Marc Gasol, Kevin Durant

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Night of wild finishes all over NBA map

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while reading the oral history of Ace of Bass’ one hit….

Heat 98, Cavaliers 95: Crazy game. I mean certifiable, off its meds kind of game. Starting with a 40-minute delay at the start to fix a coolant leak in the scoreboard that was dripping fluid on the court. Then the Cavaliers were hot and went up 27 points. Then the Heat came back behind LeBron James’ triple double. Then… oh, just read our recap. Too much for this space. Just know Miami has 24 wins in a row now.

Grizzlies 90, Thunder 89 (OT): Marc Gasol became the hero when he tipped in Zach Randolph’s miss with 0.8 seconds left, but this game seemed set several times to have a different hero.

Kevin Durant scored 15 of his 32 points in the third quarter, making the game competitive after Oklahoma City fell behind by double digits. Kevin Martin made a 3-pointer with 1:25 left in regulation, snapping a 1-for-30 skid by Thunder 3-point shooters and giving Oklahoma City a game-best six-point lead. Jerryd Bayless scored seven points in the final 11 seconds of regulation, including the game-tying 3-pointer with 3.7 seconds left.

But in the end, Gasol fittingly closed a game in which both teams shot below 36 percent by handling a missed shot better than anyone else on the floor.
—Dan Feldman

Rockets 100, Jazz 97: This game was huge for the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture — the Rockets are now the seven seed and a full three games up on the nine seed Jazz (the Lakers split the difference, 1.5 back of the Rockets and 1.5 up on the Jazz). The Rockets didn’t secure a playoff spot with win, but it helps. A lot.

The Rockets were out to an early lead in this one, getting their buckets in transition and doing pretty much whatever they wanted. James Harden was getting to the free throw line all night — 17 of his 29 points came at the stripe. Jeremy Lin had 24 points on 13 shots. The Rockets were up as many as 26, and while the Jazz made it a little more interesting in the fourth quarter behind 14 points from Gordon Hayward (he finished with 27) the game never really felt in doubt.

Spurs 104, Warriors 93: Tim Duncan does not age. Well, that or he’s a Terminator. One or the other. He had 25 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks to be at the heart of the Spurs win. San Antonio took the lead with a 19-2 run in the second quarter (one sparked mostly by their bench) and held it the rest of the way. The Warriors made a fourth quarter comeback behind the efforts of Stephen Curry (24 points) and it was his free throws that cut it to a four point game with 3:30 left. But then the Spurs answered with a 12-3 run, with Duncan scoring 6 of the points and picking up an assist on a Manu Ginobili three.

With the win the Spurs are 2.5 games clear of Oklahoma City for best record in the West. With the loss Golden State, the six seed, is tied in the loss column with the seven seed Rockets.

Nets 113, Mavericks 96: When one team has two players who outperform everyone else on the other team by a wide margin, it’s pretty much a guarantee they’re going to win the game. And, in this contest, that was the case for Nets.

Deron Williams scored 31 points and handed out 6 assists in this one, absolutely torching his hometown Mavs in the process. Not to be outdone, however, Brook Lopez was even better that than, scoring 38 points while grabbing 11 rebounds in his demolition of the Mavericks’ frontline. Neither Net could be close to slowed down, much less stopped and it was on the backs of these two that the Nets were able to shoot 50.6% from the floor and get pretty much everything they wanted on offense all night.

And while the Mavericks did their best to keep up, they simply didn’t have enough. Dirk Nowitzki was hot all night, hitting 8 of his 10 shots to score 16 points. Chris Kaman also had a solid night offensively in scoring 14 points on 7-12 shooting. And while the Mavs were able to shoot 50% as a team, the difference was that they lacked the explosiveness that the Nets brought to this game and couldn’t overcome that with multiple complementary performances to Dirk and Kaman or by defending well enough where they wouldn’t need those bigger offensive nights.
—Darius Soriano

Knicks 106, Magic 94: It didn’t take long into Carmelo Anthony’s return for everyone to notice he was moving much better (after having his knee drained). Or for him to make a difference — Anthony had 7 first quarter points to help spark an early 19-4 run that gave the Knicks a lead they never relinquished. The Magic made some pushes and kept close at times (it was 51-46 Knicks at the half) but they could never close the gap all the way. J.R. Smith helped with that, scoring 22 points off the bench, and efficiently on just 16 shots.

Mike Woodson did not easy Anthony back into the game, he played nearly 33 minutes. But the Knicks needed him to hold off the feisty Magic.

Clippers 101, 76ers 72: Running, gunning Lob City was back in full force as the Clippers just controlled this game from the second quarter on and had no problems cruising to a win. It was tied after one quarter, but the Clippers opened the second quarter on an 11-1 run, and that was it. Chris Paul had 19 points, nine assists, six rebounds and five steals — and he sat most of the fourth quarter.

