Oklahoma City Thunder guard Westbrook controls the inbound pass in front of Chicago Bulls defenders Belinelli and Gibson during the first half of their NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Thunder roll as Bulls need a Rose

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while pointing out to friends the historical inaccuracies of “Argo”

Lakers 103, Mavericks 99: The Lakers are starting to find their identity as a team… of course, some night’s that identity is Kobe Bryant. He dropped 38 points, 14 in the fourth quarter, had 12 rebounds and seven assists. The Lakers are in the playoff hunt and our Brett Pollakoff broke it down.

Thunder 102, Bulls 72: No doubt the Thunder are a very good team, a title contender, a team deep with talent. This game wasn’t about them. This is about how sad and pathetic the Bulls offense can be some nights — they shot 29.1 percent for the game. Or look at it this way, their shot totals by quarter: 6-of-30, 4-of-18, 7-of-20, 8-of-18. It was ugly. These are the games they miss Derrick Rose.

This was a rout from early on, when the Thunder went on a 19-5 run and never looked back. Russell Westbrook had 23, Kevin Durant had 29 and they could have played mahjong on the bench in the fourth quarter as they and all the Thunder starter’s watched as the benches were emptied.

Knicks 99, 76ers 93: So if you want some good news Philadelphia, Thaddeus Young is back and had a double-double (10 and 11). And Jrue Holiday looked every part the All-Star (30 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists). But right now the 76ers are crumbling and the Knicks are a playoff team trying to gear up for a run.

The Knicks needed a win after losing four in a row and got it with 29 from Carmelo Anthony and a season high 22 from Amar’e Stoudemire. The Knicks bench gave New York the lead with a 17-2 run to start the second quarter, and the Knicks never gave it up. They needed a win, now they need to build on it over the final months of the season.

Trail Blazers 92, Celtics 86: Boston is on a tough West Coast road trip and could use a win. And it looked like they could get one after a Kevin Garnett running hook tied the game a 86-86 with 1:46 to go.

But it wasn’t to be. Damian Lillard attacked off the pick-and-roll, the defensive rotation was late and he picked up and and-one. Then after some good defense taking away a Garnett drive and forcing a miss, then Wesley Matthews — who had an impressive 24 points on the night — knocked down the step back three that sealed it. Good win for a struggling Blazers team.

Heat 109, Cavaliers 105: Miami seemed to be in control after a 10-0 run in the first quarter and were cruising, up 18 at the half. The lead got to 22 at one point. But the Cavaliers opened the second half with some intent and opened it 42-21 and with a 15-2 run in the third quarter the Cavaliers took the lead.

Then Dwyane Wade happened. He had 15 points in the fourth quarter on 7-of-10 shooting and you can count a couple of assists in there, too. Dion Waiters tried to answer, the gunner had 8 in the fourth quarter and 26 in the game. But it wasn’t enough.

Grizzlies 76, Nets 72: Seven wins in a row for the Grizzlies. This game shows why Memphis will be a tough out come the playoffs. First, they defend — Brooklyn shot 37.7 percent. Drive the lane and you will pay a price against them as they are physical and will defend the rim. On offense it was five guys in double figures, led by Zach Randolph with 16. They don’t need a lot of points and they get what they need with balance.

Spurs 97, Suns 87: How did you really think this was going to end? The Suns hung around for a quarter but the Spurs opened the second quarter on a 22-4 and that was it. The final score makes it seem closer than it was. The Spurs has six guys scoring in double figures. San Antonio did it without Tony Parker who was out, and they finish the annual rodeo trip 7-2.

Warriors 100, Timberwolves 99: Golden State didn’t play very well, may not have deserved it (22 turnovers), but they got a big game from their All-Star David Lee (22 points, 13 rebounds) and key late shots from Jarrett Jack and Stephen Curry and it was enough. Well, that and a late miss by Luke Ridnour, who had a shot at the win but misses. It was really a big game for Carl Landry, too, who had 19 points and 9 rebounds.

There were a couple good performances for the Timberwolves — Derrick Williams had 23 and Ricky Rubio looked more like his old self with 13 points, 9 assists.

Hornets 110, Kings 95: This game was a lot closer than the score shows, the Hornets went on a 22-7 run in the fourth quarter to pull away. They did it with their bench — Ryan Anderson had 13 of his 17 in the fourth quarter, Roger Mason Jr. added 10 in the quarter. The Hornets won the bench battle 45-17.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.