Blake Griffin, Roy Hibbert

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

Dave Joerger: Kings will play more small ball

Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger talks to reporters during the Kings basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Sacramento, Calif. Joerger, who was fired by the Memphis Grizzlies at the end of last season, was hired by Kings to replace George Karl, who was fired by the Kings.(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
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Shortly after the Kings chose center Georgios Papagiannis with the No. 13 pick in the draft, DeMarcus Cousins tweeted, “Lord give me the strength.” Sacramento already had an abundance of centers with Cousins, Willie Cauley-Stein and Kosta Koufos. If Cousins wasn’t talking about yoga, Sacramento adding center Skal Labissiere with the No. 28 pick would’ve driven Cousins batty.

At least Kings coach Dave Joerger is accustomed to using two bigs, as he did with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph in Memphis.

Joerger, via Cowbell Kingdom:

I anticipate us playing a lot more small ball this year.

I’m not playing big.

Oh.

This is going to lead to some unhappy campers in Sacramento. It won’t be Cousins (not for getting his role reduced, at least). But this will make it hard for Cauley-Stein and Koufos to get satisfactory playing time. It’ll also make it harder for Papagiannis and Labissiere to get minutes to develop.

Like with most things, winning is the best way to quash griping. The Kings have enough wings – Rudy Gay, Matt Barnes, Arron Afflalo, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore, Garrett Temple and Malachi Richardson – to theoretically play small effectively. If Joerger goes that route, he better find success with it. Otherwise, he could get plenty of heat – including from general manager Vlade Divac, who spoke incredibly highly of his first-round picks, the players most likely to get squeezed out of a small-ball rotation.

Dwane Casey: Jared Sullinger has Raptors’ starting PF job to lose

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 05: Jared Sullinger #7 of the Boston Celtics drives to the basket against Patrick Patterson #54 of the Toronto Raptors in the first half at TD Garden on November 5, 2014 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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Last year, Patrick Patterson declared the Raptors’ starting power-forward job his to lose.

Well, he lost it.

Luis Scola started most of the regular season before Toronto tinkered in the playoffs. Patterson claimed the job. Then, the Raptors turned to DeMarre Carroll with Norman Powel in a small-ball lineup. Finally, Toronto reverted back to Scola.

A year later, there’s still no clear, great option at the position. Scola went to the Nets. Patterson returns. Pascal Siakam and Jarrod Uthoff are rookies. First man up: Newly signed Jared Sullinger.

Raptors coach Dwane Casey, via Doug Smith of the Toronto Star:

“I would say Sullinger is the guy now that it would be his to lose, but I reserve the right to change my mind,” Casey said, citing the need to see how that group reacts defensively.

If Sullinger’s bar is defensive, he’ll have a tough time clearing it. He neither protects the rim nor moves well on the perimeter – making him similar to Scola. But Scola got the job last year with similar contributions.

Sullinger rebounds well, and he has some shooting range, though he hasn’t been selective enough with it.

Patterson’s ability to defend the pick-and-roll might make him a better fit next to Jonas Valanciunas, especially if Patterson has confidence in his 3-point shot.

There should be a place for Sullinger in the rotation, but if he’s starting at power forward, that speaks to a lack of quality options.

Report: Cavaliers giving championship rings to 1,000+ workers

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 20: The Cleveland Cavaliers mascot Moon Dog cheers on the fans prior to the arrival of the Cavs players return to Cleveland after wining the NBA Championships on June 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Cavaliers will reportedly give David Blatt a championship ring, and Anderson Varejao also has one available.

They aren’t the only two unexpected ring recipients.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:

Majority owner Dan Gilbert and his partners decided to present rings to more than 1,000 full and part-time employees throughout the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Arena organization, employees who’ve been fitted for rings told cleveland.com.

A conservative cost for distributing rings to employees is more than $1 million.

This is very cool by Gilbert. Obviously, lower-level team employees won’t receive the same blinged-out rings the players get. But this is a nice way to reward their hard work.

Not to go all Jerry Krause, but organizations win championships. Some pieces – LeBron James – matter much more than others, but everyone plays a part. Security guards keep players safe, preventing a dreadful incident that could derail a playoff run. Public-relations staffers ease the burden on players. Ushers improve the fan experience, which increases revenue and helps Gilbert afford a massive luxury-tax bill.

It all adds up, as Gilbert clearly recognizes.

Mike D’Antoni: Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony rejected my system, but new (old) approach with James Harden

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 20:  Head coach Mike D'Antoni of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Kkobe Bryant #24 and Pau Gasol #16 after the game against the Brooklyn Nets at Staples Center on November 20, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won 95-90.   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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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I can’t understate how revolutionary Mike D’Antoni’s offense looked with the Suns. In his first full season, 2004-05, they scored 110.4 points per game – the most anyone had scored in a decade. And it wasn’t even close. Phoenix played fast and scored efficiently.

That offense eventually got D’Antoni jobs in the NBA’s biggest markets and with two of the league’s best scorers, Carmelo Anthony (Knicks) and Kobe Bryant (Lakers).

Ian Thomsen of NBA.com:

But his coaching relationships with Anthony and Kobe Bryant in Los Angeles did not turn out so well. The last two stars essentially rejected his system.

“They did,” acknowledged D’Antoni. “And they were paid 20-something million dollars for it — they were successful. So I don’t blame them. Nothing’s been proven up to that point.”

The Warriors had yet to show that D’Antoni’s offense could thrive in late May and June.

“They’re thinking, like, he’s crazy,” D’Antoni said of Anthony and Bryant. “So I don’t blame them at all. This is a much better situation.”

With the Knicks and Lakers, D’Antoni edged back from his own offensive principles in part because he wasn’t sure, either. He was in a lonely place as the proponent of a style that was rejected by NBA fundamentalists. In New York and L.A., D’Antoni lacked the proof that would be provided years later by the Warriors of Kerr, who when serving as GM of the Suns had himself objected to D’Antoni’s point of view. The inventor didn’t believe fully in his own invention.

“I wasn’t that confident,” D’Antoni insisted. “It was a little bit before analytics. Everybody was telling us that we couldn’t do it, no one was telling us we could. Analytics came in and said, hey, you can do this — this is good, actually. So now you’ve got (GM) Daryl Morey with the Rockets and how they play and different teams trying to do it, and now it’s kind of caught on.

This bucks the narrative that D’Antoni’s offense can’t work with a score-first star. If D’Antoni compromised his scheme for Kobe and Melo, we haven’t yet seen it full bore with a player like that.

We will this season in Houston, where D’Antoni has turned score-first James Harden into the Rockets’ point guard.

As D’Antoni said, it’ll be easier to sell his scheme now that it has been proven to work. But as other teams adopt elements of it, he’ll have less of a strategic advantage.

The best coaches have revolutionary ideas AND get their players to buy into them. D’Antoni’s methods are no longer as cutting-edge, but he’ll have an easier time selling his players. That’s a justifiable knock on D’Antoni’s overall coaching prowess, but he still brings positives.

We’ve seen D’Antoni’s system at full throttle, and we’ve seen him coach generational scorers. To get both simultaneously will be a fun experiment in Houston this year.