Baseline to Baseline, where the old dogs take over

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camby_game.jpgWhat you missed while celebrating the Conan O’Brien news

Trail Blazers 103, Thunder 95: And the old men shall lead them.

This game was supposed to be about the young up and coming powerhouses in the league, the young bucks, showcasing their new-found prowess. Instead, it was 36-year-old Marcus Camby and 34-year-old Andre Miller that took this one over. Camby had 30 points on 12 of 16 shooting, and he was the one that took over when the best player on the court tonight (LaMarcus Aldridge, not KD for this one) kept having to sit with foul trouble. Camby added 10 boards. Miller added 22 points and 7 assists and was the steady hand.

In the first half the Thunder had a lead, something they built on transition basketball. But as has happened a lot lately, when the defenses tightened up and things became more half-court at the end, the Thunder offense drags, like it’s trying to run in deep mud. Suddenly they are stoppable, and teams pounce.

That offensive issue does not bode well for the playoffs. It doesn’t help that the inexperienced Thunder will now officially draw the defending champion Lakers in the first round.

Hawks
104, Bucks 96:
After the results of last night, this looks like it
was a preview of the first round of the playoffs. Not certain, but
likely. And if so, this one could be short lived.

Atlanta is relentless in attacking in the paint with their athletic
slashers and passing, you need a big center to stand up to them. Andrew
Bogut is gone. That pretty much sums up this game and likely this
series. On offense, the Bucks did a poor job trying to exploit Jennings
on Bibby, and they settled for a lot of jumpers. That isn’t going to work in the playoffs, either.

Magic 118, Pacers 98: Orlando played like an NBA title contender for one quarter — they pounded the ball inside to Howard, the pick-and-roll looked flawless, they defended like beasts. They were up 45-18 after the first quarter. They coasted after that, because they could and still win. This is the Pacers, after all.

Heat 107, 76ers 105: This one was closer than it probably needed to be, but the Heat win and slide into that five slot in the East. By the way, Dwyane Wade is good (30 on 12 of 19). Not a lot else to say here.

Raptors 111, Pistons 97: Toronto showed up to play. One day too late, but they showed up to play. Great shooting night for the Raptors, 60 percent as a team, and Amir Johnson showed up and dropped 26 on 10 of 12. He was the best player on the floor. First post-Bosh win for the Raptors.

The win puts pressure on the Bulls, who now are just half a game ahead of the Raptors with the Celtics Tuesday and the Bobcats Wednesday (and Larry Brown said he would play his starters in that game). The Raptors have the tiebreak. Could be interesting.

Bobcats 105, Nets 95: It was the final Nets game ever in the Izod center, I shed a crocodile tear over that one. Seemed appropriate this season for the final home game to be a loss, one where the Nets shot 17 percent from three but jacked up 24 from deep anyway.

Knicks 114, Wizards 103: With the game close late, Mike D’Antoni rolled out a lineup of one starter, Danilo Gallinari, with what should be (and may be next year) the bench guys of Earl Barron, Sergio Rodriguez, Bill Walker and Toney Douglas. No David Lee. And it worked, the Knicks pulled away and got the win (Andray Blatche had to sit for part of that run due to foul trouble). Washington was off and clearly studied at the Derek Fisher School of Missed Layups for tonight, because they were awful around the rim.

David lee with 26 and 8 in what could be his last game in the Garden.

Spurs 133, Timberwolves 111: This one was about even, with the Spurs up 36-35, when it was like a light bulb went on over San Antonio’s head and they realized, “Hey, we’re playing the Timberwolves.” They went on a big run and led 69-47 at the half and the blowout continued from there. Classically balanced Spurs game, with eight of their players in double figures but nobody over 17.

Nuggets 123, Grizzlies 101: The Nuggets played their most complete game in recent memory — strong on defense, shot well, looked like a team you don’t want to play in the post season. They ended this one early, so their starters got some rest late, important since they fly to Phoenix for a big showdown tomorrow night with all sorts of playoff seeding implications.

