Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Friday while you were debating Tiger’s human touch:

Mavericks 95 Magic 85: And things were going so well for the Magic, too. Dwight Howard was beastin’-flat-out-beastin’ with 29 points, six rebounds, and five blocks. Those weren’t easy stats, either, as Brendan Haywood fits into this team like a glove. But Howard had the turnaround bank going, and that’s incredibly hard to stop. The Magic had ball movement, were rolling, everything looked good for a home win.

But two things helped sink the Magic. One, and stop me if you’ve heard this one, the Magic’s threes stopped falling, ending up just 4 for 25 (!). You’d think at some point they’d stop shooting them, but if the defense is able to deny penetration and tease them into taking 3’s, Orlando will bomb all day. And if they’re not hitting, they’re sunk.

Two, a 19-0 run between the 3rd and 4th periods. The Mavericks just absolutely blew the doors off the hinges during this stretch, and that was really the run. It was marked by contributions from everyone. Butler created off the cut, Haywood finished off of weakside draws, Shawn Marion controlled the boards, and Dirk and Terry rang up the points like a pinball machine.

I know Dirk is the obvious point here (23 points, 5 assists, 3 blocks), but you expect Dirk to do that kind of damage (and usually off fewer than 24 shots).  Throw in some defense and Dirk, and a huge road win for the Mavs.

J.J Redick, Jason Williams, and Ryan Anderson were 0-10 from the field. Now that’s a Whiteout.

Wizards 107 Nuggets 97: Hell hath no fury like scoring wings spurned. Josh Howard and Al Thornton, two scoring small forwards whose teams thought they were expendable and shipped them out before the trade deadline, went OFF. Try 15 of 23 shooting for 41 points and an inspiring win for the hard-luck Wizards.

The Wizards definitely benefited from the Nuggets being on the second game of a back to back (SEGABABA). Nuggets defenders were pretty much giving the “one-try, oh, he’s too far, nevermind”approach.And the Nuggets are built to attack super-long, big forwards in the West, like Amaré Stoudemire, Pau Gasol, etc. They’re less adept at shutting down athletic thin-wings like Horford and Howard, especially when they’re motivated.

James Singleton, largely considered a throw-away in the Butler trade, had 7 points, 9 rebounds, and 2 blocks (including a weakside erasure of J.R. Smith at the rim early in the fourth) in 20 minutes. It’s had not to root for the Wizards, who are showing the most effort they have all year.

Bobcats 110 Cavaliers 93: We already covered the Jamison FAIL escapade, so what else fell into this little blip on the radar screen? LeBron James and Anderson Varejao had eight rebounds combined. Gerald Wallace and Stephen Jackson had eight rebounds each. Mo Williams got thoroughly outplayed by D.J. Augustine, who looked as if Flip Murray took whatever funk had been holding over Augustine with him.

Stephen Jackson’s ability to simply create shots is huge for this squad. It allows them to focus on the defensive end, where they are absolutely phenomenal. Charlotte kills itself to run off threes, disrupts passing lanes in whatever way it can, and and focuses on consistent, efficient offense. Big win for the Çats, who are looking more and more like the team you don’t want to run into in the playoffs, first round.

Tyrus Thomas with 9 points, 12 rebounds, and six blocks in 25 minutes. Big up yourself, youngster.

Philadelphia 106, San Antonio 94: There was a time, not so many years ago, when in the fourth quarter the Spurs were always the aggressor. Those days have largely gone the way of the Dodo, especially on the road. San Antonio was up three going into the fourth but the Sixers stepped up the defensive pressure and forced five turnovers, then were rewarded with some easy transition hoops. The Sixers attacked the rim and got to the line 11 times in the final stanza. That was the ball game. In the NBA the aggressors get the calls and the wins.

Raptors 106 Nets 89: Seven Raptors were in double figures, three Nets were. This is a terrible matchup for the Nets, who don’t have many matchup advantages all season long to begin with. But a fast-paced offensively geared team with tall players? Doom.

Brook Lopez had 22 points on 12 shots, and a whole bunch of sadness.

Hornets 107 Pacers 106: The Pacers let a rookie point guard, a sensational point guard, but still, rack up 13 rebounds on his way to a triple-double. I don’t know what else to tell you about this one.

The Hornets’ focus was largely the difference in this one. The Pacers got some points, had some opportunities, but when they need a stop, when they absolutely must get a stop, they have neither the personnel nor the system to get them.

