat age lists are 23-year-olds Briante Weber, Stefan Jankovic and Josh Richardson.

“He was quiet,” Haslem said. “But he fit in right away.”

Winslow was the fifth-youngest player to get time in the NBA last season, older than only Tyus Jones, Stanley Johnson, Rashad Vaughn and Devin Booker. And more than half of the 60 players to get taken in this year’s draft are older than Winslow as well.

“He doesn’t have to listen to anybody else’s expectations,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “There’s so many things out there about who he needs to be or what position he needs to play, how many more points a game he has to score this year. He’s going to get more minutes, more responsibilities. I want him to embrace that in a healthy way and not try to live up to anything coming from the outside.”

That doesn’t mean there aren’t things Winslow wants to emulate.

Wade’s departure over the summer hit Winslow hard. They bonded quickly, forged by Wade realizing that Winslow was willing to learn anything and everything he could from the three-time NBA champion wanted to teach. Winslow would spend time chatting up Bosh about nuances of the big-man game; their lockers were side-by-side last season.

And this summer, Winslow was part of the group invited by USA Basketball the U.S. Olympic team and help them prepare for what became a gold medal at the Rio Games.

“Seeing all those guys come together and not really care about stats before the gold medal, that’s the kind of mindset we have to have as a team,” Winslow said.