Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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johnson_game.jpgOur game recaps from Monday, or what you missed while bidding on Action Comics No. 1

Atlanta 105, Utah 100: The last time Atlanta won in Utah? The same year that Dr. Dre released The Chronic. We’re talking old school.

The Jazz had all kinds of excuses for this one — no Deron Williams, no Andre Kirilenko, second night of a back-to-back — and they still hung around and made it close. But at the end, with the game on the line, they defended the pick-and-roll poorly and Mike Bibby made them pay with passes to guys deep in the paint. Same thing happened when the Jazz didn’t cover some backdoor cuts. You can’t give Atlanta shots near the rim, they finish too well. Quality road win for the Atlanta.

Washington 101, Chicago 95: The Wizards are hot — 3-1 since the Caron Butler and Antawn Jamison were shipped out the door. One key reason is Andray Blatche — who has teased with talent at Summer League and in short spurts over the years — has put it together for a stretch of games (he had 25 points and 11 boards). Four games not much of a stretch, you say? It is for Blatche, and the Wizards need the small victories. Also, Al Thornton has become their go-to guy down the stretch, and that is working. Against all odds.

Chicago, on the other hand, just looked lost on offense down the stretch. They don’t create or recognize mismatches well, and if Rose is not penetrating get stagnant fast. What they need is a guy who could create his own shot on the wing and just knock down jumpers all night long. A guy like Ben Gordon.

Milwaukee 83, New York 67: Maybe it’s not Chris Duhon, maybe it’s just something about the position: Sergio Rodriguez gets the start at point for the Knicks and he goes 2 for 8 from the floor with one assist and three turnovers (he did have eight steals). Okay, it is Duhon, let’s not kid ourselves. Rodriguez can get better, but for one night he joined every Knick teammate in not shooting well, and it’s hard to pick up assists when guys don’t make shots. The Knicks shot 33.8% on the night, didn’t get to the line much and were useless on the offensive glass. Just ugliness all around.

Tracy McGrady had a team high 15 on 5 of 14 shooting, plus he was limping through parts of the third quarter and clearly in some pain. We’ll see if he plays against Boston.

And credit to the Bucks — the smaller Knicks are a team you want to pound inside, and Andrew Bogut had 24 points and 20 boards on the night. This is a team doing things better night after night.

L.A. Clippers 98, Charlotte 94: Charlotte was up by six with 9 minutes left when the Clippers got settled down and made a run thanks to a lineup that included Steve Blake, Travis Outlaw and Drew Gooden — all guys just picked up at the trading deadline. With those three, the Clippers bench outscored the Bobcat bench by a dozen, and was just more efficient. Again, not a pretty game, as highlighted by Stephen Jackson going a painful-to-watch 1 for 16 on the night.

With the Milwaukee win and the Charlotte loss, those two teams are tied for the eighth seed in the East. And the right to get swept by the Cavaliers in the first round.

Dallas 91, Indiana 82: Just an ugly game – the winning team shot 38.6 percent. Plus, the only thing worth watching night in, night out in Indiana is Danny Granger and he was out for personal reasons. So the Mavs keep right on rolling, four in a row now, but you can’t take much away from this one.
 

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns GM: ‘Overwhelming likelihood’ team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.