Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Bobcats, Sessions end Celtics winning streak

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while looking at some really uncomfortable Valentines Day photos….

Bobcats 94, Celtics 91: A Celtics team on the second night of a back-to-back where the first game went three overtimes ran into a Bobcats that doesn’t have a lot going for it but does have young legs. And at the end of the game the fresh legs of the Bobcats went on a 7-0 run and got a game-winning jumper from the not quite so young Ramon Sessions.

For much of the night the Celtics couldn’t slow Bobcats big may Byron Mullens, who had 25 points and 18 rebounds. But with the game on the line late and the Celtics missing shots it was a Gerald Henderson three that got the Bobcats within one (he finished with 16). Then on the key play Sessions got a clean look at the 16 footer to win it when Avery Bradley seemed to take a misstep (tweaking something) which gave him space, and Sessions is too much of a pro to miss that shot.

Jeff Green had 18 points while Kevin Garnett added 16 points and 13 rebounds. The bigger news for Boston is Leandro Barbosa went down with what looked a whole lot like a season ending knee injury. We’ll know more Tuesday.

Spurs 103, Bulls 91: No Tim Duncan, no Manu Ginobili, no Tony Parker, no home court advantage — no problem. San Antonio’s winning machine just kept on rolling without their stars, as Kawhi Leonard dropped 26 points on Chicago’s vaunted wing defenders to lead the Spurs to a 103-89 victory.

Outside of Leonard being a little more aggressive in looking for his own shot, the Spurs didn’t do a heck of a whole lot differently than what they’d normally do with their stars. They ran shooters off screens in crisp well executed sets, rarely leaving themselves in a position where they had to attack Chicago’s defense directly off the dribble. The game really had a college basketball type feel to it, but the Spurs were sharper with their stuff. Chicago turned the ball over 19 times, and the Spurs ran away with the game with 29 points off turnovers.
—D.J. Foster

Nets 89, Pacers 84 (OT): This was a game played on Indiana’s floor at Indiana paces — it was an ugly, grinding, defensive game. And yet the Nets came away with the win even without Deron Williams (sitting out with ankle issues).

The Pacers could have had this one, they were up four (76-72) with just more than 1:30 left in the game, but they missed their final four shots. Then Joe Johnson forced OT with a little 13 footer. Once in overtime rookie Tyshawn Taylor knocked down a couple difficult shots to give the Nets the lead for good. The Pacers best players just could not knock down a shot — George Hill, Paul George and Roy Hibbert combined to shoot 8-of-39 on the night. Basically 20 percent. You don’t win a lot of games that way. Brook Lopez led the Nets with 25 wins.

Clippers 107, Sixers 90: Nick Young of the Sixers said it best, “It was like they practiced on us.” The Clippers came out with intense defensive pressure, got five steals in the first quarter and that got them out and running. And when they run the highlight reel dunks follow. Los Angeles attacked the rim with a vengeance all night. Chris Paul had 21 points and 11 assists, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford each added 20 points to the cause. Young did have 29 for the Sixers.

With this win, the Clippers finish their Grammy road trip 4-4.

Hawks 105, Mavericks 101: Josh Smith had 20 of his 26 points in the second half (plus he had 13 rebounds) and looked like the kind of guy you want to trade for in leading the Hawks to a come-from-behind win over the Mavericks. Here is how you know it was Smith’s night — he hit 4-of-5 from three-point range.

Dallas had their chance at the end. Down 99-98 with 30 seconds left Elton Brand made a nice defensive play and stripped Smith of the ball, and the Mavericks were off in transition. O.J. Mayo had the ball and seemed to be looking for his shot when a hustling Devin Harris stripped him from behind. At the other end, Smith was fouled and knocked down a couple free throws, so it was 101-98 Hawks but the Mavs weren’t dead yet. Well until Mayo turned the ball over again — he made a terrible pass to Vince Carter that was picked off by Jeff Teague. That was your ballgame. The bright spot for Dallas in this is Dirk Nowitizki started to look like his old self with 24 points.

Timberwolves 100, Cavaliers 92: You can’t leave Luke Ridnour open. I’m not joking, he’s a solid veteran NBA player and you can’t just leave him open because he’ll knock down shots. But the Cavaliers gave him good looks late and he scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Timberwolves to a win. The Timberwolves backcourt was key, they combined for 50 points on 21-for-36 shooting (58.3 percent). Minnesota got 16 points and 10 boards out of Nicola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio continues to look better and better with 13 points, 10 assists and 5 steals in this one. All-Star Kyrie Irving had 20 points and 7 assists.

