Baseline to Baseline, your game recaps

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What happened Saturday while you were remembering there is no spoon, nor floating kitty

Hawks 86, Magic 84: Best. Finish. Ever. Of The Season. Words are inadequate. Seriously. Just watch the video.

This felt like a second round playoff matchup because both teams played very good defense. Atlanta got a signature win, a confidence booster. Orlando can say they lost because of two things: 1) Box out on the weak side, just box out; 2) Defend the three point line, Atlanta shot 53.8 percent from there.

Man, this little taste made me hungry — the playoffs can’t get here soon enough.

Jazz 113 Raptors 87: It’s going to be a rough couple of years, Toronto.

Kyle Korver is a huge swing vote for the Jazz. When he plays well, like he di tonight, there’s just a lot of trouble in stopping the Jazz offense. And that’s if you’re a good defense and not the affront to nature that the Raptors defense is.

The Jazz were all over the passing lanes and if you disrupt the Raptors, they fall over and go to sleep. Meanwhile, Deron Williams always, always initiates, and had himself 16 assists. The Jazz look like a lock for homecourt in the first round.

Celtics 113 Nuggets 99: Write this one down. Pay attention to it and come back to it later. Because the Celtics looked as fearsome in the second quarter of this game as they did in the first part of this season. Tough, determined, focused, and nigh on unstoppable.

Denver on the other hand just looked pedestrian. Some teams go from terrible to awesome, from sharp to dull. The Nuggets just fade into mediocrity so comfortably, it makes me uncomfortable.

Pierce is the go-go-gadget-engine, and that is the truth.

Nets 93 Kings 79: A double digit win for the Nets? It can’t be!

There was no Tyreke Evans. There was a Devin Harris. That ended, well, not as you’d expect, but somewhere in there.

Sixers 101 Bucks 86: How odd.

The Sixers can defend. They don’t care to more often than not. And they’re not usually aware of what they should be doing, but the Bucks didn’t really disguise anything. And the Bucks couldn’t shoot. Couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat. Couldn’t hit a ban door with spray paint. Couldn’t shoot a lick and the Sixers got their offense going inside out. Still very weird.

Thunder 122 Rockets 84: This baby was close, but then something weird happened in the second quarter and it just ballooned. The Rockets were trying to grab soap in a bath, that was their offense, and they just couldn’t grip it. Mostly because the Thunder was locked in. And when Jeff Green is spreading the floor and driving, it’s a tough matcuhup. Even for Luis Scola.

Lakers 92 Spurs 83: Ron Artest blew this open. You can say Odom, but that was in the gameplan, in the flow, in the script. It was Artest, changing the script on both sides, that made this thing happen. Meanwhile, the Lakers adjusted to Greg Hill by respecting him and concentrating on him.

And when they do that, your night is over.

Bobcats 108, Timberwolves 95: You knew the Timberwolves were in trouble at the half –Al Jefferson was 7 of 10, but rest of team shot 33 percent. And they were down 10 to a good Charlotte team that would figure out how to slow Jefferson.

Stephen Jackson 17 in the first quarter and finished with a game-high 37. As a whole the Bobcats shot well, 53.6%. The win moves Charlotte into the sixth spot in the East, by the way.

Pacers 99, Wizards 82: Lottery be damned! That is four wins in a row for the Pacers. And 13 losses in a row for the Wizards.

Washington is just a terrible offensive team right now. It’s hard to watch. They had plenty of chances, plenty of really good looks and shots at the rim, and they shot 36.5 percent. And after all the drama last night, Andray Blatche got the start and scored a team-best 21 on 8 of 17 from the floor. But Danny Granger was the best player on the floor, he had 31 and seemed to be everywhere.

Cavaliers 105, Hornets 92: Cleveland is better than New Orleans. What? You want more detail? Cleveland is a lot better than New Orleans, Aside that, both Chris Paul and Zydrunas Ilgauskas are adjusting to playing again and neither was impressive. There wasn’t much to see here.

