P.J. Carlesimo, C.J. Watson, Joe Johnson

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Joe Johnson is the man

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching the residents of Harlem say the Harlem Shake meme has nothing to do with the Harlem Shake….

Nets 113, Bucks 111 (OT): Joe Johnson is clutch — so far this season he is 8-for-9 shooting with less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation or overtime this season, according to NBA.com. Or, just ask the Bucks, who watched Johnson hit a three to send the game to overtime then hit a game winner at the buzzer in overtime to beat them.

Brandon Jennings was not clutch. He had a good game and put up a big line — 34 points on 13-of-26 shooting, 7 assists and 6 rebounds — and he had seven points in the fourth quarter. But he missed two shots in the final minutes plus had a turnover, which set up Johnson’s heroics.

There was a lot more to this game. The Bucks lack of depth hurt them as the Nets won the bench battle 44-15. Andre Blatche had 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting in the fourth quarter. But at the end of regulation Jennings missed the shots and Johnson hit his.

Spurs 108, Kings 102: The Spurs continued their Rodeo road trip in Sacramento and were able to win their 4th straight and 5th of 6th games to start their trip. This game really came down to the better team being able to build a big lead early and then, after dealing with their opponent making a run to come back, showing having enough of a talent gap to fend them off for the rest of the game.

San Antonio was led by Tony Parker who used his trademarked quickness and open court ability to get into the paint and create shots for himself and his teammates. Parker finished the game with 30 points and 11 assists and, in breaking down the Kings’ defense, was clearly the best player on the floor all night. San Antonio also got good contributions from Danny Green offensively (21 points) and Tim Duncan (14 rebounds, 4 blocks) defensively to help pull out the win.

On the Kings side, Isaiah (22 points, 4 assists) and Tyreke Evans (20 points) were solid offensively. Evans was especially important in helping the Kings stay close in the 2nd half by scoring 17 points in those 24 minutes. However, even though the Kings were good on offense, they simply couldn’t get enough stops over the course of the entire game to come up with the win.
—Darius Soriano

Nuggets 97, Celtics 90: The Nuggets pulled away at the end of this one and Boston helped out missing 6-of-7 shots to end the game, plus even Kevin Garnett was missing key free throws. On the other side you had Danilo Gallinari seeming to knock down shots whenever Denver needed on his way to 26 points. Ty Lawson had 26 as well and ran the show well for Denver all game, finishing with 6 assists and zero turnovers. The Celtics did get season highs out of Jeff Green (20) and Avery Bradley (17) but the rest of the Celtics looked a little old and tired.

Jazz 115, Warriors 101: The weekend off didn’t solve Golden State’s issues — they have now lost six straight. When I asked rookie Harrison Barnes what the problem was (while in Houston for All-Star festivities) he said it was intensity. They just needed it and focus, he said. The reality is the answer is defense — Utah shot 50 percent as a team and scored 120.4 points per 100 possessions. Golden State has given up 117 points a game in their losing streak.

Utah led wire to wire, and when Golden State made a third quarter push that tied it at 65-65 on a Stephen Curry three, the Jazz answered with a 15-4 run and never looked back. Al Jefferson showed what he can do to teams thinking about trading for him with 24 points. Paul Millsap had 14 points and 9 boards. Stephen Curry had 29.


Bulls 96, Hornets 87: Chicago visited New Orleans looking to avoid a 3 game losing streak and were able to do so with good nights from their two all-stars and the return of a much maligned guard.

Luol Deng had an efficient night shooting the ball, scoring 20 points on only 13 shots (including 2-5 from behind the arc) and doing a good job of mixing his jumper with scores at the rim. Meanwhile Joakim Noah was a strong presence inside, grabbing 17 rebounds (5 offensive) and also chipping in 15 points via his hustle and nose for the ball. The other key to this game was Kirk Hinrich, who returned from injury to start the game and show how valuable he could be to the Bulls on both sides of the ball. Hinrich didn’t shoot well (2-7 from the field) but did tally 10 assists while also playing some very good defense on Greivis Vasquez who could only muster 11 points on 5-16 shooting.<

When you combine Vasquez’s poor shooting night with Ryan Anderson’s 2-11 from the floor, the Hornets had little shot to win this game even though they did get solid performances from Anthony Davis (15 points, 10 rebounds, 4 steals), Al-Farouq Aminu (10 points, 7 rebounds), and Eric Gordon (20 points). The Bulls’ defense — especially down the stretch — was just too much for the Hornets to handle in this one.
—Darius Soriano

Grizzlies 105, Pistons 91: The Pistons led by as many as 11 early, but the Grizzlies found their groove midway through the second quarter going on a 23-3 run and never looking back. Who do you thank for that run? Well Quincy Pondexter of course, he had 8 points in the stretch. Or, you could just thank the Pistons who went 1-of-9 shooting with 7 turnovers in the final 8 minutes of the first half. Mike Conley had 19 for the Grizzlies on just 11 shots, Ed Davis played well off the bench and in garbage time with 14 (10 in the fourth quarter with the game in hand). Jonas Jerebko and Brandon Knight each had 13 points for the Pistons.

