Baseline to Baseline recaps: Where the Pacers are playing some defense

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What you missed while watching Airplane one more time in honor of Leslie Nielsen (RIP):

Pacers 95, Lakers 92: Indiana plays very good defense — and if you can do that to the Lakers you can thrown them off their game. Often, the result of that is Kobe Bryant tries to take over, and Sunday night Kobe took 33 shots, every other Laker starter combined took 37. When the ratio is something like that, the Lakers are usually in trouble. That and the Lakers’ 38.6 percent shooting. Kobe had a good third quarter, the Lakers played pretty good defense down the stretch, but the Pacers out played them and earned this one.

Knicks 125, Pistons 116 (2OT): There was a time in the second quarter of this game when Tracy McGrady reminded you of his old self. They guy who just found a way to make shots. It was a nice, brief trip back to a time that will not be again (not consistently). But credit the Knicks for grinding out the win —with four guys playing 50 plus minutes.

Atlanta 96, Raptors, 78: Against the soft defense of the Raptors the Hawks offense looked really pretty, with the kind of movement you’d hope to see from them. There was real balance in the attack. But the Hawks defense is what won this one,

Spurs 109, Hornets 95: Versatility of rosters matters in the NBA. The Hornets dominated the first half of this game and were up 17 at the break when the Spurs went small in the second half — Richard Jefferson at the four, Tim Duncan at center. The Hornets could not adjust. The Hornets offense could not adapt to exploit the smaller lineup, in fact it was the opposite. They struggled on offense, and the Spurs got into that faster pace they like this year, and the result was a comfortable win.

Jazz 109, Clippers 97: The Jazz shot 58.6 percent in this one, they really controlled the flow of play and the Clippers hung around for a half in large part because of their offensive rebounding. But there is a gap between these two teams.

Nets 98, Trailblazers 96: The Trail Blazers had one of those “team only” talks after the game. Their issues may be deeper than just what words can fix.

The Nets hung around in this one because the Blazers lack depth in the front court right now — when Marcus Camby sat Brook Lopez started to do what he wanted. Kris Humphries did what he could to impress girlfriend Kim Kardashian courtside. That kept it close. At the end, Devin Harris was taking over.

Rockets 99, Thunder 98: Kevin Durant has now missed two game winning shots in a row. That’s not to say Durant has problems under pressure — he doesn’t — it’s a reminder that this is why you don’t want to be in close games. Why the best teams have more blowout wins. Close games mean too much luck is needed to win.

Also, the Rockets grabbed the offensive rebound on 39 percent of their missed shots in this one.

Nuggets 138, Suns 133: Denver missed Chauncey Billups — he has had 25 points and eight rebounds. He hit key free throws down the stretch. The free throws mattered as Denver got 28 more trips to the line, 20 more points there. That decided the game.

Paul George: I would have signed with Lakers if Pacers didn’t trade me to Thunder

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Paul George didn’t request a trade from the Pacers. He merely informed them he’d leave in free agency and told people he’d sign with the Lakers, leaving it up to Indiana what to do about it.

The Pacers traded him to Oklahoma City, where George found a long-term home. He re-signed with the Thunder this summer.

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

Paul George revealed to ESPN’s The Undefeated that he “would have been in a Lakers uniform” if he had never been traded from the Indiana Pacers. But after the Pacers dealt the five-time All-Star to the Oklahoma City Thunder instead last year, he fell in love with his new team and playing with Russell Westbrook before eventually agreeing to a four-year, $137 million contract extension this past offseason.

“It was 50-50 on deciding whether I wanted to come back home or if it was smarter to be in the situation I am in now,” George told The Undefeated. “But it wasn’t overstated. I wanted to play in L.A. That is where I wanted to go. Had that trade never went down, had I played one more year in Indy, I would have been in a Lakers uniform.”

Even while with the Thunder, George spoke openly about the appeal of Los Angeles. Despite not meeting with the Lakers in free agency, he still called them tempting. He’s mostly just confirming what we already believed.

Remember, the Lakers could have traded for George last year. Instead, they banked on getting him without surrendering assets, and that gambit failed. Importantly, they still lured LeBron James, but they’re still searching for a second star.

This ought to reopen questions about whether the Lakers erred by not trading for Kawhi Leonard. Leonard reportedly has interest in Los Angeles (though maybe more in the Clippers), but the Lakers watched the Spurs trade him to the Raptors. Will Leonard similarly fall for Toronto and spurn his hometown team?

It’d be a mistake to assume Leonard will follow the path of George, who’s a completely different person. But it’d also be a mistake not to evaluate the precedent set by George and learn from it.

Pistons play recording of Aretha Franklin’s national anthem while spotlighting open microphone at center court (video)

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Pistons legend Isiah Thomas eulogized Aretha Franklin – a proud Detroit native – last summer and concluded with a message to the deceased singer:

I want you to know, I love you. The world loves you. And most importantly, Aretha, Detroit loves you.

Detroit showed its love for Aretha before the Pistons’ opener yesterday. Thomas again spoke kindly of her then asked for a moment of silence. The arena went dark and quiet.

Then, a spotlight shined on an unattended microphone at center court as a recording of Aretha’s national anthem played. While this video shows the powerful rendition of the song, by focusing on the images of Aretha shown on the scoreboard, it doesn’t even capture the full feeling of the moment.

Seeing that open spotlighted microphone throughout the entire anthem was hauntingly beautiful and a great tribute to the Queen of Soul.

NBA’s minor league to offer $125,000 salaries to not-yet-draft-eligible 18-year-olds

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The NBA will lower its age limit to 18, effectively ending the one-and-done era.

Eventually.

In the meantime, the best option for most top players leaving high school is college basketball. But while the NBA takes its time changing a rule (that it never should have implemented in the first place), the NBA’s minor league will offer an alternative route.

G League release:

The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

NBA G League Select Contracts are designed for year-round professional growth and will include opportunities for basketball development, life skills mentorship and academic scholarship.  These offerings are slated to include basketball workouts during the summer months through existing NBA infrastructure like NBA Summer League and NBA Academies, year-round education programs designed to increase players’ ability to personally and professionally manage their careers, and a scholarship program for athletes who want to pursue higher education after their playing days.  Additionally, the NBA G League will further enhance player experience through existing partner relationships and NBA player development programming.

The $125,000 salary is nice and a sizeable jump from the standard minor-league salary, which these players were already eligible to receive. Select Contract players can also sign endorsements and receive loans from agents while remaining eligible to play, unlike in the NCAA.

But it’s not as if college basketball players aren’t compensated. Though their compensation is limited by the NCAA cartel, players still get tuition, room and board and cost-of-living expenses. And of course many get under-the-table money, too. The value of that compensation – particularly the tuition – varies by person.

Access to NBA infrastructure could swing some players, but that also comes with risk. Older professionals could expose younger, even more talented, players. Experience and physical advancement matter.

So does the stage. Top college-basketball players are nationally recognized stars who appear regular on television and are revered on campus. Minor-league players are relatively anonymous and play in mid-sized cities away from much fanfare.

There’s still plenty to sort out, and the details could affect how many players enter this new program out of high school. But it’s nice they have another option.

It’d be far better if they could just declare for the NBA draft if they feel they’re ready.