Baseline to Baseline: 'Manu Ginobili wins at life' edition

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Duncan_Defense.jpgWhat happened while you were putting a snake in your mouth

Spurs 94 Celtics 73: Such a good game at the half. Such a demolish in the second half. Yikesabees.

You may remember these Celtics from such hits as “Christmas Through Two Weeks Ago” and “That Time The Nets Beat Them.” The Celtics had 30 points in the second half. 30 points in 24 minutes. To put that in perspective, the Tennessee Volunteers scored 28 in the second half of a good game in a loss to Michigan State.

It was a bloodbath, and Manu Ginobili played Bill the Butcher. Ginobili was everywhere, leading the defense, slicing through the Celtics’ man-help (which was unbearably slow), and doing this thing that is hard to even describe (admission, I run that site so obviously I can describe it, but you can skip my blabbing and head straight for the video).

The Celtics were not there. I mean, they were there. They weren’t absent like Kevin Garnett was in the playoffs last year. They were physically in the game. But their souls and intentions were somewhere far away. Perhaps watching Mad Men, or having tea with the queen. Where they weren’t was in TD Northbank in the second half.

Tim Duncan had two blocks in the first five minutes, and Richard Jefferson had a good game. Richard. Jefferson. Ye Gods.

Bucks 108 Grizzlies 103: There were a lot of makeup calls in this game, down the stretch.

I say that not to excuse the Grizzlies, the NBA team I so often yell in support of, but to just state a fact. The refs overlooked an Ersan Ilyasova over-the-back on Marc Gasol because apparently they had been watching college ball too much. Then they made up for it with an easy breezy tag-it foul on Brandon Jennings, based solely on the fact that the rookie made the poor decision to bite on a pump fake, even if he didn’t make contact.

Then, as if they felt bad for the make up call they made for missing another one, they no-called an obvious one on Luke Ridnour when O.J. Mayo gave him the “Paul Pierce Special” (jab-step, pumpfake, bring the arm and ball up through the defender, an easy call).

Which is too bad, because otherwise it was a fantastic game. The Grizzlies are a tough offense to stop, and while the Bucks couldn’t neutralize them, they did make them sputter at times. The Grizzlies’ bench was outscored 33-6, and you just can’t have to rely on your starters that much, every game.

It’s frustrating that the Grizzlies don’t lean on Marc Gasol for offense more. He’s a tremendous facilitator and his defense is superb (5 blocks), but he’s so efficient from the floor, you almost want to see him try and take over more. He could have done more to counter Bogut.

Hawks 94 Pacers 84: This wasn’t the perfect Hawks game. Joe Johnson was off (5-13), Josh Smith had zero blocks, and Mo Evans was very, very bad.

But it was close. That defense that had been relenting lately found itself, and Josh Smith honestly could have done anything he wanted in the post. There wasn’t a single matchup the Pacers could counter with, and the Hawks exploited it.

Al Horford somehow plays better as the season goes along, and it’s getting bizarre.

Cavs 97 Kings 90: The Kings were not about to let Z’s big return be a laugher. Big ups, Sactown. You’ve got fighters.

Tyreke Evans? Out. Brockman? Out. Spencer Hawes? Out. Dominic McGuire? Out.

And still. To the very last man, a brawl.

Beno Udrih had 18 points and 15 assists. If you have good point guard play, it freaks out the Cavs. They’re just not prepared for it, provided you can defend at the other end. They’re fine with it as long as you want to play up and down. But slow it down at either end, and you’ve got a serious chink in the armor.

But a win’s a win. And Antawn Jamison had 26 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, and only 1 turnover in 41 minutes. Ruh-roh. The big acquisition found himself.

4 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks. Welcome home, Zydrunas. We missed you.

Heat 97 Raps 94: I flipped it off in the third quarter. The Raps were rolling, as they can do. Hitting everything. Running, running, running. So having to rewatch this bad boy was irritating. Probably not irritating like it was for Raptors fans.

Look, I’m not big on cliches about defense, and I tend to think that defense may win championships, but if you can’t put the ball in the hole you’re just as screwed. But if you ask me how these Raps are going to do in the playoffs, I have to point wildly at this game. Gesticulate, actually.

They can’t get stops. Not when they need to. Not when it’s crucial. Not when they’ve put themselves in a position to win. They can’t communicate, can’t execute, can’t deliver. The Heat really aren’t the better overall team. I believe that, based on the talent involved. But they can do business when it matters.

Bulls 110 Pistons 103: The Bulls announcers couldn’t believe how bad Ben Gordon was. It was like when your boy scout son comes home from college with a nosering, a dragon tattoo, listening to death metal and talking about becoming a poet.

Sad, really.

The Bulls? They’ve got some life in them. They’ve got a few coals left in the fire. Not much, and a playoff caliber defense will likely extinguish them like a trashcan fire. But there’s some talent, a lot of effort, and some weird combinations of ability. I’ll likely change my mind in two days when they get blown out again.

