Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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Our game recaps from Friday, or what you missed while filling out your Oscars pool

Bobcats 98, Lakers 83: The Lakers are not playing well right now, they are playing without confidence in the offensive system. That said, they are not playing as poorly as Lakers fans think they are.

Before we get too far into that, lets give the Bobcats some credit. This is a good defensive team that saves some of its best efforts for the Lakers. Larry Brown breaks out that 2004 Finals defense that pushes the triangle out higher on the floor, and the Lakers just can’t adjust. On offense, Charlotte ran the pick-and-roll well and hit their midrange jumpers consistently. This was a quality win.

This was always a trap game for the Lakers — second game of a back-to-back with everyone talking about the Orlando rematch on Sunday. But right now the Lakers look like a team killing time until the playoffs. And these Lakers are just not good enough to win doing that. They need to be engaged in the game — or for at least part of the game, as they were against Denver. The Lakers are in a funk — they are lazy taking care of the ball, their bigs are missing shots and every night different players seem to take the night off.

This, however, does not mean they are not title contenders, that they are not going to turn it on. There are 19 games left until a first round playoff matchup where they will be the heavy favorites. Kobe ad Phil Jackson have been down this road before, they can get a team functioning and focused. But it has to happen pretty soon.

Cavaliers 99, Pistons 92: The only important thing out of this game is that Rodney Stuckey is okay.

The incident may have had an impact on the outcome. The Pistons had been up on a rather lazy and unfocused Cavaliers team, by 21 at one point in the first half, nine at halftime and six at the time of Stuckey’s collapse. Pistons players admitted they were the ones not focused after that. LeBron James dropped 40.

Thunder 104, Clippers 87: Here is all you need to know about Kevin Durant: I was at this game, sitting next to two advanced scouts, and at least four different times Durant would make a play — slashing to the hoop or a jumper with a man in his face — and these scouts just shook their heads in disbelief. Twice once scout turned to the other and said, “How the hell are you supposed to defend that?” When you are wowing the oft-jaded advanced scouts, you are good.

This was really about the Thunder getting focused on defense and the Clippers having no good offensive answer for that.

Celtics 96, Sixers 86: There were some great games tonight. This was not one of them. Two teams played uninspired perimeter defense, and the big difference was that the Celtics have better outside shooters than the Sixers. Well, except for Paul “1-9” Pierce. But KG is 5 of 7 from the outside. Bottom line, ugly wins are still wins.

Raptors 102, Knicks 96: Here’s one of the things you have to like about David Lee — he still cares. The Raptors were without an ill Chris Bosh and they still scored 62 of their points in the paint. When the New York media called Lee on it after the game (as if it was all his fault, he’s a 6’9″ center), he took responsibility. Nobody else on that team still seems to be taking responsibility.

Bucks 102, Wizards 74: These two play a home-and-home and the Bucks win them both by a combined 44 points. The Wizards fans were booing, and Flip Saunders should have joined in as his charges had just 10 assists all game. We’ve all seen his offense at other stops, it’s not about isolation. (Although part of the reason for the 10 assists is that somebody has to hit the shot off the pass for their to be an assist, and the Wizards shot a woeful 37.8%.) Bogut with a double-double, he has been the second best center in the East the last few weeks.

Hawks 127, Warriors 122: If Mike Bibby could have played his entire career against the Warriors he might have been talked about like MJ — he torched his favorite opponent again, this time for 23 on 8 of 10, with seven three pointers. Al Horford had 25 and a big game inside for Atlanta because every decent center has a big game inside against the Warriors. At least Steph Curry is still fun to watch for Golden State, they’d kill to have that in New York right now.

Magic 97, Nets 87: The Magic acted like they cared for a quarter, and jumped out to 32-18 lead (Matt Barnes had 14 of those), then started thinking about the Lakers showdown Sunday and coasted. Against the Nets that’s still enough to get them a win.