Wizards 102, Bucks 90: Don’t sleep on the Wizards, this is four straight win. Washington took control of this game with a 22-7 second quarter run led largely by their bench and while they never pulled away they did lead the rest of the way to pick up the win. Bradley Beal was on fire with 28 but the real key for Washington was the play of center Nene, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds. John Wall was dishing with 10 assists to go with his 14 points. The Wizards are playing well.

Monta Ellis put up a good line for the Bucks — 24 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 7 steals. Meanwhile Mr. “I want a max contract” Brandon Jennings shot 3-of-17 from the floor.

Hornets 105, Pistons 86: Wearing their Mardi Gras uniforms it was the Hornets big men who were key — Ryan Anderson came off the bench and scored 31, Robin Lopez had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and that keyed the New Orleans win. The Hornets as a team also blocked 10 shots on the night, they were active defensively. The Hornets went on a 14-5 run at the end of the first half to really take control and the Pistons never got within a dozen in the second half. For the Pistons Rodney Stuckey had 19 point and Greg Monroe had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Anthony Davis has had a couple flat games in a row now.

Former Cavaliers president candidate Chauncey Billups: Kyrie Irving’s trade request unsurprising, ‘alarming’

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Chauncey Billups declined an offer to run the Cavaliers’ front office. A few weeks later, word emerged Kyrie Irving requested a trade. LeBron James can become an unrestricted free agent and leave next summer.

If Billups dodged a bullet, it wasn’t by luck.

Billups on Altitude Sports Radio:

No, it didn’t really surprise me. Obviously, I knew as they were doing their due diligence on me, I was doing the same thing on them. So, obviously I knew so much about the situation that the rest of the world doesn’t know.

But that’s unfortunate, man, because he’s a special talent. And, in my opinion, so much of what he’s been able to accomplish on and off the floor has been – he’s been a beneficiary of having LeBron James, man.

That would be alarming to me if I was a team looking to get him, because if it’s all about winning, man you’ve got a chance to win every single year, man. Every single year, you’ve got a chance to win.

And not only that, you’re getting the ball still. You’re getting everything you want. You get all the shots you want. You’re playing for a great coach who’s letting you go to work. The game is on the line, they’re coming to you. You’re playing on TV every week.

To me, I don’t get it. I just don’t get it. But everybody has their own desires.

I mean, he’s won a championship already. Maybe he’s saying, “I won a championship. I did this. I did that.” Maybe he wants to be Russell Westbrook, man, and go try to win the MVP and get all the shots.

That’s the only sense I can make of it. And, to me, that doesn’t make sense, because all I cared about was winning. That’s not anything. That’s the only sense I can make out of it.

I didn’t talk to LeBron until after. And I deliberately did that, because I go into a situation, and I’m going into it because of how I feel. And the whole LeBron leaving the next year – I’ll be honest with you: That didn’t bother me that much, and here’s why.

When you have an opportunity to really put something together and put your imprint on it, rebuilding is a beautiful thing. It’s a beautiful thing if they’re going to have the patience with you. That really didn’t bother me. What bothered me a little more than if LeBron left or not was that I just didn’t think they had great assets if you have to do a rebuild.

So, it was more that than Bron. So, I didn’t speak to Bron until afterwards, even though Bron and I have always had an amazing relationship.

This adds new insight to a few existing storylines:

  • When did the Cavaliers know Irving wanted to leave, and what did they do about it? If Billups knew weeks ago, acting Cavaliers general manager and eventual long-term general manager Koby Altman should have known, too.
  • Maybe LeBron didn’t leak Irving’s trade request. That’s not to say Billups – who works for ESPN, whose Brian Windhorst broke the story – did. But numerous people clearly knew about Irving’s discontent and could’ve provided Windhorst with information.
  • Perhaps, the Cavaliers’ inability to lure Billups was about more than salary.

Moving ahead, I’m curious how many front-office leaders share Billups’ view that Irving wanting a trade is “alarming” about Irving’s priorities. I think teams positioned to land him will be more enthralled with nabbing a young star than anything else, but the trade request could give them pause.

It would have been very interesting to see Billups handle this challenge if he were in charge. Would he have tried to get Irving back on the same page, as former general manager David Griffin repeatedly did? Or would Billups have seen Irving’s mindset as troublesome and wanted him gone?