Hawks 98, Bucks 90: Atlanta won this game in the third quarter, when it held Milwaukee to 31.6 percent shooting and outscored them 29-16 behind 12 points in the quarter from Jeff Teague (who finished with 27 points and 11 assists). Al Horford had a big night of 26 points and 15 rebounds.

The Hawks remain the five seed in the East, two games back of the four-seed Nets (and home court in the first round) but also just one game up on six seed Chicago. The Bucks are the eight seed and while there is no chance of the 76ers catching them from behind they don’t look like they can catch seven seed Boston, either.

Hornets 87, Celtics 86: Anthony Davis may have only had 9 points and 8 rebounds, but his last second tip-in was the difference in this game, propelling the Hornets to the victory while leaving the Celtics struggling to figure out how it all went bad.

But, if the Celtics are looking for answers, they need only look at how much more physical the Hornets were than them in this game. The Hornets out-rebounded the Celtics 45-28, including an 11 to 4 edge on the offensive end. The Hornets also looked to attack the paint most of the night, taking over half of their shots in the restricted area and earning 26 foul shots in the process. Ryan Anderson was especially assertive in getting to the line, making 9 of his 11 attempts to help him score his team high 21 points. Eric Gordon (18 points) and Greivis Vasquez (13 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists) were also very good in staying aggressive against a stingy Celtic defense.

On Boston’s side, it was Paul Pierce’s 28 points on only 9-17 shooting and Kevin Garnett’s 20 points on 9-16 shooting that kept them in the game while the rest of their team struggled to put together consistent offense. During a key stretch from late in the 3rd to the middle of the 4th quarter, the Celtics only scored 8 points which essentially allowed the Hornets to stay close enough to steal this game at the end.
—Darius Soriano

Wizards 88, Suns 79: John Wall (19 points and eight assists) bested Goran Dragic (18 points and 11 assists) in a matchup of good point guards on bad teams thanks to a little help from the Phoenix. The Wizards broke open a one-point game with a 15-0 second-quarter run, but the Suns’ shots during that run came from 17, 14, 26, 20, 17 and 23 feet — low-value distances.
Washington’s first win in Phoenix since 2006 gives the Wizards their fourth season sweep of a Western Conference team, adding to a hodge-podge group that already included the Nuggets, Hornets and Trail Blazers.
—Dan Feldman

Bobcats 107, Raptors 101: I watched maybe 10 minutes of this and it felt like two teams showing up to collect their paychecks as they play out the string. Not much else to report. Rudy Gay had 25 points and was in move with his jump shot. The Bobcats bench won the game, outscoring the Raptors bench 54-13.

Report: Timberwolves signing Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: John Lucas III #15 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 77-69. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.

The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.

The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.

It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.

The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.

Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.

*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.

The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: James Harden ‘only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch’

Daryl Morey, James Harden
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Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?

I know I do.

Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.

His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.

But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.

Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.

Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.

Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:

“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”

Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.

But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.

For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.

I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.

51 Questions: Who is better, Bulls or Knicks?

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 31: Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls looses control of the ball after being hit by Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks at the United Center on October 31, 2013 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the Knicks 82-81. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Today PBT launches its 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). And we start with a fun topic:

Who is better, the Bulls or the Knicks?

Two proud franchises in two of the nation’s biggest markets, with two fan bases that demand results (but haven’t gotten them lately). Those fan bases are restless because we are talking about two franchises that disappointed and missed the playoffs last season.

That put a lot of pressure on the front offices of the Chicago Bulls and New York Knicks, and both were aggressive making changes this summer — Chicago traded Derrick Rose to New York, in one of the bigger deals of the offseason.

Expectations are high in New York and Chicago, with the playoffs considered a baseline.

But did those teams improve that much? Will either make the playoffs?

And which team is better?

Forced to choose, I’d say the Bulls. Barely.

Both are going to be in a battle with other teams — Washington, Charlotte, Miami, Milwaukee, maybe Atlanta,— for the final few playoff spots in the East. Both teams could conceivably miss the playoffs again.

Sorry Derrick Rose, your Knicks are not a superteam.

Rose is the common thread between these two team’s summers.

The Bulls needed to choose between him and Jimmy Butler, and they wisely chose the younger and, at this point, just flat out better Butler. It was the only call (outside trading both for a bottom-out rebuild, which wouldn’t have been wise). The Bulls traded Rose away then proceeded to surround Butler with older guards — Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo — who are not great defenders, have had injury issues, don’t space the floor with their shooting, and need the ball in their hands to be their best. They also added a solid big man in Robin Lopez to the paint, he should at least block some of the shots from opposing wings who blow by Rondo and Wade.