Warriors 128, Grizzlies 110: Memphis got sucked in to playing the Warriors game at the Warriors pace in the first half. That is a cardinal sin — letting the other team dictate the game to you. There were 60 first-half possessions (league average is 46) and at that pace Golden State put up 78 points. Memphis played a nice second half (45 possessions, 50 Warriors points) but at that point the damage was done and they couldn’t come close to making up the deficit.
 

Are struggling Mavericks on the clock with Luka Doncic?

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Luka Doncic is in the first year of a five-year, $215.2 million contract. More than that, when asked recently if Mavericks fans should be worried about him wanting out as the team has stumbled at points to start this season, Doncic didn’t sound like a guy looking to bolt:

“I don’t think they’re worried about it right now. I got what, five years left here, so I don’t think they should be worried about it.”

The Mavericks’ front office should be worried about it — teams are always on the clock with a superstar.

The Mavericks let Jalen Brunson get away in the offseason, then brought in Christian Wood (whose defense is an issue and he is coming off the bench). This remains a team a player or two away from contending despite having a potential MVP in Doncic carrying a historic offensive load.

That doesn’t mean Doncic will ask out at the deadline or this summer (he won’t), but if his frustration grows over the next couple of years… who knows. Tim MacMahon of ESPN put it well on the Hoop Collective podcast (hat tip Real GM):

“I think they have a two-year window. This season and next season going into that summer [2024]. I think they have a two-year window where, you know, like Milwaukee did with Giannis [Antetokounmpo], I think in that window they really need to convince Luka that he has a chance to contend year in and year out right here in Dallas. If they can’t get it done in that two-year window, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that he’s going to force a trade or ask for a trade. I’m just saying at that point if he’s not happy, he has all the leverage in the world if he would be looking to leave..

“I don’t think Luka will look for reasons to leave. I think he’d be perfectly happy spending his entire career in Dallas. But if he doesn’t have to look for reasons and they’re slamming him in the face, then that’s a problem. He’s also a guy who is a ruthless competitor, which means he loves winning. He’s used to winning. He won championships with Real Madrid. He won a EuroBasket championship with the Slovenian national team. He also detests losing. Like can’t handle it.”

The Mavericks made the Western Conference Finals last season, knocking off the 64-win Suns in the process — this team is not that far away. Not with Doncic handling the ball. But it feels like a team that has taken a step back from those lofty levels this season. There are many more questions than answers, and it’s impossible to guess how Doncic will feel after this season’s playoffs, let alone the ones ending in the summer of 2024.

But the Mavericks stumbles this season have to put the Dallas front office on notice — this team is not good enough. And if we know it, you can be sure Doncic knows it.

Curry thinking retirement? ‘I don’t see myself slowing down any time soon’

2022 Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year Awards Presented by Chase
Kimberly White/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated
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Stephen Curry is playing at an MVP level this season: 30 points a game, hitting 43.2% from 3 with a 66.4 true shooting percentage, plus pitching in seven assists and 6.6 rebounds a game. He remains one of the best-conditioned athletes in the sport.

In the face of that, even though he is 34, asking him a retirement question seemed an odd choice, yet a reporter at the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award ceremony — Curry won the award, if you didn’t know — asked Curry about it seems he’s not interested.

Curry should not be thinking of retirement, but there is a sense around these Warriors that this era, this run is coming to an end in the next few years. Curry may be defying father time, but Draymond Green and Klay Thompson (especially post injuries) are not. There is a decline in their games (and this season, the role players have not stepped up around them the same way). With that comes a certain pressure to take advantage of the opportunities, there aren’t going to be as many.

Which is why the Warriors are a team to watch at the trade deadline (and will they sell low on James Wiseman to a team that still sees the potential in him?).

As for Curry, he will still be around and producing for a few more years. Nobody is ready to think about his retirement. Including Curry himself.

