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.

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

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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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.

Detroit’s Van Gundy honored for cooperation with media, fans

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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Stan Van Gundy of the Detroit Pistons has won the Rudy Tomjanovich Award, which honors an NBA coach for his cooperation with media and fans, as well as excellence on the court.

The Professional Basketball Writers Association announced the winner Friday. Van Gundy was one of five finalists for the award. The others were Steve Clifford of the Charlotte Hornets, Mike D’Antoni of the Houston Rockets, David Fizdale of the Memphis Grizzlies and Brad Stevens of the Boston Celtics.

Dwane Casey of the Toronto Raptors won the award last season.