Darren Collison may not win rookie of the year, but he’s going to warrant a few votes.

Heat 100 Grizzlies 87: If the Grizzlies had not started the game in the refrigerator. or not ended the game melting in the oven, they would have beaten a Dwyane-Wade-less Heat team. But an abysmal first half that saw the Grizzlies score only 31 points total dug them a hole they spent the rest of the game crawling out of, unable to kick the Heat off towards the end of regulation thanks to Michael Beasley. Then in the second overtime, Udonis Haslem took over, and that was that.

At one point in the 2nd overtime, Mike Conley simply lost his dribble, right into a steal, then fouled the stealer, racking up his fifth foul. It is largely representative of his career.

Ronnie Brewer strained his hamstring, limiting the Grizzlies’ pathetic depth even more.

Michael Beasley’s jumper is as pure as mountain snow.

Bulls 100 Wolves 84: The Wolves actually hung around in this one, actually leading at the break. But Kirk Hinrich may be slowly finding his shot (7-12, 2-2 from the arc), and that makes the Bulls a lot tougher to beat when combined with that defense.

Vinny Del Negro takes a lot of flack for his coaching, but defense is tough to coach in the NBA, and the Bulls just go out and do it. Without Joakim Noah, with Derrick Rose only getting to the stripe four times, the Bulls just lock down and made a bad offensive team play badly.

Bucks 91 Pistons 84:

Dribble-dribble-dribble.

Dribble-dribble-dribble-dribble.

Dribble-dribble-miss-rebound-dribble-dribble.

And that was 48 minutes of life the fans wish
they had back. The winning t
eam shot 38% from the floor. The Pistons just are discombobulated, all the time, both sides of the floor. They know what they want to run, they just don’t know how to do it.

Ersan Ilyasova needs more attention for the Bucks. 6-6 for 16 points and his ability to have the offense run through him is notable for a rookie. He’s like the anti-Ben Gordon. Efficient, underpaid, and fluid.

Suns 88 Hawks 80: I would have expected that total at the half.

The Hawks just didn’t have it. Not their usual effort defensively, not their usual efficiency offensively. The Suns were able to get easy buckets inside when they wanted and able to deny Atlanta the same. When that happens, the Hawks become pedestrian, human, mortal. Amaré Stoudemire, who still plays for the Suns, had 22 points and 8 boards.

Celtics 96 Blazers 76: A focused, angry, veteran team came in and punched a young, injured, uncertain team in the face. They did not get up.

KG was in full-on bully mode, getting into it with Andre Miller among others. The Celtics set up shop in the paint, charged rent, with interest, and had this thing wrapped up by the end of the 1st.

Jazz 100, Warriors 89: Simplest game of the night to explain — the more talented, more disciplined team won. The Jazz ran their flex offense, exploited the mismatches with Boozer (30 points) and Kirilenko (22 points), plus played smart defense and jumped obvious passing lanes. That was more than enough. The game wasn’t as close as the final score. 

New California law prompted by crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant crash site
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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday approved legislation prompted by the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight other peopls that makes it a crime for first responders to take unauthorized photos of deceased people at the scene of an accident or crime.

Reports surfaced after the Jan. 26 crash that killed Bryant, his daughter Gianna and the others that graphic photos of the victims were being shared.

Eight deputies were accused of taking or sharing graphic photos of the scene, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said then, adding that he had ordered the images deleted. He said the department has a policy against taking and sharing crime scene photos, but it did not apply to accident scenes.

The measure that will take effect Jan. 1 makes it a misdemeanor with fines up to $1,000 per offense to take such photos for anything other than an official law enforcement purpose.

Bryant’s widow, Vanessa Bryant, has sued the department over the photos.

LeBron James calls bubble “the most challenging thing I’ve ever done” in NBA

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The NBA bubble has worn on players.

Paul George talked about the depression it brought on, saying he went to a “dark place.” Other teams just seemed to crumble under the weight of it when things got tight.

The strong-willed survival of all things bubble is why the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat start play in the NBA Finals on Wednesday. Just don’t think it’s been easy.

“It’s probably been the most challenging thing I’ve ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through,” LeBron said on Media Day Tuesday. “But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it’s been extremely tough.

