Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Nuggets are all back and healthy, but the Spurs won anyway

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What you missed while reading how The Onion broke down the year in basketball

Spurs 109, Nuggets 103: The band is back together in Denver, everyone was back from injury (well, everyone except Carmelo Anthony who is dealing with a death in the family). The Nuggets had Chauncey Billups back running the show at the point. They had Kenyon Martin crashing the boards.

It’s still not enough because the Spurs are deep — Gary Neal had 22 and Tiago Splitter had 12 on 6 of 7 shooting off the bench. The Spurs just keep on winning.

Bulls 87, Wizards 80: “Here, you take it.” “No, it’s yours, I insist.” “No, I really insist, you must take this.” “I’m sorry I just can’t, it’s yours.”

That’s pretty much the fourth quarter dialogue between these teams as neither squad took charge of a game that was there for the taking. Washington shot 27 percent in the fourth and had 10 points, the Bulls shot 35 percent and had 14 in the fourth. But the Bulls also have Derrick Rose and Carlos Boozer, who combined for 55 points and won the game.

Pistons 115, Raptors 93: Rip Hamilton can still ball. There were questions about him quitting on the team recently and to answer that he came out and showed he can still knock down shots and make the key plays to spark a win.

Hawks 98, Cavalier 84: Atlanta is the better team. Cleveland has nobody who can shoot like Joe Johnson (23 points) or score inside like Al Horford (18 points). This game basically just went to form.

Celtics 84, Sixers 80: Credit the Sixers — the night after a horrific performance against the Bulls they came out against a superior opponent and made a game of it. Credit the Sixers defense or blame the Celtics offense, whatever you want, but Boston did not shoot well, didn’t get to the line as much as Philly and it was the 12 offensive rebounds (to the Sixers six) that was the difference. Well, that and a great block by Kevin Garnett on Andre Iguodala going for the tie late. Elton Brand with 16 points and 12 boards deserves a mention.

Knicks 112, Thunder 98: The Knicks dominated this one from the start and got a quality win. If you’re the Thunder you can call this a “schedule maker’s loss” — fourth game in five nights, second night of a back-to-back on the road and you have to run with he Knicks? There were 97 possessions in this one (right at the Knicks season average but faster than the Thunder prefer). OKC has the players to run when their fresh but they did not look fresh Wednesday. New York was getting into the paint and the threes were not contested (10-21 shooting from deep for the Knicks).

Jazz 112, Timberwolves 107: Oh, Minnesota, you find new and painful ways to lose and torture your fans. After getting crushed by the Clippers on the road — a game where afterwards every player in the locker room talked about the need for the team to grow up — and they had a 15-point lead late in the third against the Jazz. They were up 7 with three minutes to go. But Utah made a steady climb back the entire fourth.

Minnesota has itself to blame for the final three minutes. There was Martel Webster fouling Paul Millsap after he grabbed a defensive rebound, stopping the clock and sending him to the line. There was Luke Ridnour launching a three with 10 seconds left on the shot clock. There was not making the quick foul when down one with just a few seconds left, instead letting the Jazz make a couple quick passes to Gordon Haywood, who was streaking in for the dunk and got a clinching and one.

When it mattered, Utah new how to execute, Minnesota did not. That simple.

Hornets 105, Nets 91: New Orleans was just getting the shots they wanted and knocking down everything — they shot 53.9 percent, or a blistering 59.2 percent eFG% which accounts for the extra points from hot three point shooting. I thought Brook Lopez looked good in this one, but it was too little.

Rockets 97, Clippers 92: This was probably the most entertaining game of the night. Blake Griffin did his Griffin thing — he almost hit his face on the rim on one dunk — but the Rockets got the fast pace they wanted (98 possessions) and they are just better in transition. The pattern of this game was for the Rockets to jump out to a big lead — they were up 27-11 early — then for the Clippers to battle back and get close, only to have the Rockets spread the lead way out again. The Clippers kept making runs but never got over the hump.

Joel Embiid misses out on about $29 million by making just All-NBA second team

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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DeMarcus Cousins‘ injury could cost him in free agency.

It might have already cost Joel Embiid.

The 76ers center made just the All-NBA second team, landing behind the Pelicans’ Anthony Davis. Davis surged after Cousins went down, earning overall credit from All-NBA voters, who were also increasingly likely to view him as a center rather than just a forward.

As a result, Davis made the All-NBA first team at center – costing Embiid about $29 million over the next five years.

Embiid’s contract extension, which kicks in next season, calls for his starting salary to be 25% of the salary cap (the typical max for a player with his experience level). If he made the All-NBA first team, his starting salary would have been 30% of the salary cap .

