Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan

Baseline-to-baseline recaps: Knicks wrap up two seed in the East, Lakers stay in playoff hunt with win over Spurs

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while planning for your digital afterlife

Heat 105, Bulls 93: The outcome of this game was no surprise, but the fact that the Bulls put up a fight after falling behind big in the second quarter showed why they’ll be a tough out in the postseason. We broke this one down in greater detail here.

Mavericks 107, Hornets 89: Dirk Nowitzki got to break out the razor. Same with O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and the rest of the Mavericks who were growing .500 beards and got to shave them when the Mavericks finally reached the threshold with this win. Well, Kaman may keep his because he is Chris Kaman.

Dallas led this one almost from the start behind 21 from Shawn Marion and 19 from Nowitzki. With one of his second quarter jump shots, Nowitzki became only the 17th player in NBA history to reach 25,000 points in his career. — Kurt Helin

Lakers 91, Spurs 86: It wasn’t pretty — the winning team shot 36.5 percent — but the Lakers played with a playoff desperation and the Spurs floated through the game and the result was a Lakers win. One Los Angeles needed — its magic number to make the playoffs is one (Utah has to beat Minnesota and Memphis on the road to force the Lakers to beat Houston on Wednesday).

The Lakers got an aggressive Dwight Howard early that demanded the ball in the post and finished with 26 points and 17 boards. They had other guys like Steve Blake (23 points) step up as well. We broke it all down in more detail here. — Kurt Helin

Rockets 121, Kings 100: We are now a step closer to the Denver/Houston first-round series I am pulling for (because not everybody should play slow-it-down, grind-it-out basketball in the postseason). Houston is now in the six seed spot, tied with Golden State but the Rockets have the tiebreaker. They control their own destiny with two games to play (beat the Suns and Lakers, both on the road, and they are the six seed). And they want the six seed — Denver is not easy but it’s no San Antonio.

Houston won this game going away, a 14-0 run late in the second (Kings didn’t score the final three minutes of the half) put them in control and the second half was a laugher.  — Kurt Helin

76ers 91, Cavaliers 77: Kyrie Irving scored a career-low four points, but as poorly as he played, he wasn’t that far behind Dorell Wright, who scored a game-high 15 points. Both teams – already eliminated from the playoff race – combined to shoot 40 percent from the field and 63 percent from the free-throw line. — Dan Feldman

Nuggets 118, Trail Blazers 109: Kenneth Faried left the game with an ankle injury, casting a dark light on Denver’s franchise-record 55th win. On the bright side, Andre Iguodala had an awesome game – 28 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks – and Evan Fournier comfortably bested his career high with 24 points. The Nuggets now have a full game lead for the No. 3 seed, which would mean avoiding the Clippers and Grizzlies in the first round.

Damian Lillard had 30 points and six assists, which should help seal his Rookie of the Year win, especially if voters overlook his eight turnovers. — Dan Feldman

Knicks 90, Pacers 80: Carmelo Anthony scored “just” 25 points – his fewest in eight games – but that was still enough for New York to secure the No. 2 seed and homecourt advantage through the second round. If seeds hold in the first round, the Knicks would then play the Pacers, who are now assured of the No. 3 seed.

The Knicks have won 14 of 15, and with a season-high 26 turnovers, the Pacers have lost four of five. — Dan Feldman

Raptors 93, Nets 87: Despite 30 points and seven assists from Deron Williams, Joe Johnson helped Brooklyn secure the No. 4 seed with his 4-of-16 shooting. The Nets will host either the Hawks or Bulls in a first-round series.

DeMar DeRozan (36) and Rudy Gay (26) each scored more than 20 points in the same game for the seventh time. — Dan Feldman

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.

Watch Klay Thompson, Kevin Durant make every shot they take for 75 seconds

Golden State Warriors' Kevin Durant (35) poses for photos during NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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Here’s the thing that should make teams nervous — this doesn’t even include the best shooter in the game today. Stephen Curry was on the other end of the court working on something else.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson exchanged shots at the Golden State Warriors practice and didn’t miss one for more than a minute, closer to 75 seconds. No, they were not being guarded, and this was just some light shooting at the end of practice. Still.

From Anthony Slater of the San Jose Mercury News.

It’s going to take at least until Thanksgiving and maybe closer to Christmas for the Warriors to figure out how to play together, what the rotations will look like, and just become comfortable with what is largely a new team. But once they do, the firepower on this squad is insane.