Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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Here’s what happened Saturday, while you were Wikipedia’ing Curling

Thunder 121 Knicks 118: We’ve already told you about T-Mac, and we’ll touch on Durant for you shortly (and often), but Russell Westbrook was the story you won’t be reading about.

There may be no single point guard in the league I want taking a finger roll straight-on to the basket in transition more than Russell Westbrook. Some guards float them, others flip them, but Westbrook’s athleticism enables him to drop the ball in like he’s dropping his change in a tollbooth. Westbrook was simply astounding at the rim, as most of the Thunder were. They relentlessly attack and if they miss, surprising rookie Serge Ibaka is there.

Impressive defense from the Knicks tonight, and that’s no joke. The effort was there, the focus was there, they had their head on their shoulder and not up their trade deadlines, and it just wasn’t enough. Because Westbrook and Durant, at this point in their careers, this young, are just too good.

Raptors 109 Wizards 104: Typically, crushing defeats that result from blowing a nine point lead with five to go feel worse than this. But this one? Well…

Let me put it this way. There were wins the Wizards would peel off this season that still felt like losses. The pointless gimme game from a distracted opponent. But this was just the opposite. Jarret Jack goes off for 23 points, including seven straight down the stretch? Josh Howard goes frozen in the second half? Andrea Bargnani gets four blocks?

You can live with that, on the road, on the second game of a back to back (SEGABABA). The Wizards were there. Right there. That effort is what’s vital. The fact that that effort is translating to long stretches of cohesion and production, that’s vital. They needed someone to step up and hit a big one late, and they couldn’t. But they’ll find that guy (Josh Howard) and he’ll step up if they keep this up. It was a loss, but it didn’t feel like a loss. Small consolation to Wizards’ fans, probably.

For the Raps? If the beginning of their season was marked by superb talent not translating to production, their mid-season has been marked by the words “just getting it done.” They are not a good defensive team. But they make good defensive plays, like the double on Josh Howard with less than four minutes to go that absolutely froze the possession. Just getting it done is better than style points.

Chicago 122 Philadelphia 90: Here’s a fun trivia fact. In four games since the All-Star break, the Bulls, the offensively horrendous Bulls have averaged 113.75 points per game.

Let that one sink in. Now, they’ve played New York twice, the Wolves, and the Sixers. But the fact remains that for whatever reason, the Bulls are clicking offensively.

A lot of it is Kirk Hinrich, who became the record-holder for most threes in Bulls’ history, simply returning to form. There was a lot of talk that Hinrich had simply ‘lost it.’ But with his age, that was simply unlikely. It was a long cold spell but it looks as if Hinrich is finally coming out of it, and when you combine that wish his defense, he becomes a vital part of the team.

Then there’s Taj Gibson, 20 points and 13 rebounds with 2 blocks. Bulls fans HATED this kid to start the season. But he’s kept his head down and just worked, and worked, and worked his way to being one of the more impressive rookie bigs of his class, even if he’s not DeJuan Blair.

The Sixers had no intention of defending tonight, and couldn’t tell the locker room from the concession stand. Eddie Jordan’s club is just lost at this point.

Hakim Warrick had one of those sick, in-traffic, went up late so you have to curl the ball over the rim dunks late in the third quarter. It was nasty.

Pacers 125 Rockets 115: Let this serve as a warning game.

The Rockets’ problem as of late was not offense. So the addition of Kevin Martin is not going to cure all ills. And losing to Indiana, at home, after a two-day layoff? That’s a bad loss. The Rockets’ constant over-effort is going to take its toll, and you have to wonder if they’re going to have enough left in the tank to push for the playoffs.

The Pacers? They created free throws and kept their turnovers to a reasonable degree in a fast paced game (estimated 103 possessions). You have to love Danny Granger’s silk when it’s going. Good on the Pacers, making sure they don’t get a meaningful draft pick.

Wait.

