Baseline to Baseline (last night's game recaps)

1 Comment

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.

Celtics hope return home can slow LeBron, Cavs in Game 5

Getty Images
Leave a comment

BOSTON (AP) — The Celtics expected to see a different LeBron James in Cleveland after the Cavaliers fell into a 2-0 hole to open the Eastern Conference finals

Two games and back-to-back wins later, James has reminded everyone exactly why he’s been to seven straight NBA finals.

Boston will be back in the embrace of its raucous fans at TD Garden for Game 5 on Wednesday. But a team that has thrived on youth this postseason suddenly looks disoriented without a go-to player and opposite a more veteran squad that has found a new attitude thanks to the fuel being provided by its biggest star.

“My teammates are putting me in position and wanting me to be in attack mode and trusting me to put our guys in position to be successful,” James said. “It’s not about me. It’s about the collective group, and I’m one of the byproducts of that.”

While the Cavs are certainly feeling rejuvenated, coach Tyronn Lue said it hasn’t changed their sense of urgency.

“We still gotta play,” Lue said. “We have veteran guys who have been there and know what it takes, but this is a young team, a good team that’s playing at home so experience is not going to be a factor. We have to come in there and have the same mentality that we had in Game 3 and 4.”

Two games ago, the numbers seemed all on the Celtics’ side.

They had moved to 9-0 at home during these playoffs and taken 2-0 series lead, which has been a magic number for a franchise yet to surrender such an advantage during its storied history (37-0). Over the last 96 minutes, Boston has been outscored by 39 points, has dropped to 1-6 on the road and is suddenly facing a must-win game to maintain home-court advantage.

Coach Brad Stevens said at the start of the playoffs that he believed there was value in the greenness of a young group that had several players getting their first taste of postseason basketball. He was proven right with Terry Rozier, Jaylen Brown and rookie Jayson Tatum all thriving as first-time postseason starters.

Their success had the cumulative effect of masking the absences of Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward. Now, the lack of an alpha like Irving capable of creating his own shot is sticking out with every 40-point game James produces.

Al Horford, Boston’s only healthy All-Star, was never a dominant scorer, but more of a facilitator who worked well in a finely tuned system.

Horford started off the series strong but his scoring and assist numbers have declined over the last two games.

Lue’s move to reinsert Tristan Thompson back into the starting lineup in Game 2 is a huge reason.

Thompson has not only helped things move better on the offensive end for Cleveland, he’s combined with Larry Nance to make things difficult on Horford. Horford had just four shots and seven points in 30 minutes in Game 3. He scored 15 points in Game 4 but was just 5-of-13 from the field with one assist.

If the Celtics are going to get back to the by-committee style that got them here, it must begin with his leadership. To that end, Horford said they’ll focus on correcting their issues, but also won’t dwell on them.

“As a group, we’re excited to be back, going back home,” he said. “Obviously we understand the challenge of it. We can’t think about the past. We just have to worry about this opportunity. We have a Game 5 at home, and we have to make the most of it.”

Cleveland is hoping James’ once quiet supporting cast continues its surge in Boston.

Kevin Love just missed his third straight double-double in Game 4 and sharpshooters JR Smith and Kyle Korver were 12 of 19 from the 3-point line in Games 3 and 4.

Korver’s efforts have stood out.

At 37 years old he was all over the court scoring in Game 4, diving for loose balls and collecting three blocks. While he anticipated being sore from all the activity, Korver said playing “fun basketball” is still propelling a guy looking for his first ring after appearing in 124 playoff games for five different teams during his 15-year career.

“There’s not many of us `03 class guys still around,” James said of Korver. “I feel like we’re just cut from a different cloth because we’ve been around for so long. We have this work ethic and you see him every day putting in the work, putting his mind, his body into it. It’s not about his age.”

 

Report: Timberwolves would dump Thibodeau before trading Karl-Anthony Towns

Getty Images
2 Comments

In the NBA, when it comes down to a struggle between an elite player and the coach/GM, who wins? The player. A top 10 NBA player is much harder to get than a coach. If you don’t believe it’s the player go ask David Fizdale or Kevin McHale or Paul Westhead or.. I could fill up the entire NBC server with instances, you get the point.

