Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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Our game recaps from Monday, or what you missed while deciding how many bottles of the John Calipari bourbon bottles you want to buy….

Mavericks 89, Bobcats 84: Maybe the most interesting thing about this game was the jacket new Charlotte owner Michael Jordan wore. Close first half (and the Bobcats closed that second quarter out well) as Dallas looked like a team on the second night of a back-to-back. Flat as that Coke you left out last night.

But change was coming. You knew the run was coming. Everyone watching knew change was coming. Jordan’s jacket even knew the run was coming. Dallas had won seven (now eight) in a row, you don’t get that if you roll over. Charlotte did not have the players to stop the big run, the result was the Mavericks taking the lead and holding on with some key late shots.

Cavaliers 124, Knicks 93: Without Shaq or Big Z, the Cavaliers have to go small. And as Rob Mahoney pointed out, that’s not such a bad thing — especially against a Knicks team that wants to go smaller than you. The Cleveland small is so much more athletic, just so much flat out better than the Knicks’ version. Cleveland had 74 points at the half, and this was over. Of course, some New York fans want to blame this on Mike D’Antoni, as if there is some magical Xs and Os trick that turns Tracy McGrady into a superstar defender. D’Antoni could have a time machine and it would not help much with that problem.

After the game D’Antoni was asked if the 2010 plan was worth suffering losses like this. “I’ll tell you next year.”

Trail Blazers 103, Grizzlies 93: Memphis did not treat this like any other regular season game — they came in 3.5 games back of Portland for the final playoff spot in the West. It’s starting to get late, these are the wins you need. But the reason they are now 4.5 back is that Portland is the better team. Memphis was up at the half then went into hibernation on offense. They provided 15 second half turnovers to make sure the Trail Blazers got some easy transition buckets. It was ugly.

Memphis made some runs when they could get the ball inside to Zach Randolph and Mark Gasol. Still not enough, Portland’s front line defenders may be undersized but Marcus Camby and Juwan Howard did just enough, and Brandon Roy played well off the pick and roll when it mattered.

Magic 126, 76ers 105: The real Jameer Nelson is back, he had 22 points and 10 rebounds. With him at the helm Orlando played maybe their best offensive game of the season (138 points per 100 possessions), and that was far, far to much for Philly.

Hawks 116, Bulls 92: Pound it inside, work inside out. The Hawks should do that just about every night, but they really executed it in the first half against the smallish Bulls and the result was 59 first half points and a 16 point lead. The Bulls made it close in the fourth again, but when it got too close Atlanta went back to dominating inside and that was ballgame.

The result of this game — the Hawks are now two games clear of Boston for the third playoff spot in the East.

Rockets 116, Raptors 92: Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin combined for 56 points on 62.5% shooting, and they hit 9 of 17 from three. Think the Rockets may have found their backcourt?

Suns 101, Nuggets 85: In the second quarter Phoenix went to a zone, and Denver apparently has not practiced much against that. Or ever seen it before. No good shooting over the top, very little attacking the soft middle of the zone. Far too much dribble penetration, and most of it was a step slow. Chauncey Billups and Carmelo Anthony combined for 23 first quarter points, but had none in the second. JR Smith’s always questionable shot selection killed them against the zone.

But Denver has other worries. Like that the small front line of the Suns grabbed 40% of their missed shots for offensive rebounds. Or that while Ty Lawson has been a great story, when they have to go to Anthony Carter the entire state of Colorado winces. He is not playing well.

Clippers 108, Jazz 104: The Clippers led wire-to-wife on this one. They jumped out early, and were still up 12 with 150 seconds left to play — and almost lost it. They had to hang on with free throws. Typical Clippers. Not typical Jazz, who have been red hot lately but looked like a tired team on the road.

Spurs 106, Hornets 92: The Spurs dominated this one, it looked like an old-school, vintage Spurs win. Which is to say not that fun to watch. The fun thing was Hornets rookie Marcus Thornton, who went off for 30 on 12 of 19 shooting off the bench. The kid can play. Byron Scott did a nice job of sitting on Darren Collison and Thornton to start the season, nobody knew New Orleans had this talent buried on the bench.

Suns update: Ayton blames Sarver for contract, Crowder conflict, Johnson to start

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Phoenix went to the NBA Finals two seasons ago and had the most wins in the NBA last season, yet dark clouds seem to be blocking out the Suns heading into this NBA season.

Here’s the latest on three situations with the Suns: Deandre Ayton‘s contract frustration, why Jae Crowder is asking out, and who starts at the four now.

• Ayton ended up signing a four-year, $132.9 max contract and will be back with the Suns to start this season, but the road to get there was rocky. The Suns would not offer Ayton a max five-year contract extension, his name kept coming up in Kevin Durant trade rumors, so Ayton went out and got a four-year max offer from the Pacers — which the Suns instantly matched. Phoenix saved $40 million and a guaranteed year, but the process left Ayton a little bitter.

Ayton blames outgoing owner Robert Sarver — a notorious penny pincher as an owner (among other, much worse things) — Marc Spears and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN discussed on NBA Today (hat tip Real GM).

“That is certainly something that caused the ire of him,” said Marc J. Spears. “I was told that it was Robert Sarver who didn’t want to give him that fifth year, who wanted to save the money.”

“My understanding from talking to people close to Deandre is that he thinks this was Robert Sarver’s decision as well. And Robert Sarver’s not going to be the owner anymore. So there is some healing that can happen there. But I know there were some hurt feelings over that contract and how that played out.

“If they were going to instantly match an offer sheet that he signed, why not just give him the max contract? Yes, it saved them a year and $40 million but as somebody close to Deandre told me ‘There’s a karma to this. Why do that to your No. 1 overall pick?'”

Shelburne hit the nail on the head — the NBA is a business, but it’s a business of relationships. Not only did the Suns sour theirs with Ayton, but you can also be sure every other agent around the league noticed how that was handled. It doesn’t help when recruiting players. The eventual new owner, whoever it ends up being, has a lot of work to change the franchise’s perception.

• Jae Crowder remains away from the Suns during training camp awaiting a trade (which reportedly will not be to Dallas). Crowder started 109 games for the Suns during the past two seasons and was a key part of their run to the NBA Finals, so how did things deteriorate so quickly? Marc Stein lays it out in his latest Substack newsletter.

Entering the final season of his current contract at $10.2 million, Jae Crowder let the Suns know that he was seeking a contract extension. League sources say that the Suns’ messaging, in response, was to let Crowder know that, at 32, he was no longer assured of starting or finishing games ahead of Cam Johnson. That gulf between the parties led Crowder to seek an exit from the desert that has landed him on indefinite mutual leave from the team until Phoenix can find a trade for him.

While Miami gets mentioned as a suitor a lot, it’s next to impossible to put together a trade that works for both sides right now (at the trade deadline, maybe, but Crowder isn’t going to be with the Suns that long). Cleveland is currently the hot name in league circles when talking Crowder trades, and Stein also mentions the Milwaukee Bucks, who have been looking for a P.J. Tucker-like replacement for P.J Tucker. But, do any of these teams want to extend Crowder at age 32?

• Suns coach Monty Williams confirmed what Crowder heard — Cameron Johnson will start at the four for the Suns this season.

Johnson brings better shooting to the table — 42.5% last season on 3-pointers — and is more athletic at this point, but Crowder brings better defense, toughness, and veteran savvy that can be trusted in the playoffs. The Suns may miss that when it matters, but Johnson will get the chance to prove us all wrong.

Blake Griffin agrees to join Boston Celtics on one-year deal

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According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, Blake Griffin has agreed to join the Boston Celtics on a one-year contract which will be fully guaranteed.

The Celtics were desperate for frontcourt depth following injuries to Danilo Gallinari and Robert Williams, as Luke Kornet was even getting some run with the starting group at training camp.

You do have to wonder just how much the 33-year-old Griffin has left in the tank though. Last season with the Brooklyn Nets, Griffin only managed to play 17.1 minutes per game and his 3-point percentage dropped like a stone to 26%. He was also a major liability on defense, and the Celtics surely know that after Jaylen Brown drove by him with ease time and time again during the postseason.

Griffin was still an effective playmaker and that may make him a good fit with the second unit alongside the likes of Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White and Grant Williams with all of these capable of handling the ball. Injuries and Father Time have zapped Griffin’s athleticism, but if anyone can squeeze the last bit of value out of him, I’d bet on Brad Stevens and the Celtics.

Highlights from Japan Game: Hachimura and Wiseman put on show, plus Suga and Curry

Golden State Warriors v Washington Wizards - NBA Japan Games
Jun Sato/WireImage
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The NBA preseason is officially here — and it started in Japan. The Golden State Warriors faced the Washington Wizards in front of a sold-out crowd at the Saitama Super Arena in Tokyo. In case you didn’t wake up at 6 am Eastern to watch a meaningless preseason NBA game (and if you did, we’re worried about you), here are a few highlights and notes from the night.

• The Wizards were there because they have the biggest Japanese star in the NBA, Rui Hachimura, and he was given a chance to shine. The crowd erupted when he did anything.

• The leading scorer on the night was the Warriors James Wiseman with 20 points on 8-of-11 shooting, plus nine boards.

• Dunk of the game goes to Kyle Kuzma.

Stephen Curry was doing Stephen Curry things.

• Stephen Curry also met Suga of BTS and gave him some game-worn kicks. This will win Twitter for the day.

• Oh, by the way, the Warriors won 96-87. As for the level of basketball, it looked like the first preseason game after a flight halfway around the world. The teams combined to shoot 11-of-47 in the first quarter (23.4%) and both were under 40% for the game.

Klay Thompson is sitting out both Warriors games in Japan.

TRIVIA TIME: Can you name the other two players currently in the NBA born in Japan?

Cam Thomas (Yokosuka) and Yuta Watanabe (Yokohama), both of the Brooklyn Nets (Watanabe is on a training camp deal and is not expected to make the roster). Both were raised much of their lives and went to high school and college in the United States.

Thunder rookie Holmgren trying to focus on learning NBA during rehab

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Thunder rookie Chet Holmgren is experiencing the rehab process for the first time.

The No. 2 pick in the 2022 NBA draft suffered a right foot injury during a pro-am game in August while defending as LeBron James drove to the basket on a fast break. He had surgery, and the Thunder declared him out for the season.

“I’ve never had a serious injury in my life, so I didn’t really know, I had nothing to base it off of and compare to,” Holmgren said Thursday. “So when it happened, I had to get it looked at and see how serious it was. I didn’t imagine anything like this.”

Holmgren, a versatile 7-footer who had great moments during summer league, is dealing with being sidelined as the Thunder start training camp this week.

“Definitely something that I really had to put my mind to and spend some time to think on,” he said. “And kind of come to some conclusions on things and really settle my mind so I could kind of stop focusing on what happened and focus in on what’s going to happen, what I’ve got to do to get where I need to be.”

Even without practicing, he has already left an impression on his teammates.

“He’s a great guy,” guard Lu Dort said. “I can already feel a connection with me and the rest of the team. He’s a pretty vocal guy, too. He talks a lot, and that’s good for the team.”

Holmgren said his only workout limitation is that he can’t put weight on the injured foot. So, that forces him to focus on other aspects of the game. Coach Mark Daigneault said Holmgren has been working hard on film study.

“It just comes down to putting my mental energy towards it, learning how to really be a professional in areas off the court,” Holmgren said. “I’ve dedicated so much time to really hustling at my craft on the court. Now, this event is making me step back and kind of rework how how I do things. And one of those ways is to become professional with watching film and speaking with coaches, trying to learn, watching what’s happening and really being engaged, in trying to get better with different avenues.”

Holmgren has spoken with Joel Embiid about his injury. Embiid, the reigning NBA scoring champion, was the No. 3 pick in 2014 before missing his first two seasons with foot issues.

Holmgren hopes he can recover as well as Embiid.

“What I’m trying to do right now is just kind of soak up all the knowledge of how things are done around here, how they’re going to be done going forward,” Holmgren said. “So when I’m ready to get get back in there, I can just kind of seamlessly plug myself in.”

Holmgren is expected to be ready for the start of next season. He said he’s trying to keep his thoughts positive.

“It all comes down to keeping a level head because there’s so many ups and downs,” he said. “Unfortunately, this is a down. But I’ve got to keep my head level and focus on getting better. And no matter what the circumstances are, that’s the goal.”

Daigneault believes Holmgren’s mindset will net positive results.

“We’d like him to be out here,” Daigneault said. “But since he’s not, we’re certainly going to make a lot of investments, and the thing that makes me the most optimistic about that is the approach that he takes.”