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.

Joakim Noah on if he can play at former level: “Probably not. Probably not.”

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For three games, Joakim Noah has been clear of the 20-game PED suspension he started at the end of last season.

For three games, he has not even dressed for the Knicks.

This is the former Defensive Player of the Year who was already on the decline when Phil Jackson gave him a $72 million contract that is now the worst in the NBA. Noah is out of the rotation, where Enes Kanter starts at center (with Kristaps Porzingis at the four) and Kyle O’Quinn coming off the bench.

Noah told Marc Berman of the New York Post he is frustrated but gets the situation.

“I’ll be all right. I’ll be all right,’’ Noah said in his first comments since being reinstated. “I understand the situation. I’m going to make the best of it.”

When asked if he still feels he can be close to the player he was in his 2013-14 campaign, Noah said: “Probably not. Probably not. You know. I can help. I feel like I could help this team and that’s just my reality. But I just want to just be the best that I can be.

“It’s not about trying to be what I was three, four years ago, because it’s not the reality.”

Noah is a smart and mature player, he understands his reality, and he has the exact attitude you want a veteran off the bench. He can help in practices, he can help because he understands how to play defense and can teach it, and eventually, he will get a chance on the court. He is not part of the future of the Knicks, but he can guide these young players.

The Knicks new management will look for a way to unload Noah’s contract, but considering the sweeteners the Knicks would need to throw in to get a team to deal for Noah, it’s unlikely we see any action on that front for a long time.

Frustrated Gregg Popovich calls all three referees “f****** blind”

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The Spurs completed an amazing comeback win against the Thunder Friday night, coming from 23 down to knock off the Thunder when Carmelo Anthony‘s game-tying three was just a two because his toe was on the line.

Gregg Popovich was into this one.

So much so that when he didn’t like an out-of-bounds call he made sure all three officials knew exactly how blind he thought they were.

The best part of this is Popovich covering his eyes, just to really emphasize his point.

We’re really going to miss Pop when he steps away to live at a winery full time.

Lakers/Suns have minor skirmish, Lonzo Ball just walks away

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If you’re on the court when your team gets in an NBA “fight” — what the rest of us would call a shoving match where nobody really wants to throw a punch — should you run into the fray and help your teammates?

Friday night, with just more than three minutes to go in Phoenix’s eventual win, the Suns called a timeout, and Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one of those silly shoving matches. Players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up.

The Suns’ rookie Josh Jackson picked up a technical for his role racing in and escalating the matter.

Watch the video again, and you’ll see Lakers’ rookie Lonzo Ball just walk away from it all and head to the bench.

That has led to criticism of the rookie from some Lakers’ fans, who see a guy who didn’t rush in to protect his teammates — that’s seen as part of the sports locker room culture. A “band of brothers” or “us against the world” mentality. Ball, frankly, gave a more mature answer than that.

Ball is right, nothing was going to come of this. It was meaningless posturing. Walking away was the mature move.

However, the question is how is this perceived in the Lakers’ locker room? Do the players care that Ball shrugged and walked away? Do they think he needed to race in and try to look tough like everyone else? That can impact his standing on the team — as a guy Magic Johnson brought in to be a leader — more than anything.

Also, with all his shooting woes, is this the first sign of some Lakers fans starting to turn on Lonzo? It’s a little early for that.

Harrison Barnes offers advice for Dennis Smith Jr., Julius Randle

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For a guy in just his sixth NBA season, Harrison Barnes has seen a lot.

He has seen the mountaintop, having won a ring as a role player for the Golden State Warriors. He’s also has felt the devastation of being on a team that historically blew a 3-1 NBA Finals lead. He’s been a high school phenom — unfairly compared to Kobe Bryant — and a high draft pick (No. 7), he understands the pressures that come with all that. He’s played (and plays) with superstar future Hall of Famers. And he’s been the guy pushed aside by a team, despite playing well, to make room for one of those superstar players — the harsh business reality of the NBA.

Barnes is learning something new this season in Dallas — how to deal with losing. He never dealt with it before — not high school, AAU, college at North Carolina — but the Dallas Mavericks are 2-14, and while they struggled last year it was nothing like this.

“It’s been difficult,” Barnes told NBC Sports about the start of the season, “but I’ve definitely seen a lot of highs, seen a lot of lows, I’m just trying to get better and lead my team to some wins.”

With all that experience, Barnes was brought in to be a leader in Dallas, and he’s worked to do that on and off the court. Off the court, he has met with local high school players and donated gear he wears — Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves — to those programs. 

On the court this year, he’s tried to blend his game with rookie Dennis Smith Jr., who the Mavs see as the future at the point guard spot.

“Playing with Dennis has been great,” Barnes said. “He’s got a lot of tools that will help him be a great guy in the league for a long time. So the transition, in terms of playing together and developing chemistry, hasn’t been hard at all. I think he’s very mature beyond his years, and that makes it easy.”

As a leader, his advice to Smith Jr. has just been to not hold back, trust his instincts.

“My advice is to always be aggressive in your decision making,” Barnes said. “Whether it’s ‘should I pass?’ or ‘should I shoot?’ should I do this or should I do that, whatever it is, be aggressive. Because right now as a team, we’re in a little bit of a rut, we just need energy. Whatever it may be, even if you’re making the wrong play or the wrong decision, do it with conviction so there’s some inertia and the rest of us can feed off it.”

With the young high school players around Dallas his advice is similar — go for what you want on and off the court, give it your all — but he adds with them they need to protect their bodies in an increasingly physical game.

“Today I was able to go to Lincoln High School, meet with the boys’ and girls’ basketball teams, and I was able to donate some Shock Doctor basketball mouthguards and McDavid HEX protective arm and leg sleeves to the young kid, and talk to them about protecting your body when you’re out there,” Barnes said. “The game is becoming more physical and more competitive at a younger age, and the best ability is availability.”

If there’s one guy in the NBA who can relate to Barnes’ path, it might be the Lakers’ Julius Randle.

The fourth-year big has been up and down but has gotten better every season and shown promise with the Lakers, putting up 11.4 points per game on 54.3 percent shooting this season (both career highs, although his jumper still needs work), plus grabbing 6.7 rebounds, but mostly he brings energy and physical, strong defense  in just 20 minutes a game off the bench. He has transformed his body, gotten leaner but stronger, and has done a good job filling a role for Los Angeles as a physical, defensive player in a league going small and getting skinnier

Randle is coming up on the end of his rookie contract next summer and is due a payday, he thought he was part of the franchise’s future, yet he is likely the odd man out in Los Angeles as the Lakers chase big name free agents. Randle’s name is a staple of trade talks (about moving Luol Deng and his contract).

Harrison Barnes can relate. He was swept out of Golden State to make room for that team’s successful run at Kevin Durant.

What would Barnes tell Randle?

“My advice is to focus on what is going to be the best for you,” Barnes said. “Focus on where you can grow as a player, get better, where you would thrive in. Whether or not he ends up in the same place or a different place, just make sure you’re in a situation where you can grow. That’s the most important thing because a lot of things are going to be out of his control, who decides to go where and that type of stuff, but as long as he focuses on getting better with his craft that’s the one thing he can control.”

That’s what Barnes did a couple seasons ago, and he ended up in Dallas with a big contract, a big opportunity, and a chance to be a leader. He’s trying to do that on a team transitioning out of the Dirk Nowitzki era, but it hasn’t been easy.

And it’s come with some harsh new lessons. Like dealing with losing. One Barnes and the Mavericks want to move past as quickly as they can.