Dwight Howard

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).

51 Q: Tom Thibodeau can coach, is he ready to run a franchise?

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 12: Head coach Tom Thibodeau of the Chicago Bulls yells to his players in the second half against the Cleveland Cavaliers during Game Five in the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2015 NBA Playoffs 2015 at Quicken Loans Arena on May 12, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Cavaliers defeated the Bulls 106-101. 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)
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The Minnesota Timberwolves were probably not going to get Tom Thibodeau without the promise of organizational control. After his contentious relationship with the Bulls’ front office led to his exit after five seasons in Chicago, he took a year-long sabbatical from coaching and observed how other organizations run their operations from both a coaching and a front-office standpoint. He was in high demand as a coaching free agent and could essentially name his price, and if he wanted personnel control too, he could have it. That’s what ended up happening in Minnesota, and Thibodeau will be the latest test case in whether the two-in-one model works. Thibodeau’s coaching ability is indisputable. How he’ll fare as an executive is a different question entirely.

The Timberwolves had a solid offseason after a rumored draft-night trade for Jimmy Butler fell apart. Given Thibodeau’s history of stubbornness and intractability, it was a valid fear that he’d take the same approach to roster-building as his former mentor Doc Rivers has in Los Angeles, simply bringing back all of his old mainstays from the Bulls days. With Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Pau Gasol and Kirk Hinrich on the market, the opportunity was there to get the band back together, spending too much money in the process and hindering the development of maybe the most promising young core in the NBA in the name of more wins in the short term.

But Thibodeau didn’t do that. Instead, he and GM Scott Layden plugged some holes with value deals. Getting Cold Aldrich for three years at $22 million gives them a more than serviceable backup center, and they landed Brandon Rush on a one-year deal for $3.5 million to provide some outside shooting. They didn’t do anything to sacrifice long-term flexibility and didn’t sign anyone that will get in the way of Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins or Zach LaVine getting plenty of playing time.

The idea of a coach making personnel decisions is a dicey one for several reasons, not least of which being that it’s harder to have the emotional detachment to trade a player if you see them every day in practice. But the Chicago team Thibodeau inherited in 2010 was a readymade contender that needed a coaching upgrade. This Minnesota team isn’t there yet, and even his ability to get more wins than expected out of any roster he’s given won’t make them truly competitive in the upper echelon of the Western Conference playoff picture, at least not yet. So far, his moves reflect an understanding of that reality.

The first big roster decision Thibodeau will have to make during the season will be the point guard situation. Thibodeau loves Kris Dunn, whom he drafted at No. 5 overall in June, and Dunn provides shooting that Ricky Rubio does not. If Dunn takes the starting spot in training camp, Thibodeau will have to look long and hard at moving Rubio. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad could also wind up on the block, depending on how the rotation shakes out, and how Thibodeau fares at getting a return on his trades will be worth monitoring.

With that said, it’s pretty hard to screw up a core that includes Wiggins and Towns, and Thibodeau seems to know what he has in those two. As long as he can put complementary pieces around them and keep their development up to pace on the court, this experiment should prove to be a success.

Julius Randle lacerates hand, to be re-evaluated in two weeks

Julius Randle
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Julius Randle suffered a season-ending injury in his first NBA game.

His third pro season includes an even earlier setback.

Lakers release:

Lakers forward Julius Randle suffered a laceration to his right hand (webbing between middle and ring fingers) yesterday while practicing. He received seven stitches and will be re-evaluated in approximately 14 days.

Thankfully, this doesn’t sound as major and happened well before training camp. Even if he needs twice as long to heal after his announced reevaluation, he’ll be ready for the preseason.

The key is getting Randle fully recovered. His ball-handling ability for a power forward is a key facet to his game, and a cut in his hand could impede it.

NBA rookies name Kevin Durant their favorite player

OAKLAND, CA - JULY 07:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors poses with his new jersey during the press conference where he was introduced as a member of the Golden State Warriors after they signed him as a free agent on July 7, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
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Kevin Durant faced tremendous backlash for leaving the Thunder for the Warriors.

But not from NBA rookies.

In the league’s annual rookie survey, a plurality of first-year players voted Durant their favorite player:

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State — 29.7%

T-2. Carmelo Anthony, New York — 9.4%

LeBron James, Cleveland — 9.4%

Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City — 9.4%

T-5. LaMarcus Aldridge, San Antonio — 6.3%

Kobe Bryant (retired) — 6.3%

Paul George, Indiana — 6.3%

Chris Paul, L.A. Clippers — 6.3%

T-9. Kevin Garnett, Minnesota — 4.7%

Others receiving votes: Vince Carter, Memphis; Stephen Curry, Golden State; Marc Gasol, Memphis; Kyrie Irving, Cleveland

This is the third straight year Durant has claimed the top spot, matching LeBron and Kobe for combined wins in the six years this question was asked of rookies:

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This is further evidence: If you resent Kevin Durant for exercising his right to switch employers after nine years with a company that acquired him by producing an awful product, you’re out of touch. Follow the kids’ lead and get with it.

Jason Terry: Luke Walton ‘utterly declined’ my offer to provide Lakers veteran leadership

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 19:  Guard Jason Terry #31 of the Dallas Mavericks takes a shot against Luke Walton #4 of the Los Angeles Lakers at American Airlines Center on January 19, 2011 in Dallas, Texas.  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)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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Before signing with the Bucks, Jason Terry said he reached out to multiple contenders.

He also spoke with the Lakers.

Terry tried to leverage his relationship with Lakers coach Luke Walton, who also played at Arizona (though their time there didn’t overlap).

Terry on SiriusXM NBA Radio.

I called my good friend Luke. I told him if he needed any help, veteran leadership, in that capacity – Lakers – with an ability to coach at the end of my deal, then that was something I would be looking forward to. He utterly declined, and I respect him for that.

Gotta love a guy who announces to the world his pitch of providing veteran leadership was “utterly declined.”

The Lakers should be just fine with Jose Calderon and Luol Deng.