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.

76ers once again overhaul around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there

Can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons coexist?

While I’ve wondered about that question, the 76ers have charged ahead with the pairing. Embiid and Simmons are the givens. The surrounding players change. In just two seasons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have cycled through as starters.

The latest supporting starters: Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson.

This might be the last chance to find a trio that works.

Philadelphia has taken advantage of Embiid’s and Simmons’ low rookie-scale salaries, which was always a selling point of The Process. A roster loaded with cheap young players created a window to add more-expensive talent. Then, with everyone already in place, NBA rules generally allow teams to keep their own players.

But Embiid is already on his max contract extension, and Simmons just signed a max contract extension that will take effect next year. The flexibility is vanishing.

One last time, the 76ers made the most of it. They signed-and-traded Butler for Richardson and let Redick walk in free agency. That left enough cap space to sign Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) and use Bird Rights to re-sign Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million).

That’s a lot of deliberate disruption for a team that was already good and rising.

The big question: Did it make Philadelphia better?

I just don’t know.

As fond as I am of Butler, I understand all the reasons to be wary of offering the 30-year-old a huge contract. But moving on from him to give a huge deal to a 33-year-old Horford? That’s curious. Then again, Philadelphia also added Richardson – a solid replacement for Butler on the wing – in the process.

The 76ers will miss Butler’s shot creation. He often took over their offense in the clutch during the playoffs. Harris can pick up some of the slack, but that still looks like a hole.

At just 27, Harris is young for a player who has already been in the league so long. That’s a big reason it was worth Philadelphia signing him to a sizable long-term contract.

Horford’s deal could age poorly, but he’s a winner still playing quality all-around basketball. If nothing else, the 76ers removed Embiid’s best defender from the rival Celtics.

Philadelphia filled its bench with several value signings – Mike Scott (room exception), James Ennis (minimum), Kyle O'Quinn (minimum), Furkan Korkmaz (minimum), Raul Neto (minimum) and Trey Burke (partially guaranteed minimum). However, sometimes teams need production more than cost-effectiveness. The 76ers’ bench struggled last season, and they devoted minimal resources to upgrading.

In the draft, Philadelphia traded the Nos. 24 and 33 picks for No. 20 pick Matisse Thybulle. That’s a costly move up, especially for a player I rated No. 34. Worse, it seemingly happened because Boston snuffed out the 76ers’ interest in Thybulle then leveraged them. That’s small potatoes, though.

Simmons (No. 9 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) and Embiid (No. 11 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) will likely define this era for Philadelphia. Embiid is on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s very best players. Simmons is so good, giving him a max extension was a no-brainer.

But they were already in place.

Harris, Horford and Richardson will define this offseason. I just can’t tell whether they made the 76ers’ promising future even brighter or slightly dimmer.

Offseason grade: C

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

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Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

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New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

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A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.