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

Sixers’ Ben Simmons fully cleared to play basketball

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Finally, some good news on the health front for Philadelphia.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 pick a year ago, has been fully cleared for basketball activities about a month before training camp opens, reports Tom Moore of the Bucks County Courier Times.

Simmons was healthy enough to dominate a random pickup game in Australia against a bunch of 5’10” guys this week. We’re desperate enough for good signs that we will take that as one.

Also, Markelle Fultz is expected to be fully healthy for training camp after his ankle sprain.

So much for the good news. There is no updates on the status of Joel Embiid, which is concerning only in that all health news about Embiid feels concerning.

The source said center Joel Embiid hasn’t been cleared for fullcourt scrimmaging “as of yet.” Embiid, who is from Cameroon, worked with children as part of the NBA Africa Game earlier this month, but didn’t play in the Aug. 5 game.

For the sake of the game, we need the Sixers healthy this season and starting to show us how a team with so much promise and potential starts to pay off. Please let us see it. The Basketball Gods need to smile more fortune and the feet and ankles of the Philadelphia 76ers.

Report: Cavaliers called Warriors about Kyrie Irving-Klay Thompson trade

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The Warriors rejected a Klay ThompsonPaul George trade offer from the Pacers.

What about Thompson for Kyrie Irving, who’s younger than George and locked up for an additional season (the same amount of time as Thompson for a similar price)?

Apparently, Cavaliers general manager Koby Altman inquired before sending Irving to the Celtics for Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder, Ante Zizic and the Nets’ 2018 first-round pick.

Marc J. Spears of The Undefeated:

It would be hard to believe that Altman could have landed a better trade than the Boston one. He did call the uninterested Warriors about Klay Thompson, a source said.

I’m not sure what this trade would’ve accomplished for either team.

The Warriors obviously already have a point guard in Stephen Curry. Though Irving isn’t the best distributor, his handles and defense push him to point guard. Curry and Irving would have been a tough fit together. Golden State knows Curry and Thompson are a championship-caliber pairing.

Thompson would have been a big upgrade at shooting guard in Cleveland, but the Cavs would have been woefully undermanned at point guard. Derrick Rose, Jose Calderon and Kay Felder wouldn’t cut it. At least the Cavaliers have decent options at shooting guard with J.R. Smith, Iman Shumpert and Kyle Korver.

The Warriors would’ve never said yes, which is fortunate for the Cavs. They did better in their trade with Boston, anyway. Thomas can step in at point guard while Crowder still provides much-needed wing depth – plus Zizic and that sweet, sweet Nets pick.

After Kyrie Irving trade, here are five biggest threats to Warriors

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Let’s be honest: The blockbuster Kyrie Irving trade to the Boston Celtics likely means the NBA Finals goes five games instead of four.

The Golden State Warriors can be that good. They won 67 games last season with the NBA’s top offense and second-ranked defense, now they have been in the system for a year as a unit, know each other better, and made some good offseason additions. The Warriors will be better. And they still have Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson. The Warriors are the clear favorites to repeat as NBA champions.

But life rarely follows the script. So who are the biggest threats to the Warriors? Here are the top five.

1) The Houston Rockets. Houston won 55 games last season with the NBA’s second-ranked offense and a style of play that can hang with the Warriors — then they added Chris Paul to the mix. Plus GM Daryl Morey added quality veteran wing defenders such as P.J. Tucker and Luc Mbah a Moute, guys picked up in part to match up with the Warriors firepower. On paper, Houston is the NBA’s second best team and the one best poised to challenge the Warriors. It’s fair to wonder if Chris Paul and James Harden can share the backcourt and the ball — and if they can find a tempo that works for them — but coach Mike D’Antoni isn’t worried. It’s also fair to question if this team can be good enough defensively, even though they added good defenders. Still, the Rockets are a threat and a contender.

2) The Cleveland Cavaliers. The reason they are here is not the trade, it’s LeBron James. He remains the best player on the planet (although Durant is close). But the trade helps. In terms of pure offensive production, Isaiah Thomas matched or even bested Irving last season, IT is an All-NBA player for a reason. Also, the Cavaliers pick up the kind of “3&D” wing they have desperately needed in Jae Crowder. And if another player they really want/need comes available, they have assets in Ante Zizic and that Brooklyn first round pick to get him. Cleveland gets this spot because they are the clear favorite to win the East again, and if they are back in the Finals they have a shot despite an aging roster. The Cavs have beaten the Warriors in the Finals before.

