Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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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.

Dwyane Wade signs ‘lifetime’ deal with Li-Ning

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MIAMI (AP) Dwyane Wade has signed a lifetime contract with Chinese apparel company Li-Ning.

Wade made the deal official at an event in Beijing on Wednesday with the company’s CEO and namesake Li Ning, who is revered in China for his gymnastics success.

Wade’s relationship with Li-Ning began in 2012, after he previously was an endorser for Converse and Jordan Brand. In addition to the continued production of basketball and lifestyle apparel, the new deal calls for Wade to take “a greater role” in youth developmental camps and basketball clinics in China and other parts of the world over the coming years.

Wade finished last season with the Miami Heat. He has not decided if he will return to the Heat next season, which would be his 16th in the NBA.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kawhi Leonard warming to playing for Raptors

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Shortly after the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, word leaked he didn’t want to play for Toronto.

That stance is apparently softening.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp. He’s going to play. He’ll be in training camp. He’s healthy. He may be at USA Basketball’s minicamp next week which Gregg Popovich is coaching. That’s possible.

But the one thing I was told today he’s started to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that could be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference.

And now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.

Leonard has little choice but to get on board. If he withheld services from the Raptors, they could fine him – eventually all the way up to his entire $20,099,189 salary for next season. Perhaps even more catastrophically, if it was determined he withheld services for more than 30 days of the season, he could be denied free agency entirely.

Maybe he could have finessed using his injury as an excuse rather than explicitly holding out. It has been threatened before. But that’s hard to manage and would have hurt his stock among all teams, including his preferred destination(s).

The best way for Leonard to get everything he wants is going to Toronto, playing well then becoming a free agent next summer.

I’d advise Leonard to keep an open mind until then. It might have made sense to posture against the Raptors to discourage a trade. But the trade has happened. Maybe he’ll join Toronto and like it more than he expects.

Paul George didn’t expect to stay with the Thunder, but he considered them throughout the season and found a long-term home. I don’t expect that to repeat with Leonard and the Raptors, but it could. Why close the option?

If not, Los Angeles will always be waiting.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

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In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.