Wade can still score — he averaged 19 points a game last season and showed in the playoffs (and other short stretches) he can put a team on his back and still be a force. He’s not vintage Wade, but he hasn’t slipped as far as critics suggest — most nights now he is good, not great. The knee maintenance program from Miami that had Wade resting some nights (although fewer last season) needs to come north and be part of the plan for him in Chicago.

The Bulls have decent raw talent and depth with Butler, Wade, Lopez, Taj Gibson (at least until he is traded), Nikola Mirotic, Tony Snell, Bobby Portis, and Denzel Valentine. That’s why I have them just slightly ahead of the Knicks. But there are real questions about the fit of this roster. They are going to have defensive holes on the perimeter. On offense, there isn’t near enough shooting to keep opposing teams from just packing the paint and taking away driving lanes for Wade and Butler. (It’s why I think Mirotic will have to start and get heavy minutes with the first unit, they need the floor spacing shooting, the downside is he hurts the defense.) None of this fits what coach Fred Hoiberg ideally wants to run, and does the young coach have the force of personality to keep this team pulling the same direction on the rope?

The Knicks were the team that took on Derrick Rose — then landed Joakim Noah as well. Combine them with Carmelo Anthony and, if this were 2011, they would be title favorites.

The Knicks starting five could be quite good: Rose, Courtney Lee, Anthony (fresh off the Olympics), Kristaps Porzingis, and Noah. But will that group even play 50 games together healthy? If the starters are together for 60-plus games this season, the Knicks almost certainly are a playoff team (and better than the Bulls). But we all know the injury history: Rose missed 244 games in the last five seasons and is not nearly the explosive MVP version of himself, while Noah has missed 68 games the past two seasons and does not move like the Defensive Player of the Year anymore. Anthony has had his injury issues too. That trio could well fall below Knicks’ fans expectations.

Also, none of those guys seem ready to run like new coach Jeff Hornacek wants. The depth behind that starting five is unimpressive, with Brandon Jennings at the point being the best one of the bunch. When those starters start missing games — or just when the starters go to the bench — the Knicks drop off fast. This was a 32-win team last season, how much better did they really get?

Two things could have me underestimating the Knicks. One is Porzingis. He was impressive as a rookie and on his way to being very good, but how big a leap does he make this season? He will certainly be improved, he remains the future Knicks fans build altars to, and if he makes a bigger leap than I predict (which is possible) he can carry this team to the playoffs.

Second, this is contract year Derrick Rose — does he rise to the occasion? Will he be healthier, a better jump shooter, and just more creative than we have seen in recent years.

The bottom line: Both of these teams will be hovering around .500 and in a scramble for the playoffs. Both teams made short-term moves that don’t make a lot of long-term sense considering they have good young pieces to build around. Both fan bases expect more than these teams are going to deliver.

The Bulls depth should have them playing slightly better. But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Of course, the real answer to all questions about who is better in the East should just be answered “Cleveland.”

Jazz guarantee more than $1 million to No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboy, a rare commitment to someone drafted so low

ST LOUIS, MO - MARCH 18:  Joel Bolomboy #21 of the Weber State Wildcats handles the ball in the first half against the Xavier Musketeers during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Scottrade Center on March 18, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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In the first five years of the current Collective Bargaining Agreement, two players drafted in the 50s received a $1 million guarantee the same offseason they were selected.

This year, the list has doubled.

The Cavaliers guaranteed $1 million to No. 54 pick Kay Felder, and No. 52 pick Joel Bolomboyjust signed by the Jazz – will get even more.

Bolomboy’s $600,000 salary this season is fully guaranteed, and $452,625 of his salary next season is guaranteed, according to Basketball Insiders. That’s a grand total of $1,052,625 guaranteed on a three-year contract.

Only Tornike Shengelia (No. 54 pick in 2012 from Nets) and Kris Joseph (No. 51 pick in 2012 from Celtics) got more as players picked in the 50s who signed the same offseason under the current CBA. Both received two fully guaranteed seasons.

Bolomboy successfully leveraged a salary-cap environment relatively more favorable to second-rounders than first-rounders. If Utah didn’t make him such a favorable offer, he could’ve accepted the required tender and become a free agent within a year – with numerous potentially offering him a contract. The Jazz, with more cap space than they know what do with, probably didn’t mind paying Bolomboy a little more to secure him at what’s still a low rate for the next three years.

This likely wraps up any preseason competition in Utah for a regular-season roster spot. Bolomboy becomes the 15th Jazz player with a guaranteed 2016-17 salary, so he’ll almost certainly stick beyond the preseason – another plus of this contract.

This gives him security as he tries to develop into a player worthy of a second – presumably higher-paying – NBA contract.