Ty Lawson, Tim Thomas, Chris Copeland

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Denver fans savor blowout of Knicks

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while you were watching the papal seagull…..

Heat 98, 76ers 94: There was a time this season when the Heat were coasting and this was the kind of game where they just didn’t bring any heart. But now they have something to play for with the win streak, which reached 20 games with this victory. But the Heat had to earn this one as the Sixers would not just roll over. We went into more detail on the Heat pulling this one out.

Nuggets 117, Knicks 94: This was pretty much exactly what Nuggets fans ordered up. It started with a 21-9 Nuggets run in the first quarter, then they had a bunch of other runs over the course of the game as he Nuggets just ran away and hid. Carmelo Antony was a non-factor (9 points on 3-of-12 shooting, and you can throw in three turnovers) and after the game said he was going back to New York to get his knee drained — but not until the crowd booed him then chanted “Where Is ‘Melo?” after he left the court.

The Nuggets are for real — they play good defense and use that to fuel their offense. Top to bottom the Nuggets are committed to running, to their aggressive style, and there is no reason they can’t to it effectively in the playoffs (there is no rule saying you must player slower and more cautiously, though that tends to happen). With this roster Denver is young but can’t keep selling “we’re young, give us time.” They need some postseason wins, they need to get to the second round. And that’s certainly possible.

Hawks 96, Lakers 92: If you were looking for a well played basketball game, you were out of luck if you watched this game. While the Hawks were a bit better than the Lakers in terms of shot making, both teams struggled to find their groove from anywhere outside the paint. The Lakers only made 36 of their 92 shots with that mark greatly influenced by their 8 for 27 from behind the arc. Meanwhile the Hawks made 37 of their 79 shots, but only hit 18 of 48 shots from outside the paint (though they did hit a respectable 8 of their 22 three point attempts).

Where the Hawks won this game was on the strength of their ability to get to and score in the paint while limiting the Lakers’ ability to do the same. With a balanced attack that featured 6 players in double figures, the Hawks took advantage their match up advantages and some lax Laker defense to get timely baskets. Devin Harris led the team in scoring with 17 points while chipping in 7 assists, but it was the dirty work done by Al Horford that was difference. Horford scored 14 points on 7-12 shooting and helped control the glass by grabbing 14 big rebounds.

On the Lakers side, Kobe Bryant led them with 31 points but needed 33 shots to reach that tally before severely spraining his left ankle. The only prolonged stretch where Kobe looked even remotely in rhythm was the 3rd quarter where he scored 20 points on 8-16 shooting, but that was an outlier for him in this game. As for the other Lakers, Dwight Howard was impressive with 16 rebounds but was limited to only 10 points on 9 shots as the Hawks clogged the lane and made the Lakers shooters make shots to beat them. Those shooters failed, however, and with them missing, the Hawks got a much needed win while shorthanded.
—Darius Soriano

Grizzlies 96, Clippers 85: Another game where you are left wondering if the Clippers just can’t beat the top teams in the West in a seven game series. The reason is defense — the Grizzlies shot 54.4 percent on the night. Marc Gasol had 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting as he once again just had his way with DeAndre Jordan. Defense and Jordan have always been the key to any Clippers playoff run and both were exposed in this game Tayshaun Prince added 18, but the Grizzlies got other contributions. When Chauncey Billups got hot and closed the gap to three in the fourth quarter the Grizzlies got a three from Quincy Pondexter and a tip in from Tony Allen and soon squashed the comeback. It was like that all night, the Grizzlies were just better and the questions about the Clippers remain.

With the win, Memphis moves into the No. 3 seed slot in the West, the Clippers slip to 4.

Thunder 110, Jazz 87: The Thunder are hot and playing like a contender. The Jazz are falling apart and playing like a team that doesn’t deserve to make the playoffs. Combine that and you get a blowout. The Thunder took control of the game in the first quarter and shot 53.6 percent on the night. Kevin Durant had 23 points and Russell Westbrook 19, and both could have had monster nights if they weren’t rested down the stretch because the game got out of hand.

