Baseline to Baseline (last night's game recaps)

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Our game recaps from Tuesday, or what you missed while watching Lost. (Since it was a busy night, it was a team effort)

Denver 127, Dallas 91 This was a schedule-makers loss for Dallas — only one team in the last two years (Orlando) has traveled from the West Coast to Denver for the second night of a back-to-back and won. Denver is too good a team to beat tired and at altitude. Dallas knew this would be an “L” when the schedule came out.

But the fact it was a 36-point blowout says everything you need to know about where these teams are headed right now. Denver is putting it together, playing with confidence. Guys are stepping up: Kenyon Martin had to sit out with some tendonitis in his knee, and Malik Allen stepped in and was solid. Dallas has just stopped playing defense, and Denver players took their man off the dribble and there were no defensive rotations to stop them. Dallas can write off the loss in their minds, but the blowout should bother them.

Atlanta 108 Memphis 94 This was just fun. There were moments during this game when I was actually rooting for a turnover in a half court set because it leads to beautiful fast breaks by both teams. But they will run on anything, even a made basket — which led to my favorite play of the game (mid third quarter):  OJ Mayo slipped out off a Hawks make, got the long pass ahead of the pack and was heading for a layup but Marvin Williams raced down and blocked it off the backboard, right to the hands of Zach Randolph trailing the play, and as he goes up Josh Smith comes running into the play and swats it from behind. The Hawks do not make it easy on you.

Matt Moore loved the game, too: Both teams were hitting, both teams were running, The Grizzlies were dishing, the Hawks were dunking, and it was just a fun all-around game. So of course the Grizzlies, whose depth resembles that of the Mariah Carey film “Glitter,’ faded into nothingness when once again no bench savior appeared.

Meanwhile, I get that Carl Landry is a beast. Believe me, I do. But Jamal Crawford scored 28 points on 14 shots and did everything, including setting a record for most career four-point plays (breaking Reggie Miller’s record). That man is your sixth man of the year.

Oklahoma City 89 Portland 77 Watching Kevin Durant and Nicholas Bantum go at it makes you hope that the rivalry between these two young teams grows over the next five years and we get to see these two put on a dunking show with more on the line than a February win. These two teams still played young — Westbrook had his ups and downs, for example. But the biggest difference was the benches: Portland’s was unimpressive, and OKC had James Harden, who started slow then went on a 13 point tear that helped decide this one.

Utah 109 L.A. Clippers 99 The Clippers looked a lot more comfortable second game out with their new “hey, we don’t have to wait for coach to call the play every time” offense. They found a nice balance (Kim Hughes said he wants 60% called plays, 40% improvisation). The Clippers just looked better. But they are still not as good as the Jazz. The Jazz know who they are, the Clippers are trying to figure it out. Carlos Boozer had 27 points on 10 of 13 shooting, and added 12 boards. The Clipper defense seemed helpless against him and the Jazz system of cuts and picks.

Cleveland 104, New Jersey 97 Matt Moore put it perfectly: It’s not that the Nets played badly. They really didn’t. There were times when they seemed, as they’ve seemed many times this season, like they were going to bull rush the lead. Then the fourth quarter happened, LeBron did his thing, Shaq got involved, and the lead became pregnant and gave birth to puppies. The Nets would counter great possessions with Lopez-Yi give and go’s, Lopez hooks, and nifty Lee layups with contested 18 footers early in the shot clock. The defense wasn’t great, giving up 104 points on 84 possessions, but then, this is the Cavs. The bench getting outscored 39-9, let me say that again, 39-9, that, my friends, was not okay.

Charlotte 94, Washington 92 Matt Moore again: For all the talk of Nazr Mohammed versus Tyson Chandler, the Wizards bigs won that matchup handily (Blatche with 15, Hayes with 12 and 11). But if you wanted to point to the smoking elephant playing bourre in the room, the Wizards’ point guards were outscored 30-5. Still, the Wizards got a huge three from Mike Miller (who was wearing some sort of half-t-shirt monstrosity) to go up one with less than a minute remaining, but a Raymond Felton fadeaway buried the Wizards for good. Maybe no game so clearly demonstrated how wrong most people were about both of these teams in preseason.

Philadelphia 119, Minnesota 97 If you shoot 57.4% for the game, you’re going to win just about every time. The Sixers are just a better the Jrue Holliday/Willie Green backcourt, which combined for 21 points, nine assists and just two turnovers. They Sixers play better defense, get better matchups and play more cohesive offense with them in. Allen Iverson is off dealing with a sick child, but when he comes back he has to come off the bench. Eddie Jordan knows that, but he can’t be relishing the looming fight.