Billups’ point about rebuilding, both in Cleveland and generally, is a worthy one. The Cavaliers’ lack long-term assets, because they pushed in to contend for a title with LeBron. They won one, making the payoff well worth the cost. But the bill is already coming due, and coming years could be rough. If ownership realizes that and approves a rebuild, that could lead to tremendous job security and freedom to craft a roster for the front-office leader. But most owners, including Dan Gilbert, aren’t that patient.

Hawks GM Travis Schlenk: ‘We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row’

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The Hawks let their best player (Paul Millsap) leave without offering him a contract. They traded their second-best player (Dwight Howard) in a salary dump that reduced the payroll only slightly. They also watched other key contributors (Tim Hardaway Jr. and Thabo Sefolosha) depart in free agency.

At least Atlanta could rebuild around Dennis Schroder, Taurean Prince, DeAndre’ Bembry, John Collins and what appeared increasingly likely to be a high first-round pick.

Except the Hawks signed veterans Dewayne Dedmon (1+1) and Ersan Ilyasova (one-year) to contract that help the team this year without providing long-term value.

What is Atlanta doing?

New Hawks general manager Travis Schlenk, via Shaun Powell of NBA.com:

“We want to continue the success we’ve had, but realize we might have to take a step back,” Schlenk said. “We just don’t want to dip down 2-3 years in a row. We realize that young players in this league take their lumps but we don’t want to send the message that we’re (fine) with losing.”

Competitive people involved in running NBA teams and casual fans don’t want to tank. But it seems the Hawks are missing an opportunity.

Their young core is fine, but hardly inspiring. An additional high first-round pick could bring everything together, but Dedmon and Ilyasova just make it less likely Atlanta bottoms out – without significantly increasing the odds of gratifying short-term success. Even in this Eastern Conference, it’s unlikely the Hawks sneak into the playoffs. Picking in the middle of the lottery could doom Atlanta onto the treadmill of mediocrity.

To be fair, the Hawks aren’t reliant on only their own first-round pick. They’re also owed protected first-rounders from the Rockets, Timberwolves and Cavaliers. But only the Houston pick can ever land in the top 10, and it’s just top-three protected for 2018. Most likely, the Rockets win a lot next season and convey a pick in the mid-to-high 20s in the upcoming draft.

Atlanta’s own pick is, by far, the team’s most valuable mechanism for adding premier young talent. But the Hawks have downgraded the value of that pick in the name of not wanting to sink too low in the short term. That’s not a tradeoff I would have made.

Otto Porter says he’s not bothered by John Wall’s Paul George comments

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John Wall said he wanted the Wizards to acquire Paul George, explaining:

“Look at our team. We are one piece away,” Wall said. “We have the point guard, we have the shooting guard, we have the center, we have the power forward. Our 3-man, [Porter], did great for us. You can’t take nothing away from what he did. But, [George] is a guy that can guard LeBron and go back at LeBron. It’s a piece that you’re going to need to win. If you don’t have a guy who can do that, you don’t have a chance. …

You got to add another star. You got to add another piece. You got to have three guys. And that’s what it’s looking like.”

That’s kind of a slight to Otto Porter, no?

Wall said his words created no problems, but that’s not really for him to say. How did Porter feel about it?

Porter, via Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

“We’re talking about Paul George here. If we could get him on our squad? We could definitely contend for a championship,” Porter said after the press conference to announce his new four-year contract worth $106.5 million on Wednesday.

“It’s just motivation. I will continue to get back into the gym. I didn’t take anything personal. I’m just going to continue to go out there and work and play my game,” Porter said.

George is better than Porter. That’s just a fact. So, I have no problem with anyone saying so or proceeding based on that truth.

But I’m also not Porter.

I would completely understand Porter chafing at Wall recruiting George to replace Porter. I’d definitely understand Porter chafing at Wall talking publicly about recruiting George to replace Porter.

Porter so easily moving past this just speaks to his way of quietly contributing. It also doesn’t hurt that the Wizards will pay him about $107 million over the next four years. That buys some willingness to fall in line.

LeBron James denies wanting to fight Kyrie Irving, eagerness for Cavaliers to trade guard

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According to one report, LeBron James wants to fight Kyrie Irving. According to another, LeBron is eager for the Cavaliers to trade Irving.

According to LeBron…

So, maybe there’s a chance LeBron and Irving can reconcile. It’s not too late until a deal is completed.

But it seems Cleveland is moving toward trading Irving, so the clock is ticking.

LeBron might not be inclined to persuade Irving to drop his trade request, anyway. It really seems LeBron wants to stay out of this – or at least give the impression he’s staying out of this. LeBron denying bitterness toward Irving is one thing. LeBron connecting with a teammate who has cited problems with him as a reason for leaving is another.