Baseline to Baseline, when the stars take a seat

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What you missed while walking the picket lines is solidarity of the right to drink on the job

Bulls 109, Cavaliers 108: In the first round, the Bulls can beat the Cavaliers. This game proves it. Providing LeBron James doesn’t play. And Shaquille O’Neal. And Delonte West.

With the game on the line, the Bulls had their go to man in Rose, but it was Joakim Noah who had a key tip in and hit a late 18 footer with his ugly release. Meanwhile Kirk Hinrich had a couple good defensive possessions on Mo Williams, who was playing the role of LeBron James by doing everything.

That meant on the last play, Hinrich was able to keep Williams off the ball, and Anderson Varejao had the ball with and open look, spent three seconds desperately looking to pass, then took the 12 footer and missed. But the offensive rebound came to Cleveland — and again it was Varejao with the open shot. And again he clanked it. That was good defense by the Bulls to get the win.

Bulls and Raptors now tied for eighth. Sunday will be fun.

Nuggets 98, Lakers 96: Let’s be clear — we can read nothing into this game about the playoffs. Kobe Bryant sat out for the Lakers, as did Andrew Bynum. Kenyon Martin did not play for the Nuggets. Denver was on the second night of a back-to-back. This was just a regular-season game.

But a fun one. Entertaining down to the end. Carmelo Anthony was bothered by Ron Artest all night but outscored him 9-0 in the final five minutes. Chauncey Billups was steady and hit big shots key three. The Nuggets made the plays when they had to, including on defense.

Without Kobe the Lakers shot like crap from the perimeter — Derek Fisher 2 of 11, Sasha Vujacic 3 of 12, Shannon Brown 3 of 12, Jordan Farmar the best of the bunch at 3 of 8. For those of you scoring at home, that is 26.2 percent. Then with 14 seconds left and the Lakers down one Brown threw an unnecessary and lazy outlet pass that became a turnover.

Then there was Fisher and Lamar Odom miscommunication on the final play (this was a regular Lakers set but where the screen is set depends on the matchups). Phil Jackson had opted not to call at time out, as is his want, and the result was rather than a play to get the ball inside the Lakers ended up with a broken play where Fisher tried to launch a three over Anthony. The Nuggets made the plays, Anthony got the block. And for now the Nuggets are second in the West.

Kings 116, Clippers 94: Meaningless game, but one team was still doing the little things. The Kings tend to recognize the mismatch and go at it. For a stretch the Clippers tried to put Baron Davis on Andres Nocioni, and the Kings cleared it out so Nocioni could post him up. Two buckets.  The Kings were doing that all night, things like sealing off guys in the post then getting a good entry pass. You, don’t see the Clippers doing that. The Clippers are mailing it in.

Tyreke Evans was Tyreke Evans, which was too much for the Clippers. So was Jason Thompson being Jason Thompson. Great games from the Kings future stars. Sacramento also grabbed 35% of their missed shots for offensive rebounds, that’s just a lot of second chance points.

Scoot Henderson says he has skills to be No.1 pick but not hung up on it

Metropolitans 92 v G League Ignite
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Scoot Henderson came out like a man on a mission Tuesday night against the Metropolitans 92 and Victor Wembanyama — he was in attack mode. He used his explosive athleticism to get to the rim, his impressive body control to get off good shots, and his strength to finish with authority. And if the defender played back, he would drain the jumper over him.

A year ago, Jaylen Brown called him the best 17-year-old he’d ever seen. Scoot is better than that now.

Many years, Henderson would be a clear No.1 overall pick. But, not this year, Wembanyama has that crown because he breaks the mold with his size and skill set (in the NBA, height still wins out).

Kevin O’Conner of The Ringer asked Henderson why he should be the top prospect and got a confident answer.

There will be a lot of people making the Henderson case this season — and with good reason. He could be a franchise cornerstone player for the next decade.

Henderson, however, is trying not to get hung up on No.1 vs. No.2.

There’s a long list of legendary players selected No.2: Bill Russell, Kevin Durant, Jerry West, Jason Kidd, and that is just the tip of the iceberg. Henderson can be one of them.

Unless Wembanyama’s medicals come back with red flags, he is destined to be the No.1 pick next June. That, however, will not be the end of Henderson’s story. Instead, it will be just the beginning.

Doc Rivers says he wants Harden to be ‘a scoring Magic Johnson’

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images
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We’re not in Houston anymore.

