Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Celtics’ off night makes Bobcats look good

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while checking out what porn stars look like without makeup

Heat 98, Hawks 81: If Tuesday night was any indication, the Hawks should want to win enough games from here on out to avoid slipping to the eighth seed and getting the Heat in the first round. Miami’s win streak is up to 19 and our own Brett Pollakoff has the details.

Lakers 106, Magic 97: After the fans booed Dwight Howard, Magic coach Jacque Vaughn tried his own trick to trip up Howard — he went to hack-a-Howard and sent him to the line 39 times (tying the NBA record, also owned by Howard). But Dwight knocked down 25 and that fueled the Lakers win. We broke this game down in more detail, just follow this link.

Bobcats 100, Celtics 74: Wow, that was ugly for Boston. Paul Pierce was out for the night and the up and down Jeff Green started — and it was a down day. He was 4-of-11 shooting. Kevin Garnett looked tired and shot 2-for-10. This was the kind of game Boston needs Jason Terry to step up and he was invisible (and 2-of-5 shooting). And so it went, Avery Bradley was 4-of-11 from the field.

But let’s give the Bobcats some credit for snapping their 10-game losing streak. Gerald Henderson scored a career-high 35 points and the Bobcats pulled away with a 12-3 run to open the second half. I swear I even saw Michael Kidd-Gilchrist knock down a jumper — when his outside shot is falling you know it’s the Bobcat’s night.

Timberwolves 107, Spurs 83: It was the second night of a back-to-back so the Spurs rested both Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard (plus Tony Parker is still out). Even so, San Antonio raced out to 14-4 lead and that grew to 21-10.

Then Ricky Rubio led the comeback — he drove the lane, broke down the Spurs defense, created open shots and Rubio finished with 21 points, 13 rebounds and 12 assists. That would be his first career triple-double. Minnesota also played some aggressive defense, with 11 blocked shots and forcing 17 turnovers. It’s a bit of a fluke outcome, but the Timberwolves could use some breaks and good wins.

Grizzlies 102, Trail Blazers 97: Memphis got Zach Randolph back from the sprained ankle that kept him out the past four games, and he responded with 19 points and 10 rebounds. In some ways it was a classic Grizzlies win as Randolph and Marc Gasol combined to shoot 16-of-26, then when they sat Ed Davis came in and added 14 points. Memphis pounded Portland inside all game.

Grizzlies seemed to be in control but in the fourth quarter. Yet Portland run made a couple of runs to keep it close, including within five points inside the final two minutes. But Tayshaun Prince drove the lane and put up a jump hook. Then Mike Conley hit a driving layup (he had 12 points in the fourth quarter, including some key free throws) and it was just too much from Portland. As happens with the Blazers they got a good game from their starters — LaMarcus Aldridge had 28 points and 10 rebounds and Damian Lillard added 27 points and seven assists — but their bench let them down.

Nets 108, Hornets 98: Brooklyn created a little space for itself in the second quarter with a 15-4 run, one fueled by Deron Williams and four Hornets turnover. Williams is getting healthy and starting to look like the guy thought of as one of the best point guards in the game, and he finished with 21 points and 13 assists. More than the numbers, he seemed to control the flow of the game.

Still, the Hornets fought back, led by Anthony Davis who had 17 points and 11 rebounds. It was a two-point game entering the fourth quarter, but the Nets opened the period on a 12-3 run and pulled away. Brooklyn got a lot of help from its big men — Brook Lopez had 26 points while Andray Blatche added 20 points.

Mavericks 115, Bucks 108: Milwaukee was making its push in the fourth quarter with a 12-3 run, then Vince Carter happened. The Mavericks veteran swingman had 13 points in the fourth quarter, including a trio of three-pointers that killed Milwaukee momentum. Carter finished with 23. Monta Ellis finished with 32, but he didn’t get a lot of help from Brandon Jennings (who was completely outplayed by Mike James).

For the Bucks, they are not in danger of falling out of the playoffs but they need to win games like this to get out of the eight seed (and the Heat in the first round). Dallas has won four in a row and is now within three games of the eight-seed Lakers. Still a huge hill to climb, but that dream is not dead.

Cavaliers 95, Wizards 90: The Wizards got off to a fast start — they raced out to an 11-0 lead and Cavaliers coach Byron Scott benched starters Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Alonzo Gee, and Tyler Zeller just two minutes into the game. The message worked

While the Wizards went on to put up 33 points in the first quarter, they scored 57 total in the final three. Washington shot 38.2 percent in the final three quarters of the game, including 2-of-12 from three (Washington really misses Bradley Beal). For Cleveland, Dion Waiters led six guys in double figures with his 20. John Wall led the Wizards with 27 on 15 shots, plus had 14 assists.

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.