Miami 99, Houston 66 Every team has a few games of the 82 where they just don’t show up. Tonight was the Rockets turn– 32% shooting and they turned the ball over one in four trips down the court in the first half. Miami was up 25 at the break and they only played the second half because the rule book requires it. Not to knock the Heat, they played fine, but this was more about the Rockets’ head being out at a South Beach club.

Sacramento 118 New York 114 (OT) John Krolik watched this one: Up six points with just over three minutes left to play, New York appeared to be in good shape. Then Tyreke Evans happened. Evans scored 10 straight points in just over two minutes, which is impressive enough. What makes it flat-out scary is that Evans scored all of his points at the rim, with four driving layups and two free throws.  In contrast, on the Knicks’ final possession of regulation was having Chris Duhon dribble around the perimeter for 22 seconds and heave up a turnaround three. (He air-balled it.) There was still technically an overtime period to play after that, but the Knicks were clearly demoralized.

What may be equally heartening to Kings fans was the play of Kevin Martin in overtime, where he scored the first nine points.

Detroit 93, Milwaukee 81 Matt More caught a lot of this one: I can tell you about Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun P
rince with impressive games,
looking like what Dumars envisioned. I can tell you about Ben Gordon with 18 points, looking like what Joe Dumars paid for. But you want to know what the difference was? Jason Maxiell. 14 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals. And you look across at Hakim Warrick and that was a huge differential. It wasn’t the box score, though. It was Maxiell making those “Oh, come ON” plays. The ones where you can almost hear Bucks fans screaming “Oh, come ON!” at the television, as Maxiell gobbles up an offensive rebound to give the Pistons another possession (which is huge in an 82 possession game

 In other news, if you’re up one point, with the opponent driving the lane in transition for the go-ahead score, there’s one guy you want between the other guy and the rim. And it’s not Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Ron Artest, or Shaquille O’Neal. It’s Andrew Bogut. Because that sneaky Aussie is drawing the charge and getting you the ball back.

Chicago 109, Indiana 101 I find the Pacers just hard to watch play. It shouldn’t be that way, they play at a fast pace, Danny Granger is a joy, but somehow all their games seem mundane. The Bulls were efficient enough, they get the win. That’s all you really need to know.

Watch Donovan Mitchell drop 43, upstage LeBron return as Cavs top Lakers

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CLEVELAND (AP) — As a kid growing up in New York, Donovan Mitchell idolized LeBron James. On Tuesday night, he upstaged him.

Mitchell scored a season-high 43 points and Jarrett Allen returned from injury to add 24, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 116-102 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in James’ only visit home this season.

With Anthony Davis missing the final three quarters because of illness, the Cavs improved to an NBA-leading 11-1 on their floor, their best start at home since 2015-16, when James led them to a championship.

Mitchell, who has Cleveland fans dreaming of another title run, took over in the second half and scored 29 points with the kind of performance James had routinely during his 11 seasons for the Cavs.

“You always want to spoil the homecoming,” Mitchell said with a smile.

With Cleveland leading by 12 in the fourth, Mitchell buried a 3-pointer from the left wing to finish the Lakers. After dropping the shot, the All-Star guard strutted around the Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse floor nodding his head as James helplessly watched.

“He’s Mitchell,” James said. “He’s a special kid.”

Darius Garland added 21 points and 11 assists for Cleveland.

James finished with 21 points and 17 rebounds, losing for just the third time in 20 games against the Cavs.

Dennis Schroder and Russell Westbrook added 16 points apiece as Los Angeles had its four-game winning streak stopped.

Davis went out after eight minutes with flu-like symptoms. The eight-time All-Star had scored 99 points in his previous two games and had been playing as well as he has in several seasons after being plagued by injuries.

Davis didn’t attempt a field goal and scored just one point before leaving.

“It got progressively worse as the day went on,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “His temperature was 101 and some change. A-D wanted to try to play, but he felt too weak. He’s drained and dehydrated.

“That’s a huge loss, obviously, with the way he’s been playing lately.”

Without Davis clogging the middle, Allen, who missed the last five games with a bruised back, made his first 10 shots and helped the Cavs take a 57-49 halftime lead.

“Next man up,” James said when asked how he reacted to losing Davis. “That’s a tall task – literally and figuratively.”

The Cavs welcomed James back with a video tribute during an early timeout. After a montage of clips, including some from 2016, James waved to the crowd and then blew kisses to show his appreciation.

The warm scene was in contrast to what happened almost exactly 12 years ago, when he came back with the Miami Heat and was met with boos and worse on a night James has said he’ll never forget.

James said he was caught off guard by the tribute.