Gordon Hayward led the Jazz with 20 points off the bench but for long stretches he was covered by Derek Fisher and the Jazz didn’t get him the ball and let him attack. Utah made a lot of similarly odd choices in the game.

Wizards 106, Bucks 93: The Wizards showed some fight to hang on and get this win. Washington led by 20 points early in the third quarter, mostly behind the play of John Wall, who was attacking and finished with 23 points and 10 assists. But the Bucks came back with a 32-9 run that gave them a lead and the playoff-bound team seemed to have all the momentum. Until Wall and Trevor Booker (nine points in the fourth) stemmed the tide.

The Bucks got 26 points from Monta Ellis, 17 from Larry Sanders and 16 from J.J. Redick. But take those three out of the equation and the rest of the Bucks shot 33.3 percent on the night. It wasn’t enough.

Celtics 112, Raptors 88: This game was fairly close for the first half and even the start of the third quarter, but a 21-6 run late in the third quarter put everything out of reach. That run came because the Celtics were attacking the rim and drawing fouls — there were 19 Boston free throws in the third quarter and 35 for the game.

It was a milestone game in Boston where Kevin Garnett moved past Jerry West for 15th on the All-Time scoring list and Paul Pierce moved past Charles Barkley for 20th.

Pacers 107, Timberwolves 91: Indiana raced out to a 10-0 lead and they were hot in the first quarter, but they never pulled away by much more than that. In fact Minnesota fought back to tie the game, but Indiana closed the first half on an 8-0 run and pulled away in the third quarter for the win. The really good news out of all this for Indiana was a big showing from Roy Hibbert — 27 points on 10-for-15 shooting, plus 12 rebounds and 4 blocked shots. If Indiana is going to make any kind of playoff run they are going to need these kind of nights from Hibbert and he seems to be finding his stride again.

Rockets 111, Suns 81: After about 18 minutes of coasting through the game the Rockets got serious about defense, went on a 20-2 run and pulled away from the Suns for an easy win. Donatas Motiejunas scored 19 points on 7-for-12 shooting to lead Houston, James Harden added 18 points, while Jeremy Lin had 13 points and 6 assists.

The Rockets have won seven of their last eight at home — and now have eight of their next nine in Houston. Keep winning near that pace and they will solidify their playoff standing.

Kings 121, Bulls 79: The Bulls were just a mess from the opening tip. Sacramento won the first quarter 34-20 on 65 percent shooting — the vaunted Bulls defense took another night off. So did the offense, which shot 35 percent in the first quarter and 38.6 percent for the game. It was 65-36 Kings at the half. Tyreke Evans had 26 points on 13 shots to lead the Kings.

Warriors 105, Pistons 97: When Stephen Curry and David Lee are both on, Golden State can outscore a lot of teams. That’s what happened here, Curry had 31 points and was raining threes again, Lee had 20 points and 15 boards. The Warriors shot 56.9 percent from the field and only missed one shot in the game’s final seven minutes. Rodney Stuckey had 22 points, but Greg Monroe shot just 4-of-16 on the night.

Celtics’ Terry Rozier says he wants all of Evan Turner’s minutes

Boston Celtics guard Terry Rozier shoots during NBA basketball training camp, Tuesday, Sept. 27, 2016, in Waltham, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Associated Press
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There is a pecking order in the Celtics backcourt: Isaiah Thomas is the scoring/playmaking point guard, with Avery Bradley and Marcus Smart playing the more defensive backcourt teammate role next to him at different times.

Still, there are minutes to be had — Evan Turner is no longer in camp and the secondary playmaker. He is on another coast trying to become the other playmaker Portland needs.

Second-year player Terry Rozier wants those minutes.

Good. Celtics fans should like that their young player is saying this.

More importantly, reports out of Celtics training camp say Rozier is playing very well, using his speed to create shots for himself and others. It’s been a great change of pace for the Celtics, one Brad Stevens could put to use this season.

Rozier is going to be coming off the bench, but if he can do that and bring this energy and shot creation, he’s going to get plenty of run this season. And be another part of a strong young core in Boston that just keeps getting better.

51Q: Will a few veterans make 76ers good enough to justify ousting Sam Hinkie?