“But I’m here for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to compete for a championship. That was my mindset once I entered the bubble, once I entered the quarantine process the first two days. Then right from my first practice, my mindset was to — if I’m going to be here, make the most of it and see what you can do and lock in on what the main thing is. The main thing was for us to finish the season and compete for a championship.

“So that’s just been my mindset throughout these — I don’t even know how many days it is. However many days it is, it feels like five years. So it really doesn’t matter. I’ve been as locked in as I’ve ever been in my career.”

LeBron James has been a leader in every sense throughout the bubble. On the court, he took charge when it was needed to lift the Lakers organization back to the NBA Finals for the first time in a decade.

Off the court, he has been a consistent and loud voice for social justice — and he has put his money where his mouth is. That has made him a target of conservative talking heads, to which LeBron has largely shrugged. He’s thinking bigger picture, not their short-term distractions.

Right now, however, he’s thinking about winning NBA Finals.

 

NBA Finals Preview: Five key things to watch when Lakers face Heat

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—This is not the NBA Finals preview we expected to write heading into the season because this had never happened in NBA history: Two teams that were 10 seeds a season ago, two teams completely out of the playoffs, are competing in the NBA Finals one year later.

The Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat both have the advantages of market and management, and both used that leverage last offseason to land big stars — Anthony Davis and Jimmy Butler — who could lead them back to this point.

The Lakers and Heat meet in an interesting chess match of a Finals — the Lakers have the two best players in the series, but the Heat have the better ensemble and have thrived in the bubble. Miami also creates some matchup challenges the Lakers have yet to see this postseason.

Here are the five things to watch, five things that will help decide the 2020 NBA Finals (with my prediction at the end).

1) Bam Adebayo vs. Anthony Davis

Anthony Davis has been the best offensive player so far in the playoffs — he is averaging 28.8 points per game and is scoring with ease from all three levels. He’s a devastating finisher at the rim, he is hitting 36.6% from three (on 2.7 attempts a game), and when he gets the ball and faces up he’s been unstoppable, including from the midrange. Portland and Denver went big but slower against him, Houston has no center, and none of those teams had an answer for Davis.

Miami has Bam Adebayo.

No one player will stop Davis, but Adebayo is an All-Defensive Team player with the length, instincts, and athleticism to make Davis work. Adebayo is a fantastic isolation defender, by far the best Davis has faced this postseason. Davis will get the ball and drive, but the buckets will not come as easily — ask Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Bam is a great player, Davis said of Adebayo. “Bam is a lot like [Nikola] Jokic. He handles the ball a lot, pushes them on the breaks for them, he makes great passes, scores. He’s like their energy guy as well. So, it’ll be fun. Two Kentucky guys. Coach Cal [John Calipari] probably texted and called me enough about that.

But it’s going to be a fun matchup… That team leans on him a lot. I think it was Game 4 where he took that pressure, and took the blame for not playing well, and ended up losing. And he comes out in Game 5 and almost had a triple-double.”

When the Heat have the ball, Adebayo is at the heart of Miami’s attack — he was the difference in the fourth quarter of Game 6 against Boston — and like Davis, he attacks the rim. Davis can defend him but it’s going to require a lot of energy on the defensive end.

Miami likely will use Jae Crowder to guard Davis at times as well, they will go under every pick and play back in the paint, daring Davis and the Lakers to be jump shooters. It’s the right strategy, but the way Davis is playing he will make Miami pay anyway.

2) Miami’s shooters get red hot

The Lakers have been a fantastic defensive team through the playoffs in part because they are quick on their rotations, scramble well when things break down, and they don’t give up a lot of threes (32.9 attempts per game, second-lowest in the playoffs).

If Miami is going to win this series, Duncan Robinson, Tyler Herro, and the rest of the Miami shooters are going to have to change that dynamic. The Heat have to keep moving to get open then shoot over the top of the Lakers’ defense all series, stretching their defense across the court.

“The way they move off the ball, they share the ball,” LeBron said of things that have impressed him about the Heat. “Everyone is live on the floor. There’s not one guy that you can disrespect or be off throughout the course of an offensive possession. And they do a hell of a job of moving without the ball, sharing the ball, cutting, passing.”

The Lakers have length, but do they have a defender who can stay in front of this Goran Dragic — the guy in the bubble playing like the All-NBA version of himself from six years ago? If he gets into the paint and hits a few shots, the Lakers’ defense will collapse down and suddenly, two quick passes and Heat shooters will have an open three. That’s bad news for L.A.