Though the exact cap won’t be determined until July, here’s what Embiid is projected to earn on his standard max and what he could’ve earned on the super max (with 8% raises in both cases):

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Obviously Embiid will still earn a lot of money, and he and Philadelphia have a bright future.

But it’s hard not to think, if Cousins didn’t get hurt, Embiid would be even richer.

At least the 76ers have more cap space to pursue their big goals.

Rockets to wear patches to honor Santa Fe shooting victims

Houston Rockets
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HOUSTON (AP)–  The Houston Rockets will wear patches on their jerseys to honor the victims of the school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on Thursday night in Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors.

The patches will read: “Santa Fe HS.” It’s one of several tributes the team plans following Friday’s shooting. Eight students and two teachers died at the school, located 30 miles from downtown Houston.

The school’s high school choir will perform the national anthem. There will be a moment of silence and a video tribute before tipoff.

Santa Fe’s senior class and administrators have been invited to attend the game as guests of owner Tilman Fertitta. The Rockets also will honor first responders on the court.

Proceeds from Thursday night’s charity raffle will go to the Santa Fe Strong Memorial Fund.

Rockets went all-in for Game 4. How much do they have left in tank for Game 5?

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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Despite trailing 2-1 as the top seed in the Western Conference finals in a season his star deemed “the year,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni claimed all the pressure was on Warriors in Game 4.

Of course, nobody believed D’Antoni.

D’Antoni didn’t even believe himself.

He played P.J. Tucker 44 minutes, James Harden 43 minutes, Chris Paul 42 minutes and Trevor Ariza 41 minutes in Houston’s win. That was the first time four teammates played 40 minutes in regulation of a non-elimination playoff game in a half decade.*

*The Pacers gave 40 minutes to Paul George, George Hill, Roy Hibbert and Lance Stephenson in Game 6 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals. After that win, Indiana lost to the Heat in Game 7. Since, only the Warriors – who used Andre Iguodala, Klay Thompson, Stephen Curry and Draymond Green in Game 7 of the 2016 Western Conference finals against the Thunder – have played just seven players in a playoff game.

D’Antoni’s rotation revealed his desperation to win Game 4. And who could blame him? A 3-1 deficit to this mighty Golden State squad would have been nearly insurmountable.

Not only did D’Antoni lean heavily on his top players, he didn’t even spread around the remaining minutes. Just seven Rockets played in Game 4 – Tucker, Harden, Paul, Ariza, Eric Gordon, Clint Capela and Gerald Green.

How fatigued will those players be in Game 5 tonight?

In the last 20 years, teams have used just seven players in a playoff game 28 times. In their following game, those teams went 10-15. (Two were eliminated.)

Here are the full results:

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Teams have used so few players just twice in the previous decade, but the super-shortened rotation was once a D’Antoni specialty. The practice only waned while he was mostly missing the playoffs with the Knicks and Lakers. In fact, 14 of the last 18 times a team used just seven players in a playoff game, D’Antoni did it.

The most recent previous example came in Game 5 of last year’s Rockets-Spurs second-round series. Houston lost by 39 and got eliminated in the next game – which became known for Harden running out of gas.

Will the result be different this time?

The Warriors have their own physical-readiness issues. Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala are banged up. Golden State coach Steve Kerr should probably tighten his rotation, especially removing Nick Young. It’s not as if the Warriors gave up on Game 4, either. Draymond Green played 45 minutes, Kevin Durant 43, Klay Thompson 39 and Curry 39.

These conference finals are shaping up to be a great battle. It might be one of attrition.

Carmelo Anthony responds four times to Instagram post calling Kyle Korver better: ‘FOH’

AP Photo/David Goldman
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Carmelo Anthony was the No. 3 pick in the 2003 NBA draft. He had just led Syracuse to the national title as a freshman, and some fans and media advocating taking him No. 1 overall ahead of LeBron James (and Darko Milicic).

Korver was the No. 51 pick in the same draft. He looked like this:

Fifteen years later, Anthony and Korver are still in the league. Korver is helping the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference finals, and Anthony and the Thunder already got eliminated. That sparked an Instagram post that clearly irked Anthony:

Anthony has had a better career than Korver. But who’s better right now? It depends on the terms of the debate.

Anthony is still a more-skilled all-around offensive player. (Neither gains credit for their defense.) Anthony can create in ways Korver just can’t.

But any team running its offense through Anthony now is asking for a bad time. Even if that’s that the best style for maximizing him individually, he’s no longer good enough to justify having the ball that much.

Korver is a far superior complementary player. He’s an elite 3-point shooter who moves well off the ball. Anthony struggles in that role.

In a hypothetical game between Anthony plus four average players and Korver plus four average players, I’d lean toward Anthony’s squad. But an actual NBA team capable of winning needs players better than both, and at that point, I’d rather have Korver.