“It’s always love coming back here,” he said. “The memories I have here will never be forgotten.”

 

Ben Simmons targeting Friday vs. Hawks to return from calf strain

Toronto Raptors v Brooklyn Nets
Adam Hunger/Getty Images
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Ben Simmons has missed the Nets’ last three games with knee pain tied to a left calf strain, and he will be out Wednesday, too, when Brooklyn takes on Charlotte.

However, he plans to return on Friday (Dec. 9) against the Hawks.

Simmons was adjusting to a new role in Brooklyn. In Philadelphia he was a point-forward with the ball in his hands playing off Joel Embiid (at least at first), but in Brooklyn the ball needed to be in the hands of Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving in the halfcourt. Simmons is playing more small-ball five, and is asked to be aggressive and attack when he gets the ball — not shoot jumpers — and to push the rock in transition. It took a while for Simmons to settle into that space, but he seemed to in games against Philadelphia (11 points, 11 assists), Toronto (14 points, six assists) and Indiana (20 points). Then the injuries hit.

Brooklyn sits at 13-12, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and defense for the season. While there are doubts about the ceiling for this team, it has a talent level that should be better than this record, it’s just been beset by injuries, controversy causing Kyrie Irving to miss time, and a coaching change. The Nets have yet to hit their stride.

But they could have a clean injury report on Friday night, and maybe that can be the start of this team getting on a run.

Suns, Hawks reportedly show interest in Kuzma trade, Wizards see him as cornerstone

Washington Wizards v Brooklyn Nets
Al Bello/Getty Images
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Kyle Kuzma was the kind of quality, two-way role player the Lakers needed around LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win the 2020 NBA title (the type of player the Lakers wish they had now).

In Washington, his role has been elevated — he’s a 20-point-a-game scorer (20.6 points per game this season, to be precise) who is a key part of generating offense, not just playing off the stars of Bradley Beal and Kristaps Porzingis. As he told Shams Charania of The Athletic:

“As soon as I got traded, I was ready to be more,” Kuzma told The Athletic.

It’s been enough to draw the interest of a couple of teams looking for a trade, Charania adds. The Wizards are not necessarily interested in moving on, however.

Several teams, such as the Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns, have expressed trade interest in Kuzma, according to league sources. By the same token, the Wizards have shown interest in Hawks forward John Collins, and the sides seriously discussed a potential deal last offseason, league sources added…

However, the Wizards’ front office, led by general manager Tommy Sheppard, has made clear that it views Kuzma as a cornerstone moving forward as the franchise has seen him thrive since the mega-trade in the 2021 offseason. The Westbrook trade provided future flexibility and assets for the Wizards, who have been known to be aggressive and active in research across the league.

Kuzma has a $13 million player option for next season that he will unquestionably opt out of, making him a free agent in search of a healthy raise (north of $20 million a year, although expect something more in the ballpark of the four-year, $104 million Jalen Brunson contract). If the Wizards are willing to pay they likely can keep him (they have his Bird rights). But if Washington isn’t sure it wants to pay market value, or if management sees a shifting path for future seasons, it should consider trading Kuzma at the deadline.

If he becomes available, far more teams than the Hawks and Suns would be interested, quality two-way forwards are in demand around the league. Kuzma would have some leverage over where he gets sent because he can leave as a free agent (teams would offer up less if they believed Kuzma would only be a rental for this season).

Magic send Jonathan Isaac to G-League for practice, rehabilitation

2022-2023 Orlando Magic Media Day
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There was a time when it was thought Jonathan Isaac might be the Magic’s next big star.

However, he has not stepped on an NBA court since he was in the bubble (Feb. 8, 2020), then he tore his ACL in August of that year (which came on the heels of missing much of that season with an injury to the same knee). Last March he had a setback and another procedure, and at this point he has missed two full seasons plus the start of this one.

Isaac is still working toward recovery and the Magic have assigned him to the Lakeland Magic of the G-League to get in some practice.

Because NBA teams barely practice during the season — the schedule of games nearly every other day plus travel and recovery doesn’t permit more than film sessions and walk-throughs — these kinds of baseball-style minor league rehab assignments are more and more common.

The story from the Magic’s official website notes this will be the first time Isaac will play 5-on-5 with other players during his rehab, which is a significant step forward.

There is no timeline for his return, but the Magic have him under contract this season for $17.4 million and two more fully guaranteed years at the same price. There is no reason for the franchise to walk away, even if some around the league question if his knees will ever let him back on an NBA court again.

The Magic have found their next star in Paolo Banchero and have built a promising young core, something Isaac — an elite defender before his injuries — should fit in well with. If he can get healthy and back on the court.