Rockets 117, Kings 107: Kevin Martin returns to Sacramento with a message — remember I can fill it up, too. He drops 39, and he gets to the line 16 times (and hits every one). Tyreke Evans is a better player than Aaron Brooks, but Martin fits better next to Brooks (and that pair has Ariza looking more comfortable). The Rockets don’t play great defense in this one, just about average, but that’s better than we’ve seen in a while from them and it was good enough.

Mavericks 117, Clippers 94: Fan appreciation night for the Clippers, and in their traditional thank you they get blown out in a meaningless end of the season game.

Dallas doesn’t run as much as most think they do (17t in pace in the league) but they pushed the ball at every opportunity in this one, which was the smart thing to do because the Clippers transition defense is atrocious. Lots of open looks, and nobody closing on the kick-out threes. Marion looked good in his return, he moved well.

This was over at half, lots of garbage time. Thanks again fans.

Annual GM survey predicts Bucks vs. Warriors Finals, Doncic MVP

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The NBA’s annual GM survey is more of a snapshot of the conventional wisdom around the league than a good predictive tool — last season the GMs overwhelmingly picked the Brooklyn Nets to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and Kevin Durant as MVP. Didn’t exactly work out that way.

Still, it’s an interesting view into where things stand — and where it stands is a Bucks vs. Warriors NBA Finals. When asked who would win the NBA title, 43% predicted the Bucks, 25% the Warriors, 21% the Clippers and 11% the Celtics (a number that unquestionably fell since the news of Ime Udoka’s suspension came out).

Here’s how the GMs see the top six in each conference, courtesy of Jon Schuhmann and NBA.com who did the survey:

EAST
1. Bucks
2. Celtics
3. 76ers
4. Nets
5. Heat
6. Cavaliers

WEST
1. Clippers
2. Warriors
3. Suns
4. Nuggets
5. Grizzlies
6-T: Mavericks and Timberwolves

Here are some other highlights from the survey:

• Luka Doncic is the betting favorite to win MVP and the choice of the GMs, with 48% of them picking the Dallas star to win the award. Second was Giannis Antetokounmpo (34%) followed by Joel Embiid (14%).

• But ask GMs if they were starting a franchise today and could sign anyone, and they take Antetokounmpo (55%) over Doncic (45%). Those are the only two names on the list.

• Asked the player most likely to have a breakout season and the Cavaliers Evan Mobley led the way with 21% of the vote, followed by Cade Cunningham and Anthony Edwards tied for second (17%).

• The most athletic player in the league? The GMs voted for Ja Morant (38%) over Antetokounmpo (31%) and Anthony Edwards (24%).

• When asked which team had the best offseason, 41% of the GMs picked the Cavaliers, with Donovan Mitchell being named the player changing teams who would have the biggest impact this season.

• The most underrated offseason pickup: Malcolm Brogdon to the Celtics, according to the GMs (28%).

• Most surprising move of the offseason for the GMs was Rudy Gobert to Cleveland (47% of the vote), but Mitchell to the Cavaliers was a close second (43%).

Paolo Banchero is the runaway pick for Rookie of the Year (79%).

• Antetokounmpo was voted the best defensive player in the NBA (45%), with Draymond Green a distant second (24%).

• Gobert, however, was the runaway winner of the best interior defender (83%).

• Best coach in the NBA? Erik Spoelstra led the way with 52% of the vote, followed by Steve Kerr at 22%. The Clippers’ Tyronne Lue, however, won the vote for best in-game adjustments by a coach.

• The Toronto Raptors were voted the team with the best home court advantage (21%), with Boston and Denver tied for second (17%).

Five teams ready — or desperate — to break through into the playoffs

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Making the playoffs in the NBA has always seemed a low bar — more than half the teams in the league get in — but it may never be harder than this season. Right now, the league is stacked with quality teams. There may be only a handful of Warriors or Bucks level teams on a contending tier, but both conferences enter the season 11 or 12 deep with teams that have the talent to make the playoffs. Strong teams are going to be in the play-in this year, and a couple will miss the postseason altogether.

