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.

Frustrated Kyrie Irving on another ring: “And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

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Since the All-Star break, the Cleveland Cavaliers have not looked like a championship team. They have been in a malaise going 8-10 with the second-worst defense in the NBA during that stretch. The Cavs like a team that is just waiting for the games to have meaning again in the playoffs. It makes one tempted to say this will come back to bite them in the postseason, but which team in the East is going to beat them?

The Cavaliers players are frustrated with their play of late, too.  Kyrie Irving vented about it after practice, as reported by Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Obviously it was just a frustrating game and there have been a few frustrating games for all of us,” Irving said. “Just getting back to what we do, having fun with one another and being truthful with one another — we’ll be good…

And then Irving said: “You can’t rely on just thinking that one championship is enough. It’s natural for human beings to just get comfortable. To rely on just having won a championship. But if you a (competitor) you want two, you want three, you want four. And if you dedicate yourself more like you say you do, then you want more. And I want more. I’m going to go take it.”

Injuries have had key players, most recently Kevin Love and J.R. Smith out of the rotation of late, and working them back in has not gone smoothly. Still, this is the same core from the team that won the title last season, it shouldn’t be that difficult to get back into a groove.

Cleveland is acting like a team that thinks it can flip the switch.

Maybe they can, but there are some powerful teams out West who seemed to have flipped theirs long ago.

 

Rumor: Bulls ready to move on from Jimmy Butler this summer

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Predicting what the Chicago Bulls front office will do this summer is a game of roulette — the ball can land anywhere and it wouldn’t be a surprise. Is Dwyane Wade coming back? Is Nikola Mirotic part of the future? Fred Hoiberg? What kind of team are the Bulls trying to build, anyway?

Then there is the biggest one: Is Jimmy Butler still part of the long-term plan? Or is he going to be moved to facilitate a rebuilding process?

Last summer when the Bulls had the chance to trade him, they kept Butler to build around him… then made some interesting choices in trying to do that. They didn’t get enough shooting, players didn’t fit well, and others didn’t develop, and the Bulls are struggling to even make the postseason.

So what do the Bulls do this summer? One exec told Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer that the Bulls were going to move Butler.

Paul George and Jimmy Butler were involved in trade rumors at the deadline, and all indications are that those conversations will resume this offseason. One front-office source told me recently that Butler is “as good as gone,” while George sounds like a player who wants out.”

Paul George wanting to contend (or if not, be in Los Angeles) is not news, but whether the Pacers decide to be serious about trading him this summer depends on a number of factors that we’re not going to get into here. This article is about Butler.

Do the Bulls want to trade Butler? Some in the front office do, some don’t. There were reports the Bulls wanted an All-Star level player for him so the team did not take a step back, but nobody was giving that up. Everyone in Chicago from ownership through management is not on the same page, which helps explain some of the stop-gap team building moves by the team. Chicago needs to decide if it wants to go for the full rebuild, which is what happens if they trade Butler. The playoffs are out of the questions for a few years if they do, but that’s not a bad thing if they draft well and commit to the plan. However, there is a sense that ownership thinks “this is Chicago, we don’t rebuild.”

All of which is to say, if the Bulls trade Butler it’s not a huge surprise. If they keep him, it’s not a huge surprise. But other teams — hello Boston — may be prepping for him to come back on the trade market around the draft.

PBT Podcast: Future of Isaiah Thomas, Ricky Rubio, also award talk with Dan Feldman

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We asked for your questions on Twitter and Facebook, and you gave myself and Dan Feldman got some fascinating discussion points:

If the Celtics land a top two pick, what does that mean for the future of Isaiah Thomas in Boston?

Is Ricky Rubio‘s run of strong play mean he remains the point guard of the future in Minnesota?

How good is Devin Booker?

We discuss all of that plus the NBA end of season awards that we are still looking at and trying to make up our minds about.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (just click the button under the podcast), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

Rumor: Dell Demps out, Joe Dumars in with Pelicans?

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Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry is on shaky ground.

What about New Orleans general manager Dell Demps?

A long-swirling rumor is getting renewed.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

A few league sources peg the New Orleans Pelicans as a team that is going to make sweeping changes once their season ends in eight games.

The Pelicans have long been rumored to be the next stop for former Piston’s executive Joe Dumars, who is a Shreveport, Louisiana native and has close ties to the ownership and leadership of the Pelicans and Saints organization.

League sources said recently that Dumars has been active in the NBA front office circles, scouting players and reconnecting to the process.

Demps has done a lousy job building a supporting cast around Davis. Part of the reason trading for the risky DeMarcus Cousins made so much sense: The Pelicans were so underwhelming, they wouldn’t be much worse off if Cousins destroyed their culture and/or bolted in 2018 free agency.

But it’s not too late to salvage Davis’ tenure in New Orleans. He’s locked up for three more seasons, and Cousins is an extremely talented No. 2.

Is Dumars the right man to bring it all together?

He masterfully built the Pistons into the 2004 NBA champions. He also played an integral role in the team’s downfall.

Another factor: There appears to be a mutual respect between Cousins and Dumars, who coveted the big man since he was coming out of Kentucky. That could help the Pelicans re-sign Cousins in 2018.

Dumars’ success should get him general-manager job interviews, but his more-recent failings demand tough questions. I’m unconvinced the Pelicans are scrutinizing Dumars enough, and they’d probably benefit from a more-thorough search.

But Dumars might be a fine hire. Dumping Demps would at least be step in the right direction.