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.

Pacers’ Lance Stephenson will get his chance, but coming off the bench

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Indiana is Myles Turner‘s team now. Gone from last season are Paul George, Monta Ellis, Jeff Teague, Aaron Brooks and more. More than just Turner, everyone on the Pacers’ roster is going to get a chance to shine.

That includes Lance Stephenson.

But he will do that coming off the bench, coach Nate McMillan told the Pacers’ website.

Coach Nate McMillan said he has a starting lineup in mind heading into training camp, but wouldn’t reveal it. He did acknowledge, however, that Lance Stephenson likely will start the season as the sixth man…

“I hope he can establish (that role),” McMillan said. “A sixth man is like a starter, and he can be a guy who can do a lot of things with that second group with his ability to handle the ball, score the ball. He’s an unselfish player.”

Stephenson was only with the Pacers for a few games at the end of last season, but he was their second best player in the postseason brought an energy and toughness the team lacked. He hit threes (62 percent for the Pacers), played hard, and looked more like the guy Indiana had years ago than the guy who has bounced around the league since. But that was a very small sample size, it’s something else to do this over the course of a season.

Indiana is rebuilding but they did not bottom out and tank, they brought in guys who can handle the ball such as Victor Oladipo (the George trade), Darren Collison, and Cory Joseph. Stephenson is going to have to accept and find a role behind and with those guys. But he’s going to get a chance, and he has played his best ball in a Pacers’ uniform.

Suns’ center Alex Len expected to sign qualifying offer, head to camp

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In the free-spending summer of 2016, Bismack Biyambo got a $72 million contract. Timofey Mozgov got $64 million.

Those kinds of contracts — and there were plenty more of them — had a lot of NBA big men (and players in general) heading into this summer thinking they were going to get PAID. Instead, teams learned the lessons from their drunken spending binge and the market got tight. Especially for centers.

Which leads us to the news Suns big man Alex Len is going to bet on himself and sign his qualifying offer before coming to camp, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Barring an unforeseen change of events, Phoenix Suns center Alex Len is planning to sign the team’s $4.2 million qualifying offer before training camp, clearing the way to become an unrestricted free agent in 2018, league sources told ESPN….

Phoenix wants to study’s Len’s progress in the 2017-18 season before committing to a long-term, lucrative contract extension to him. Len has started 80 games over the past two seasons, including 34 in 2016-17 when he averaged eight points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 blocks a game.

Phoenix wants to leave its options open. Len is mobile, can protect the rim, and has some skills that would help him fit in a modern NBA style offense — he could play with Devin Booker and Josh Jackson — plus last season he improved his shooting around the rim and in the paint. However, he’s not consistent on either end of the court. He shows his potential in flashes, but the Suns need to see more.

Len will now be an unrestricted free agent next summer — he is playing for his next payday. If that can’t motivate him, nothing will.

Report: Lottery reform will really help teams in middle of lottery

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Tanking in the NBA is a problem more of perception than reality — Adam Silver and the league office doesn’t like that there are portions of team’s fan bases rooting for their team to lose. It doesn’t like that tanking is openly discussed on radio shows and online. Combine that with the resting of star players on the road, and in nationally televised games, and the league sees sports talk radio talking points as real problems for the league’s image.

Spreading out the NBA’s schedule is done, and with that the resting of players’ in those high-profile games will decrease (of course, if teams want to sit LeBron James or Stephen Curry or Kawhi Leonard in a nationally televised game, they will just say he has a sore back/ankle/shoulder that needs rest).

Lottery reform looks like it will pass as well, even though it’s putting a band-aid on a broken leg. The league’s new rules will decrease and flatten out the odds at the top of the lottery, and it will reward the teams more in the middle, according to a new report from Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

 The worst three teams’ odds would now have an equal chance at the No. 1 overall pick: 14 percent. Presently, the teams with the three worst records have descending chances of 25 percent, 19.9 percent and 15.6 percent. Also, the worst record can drop as far as No. 5 in the new lottery proposal, down from No. 4….

Teams in the Nos. 7-10 range will have a stronger chance to move up into the top three picks, ESPN has learned, with No. 7’s chances improving from 15 percent to 23, No. 8 from 10 percent to 19 percent, No. 9 from six percent to 15 percent and No. 10 from four percent to 10 percent.

He adds that the odds for the three teams at the top of the lottery — picks 11, 12, and 13 — increase only a couple of percentage points, which the league believes means teams will not try to tank their way out of the playoffs and into the lottery. There is extra money in terms of ticket sales and revenue — at least $5 million for a couple home games — for teams that get into the postseason, and that money can matter to teams.

That said, teams are still going to tank for picks. The league seems to be chasing the ghost of Sam Hinkie with this proposal, trying to make it less likely teams go on a multiple year deep dive, but that was never really a problem anyway — few owners would have the stomach for that, and the one that did (Joshua Harris in Philly) eventually bowed to the pressure from the league and others and canned Hinkie as GM. No GM is trying to put his job at risk with a rebuilding plan.

Tanking will continue because teams need one of the game’s franchise changing stars — of which there are maybe 10 in the league at any one given time — to compete at the highest levels, and for 24 or so markets the only way to get that player is via the draft. What’s more, land that player and thanks to the CBA, teams control that player for four years at a very affordable salary, then thanks to extensions/restricted free agency the team can keep that player for another four or five years. They have this great talent locked in for at least eight or nine years (for example, Kevin Durant spent nine years in Seattle/Oklahoma City before moving on, same with LeBron the first time he left Cleveland, and that list goes on). Now with the “designated player” designation — call it the Kevin Durant rule — teams are more likely to keep that star for another four or five years beyond that.

If you really want to end tanking, make rookie contracts two years then they become unrestricted free agents. Now the motivation to tank for a pick goes away, but of course, small and mid-market teams would rightfully complain about that because then they will have a very hard time keeping talent around.

Bottom line, if you have a truly elite player you win more basketball games, and for most teams the only way to get that player is the draft — so tanking will continue. It’s a smart strategy to rebuild.

The new lottery odds will pass, and they are not a bad thing, but it is far more about perception than reality. And you can be sure there will be unintended consequences.

Jeopardy uses “crying Jordan” meme for question

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You know a meme has jumped the shark when it appears on Jeopardy. (Also, the phrase “jump the shark” has jumped the shark.)

The “crying Jordan” meme reached that level this week when Alex Trebek asked a question about it.

This in no way means we should stop using the crying Jordan meme — even if it bothers MJ himself, and it does — because it’s still funny.