Mavericks 108, Kings 100: Brendan Haywood hurt his back on the opening tip (it had been bothering him some before) and played just seven minutes. Rick Carlisle joined him in the locker room after getting tossed arguing for Dirk to get some calls. Doesn’t matter when you are as hot as Dallas. Key stat: The Mavericks won the turnover battle handily, giving it up eight time but having 10 steals and forcing the Kings into 17 turnovers.

Nuggets 122, Pacers 114: Denver is banged up and did not play very well. Fortunately for them, they played the Pacers.

Spurs 102, Hornets 91: Darren Collison continues to be the man — 32 points on 14 of 19 shooting.  But the Spurs played a very good and balanced  offensive game — seven players in double figures — and they get the win because they are the better team.

Royce O’Neal on Durant, Irving trade rumors: ‘That was the summer’

Philadelphia 76ers v Brooklyn Nets
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The Brooklyn Nets are trying to move on from a turbulent, awkward summer where their two best players tried to get tradedone throwing down a “me or the coach and GM” ultimatum — and they are tired of talking about it.

It sounds like they have moved on from the Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving drama in the locker room, at least based on what Royce O’Neal told Michael Scotto of Hoopshype.

“That was the summer. Nobody cares about it now. We’re all here, and we’re going to make it work. We have a lot of work to do to get to where we want to go. That’s what we’re focusing on.”

No doubt that is the mantra in the locker room, and it’s easy to do during the carefree, optimistic days of training camp or even the first preseason games. The players believe they have moved on.

The real question about these Nets is what happens when adversity hits? And it will hit, it does every team. How will Ben Simmons handle the stress? Irving? Can coach Steve Nash keep the Nets all on task, or will the finger-pointing start, and will the locker room get split?

Those questions are why everyone is finding it hard to predict these Nets — they could win a ring, they could have Durant demanding a trade again by Christmas. Most likely they land in the middle somewhere, but every possibility is on the table.

Speaking of teams being broken up, Scotto also asked about O’Neal’s former team, the Utah Jazz, and Danny Ainge’s decision to trade Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell this summer. Ainge said “this team didn’t believe in each other,” but that’s not how O’Neal saw it. He was surprised the team was blown up.

“I was definitely shocked. I had been there for five years. The team we had for a couple of years fell short. I thought we were going to build on it. Things happened, so keep it moving.”

The question is will the Nets keep moving when things get hard?

Collin Sexton expects to start for Jazz once he gets back to full speed

2022 NBA All-Star - NBA x HBCU Classic Presented by AT&T
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After the blockbuster trade that was centered around Donovan Mitchell sent Collin Sexton to Utah, the immediate expectation was that he would start for the Jazz and have the ultimate green light.

However, that wasn’t the case in their first preseason matchup with Toronto on Sunday. In 18 minutes off the bench, Sexton finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting (3-for-4 on 3-pointers) to go along with one rebound, two assists, two steals, and two turnovers.

It came as a bit of a surprise to most viewers that Sexton didn’t get the starting nod, but he told Sarah Todd of Deseret News that he expected to come off the bench for this game. He acknowledged that it was because he hasn’t played much since his meniscus surgery, but he expects to start once he gets back to full speed.

Utah hit the reset button by dealing away four of their five starters from last season. They’ve ushered in a new era that is centered around Sexton, Lauri Markkanen, Jarred Vanderbilt, and a ton of first round picks. Sexton has talked about wanting to improve on his assists numbers this season, which we should definitely see him get the opportunity to do.

The Jazz have cemented their place in the center of the Victor Wembanyama race, so they’ll have no problem letting their young guys learn through trial and error. Sexton averaged 4.4 assists per game for Cleveland just two years ago. However, he won’t be playing alongside another young guard like Darius Garland, so Sexton should have the ball in his hands more than he ever has in the NBA.

Ben Simmons looks fine in return, is ‘grateful just to be able to step on that floor’

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Ben Simmons played in an actual, live basketball game on Monday night.

It’s preseason, sure, but the Nets rolled out their likely starting five — Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant, Joe Harris, and Nic Claxton — and had Simmons initiating a lot of the offense early.