Milwaukee 93 Charlotte 88: How do the Cats beat the Cavs one night and lose to the Bucks the next? Simple. Too much of the Cavs’ offense is “Give to LeBron, watch.”  The Bucks? They made a concerted effort to find that extra pass. In transition for trailer layups, on the perimeter to find open threes, probing, testing the defense. If you put Charlotte back on its mental heels, you limit their ability to interrupt you. Come straight at them, and they brace the lances and impale you.

Luc Richard Mbah a Moute deserves defensive player of the year attention. He doesn’t deserve the award, but he deserves some attention for it.

Dallas 97 Miami 91: Take out Jason Terry’s 0-fer-10 night. The Mavericks shot 33 of 63. And when you get efficient scoring like 97 points on 73 shots? You’re going to win quite a few games.

Here’s what’s important. You can see the Mavericks adjusting to their new teammates, and how interested those new teammates are in playing. Butler is slashing, catching, dishing, shooting. And Haywood is just relentless. Haywood isn’t going to land a knockout blow. He’s not going to dominate the game. But he’s part of the war of attrition the Mavs wage, and it’s working.

Daequan Cook lead all Heat scorers. That pretty much sums it up, no?

Clippers 99 Kings 89: It’s hare to say that the Clippers are really better than the Kings, but I will posit that they are playing better this season. The Clips can do some damage if they get a chance, and the Kings gave them that chance.  Evans is a monster, the rest of the team was a no-show, Landry had 10 points on eleven shots.

The Kings did win one battle, though. They have a future. The Clips do not.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

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After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

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Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.

Annual GM survey predicts Bucks vs. Warriors Finals, Doncic MVP

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The NBA’s annual GM survey is more of a snapshot of the conventional wisdom around the league than a good predictive tool — last season the GMs overwhelmingly picked the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Durant as MVP. Didn’t exactly work out that way.

Still, it’s an interesting view into where things stand — and where it stands is a Bucks vs. Warriors NBA Finals. When asked who would win the NBA title, 43% predicted the Bucks, 25% the Warriors, 21% the Clippers and 11% the Celtics (a number that unquestionably fell since the news of Ime Udoka’s suspension came out).

Here’s how the GMs see the top six in each conference, courtesy of Jon Schuhmann and NBA.com who did the survey:

EAST
1. Bucks
2. Celtics
3. 76ers
4. Nets
5. Heat
6. Cavaliers

WEST
1. Clippers
2. Warriors
3. Suns
4. Nuggets
5. Grizzlies
6-T: Mavericks and Timberwolves

Here are some other highlights from the survey:

• Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP and the choice of the GMs, with 48% of them picking the Dallas star to win the award. Second was Giannis Antetokounmpo (34%) followed by Joel Embiid (14%).

• But ask GMs if they were starting a franchise today and could sign anyone, and they take Antetokounmpo (55%) over Doncic (45%). Those are the only two names on the list.

• Asked the player most likely to have a breakout season and the Cavaliers Evan Mobley led the way with 21% of the vote, followed by Cade Cunningham and Anthony Edwards tied for second (17%).

• The most athletic player in the league? The GMs voted for Ja Morant (38%) over Antetokounmpo (31%) and Anthony Edwards (24%).

• When asked which team had the best offseason, 41% of the GMs picked the Cavaliers, with Donovan Mitchell being named the player changing teams who would have the biggest impact this season.

• The most underrated offseason pickup: Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, according to the GMs (28%).

• Most surprising move of the offseason for the GMs was Rudy Gobert to Cleveland (47% of the vote), but Mitchell to the Cavaliers was a close second (43%).

Paolo Banchero is the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year (79%).

• Antetokounmpo was voted the best defensive player in the NBA (45%), with Draymond Green a distant second (24%).

• Gobert, however, was the runaway winner of the best interior defender (83%).

• Best coach in the NBA? Erik Spoelstra led the way with 52% of the vote, followed by Steve Kerr at 22%. The Clippers’ Tyronne Lue, however, won the vote for best in-game adjustments by a coach.

• The Toronto Raptors were voted the team with the best home court advantage (21%), with Boston and Denver tied for second (17%).