Toronto Raptors' Johnson and Gay defend New York Knicks' Stoudemire during their NBA basketball game in New York

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Break up the Raptors, that’s four straight wins

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while looking at toys you can buy that would traumatize your child….

Celtics 71, Bulls 69: Man this game was ugly. You knew it was going to be low scoring — two defensive minded teams both missing the point guard that stirs their offense — but this was worse than expected. Jason Terry was the hero with a couple late threes and a blocked shot to win it. We broke it down in ugly detail.

Raptors 92, Knicks 88: Break up the Raptors! After knocking off New York Wednesday Toronto has won four in a row and is 5-2 since trading for Rudy Gay. Not that Gay had anything to do with this win — he was 4-for-21 on the night for 11 points (he did have some important free throws late).

You could say the referees cost the Knicks this game — it was 55-55 when they ejected Kyle Lowry and John Lucas III came in for Toronto. The sub continued his hot play of late, knocking down a quick three. Soon the Raptors were up by nine and the Knicks could never close the gap. Although the bigger issue for the Knicks was Carmelo Anthony’s “dead arm” — he took a DeMar DeRozan elbow to the bicep early in the game, battled numbness throughout and shot just 5-of-24 on the night.

Remember when the Knicks started the season 10-0 at home? They are 9-7 since and go into the All-Star break needing to find some answers — and find their defense again — if they are going to be a real threat come the playoffs.

Clippers 106, Rockets 96: The Clippers recorded their highest scoring quarter in any game since 1986, dropping a whopping 46 points on 17-for-22 shooting while nailing 6-for-8 from behind the arc in the first quarter. At one point in the quarter, the Clippers were on pace for 222 points per 100 possessions, and by the quarter’s end, Caron Butler was on pace for 58 points. Neither of those things happened (obviously) as the game slowed down and things started getting sloppy, but the hot first quarter pretty much put a Rockets team without James Harden out of the game.
—D.J. Foster

Pacers 101, Bobcats 77: The Bobcats hung in there until the middle of the third, when the Pacers went on an 18-4 run and that was it. The Bobcats just were not going to be able to generate enough offense against this Pacers defense. Paul George capped off his All-Star first half of the season with his first triple-double ever — 23 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.

Danny Granger’s knee was ready to go for the first time this season, but he came down with the flu so the rest of him wasn’t. He’ll make his debut after the All-Star break. David West also was out for Indiana with a scratched eye suffered against the Nets earlier in the week.

Nets 119, Nuggets 108: How bad was Denver’s defense without Andre Iguodala? How about allowing 119 points to a Brooklyn Nets team without Deron Williams type bad? The 119 points scored by Brooklyn was a season-high, and they got there with 3-point shooting. The Nets went 16-for-27 from behind the arc, getting big nights from C.J. Watson (25) and Joe Johnson (26). The Nuggets surprisingly shot it pretty well too, as Ty Lawson had a perfect 5-for-5 night as Denver shot 12-for-17 from behind the arc. Even with Denver’s unexpected perimeter performance (they’re 27th in 3-point shooting this season), the Nets weathered the late run and held on for the win.

The lack of defense on the road is sort of a disturbing trend for Denver, as they give up 3.7 more points per game on the road than they do at home. Not coincidentally, the Nuggets are now 11-18 in those games.
—D.J. Foster

Hawks 108, Magic 76: If these really are the last days of Josh Smith playing alongside Al Horford, let’s remember tonight as the shining example of how capable they were as a duo. Smith and Horford combined for 56 points and 22 rebounds in the 32 point drubbing of the Orlando Magic, but those big numbers were only overshadowed by the selflessness and beautiful ball movement the two big men displayed all night.

Smith and Horford both recorded 5 assists by regularly playing off one another with great high-low basketball. The Hawks as a team recorded 32 assists on 41 field goals with just 9 turnovers. Decision making doesn’t get much better than that.
—D.J. Foster

Spurs 96, Cavaliers 95: Oh, Dion Waiters. In the NBA when you learn lessons you learn them in a very public and embarrassing way. It was the Cavaliers rookie that in the game’s final minutes sagged into the lane and off Kawhi Leonard — a 48.8 percent shooter on corner threes this season — and of course Tony Parker found Leonard for the game-winning shot. Watch the video below, watch Waiters.

The Cavaliers had a three point lead with 1:38 left, but this is what the Spurs do, they execute late. The Spurs had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for the first time in a month and they combined for 42 points, 13 rebounds and 16 assists. Waiters had 20 to lead the Cavs.