The results were not bad. Fine. Good in flashes. Simmons ran the floor well and finished with six points on 3-of-6 shooting, five assists and four rebounds. He missed both free throws he took and all three of his makes were at the rim, his three missed shots were all in the paint and included an ugly skyhook-like thing and a turnaround that missed. There was clear rust.

The Nets got him a lot of touches, having him initiate the offense early. Whether that is something that carries over into the season remains to be seen, the offense moved better with the crisp passing and decisions of Kyrie Irving.

Simmons sounded comfortable after the game, quotes via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“I’m grateful just to be able to step on that floor,” Simmons said. “Step on an NBA floor again. I had a lot of fun out there.”

“That’s the one thing, I thought I was going to be nervous,” Simmons said. “But I wasn’t nervous. I was excited.”

Simmons pushed for a trade off these 76ers a year ago, then sat out all last season due to mental health concerns. Having him back on the court for 19 minutes over a couple of shifts was enough for the Nets.

The 76ers sat Joel Embiid and James Harden for the night, but Tyrese Maxey was the best player on the floor with 20 points in 14 minutes and showing a confident 3-point stroke.

Furkan Korkmaz, another player coming off an injury, added 15 His play will add depth to the Sixers roster.

Claxton ran the floor hard and finished with 12 points on 6-of-6 shooting (all at the rim), while Durant led the way with 13 points.

Annual GM survey predicts Bucks vs. Warriors Finals, Doncic MVP

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The NBA’s annual GM survey is more of a snapshot of the conventional wisdom around the league than a good predictive tool — last season the GMs overwhelmingly picked the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Durant as MVP. Didn’t exactly work out that way.

Still, it’s an interesting view into where things stand — and where it stands is a Bucks vs. Warriors NBA Finals. When asked who would win the NBA title, 43% predicted the Bucks, 25% the Warriors, 21% the Clippers and 11% the Celtics (a number that unquestionably fell since the news of Ime Udoka’s suspension came out).

Here’s how the GMs see the top six in each conference, courtesy of Jon Schuhmann and NBA.com who did the survey:

EAST
1. Bucks
2. Celtics
3. 76ers
4. Nets
5. Heat
6. Cavaliers

WEST
1. Clippers
2. Warriors
3. Suns
4. Nuggets
5. Grizzlies
6-T: Mavericks and Timberwolves

Here are some other highlights from the survey:

• Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP and the choice of the GMs, with 48% of them picking the Dallas star to win the award. Second was Giannis Antetokounmpo (34%) followed by Joel Embiid (14%).

• But ask GMs if they were starting a franchise today and could sign anyone, and they take Antetokounmpo (55%) over Doncic (45%). Those are the only two names on the list.

• Asked the player most likely to have a breakout season and the Cavaliers Evan Mobley led the way with 21% of the vote, followed by Cade Cunningham and Anthony Edwards tied for second (17%).

• The most athletic player in the league? The GMs voted for Ja Morant (38%) over Antetokounmpo (31%) and Anthony Edwards (24%).

• When asked which team had the best offseason, 41% of the GMs picked the Cavaliers, with Donovan Mitchell being named the player changing teams who would have the biggest impact this season.

• The most underrated offseason pickup: Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, according to the GMs (28%).

• Most surprising move of the offseason for the GMs was Rudy Gobert to Cleveland (47% of the vote), but Mitchell to the Cavaliers was a close second (43%).

Paolo Banchero is the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year (79%).

• Antetokounmpo was voted the best defensive player in the NBA (45%), with Draymond Green a distant second (24%).

• Gobert, however, was the runaway winner of the best interior defender (83%).

• Best coach in the NBA? Erik Spoelstra led the way with 52% of the vote, followed by Steve Kerr at 22%. The Clippers’ Tyronne Lue, however, won the vote for best in-game adjustments by a coach.

• The Toronto Raptors were voted the team with the best home court advantage (21%), with Boston and Denver tied for second (17%).