Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Pacers look good, Clippers…. meh

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wondering why UFO reports are down….

Pacers 109, Clippers 106:After the Clippers loss over the weekend coach Vinny Del Negro ripped the team for hits energy. He could have said the same thing after this one. Roy Hibbert showed up ready to play, with 15 first quarter points (he finished with 26). The Pacers got the lead all the way up to 24, then the Clippers came storming back in the fourth thanks to their bench (12 points by Jamal Crawford in the fourth led the way, he had 25 on the night). But in the end the comeback fell short because the Pacers went 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Paul George finished with 23 points and 10 assists.

For the Pacers, this is what they hope to see in the playoffs — plenty of points and an active Roy Hibbert (although that wasn’t their usually stout defense). For the Clippers it was another game of what they fear in the playoffs — bad defense and a non-existent DeAndre Jordan. The good news for the Clippers is they are still a win away from clinching the Pacific and the four seed, and they have 19 days before the playoffs start to figure the rest of it out.

Grizzlies 92, Spurs 90: Mike Conley scored the final five points: a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left and a layup with 0.6 seconds left. Before those baskets, part of Conley’s 11 fourth-quarter points, Memphis hadn’t led since 18-16 as the Spurs used 25 points from Tony Parker to temporarily take control.

The Grizzlies have matched a franchise record with 50 wins, and they’ll need even more to fend off the Nuggets and/or Clippers for homecourt advantage in the first round.
—Dan Feldman

Timberwolves 110, Celtics 100: Without Kevin Garnett in the lineup we know the Celtics will struggle on defense, but for this one they also were without Paul Pierce (personal reasons). And of course Rajon Rondo. But no KG was still the big issue because without him Nikola Pekovic had 15 points in the first quarter on his way to 29 as he owned the paint in this one. Andrei Kirilenko added 17 points and nine rebounds. Boston has lost seven of nine and is limping toward the playoffs.

Jazz 112, Trail Blazers 102: Utah opened the game and led the entire way behind 24 points from Al Jefferson, who traditionally seems to play well against Portland and had it easier with LaMarcus Aldridge out. Credit Portland for knocking down threes to make runs and keep it close, but Mo Williams had six threes of his own and answered a lot of those runs. Portland shot 58 percent for the game but the Jazz were getting the higher percentage looks in the lane all night.

The Jazz keep on winning and that puts a lot of pressure on the Lakers and Mavericks (who face off Tuesday).

Bucks 131, Bobcats 102: As the Celtics continue to stumble the Bucks can still have dreams of the seven seed (and avoiding Miami in the first round of the playoffs). They are now just 1.5 games back of Boston after this win (and the Celtics loss). The game was close until a 15-5 run late in the second quarter gave the Bucks some separation. Then they blew it open in the third then ran away and hit in the fourth. The Bucks got 24 points from Larry Sanders, 19 from Monta Ellis and did what they wanted on offense and that was enough. The Bucks defense wasn’t good, however, as the lowly Bobcats shot 50.7 percent on the night.

Rockets 111, Magic 103: James Harden missed another game with a sore foot, Chandler Parsons missed a game because food poisioning is an ugly thing. But Omer Asik had 22 points on 13 rebounds, plus 18 rebounds to spark the win, Jeremy Lin added 19 points and 11 assists. Houston led this one from start to finish, opening with a 17-4 run and leading by as many as 25. PBT favorite Tobias Harris helped lead a fourth quarter run to make it close for a while (Harris finished with 18 points), but this was the Rockets game.

Pistons 108, Raptors 98: In his return to Toronto, Jose Calderon (19 points, nine assists, one turnover) played the usual masterful game that endeared him Raptors fans. He received two standing ovations and even tried to show his appreciation by re-joining the Raptors at halftime. Calderon helped offset a strangely satisfying night from Rudy Gay. Gay scored 34 points, but he took fewer shots (18) and had more assists (5) than he did in any of his previous games with so many points.
—Dan Feldman

Hawks 102, Cavaliers 94: Devin Harris scored a season-high 25 points to go with seven assists and three steals and Josh Smith had 18 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists for Atlanta, which led since early in the first quarter and by as many as 15. Both teams can be satisfied with the result. The Hawks are now within a game of the No. 4 seed Nets for homecourt advantage in the first round, and the Cavaliers have lost nine straight in their bid for a better draft pick.
—Dan Feldman

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.