Pistons 96, Wizards 85: It was a pair of 11-0 runs in the fourth quarter by Detroit — the second of those coming with the score tied and 5 minutes left — that gave them this win. And both of those were sparked by Will Bynum, who came off the bench to score 12 in the final frame and 20 for the game. Bynum and newly acquired Jose Calderon worked well together, with Calderon knocking down a key three during the decisive run (he had 24 on the night). Calderon has changed one key thing here — the Bucks had no fourth quarter comebacks before the trade, they’ve had two in the last five days now. Emeka Okafor led Washington with 20 points, while John Wall had 16 points and nine assists.

Bucks 94, 76ers 92: The Bucks went into this game with a three-game lead over Philly for the eighth seed in the East. Now they go into the All-Star Game with a four-game lead plus they own the tie-breaker, so it’s really a five-game lead. This was a huge win for the Bucks.

And it came down to a wild sequence at the end, with Milwaukee up two (by the score you see above). Holiday missed a contested, 14-foot, game-tying jumper and in the scramble for the rebound and loose ball Holiday and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute ended up tied up on the floor. Jump ball, five seconds left and at the Sixers end. Holiday surprisingly wins the jump ball to Royal Ivey, who controlled it and then turned to mass across the top of the arc to Holiday — but Mbah a Moute read the pass and deflected it into the back court. Then he chased down his own deflection headed out of bounds and saved it, which took enough time to end the game. So, just your every day game-saving deflection.

And for the Bucks, maybe playoff clinching deflection. Even if the Sixers get Andrew Bynum back (and that’s a mighty big if) making up five games at this point is highly unlikely.

Mavericks 123, Kings 100: How did you think this was going to end? This win makes it 18 straight home wins for Dallas over Sacramento, dating back to 2003. Vince Carter led the way with 26 points off the bench — enough to move him past Larry Bird on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. You read that right, Vince Carter now has more points than Larry Bird. You might want to start hoarding some canned goods in the basement, just in case this is the end of the world.

This was an old-school “Vinsanity” night. Dallas had been in control of the game since the second quarter but the Kings made a third quarter push to get the lead as low as seven. So Vince Carter knocked down two threes just after the five minute mark of the quarter to stretch the lead back out. Then he knocked down three more triples in the final minutes for good measure.

Hornets 99, Trail Blazers 63: Wow, Portland was bad. Sure, nice win for the Hornets and all, nice to see the slumping Anthony Davis score 21 and grab 11 boards. But the story of this game was that the Trail Blazers players were already mentally on vacation in Hawaii (or wherever) when this game tipped off and they never came back. The Blazers shot 32.4 percent on the night. The Hornets had 26 more points in the paint. But the bottom line is that New Orleans cared and Portland just did not.

Jazz 97, Timberwolves 93: Utah’s front line of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap really works when it clicks. And it did against the Timberwolves — Jefferson had 20 points, Millsap had 21 and Utah picks up another win. Late in the third quarter and into the fourth the Jazz went on a 23-7 run that gave them some separation the Timberwolves could not close and that was the game.

Minnesota had a couple strong performances from young players. Derrick Williams had 24 points and a career-best 16 rebounds. Ricky Rubio nearly had a triple double with 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Report: No, J.R. Smith isn’t talking to Sixers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: J.R. Smith #5 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with the fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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What is with the ridiculous, unrealistic Philadelphia 76ers rumors of late? Last I checked recreational use was not legal in Pennsylvania. Not that the law is stopping anyone.

The latest silliness follows this logic:

This summer the Sixers made runs at veteran guards such as Jamal Crawford and Manu Ginobili (and they forced the Spurs to pay up for the Argentinian to keep him).

The Cleveland Cavaliers and J.R. Smith are in a staring contest, and Smith remains a free agent.

The Sixers have more than $22 million in cap space still.

So…

No. Not happening.

Or, we could have just asked Smith who has said he is not talking to other teams and doesn’t want to play anywhere but Cleveland.

I can get why Sixers management would want to bring a veteran and beloved, hard-working pro such as Ginobili in to lead and mentor a young team. Does Smith bring that same demeanor? I get that Smith in Cleveland has developed his game, and that he has matured and backed off his hard-partying ways (he gets a hall pass for the days after winning a championship), but is Smith the veteran you bring into a young locker room?

Can we move on from the ridiculous in Pennslyvania? Well, probably not until after the election, that is a battleground state.

Paul George says “I’m ready” to challenge LeBron James for supremacy in East

CLEVELAND, OH - FEBRUARY 29: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks for a pass while under pressure from Paul George #13 of the Indiana Pacers during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on February 29, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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LeBron James is the best basketball player walking the face of the earth. The only guy who could start to challenge that supremacy the past couple of years has been Stephen Curry, and last season’s NBA Finals answered that question for now.

