Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

1 Comment

What you missed while playing with your beer bottle opening remote control

Spurs 99, Thunder 96: Learning to win is filled with hard lessons, and the Spurs have been dishing them out to the Thunder all season. These are teams on opposite trajectories, but the Spurs have things to teach the young Thunder.

The latest came in a game where it was painfully clear how much more athletic the Thunder are, and with the Spurs on the second night of a back-to-back their legs looked tired. For a stretch late in the game, the Spurs missed six of seven while Serge Ibaka was bothering Duncan and blocking everything.

I can’t really stand the “they just find a way to win” cliché, but the Spurs just do not die. They stayed in it with smart plays then Manu Ginobili got the game winning free throws by making the veteran play of driving into Ibaka and drawing the foul. Meanwhile the Thunder were making rookie mistakes like when Russell Westbrook stepped on the line trying to inbound the ball. Oklahoma City’s final shot was not a mistake, Kevin Durant drew the double and got Thabo Sefolosha got a good look. It just missed. Hard lesson.

Magic 109, Sixers 93: If you don’t close out on Orlando’s three point shooters and mean it, it will be a long night. Orlando made 16 of 31 from beyond the arc. It was interesting early because Elton Brand went all 2006 and put up 18 early points. The Magic countered with the twin towers of Howard and Gortat. Dwight Howard had a double-double by halftime with that lineup and the Magic were in control the whole way.

Heat 99, Nets 89: Would it surprise you if I said that the Nets had the lead at halftime and got blown out in the third quarter? What if I told you the Nets made a late push but Miami held them off because Wade was 9 of 13 and the Heat just had better talent and could make the plays?

Bulls 98, Rockets 88: Hustle cannot make up for terrible shooting. Chicago played pretty good defense, but Rockets just missed open looks all night long. They shot 33 percent for the game and in the first 18 minutes of second half shot 13 percent. For the Bulls right now any win is a good one.

Bucks, 98, Hawks 95: Please, please let this be the four/five matchup in the East. It would be the best first round matchup of all the playoffs. Andrew Bogut and Al Horford are just fun to watch go at each other. Or see if the Hawks can keep John Salmons from scoring 32, 16 in the final quarter (when he was the best player on the floor).

This was not Joe Johnson’s finest hour. He fouled John Salmons late, trying to deny him the ball out near midcourt (the resulting free throws put the Bucks up 97-95). At the other end the ball was in his hand and he had a little eight-foot baseline floater that normally falls but did not this time, and that was ballgame.

Raptors 106, Timberwolves 100: Defense was banned from the Target Center for this one. Toronto just happened to shoot better on the night.

Hornets 115, Mavericks 95: Dallas has lost three of four since their 13-game post-trade wining streak, and they may now be playing their way into a tough first-round matchup. This game swung on a 23-0 Hornets run from last in the second quarter over to the start of the third. Not sure what else you think you need to know, teams that give up 23-0 runs rarely win games. Marcus Thornton had 28 after being pushed into the starting lineup.

Chris Paul looked good — not quite his spectacular self yet, but not like a guy who missed 25 games after knee surgery. He had 11 points and hit three of five from three. Good for the game to have him back.  

Jazz 110, Celtics 97: Deron Williams just abused Rajon Rondo in this one. If it is possible to be an underrated star in the NBA, Williams is it. He may be the best PG in the league. The Celtics led at half but their strategy of big guys protecting the paint left Mehmet Okur a bunch of good looks from three and he hit four of six from deep and spurred some second half runs. The Jazz at home are hard to beat and the Celtics were just not up to the task.

Grizzlies 102, Kings 85: This one was pre-ordained since Sacramento was without Tyreke Evans. Credit the Kings for hanging in and leading at the half, but this was going to end poorly for them.

Suns 133, Warriors 131: Most entertaining game of the night, by a mile. This game showcased the good and the bad of the Warriors lately — they got 29 points from Reggie Williams, a guy who has been in the NBA for 12 games after spending most of the season in the D-League. But with the game close late, the Warriors were in a situation down three where they needed Monta Ellis to make the first (he did) and miss the second, and Ellis shot it long and banked it in on accident. They find the players, they can’t execute.

Anthony Tolliver got his welcome to the NBA moment from Amare Stoudemire of the Suns. A vicious dunk.

76ers once again overhaul around Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons

Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
1 Comment

NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there

Can Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons coexist?

While I’ve wondered about that question, the 76ers have charged ahead with the pairing. Embiid and Simmons are the givens. The surrounding players change. In just two seasons, J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Markelle Fultz, Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris have cycled through as starters.

The latest supporting starters: Harris, Al Horford and Josh Richardson.

This might be the last chance to find a trio that works.

Philadelphia has taken advantage of Embiid’s and Simmons’ low rookie-scale salaries, which was always a selling point of The Process. A roster loaded with cheap young players created a window to add more-expensive talent. Then, with everyone already in place, NBA rules generally allow teams to keep their own players.

But Embiid is already on his max contract extension, and Simmons just signed a max contract extension that will take effect next year. The flexibility is vanishing.

One last time, the 76ers made the most of it. They signed-and-traded Butler for Richardson and let Redick walk in free agency. That left enough cap space to sign Al Horford (four years, $109 million with $97 million guaranteed) and use Bird Rights to re-sign Tobias Harris (five years, $180 million).