Magic 103 Nuggets 97: Great game. Can we just vote these two into a second round series? It’s a brutal matchup for both sides. Jameer Nelson had serious problems with Billups, who is built to beat him. And when Vince Carter went down, the door blew open to let the Nuggets take control.

But it was a Duke day.

J.J. Redick, who if you’ve been paying attention, has turned into a really pretty good NBA player, was huge. 23 points, 7 rebounds, 8 assists for the former Blue Devil. And that doesn’t fully capture his work on defense.

But you know who really impressed? Ryan Anderson. 20 points in 19 minutes, with 5 boards. And most of his work was on Birdman. Anderson’s a lot like Anderson, really, except able to shoot, and a smarter defender.

The Nuggets don’t work hard enough at getting Nene involved in the offense.

Blazes 92 Thunder 87: What a weird one.

The Thunder aren’t your typical y
oung team. They’re not particularly fast, they don’t score a ton of points, and they can play defense. They’re willing to get dirty. But, if you hit that next level, you know, that playoff level? They still reel a bit when you’re trading haymakers.

And the Blazers? They’re so used to pain and suffering. Life is pain, so they’re willing to keep swinging all day.

This was as much a death knell for Thabo Sefolosha’s razor-thin defensive player of the year hopes as you’ll find. Andre Miller abused him, and when he wasn’t, Brandon Roy was. Russell Westbrook is a very good defender if you don’t know what you’re doing. These two know what they’re doing.

Suns 111, Timberwolves 105: No Robin Lopez — meaning no inside game whatsoever for the Suns — made this one interesting. Minny owned the paint. Kevin Love had 23 points and 22 rebounds, Al Jefferson had 19 points and 16 rebounds. The entire Suns team had just three more rebounds than Love and Jefferson combined.

For any other team, that would be enough. Not the Timberwolves, though, they find new and impressive ways to lose (you have to if you are going to drop 15 straight like this). Tonight they fall back on the old reliable “bad shooting night” and shoot under 40 percent, and just 25 percent from three. The Suns get the win, but nobody is going to be happy to have to watch the tape on this one later

Warriors 121, Clippers 103: In a game between two teams heading to the lottery, is the winner really the loser? Is not the goal better lottery position?

The Clippers followed the “beat the Warriors” book of slow it down and pound it inside for 10 minutes, and were up double digits in the first quarter. Then they got bored doing the right thing, brought in the subs, got a little smaller, and just start turning the ball over. Turnovers are the Warriors fuel. Golden State starts running, getting easy buckets and transition threes, and before you knew it the Warriors were up 19. Clippers made a couple mini-runs, but by then the Warriors were feeling it. And the D-Leaguers were having too much fun to lose..

Rumor: Suns, Magic have inquired about Knicks’ Frank Ntilikina

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Where do the Knicks stand on Frank Ntilikina, the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 NBA draft (taken ahead of Dennis Smith Jr. Zach Collins, and Donovan Mitchell)?

This should tell you all you need to know: The Denver Nuggets decided to cast Emmanuel Mudiay aside and the Knicks traded for him and instantly Mudiay jumped Ntilikina on the depth chart.

Ntilikina has played good defense but unimpressive offense for the Knicks this season and there is a thought from other teams around the league they may try to trade the young European.

A few teams are interested, according to Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News, but — shocker! — there may be a split in the front office about what to do between president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry.

Despite the Knicks’ clear lack of confidence in Ntilikina, teams have inquired about the 20-year-old, with the Magic and Suns expressing interest, according to a source. And this is where it gets interesting. There seems to be a debate within the Knicks on whether to deal Ntilikina. He was drafted by Mills and has supporters in the front office. But, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Perry, who took the job after Ntilikina was drafted, recently approached the Atlanta Hawks to gauge whether the team was interested in dealing for the guard (Hawks have Trae Young and weren’t interested).

The Suns and Magic both desperately need point guards. However, neither are offering much in trades knowing that come free agency next July there will be better, more established targets — D'Angelo Russell, Terry Rozier, among others.

Ntilikina is a good perimeter defender whose skills could be developed in the right situation into a rotation point guard. Probably. But because the offers will be lowball, the Knicks would essentially just be dumping the No. 8 pick of a season ago, a guy who is only 20 years old. That would be a mistake — if the Knicks can’t get decent value back, keep Ntilikina and try to develop him themselves. Point guards take longer to come around in the NBA, maybe Ntilikina will develop into a player the Knicks want to keep.

But the rumors are out there and it’s something to keep an eye on.

Markelle Fultz returns to Philadelphia to do shoulder rehab with team

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Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.

Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.

Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).

There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.

After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.

Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.

 

Report: Rockets trying to trade Carmelo Anthony, likely to waive Nunnally to create roster spot

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To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.

That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)

The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.

If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.

Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.

Pelicans’ Anthony Davis out 1-2 weeks with sprained finger

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This is bad.

The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.

Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.

Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.

Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.

Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).

Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).