In the Eastern Conference, for years now it has been LeBron James and his team then a step back to everyone else — LeBron has been to six straight NBA Finals, four in Miami and the last two in Cleveland. Most pundits (myself included) think that’s going to be seven in-a-row because the Cavaliers are clear and away the class of the East.

Paul George says he and the Pacers are ready to change that narrative. Here is what he told Michael Lee of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“Honestly, I look at us challenging them. I’ve been in the East and I’ve been No. 1 with LeBron being on a team,” George told The Vertical in a recent telephone interview, harkening back to when the Pacers finished with the best regular-season record in the East in 2013-14, the season before his gruesome Team USA leg injury….

“I’ve always matched up with him like, ‘I know he can do this, I know he can do that,’ ” George told The Vertical about James. “Not in an awe fashion, but it’s more so, ‘I’m not supposed to win these games. This is supposed to be the best dude in the NBA. I’m trying to challenge him. I know what I’m up against.’ Now it’s, ‘I’m ready. I’m ready for you. I’m a veteran. I know you, you know me. Let’s meet here, let’s get this job done.’ I’m prepared. I’ve had time to figure this out. I’ve had time to lick my wounds. I’m ready.”

Good for George — this is exactly what you want an elite competitor and top player to say heading into the season. He sees Everest in front of him, and he wants to climb it.

I’m also higher on the Pacers than most; I think they are a top-four team in the East that can finish top two. They upgraded at the point with Jeff Teague, plus they added the underrated Thaddeus Young (although they will miss Solomon Hill) and depth up front with Al Jefferson. I don’t get Larry Bird pushing Frank Vogel out the door at all, but Nate McMillan is a solid NBA coach to take his place. I think the Pacers are taking a step forward this season, maybe a fairly significant one.

But they’re still not in the Cavaliers’ class.

The East is still Cleveland then everyone else. Last season Toronto won 56 games and had its best season in franchise history, and they were still a step or two below the Cavaliers. No team in the East — not the Raptors, not the Celtics, not the Pacers — are making up those steps. Unless injuries or something else unforeseen brings the Cavaliers back to the pack, the Eastern Conference once again will look like Secretariat at the Belmont.

Russell Westbrook says he will not kneel for national anthem “as of right now”

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook spins the ball as he poses for photos during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Associated Press
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Without question, some kneeling/raised fist protests of the National Anthem are coming to the NBA once preseason games start in a couple of weeks. Clippers’ coach Doc Rivers has already come out saying “there’s no more American thing to do than to protest.” Teams are discussing the need for social change.

While the NBA has a rule that players must stand for the anthem, the NBA and players’ union are already discussing exactly how and if that rule should be enforced.

While some players will kneel, Russell Westbrook will not be among them. Probably. Here’s is what he told Fred Katz of the Norman Transcript.

Obviously, Westbrook is leaving himself some wiggle room here. Also, if there is one NBA star you can expect to be blunt about the situation when talking to the media, it’s Westbrook (when he feels like opening up to the media, anyway).

I expect few if any of the NBA’s top stars — the guys with the biggest international brands — will join the protests. However, there certainly will be players taking part. For a league that sees itself as progressive — and has a more politically progressive fan base compared to other American sports — how the league handles this will be watched.

Timberwolves coach and president Tom Thibodeau thanks Kevin Garnett after retirement announcement

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 28: Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics sits not he bench prior to Game Four of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2013 NBA Playoffs against the New York Knicks on April 28, 2013 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Tributes have poured in all over the NBA world since Kevin Garnett announced his retirement on Friday afternoon — from other players, commissioner Adam Silver and media members who covered him. Garnett and Tom Thibodeau have a lengthy history together: Thibodeau coached Garnett in Boston as an assistant under Doc Rivers, and they won a championship in 2008. This spring, Thibodeau took over as head coach and president of basketball operations for the Minnesota Timberwolves, the team that drafted Garnett, saw his best years and saw him end his career. Thibodeau released a heartfelt statement on Saturday congratulating Garnett:

“I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate and thank Kevin for all of his great accomplishments and contributions to the NBA, the Minnesota Timberwolves organization, and for me personally with the Boston Celtics. Kevin combined great talent with a relentless drive and intelligence. I will always cherish the memories of the way in which he led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA Championship. His willingness to sacrifice and his unselfishness led us to that title. Kevin will always be remembered for the way in which he played the game. His fierce competitiveness, his unequalled passion for the game, and the many ways in which he cared about this team was truly special. KG is without question the all-time best player to wear a Minnesota Timberwolves jersey, and he is also one of the best to ever play this game.”

It’s a shame that Thibodeau didn’t get to coach Garnett again in Minnesota, but the team is in good hands with Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns.