Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Knicks’ streak reaches 13

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wondering what to do with five tons of Nutella

Lakers 104, Hornets 96 ; & Thunder 90, Jazz 80: We combine these two because together they put the Lakers in as the eight seed in the West and in control of their own destiny. Kobe Bryant pulled the Lakers bacon out of the fire — Los Angeles played inconsistent defense all night but Kobe had 23 points in the third. Meanwhile Utah ran into a Thunder team looking to show it can play defense after a rough outing against the Knicks Sunday. They also ran into Russell Westbrook (25 points) and Kevin Durant 21). We broke these games down in more detail.

Knicks 120, Wizards 99: After running their win streak to 12 straight by beating the Thunder in OKC on Sunday, there was virtually no way that the Knicks would stumble at home against the dismal Wizards.

New York led by 15 at the half, and by as many as 31 points in the 4th before it was all said and done.

The win gave the Knicks their first division title since 1994, but the night ended on a bit of a sour note as Kenyon Martin sprained his left ankle with about 10:30 remaining, and with his team up by 25 points. X-rays were negative, but Mike Woodson said afterward that maybe he should have had Martin on the bench given the fact that the game was out of hand.
—Brett Pollakoff

Heat 94, Bucks 83: This could be the 1 vs. 8 matchup we see in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but if this game was any indication, the prospects might be even more grim than expected for the Bucks.

The Heat won fairly easily on this night, and did so without both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, sitting this one out due to injury and illness, respectively. A 13-point third quarter doomed Milwaukee’s chances, and while Brandon Jennings scored a game-high 30 points, no other Bucks player finished in double figures.

Miami got its 61st win of the season, tying a franchise record that will undoubtedly be broken at some point over the team’s final five games.
—Brett Pollakoff

Raptors 101, Bulls 98: Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 28 points, but without Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng, the Bulls’ defense betrayed them. Though Noah played 21 minutes in Chicago’s previous game, all three missed tonight’s contest, and – against Detroit and Toronto, no less – the Bulls have allowed 114.9 points per 100 possessions in their last two games.
Chicago leads Atlanta by just a half game for the No. 5 seed and a much more favorable matchup with the Nets rather than facing the Pacers. Unless the Bulls get healthy enough to play their trademark defense, their opponent won’t matter much, anyway.
—Dan Feldman

Pacers 99, Cavaliers 94: Cleveland actually led this one by 20 after three quarters, but the Pacers put together a furious rally and outscored the Cavs 35-10 in the fourth to come away with the victory.

A three-pointer from Paul George with 29 seconds remaining put the Pacers up for good. Indiana remains in third place in the East, two and a half games back of the Knicks for second with just four games remaining in the regular season.
—Brett Pollakoff

Grizzlies 94, Bobcats 75: Mike Conley was the only Memphis starter to play more minutes than his season average, and he used the time against the NBA’s worst team to pad his stats. In 36 minutes (season average: 35), Conley had 20 points, seven assists and two steals.
Considering Memphis has won 13 straight home game and Charlotte has lost 13 straight road games, the Grizzlies easily increased their lead for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Nets 104, Sixers 83: This was a destruction from the very first quarter, and a demoralizing one for a Philadelphia team that was helpless to stop the damage the Nets were doing inside.

Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans were both dominant, and Brooklyn finished with an insane rebounding edge of 64-37 for the game.

With the win, the Nets remain firmly in fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, on track to host either the Bulls or the Hawks in a first round playoff matchup.
—Brett Pollakoff

Rockets 101, Suns 98: You want to talk about the particulars of the game, or would you like instead to just fast forward to the final possession, where Jermaine O’Neal managed to get called for goaltending on James Harden’s three-point shot at the buzzer to give the Rockets the win?

I thought so.
—Brett Pollakoff

Warriors 105, Timberwolves 89: Golden State clinched its first playoff berth since 2006-07 and just the second time since 1993-94. Klay Thompson scored 25 of his 30 points in the game’s first 19 minutes, but he cooled in the second half. Three other Warriors – Stephen Curry (24 points and 10 assists), David Lee (15 points and 12 rebounds) and Harris Barnes (15 points and 10 rebounds) – had double-doubles.
—Dan Feldman

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.

Milwaukee Bucks eager to build after strong finish to season

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ST. FRANCIS, Wis. (AP) — With the sting of their frantic but failed Game 6 comeback effort still fresh in their minds, the Milwaukee Bucks returned to their practice facility Friday morning to pack their things and head their separate ways.

The Bucks consider themselves a team on the rise in the Eastern Conference, a belief no doubt reinforced by a furious 14-4 run late in the season that propelled them to sixth place in the East and solidified by a strong, though inconsistent, effort against Toronto in the playoffs.

