Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Saturday while you were watching Sandra Bullock accept her award

Magic 96, Lakers 94: One regular season game never is a complete picture, but every once in a while one is a microcosm of a team. This defense-heavy game told us a lot about both teams.

Orlando is a just a better team when the offense is running through a finally healthy Jameer Nelson. His stats were not spectacular, but he set their offense up and it flows when he does it. Vince Carter showed why the Magic wanted him as he used the pick-and-roll to slash into the lane. The Magic played great defense to set up the win, and they pounded the boards hard. This is a team that now has beaten the Lakers and the Cavaliers in recent weeks. This is a team that after a slow start is looking like a serious title contender heading into the playoffs.

These Lakers remind me a lot of the 2004 version — a team that made it to the finals because of an amazing collection of talent, but that was not enough of a team to win it all. Los Angeles has enough pure talent to hang close in a game where they played mediocre on offense for long stretches. The Lakers are inconsistent outside shooters, which allows teams to pack the paint in and make it hard for the talented Laker bigs to have room to operate. The spacing required for the triangle comes and goes. So the Lakers go heavy Kobe isolation at the end of games. Often that is good enough. Sometimes it is not.

Pistons 110 Rockets 107: The Rockets relied twice in crunch time on pick and pop resulting in an 18 footer from Luis Scola (who is very good from that spot). The Pistons relied on Tayshaun Prince dunking in the exact same manner (left sweeping right, one hand, no pump-back) three times in the final four minutes. That explains the Detroit win.

An important thing to note here is the play of Jordan Hill for the Rockets. He was considered a bust in New York, but the kid brought a nice finish underneath and some solid rebounds, and got run late. Lot of potential for the Rockets. But then, the things they need now (like, oh, say, Kevin Martin scoring well) just aren’t showing up when they need them.

Thunder 108 Kings 102: The Kings got production from the guys they want to get production from. That’s a win for them.

But when Kevin Durant pours in points plus rebounds plus assists? When they get contributions from all over? When Russell Westbrook decides to go alpha dog in the fourth quarter? Well, at that point it’s rhetorical question time.  Too much too everything, and the Thunder keep winning.

Nuggets 118, Blazers 106: When the Blazers offense with this diminished roster is great, it creates wide open jumpers through well-timed and executed drive and dish, then the extra pass, then potentially another pass.

When the Blazers’ offense with this diminished roster is terrible, it settles for mid-range jumpers instead of forcing the issue, and often suffers with too selfless play.

See how thin the line can be?

The Blazers’ injuries are felt more than any other team. They just feel and look like such a shell of who they were at the start of the year. They have no one to kick the ball to down low, they lack perimeter personnel to fill in the gaps because one of their two perimter guys outside of Roy (banged-up), Bayless and Miller are always having to initiate the offense.

The Nuggets got the glass, made a handful of good defensive isolation plays based mostly on superior talent, and Carmelo Anthony did his thing.

Still, something’s lacking from Denver, and I can’t quite put my finger on it. Either that or Birdman’s mustache is freaking me out.

Sixers 114, Raptors 101: The one sure way to get Philadelphia going is to give them some turnovers to convert to easy buckets — and that’s what Toronto did early. For the game, the Sixers turned the ball over on 20% of their possessions, one in every five trips down the court. Thaddeus Young feasted, and had a career best 32. When Toronto tried to make a late run it was rookie Jrue Holiday who took charge and basically took over the game. At age 19. There are moments of hope for the Sixers club (at least until they remember Elton Brand’s contract)

Celtics 86, Wizards 83: Boston’s whole game is based on energy and bringing that energy to the defensive end in particular. They didn’t for 42 minutes. Washington came out wanting this, they put in the energy. But in the end talent wins out in this league 99% of the time — Boston has a lot more. Washington is learning, Andray Blatche missed a turn around 10-footer with five seconds to go to tie the game — a shot he has been just drilling the last five games — and he missed it. So Boston plays six minutes of good ball in an otherwise sloppy game and gets a win. It goes like that some nights..

 

Hawks’ Collins out weeks with sprained ankle, Hunter also at least a week

Atlanta Hawks v Philadelphia 76ers
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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ATLANTA (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks will be without both of their starting forwards for at least the next three games.

John Collins will miss at least the next two weeks with a sprained left ankle and De'Andre Hunter will be sidelined for at least one week with a right hip flexor strain, the Hawks said Thursday.

Both departed with injuries during Wednesday night’s win over Orlando. Hunter played only seven minutes and Collins was hurt after a dunk that didn’t count at the halftime buzzer.

Hunter is third on the Hawks in scoring at 14.9 points per game, and Collins is fourth at 12.3 points.

Hunter, a fourth-year player out of Virginia, has yet to play a full season because of various injuries.

Draymond Green wants to play 4-5 more years, ideally with Warriors, not stressed about contract

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Jordan Poole got a contract extension from the Warriors this summer. So did Andrew Wiggins.

Draymond Green did not — and he punched Poole and was away from the team for a time.

All this has led to speculation about the future of Green in Golden State. He has a $27.6 million player option for next season, but he could become a free agent this summer. With the Warriors’ payroll through the roof — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are on max extensions, Poole and Wiggins just got paid, and contract extensions for Jonathan Kuminga and the rest of the young players are coming — there are questions about how long Green will be in the Bay Area.

In an open and honest interview with Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape, Green talked about everything from his relationship with Poole after the punch to his future. Here are a few highlights:

“I want to play another four or five more years. That would be enough for me.”

“You can look around the NBA right now. There are five guys that’s been on a team for 11 years-plus. We have three of them [along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson]. It’s a very rare thing. There’s 470, 480 players in the NBA? There are five guys that’s been with his team for 11 years plus. That’s amazing. So, you don’t just give that away. So, absolutely I’d be interested in that.”

On rumors he wants to play with LeBron James and the Lakers: “I never said that. People can say what they want. I’m also not really one to react much to what one may say. I react to things when I want to react to it. I don’t react to things just because somebody said it.”

Is he worried about his next contract: “No, not at all. I have a great agent [Rich Paul]. The best agent in the business. That’s why you align yourself with an incredible agent, because they handle the business. I play basketball. That’s what I want.”

I don’t doubt there is mutual interest in Green staying with the Warriors, the question is at what price. It’s not a max. As for the threat of him bolting, Green is still an elite defender and secondary playmaker, but it’s fair to wonder what the free agent market would look like for him. Green is not the scoring threat he once was, and his unique skill set is not a plug-and-play fit with every roster and system (does he really fit on the Lakers, for example).

The conventional wisdom around the league right now is that Green will opt into the final year of his contract with the Warriors — especially if they make another deep playoff run — because that level of money is not out there for him. That said, it only takes one owner to fall in love with the idea and send his GM out to get the deal done. The market may be there for him after all, or he may be open to the security of three or four years with another team but at a lower per-year dollar amount.

Green also talks about his relationship with Poole in the Q&A and makes it sound professional and business-like. Which is all it has to be, but it’s not the “playing with joy” model the Warriors are built upon.

 

Lakers reportedly leaning toward packaging Beverley, Nunn in trade

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While the Lakers have looked better of late winning 6-of-8 with a top-10 offense and defense in the league in that stretch, plus Anthony Davis continues to play at an All-NBA level at center.

That run — which still has Los Angeles sitting 13th in the West — came against a soft part of the schedule (three wins against the Spurs, for example), and is about to get tested with a few weeks of tougher games, starting with the suddenly healthy Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. While the Lakers have been better, nobody is watching them and thinking “contender.” Are they even a playoff team?

Which is why the Lakers are still in the market for trades. But Jovan Buha reports at The Athletic the Lakers realize moving Russell Westbrook and his $47 million may not happen, so they are focused more on a smaller deal moving Patrick Beverley and Kendrick Nunn (with maybe a pick) to bring back quality role players to round out the roster).

The Lakers are leaning toward [a Nunn/Beverley trade] at this point, the team sources said. That would entail making a smaller move to marginally upgrade the roster while retaining the possibility of following up with a larger Westbrook deal later in the season…

Beverley ($13 million) and Nunn ($5.3 million) are both underperforming relative to their contracts. With the Lakers’ needs for additional size on the wing and a better complimentary big next to Anthony Davis, along with the roster’s glut of small guards, Beverley and/or Nunn are expendable. Packaged together, the Lakers could acquire a player or players in the $20 million range.

Trading Nunn and Beverley lines up with a couple of good options from the Lakers’ perspective. For example, the salaries work to get Bojan Bogdanovic out of Detroit, or it matches up with a deal for Jakob Poeltl and Josh Richardson out of San Antonio. However, neither the Pistons nor Spurs care much about adding veteran guards on expiring contracts in Nunn and Beverley, so it’s going to require the Lakers throwing in one of their first-round picks unprotected (2027 or 2029) and maybe a second-rounder to get it done. (With how well the Pacers are playing, it’s not a sure thing that a Myles Turner/Buddy Hield trade is still available.) The Spurs trade may be more appealing to the Lakers because Richardson and Poeltl are expiring contracts, so it doesn’t change the Lakers’ plans to use cap space to chase bigger names this offseason (Bogdanovic was recently given a two-year, $39.1 million extension).

These may not be the “move us into contender range” blockbuster Rob Pelinka and the front office hoped was out there, but either of those trades would make the Lakers better. It could move them into playoff-team status, and considering LeBron James turns 38 at the end of the month they can’t waste a year and retool next offseason.

The Lakers have made a number of miscalculations over the years, but they are all-in with this group now and have to find a way to maximize it, even if the cost is a little painful.

Khris Middleton reportedly set to return to Bucks Friday vs. Lakers

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The Milwaukee Bucks are about to get better. Likely a lot better.

Which should worry the rest of the league because the Bucks have looked like one of the two best teams in the Association this season: A 15-5 record with the best defense in the NBA and an MVP and Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Now they are about to get Khris Middleton back.

Middleton — the Bucks Olympian and All-Star forward — is set to make his season debut Friday night against the Lakers, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN. Middleton had been recovering from wrist surgery.

Middleton averaged 20.1 points and 5.4 rebounds and assists per game last season. More importantly in Milwaukee, Middleton is the hub of the Bucks’ halfcourt offense — he is the ball handler in the pick-and-roll at the end of games, asked to create for himself and others in the clutch (with Antetokounmpo working off the ball and sometimes setting picks). Without him so far this season, the Bucks’ halfcourt offense has struggled, ranked 21st in the NBA this season in points per possession (via Cleaning the Glass). Overall the Bucks have a middle-of-the-pack offense because of it.

That is about to change.

While Mike Budenholzer will ease him back into the rotation as he gets his wind back, having Middleton back makes the Bucks much more dangerous. Which is bad news for the rest of the NBA.