Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

1 Comment

What happened Sunday, while drowning your tears in maple syrup…

Lakers 95 Nuggets 89: Maybe one day in May, we’ll get to see these two teams play at full strength for a full 48. As it was, like we told you, it was a tale of two halves. The Nuggets’ first half, and the Lakers second half, save a run in the mid-2nd by Denver. The shots dried up, particularly Kenyon Martin’s.

The Nuggets have relied on Martin’s mid-range J way too much this season. It’s one of those shots that is nice to have, but that you can’t rely on. And when the Nuggets came to rely on it today, with Ron Artest smothering Anthony and no other wing offense being produced, they choked on it.

Pau Gasol had one single decisive power move that sealed the game in the midst of yet another soft-as-yogurt performance. But that one move, and up and under finish and-one, was huge.

Spurs 113 Suns 110: Like I said, the Gods hate the Suns. But lost in this other-worldly stuff were two huge factors.

One, Amar’e Stoudemire looked like it was 2007. He was dominant. The way he and Nash work in the pick and roll is sublime. He attacked the offensive glass as well, and finished with some ridiculous numbers. It’s significant because more and more the Spurs have trouble with scoring bigs. That shouldn’t be a problem in the playoffs, when they will face some combination of Stoudemire, Aldridge, Nene, Nowitzki, and Gasol.

Two, the Richard-Jefferson-off-the-bench thing is gangbusters so far. 20 points on 11 shots, 4 rebounds, 5 assists is a good day’s work. Jefferson coming off the bench makes him seem much more comfortable, and gets an aggressive lineup to start off for the Spurs. If this continues to click, it’s a major development.

Both of those guys were considered major liabilities as the deadline approached. Something to watch.

Wizards 89 Nets 85: If you were wondering where Yi Jianlian’s jock is, it’s gone, burned in the fire Andray Blatche put on the floor and then subsequently wizzed on.

Blatche abused Jianlian. From the mid-range. Off the drive. In the post. There’s been some debate out there about Andray Blatche and his place among the young, second tier power forwards in the game (I’m talking to you two). Score one for Blatche tonight.

I was really excited about a Nets winning streak, weren’t you?

Hawks 106 Bucks 102 (OT): Even with 24 combined points scored in overtime, you have to know this isn’t the defensive effort the Bucks wanted. The pace was where they wanted it, but they gave up 108.2 points per 100 possessions (estimated). That’s just not where the Bucks usually perform.

But a road SEGABABA (SEcond GAme of a BAck to BAck) will do that to you. They hung, John Salmons was brilliant once again (32 points, 8 rebounds, 4 assists), the Hawks just have guys who can create all over. Particularly Josh Smith (22 points on 13 shots, 15 rebounds), who was beastly.

The Hawks always push you, no matter if they’re up or down. They just keep testing you, running you, gunning you, and if you don’t have constant vigilance, they’re going to catch you.

Joe Johnson had more shots (26) than points (24), and too often he becomes the entirety of the offense for long stretches, and not very efficiently. It turns into Kobe-time without the Kobe, and I say that as a staunch Joe Johnson supporter (Arkansas represent! Or something).

Thunder 119 Raptors 99: I will not use the terrible “Thunder rolled” pun. I will not use the terrible “Thunder rolled” pun. I will not use the terrible “Thunder rolled” pun. I will not use the terrible “Thunder rolled” pun. I will not use the terrible “Thunder rolled” pun.

Okay, the Thunder got out early and cruised in this one. If you talk about offensive distribution, these two teams are built entirely differently. The Raptors are built for one guy (Bosh) to have a massive games, two to three guys to have big games, and the defense to be opportunistic.

The Thunder are built to have Durantula put in between 20 and 40 every night, but to also create even distribution. And that’s what they got tonight. Six players in double figures. Two players with double-doubles. And their defense? It’s not opportunistic, it’s relentless. It’s Soviet tanks rolling over fences and crushing houses. Holding one of the best offenses in the league to 99 points per 100 estimated possessions? That’s phenomenal.

Bosh or no Bosh, the Thunder were ready to roll tonight.

Crap.

Mavericks 108, Hornets 100: It was what everyone paid to see — a duel between Dirk Nowitzki and… Darren Collison? Yes, Darren Collison. Get used to it, you want to see him play. Kid can ball and Dallas didn’t have an answer (certainly not Kidd). Dropped 35 on 21 shots. Dirk countered him with 36. Dallas has the better rounded roster, and Brendan Haywood is a key reason because he defends the paint better than anyone they have had in there in a long tone. The Mavericks have now won seven in a row, and they won an ugly one. Credit to the Hornets for not rolling over and keeping this one close, but they do that against Dallas.

Orlando 96, Miami 80: The Heat bigs did what every team says is their goal against Orlando — they took Dwight Howard out of the game. He was Bizzaro — 7 points on 1 of 7 shooting, and as many rebounds as fouls (5). But Miami just isn’t good enough to do anything about it. Wade shot 35% as the Magic focused on him, while his teammates shot just 40% with the extra space. Martin Gortat continued to clog the paint for Orlando — get that crap out of here, D Wade — and was a game-best +23. Sure, +/- can be pretty misleading sometimes, but here it is telling the story.

Kings 97, Clippers 92: The Clippers may want to run  but the Kings have the players who can do that. And did that. Ran all over in the Clippers for the first half, but only had a four point lead to show for it. They stretched that to double digits for a while in the second, but when Tyreke Evans went a little cold at the end it got close. However, when it gets close you can count on the Clippers to be the Clippers. Chris Kaman threw the ball away, led to Evans driving for a layup. Horrific Clippers position ends with a Baron Davis 30 footer, followed by the Kings coming down and Evans driving for a layup. You’ve seen this movie on how the Clippers execute late, no need to continue. This is only the third time this season the Kings have back-to-back wins.

Injury note, Clippers power forward Craig Smith had a pretty bad sprain of the tendon on his left bicep. No work on how lon
g he is out but an MRI Monda
y to figure that out.

76ers once again overhaul around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

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

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

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’

Getty
Leave a comment

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

Stacy Revere/BIG3 via Getty Images
1 Comment

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.