Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Miami wants to know if you have any other challengers

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wondering where you’re going to get your next lion meat burger if not Chicago….

Lakers 90, Bulls 81: The Lakers offense has been better of late and the Bulls offense continues to be unimpressive. At best. Those things combine to give the Lakers another win, one that moves them into the eighth playoff seed. Our Brett Pollakoff was there and broke it down.

Clippers 129, Pistons 97: The Clippers were looking to springboard their defense and overall game as they start to think about the playoffs. A good way to have your defense look good is to play a team that tries to make you pay for your mistakes with shots by Jason Maxiell and Jonas Jerebko. Easy win for the Clips. If you want to read more about their defense and this game, we can help you out.

Heat 105, Pacers 90: This is not a statement win for the Heat. It’s one of 18 straight statement games by the Heat to the entire league.

This game unfolded pretty much like you’d expect — the Pacers defense could keep them close for a stretch, but then they’d have an offensive lull, turn the ball over a few times and suddenly they are playing catch-up. And the Pacers are not a team that can play catch-up. Mario Chalmers led the Heat 26 points including knocking down five 3-pointers. Chris Bosh added with 24 points, Dwyane Wade chipped in 23 points and six steals. The Heat shot 56 percent for the game, showing they can score on the defense that statistically has been the best in the NBA this season.

Thunder 91, Celtics 79: Celtics fans have every right to dream of a huge playoff run, they got one last season. But this game was more like the reality of what the NBA elite look like against the Celtics. The Celtics and their defense — plus 20 points from Paul Pierce — hung close with the Thunder for three quarters.

But the Thunder cranked up the defensive pressure and opened the fourth quarter on an 11-0 run. The Celtics shot just 18.2 percent (4-for-22) for 14 points in the fourth quarter and OKC ran away. Kevin Durant had 23. The bottom line is the Thunder had another gear the Celtics did not.

Hornets 98, Trail Blazers 96: For the second time in a week the Hornets gave up a double-digit lead late, but this time the outcome was different. An and-1 lay-up and free throw by Ryan Anderson with 1.8 seconds to play (off a sweet drive and dish by Greivis Vasquez) gave the Hornets a win this time around. His shot was in answer to a Damian Lillard three with 11.2 seconds to play that put Trail Blazers on top. Lillard had eight of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, but Wesley Matthews was the real driving force in the Blazers comeback with 14 of his 24 in the fourth.

Anthony Davis looked good, with 18 points and 10 rebounds.

Bucks 115, Kings 113: Another game, another DeMarcus Cousins ejection — he got his fourth of the season for an elbow to the head of Mike Dunleavy. Who clearly got in Cousins head. Dunleavy had 16 points and knocked down four threes, by the way. The Bucks led from the second quarter on and withstood the Kings runs, including a late 11-2 one that made it very interesting at the end. The Kings could have used Cousins, who had 24 points and 10 boards before getting tossed (and you can expect a fine).

Monta Ellis had 29 points to lead the Bucks.

Orlando 99, Sixers 91: Well, the Sixers keep looking for a new bottom to the season. This might be it. This game was tied 85-85 and the Magic just flat-out outplayed the Sixers down the stretch, knocking down threes and pulling away. Late in the game the Magic went small, playing Beno Udrih, Jameer Nelson and Arron Afflalo together — and each hit a key three in the fourth. The Magic shot 5-of-8 from three in the final nine minutes to pull away. The Sixers never had an answer for the small ball lineup.

Thaddeus Young did his part for the Sixers — 26 points on 13-of-17 shooting — but Nelson outplayed Jrue Holiday at the point and that was key. Nelson had 24 points and 10 dimes.

Raptors 100, Cavaliers 96: The scariest scene in this game was Kyrie Irving leaving the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury after a collision with a Raptor. The good news is X-Rays were negative but he will be re-evaluated Monday. The guy has had enough injuries this season, can’t the basketball gods lighten up on him a little?

The Raptors, without Rudy Gay (sore back) fought back from a 17-point first quarter deficit to make it a close game down the stretch. Cleveland led by a point in the final minute but Kyle Lowry scored the final four points to get Toronto the win, including a nice little turnaround jumper with 14 seconds left. Dion Waiters made it close with Irving out, scoring 13 of his 21 in the fourth.

Mavericks 100, Timberwolves 77: Dallas opened the second quarter on a 17-1 run and pulled away from there to an easy win. The Timberwolves looked tired — they played the night before in Denver and were delayed getting out of town because the plane had to be de-iced — and the Mavericks took advantage. Vince Carter had 22 points, Dirk Nowitzki added 16 points.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.

Marc Gasol: If Grizzlies don’t share my goal of continued growth, we might have to revisit things

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The Grizzlies’ Grit & Grind era has ended.

Zach Randolph signed with the Kings, and Tony Allen appears likely to leave Memphis, too. The Grizzlies are prioritizing younger/cheaper players like Ben McLemore and Tyreke Evans.

Marc Gasol via Ala Carta, as translated by HoopsHype:

I’m very ambitious and I’ve wanted Memphis to be a great franchise. We’ve grown a lot the last 6-7 years, but we have to keep growing. If this is not lined up, maybe we may have to revisit things.

Gasol has been loyal to Memphis, and his first wish is probably winning there. But Giannis Antetokounmpo put it well: Teams must also do right by their players. Gasol is 32 and doesn’t have much time in his prime left. I see why rebuilding wouldn’t interest him.

But what will he do about it if the Grizzlies don’t prioritize the present? They made their push last summer with a max contract for Chandler Parsons, but because Parsons can’t stay healthy, that deal only inhibits team growth.

Gasol is locked up for two more years before a player option. He doesn’t have much leverage. This is part of the reason LeBron James keeps signing short-term contracts. Gasol doesn’t have the same ability to steer his team in his desired direction

On the potentially bright side, rebuilding teams often don’t have much use for 32-year-olds guaranteed more than $72 million over the following three years. If the fit devolves, Memphis becomes more likely to trade him.