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

Coach Steve Clifford: Poor defense has led to Hornets’ losing streak

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 04:  Teammates Michael Kidd-Gilchrist #14 and Marvin Williams #2 of the Charlotte Hornets react at the bench as head coach Steve Clifford reacts during their game against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Spectrum Center on January 4, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  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 Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Hornets coach Steve Clifford points to one factor when explaining his team’s five-game losing streak – a lack of defense.

Charlotte went 0-5 on its recent road trip, surrendering an uncharacteristic 109.6 points per game during that span. The Hornets return home Wednesday night to face the Portland Trail Blazers, part of a stretch of five-game home stand which Clifford hopes will help turn things around.

But Charlotte’s fourth-year coach said nothing will get better until the Hornets start playing better man-to-man defense.

“It starts with our ability to guard our guy,” Clifford said. “When you get blown by a lot on the perimeter where you are constantly in need of help, then you are going to give up 3s – and that’s what is happening.”

The Hornets raced to a 14-9 start this season and were third-best in the league in points allowed through 23 games.

Since then, things have steadily fallen apart, culminating with Charlotte giving up at least 100 points in eight straight games. The Hornets have since dropped to 12th overall in points allowed.

The Hornets have fallen to 20-21 on the season and are on the outside looking in at the Eastern Conference playoff picture. It hasn’t helped that Nic Batum and Cody Zeller have been in and out of the lineup with injury problems, but Charlotte’s struggles on the road – where it has lost 11 of its last 13 – is concerning.

Zeller said the Hornets spent Wednesday morning watching cutups of defensive miscues over the last five road games.

“All four years I have been here it starts with defense,” Zeller said. “That is what coach Clifford preaches.”

The 7-foot center said it is mostly simple things that can be corrected.

“There are sets that we know are coming – and we just aren’t defending them right,” Zelller said. “We are making too many mistakes.”

Added guard Marco Belinelli: “We need to speak a lot more on the court and help each other.”

Getting the defensive mistakes fix won’t be easy.

After Portland, the Hornets host Toronto, Brooklyn, Washington and Golden State. All five teams rank in the top 14 in the league in scoring offense, with the Warriors being No. 1 overall and Raptors No. 3.

A year ago, Hornets general manager Rich Cho pulled off a quality late-season trade, landing “three and D” guard Courtney Lee. He proved to be the driving force on the team’s playoff run and played well in the postseason.

The problem was Lee did so well it made it impossible for the Hornets to re-sign him. Charlotte re-signed Batum and Marvin Williams, and let Lee walk in free agency. He signed a four-year, $50 million deal with the New York Knicks.

The Hornets figured with Michael Kidd-Gilchrist returning this year from a shoulder injury they would be fine defensively, but the struggles are mounting.

Clifford wouldn’t discuss whether the team needs to make a similar trade before the NBA deadline.

As for the offense, Clifford likes what he sees.

Kemba Walker, a first-time All-Star candidate, is in the midst of the most productive season of his career, averaging 23 points per game while shooting 41.3 percent from 3-point range.

“I mean he’s having a great year,” Clifford said. “He’s worked really hard and it’s paying off for him.”

Chris Paul to have surgery on torn ligament in left thumb, out 6-8 weeks

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When the Clippers last were without Chris Paul (then due to a hamstring injury), they dropped six games in a row. Granted, that was without Blake Griffin, too, but this team struggles on offense without the Point God running the show.

He’s not going to be running the show again for them until March.

Paul will miss 6-8 weeks due to a torn ligament in his left thumb that will require surgery, the team announced Tuesday. He is set to have surgery on Wednesday.

Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers will get a lot more run with CP3 sidelined.

The injury happened in the second quarter of Monday night’s game against the Thunder. Paul was trying to get over the top of a Joffrey Lauvergne screen when he ran into Russell Westbrook, who had pulled up to take a three. Paul’s hand was on Westbrook’s hip and got caught in his shorts and Westbrook elevated for the shot.

It looked serious as Paul walked off the court — he kicked a chair and was cursing, a sign that he knew something was very wrong. He went straight to the locker room, where X-rays were taken that found nothing broken. It was an MRI on Tuesday that found the damage.

The Clippers are the four seed in the West but are likely about to lose ground, being without Paul until March and with Griffin still sidelined from knee surgery (but should be back in the next few weeks, according to his timetable). Starting Saturday The Clippers have 10-of-11 games on the road — and the one home game is the Warriors. That’s a brutal stretch of games under the best of circumstances, and now the clouds over this team got much darker.

PBT Podcast: Debating NBA midseason awards with Dan Feldman

TORONTO, ON - FEBRUARY 14: Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder and the Western Conference and James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets and the Western Conference warm up before the NBA All-Star Game 2016 at the Air Canada Centre on February 14, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario. 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 Elsa/Getty Images)
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Russell Westbrook or James Harden for MVP?

Is Mike D’Antoni the runaway Coach of the Year?

Can anyone catch Giannis Antetokounmpo for Most Improved Player?

The PBT staff gave their picks for midseason awards already. Now Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports debate all of that, plus Sixth Man, Defensive Player of Year, and even takeaways​ from the Warriors win over the Cavaliers Monday.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunes (check there to see all the NBC Sports podcasts), subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out our new PBT podcast homepage and archive at Audioboom.com.

LeBron James reminds heckling Warriors fans he has three rings (VINE)

SACRAMENTO, CA - JANUARY 13:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers stands on the court during their game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 13, 2017 in Sacramento, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Monday night was not exactly the best game of the season for the Cleveland Cavaliers. They looked like a team on the final night of a six-game, 12-day road trip and they were mailing it in. Then they ran into a rested Warriors team looking to gain a little confidence. The result was a Red Wedding-level blood bath.

LeBron James was none too bothered. He was downplaying the rivalry and the importance of the game before it tipped-off, and after the game he rightly said this was not going to have any impact in June.

And when Warriors fans heckled him, he reminded them of the hardware — he’s got rings. Three of them. The last one at the expense of the Warriors.

https://platform.vine.co/static/scripts/embed.js

I’m going to miss Vine when it goes away.

Hat tip Matt Moore Eye on Basketball.