Miami Heat's guard Dwyane Wade goes to the basket past Indiana Pacers guard George Hill during their NBA game in Miami

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.

‘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.