Block or charge: Alperen Sengun dunks on Zach Collins

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To borrow the catchphrase of the great Rex Chapman:

Block or charge?

The Rockets’ Alperen Sengun caught a body and threw one down on the Spurs’ Zach Collins but was called for the offensive foul.

NBA Twitter went nuts.

Rockets coach Stephen Silas challenged the call, but it was upheld (from my perspective, the replay officials are always looking to back the in-game officials if they at all can).

By the time Collins slid over and jumped, Sengun was already in the air — if anything that was a block. What the officials called was Sengun using his off-arm to create space.

I hate the call — that’s a dunk and an and-one. Not because it’s a great dunk — although it is that, too — but because Collins literally jumped into the path of an already airborne Sengun, Collins created all the contact. It’s on him. Under the spirit of the rules, Sengun’s off-arm is moot at that point — Collins illegally jumped in Sengun’s way and caused the collision.

Terrible call by the officials.

It was a good night for the Spurs, overall. San Antonio played its best defense in a while and Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs 11-game losing streak.

Three things to know: Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Watch Jamal Murray drain game-winning 3 to beat Blazers

This game felt like a 2019 playoff time capsule, with Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray trading blows in a dramatic game.

Lillard landed more of them, he finished with 40 points — and his final three were vintage Dame Time.

But Murray had the final word.

The final minutes of this game were insane.

It was a needed win for a Denver team that some nights look like they can compete with the best in the league, then turn around 48 hours later and mail in a loss to a tanking team. Nikola Jokic scored 33 against Portland (with 10 boards and nine assists) — he is again putting up numbers that will have him in the MVP conversation (even if it’s a longshot he wins it). However, the Nuggets’ bottom-five defense makes them inconsistent night to night.

Portland revamped their roster to get younger and more athletic around Lillard this past offseason, but one of the results of that is the inconsistency of youth. The Blazers don’t bring the same level of execution every night. If they don’t learn that lesson, they may be different in makeup but the results will be the same as many Portland teams of the last decade — an early playoff exit.

2) Brittney Griner is home on U.S.soil

After spending 10 months in Russian jails — including being convicted and sent to a penal colony — on trumped-up drug charges that made her a political pawn in a massive geo-political battle, Brittney Griner is finally home on U.S. soil, her plane landed in Texas overnight.

The Biden administration worked out a prisoner exchange with Russia that brings Griner home to be with her wife, family and friends — that is something to be celebrated.

Of course, there was some pushback online/in the media from people who care only about trying to score political points for their selfish ends. Fortunately, we had the family of Paul Whelan — a Michigan corporate security executive who has been behind bars in Russia since December 2018 on trumped-up espionage charges — who praised the president for bringing Griner home and making “the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to happen.”

An American citizen is home. She happens to be a WNBA star and a two-time Olympic gold medalist, but those things are not what matters most, and are secondary to her family who are just happy to hug her and tell her they love her again. We all hope that day comes soon for American political prisoners held around the globe (including Whelan), but we should celebrate the big victory of Griner being back on U.S. soil.

3) Spurs snap 11-game losing streak behind 32 from Johnson

Keldon Johnson — one of the few bright spots in a dark Spurs season — hit his first nine shots on his way to a 32-point night that sparked a 118-109 San Antonio win over Houston, snapping the Spurs’ 11-game losing streak.

“This has been the first game in a while where we were clicking defensively,” Johnson told the Associated Press after the game. “You can tell when we get stops, get out and run and be able to get out front. If we can keep that mindset of defense first, get stops and we let the offense take care of itself, we’ll be in great shape.”

All of that is interesting, but the real debate of the night: Was this an offensive foul by Alperen Sengun, or a block by Zach Collins?

Sengun was in the air when Collins came over, but he also used his off hand to create space for the dunk. This is a bang-bang call and the challenge of the block/charge call — I think that’s a block by Collins, but that’s not how the referee or many others have seen it. How would you have called it?