Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Clippers lose, fall to fourth

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while rethinking everything you knew about Star Wars….

Nuggets 114, Thunder 104: Denver won their 13th game in a row and in doing so made a statement that come the playoffs they are not to be dismissed. The Thunder went cold for the first part of the third quarter, allowing the Nuggets to take a lead, then every time they tried to make a comeback Andre Miller hit a big shot. We broke this down as our game of the night.

Kings 116, Clippers 101: Here is what this loss means for the Clippers — they are now the No. 4 seed in the West, they have fallen behind Denver by half a game and percentage points behind Memphis. Can you see the Clippers — who could not contain Marcus Thornton and Toney Douglas Tuesday — beating either of those teams in the first round of the playoffs? No, me neither. That is what the Clippers have until the end of the season to change. Chris Paul will push them, but can the other players follow him? Does Vinny Del Negro have an idea how to change this?

Let’s give the Kings their due here. Behind Thornton’s 25 points total and a strong game from DeMarcus Cousins (17 points, 11 rebounds) this was a close game entering the fourth quarter. Then in the final six minutes Toney Douglas happened, with a couple corner threes and one got-to-put-it-up-to-beat-the-shot-clock ridiculously deep dagger three. The Kings played hard and well enough to win. The Clippers simply couldn’t match them. Which brings us back to the question in the first paragraph of this game recap.

Bucks 102, Trail Blazers 95: The Bucks owned the second quarter. Completely. They started it on a 16-0 run (sparked by 9 second quarter points from J.J. Redick), the Blazers shot 2-of-20 in the second quarter and the Bucks ran away with the game. Milwaukee led by as many as 27 and while Portland made some runs they were rebuffed by Brandon Jennings (24 points) and Monta Ellis (20). LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 21 points and 15 rebounds.

Pacers 95, Magic 73: Burn the tape of this game. Banish it from the face of the earth. This game was that hard to watch, especially the first half. The Magic had 29 points on 26.1 percent shooting in the first 24 minutes. By then the Pacers were running away with the game. Tyler Hansbrough got the start (David West’s back hurts) and had 14 points and 14 rebounds in a strong game for Indiana, Paul George chipped in 19. Only two Magic players reached into double digits and they each had 10 (Arron Afflalo and Mo Harkless).

J.R. Smith replacing Dwyane Wade as Cavaliers’ starting shooting guard

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The Cavaliers are 2-1, but their starting lineups have been outscored by 19 points in 32 minutes. Dwyane Wade has been so bad as the starting shooting guard, his struggles have overshadowed J.R. Smith‘s miserable play as the backup.

But at least Wade volunteered a solution to this predictable problem.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Dwyane Wade is headed for the Cavaliers’ bench at his own request and J.R. Smith is returning to the starting lineup.

Wade, 35, a 12-time All-Star who struggled in his first three games with Cleveland, asked coach Tyronn Lue to make the change, Lue said. But this wasn’t exactly Wade’s idea, either.

Lue told him when he signed with the Cavs Sept. 27 that the second unit may be the best fit for him.

“I just decided, earlier than later, just to get to the unit where I’d be more comfortable in and can probably better with this team in that lineup,” Wade said. “Why wait? Three games in, why wait? Wanted to get in there with those guys.”

Cleveland’s starting lineup needs more shooting and defense around LeBron James – especially with Derrick Rose starting over an injured Isaiah Thomas (though Rose is out a couple games with his own ankle injury). Smith provides that.

Bench-heavy units need more playmaking. Wade provides that.

This was a tricky situation given Wade’s status as a future Hall of Famer and friendship with LeBron. Whether Wade simply suggested the change or Lue is trying to give Wade public credit after coaxing it behind the scenes, the result is the same.

The Cavs can now use their most logical rotation, and they should be better for it.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough: Eric Bledsoe hair-salon claim about tweet was unbelievable

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Eric Bledsoe reportedly requested a trade from the Suns before the season then tweeted yesterday:

Clear message?

Apparently not.

After sending home Bledsoe today, Suns general manager Ryan McDonough explained his rationale:

The hair salon! What a wonderful excuse.

Is it true? I’m not going to call Bledsoe a liar. It might be.

It’s also probably true that Bledsoe isn’t long for Phoenix.

Report: Suns send Eric Bledsoe home, expect to trade him

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In a shocking twist, the Suns firing Earl Watson did not end the dysfunction in Phoenix.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Bledsoe:

That is a first-rate tweet by Bledsoe. It’s great that he’s having fun with the wild situation, because the rest of us sure are amused peering in.

This was always going to be a long season in Phoenix, but things got out of hand in a hurry. The 0-3 Suns have been outscored by 92 – the worst three-game start in NBA history by 16 points. Now, comes the fallout.

At 27, Bledsoe was getting to be a little too old for a rebuild centered on Devin Booker, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, Dragan Bender and T.J. Warren. The Suns could have dealt Bledsoe in the offseason. Now, they’re negotiating from a position of weakness.

Bledsoe is a good starting point guard when healthy. He’s earning a reasonable $14.5 million this season and due $15 million in the final year of his contract next season. There should be suitors, and Phoenix can gain long-term assets while stepping up its tank.

But this sure seems like a crisis-control move more than anything else.

Willy Hernangomez ‘mad’ about falling from Knicks rotation

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Knicks president Steve Mills started his second tenure talking about rebuilding and listed Willy Hernangomez as a core piece.

But Hernangomez, coming off an All-Rookie first-team season, barely played in New York’s season-opening loss to the Thunder– drawing scrutiny.

Then, he didn’t play at all in a loss to the Pistons – eliciting a strong reaction from Hernangomez himself.

Hernangomez, via Fred Kerber of the New York Post:

“The same. I’m still mad,” Hernangomez said. “I cannot help the team win if I’m sitting on the bench. Two games in a row. It’s tough. I have to wait my moment. I cannot say nothing more.”

The Knicks are moving in different directions. Management is talking about building for the future. Coach Jeff Hornacek, who was hired by previous president Phil Jackson, is trying to win now.

There’s a fine line between developing Hernangomez through playing time and making him earn his minutes. Enes Kanter and Kyle O'Quinn might be better right now.

But being marginally better this season won’t get the Knicks anywhere meaningful except lower in the lottery. On the other hand, even on rebuilding teams, winning is most important to a coach’s job security. Earl Watson implemented the Suns’ tanking scheme, and look where that got him.

Hornacek is backed into a corner, and now one of the team’s most important young players is publicly expressing his displeasure. It’s the latest troubling sign in a locker room already suspicious of Hornacek.