James Harden in Philadelphia will not be chasing scoring titles and dominating the game in quite the same way. Instead, he’s been asked to be more of a facilitator — but not too much of one. Doc Rivers told the team at ESPN’s NBA Today he wants scoring to go with the facilitating. Just like one of the all-time greats.

“I think we’ve talked so much about him being a facilitator… I need him to be James Harden too. If I had to combine, I would say a scoring Magic Johnson, I don’t know, but that’s what I want him to be. I want him to be a James Harden, but in that, I want him to also be the facilitator of this basketball team too. So in a lot of ways, his role is growing bigger for our team, and I just want him to keep thinking, ‘Do both.'”

Just play like Magic, no pressure there. For his career, Magic averaged 19.5 points a game (with four over 20 PPG) with 11.2 assists.

Harden can get close enough to Rivers’ lofty goals to make Philly a real threat, so long as defenders still fear his first step and step back. Harden can get his shot and get to the line, and he’s long been a great passer who has averaged 10.5 assists a game over the past two seasons. Now it’s just a matter of finding the balance of when to set up Joel Embiid, when to turn the offense over to Tyrese Maxey, and when to get his own shot.

Philadelphia is a deep team poised to win a lot of regular season games — the Sixers being the top seed in the East is absolutely in play. The questions Harden — and, to a degree, Embiid — have to answer come in May, when the second round of the playoffs start and Harden has faded while Embiid has had poor injury luck. In a deep East with Milwaukee, Boston, and maybe Miami and Brooklyn in the contender mix, there is no margin for error.

A Magic-like Harden would be a big boost for the Sixers in that setting.

As he chases record, LeBron says he has ‘no relationship’ with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Sacramento Kings v Los Angeles Lakers
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Later this season, health permitting, LeBron James will pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the NBA’s all-time leading scorer.

Kareem has said LeBron has earned it, but also has called out LeBron on COVID issues (something Abdul-Jabbar apologized for). Have the two legends started to build a relationship as LeBron marches toward the record? Not so much.

“No thoughts, no relationship.”

This question was asked of LeBron days after Abdul-Jabbar slammed former LeBron teammate Kyrie Irving in a Substack newsletter, calling him a “comical buffoon” and saying he is a poor role model. Abdul-Jabbar has been a vocal proponent of getting the vaccine, Irving remains unvaccinated, and LeBron has posted on social media questioning the severity of the virus and the response. Plus, LeBron and Irving are friends, which could have sparked LeBron’s terse response (as could the fact he was ready to get out of the arena after a dull preseason game).

A week earlier at media day, LeBron had been kinder when discussing Abdul-Jabbar and chasing his record.

“And you know, obviously Kareem has had his differences, with some of my views and some of the things that I do. But listen, at the end of the day, to be able to be right in the same breath as a guy to wear the same [Lakers] uniform, a guy that was a staple of this franchise along with Magic and Big Game [James Worthy] over there for so many years, especially in the 80s, and a guy that does a lot off the floor as well,” LeBron said. “I think it’s just super duper dope for myself to be even in that conversation.”

Abdul-Jabbar has been more of a public persona in recent years, both around the game of basketball and discussing social justice issues through his writings. The NBA named its new social justice award after him. With that has come new relationships around the league.

One of those is not with LeBron. Will Abdul-Jabbar be in the building when LeBron does break the record?

We’ve got months for this relationship to evolve — if it does — before that big day.

 

Watch Zion Williamson score 13 in return to court for Pelicans

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Zion Williamson is back.

He certainly looked in better shape and flashed his insane explosiveness on his way to 13 points and four rebounds in 15 minutes Tuesday night against the Bulls, his first game after missing all of last season following foot surgery.

There was some rust, and the Pelicans are wisely bringing him along slowly and not breaking out the entire playbook for a preseason game, but in the moments we saw Zion looked like he was all the way back.

The questions now are can he sustain it, and how to the Pelicans mesh him with other scoring options in CJ McCollum and Brandon Ingram.

And maybe we shouldn’t leave rookie Dyson Daniels off that list, he looked good in his first NBA preseason game.

The Pelicans are one of the most intriguing teams this season, a team that made the playoffs last season with a push after McCollum arrived, and now they add the elite interior scoring and athleticism of Zion to Ingram’s outside shot and slashing, not to mention and a solid core of role players. This team has top six potential if it can get stops. But in a deep West, nothing will be easy.