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 7: Jerry Colangelo (R) is introduced as special advisor to managing general partner and chairman of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers by general manager Sam Hinkie (L) and owner Joshua Harris (M) on December 7, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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We continue PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For the past few weeks, and through the start of the NBA season, we tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season. Today:

Will a few veterans actually make the 76ers good enough to justify ousting Sam Hinkie?

The Philadelphia 76ers are going to lose a lot of games this season. They will be one of the worst teams in the NBA. Again.

Now that reality feels even worse. The loss of No. 1 pick Ben Simmons to a broken foot for at least part of the season was a punch to the gut for Sixers fans who finally had hope “the process” was about to start to pay off with wins and promise.

Take a step back from this latest in an entirely too long list of setbacks, and a key question remains:

Are the Sixers now on the right track?

As a corollary to that, would the Sixers be just as good if Sam Hinkie were still the man in charge? Or has the father/son combination of Jerry and Bryan Colangelo steered the ship in the right direction? Did this team need established veterans to both guide the young players and create a better locker room culture?

We know where Bryan Colangelo stands, look at what he said on The Vertical Podcast with Adrian Wojnarowski:

Really, factually, there was a losing culture. There was a losing mindset….

And I think more than anything the mindset needed to shift. The mindset needed to change. And that’s why we’ve been talking about winning and doing everything to promote winning, promote a culture of excellence, to promote better thought process in everything.

Apparently, that means bring in more veterans. This season Jerryd Bayless, Sergio Rodriguez, Gerald Henderson, and Elton Brand will be part of the mix with Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel, Jahlil Okafor, Dario Saric, and, eventually, Simmons. Those veterans are there to change the mindset and make sure the team wins more than the 10 games it did last season.

What Colangelo now preaches is what a lot of executives around the league said while Hinkie was the guy with the hammer in Philly. Those other execs understood the tanking — every franchise is willing to suffer a bad season or two in order to get a high draft pick — but it was the sustained level and intensity of the tanking that disturbed people. It was the cold turning over of the back end of the roster searching for a diamond in the rough rather than bringing in guys to help win a few games. Where was the Kevin Garnett in Minnesota leader of a young core? If a team is that bad for that long, doesn’t it seep into the culture, the DNA of a franchise?

One could make the case that happened in Philadelphia. That’s why Okafor was getting in fights, why Embiid wasn’t listening to staff and on down the line. Young players were developing bad habits, and while Brett Brown did all anyone could ask of a coach to turn that around, it takes a player or players to set the tone. Veterans can do that, although it takes the right veterans (ask the Lakers how it goes when Nick Young is the only veteran actually hanging out with a young core of players while better examples keep mostly to themselves).

The question remains, would things be that much different in Philly if Hinkie were in charge? In terms of perception, maybe, but in terms of wins? In terms of direction?

Any success the Colangelos have will be built on the foundation of Hinkie and his process. They may not think of him as a “basketball guy” but the Colangelos owe Hinkie — he took the slings and arrows while compiling a treasure chest of picks other teams covet. The Colangelos are certainly more transparent, or at least give that impression by meeting more with the media and selling their vision. The Colangelos certainly have better relationships with agents and other teams than Hinkie, who was not beloved. It was certainly Joshua Harris and the Philadelphia owners — likely with a push from Adam Silver (although he denies it) — who grew weary of the losing and wanted to make the change.

But all of that is very different from saying this year’s Sixers will win a lot more games because Hinkie was pushed out the door.

Hinkie is now living the good life in Palo Alto, California, with his family. He’s relaxing (as much as he relaxes). At some point he will get another shot, he will be brought in as an assistant GM somewhere if he wants it.  And like anyone who does any job, he likely learned a lot about how to do it better through his struggles.

Do the veterans and maybe a couple of wins justify ousting Hinkie? The question is largely moot — the deed is done. Hinkie is gone in Philly.

But he shouldn’t be forgotten — this is his roster as much as anyone’s. Whether you like how it was put together or not.

