Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: One streak continues, another dies

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while being jealous of the guy with the best job in journalism….

Heat 108, Magic 94: This felt like a lot of the Heat’s recent wins — start slow, crank up defensive pressure, follow LeBron James to a win. That formula worked again against Orlando (but may not against Chicago, New Orleans or San Antonio later this week). We’ve got the details on this game for you, if you like reading about patterns.

Hornets 110, Nuggets 86: It was just an off night for the Nuggets. No energy, not great defense, shots were not falling (Denver shot just 42 percent in the paint) and they didn’t have Ty Lawson healthy to lift them out of the rut. Credit New Orleans for playing their game — they controlled the boards, the tempo and knocked down threes. We broke this game down in more detail as well.

Wizards 107, Grizzlies 94: John Wall went off for a career-high 47 points to go with eight assists and seven rebounds. Washington hasn’t always backed up its franchise player’s better games – the Wizards were 0-3 in Wall’s three highest scoring games before Tuesday – but Emeka Okafor (21 points and nine rebounds) and crew came through to help beat a quality team.

The Grizzlies, 3-4 in their last seven games, have returned to earth after winning 14 of 15. (Remember when a run like that seemed like a big deal?) But there’s little shame in losing to the Wizards, who’ve beaten five of the six teams – Heat, Thunder, Clippers and Nuggets – with a better record than Memphis.
—Dan Feldman

Warriors 109, Lakers 103: This game was nowhere near as close as the score would indicate. Golden State pounced on a Lakers team that seemed multiple steps slow all night long, and had them doubled up at 28-14 in the game’s first 11 minutes. The Warriors used hot shooting and exploited a lack of team defense from L.A. to score seemingly at will for most of the contest.

The lead was 23 by halftime, and reached 25 in the third quarter before a late fourth quarter Lakers rally fell short. L.A. never threatened despite the reasonable final margin.

There were too many shots from Kobe Bryant, who finished with 36 points on 11-27 shooting (and 2-10 from three-point distance). Pau Gasol was ineffective in just 23 minutes of action with seven points and eight rebounds, and Metta World Peace sat out the second half with a strained left knee.

That’s three straight losses for the Lakers, who remain a game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. The Mavericks are just a game and a half back, and have been playing much better as of late, so the playoff position that the Lakers first found themselves in a couple of weeks back is anything but guaranteed at this point.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 100, Hawks 94: No five-man lineup has outscored opponents by more this season than Indiana’s George Hill, Lance Stephenson, Paul George, David West and Roy Hibbert. But the Pacers were out of luck, out of luck, out of luck with Hill (groin), Stephenson (hip) and West (back) injured. Indiana had been outscored by 44 points without any of those three in 555 minutes entering Tuesday.

Somehow, a lineup of D.J. Augustin, Orlando Johnson, Sam Young, Jeff Pendergraph and Hibbert – the Pacers’ version of March madness – outscored the Hawks 16-5 during a six-minute stretch of the second quarter, and Indiana never trailed again.

Led by Josh Smith (20 points, four assists, four steals and two blocks), the Hawks cut the Pacers’ lead to 94-90 with less than a minute left. But Gerald Green answered with a 3-pointer on his way to 17 second-half points.
—Dan Feldman

Jazz 107, Sixers 91: Utah snapped a four-game losing streak by jumping on Philadelphia early and not letting up all night long. It was 10-0 to start the game thanks to a run that included a couple of threes from Gordon Hayward, and the Jazz closed the half on a 13-2 run that saw them lead by 16 at the break. The Sixers were unable to get closer than 12 the rest of the way.<

Philadelphia shot just 38.6 percent from the field for the game, while Utah’s offensive attack was balanced with seven players finishing in double figures scoring.

With this win, the Jazz remain just a game back of the Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, despite winning just four of their last 16 games.
—Brett Pollakoff

Bucks storm back at home, Raptors hang on for 92-89 win, advance to second round

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Nothing can be easy for the Raptors.

They were cruising, up 25 in the third quarter, whipping the ball around on offense, hitting threes, making sharp rotations on defense, and generally overwhelming a Bucks team that did not look ready for the moment.

Then everything changed. The Raptors offense went ice cold, and the ball movement stopped, and the Bucks were getting big plays from Giannis Antetokounmpo and — out of nowhere — Jason Terry. Across the third-and-fourth quarters the Bucks went on a 34-7 run, hitting 5-of-7 from three, one of those a Terry three to put the Bucks up 80-78.

The Raptors then responded like a veteran team, going on a 9-0 run led by DeMar DeRozan, who was the best Toronto player in the series. The Bucks had their chances, but shot 6-of-14 on free throws in the fourth, and Milwaukee started to look tired like the comeback had taken too much out of them. They made the mental mistakes of a young team learning hard lessons.

Toronto hung on for a 92-89 win, and they take the series 4-2.

The Raptors will open their conference semifinal series against the Cavaliers on Monday night in Cleveland.

The star of the night for Toronto was clearly DeRozan, who finished with 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting. Beyond that, he was quick with the recognition of double-teams and was moving the ball, plus had a key defensive play late. However, his biggest moment was this dunk.

The Bucks came out with some desperation early. Antetokounmpo had 14 in the first quarter and got his team off to a good start, but the Raptors settled down, got the ball inside, kicked out for threes, and led by 28-24 at the half.

