Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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nelson_game.jpgWhat happened while you were chanting “U-S-A! U-S-A!” (or, for our Canadian brethren, feeling blue)…

Magic 101 Cavs 95:
Let today stand as the reminder that the East is still cyclical. At different points this season, Orlando, Boston, and Cleveland have all been declared as the obvious best team in the East, with the Hawks drawing a few dark horse bids. But the Magic now have season series leads over Atlanta and Boston, and cut Cleveland’s lead to one.

Jameer Nelson tends to be the lightning rod in the Magic’s time-traveling Delorean. If he’s hot, this team is at another level. When he’s off, they look tremendously pedestrian. With Turkoglu gone and Vince Carter more of a ball-dominator, the point guard position for Orlando is vital to create motion in the half-court offense. Howard and Carter did their damage, but Jameer Nelson had a huge impact in the Magic’s win.

Nuggets 114 Celtics 105: A barnburner between two defensive squads. By the way, while everyone here at PBT wishes George Karl a speedy triumph and recovery from his current bout with cancer, there’s still a fun game to play when Karl is on the bench.

When J.R. Smith enters the game, count how many times George Karl claps when he does something brilliant, and how many times he facepalms himself when Smith does something inexplicable. Today was one where he got to clap more than facepalm.

Long story short, the Nuggets just kicked the Celtics in the face with big plays, and a fast team on the second night of a back to back (SEGABABA) for Boston was just too much to overcome.

Pistons 109 Spurs 101: Tim Duncan hit a three and the Spurs lost. If that doesn’t tell you how crazy this season has been for the Spurs, nothing will.

Rip Hamilton (27 points) apparently was just waiting for the trade deadline to be over, the Spurs used Hack-A-Ben, and it worked, but got blown off the map in overtime. We’re past panic time for San Antonio and into “damage control and hope for the best.”

Thunder 109 Wolves 104: Durant hit 25+ for the 28th time in a row, including some huge buckets down the stretch.

It’s time to start considering Durant-Westbrook-Green as one of the premier three-headed attacks in the league. When the Wolves took the lead in the fourth, Green calmly nailed a three that started the Thunder’s game-ensuring run.

The three possess the ability to simply neutralize their opponents. They brought perimeter pressure on Westbrook and he countered with drive and dish to wide open players on his way to a triple double. If you give Durantula an inch, he scores miles and miles. And Green’s ability to stretch the defense and defend bigger players makes him a matchup nightmare.

The Wolves were dialed into this one, but when you have so little offense and are leaning on Corey Brewer (even though he’s having a fantastic month), you’re in trouble. The Thunder were once again too much for an opponent. 

Grizzlies 104 Nets 94: The Nets’ versatility in losing is stunning. They should have won this game. Brook Lopez had 17 points in the first quarter, then finished with only nine more. They held a huge lead at the half, and couldn’t hold on.

For the Grizzlies, it’s this simple. If you get both O.J. Mayo and Rudy Gay over 20 points, they are nigh unstoppable. When Mayo heats up, he gets white hot , and will keep looking to create shots. The Nets, as usual, had no answer to the counter punch.

Rockets 102 Hornets 94: The defense is just not right in Houston. Houston makes a living off of frustrating teams built like the Hornets. Undersized fours like David West. Offensively limited centers like Emeka Okafor. Rookie point guards like Darren Collison. And lately, their defense is just lost. It can’t commit, can’t decide, and can’t execute.

David West’s performance and leadership since Chris Paul went down has been exemplary. Darren Collison will get all the attention, because West performs very quietly, but he’s been the go-to guy, and has been a veteran leader on the floor. I’m still waiting for the Hornets’ shots to dry up, but it doesn’t seem to be happening any time soon.

Warriors 108 Hawks 104: The Hawks had many, many things go wrong tonight, but there were two in particular that killed them. They failed to dominate on the glass, even against Stephen Curry (32 points, 9 boards). They won the rebounding battle, but only by three against a bad rebounding team. That’s a core value of Atlanta’s success.

Second, their ball-movement came to a crashing halt as we’ve seen before this season. The inability of the coaching staff to program a low-post set has killed them this season. They’re somehow afraid of what has gotten them so much success the rest of the games.

Curry’s making a Rookie of the Year push.

Suns 104 Kings 88: The Kings just ran out of steam. I’ve got little else to get to on this one. If the Suns keep their offense in gear and get a defensive effort that holds their opponent under 90? You’re going to have a tough time beating them, ever.

Jazz 93, Trail Blazers 89 (OT):  Portland led by 25, at home in the Rose Garden, and Marcus Camby was playing like a man who read all those reports that he can’t play defense anymore and was pissed off. Brandon Roy has to ride a stationary bike when out so his hamstring doesn’t tighten up, and he still drops 23 points. But it says everything you need to know about the mental makeup of these teams that on Utah’s fourth road game in six nights, they battled back and Blazers players coasted. How else do you explain Kyrylo Fesenko taking over for a stretch of the game? Carlos Boozer hit the hard shot to send the game to overtime, and from there everyone knew who was going to win. Another tough loss for the Blazers, another impressive road win for the Jazz. 

Paolo Banchero, Scoot Henderson highlight player pool for Rising Stars during All-Star weekend

Orlando Magic v Miami Heat
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The big winner in last year’s All-Star Friday night Rising Stars game was the new format (and Cade Cunningham). The new setup saw players onto four teams of seven, with those four teams going into a tournament bracket. The games were not timed, but players competed to a target score — something that actually had the young stars defending and playing hard. Things too often lacking All-Star weekend.