“We thought we were the better team,” forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We thought we could beat the Raptors and go to the second round. We feel like we got the Raptors’ attention so hopefully next year … we can go deeper in the playoffs.”

To get to that next step, which includes gaining home-court advantage and winning a playoff series for the first time since 2001, a lot of work needs to be done. Milwaukee needs Antetokounmpo to continue his rapid development, but will be looking to young additions like Thon Maker and Malcolm Brogdon, the Bucks’ two picks in last year’s draft, to refine their bodies and their games this summer.

Maker was one of the biggest surprises in the league. The 15th overall pick was a relative unknown and figured, at the outset, to be a draft-and-develop pick. Instead, he made a strong impression on the coaching staff with his commitment to defense and made opposing teams panic with his ability to shoot the 3 and wound up starting all six playoff games.

“It was amazing,” Maker said. “Unexpected. I thought I was just going to be on `Project: Build Maker’ and build my body but that’s (what I’m doing) this summer now. I thought that’s what this year was going to be about but everything turned around. I worked hard and it turned out to be way more than I expected. I don’t like the end results – it could have been way better – but you live with the results and you learn.”

Brogdon might have been an even bigger surprise. He was Milwaukee’s second-round pick and began the season on the bench behind free agent acquisition Matthew Dellavedova. But he, too, put in the work and by season’s end, was not only the starting point guard but a key piece of the Bucks’ core.

“I think it’s strong,” Brogdon said of Milwaukee’s nucleus. “I think it’s going to be one of the strongest in the NBA, as long as we’re able to stay together and as long as we’re able to stay healthy. I think we’re going to be one of the best teams in the NBA.”

The Bucks have been in this position before. They were considered a team on the rise in 2010, when they forced the Hawks to seven games but stumbled the next season and didn’t return to the postseason until sneaking into the eighth spot in 2013.

Two years later, Milwaukee was thought to be a sleeper after the Bucks finished .500 in Kidd’s first season at the helm, but again they faltered the next season and missed the playoffs.

Maintaining the momentum will be a major focus as preparations begin for the next season.

“My first year we had seven or eight free agents, so we knew that wasn’t going to be the same team,” forward John Henson said. “(The) second year we had a new coach, more free agents.

My third year coach Kidd coming in, we knew there was going to be some stability. He’s had the same core guys and this is what happens; not have a letdown like we did the year before.”

Milwaukee should benefit with some roster stability. The team’s young core appears set in place with Antetokounmpo, Henson and Khris Middleton locked into long-term contracts, as are Dellavedova and Mirza Teletovic.

Tony Snell, who went on to start 80 games after being acquired late in training camp, is a restricted free agent. Greg Monroe, who became one of the league’s best sixth men, holds a player option for next season.

The Bucks will likely be open to bringing back veteran guard Jason Terry for a 19th season, too.

“I think that’s how you become a team that doesn’t regress next year – keeping some of the pieces together,” Henson said.

General manager John Hammond also faces a tough question with Jabari Parker, who will miss at least the first half of the 2017-18 season after tearing his ACL in February. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 draft is eligible for a contract extension this summer and was in line to earn something close to the $100 million Milwaukee gave Antetokounmpo last year.

Lonzo Ball, other top draft picks expected to skip NBA Combine

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The NBA Draft Combine invites started going out Saturday — about 60-70 players are expected to be invited to a gym in Chicago for a couple of days of measurements, interviews, and tests, with a little basketball thrown in. The idea is for teams to get an up-close look (and accurate measurements) with guys they are going to invest time and, in some cases, millions of dollars in over the next several years.

However, the guys at the top of the draft are not going to be in Chicago, as Shams Charania and Bobby Marks of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports noted.

This is the same as with the NFL combine, the top picks see only bad things that can happen by taking part, there’s no upside but their stock could fall, so they stay away.

That’s not about to change. Also, a lot of international players skip the combine. That opens up some slots for more fringe guys, players who may or may not get drafted in the second round, to come in and impress. (Check out Jonathan Givony’s Twitter timeline to get a sense of who got invited and who didn’t.)

Teams looking at drafting the top handful, the elite guys, have already had scouts watch every college and many high school games, not to mention seeing their AAU teams and catching them at things like the Nike Summit or Adidas Nations events. They’ve talked to the guy’s former coaches and others around him, they have a good sense of who he is and is not.

Well, as much as one can in any draft. It’s still a crap shoot. A player can have all the skills, all the physical gifts, be a good person, but what happens once they face real adversity? Or, have to deal with money and temptations? What would you have been like at age 20 with millions of dollars and all the hedonistic temptations of the NBA lifestyle thrown at you? Or, how do does a team know which young players with some very raw skills have the drive and passion for maximizing those talents? Predicting how a 19- or 20-year-old will mature is not an easy task.