Baseline to Baseline recaps: LeBron, Wade enough for Heat


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.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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