Tom Thibodeau

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Nuggets streak, Bulls slide

1 Comment

Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching Harvard bust your bracket.

Nuggets 101, Sixers 100

At a certain point, a winning streak takes on a life of its own, to the point where it seemingly can’t be stopped.

That certainly seems to be the case with the Miami Heat right now, but the Nuggets are on a 14-game winning streak of their own now, thanks to a career night from Corey Brewer.

Blazers 99, Bulls 89

This game was nowhere near as close as the score would indicate, and considering the fact that the Bulls were playing at home and saw both Kirk Hinrich and Taj Gibson return to the lineup after missing time due to injury, this was a brutal performance from Chicago.

Portland began to do its damage in the second quarter, opening the period on a 14-0 run. Their lead reached as many as 19 points before halftime, and as many as 28 points before the third quarter was through.

LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard handled the bulk of the offense with 28 and 24 points respectively, and the Bulls actually made a run to close the gap in the fourth, behind eight points from Gibson and 10 from Jimmy Butler as Tom Thibodeau actually rested four of his five starters for the game’s final 12 minutes.

This was Chicago’s fourth loss in its last five games.

Kings 101, Timberwolves 98

Tyreke Evans scored 11 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter of this one, yet still tried to give away the game in the closing seconds.

With Sacramento leading by three and having possession of the ball with 34 seconds remaining (and a difference of almost 11 seconds between the shot clock and the game clock), Evans exhibited poor decision-making and even worse fundamental skill, as he got into the lane and turned the ball over before his team could even get a shot off.

Thankfully for Sacramento, the best Minnesota could do was find Dante Cunningham for a wide-open look from three-point distance that careened off the backboard as time expired. For the record, Cunningham has made just one three-pointer in 19 career attempts as he’s now in his fourth NBA season, making the Timberwolves’ final possession somehow worse than that of the Kings.

51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
Leave a comment

Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.