That format is back, and an impressive crop of players is involved: Rookie of the Year favorite Paolo Banchero, last year’s ROY Scottie Barnes, and expected No.2 pick in the upcoming draft Scoot Henderson of the G-League Ignite. Here is a complete list of the players competing (the rookies and sophomores will be drafted into three teams of seven players each, and the G-League players will make up their own team).

Rookies

Paolo Banchero (Orlando Magic)
Jalen Duren (Detroit Pistons)
AJ Griffin (Atlanta Hawks)
Jaden Ivey (Detroit Pistons)
Walker Kessler (Utah Jazz)
Bennedict Mathurin (Indiana Pacers)
Keegan Murray (Sacramento Kings)
Andrew Nembhard (Indiana Pacers)
Jabari Smith Jr. (Houston Rockets)
Jeremy Sochan (San Antonio Spurs)
Jalen Williams (Oklahoma City Thunder)

Sophomores

Jose Alvarado (New Orleans Pelicans)
Scottie Barnes (Toronto Raptors)
Josh Giddey (Oklahoma City Thunder)
Jalen Green (Houston Rockets)
Quentin Grimes (New York Knicks)
Bones Hyland (Denver Nuggets)
Evan Mobley (Cleveland Cavaliers)
Trey Murphy III (New Orleans Pelicans)
Alperen Sengun (Houston Rockets)
Franz Wagner (Orlando Magic)

The G-League team will consist of:

Sidy Cissoko (G League Ignite)
Scoot Henderson (G League Ignite)
Mojave King (G League Ignite)
Kenneth Lofton Jr. (Memphis Hustle)
Mac McClung (Deleware Blue Coats)
Leonard Miller (G League Ignite)
Scotty Pippen Jr. (South Bay Lakers)

There are former NBA stars to coach each of the teams: Former All-Stars Pau Gasol, Joakim Noah and Deron Williams will coach the three Rising Stars teams, while former Sixth Man of the Year Jason Terry will coach the G League team.

There will be three games Friday night during the Rising Stars challenge, with each game played to a target score of 40. If it’s anything like last year, it’s worth tuning in.

Needing defense, Kings reportedly eyeing 76ers Thybulle for trade

Philadelphia 76ers v Sacramento Kings
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At 28-21, the Sacramento Kings sit as the No.3 seed in the West with the second-best offense in the league — they seemed destined to break their 16-year playoff drought and very well could even host a first-round playoff series.

However, their 23rd-ranked defense (using Cleaning the Glass’ numbers) will undo them come the playoffs.

That has the Kings looking for some defensive help and they are eyeing Sixers wing Matisse Thybullereports Marc Stein in his latest Substack newsletter.

Sacramento is said to be monitoring the availability of Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle as the Kings, unexpectedly holding the West’s No. 3 seed after a league-record 16 consecutive seasons out of the playoffs, ponder the pursuit of a more defensive-minded option on the perimeter.

Thybulle has lived in the rumor mill for a while, this is nothing new. However, those rumors carry more weight because Thybulle’s role in Philadelphia has shrunk considerably with the additions of De'Anthony Melton and P.J. Tucker as defensive-minded forwards who can provide more offense than Thybulle. Doc Rivers also leans into Georges Niang more off the bench because of his shooting.

Thybulle is in the final year of his contract and is headed for restricted free agency, the Kings might be interested in re-signing him (depending on the price and his fit with the roster). The Kings can match salaries easily enough with Davion Mitchell, Terence Davis or Alex Len, the question is who will the 76ers want back, and will the Kings need to throw in a second-round pick?

There’s some logic to this trade getting done in some form, it’s worth keeping an eye on.

 

Nets reportedly in no rush to sign Kyrie Irving to contract extension

Los Angeles Lakers v Brooklyn Nets
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Kyrie Irving wanted a contract extension with the Nets this past summer, but that went nowhere (as did his looking around for a new home). Now, Irving’s representative again wants to talk contract extension with the Nets.

The Nets are in no rush, partly because they feel they have all the leverage, reports Marc Stein in his latest newsletter.

Irving hopes to sign a contract extension with the Nets — but substantive talks between the sides have yet to begin. Some league observers have posited that this could be by design on Brooklyn’s part, with the Nets apparently convinced that they are under no pressure to move swiftly on the extension front when Irving would likely need their help via sign-and-trade to relocate in the offseason to any other team he likes.

The teams with potential cap space next summer are the Spurs, Rockets, Magic, Pistons, Hornets, Pacers and Thunder (a few teams, like the Lakers, can create some cap space but not at the max money Irving would seek). It’s a list of teams that may take a step forward toward the play-in, but there is not a contender in the mix.

If Irving wants out of Brooklyn to get to the Lakers or another team he sees as a threat to win it all, it will come via an off-season sign-and-trade. Irving will have to work with the Nets, one way or another.

There is a growing sense around the league that ultimately Irving will re-sign in Brooklyn if the team’s recent run of strong play continues into the playoffs. For all the tension between Irving and Nets’ ownership in recent years, he fits well there on the court and likes playing with Kevin Durant. He likes being in Brooklyn. This can still be a fit that works for everyone.

The interesting part with Irving’s next contract will be the years — would any team lock into him for four fully-guaranteed years? He may not get more than a couple of years, at least from any team he would want to play for.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• After sitting out against the Nets on Monday, LeBron is officially questionable to play Tuesday in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks and will be a game-time decision. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said LeBron has “really significant soreness” in his left foot (after playing 44 minutes against Boston). LeBron and the medical staff will speak after LeBron starts to warm up Tuesday to determine if LeBron can play in Madison Square Garden, a game he hates to miss because he loves playing in that venue.

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”