Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Wednesday night, while you were saving up for your jetpack

Bobcats102 Sixers 87: Some defenses execute well at a systemic level. Others, at an individual level. But the best defenses operate at both. And that takes talent and effort in symphony. The Bobcats have got the horns and woodwinds in perfect harmony, so to speak.

With the Bobcats up 17, with less than two minutes to go in the game, Gerald Wallace was still sprinting sideline to sideline to recover defensively. This against one of the worst teams in the league. You have to be a great offensive team to create opportunities against the Bobcats, and the Sixers are not. Their leading scorer? Rodney Carney with 14 points.

Gerald Wallace is a robot ninja.

Memphis 111 Celtics 91:
The scoreboard doesn’t even begin to describe how lopsided this was. The Celtics scored 12 points in the 1st quarter. A dozen. This against one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Ye Gods.

The Grizzlies created high percentage open transition buckets, almost without dribbling. They just sped the ball with quick, precise passes. When that wasn’t happening, they were launching unguarded threes from the perimeter and raining.

There was no effort from the C’s, no ability from the C’s, no legs, no spirit, no soul. They might as well have been ghosts. The Celtics were the past, fading into sepia, and the Grizzlies were youth, looking like Pleasantville.

Thunder 98 Hornets 83: This was a tense, up and down, competitive romp for about 12 minutes. Then the Thunder did their thing.

One of the staples of a young team is an indecisiveness. You learn to know what you’re doing through repetition, rote and unfettered, and that takes time. But Russell Westbrook? He just gets it. He pushes the ball into the halfcourt, makes the decision, and then executes.Nine assists for the Thunder maestro tonight, and with Darren Collison having an off night, that was pretty much the shebang.

David West’s mid-range game is devastating, but in all honesty, the rest of this team is revealing itself as the season goes on, and that reveal is to something not good.

Nuggets 110, Wolves 102:
Am I the only one that laughs a little bit when David Kahn’s team gets thoroughly kept at arm’s length primarily by point guard play? Chauncey Billups had 25 points and needed just three assists.

Corey Brewer will not win most improved, but he needs to get a second look by the voters. That Florida crew, man. What talent in that class.

Ricky Rubio did not play.

Mavs 96 Nets 92: Caron Butler was the difference. No joke. He, specifically, was the difference between the end of the Mavs streak and the Nets’ bajillionth loss this year. Butler got a huge putback down the stretch, then nailed a step-back jumper from the wing after creating space with a veteran shoulder shrug. The Nets competed, as they still do, and that needs to be pointed out.

Paid professionals or not, the Nets have every reason to bail on the season, not try, not work, and slough through it. But they’re working. They don’t know how to execute. It’s not that they can’t, they just haven’t learned how yet. Terrence Williams showed flashes (18 points, 13 rebounds), including a nifty behind-the-back dribble and finish late.

Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood.  Man. Even with this team’s not good, it’s still pretty good. They’re the pizza of the NBA.

Spurs 97 Knicks 87: Greg Popovich could beat Mike D’Antoni (who is a great coach) with a can of sardines and a box of twinkies. The Knicks gave up looks downlow.

The Spurs obliged them. And the Spurs’ defense was there tonight. You know, the one that’s been missing so much. Running off threes, pre-empting posts. Dogging, dogging, dogging. Double, rotate, rotate.

Manu Ginobili is doin’ work right now.

Kings 113 Raps 90: Tyreke Evans is 20 years old.

Tyreke Evans had 19 points, 10 assists, and 10 rebounds.

Tyreke Evans is incredible.

The Raptors don’t play defense.

That’s my story.

Heat 107, Clippers 98: Fact of NBA life #27: The aggressor gets the calls. People complain that the refs give superstars like Dwyane Wade the calls, but they attack (and, frankly, get fouled a lot).

Miami as a team — with Wade leading the way — attacked the rim hard in this one, particularly off the high pick-and-roll They were rewarded for that by the refs with 35 free throws (making 29). The Clippers, on the second night of a back-to-back, settled for jumpers. The result was just 13 free throw attempts. Wade had 17 by himself. And while the Clippers had a pretty good offensive night, the aggressors had the better one and get the win.

Jazz 115, Pistons 104: The Jazz are capable of stretches of beautiful basketball, with crisp player movement and making the extra pass leading to layups and open looks. The game as god and Naismith intended. Utah had one of those during the second quarter Wednesday. Detroit is neither capable of stopping it nor hanging close to that. They didn’t, it was a 35-14 second quarter for the Jazz. And that was your ballgame. But you knew it was coming — that’s 10 in a row for the Jazz over the Pistons.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.