As the tension between Karl-Anthony Towns and coach/GM Tom Thibodeau has bubbled to the surface in Minnesota, some teams have called up Thibodeau and the Timberwolves to check on KAT’s availability in a trade.

But would the Timberwolves really trade Towns? If one side is going to lose this battle, it’s Thibodeau, as ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said on The Russillo Show (hat tip Uproxx).

“I think their owner would trade management/the coach before he would trade Karl-Anthony Towns. I don’t think they would allow that. I just don’t believe they’d allow that kind of decision. And I don’t know that they’d want to trade him… he’s Karl-Anthony Towns, they’re not moving him, Towns is eligible for his extension this summer. You know Jimmy Butler… it’s more of a question of Andrew Wiggins. That to me would be, if someone was going to get moved — and I’m not saying anyone’s going to get moved — I think Andrew Wiggins is the one you’re going to look at first. Because you don’t have to make a decision on Towns and Jimmy Butler and one of those guys having to take less on an extension, because you can’t have three [max] guys.”

To be clear, Thibodeau isn’t going anywhere this summer (unless he makes some kind of a power play move, like trying to trade Towns). The Timberwolves improved by 16 games last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2004 — that was a step forward. Maybe not as big of one as some wanted/expected, but it wasn’t the kind of season that gets a coach/GM fired.

There’s also an odd dynamic in this with Jimmy Butler — he is Thibodeau’s guy. Butler has his back, and he can be a free agent in a couple of years, so if Minnesota wants to keep him then keeping the coach matters.

As for trading Wiggins, that is something to keep an eye on. Even if it’s not likely. After a disappointing 2017-18 season, there has been buzz around the league about the Timberwolves testing the market for Wiggins. The problem is Wiggins’ five-year, $148 million fully guaranteed contract kicks in next season — few teams want to take that on. To move Wiggins, Minnesota will have to take back bad contracts and/or send out sweeteners with him. Demand will not be high, despite Wiggins’ potential.

As Wojnarowski noted, both Butler and Towns have new contract coming up in the next couple of seasons, and both are clear max players. It puts Minnesota in a tight spot with the cap. They will be looking for some relief.

Just remember, if it comes down to Thibodeau or Towns, the player always wins. Especially a young, on-the-rise player.

Boston vs. Houston Finals? In 2-2 series, team with home court wins 80% of time

Getty Images
3 Comments

Game 1 of the NBA Finals will see the Boston Celtics at the Houston Rockets starting May 31.

Or, at least that’s what the historic odds favor.

Most fans (and media/analysts) expect the Finals will still be Cleveland vs. Golden State, those are the two proven teams. However, as our own Dan Feldman noted, historically in a 2-2 series the team with two home games wins four out of five times.

Tuesday night, Houston looked every bit the kind of team that can stand up to the defending champion Warriors. Down 10 entering the fourth quarter, Houston’s improved ball-pressure defense wore down a Golden State team and took Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson (and in the fourth Stephen Curry) out of their rhythm. The Warriors couldn’t get the shots they wanted, didn’t get to the rim, went 0-of-6 from three and 3-of-18 overall in the fourth quarter. They looked like they were replaying the final games of the 2016 NBA Finals again (just with Durant). Meanwhile, Chris Paul was efficient and James Harden made plays that got Houston the comeback win. It was the kind of victory that can define a championship run.

Still, they need two more wins against a Warriors team that is loaded with All-Stars and has been to three straight Finals for a reason. Golden State believes it has another gear, now it needs to find it.

Out East, Boston heads home for Wednesday night’s game — the Celtics are 9-0 in the postseason and 22.4 points per 100 possessions better than on the road. Boston’s young role players have just been vastly superior on the parquet on both ends of the court. Plus, while the Cavaliers won Game 4, the Celtics won the last three quarters and seemed to find some defensive setups and plays that work for them.

Cleveland, however, has LeBron James.

Finally, we’ve got the kind of playoff drama we have wanted out of these conference finals.

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.