Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Heat finally lose, Knicks now streaking

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while trying to figure out what caused these pond circles

Bulls 101, Heat 97: It had to end sometime, and Wednesday was the night Miami finally lost after winning 27 straight, ending the second longest streak of victories in NBA history. We broke it all down here.

Thunder 103, Wizards 80: If you were wondering what John Wall would do for an encore, after pouring in a career-high 47 points the other night against the Grizzlies, the answer might have been just a bit disappointing.

Wall finished with 18 points and 12 assists, but shot just 3-18 from the field as the Thunder made sure that they weren’t going to lose solely because one capable scorer on the opposing team got loose.

Russell Westbrook finished with 21 points in 25 minutes, Kevin Durant finished with 20, and Kevin Martin did what he was supposed to off the bench for OKC with 18 points on 6-9 shooting. The Thunder led by 17 heading into the fourth, and the final period was nothing more than extended garbage time.

Jazz 103, Suns 88: Players don’t tank games, but organizations can, and Phoenix decided to “rest” Goran Dragic, who was coming off of a huge game against Brooklyn on Sunday where he tallied 31 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists. The loss for Phoenix helped the Jazz stay in the playoff hunt, and should Utah overtake the Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the West, the Suns would be just fine with that, considering that they own the rights to L.A.’s first round draft pick this summer.

Nets 111, Trail Blazers 93: Reggie Evans, despite playing just 17:43 of a possible 24 minutes, outrebounded Portland in the first half. He fell behind the Trail Blazers by only a single rebound to end the third quarter, but by that point, he already had 21 points and 21 rebounds. Evans finished with 26 rebounds (career high) and 22 points (career-high tying). P.J. Carlesimo called Evans’ game “absurd.” The Trail Blazers called it their second straight blowout loss, as their playoff hopes are fading. — Dan Feldman

Bobcats 114, Magic 108: The race for the No. 1 seed in the NBA lottery – in this balanced-at-the-top-draft, a coveted position due the a floor of the fourth pick rather than increased odds at the No. 1 pick – got a little closer with Charlotte’s “lead” slipping to a half game over Orlando.

These late-season games between bad teams aren’t just about lottery odds, though. They’re about developing young talent, and the Magic are doing that with Tobias Harris. Harris had 29 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and a steal. Only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Lamar Odom have been younger than the 20-year-old Harris and posted those numbers in a game since at least 1985-86. The Bobcats – with Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson each scoring 34 points – can also claim their youngsters are progressing. — Dan Feldman

Lakers 120, Timberwolves 117: Only Kobe Bryant played in Minnesota’s last victory over the Lakers – 22 Los Angeles wins in the matchup ago – and remains on either team’s roster. For a split second Wednesday, Bryant looked like he was no longer involved in this overwhelming streak, and it could have cost his team the game. Bryant missed a free throw with the Lakers leading by thee points and 3.4 seconds remaining. Ricky Rubio grabbed the rebound, and darted past Kobe – who was holding up his arm like has posing for the statue the Lakers will eventually build of him in front of the Staples Center – pushing the ball past mid-court and getting off a relatively good look at a long 3-pointer. Kobe can be forgiven, because he recovered in time to contest Rubio’s shot (and maybe foul the Minnesota point guard, though no call was made) and because he scored 31 points on 21 shots.

Dwight Howard had 25 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks and five steals. Since 2003, only DeMarcus Cousins and Ruben Patterson had posted those totals, so, yeah. — Dan Feldman

Pacers 100, Rockets 91: Roy Hibbert was the deciding factor. He scored a season-high 28 points with three assists and three offensive rebounds, but that’s not why he was the deciding factor. The Rockets have the NBA’s seventh-best offensive rating (107), but in Hibbert’s 37 minutes, Houston’s offensive rating dipped to 85. Hibbert finished with 10 defensive rebounds and three blocks.

Lance Stephenson (21 points) nearly breaking even with James Harden (22 points) and needing 10 fewer shots to do so also keyed Indiana’s win. — Dan Feldman

Celtics 93, Cavaliers 92: Boston came from 13 points down with less than seven and a half minutes to play, thanks to nine fourth quarter points from Jeff green, including the game-winning layup just before time expired.

Sixers 100, Bucks 92: Milwaukee led this one in the fourth quarter after the Sizers gave back all of an early 18-point lead, before Philadelphia went on an 18-2 run late to regain control and seal the win.

The story for the Bucks was the benching of Brandon Jennings, who played just two minutes in the second half and wasn’t at all happy about it afterward.

“I think that everyone should be held accountable,” he said. “There’s no maxed-out players in this locker room. So don’t try to put me on a pedestal and just give everyone else the freedom to do whatever they want.”

Knicks 108, Grizzlies 101: Guess who now has the longest active winning streak in the NBA? That would be your New York Knicks at six. And this may be the most impressive Knicks win in a while, handling one of the West’s stronger sides from the start. The Grizzlies have the second best defense in the NBA this season (on points per possession) yet the Knicks put up 37 first quarter points behind 13 from Iman Shumpert (he finished with 16) and 11 from Carmelo Anthony (he finished with 22).