3) The Boston Celtics. Admittedly, there is a bit of a drop off after those first two. I see Boston as more of a threat in two seasons (2018-19) and beyond, but after this trade they have quality players at key positions — Irving at the point, Gordon Hayward on the wing, and Al Horford in the paint. Boston also has one of the best coaches in the league in Brad Stevens, who will put Irving in better situations (so long as Irving buys in and doesn’t just force isolation action, as he did at times in Cleveland). What Boston needs is guys like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to develop, and Marcus Smart to step up, to become real contenders. They also need to show they can defend, they traded away some of their best defenders this summer. That and a stronger defensive presence in the paint. All that said, Boston has a legitimate shot to beat Cleveland and come out of the East, and if they reach the Finals, then the Celtics at least have a puncher’s chance against the Warriors.

4) The San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs won 55 games last season, had the best defense in the NBA, and with Kawhi Leonard they have their own superstar. The Spurs are going to execute and make plays. They will miss the depth that Dewayne Dedmon and Jonathon Simmons brought, but they added the scoring punch of Rudy Gay off the bench. What we know is the Spurs will not beat themselves, that they will be in the hunt, and we should know by now not to sleep on them.

5) The Oklahoma City Thunder. I think this is a dark horse contender. What we know is that the Thunder should be a top five defensive team — they were 10th in the NBA last season, they brought back their core guys (Andre Roberson and Steven Adams are key here), and they added an excellent wing defender to the mix in Paul George. The Thunder will get stops. If George and Russell Westbrook can figure out how to play well together on the offensive end — last season the Thunder were middle of the pack offensively with the Westbrook show — and get in the top 10, they become a team that could surprise some people.

Thon Maker, all 7’1″ of him, sat in economy class to get flight going

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If you are six-foot or taller, economy class on a modern airline feels cramped. But at least the airlines make up for it with a delicious full meal a bag of peanuts and a free movie.

Can you imagine a 7’1″ guy in economy?

The Bucks’ Thon Maker did it on a recent United flight and the passenger next to him Paul Kuzma posted about it on Facebook (hat tip to onmilwaukee.com).

Well, a missed #United flight found me on a rebooked one. After ending up in an upgraded Economy Plus (yay!) middle seat (not so yay!), volunteers were asked one by one, row by row, if one would relocate to the last row of the plane, middle seat….

My heart leapt again when I came to the last row and BOTH the middle AND aisle seats were open! I stowed my gear in the middle seat area but sat in the aisle seat, hoping.

Alas, it was too good to be true! Moments later, a 7’1″ tall young man who could not even stand completely straight in the aisle of the plane made his way our direction. My heart sunk, not for me, but for him! I saw him emerge from an Economy Plus window seat!

I told him I was so sorry, knowing this would be uncomfortable for him. He nonchalantly said it was worth it to get this delayed flight going. He had practice to attend in the morning and had a 2+ hour drive to get where he was headed after landing….

I had to ask how in the world he ended up in the last row. He also had missed a flight and was rebooked on this one. He was assigned his original FIRST CLASS seat. He had settled in there when a flight attendant told him the person who had paid for that seat on THIS flight had shown up, albeit very late. They had to move him to Economy Plus.

Once there for a while, his story mirrors mine. Requests were being made for someone to move to the last row and no one was volunteering. So he volunteered, wanting the flight to begin.

He couldn’t even fit his knees into the Economy seat! Every time the snack cart came by or someone had to use the restroom, he had to get up and move out of their way.

The entire flight, there was not a hint of resentment in his voice. He was even happy to allow me a picture with him and an autograph. Class act, Thon!

Somewhere a cranky old NBA player is saying “we always used to have to fly commercial…” and sorry old man, but that doesn’t make it easy or right. There’s a reason NBA teams moved away from that (and it wasn’t to save money).

Good on Maker for being willing to sacrifice when plenty of other normal-sized people couldn’t be bothered.

And if the name Kuzma is familiar, the author says his is the second cousin once removed of the Lakers’ rookie Kyle Kuzma.