Baseline-to-baseline recaps: Knicks win 12th straight, Clippers clinch first division title

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching the two-hour season premiere of Mad Men

Knicks 125, Thunder 120: When the Knicks are knocking down threes they can beat anyone — and they hit 10 threes in the first half as they pulled away. But more impressive was the late 11-2 run to take the game behind Carmelo Anthony, who had 36 points and nine offensive rebounds. He and the Knicks bullied the Thunder and we broke it down in more detail here.

Clippers 109, Lakers 95: The Clips used a killer combination of depth and athleticism to dismantle the Lakers on Sunday, and we broke down their division-title clinching victory in greater detail here.

Pistons 99, Bulls 85: Chicago had beating the Pistons 18 straight times but that streak came to end Sunday night as the Bulls just didn’t have the defensive energy. After the first half the Pistons led 50-46 and that was in part due to Charlie Villanueva coming in off the bench and knocking down a couple of threes (he finished with 13 points). Noah was back but the Bulls transition defense wasn’t good and the Pistons took advantage.

In the third quarter Brandon Knight came out and just started taking Nate Robinson to the hole and smothering him on defense. Knight had a dozen of his 20 for the game in the third and was key to the Pistons snapping the streak.
—Kurt Helin

Celtics 107, Wizards 96: Kevin Garnett returned to the Boston lineup after missing his team’s last eight games, and finished with 12 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes of action. A 14-3 Celtics run over the first half of the third quarter sealed this one for Boston, and the Jordan Crawford revenge effort was uneventful at best, as Crawford finished with just six points, two assists, and two steals in 16 minutes of action off the bench.

Cavaliers 91, Magic 85: It doesn’t do either of these teams any good to come away with a victory at this point in the season, but Cleveland finished strong despite a dismal 3-15 shooting performance from Kyrie Irving, who finished with just nine points and 10 assists in 36 minutes of action.

The Magic, meanwhile, remain competitive to close out the season, even if they seem to know precisely when to fold the effort to secure the loss. A 26 point, 12 rebound performance from Mo Harkless, along with 21 points and 21 rebounds from Nik Vucevic were bright spots for Orlando as they ride out the regular season.

Mavericks 96, Trail Blazers 91: Mavs scored on 12 of first 18 trips down the court, raced out to a 15-3 lead. That lead grew to 26 at one point. Chris Kaman was the first half key with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Dallas was the aggressor, they played loose and looked like they were on their way to a romp. But Dirk Nowitzki was out for the fourth quarter with a minor foot injury, the Mavs scored just 15 points, and a 19-2 run late we had a ballgame. But a Shawn Marion fast break layup (he had 20 points on the night) proved to be the dagger for Dallas.

Once again the beards are in jeopardy — if Dallas can beat the Suns Wednesday in Big D they will be a .500 team and razors will be passed out around the locker room.
—Kurt Helin

Grizzlies 89, Kings 87: This was the kind of win that playoff teams obtain, on the road against an inferior opponent who has packed it in for the remainder of the season. Mike Conley led the way with a game-high 25 points, while Quincy Pondexter posted 17 for the Grizzlies off the bench.

Hornets 95, Suns 92:  The Suns have proven to be able to compete at times with its end-of-season lineup, but against New Orleans on Sunday, a third quarter in which Phoenix was outscored 35-19 doomed its chances. The Suns closed the gap a bit in the fourth, but didn’t ever threaten the game’s final outcome. This was lottery team basketball at its finest, and New Orleans wanted the win more than Phoenix did, plain and simple.

Jazz 97, Warriors 90: A couple weeks ago it looked like the Jazz were going to stumble right out of the playoffs, but the scheduled softened up and they have taken advantage — even over a not soft opponent in Golden State. Utah played like a team desperate (and with the win and the Lakers loss they move half a game ahead of Los Angeles for the eight spot). Golden State played like a team that would live to another day — and they will, they can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Lakers Tuesday.

Utah took control of the game with a 24-3 run in the second quarter. Golden State wouldn’t go away and it took 25 points from Mo Williams including a dagger three late to get them win. Al Jefferson added 19 points and 12 boards; Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 22.
—Kurt Helin

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Kendall Marshall, Marshall Plumlee headline Team USA’s AmeriCup roster

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AmeriCup, previously called the FIBA Americas Championship, lost its luster when FIBA decided the continental tournament wouldn’t double as World Cup qualifying.

But the U.S. is still sending a team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The roster (team last season):

  • Billy Baron (UCAM Murcia, Spain)
  • Alec Brown (Windy City Bulls)
  • Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Detroit Pistons)
  • Jonathan Holmes (Canton Charge);
  • Kendall Marshall (Reno Bighorns)
  • Xavier Munford (Greensboro Swarm)
  • Marshall Plumlee (New York Knicks)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • C.J. Williams (Texas Legends)
  • Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue)

The Americans should still be favored, though obviously not as overwhelming as they’d be with NBA players, in a field also comprised of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama and U.S. Virgin Islands.

This will be a good benchmark, as the U.S. might take a similar roster into World Cup qualifying.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?

Report: Nerlens Noel hires Rich Paul as agent, looking for big deal from Mavericks

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It’s been a rough year for restricted free agents (and plenty of unrestricted ones). After NBA teams spent like drunken sailors on shore leave last summer, this time around — with the cap not rising as much as had been expected — the market got tight quickly, and few questionable contracts were handed out. A year ago the Brooklyn Nets were making the Miami Heat pay big to retain Tyler Johnson and the Trail Blazers pay big to keep Allen Crabbe. This year teams were not biting the same way on restricted free agents.

Which left guys like Nerlens Noel, who expected to be maxed out by the Mavericks (or someone), still looking for a deal. Noel was frustrated enough to switch agents, picking up Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, according to Michael Scotto of Basketball Insiders.

Paul is LeBron James‘ agent, and in recent years has done well getting Tristan Thompson and Eric Bledsoe good contracts as extensions to their rookie deals. In both cases, he showed a fearlessness in holding out longer and being willing to push the envelope. That had to appeal to Noel.

But it doesn’t change the underlying dynamics at play — and not just with Noel. Paul also represents restricted free agents this summer Shabazz Muhammad — who has yet to sign a deal — and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who had to take a one-year deal with the Lakers for $18 million (well below his max). Throw in Noel’s injury history, and teams were not eager to jump in with a big offer for the athletic big man.

At this point, no team has the money to offer Noel a max contract right now — the Bulls have the most available money at $17.3 million, the Sixers and Suns have about $15 million and $14 million. Noel’s max is $24.7 million a year. Dallas is playing hardball because they can — without another offer on the table, Noel’s only real threat is to sign the qualifying offer (about $6 million) and play the season for that, then become an unrestricted free agent next summer. That’s possible, but a guy with Noe’s history of injuries may want to be careful betting on himself like that.

With Paul in the negotiations, expect them to drag out. That’s about the only sure thing.