James Harden, Chris Paul lead Rockets to 13th straight victory

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HOUSTON (AP) — Nursing a sore knee, James Harden said he came close to not playing Saturday night.

When team doctors warned him that it would be painful, but he could play through it, he said, “Let’s go.”

Harden scored 31 points and Chris Paul had 25 and the Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 115-111 for their 13th straight victory.

The winning streak is the Rockets’ longest since a franchise-best 22 straight in 2007-08.

Harden hit a step-back 3-pointer over Malcolm Brogdon and was fouled, giving Houston an 11-point lead with less than six minutes remaining. In the last two minutes, Paul hit back-to-back mid-range jumpers on consecutive possessions to put the game out of reach.

“Mentally, this was a big win for us,” Paul said. “We never let go of the rope. Every time they made a little push, we stayed right there down the stretch. James was out there, basically, on one leg. The mental toughness we showed as a team is what we take from this game.”

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 28 points, nine rebounds, five assists and four steals for Milwaukee. Khris Middleton had 23 points, and Brogdon added 20. Milwaukee has lost three in a row after winning six of seven.

“Harden made some tough shots and Chris Paul made some big shots down the stretch as well,” Bucks coach Jason Kidd said. “We gave ourselves a chance, but we just came up short.”

The Rockets grinded through frustrations, 15 turnovers and a below-average shooting night. Paul had a technical foul, Harden had a delay of game warning, and the Rockets faced serious adversity for the first time in weeks. Entering Saturday, Houston had dominated teams in its streak, winning all but two games by double figures with an average margin of victory of 16.9 points.

“We just didn’t have our best stuff tonight,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “But we found a way. It was one of those typical grind games where you’ve just got to find a way somehow.”

Paul scored 23 of his 25 points in the second half, overcoming a rocky first half where he missed all five shots he attempted and turned the ball over five times.

“I had never coached him in a back-to-back, but I’m thinking he’s kind of dead,” D’Antoni said. “Then, all of a sudden, he comes out in the third quarter and turns into Superman.”

Paul made 7 of 8 shots in the second half, including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc, also making all eight free throws in the game.

Harden scored 20 points or more for the 29th straight game, matching Houston’s franchise record set by Moses Malone.

Both Harden and Clint Capela (left heel contusion) were game-time decisions after suffering injuries on different collision plays in Friday night’s win over San Antonio. Capela sat out the game, and P.J. Tucker started in his place, getting 10 points and 10 rebounds in 38 minutes.

Behind Tucker, Nene scored a season-high 16 points, largely on thunderous one-handed dunks. The Rockets were outscored by the Bucks 44-40 in the paint and outrebounded 40-38.

Milwaukee and Houston traded blows in the first half, with the Rockets leading by three at the end of the first quarter. They were tied at 55 at the half. The Rockets haven’t trailed at the half since Nov. 25 in a 117-102 win over the Knicks.

The Rockets took an 84-79 lead into the fourth quarter.

At 24-4, the Rockets are tied for their best 28-game start in franchise history, matching the 1993-94 season when they won their first championship.

 

Knicks shut out Carmelo Anthony in 2nd half, beat Thunder 111-96

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony‘s return to Madison Square Garden was much like the 6 1/2 years he spent playing for the Knicks.

A video played on the overhead scoreboard as part of a huge welcome from the fans and franchise, followed by a fast start that gave Anthony hope he could have everything he wanted.

Then things fell flat until the finish.

The Knicks shut out their former All-Star in the second half and beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-96 on Saturday night for their fourth straight victory.

“It’s a bittersweet feeling for me, coming back here knowing the goal that I had and what I wanted to accomplish here and falling short in that category,” Anthony said.

Michael Beasley tied his season high with 30 points in place of injured Kristaps Porzingis, and Doug McDermott, acquired with Enes Kanter for Anthony, added 11 of his 13 after halftime to help the Knicks break open the game.

“This game was kind (of) about him and I thought we did a really good job of not letting that distract us and just focus on winning the game,” McDermott said. “And it felt great, especially being a part of the trade (with) Enes.

Anthony scored 12 points in the first half but was 0 for 5 after, perhaps low on energy after the Thunder’s three-overtime victory at Philadelphia a night earlier.

He made a 3-pointer for the Thunder’s first basket of the game after refocusing following a video tribute that caught him off guard, but finished 5 of 18 from the field as the Knicks played with passion and precision they lacked in Anthony’s final years in New York.