Then the J.R. Smith show started — 35 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Smith was attacking, getting to the free throw line and generally being a beast. The Knicks led by as many as 30 but the Grizzlies fought back to make it interesting late. Still, there was Smith with 10 fourth-quarter points to keep things in line. Memphis was led by point guard Mike Conley with 28. — Kurt Helin

Kings 105, Warriors 98: Mark Jackson went out of his way to say how much better his Warriors were than the Lakers after their home win against L.A. on Monday. While that’s unquestionably true, it means little if the next game is followed up with a loss at home to a team that sits near the bottom of the conference standings.

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 31 points for Sacramento, and on a night where Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot just 6-31 from the field, that was more than enough.

Spurs 100, Nuggets 99: This game had everything — a Danny Green sighting (19 points in the first half), the good JaVale McGee, plus Tim Duncan and Tony Parker making plays. But it was a Manu Ginobili three (his first of the night, he was off his game) gave the Spurs a five-point lead they would never relinquish.

The Nuggets had the final shot to win it, but they went to Danilo Gallinari, who just doesn’t create his own shot well. So he passes to Andre Miller, who is forced to drive and shoot as time expires, and he just can’t knock down the runner. Duncan is the star of the game with 23 points with 14 rebounds. — Kurt Helin

Hawks 107, Raptors 88: With this win the Hawks secure a playoff berth. They did it with a monster fourth quarter, outscoring Toronto 32-13 in the final frame. Al Horford had 10 points in the fourth and finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Jeff Teague finished with 24 points and 13 assists, while Josh Smith added 19 points for Atlanta. Rudy Gay refused to be shut down with a back injury and had 15 points and 12 rebounds, but it’s wasn’t enough. — Kurt Helin

Clippers 105, Hornets 91: The Clippers were launching up threes all night, but when you hit 13-of-29 that’s works pretty well. Combine that with the Clippers grabbing the offensive rebound on 32 percent of their missed shots — thing about it, they got a second shot on nearly one in every three missed shots — and it was too much for the Hornets. Chris Paul had 16 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals, Blake Griffin added 19 points. Eric Gordon returned and had 24 for the Hornets while Anthony Davis added 19 points and nine rebounds — the No. 1 overall pick continues to put up impressive numbers. He’s going to be a big star in this league. — Kurt Helin

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

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Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

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If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.

John Wall: Bench was Wizards’ ‘downfall’

Rob Carr/Getty Images
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John Wall left the Wizards’ season-ending loss to the Celtics talking about how badly Washington’s bench got outscored.

Now that he has time to reflect and isn’t just speaking with raw emotion shortly after a devastating loss, how does he feel?

Wall, via CSN Mid-Atlantic

“We need to help our bench,” Wall told CSN’s Chris Miller. “Just to be honest, that was our downfall in each series that we had in the [Eastern Conference] semifinals, our bench got out played.”

It starts from upstairs – just building the right bench guys and building the chemistry. That’s all it is.

I think that’s where they won the game at. I heard Marcus Smart say after the game that I had no legs. He’s basically right. I don’t make excuses. I’m going to play. If I miss shots or make shots, I’ll live with it. I know people will say he finished oh for 11, but I play – I took everything I had in me to keep fighting.

It’s just that their bench guys came in and played well. I think Kelly Oubre could’ve played a little bit more. I wish he would’ve played a little more and Jason. But coach makes the decision, and we stick behind him 100 percent. I feel like those two guys could have really helped us.

Wall – eligible for a designated-veteran-player extension but reportedly unsure about signing one – is clearly telling the Wizards what he wants. Marcin Gortat similarly criticized Washington’s bench earlier in the season, and he apologized. Wall has the leverage not to stand by his assessment.

Both Wall and Gortat were right. The Wizards’ bench was the source of much of their problems.

Washington’s starting lineup outscored opponents by 4.7 points per 100 possessions in the playoffs. Its bench (all other lineups) got outscored 15.5 points per 100 possessions.

Only the Thunder had a similar split in net rating:

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The Wizards knew their flaw and tried to hide it. Washington’s starters played 34.2 minutes per game together in the postseason – second only to the Pacers (34.5). Wall’s heavy workload contributed to him running out of gas late in Game 7 against Boston, which Marcus Smart noted.

What can the Wizards do to upgrade their bench? Spend.

They sound committed to keeping Otto Porter, a restricted free agent this summer. But that would push them near the luxury tax – so they could scrimp on the bench in a variety of ways:

  • Don’t re-sign Bojan Bogdanovic, another restricted free agent. He’s in line for a raise.
  • Trade Marcin Gortat, elevating Ian Mahinmi into the starting lineup and therefore weakening the bench.
  • Trade Jason Smith, who might be expendable at his salary but at least still provides depth.
  • Don’t use the mid-level exception. That’s Washington’s best mechanism for adding outside help, but it’d be costly.

Will the Wizards take any of those cost-saving measures? Wall is certainly watching.