Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Lakers win, but it’s not pretty

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while reading up on the gory, unromantic history of Valentines Day

Lakers 91, Suns 85: The Lakers won this one eventually, but as has been the case plenty of times throughout the season, they made it unnecessarily difficult on themselves.

L.A. managed to score just nine points in the third quarter, and allowed a Suns team not exactly known for its offense to close the period on an 18-2 run to turn an 11-point deficit into a six point lead heading into the fourth. The Lakers stabilized from there and pulled away late, but a bizarre game from Kobe Bryant certainly wasn’t among the reasons why.

Bryant seemed determined not to shoot the ball at all in the first half, and even over-passed out of almost certain scoring situations to drive that point home. He didn’t take his first shot of the game until there were three and a half minutes gone in the third period, and made his only attempt from the field with 2:10 remaining in the game to put his team up eight.

Bryant finished with just four points on 1-8 shooting, to go along with nine assists and eight turnovers. Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison carried the load offensively during Bryant’s effective absence, and finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds and 19 and 10, respectively.
—Brett Pollakoff

Raptors 109, Nuggets 108: The most entertaining game of the night. Toronto won this with a Rudy Gay jumper with 4.8 seconds left, followed by Gay’s defense on Ty Lawson’s attempt at the buzzer to win it. He’s made a difference for a Raptors team that is 4-2 since his arrival.

Toronto got another strong night from John Lucas III, who had 12 key points in the fourth quarter. Alan Anderson also had 10 in the fourth. Those bench guys put up 22 of Toronto’s 27 in the final frame. Denver was without Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, which meant it was the Lawson show — he had 29. But came up just short on the game’s final shot.

Rockets 116, Warriors 107: The Rockets didn’t need a historic three point shooting performance to beat the Warriors this time, they just needed good ball movement and a slumping Warriors team that has played terrible defense and has now lost five in a row. Right now the Warriors perimeter players simply cannot stay in front of their man and that’s a real problem when you’re playing James Harden, who had 27. Chandler Parsons dropped a nice line of 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Jazz 109, Thunder 94: How often does a team shoot 55 percent from the field…and still lose by 15? No team compensates for their mistakes by getting buckets like Oklahoma City does, but this was just too much. It starts with the 20 turnovers — a number OKC could have overcome on its own. But when you add those turnovers to 16 offensive rebounds allowed and only 19 defensive rebounds collected, suddenly you’re at a big possession disadvantage.

That was the story all night — Utah just kept chasing down loose balls, kept being a step quicker to the glass, and kept pounding the ball inside. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap combined for 41 points, and Utah’s bench outscored Oklahoma City’s 49-25. Oklahoma City isn’t easy to blowout, and Utah did get a total team effort, but the Thunder sort of beat themselves here.
—D.J. Foster

Heat 117, Trail Blazers 104: The LeBron James run of terror continues — 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting with nine assists and six rebounds. That would be six straight games of scoring more than 30 points and shooting better than 60 percent from the floor, and that’s an NBA record. I’ve been saying it a lot lately — LeBron’s play the last year and a half is as Jordanesque as we have seen since Jordan was in Chicago. MJ did it longer and undoubtedly is the better career player, but LeBron the last 18 months has been the closest we have seen.

But it was LeBron’s All-Star teammates who earned Miami this win. Chris Bosh was on his game and had 32 points (knocking down a lot of jumpers) and 11 rebounds, Dwyane Wade added 24 points and got half of them in the fourth quarter. Udonis Haslem left in the first quarter after a hard landing after a shooting foul and did not return; he could miss more than this game.

Portland took a healthy lead with a 23-8 run sparked by LaMarcus Aldridge (he had 15 of those 23) and midway through the second quarter the Blazers led by 10. But Miami closed the half on a 15-2 run and it was close the rest of the way (with the Blazers even leading in the fourth). Then came a 14-0 Miami run in the fourth as they pulled away to win.

Grizzlies 108, Kings 101: For the first time this season the Grizzlies gave up more than 100 points at home, but they will take the wins however it comes.

Memphis got some unexpected offense from Tony Allen, who had 19 points, plus the expected contributions of Marc Gasol (24 points and 12 rebounds). They needed those guys during a 16-6 run at the end of the third quarter when the Grizzlies created a little separation in a tight game and held on. Memphis, a team that has been all about the defense this season, is on a three game winning streak because of an offense shooting better than 50 percent in that stretch (the shoot 44 percent as a team on the season).