Raptors 96, Wizards 88: It was ‘70s throwback night unintentionally in Washington as the scoreboard in the arena didn’t work, so officials put 24 second clocks on the floor at the baseline, plus they had to use an air horn to bring in the subs (and other horn functions).

Washington was not good all night, their offense looked confused and there was no spacing. John Wall was terrible all night — 1-of-12 shooting with 7 turnovers. Wall just has to develop a jump shot at some point because Toronto went under screens and packed the paint and he could do nothing about it. Bradley Beal could, he had 25, but it wasn’t enough. DeMar DeRozan and Rudy Gay each had 24 points, Kyle Lowry added 11 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists.

Bobcats 105, Magic 92: Charlotte won this game in the first half when they shot 59.1 percent and led by as many as 20. That’s too much for a team with Orlando’s talent level to make up most nights. They came close as the Bobcats helped out shooting 3-of-16 in the fourth but when the Magic got within four Kemba Walker had the steal and the layup to spark a little 11-2 run, and that was it. Gerald Henderson and Kemba Walker each had 24 points for Charlotte, while Byron Mullens added 20 points and 12 rebounds.

Suns 102, Trail Blazers 98: The Suns opened the game on a 12-0 run and never trailed, although it got close late. Early on the Suns played good basketball — Goran Dragic had 10 assists in the first quarter and the Suns shot 60 percent for the first half. But the Blazers have had a lot of comebacks this season and came close here. Dragic finished with 16 points and hit his free throws late to seal the win. J.J. Hickson did his part to boost his trade value with 25 points and 16 rebounds for Portland.

‘It’s eating me alive:’ DeMarcus Cousins again leading Kings’ longshot playoff push

Sacramento Kings forward DeMarcus Cousins, right, drives against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol (33) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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When the Kings drafted DeMarcus Cousins, he named his rookie goals: “Get to the playoffs, go for the championship.” But the NBA humbled the young player, as Sacramento went just 24-58 and missed the postseason for the fifth straight year. Cousins emerged for his second season resolute on a more-modest goal: “Playoffs. We’ve got to make the playoffs this year. It’s not even a goal. It’s basically in our contract, I believe. So, we’ve got to make the playoffs this year.”

Five seasons later, Cousins is still chasing that elusive postseason trip.

“It’s eating me alive,” Cousins said. “Every loss or every time another team wins in battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive. Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

A depressing chase for the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, where every team in the race is at least seven games under .500, has opened the door for the 17-27 Kings. They’re 1.5 games and three teams out of playoff position – a more daunting challenge than often realized. Not only must they play better, they must hope a couple teams ahead of them don’t also heat up. 538 gives Sacramento just a 5% chance of reaching the postseason, and ESPN is even more pessimistic at 3.8%.

Beginning his career with seven straight lottery trips would be another crushing blow to Cousins, who has built a credible case as the NBA’s best center. Greg Monroe is the only current player with more win shares who hasn’t reached the playoffs:

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Nobody nears Cousins besides Monroe, and the next-closest player, Jazz center Rudy Gobert, likely makes the playoffs this year. Monroe leads in win shares, because he entered the league more polished than Cousins and built a head start (and because this stat probably inflates’ Monroe’s contributions relative to Cousins’.) Monroe has never neared Cousins’ peak, and Monroe is now a backup for the Bucks. The only thing second-team about Cousins is his two All-NBA appearances.

Kevin Love is the only other player since the NBA-ABA merger to make multiple All-NBA teams before his first playoff season. He, of course, left the Timberwolves for the Cavaliers to escape lists like these.

On the other hand, there have been indications from both sides Cousins will soon sign a veteran-designated-player contract extension projected to be worth more than $219 million over five years. Staying in Sacramento and playing for owner Vivek Ranadive seems like the surest bet to keep Cousins’ postseason drought active.

