Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Clippers dust off what’s left of the Knicks

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while making the case for the 68th team, the one left out of the NCAA Tournament, because they really had a shot to win it all….

Heat 108, Raptors 91: The Heat tied the second longest winning streak in NBA history with this win over Toronto. (Interesting test against Boston on the second night of a back-to-back Monday.) LeBron James (22 points) and Dwyane Wade (24 points) led a business-like win for Miami. Rudy Gay stepped up his game with 27, but it was never really in doubt. Brett Pollakoff broke the game down in more detail.

Clippers 93, Knicks 80: No Carmelo Anthony (knee). No Tyson Chandler (knee). No Amare Stoudemire (knee). No real chance for the Knicks to score enough to keep up with the Clippers on Sunday so long as Chris Paul was focused and aggressive. Which really didn’t happen until the third quarter when the Clippers went on a 16-3 run to pull away. J.R. Smith tried to create some magic for the Knicks but shot 4-of-20 on the night.

It was a win the Clippers needed to keep pace with Memphis and Denver, and they got it, but it wasn’t really dominating or impressive.

Lakers 113, Kings 102: Since Pau Gasol was traded to the Los Angeles in 2008, the Lakers had yet to win a game where both he and Kobe Bryant sat out. That changed Sunday. In part because Steve Nash had 19 points (on 12 shots) plus 12 assists. And it was in part because Dwight Howard had 12 points (on six shots) and 17 rebounds. But for once the Lakers got balance. They got 27 points out of Antawn Jamison off the bench. They got 16 points from Steve Blake including a key play down the stretch when the Kings made a run and made it a two-point game. It was a good team win for the Lakers. Who need wins as they try to hold on to a playoff spot in the West. Isaiah Thomas had 26 for the Kings and Patrick Patterson had 22 on 12 shots.

Warriors 108, Rockets 78: The Rockets had a chance to move into the six seed in the West — you’d like to avoid the Thunder or Spurs in the first round — but their offense took a night off. The Rockets fell behind when they missed 12 consecutive shots in the first quarter (they shot 3-for-23 in the first 12 minutes) and that was pretty much it. Give the Warriors some credit — they played some better defense with Andrew Bogut blocking three shots and grabbing 12 boards. But the Rockets just had one of those nights. Stephen Curry had 29 points and 11 assists; Klay Thompson added 26 points on 10-for-18 shooting. James Harden put up a good line with 21 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Thunder 107, Mavericks 101: Kevin Durant had 19 points in the fourth quarter, while Dirk Nowitzki didn’t have a shot attempt in the fourth. In a back-and-forth final stanza that was enough, the Thunder got big games from their stars For three quarters it was really Russell Westbrook (35 points) and Dirk Nowitzki (23 points) leading their teams. But in the fourth Nowitzki got just four free throws while Durant took charge (although Westbrook had a key late bucket, a pull up jumper with the game tied 101-101; then later Thabo Sefolosha hit a bit shot). Bottom line is teams can take Nowitzki out of the Mavs game plan and Dallas doesn’t have anyone who can step up now.

Hawks 105, Nets 93: In what could be a first round preview, the Nets were close for three quarters, but in the fourth the Hawks shot 14-for-18 as a team and pulled away for the victory. The win puts the Hawks one game back of the Nets for the four seed (but 2.5 games separate the 3 and 7 seeds in the East, we could see a lot of shifting late. The Nets had no answer for the Hawks versatile front line — Al Horford had 22 points and 11 rebounds, Josh Smith had 21 points (eight in the fourth quarter), plus seven rebounds and five assists.

Bucks 115, Magic 109: The Bucks trailed in this one by a dozen with just over six minutes left in the game, but Monta Ellis was on fire with 25 fourth-quarter points and he got the Bucks the win. He was 5-of-5 from three in the quarter. But let’s throw a little credit to Brandon Jennings, who had eight of his 14 assists in the fourth quarter. It was a good comeback win for the Bucks, but the fact they needed one against the Magic speaks to the larger issue.

Timberwolves 97, Hornets 95: Minnesota got Nikola Pekovic and Andrei Kirilenko back from injury on Sunday and it helped a lot in the final minutes of a close game — Pekovic had a key offensive rebound and knocked down a couple free throws while Kirilenko blocked Eric Gordon’s shot to win it for Minnesota. Derrick Williams had 28 to lead Minny. Greivis Vasquez led the Hornets with 25 points, but when you need 25 shots to get there it’s not a good night.

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.

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.