That’s a lot of deliberate disruption for a team that was already good and rising.

The big question: Did it make Philadelphia better?

I just don’t know.

As fond as I am of Butler, I understand all the reasons to be wary of offering the 30-year-old a huge contract. But moving on from him to give a huge deal to a 33-year-old Horford? That’s curious. Then again, Philadelphia also added Richardson – a solid replacement for Butler on the wing – in the process.

The 76ers will miss Butler’s shot creation. He often took over their offense in the clutch during the playoffs. Harris can pick up some of the slack, but that still looks like a hole.

At just 27, Harris is young for a player who has already been in the league so long. That’s a big reason it was worth Philadelphia signing him to a sizable long-term contract.

Horford’s deal could age poorly, but he’s a winner still playing quality all-around basketball. If nothing else, the 76ers removed Embiid’s best defender from the rival Celtics.

Philadelphia filled its bench with several value signings – Mike Scott (room exception), James Ennis (minimum), Kyle O'Quinn (minimum), Furkan Korkmaz (minimum), Raul Neto (minimum) and Trey Burke (partially guaranteed minimum). However, sometimes teams need production more than cost-effectiveness. The 76ers’ bench struggled last season, and they devoted minimal resources to upgrading.

In the draft, Philadelphia traded the Nos. 24 and 33 picks for No. 20 pick Matisse Thybulle. That’s a costly move up, especially for a player I rated No. 34. Worse, it seemingly happened because Boston snuffed out the 76ers’ interest in Thybulle then leveraged them. That’s small potatoes, though.

Simmons (No. 9 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) and Embiid (No. 11 on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years) will likely define this era for Philadelphia. Embiid is on his way to becoming one of the NBA’s very best players. Simmons is so good, giving him a max extension was a no-brainer.

But they were already in place.

Harris, Horford and Richardson will define this offseason. I just can’t tell whether they made the 76ers’ promising future even brighter or slightly dimmer.

Offseason grade: C

Michelle Roberts says if you don’t like player movement blame owners, too

Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Last summer was one of the wildest offseasons in NBA history, maybe the wildest, and the headline was player empowerment. Anthony Davis pushed his way to the Lakers, Paul George forced his way out of Oklahoma City to go to the Clippers and join Kawhi Leonard, which soon had Russell Westbrook joining his old teammate James Harden in Houston. It led to frustration by some owners and changes in how the NBA will handle tampering.

Except, by choice is not how most players change teams. While AD or George has the leverage to make a power play — because of their exceptional talent — most of the time players are traded because the owner/team has all the power and can uproot players for whatever reason (basketball reasons sometimes, saving money other times). The stars have free agent options, rotation players much less so in that system.

Michelle Roberts, executive director of the National Basketball Players’ Association, wants you to remember that it’s not just player power that has led to the increase in player movement, as she told Mark Spears of The Undefeated.

Michele Roberts, told The Undefeated that she believes there is a “double standard” between how stars are viewed when they decide to move on compared with when franchises choose to make a major transaction, adding that team owners “continue to view players as property.”

“If you want to be critical of one, be critical of both,” Roberts said from the NBPA’s offices in Manhattan. “Those of us who made decisions to move, it’s really astounding to even consider what it feels like to be told in the middle of your life you are going to have to move. But that’s the business we’re in. …

“No one seems to spend a lot of time thinking about what it’s like to make those kinds of moves completely involuntarily. You volunteer to play or not play. But, yeah, if it’s still the case that if you think you’ve got to suck it up, player, then, hell, you’ve got to suck it up, team.”

She’s right. From Chris Paul to Blake Griffin, plenty of big stars have been moved against their will. The door swings both ways, but in those cases most fans tended to see why and like what the teams did. Those fans like it less when players do the same thing.

There’s also a classic labor vs. management angle to all this, which has political overtones.

For my money, how one views player movement tends to be part generational and part where you live.

Older fans remember days — or, at least think they remember days — when players stayed with teams for much or all of their career. It’s understandable, fans form a bond with players and want them to stay… while they’re still good and useful, after that fans beg ownership to get the “dead weight off the books.” Players before the late 1980s stayed with teams because they didn’t have a choice — for Bill Russell in the 60s or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in the 1980s, free agency was not an option. And for every Kobe Bryant that did stay with a team, there were a lot more Wilts and Shaqs, who were traded several times and played with multiple teams.

Younger fans (generally, nothing is universal) are okay with the player movement, sometimes are more fans of a player than a team, and like the action and buzz of all the trades.

Location matters because if you’re in Oklahoma City there’s reason to not like what George did and the era of player empowerment. New Orleans fans can feel the same way (although part of that case is the “supermax” contract that owners wanted but really forced up the timeline on teams and players to make a decision on paying stars). But fans in Los Angeles or wherever players ultimately choose to go will feel differently. Fans want what’s best for their team, but there is no way in the star culture of the NBA to wash away the lure of big markets or of teaming up with another elite player.

The NBA dynamic is different from the NFL’s (for now), but it’s not changing. LeBron James helped usher in an era of player empowerment and it’s the new reality for the NBA, one the best franchises will adapt to rather than fight.

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

Getty
Leave a comment

New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

Stacy Revere/BIG3 via Getty Images
1 Comment

A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.