Cousins already ranks in the top 25 all-time in win shares before a player’s first playoff season (which doesn’t count this season, because playoff teams aren’t yet determined):

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Cousins has 5.2 win shares this season and counting. Missing the playoffs again would launch him into the top 10 of this dubious list – and he could keep climbing.

Not only do the Kings face daunting odds to reach the postseason this year, it’s difficult to project them into the playoffs for the foreseeable future. Years of roster mismanagement have taken a toll.

Since drafting Cousins, Sacramento has held top-10 picks every year. Those have netted on draft night: Jimmer Fredette, John Salmons, Thomas Robinson, Ben McLemore, Nik Stauskas, Willie Cauley-Stein, Georgios Papagiannis, Skal Labissiere and Bogdan Bogdanovic – who’ve combined for a measly 2.2 win shares this season. And most of those win shares come from Stauskas and Robinson, who no longer play for the Kings.

In fact, Stauskas was sent out in a disastrous trade that gives the 76ers swap rights on Sacramento’s 2017 first-rounder* and Sacramento’s unprotected 2019 first-rounder.

*The Kings’ first-round pick must fall in the top to be swap-eligible. Otherwise, it goes to the Bulls, the result of another botched trade.

Sacramento has also recently struck out on major free agents and then settled for Arron Afflalo, Kosta Koufos, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple, Matt Barnes and Ty Lawson. That adds up to one mediocre supporting cast.

Meanwhile, Cousins is better than ever. He has taken a larger offensive burden, including as a distributor and suddenly dangerous 3-point shooter, while cutting down his turnover rate. Defenders are often overmatched, and they foul him more than anyone in the league. And while Cousins’ defense comes and goes, it can be quite impressive while he’s locked in.

The result is a team that plays at a 41-win pace with Cousins on the floor and a 17-win pace when he sits, continuing a disparity seen over the last few years. Hera are the Kings win paces over 82 games with Cousins on (purple) and off (black):

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Obviously, teams generally play better with their stars and starters on the court, and Cousins is a star who usually shares the court with other starters. But this gap is particularly egregious, and Cousins’ fellow starters have underwhelmed.

So, more and more falls on Cousins’ shoulders.

Playing for his sixth head coach and third general manager in seven seasons, Cousins sets the tone for the Kings, for better or worse. He plays with a unique rage, sneering resentfully at anyone who gets in his way on the court – like players trying to defend him or referees, gasp, calling a foul on him. He leads the league with 12 technical fouls and is on pace to get (at least) 16 and an automatic suspension, which he also triggered last year.

His highs are incredibly high and his lows are unnecessarily low.

That moodiness has frustrated coaches and teammates, but it also sometimes works himself and his teammates into a productive frenzy. Sacramento usually plays passionately, which is both to its credit and a sign of a talent scarcity considering the team still loses so frequently.

“I’m still confident,” Cousins said, “and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

For the last few years, Cousins has looked unstoppable while the Kings have been quite easily stoppable. He’s trying to drag the franchise up with him, but optimism and desire might not be enough. At a certain point we must ask: What more can Cousins do?

Russell Westbrook keeps trying to show up Rudy Gobert

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) goes to the basket as Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert (27) defends in the second quarter during a NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 23, 2017, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer
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Jazz center Rudy Gobert is having an awesome season, credibly putting himself in the mix with Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins and Marc Gasol as the NBA’s best big men.

But that doesn’t mean Russell Westbrook respects him.

Before the Thunder’s win over Utah yesterday, Westbrook was asked how Oklahoma City would contain Gobert. Westbrook just laughed and walked off.

Fred Katz of The Norman Transcript:

Then, in the game, Westbrook tried to jump right over the 7-foot-1 Gobert and dunk on him:

I would say Gobert proved his ability by successfully protecting the paint, but I’m just too astounded by Westbrook’s leap.

Zaza Pachulia, running up court, turns back to smack Luke Babbitt in face (video)

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Is Zaza Pachulia a dirty player?

That debate can be rekindled after the Warriors center earned this flagrant foul for smacking Heat forward Luke Babbitt.

Just don’t forget: Pachulia is more than an unskilled enforcer. He brings plenty to the table as Golden State’s fifth starter, and his ability was on display earlier in the game:

Three Hawks lose uncontested rebound out of bounds (video)

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How did Mike Scott, Mike Dunleavy and Malcolm Delaney fail to secure this rebound?

No wonder the Hawks lost to a Clippers team playing without Chris Paul and Blake Griffin.