Here are five teams ready and expecting to make the leap into the playoffs next season — or desperate to do so.

Cleveland Cavaliers

Cleveland probably should have made the playoffs last season — the Cavaliers finished as the No. 8 seed in the East but dropped a couple of play-in games and were on vacation when the playoffs actually started.

Then this summer they traded for Donovan Mitchell.

The biggest trade that actually happened this offseason gives the Cavaliers four potential All-Stars: Three who made the game last season in Jarrett Allen, Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell, plus second-year star Evan Mobley, who could be the best of them all within a couple of years. Cleveland has questions about who plays the three and if they have enough defense to threaten the teams at the top, but the Cavaliers don’t have to answer all those questions this season.

This season, they are good enough to make the playoffs. It would be a major disappointment if they did not.

Los Angeles Lakers

It’s boring to put the Lakers on here. Sure, they missed the playoffs last season but they won the title in 2020, and have LeBron James and Anthony Davis — this is not a team coming out of nowhere and surprising anyone. That said, this team has playoff talent and expectations.

Along those lines, new coach Darvin Ham said Monday before the team’s first preseason game that fulfilling that goal is all about Anthony Davis.

“None of this works if he’s not available and he’s not hitting on all cylinders,” Ham said. “He’s a big piece. The biggest piece of our success.”

There are plenty of Russell Westbrook questions — how long will he buy into Ham’s system? Will they trade him? — as well as how much better the defense will be this season (it can’t be worse… can it?). In a deep West the Lakers could be a play-in team, but they should come out of that and make the playoffs.

Sacramento Kings

When you miss the playoffs 16 seasons in a row, there needs to be a culture change in an organization. New coach Mike Brown gets that.

“This is gonna be a process for us, it’s not going to happen overnight,” Brown said before the Kings’ first preseason game Monday. “There’s some things that need to change.”

Those changes may not happen overnight but they can’t take long, not when the goal is to make the playoffs in a deep conference. Potential Kings head coaches interviewed this summer reportedly were told the organization expects a Timberwolves-like turnaround.

“We want to be in the playoffs,” said Brown, the guy who got the job. “We’re not saying this is a rebuild. We’re playing for [the playoffs] and we feel confident we can get there.”

The Kings have their most talented roster in years led by All-Star Domantas Sabonis, with De'Aaron Fox, Harrison Barnes, and solid role players such as Malik Monk, Kevin Huerter, and the potential of youngsters Keegan Murray and Davion Mitchell.

Is all that good enough to be a playoff team in the West? The offense should score, but with Sabonis and Fox getting heavy minutes will they get enough stops? The Kings are desperately betting on yes.

Washington Wizards

Wes Unseld Jr. needs to put an offering of rum on the altar to Jobu, a prayer to keep Kristaps Porzingis healthy.

When on the court, Porzingis is an All-Star level big man who competes on both ends, and if you pair him with just re-signed Bradley Beal you’ve got a good two-man core. The Wizards have upgraded the rotation around that duo with Will Barton and Monte Morris joining Kyle Kuzma, Deni Avdija and Delon Wright. This roster has decent talent, especially if the stars stay healthy.

That’s a pretty good team. Maybe playoff good, but they will need some help from other good teams above them — the Wizards need to stay healthy and hope some other teams stumble. Make that bet if you want to, Ted Leonsis did.

Portland Trail Blazers

It’s a different conference, but Portland finds itself in the same place as Washington: A good team that may not be good enough.

It’s great to see Damian Lillard back on the court, hopefully he gets his burst back and can return to All-NBA Dame Time (one of the most watchable, entertaining players in the league). Jerami Grant was brought as a two-way wing, and Anfernee Simons was re-signed to be another ball handler and scorer. Around them are, Jusuf Nurkic, Gary Payton II, Josh Hart, Justice Winslow and others. Plus whatever talented but raw rookie Shaeden Sharpe can contribute.

