Chicago Bulls coach Thibodeau argues with referee Mauer during their NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets in Chicago

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Refs make Nuggets/Bulls ending interesting

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wishing you were as well traveled as this dog

Heat 105, Celtics 103: This felt like a playoff game — it was chippy, emotional and the crowd was into it. Jeff Green took over for the Celtics with 43 points, giving the team the kind of boost it needed without Kevin Garnett in the lineup. But in the end, the Heat had LeBron James. We broke it all down in some detail. Plus, if you want to see LeBron’s entrant in the “Dunk of the Year” contest we got that, too.

Suns 99, Lakers 76: The Lakers looked like an old team on the second night of a back-to-back playing without their biggest star. The Suns played with some fight and this wasn’t even that close. Our man Brett Pollakoff was in the building and broke it all down.

Nuggets 119, Bulls 118 (OT): The Nuggets have won a dozen in a row, but all anybody is talking about is the controversial ending — and the referees only got it half right in my mind. Tom Thibodeau has a right to be pissed off. Sure, there were 52 minutes of other basketball where Wilson Chandler scored 35 and Nate Robinson scored 34 including a three to send it to overtime. There was a lot of other basketball where the Bulls played with basically a six-man rotation and fought hard. But you don’t want to talk about that, do you? Let’s get to the tip ins that decided the game.

Denver was down one (115-114) with 50 seconds left when Ty Lawson drives the lane and misses the layup, but Kosta Koufos is on the spot to tip it in — except replays clearly showed the ball was sitting on the rim and over the cylinder when it was tipped. I say that should have been offensive goaltending, others say if it is falling off the rim it can be tipped. Bottom line is no call, no review, play went on and the Nuggets got the points. After a Joakim Noah tip in (that was clearly legit) and a Noah block of Chandler, followed by an Andre Iguodala three you had the final score you see above, but the Bulls had one last shot.

Marco Belinelli brought it up the left wing and took a rushed jumper that was short, but Joakim Noah was flying in, tipped the ball in and the United Center went crazy. No call, but Denver did call a timeout, and during that break the officials reviewed the play and called Noah for offensive basket interference, tipping in a ball that was over the cylinder. It was the correct call, it was an illegal tip.

These were both illegal tip ins to my eye, both were over the cylinder. The question is, why was only one reviewed? The refs can’t say they didn’t review Koufos’ because there was not call, because there was no call on Noah’s either. There was just time. It will be interesting to see what the league office says about all this.

Knicks 90, Jazz 83: The Lakers losing in Phoenix didn’t affect their playoff chances at all, thanks to the Jazz continuing to be in a complete free-fall as the season enters its final month. With the Knicks missing Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, and trotting out a starting lineup featuring Kenyon Martin, Chris Copeland, and Pablo Prigioni, they were still able to win in Utah thanks to the Jazz shooting just 28.9 percent from the field over the final two periods.

Utah typically does significant damage in the paint, but scored a season-low 22 points there in this one. J.R. Smith led all scorers with a game-high 20 points, which lets you know just how much of an offensive exhibition this one was.
—Brett Pollakoff

Grizzlies 92, Timberwolves 77: It’s not very often a team improves dramatically after a big mid-season trade, but with each and every game that goes by, the Grizzlies seem to make more and more sense. Even when it’s a little something — like Tayshaun Prince bringing up the ball and being able to feed the high post easier because of his height — it feels like a revelation for an offense that was so starved for space, especially when they force-fed Rudy Gay in the past.

This was a game where the Grizzlies just sharpened the knives a little bit, essentially. As per usual, Marc Gasol did everything, including a sick no-look alley-oop pass to Tony Allen for a jam. How many 7-footers influence the game the way Gasol does on both ends? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Gasol was excellent with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks.

The Wolves were down 23 points in the third quarter, which is bad obviously, but if you’ve followed the Wolves this year, you knew it could get worse. Ricky Rubio left the game with an apparent groin injury, sapping the Wolves of any shred of visual appeal for the rest of the game. Minnesota finished the game shooting 33 percent as a team, but somehow, it felt worse.
—D.J. Foster

76ers 101, Trail Blazers 100: LaMarcus Aldridge had an All-Star night — 32 points and 14 rebounds — but he had a turnaround jumper he can knock down to win the game at the end and he missed it. That’s a tough loss for Portland but a quality win for the Sixers, who are refusing to completely roll over down the stretch. Jrue Holiday had 27 points, Thaddeus Young ptched in 19 and Spencer Hawes had 18 points and 13 rebounds. It’s still a team game folks — there were six Sixers in double figures, just two Trail Blazers (Aldridge and Damian Lillard with 27).

Mavericks 127, Hawks 113: The Hawks have their issues; that much has been documented. But the Mavericks, now that they have a healthy Dirk Nowitzki and are beginning to build some confidence behind playing with some consistent lineups, have been putting together wins and are within reach of a long-shot entry into the postseason.

Dallas scored its season high in points, and was led in scoring by Darren Collison off the bench who finished with 24 points on 10-14 shooting. The Hawks failed to defend all night long, as the Mavs finished the game shooting 57.3 percent from the field, including almost 60 percent (13-22) from three-point distance.

The Mavericks are very quietly just three games behind the Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with 15 games left to play.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 111, Cavaliers 90: Indiana took control of this game with an 11-0 run in the second quarter (the quarter where Gerald Green put up 13), pulled away in the second half and cruised to an easy win. Green finished with 20 points and Tyler Hansbrough added 18 points and 11 rebounds. The highlight you are going to see out of this game — and the suspension coming down — will be for Marreese Speights, who grabbed Paul George around the neck and threw him to the floor. He got a flagrant 2 and was ejected for it. As he should have been.

Nets 119, Pistons 82: Deron Williams had 14 of his 31 points in the first quarter, sparked a 10-0 Nets run and they never looked back from there. Brook Lopez had 18 points and Andray Blatche chipped in 15. The Nets looked pretty good mostly the Pistons continue to look terrible, particularly on defense.

Warriors 93, Hornets 72: After beating the Rockets in Houston the night before, there was no way the Warriors were going to kill that momentum by stubbing their toe against the Hornets. Stephen Curry scored 30 points on 10-19 shooting, but more importantly for the long-term prospects of this team is the fact that Andrew Bogut turned in a stellar defensive effort inside for the second straight night.

Golden State shot 50 percent from the field for the game, including 52.6 percent from three-point distance. That, along with holding the Hornets to just 11 fourth quarter points was more than enough to pull away for the victory.
—Brett Pollakoff

Bobcats 119, Wizards 114: Defense? We don’t need no stinkin’ defense. Not a lot of it to be found in this game. Charlotte was down five inside three minutes to play but went on a 12-0 run to secure the win. Gerald Henderson had 27 to lead the Bobcats, John Wall had 25 for Washington. If the Wizards want to point the finger at something, how about the 14 free throws they gave the Bobcats in the fourth and 33 for the game. Can’t do that and win against a teams that knock the freebies down.

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.