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).

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.

No surprise: It’s Cavs-Warriors in the NBA Finals, again

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OAKLAND (AP) — Here they go again.

For the third straight year, it’s Cleveland and Golden State in the NBA Finals. The 2016 champions versus the 2015 champions . The first “threematch” – rematch of a rematch – in league history. It’s the matchup most expected, the matchup most predicted, and probably the matchup the Cavaliers and Warriors wanted as well.

Let the hype, and the waiting, begin: Game 1 isn’t until June 1.

“I’ve been very blessed the last few years to be a part of this league and play on the big stage,” said Cleveland star LeBron James, who has now reached the Finals for the eighth time – including each of the last seven years. “But we’re going to enjoy this for a couple more days before we have to lock in on that juggernaut out west.”

The Cavaliers and Warriors split their two meetings this season, both winning at home. Cleveland won by one on Christmas Day, Golden State prevailed by 35 on Jan. 16.

Golden State led the league with 67 wins this season and is a staggering 27-1 in its last 28 games – including a perfect 12-0 in the Western Conference playoffs, the first time a team has gone this deep into an NBA postseason without losing. Cleveland, which seemed sleepy at times in the regular season, went 12-1 in the Eastern Conference playoffs that ended with a win over Boston on Thursday night.

“Playing in this league, you can’t take anything for granted,” Warriors guard Stephen Curry said. “Thirty teams suit up every year trying to get to this point, and only two teams do. So you have to appreciate it. … We need to understand the privilege that we have and the opportunity that we have to play in the Finals again, to have the opportunity to win a championship.”

Already, the back-and-forth is underway.

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue was quoted earlier this week saying he thought Boston’s offense was “harder to defend” than Golden State’s. Countered Golden State acting coach Mike Brown, when asked about it Thursday: “That’s his opinion. It’s cute.”

And there will be reminders of the Halloween party that James threw for the Cavaliers last fall, with “3-1 Lead” – a nod to what the Warriors lost in last year’s Finals – prominently displayed on the drum set.

Much more of that sort of that will likely follow over the next week, filling time before Golden State plays host to Game 1. But there’s also a clear respect level between the clubs as well.

“The best team in our league the last three years,” James said of the Warriors. “And they’ve added an unbelievable player in Kevin Durant this year. So it makes it even more difficult. They’re going to challenge us a lot, offensively, defensively, mentally, physically. We have to be ready for the challenge.”

For James, the Finals are an annual rite.

For Durant, this trip ends a five-year wait.

Durant’s only other time in the Finals was 2012 when he was with Oklahoma City. The Thunder lost to Miami in five games, a series that made James a champion for the first time.

At the very moment where the clock ran out in that series, the person James was embracing was Durant – telling the then-Thunder star, his offseason workout partner at the time, how proud of him he was.

“Hopefully,” James said that night, “I don’t continue to have to run into him.”

They’ll collide again, starting next week.

Durant’s decision to leave the Thunder for Golden State as a free agent last summer meant the Warriors went from mere overwhelming favorites to win the West again to super-duper-overwhelming favorites to win the West again. They got a big scare in late February when Durant had a left knee injury, but he’s back and the Warriors have rolled since.

“It’s a little different, definitely. I can’t lie,” Durant said, when comparing the 2012 Finals trip to this one. “I went when I was 23 years old, and it felt like the Western Conference Finals was almost like the championship. Just getting to that point, you know how hard it is and how much work you put in to start the season. So it’s a little different now, obviously. We have a bigger goal in mind.”

The storylines are many. Can James win his fourth ring? Can Durant win his first? Will the Warriors be haunted by letting last season’s 3-1 lead slip away? Will they become the first team in NBA history to go undefeated in a postseason? How will Golden State guard Kyrie Irving? How will Cleveland try to contain Curry?

There’s also the irony that Brown, the first coach who took James to an NBA Finals in 2007 – Cleveland was swept by San Antonio – will now coach against him, likely in the same leading role he’s had for Golden State since head coach Steve Kerr was forced to take a break because of continued problems with his surgically repaired back.

“I don’t care who you’re playing, to make it to the NBA Finals, to win your conference finals, it’s a big task,” Brown said.

The biggest task awaits.

Isaiah Thomas wants Celtics to sign free agents, reportedly they are not looking to trade him (yet)

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The Boston Celtics made a huge leap forward this season: They got the No. 1 seed in the East and made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. For a team on the rise, that’s impressive.

However, as soon as they landed the No. 1 pick in this draft, a big question started to bubble up:

What is the future of Isaiah Thomas with this team? Which is a strange thing to say about a guy who averaged 28.9 points per game and was All-NBA this season, but here we are.

First, the Celtics are not looking to trade IT this summer as some have suggested, reports Sean Deveny of the Sporting News.

That starts with All-Star Isaiah Thomas, whose name has lately been the subject of trade speculation. But league sources indicate that any talk of dealing Thomas is strictly speculation at this point — the Celtics have had no such discussions. Not yet, at least.

The challenge for the Celtics seems to be this: If they draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 (as is expected by everyone around the league), then what is the future for Thomas? Do you want to pay Thomas max money just as he turns 29 when you have a stud young point guard coming up behind him?

That led to talk of extending Thomas this summer with the team’s cap space (which assumes they do not sign Gordon Hayward). Except Thomas would rather the money be spent on free agents than himself, as he told Chris Forsberg of ESPN.

“We need the best possible player that’s gonna help us win, and I’m with that,” said Thomas. “Anything Danny and this organization need me to do to help bring even more talent to this city, I’m all for that. I want to win a championship and being so close to getting to the Finals, that makes you want it that much more.

“I’m all help if they need it. I’ll be around.”

Nothing is certain in the NBA, but here is the most likely outcome of the Isaiah Thomas situation: They keep him, they draft Markelle Fultz, they do not extend Thomas (whether they land Hayward or not), and they see how it all fits together for a season. Then they make a decision on Thomas in the summer of 2018. The bottom line is he may well have more value to the Celtics than another team, and while he’s certainly getting a raise from the $6.3 million, he will make next season he may fall short of the max, and in a zone where the Celtics are willing to keep him.

In pure basketball terms, the Celtics may be hesitant to spend on Thomas, but he is also the most popular player on the team by a mile. Letting him go is not that simple.

There are a lot of questions to be answered between now and next summer when it comes to IT.