Portland is a good team in a conference deep with good teams. Are they good enough? If Lillard is his vintage self and everyone stays healthy… maybe.

Presumptive No.1 pick Wembanyama set to make stateside debut

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LAS VEGAS — Victor Wembanyama and Scoot Henderson have been linked constantly over the last couple years, with just about every prognosticator anointing them as the top two picks in the 2023 NBA draft.

Thing is, they don’t know each other.

That’s about to change. Wembanyama – officially listed at 7-foot-2 but scouts often say more like 7-foot-4 – and the Paris-based club Metropolitans 92 are in Las Vegas to take on Henderson and the G League Ignite in a pair of exhibitions, the first on Tuesday and the second on Thursday.

“We’re playing against an NBA team, with NBA rules, on an NBA court,” Wembanyama said Monday. “This is really going to be a first for me. I’m curious to know how it’s going to go. I know it’s going to go well, but I’m still curious.”

Victor vs. Scoot. Scoot vs. Victor. They’re not playing 1-on-1, but they are the clear headliners and the reasons why these first-of-their-kind games were put together.

Wembanyama is listed as a center but plays all over the floor with guard skills in a big-man frame; Henderson is a point guard who has been getting tons of attention for years.

“Out of all the prospects I’ve heard about in our class, I think he’s my favorite one,” Wembanyama said. “I think he’s the most reliable that I’ve seen. He’s really a great player. If I was never born, I think he would deserve the first spot.”

Henderson – a five-star recruit from Georgia who signed with the Ignite last year and played in 10 games – sees these two games as an opportunity, downplaying the 1-on-1 storyline.

“People always try to compare and contrast whoever. I don’t look at it like that,” Henderson said. “I look at it as two good ballplayers.”

The Ignite program exists to develop young prospects in preparation for the NBA Draft, mixing them with veteran talent to help guide them along the way. It has featured three eventual top-10 picks – Jalen Green and Jonathan Kuminga last year, Dyson Daniels this year – in its first two seasons.

Henderson is a huge draw for the Ignite this year. The Ignite also have Shareef O'Neal, the son of Shaquille O’Neal. But much of what the Ignite would ordinarily be doing right now would be barely noticed nationally; hence, the games against Wembanyama were put together.

The Los Angeles Lakers are playing in Las Vegas this week, a pair of preseason matchups against Phoenix and Minnesota. Wembanyama is going to those as a fan; he’ll have a slightly different view of NBA games next season.

“He’s one of those type of players, honestly, where you say like there’ll never be like another Shaq or there’ll never be another that,” Ignite coach Jason Hart said. “He’s that. You’ll never see another one of those. The scouting report on him is tough. … I’m honored that I’m getting to play him at 18, because at 24, he’s going to be something different.”

Wembanyama has been a pro for three seasons already, spending last season with ASVEL in France – a club owned by San Antonio Spurs legend Tony Parker. He made the decision this year to join Metropolitans in part to be coached by Vincent Collet, who also coaches the French national team.

Collet is welcoming the chance.

“I think he’s the best prospect we’ve ever had in our league,” Collet said. “He’s amazing, not only by his size, but incredible skills. Despite that, he still needs to learn the game. He’s very young. … We will try to give him this experience. That’s the deal we have together, him and me. We want to give him the experience before he gets to the league. It’s most important to get him ready for what will follow next year.”

Watch Jamal Murray, Kawhi Leonard score first buckets in returns

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It’s only preseason. But if you’ve sat out an entire season with an ACL injury,  just getting on the court feels like a milestone.

And getting your first bucket back feels memorable.

That happened for the Nuggets Jamal Murray and the Clippers Kawhi Leonard on Monday night.

For Murray, the bucket came on a corner 3 in transition.

Murray also showed flashes he’s getting his handle and wiggle back, something that made him a great fit with Nikola Jokic.

Leonard wasted no time, scoring the Clippers’ first bucket by lulling his defender to sleep and then shooting the pull-up 3.

I feel we’re going to see a lot more of that this season.

The NBA is just better with these two back on the court.