Milwaukee fell into playing a lot of isolation basketball, while the Raptors were moving the ball and finding the mismatches. The result was a 13-point second quarter from the Bucks (who shot just 3-of-17 from outside the paint in the first half and 1-of-9 from three), and a 51-38 Raptors lead at the half. DeRozan had 16 at the break.

The second half saw the Raptors seem to pull away, going up 25 at one point and being in total control.

Then the Bucks made it interesting. It started with a 15-3 run at the end of the third, which carried over to the fourth quarter and soon the lead was in single digits. The key was some ball movement for the Bucks, some made threes, great play from Antetokounmpo.

However, the larger issue was the Raptors just came apart on offense. From the 6 minute mark of the third quarter through the middle of the fourth, the Raptors were 4-of-16 shooting total, 2-of-8 from three, and that was led by DeRozan suddenly going 1-of-6. The Raptors let them back in the game.

What veteran teams know how to do — and what the Bucks are still learning — is how to bounce back from those stretches. Kyle Lowry made some solid plays, DeRozan dunked, the Raptors got some stops, and they found a way to hang on for the win.

DeRozan and Lowry — 13 points — were the only Raptors to finish in double figures.

Antetokounmpo had 34 for the Bucks and carried his team for long stretches. Khris Middleton added 19, and Matthew Dellavedova had a dozen off the bench.

 

Serge Ibaka, Giannis Antetokounmpo trade massive blocks during Raptors-Bucks (VIDEO)

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is a long dude. So is Toronto Raptors big man Serge Ibaka. The two faced off in Game 6 at the Bradley Center on Thursday night, so it makes sense the two wound up using one of their most impressive physical assets against each other.

Let the battle of length begin!

Via Twitter:

That’s Ibaka blocking the Milwaukee Bucks star on an attempt at the rim, on a dunk no less. That was impressive, no doubt, but just a minute later, it was Antetokounpmo coming through with a big time block on DeMar DeRozan:

But DeRozan got his revenge later in the fourth quarter, throwing down a dunk over the Bucks defense that was perhaps the finger in the wall needed to stop the leak that was Toronto’s disastrous final period.

DeRozan and the Raptors got the last laugh, winning the closeout game on the road, 92-89. Toronto will go on to play the Cleveland Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semi finals.

Should the Trail Blazers go after Pacers star Paul George? CJ McCollum says yes

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The Portland Trail Blazers need to do something drastic this offseason. Fans in Oregon should be expecting something big with a roster of players prime for the trade market and three first round picks in GM Neil Olshey’s pocket for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Who should Portland go after? That is a tough question to answer.

The Blazers are not exactly a huge free agent destination, although the city is changing its reputation toward NBA players in recent years with the help of star players Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum, who have fully embraced Oregon’s largest city.

McCollum, in fact, has his own opinion on who the Blazers should go after this summer: Indiana Pacers star Paul George.

Via Twitter:

George, who is under contract for 2017-18 but has a player option for 2018-19, has been rumored to desire playing in Los Angeles. In any case, fans around the league are looking at George as a potential trade candidate.

He would certainly do well on the Blazers, who had a disappointing 41-41 season in 2016-17. After a surprising effort last year, the Trail Blazers were slotted to expand upon their finish in 2016. But a sluggish start from Damian Lillard mixed with one of the worst defensive rosters in the NBA found them battling for the No. 8 seed come the end of the season. Even still, a miraculous stretch of good play after the All-Star Game was what it took for the Blazers to beat out the likes of Denver, Dallas, and Sacramento for the final playoff spot.

We know now that the Blazers were swept by the top-seeded Golden State Warriors, and up here in the Northwest it only solidified the fact Portland needs to get better on the wing.

Last season, Al-Farouq Aminu showed he could shoot a league average percentage from 3-point range, which helped relieve some pressure off Lillard and CJ McCollum. But Aminu regressed to shooting 33 percent from deep in 2017, and although Maurice Harkless did an excellent job as a young starter he’s not yet the kind of dynamic offensive player the Blazers need to be a Top 4 team in the West.

Aminu projects for Portland better as a 4, and with Jusuf Nurkic now anchoring the center position, the goal for Portland will be to strengthen the wing and flesh out the bench.

George would be an excellent get, but the Blazers would need to have the salaries match in any trade with Indiana. Allen Crabbe seems the most likely option, given his RFA match for Portland was a clear move to retain an asset. Evan Turner occupied a lot of guard minutes for Portland, and it seems the Blazers aim to keep him.

Meanwhile, you have other players like Meyers Leonard and Ed Davis who still have some value and could help Portland’s cap situation or work as part of a trade with Indiana.

Having watched Portland closely the past six seasons or so, and seeing how parts of this roster has developed, it would make the most sense to add a third star to this team. Turner hamstrings the bench unit with his gargantuan $17 million salary next season, so building out the bench unit under him still won’t put the Blazers in a position to compete with the top teams in the West without another star.

I think the clearest way to capitalize on the prime part of the careers for Lillard and McCollum is to grab another star right now. George might be out of reach — and he reportedly wants to play in LA anyway — but I think the Blazers should think big this offseason. Whether that means trading for George or doing something else bold remains to be seen.

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.