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.

Derrick White didn’t lose teeth, passes concussion test after nasty fall in USA loss

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There were plenty of ugly things for Team USA in its loss to Australia on Saturday — most of them on the defensive end — but later in the day on Saturday there was some good news.

It sounds like point guard Derrick White will be fine after his nasty fall and face plant during the game, reports Tom Osborne of the San Antonio Express-News.

In the middle of the fourth quarter, White was pushing the ball upcourt after an Australia miss and either got clipped from behind — there was a foul called — or stumbled over his own feet. I lean clipped, but the video is not conclusive.

White fell and faceplanted, with his head bouncing off the court. If he got away with just stitches, that’s good news for Team USA. If White had a concussion it is possible he would have missed the start of the World Cup, and the USA is not deep at the point guard spot on this roster (Kemba Walker and White are the only true point guards, a couple of players such as Marcus Smart can play a few minutes there but aren’t really suited to the position).

Team USA has one more exhibition game against Canada, then opens World Cup play on Sept. 1 in China against the Czech Republic.

Grizzlies officially waive Dwight Howard, first step on his path to Lakers

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Lakers fans are uncomfortable with it, but the Lakers did a good job hedging their bet with a non-guaranteed contract: Dwight Howard is coming to the Lakers.

That process started on Saturday with the Grizzlies officially waiving Howard.

In theory, any team could claim Howard off waivers. In practice, no team is picking up his full $5.6 million salary.

Howard gave back $2.6 million in his buyout with the Grizzlies, which is exactly how much his veteran minimum contract with the Lakers will pay him.

Howard and JaVale McGee will have to tag team to play all the minutes at the five the Lakers need. Anthony Davis is their best center (and it’s not close, he’s arguably the best center in the NBA) but he wants to play the four most of the game, so for 30 minutes a night the Lakers need another big body at the five.

Howard has the potential to fill that role. For three seasons, from 2015-16 to 2017-18, Howard averaged 13+ points and 12 rebounds a night, was a big body on defense, and played at least 71 games in averaging 30 minutes a night. Exactly the kind of player the Lakers could use. The problem was Howard was never happy those years just playing that defense/set-a-pick-and-roll/rebound role. He wanted more touches and particularly in the post, which led to disruptions as he pushed for a larger role. It’s why he bounced around. Then last season he played just nine games due to more back and hamstring issues.

Howard is saying all the right things about accepting that role, and he convinced the Lakers to a degree, but that non-guaranteed contract shows the Lakers go into this eyes wide open. If Howard is up to his old antics, the Lakers can cut bait and move on.

It’s among the many things to watch in what should be an entertaining Lakers’ training camp this year.

On Mamba Day (8/24), former Lakers’ trainer Gary Vitti talks about what made Kobe great

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Kobe Bryant’s work ethic is legend.

It takes talent to become an MVP, 15-time All-NBA, 18-time All-Star, and lock future Hall of Famer. However, it was how Kobe got the most out of his talent that separated him from his peers. Long-time Lakers trainer Gary Vitti retired a couple of years ago and will soon publish an autobiography, “32 Years of Titles and Tears from the Best Seat in the House: What I Learned about Happiness, Greatness, Leadership and the Evolution of Sports Science.”

Vitti joined Hall of Fame photographer Andrew D. Bernstein this week on an episode of Legends of Sport to discuss his upcoming book, and he talked about Kobe (hat tip to CNBC).

“He was talented, but what if I told you he wasn’t the most talented guy out there? I’m telling you, and I’ve had them all, there’s nothing really special about Kobe. I mean he’s a big guy, but he’s not that big. He was quick, but he’s not that quick. He’s fast, he wasn’t that fast. He was powerful, but he wasn’t that powerful. I mean, there were other players that had more talent than he did, so what was there about him that more talented players had zero rings and he ended up with five?…

“He was tough in the sense that he took ‘can’t’ and ‘won’t’ out of his lexicon and he just believed that he could do it. Kobe taught me that talent is the most overrated thing in life; it’s what you do with your talent.”

Nobody in NBA history did as much with the talent they had as Kobe.

On Mamba Day, enjoy his ultimate mixtape highlights above and remember what it took for Kobe to get there.

 

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander: ‘I am not Russell Westbrook. I’m just going to try to be myself.’

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Thunder fans are going to love Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

The Clippers did not want to give him up in the Paul George trade but had no real choice — Gilgeous-Alexander was a prize get for OKC. As a rookie last season he started 73 games, averaging 10.8 points and 3.3 assists per game for a 48-win playoff team. Playing the most difficult position to learn in the NBA. Gilgeous-Alexander grew as the season wore on and has a promising future.

But he is taking over for Russell Westbrook as the point guard for the Thunder, so the comparisons are inevitable. Even though they have radically different games. Gilgeous-Alexander handled the question well when asked, as reported by Erik Horne at The Oklahoman.

Gilgeous-Alexander smiled and said he could compete with Westbrook’s fashion sense. He also deflected any notion of pressure to live up to the legacy of the 2016-17 Most Valuable Player. “He set the bar pretty high,” Gilgeous-Alexander said…

“I am not Russell Westbrook,” Gilgeous-Alexander said with no malice. “I do not have the same name, same body type, stuff like that. So, I’m just going to try to be myself and be the best me and everything else will take care of itself.

“I’m just a basketball player. Regardless of the situation, I’m going to continue to work hard and play my game. I know that eventually it will come out. I don’t worry about starting. I’m not worried about accolades or things like that. I just work hard, keep my head down and (stay) true to who I am.”

That attitude is part of why Thunder fans will love him. Gilgeous-Alexander is confident but not cocky, and he knows his game.

That game is more traditional point guard, more game manager, than the dynamic and explosive Westbrook. Gilgeous-Alexander learned for a season under a smart, player-friendly coach in Doc Rivers, who built his point guard’s confidence up as the season wore on. Rivers showed the rookie how to be a professional, how to prepare, and most of all trusted Gilgeous-Alexander — and that trust included being matched up on Stephen Curry in a playoff series. Through it all, Gilgeous-Alexander showed real promise.

Whatever is next in Oklahoma City — and there is a lot of rebuilding to do with that roster, a lot of picks to be made still — Gilgeous-Alexander can help lead it. He will be at the heart of what is next for the Thunder.

Just don’t expect him to be Westbrook. There is only one of those.