Miami was streaky from deep against Boston — Herro had a great game but Miami shot under 30% from deep in games two, three, and four — and they can’t be against the Lakers. Miami’s chances in this series hinge on its ability to shoot lights out.

3) Lakers dominating the offensive glass

The Los Angeles Lakers have grabbed the offensive rebound on 29.7% of their missed shots these playoffs, and those second-chance points have helped fuel their run to the Finals. With Davis and JaVale McGee/Dwight Howard up front, the Lakers’ size inside has been a problem for teams. Even big teams. It’s been all season long.

Pat Riley used to tell his Showtime Lakers “no rebounds, no rings,” and that will apply to his Heat now — if Miami doesn’t keep the Lakers off the offensive glass they will lose. Miami plays with incredible energy (which has helped them on the offensive glass at critical points), and they will need to focus that energy on the boards this series.

4) Jimmy Butler and Heat try to make LeBron a jump shooter

The most telling action to watch in this series is how Miami defends the LeBron/Davis pick-and-roll.

The Heat got to the Finals playing zone defense (more on that is a few paragraphs) and being a switching team in man-to-man. However, they may look like more of a basic drop defense against the Lakers — go under the pick, pack the paint and protect it, and dare the Lakers to become jump shooters.

Especially LeBron. The problem is, back off LeBron and he sees a runway. That is where Butler comes in — he has to have a fantastic defensive series keeping LeBron from taking over (and it’s fair to question if he still has the athleticism to do it, even against an age 35 Lebron). Guys have been trying to find a way to slow LeBron for 17 seasons, and with limited success. For Miami to have a chance, Butler (and to a lesser degree Andre Iguodala) will have to make him work hard for his points.

“He’s seen everything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said of LeBron. “At this point in his career, it’s just about winning. And his ability to do what he does at his age is incredibly uncommon. But there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes to be able to maintain that.”

LeBron will hunt for switches and try to get Herro or Robinson on him — he is relentless at forcing the matchup he wants (even if Miami is fairly good at avoiding the switch). The Heat rookies could be in for a long series.

Then there is the Miami zone.

Miami will use it to protect the paint — pack it in a little, take away lanes for LeBron to drive, remove passing lanes to cutters, and try to take LeBron out of his comfort zone. The challenge is Miami likes to put its bigger wings out top in the zone to overwhelm smaller ball handlers (think Boston’s Kemba Walker), but that’s not going to work against LeBron. Still, the Lakers have not done as well against a zone in the playoffs (less than a point per possession, but just 30 possessions according to Second Spectrum tracking data, so it’s small sample size theater). The Lakers will need to figure it out, as Boston eventually did, because the Heat will run it until the Lakers beat it.

5) Which team stays out of foul trouble

Nobody ever pities the referees, but they are in for a brutal series.

Both the Lakers and Heat attack the paint and put pressure on the officials to make calls — and the Lakers have fouled a lot these playoffs. Both teams will target getting key opponents in early foul trouble — watch the Davis/Adebayo matchup in particular and LeBron/Butler. Both teams will be physical.

“You got to be smart about ticky-tacky fouls,” Adebayo said.

How games are officiated — is it called tight, or do they let them play a little? — will mean a lot in this series.

Expect a lot of complaining — from players, from coaches, and from fans — about the officiating. Expect letters and video to be sent to the league by both teams. Expect fines for complaining.

Despite what fans think, the referees will work to be impartial in the NBA Finals, but it’s going to be hard for the referees to stay out of the middle of this series.

Prediction: Lakers in six. As many problems as Miami poses for the Lakers, LeBron will figure out the puzzle.

Report: Delonte West enters rehab with help of Mavericks owner Mark Cuban

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban with Delonte West
Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images
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Every so often, a video or picture goes viral of Delonte West – who played primarily for the Celtics and Cavaliers and whose NBA career ended with the Mavericks in 2012 – on the street appearing to be in rough shape.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban did something about it.

TMZ:

Mark Cuban is personally helping Delonte West get back on his feet … with the Dallas Mavericks owner picking up the ex-NBA star at a gas station in Texas.

We’re even told Cuban has offered to help cover Delonte’s cost for treatment.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Good for Cuban for stepping up. And hopefully West gets the help he needs.