Report: Clippers owner Ballmer will spend “whatever it takes” to keep Blake Griffin, Chris Paul

Los Angeles Clippers' Blake Griffin, center, responds to reporters while Chris Paul, left, and DeAndre Jordan laugh during the team's NBA basketball media day, Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Playa Vista, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Kang)
Associated Press
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Is this the season the Clippers break through? They have been one of the eight best teams — usually one of the top five — for several years now, but that has not been enough to get them past the second round of the playoffs. A combination of injuries and running into superior teams has gotten in their way.

This season they will start as the fourth-best team in the league according to most NBA power rankings (including ProBasketballTalk’s), but they will still be third best in the West. If things play out according to that script, it would mean another second-round exit.

The difference is next summer Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can be — and almost certainly will be — free agents (both have early termination options). If there is another second-round flame-out, can the Clippers keep them?

Owner Steve Ballmer is committed to spend whatever it takes to keep them in Clipper red, white, and blue, reports Ramona Shelburne of ESPN.

Most importantly, according to Clippers insiders, is his commitment to keeping both Griffin and Paul long term no matter what it costs.

Do both want to stay? That’s impossible to predict nine months out. But it’s hard to imagine either finding as good of a set up as they have in Los Angeles. Both have firmly planted roots in L.A., with deep ties to the business and entertainment worlds.

Take a moment to step back and realize just how much Ballmer has changed the Clippers’ culture in three years from what Donald Sterling would have done. If Sterling still owned the team we’d be asking if he would open his pocketbook to spend to keep his two big stars in the same summer, and even if he was would that be enough or would both players be looking just to get away.

Now it’s harder to make a case that either wants out — and that includes the idea that Griffin will bolt to go home to Oklahoma City and play for the Thunder next to Russell Westbrook. Few players have taken advantage of the Los Angeles lifestyle and opportunities as Griffin, who is an executive producer of one television show making a pilot and has worked on a career as a comic.

As for the inevitable Griffin/CP3 trade rumors, take them with a whole box of kosher salt.

As for the idea that they’d make a blockbuster trade, consider this: The only way the Clippers get a decent return is if Paul and/or Griffin agreed to waive their player option for next season, or guaranteed they’d re-sign long term in the city they were traded. There’s no compelling reason for either of them to do that after the infusion of television rights’ money spikes the salary cap up more than $100 million next summer.

Griffin and Paul will be free agents next summer. Whether they stay in Los Angeles or leave will depend in part on how this season goes and the prospects for them and the Clippers after this season. It’s possible they leave.

But with Ballmer willing to open up his bloated checkbook, it’s much easier to make the case they both stay put.

Matt Barnes says he’s been warned for chewing gum, using bathroom during national anthem

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - MARCH 19:  NBA players Matt Barnes and J.J. Redick attend the David Yurman in-store shopping event to celebrate the launch of Men's Faceted Metal Collection at David Yurman Boutique on March 19, 2015 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Angela Weiss/Getty Images for David Yurman)
Angela Weiss/Getty Images for David Yurman
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The NBA has long taken a hard stance on the national anthem.

Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf was infamously suspended for sitting during the national anthem 1996. The league has a specific rule  – which it doesn’t plan to change – that states, “Players, coaches and trainers are to stand and line up in a dignified posture along the sidelines or on the foul line during the playing of the National Anthem.”

That makes it more difficult for the NBA and union to compromise on national-anthem protests – especially because precedent has set a strict tone on the rule.

Kings forward Matt Barnes on The Vertical Podcast with JJ Redick:

They don’t want you chewing gum. They told me, take the gum out of your mouth.

I was using the bathroom. They said you can’t miss the anthem. I’m like, “Man, I had to pee.” “Next time you’ll be fined.” I said, “Ohh, OK.”

I doubt NBA commissioner Adam Silver wants to punish players for demonstrating on behalf of important social issues. But he’s also behold to the team owners and corporate sponsors, and he must enforce the league’s rules.

It’s a fine line, one that the NBA’s prior warnings on national-anthem conduction make even more difficult for Silver to walk.

Maybe the solution is raised fists? Kneeling, like Colin Kaepernick, would seem to violate the “stand” requirement. But if players are on their feet and in place, would the league really deem a raised fist an undignified posture?