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.

Pelicans move one game away from sweep after bashing Blazers in Game 3

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But for a moment, the Portland Trail Blazers felt as though they could turn the series. For half a quarter, the Blazers had hope. Then, Nikola Mirotic dropped a career-high 30 points, Anthony Davis added a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds, and the New Orleans Pelicans moved one game away from completing a sweep of the third seed after a big win on Thursday night, 119-102.

Under the guidance of Mirotic, the Pelicans unleashed a barrage of 3-pointers starting midway through the first quarter. The game was close to being a contest, but Jrue Holiday and Mirotic started to pour it in after being uncorked, with New Orleans taking a 16-point lead going into the second period.

Running up and down the court in a panic, Portland looked nervous in the spotlight. The Blazers racked up 12 turnovers by halftime, all while rattling 3-pointers off the back iron. Portland rushed its offense in the face of unlikely success by the Pelicans, who continued to rain down from deep. New Orleans hit four big shots in the final 1:47 of the half, including three from beyond-the-arc.

Never one to back down, Blazers star Damian Lillard tried to force the issue. He would finish with 20 points on 5-of-14 shooting, but most evidentiary of his night was Lillard lobbing up a wild 28-footer with 24 seconds left in the half as he tried to answer a gutshot 3-pointer from E'Twaun Moore from a moment before. It didn’t work, and the Pelicans took commanding 64-45 lead to start the third quarter.

So went the story of the rest of the game, as Portland couldn’t fully tamp down the New Orleans offensive attack for longer than a few minutes at a time. Even after one 10-0 run for the Blazers in the third, the Pelicans ended it in the most deflating way possible — a wide open dunk for Mirotic on a cut after Portland’s defense fell asleep.

It was an electric atmosphere at Smoothie King, and the sellout crowd that gave us a glimpse of what kind of homecourt advantage the Pelicans could have in the second round. The New Orleans fans were in a back-and-forth with the players, with Smoothie King working to such a fever pitch it felt as though every shot hoisted by the team in red and gold was destined for the nylon.

Demoralized, Portland battled — flailed, really — but the Blazers couldn’t make up any ground as the momentum continued for New Orleans. Finally Blazers coach Terry Stotts relented and waived the white flag for Portland with 7:55 left in the fourth quarter as he subbed in his bench.

Even with a 49-win season under its belt, the questions surrounding the Blazers become more serious. The team that had a 13-game win streak this season now will face rumblings about whether Stotts will remain with the team. An exit for Stotts would be unwise for Portland — he did wonders with a team that didn’t play up to its potential most of the year — but it’s not out of the ordinary for a team looking to break through to look elsewhere, especially after Lillard’s meeting with owner Paul Allen.

Although their work isn’t done yet, New Orleans looks as though it’s a team to be feared in the playoffs. What it needs to do is concentrate on sweeping the Blazers, not only to give themselves confidence heading into the second round but to show their second-round opponent (likely the Warriors) that they aren’t to be taken lightly.

How Porltand can counter in the deciding Game 4 isn’t clear. The Pelicans have looked like the better team for nearly every quarter of the series, and the Blazers clearly don’t have an answer for them on either side of the ball.

Happy New Orleans fans will pack Smoothie King on Saturday for Game 4 at 2:00 PM PST in Louisiana. Davis will look to win his first playoff series, and Portland will try to avoid their most embarrassing sweep since they lost to the San Antonio Spurs in the 1999 Western Conference Finals.

Steve Kerr, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili celebrate the life of Erin Popovich (VIDEO)

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The NBA community has been effuse in their thoughts and condolences to San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich over the past 24 hours. Erin Popovich, 67, passed away on April 18, leaving behind her husband, Gregg.

Many were taken aback at the news, including players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant, both of whom were emotional when they first heard the news of Erin’s passing.

Gregg Popovich was not with the team to coach them in their Thursday night matchup against the Golden State Warriors, as Ettore Messina took the reins for Game 3.

Meanwhile, those close to the Popoviches spoke about Erin, her influence on Gregg, and how much both mean to them. Steve Kerr, who played for Popovich in San Antonio for four seasons, told reporters that Erin was, “The sort of balance that Pop needed.”

Current Spurs Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker also voiced their support for the Popovich family.

Via Twitter:

Here’s hoping Popovich finds some solace in the support he’s received over the past day.