“You got to beat the best to be the best,” Beasley said. “He’s one of the best of our era.”

Russell Westbrook had 25 points, seven rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who were trying to sweep a three-game trip that began with Paul George‘s winning return to Indiana on Wednesday.

But they couldn’t deliver a victory for Anthony back at Madison Square Garden, even with the Knicks playing without leading scorer Porzingis because of a knee injury.

“I think the guys just, they were ready for tonight’s game,” Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek said. “And we caught them after a triple-overtime game so that probably helped us too, but our guys played hard all night which probably wore them down.”

Anthony received a pair of loud cheers during pregame introductions, before and at the end of a video tribute showing his highlights on the court and his charitable efforts off it that was played after the first four Thunder starters were announced. But the boos became more noticeable once play got underway, and soon they were coming every time he touched the ball.

“That was expected,” Anthony said. “They can’t cheer for me, I’m on another team.”

Later, the cheers were all for the Knicks, who after trading their leading scorer on the eve of training camp are a surprising 16-13 – better than Anthony’s new team (14-15). Anthony was booed one last time as he was removed with 1.4 seconds remaining.

Beasley had a hand in 12 of the Knicks’ final 15 points of the third quarter, scoring nine himself and assisting on Ron Baker‘s 3-pointer. That turned a two-point lead into an 80-73 advantage over the final 3 1/2 minutes of the period.

The Knicks pushed it into double digits in the fourth behind five straight points from McDermott – originally it was six by a 3-pointer was changed to a 2 after review – and he later made it 100-87 with a 3-pointer with 6:02 remaining.

The Thunder played without starting center Steven Adams because of a concussion.

 

Manu Ginobili game-winner caps 13-0 closing run to rally Spurs past Mavericks

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — At 40 years old, Manu Ginobili‘s refusal to slow down in his 16th season with the Spurs has been a source of inspiration to the team’s young core.

The man and the mantra helped propel San Antonio to an improbable victory over Dallas on Saturday night.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 14 rebounds and the Spurs scored the final 13 points of the game, rallying for a 98-96 victory over the Mavericks.

Aldridge’s fall-away, 11-foot jumper tied the game at 96 with 23.4 seconds remaining and Ginobili’s driving layup with 3.1 seconds was the game-winning shot.

“He’s our grandpa,” 21-year-old Dejounte Murray said, chuckling afterwards. “He’s a beast, man. You’ve all seen what he’s done for this organization and he’s still around giving his wisdom to all the new guys. To see him coming in every day, I mean there’s not one day I’ve seen Manu not show up at the facility. Being a young guy, I’ve got to be there every day.”

Ginobili’s layup off the left side of the glass gave the Spurs their first lead of the game after trailing by as many as 16 points.

“We did a lot of good things, but the ending is unforgiveable,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said.

Maxi Kleber had 21 points and Dirk Nowitzki added 19 for Dallas in the final regular season matchup between the Southwest Division rivals.

Kleber’s 3-pointer gave Dallas a 96-85 lead with 4:11 remaining, but the Spurs held them scoreless the remainder of the game.

The Mavericks drought included a turnover when Wes Matthews was unable to inbound the ball with 23.4 seconds remaining. Mathews threw the ball at Ginobili’s legs to avoid a 5-second violation, but the Spurs gained possession when the ball ricocheted off Matthews just as he stepped inbounds.

“We did everything right to lose,” Nowitzki said. “We missed shots offensively, bad turnover, gave them some offensive rebounds. Letting Ginobili go left down the stretch to lay it in. We literally had to do everything perfect to lose this one and we did.”

Aldridge had his 12th double-double of the season to help offset the absences of starters Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Danny Green.

Coming off a 15-point blowout in Houston on Friday night, San Antonio was able to avoid its third straight loss.

“We played with everybody in Houston and hoped to play a good game in which we could grow and learn from our mistakes while playing against the best team in the NBA right now and I don’t think we got anything out of it,” Ginobili said. “So, if after that poor effort we came here and played badly again and lost, it would’ve been a tough one. We are proud of this win.”

The Spurs missed their first five shots, all short jumpers from Aldridge and Pau Gasol, on their way to shooting 30 percent in the opening quarter. The Mavericks took advantage, charging to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter.

San Antonio’s reserves reversed the team’s fortunes in the third quarter.

Davis Bertans finished with 13 points and Ginobili added 12 off the bench.