Baseline to Baseline, where it got ugly in Portland

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What you missed while singing a mournful version of Anarchy in the UK

Magic 118, Knicks 103: Bombs away — 65 three point attempts between the two teams. It’s only a bad shot if you can’t hit it, and tonight everybody could hit it, with the teams shooting 47.7 percent on those threes. Defense, sheefense. The Magic win this one handily (up by 14 after the first) because they had he inside to go with the outside. Earl Baron has been nice, but Dwight Howard is niiiiiiice — 25 points on 11 of 14, plus 13 boards.

Great post-game quote from Stan Van Gundy:  “When it’s that easy to score, it’s just very difficult to get guys to really get down and defend hard.”

Bucks 95, Sixers 90: The Bucks were the wire-to-wire winners, Milwaukee jumped out to a 9-0 lead and never trailed. But they almost did. They let the Sixers get close because they let them run too much — the Sixers can finish on the break. But with the game on the line the Bucks defended well, forcing Jrue Holliday into a tough three that he missed badly.

That is four in a row for the Bucks without Bogut. This team will not fold. They will not go quietly in the first round.

Hawks 107, Raptors 101: The Hawks came out flat and put up just 14 in the first quarter. Then they got going, the Raptors played their usual defense (read: nonexistent) and the Hawks had 45 in the second quarter. They never trailed after that. Maybe the big stat in this one — without Bosh the Raptors could not control the glass, and the Hawks grabbed the offensive rebound on 37.5 percent of their missed shots.

Lakers 97, Timberwolves 88: Talent wins out in this league, and in a pretty uninspiring game the Lakers had a lot more of it. It was the Lakers much-maligned bench that was the difference, they broke this game open with a defense that created turnovers, then converted those into easy scores. The Lakers looked tired (back-to-back) and settled for jumpers all night, but they hit enough to win. And do it while Kobe sat (and Andrew Bynum, and the Wolves Al Jefferson).

This win made it official that the Lakers win the Western Conference. Again.

Wizards 106, Celtics 96: There is wailing and gnashing of teeth right now in Boston. This was not just a bad performance by the team right before the playoffs, it was maybe their worst of the season. Washington dominated this one from the outset. Dominated. Andray Blatche did whatever he wanted inside — he punked Kevin Garnett for an offensive board at one point — and finished with 31. Boston shot 30 percent in the first half and trailed 52-31 at the break. Dominated.

The fourth made it close. Washington started turning it over and Boston cut the lead down, but never came all the way back.

Pacers 116, Cavaliers 113: We have a Sebastian Telfair sighting — he had 21 on 8 of 14 shooting. The Cavaliers rested four starters and almost won this one. You can decide for yourself if that says Cleveland is deep or the Pacers just suck.

Pistons 106, Heat 99: Ben Gordon can shoot the rock — 39 points, 7 of 11 from three. They don’t miss that in Chicago from the two spot. Not a lot of defense in this one, both teams shooting over 50 percent. Not sure you can read much into that. The loss snaps the nine-game winning streak for the Heat.

Jazz 114, Hornets 103: Fun point guard battle — Darren Collison held his own. He had 28 on 11 of 19 shooting, with seven assists. Deron Williams with 27 on 9 of 16, with 16 dimes. The reason you pick up the assist is twofold — you make the pass, then your teammate makes the shot. Williams has better teammates and better shooters around him, that’s why he had more assists and why the Jazz won.

Nets 127, Bulls 116 (2OT): Man the Bulls needed this one. Right now the Bulls and Raptors are tied in the race for the eighth spot in the East, both 38-41. But Toronto has the tiebreaker. The two teams face each other Sunday, but then Toronto has an easier last two games. If the Bulls had won, had a one-game cushion going into Sunday, they had a good chance. Now Sunday is must-win for the Bulls, and even if they do it could be hard (Boston and Charlotte to close it out for Chicago).

Why didn’t they close it out? Terrence Williams is a stud. Flat out. Triple double for the man — 27 points, 13 boards, 10 assists. Another good young player for the Nets. But why did this kid sit for much of the year again? Oh, that’s right, because he plays for the Nets.

Thunder 96, Suns 91: The most entertaining game of the night. Great athletes on display all over the court. The difference in this one is the length and quickness of the Thunder forced 19 Suns turnovers — that’s 20 percent of their possessions. One every five trips up the court. Too many, and too many easy buckets in transition for Oklahoma City because of it.

Rockets 97, Bobcats 90: Two good defensive teams get together, but on this night the Rockets were just a little better on that end. And this game was all about the defense.

Grizzlies 107, Spurs 99: The Grizzlies didn’t mail this one in. Zach Randolph with 28 and 15. The loss puts the Spurs on the path to the eighth seed and the Lakers in the first round.

Mavericks, 83, Trail Blazers 77: What a circus, the fans, the officials, pretty much everything. This game was poorly officiated. They let them play, which included allowing 1990s Knicks levels of grabbing, clutching and ugliying the game up. They blew calls and did it both ways. The fans saw all this and got on the refs, to the point people were throwing things on the court while fans sitting courtside heckled so much they got tossed. The refs let it get out of control. It was ugly.

Dallas won though because they deserved to, they were the better team. It wasn’t the refs that kept giving Dirk Nowitzki good looks, so he dropped 40. It wasn’t the refs that missed a whole host of threes at the end. Bottom l
ine, Dallas dealt like the v
eteran team with the refs, the Blazers acted young and let it get into their heads.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.