Baseline to Baseline recaps: LeBron James can play some basketball, by the way

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What you missed while watching the original True Grit

Heat 107, Trail Blazers 100 (OT): Hate him if you want. Pull for his team to lose every game. But recognize this — LeBron James is a force of nature. He is the best player in the game right now. Not the biggest winner, but the best player. He showed that Sunday night.

As Kevin Pelton of Basketball Prospectus noted: From the 3:08 mark of the fourth quarter on, LeBron James outscored the Blazers 19-16. He took over the game. He played center for a while so Chris Bosh could stay at the power forward. He had 44 on the night. He got the Heat their ninth straight win.

Raptors 118, Kings 112: No Tyreke Evans for the Kings in this one, which means guys named Beno and Pooh get a lot of burn. But that’s not what lost the Kings the game, terrible defense did. The Raptors have guys who can shoot if you leave them open (and can make layups if you don’t contest them). The Raptors shot 58.5 percent overall, 46.2 percent from three, and pretty much did what they wanted. Andrea Bargnani had 30 on 12-19 shooting.

Clippers 105, Warriors 91: We keep talking about Blake Griffin the dunker — and he is spectacular at it and has more dunks this season than anyone else in the league by a long shot. But the guy has an all-around game and some days that just really jumps out. Griffin is grabbing 20 percent of the available rebounds when he is on the floor. He is shooting 48 percent on shots inside of 10 feet (not counting those dunks and others at the rim) and 36 percent from 10-15 feet (that number will improve). He sets a good pick. He defends. He just does a lot of things well. Against the Warriors he had 23 points, 12 rebounds and was a +17.

He was worth watching. The rest of this game lacked any flow or consistent play. It wasn’t pretty but the Clippers will take the wins any way they come.

Spurs 94, Timberwolves 91: The referees were apparently nostalgic for the ‘90s because they let this one get physical. If you remember basketball from that decade, it lacked flow, it was not pretty to watch. But the Spurs were able to deal with that and get to the line 25 times to the T-Wolves 12. And that was the difference.

Suns 108, Cavaliers 100: Anderson Varejao was the only guy on the Cavs who seemed to try on defense. Now, he’s done. And the only way the Suns are going to beat anyone right now is if their offense can run free and Steve Nash is unimpeded. It’s just going to get worse for the Cavs.

Hornets 96, Nuggets 87: Carmelo Anthony walked off the floor to a chorus of boos from the Nuggets fans with 8 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists. If that’s his last game as a Nugget it was pretty ugly. But pretty much everything the Nuggets did in this one was ugly.

Lakers 109, Knicks 87: The Lakers understood how to attack the Knicks — beat them up inside. Andrew Bynum was at the heart of that (the guy is looking a lot better of late) with 18 points, seven boards and good defense. Well, he was until he got tossed for arguing a call. The Knicks couldn’t capitalize. Gasol added 20, Odom had 13 points and 18 boards and you get the picture. The Knicks shot just 36 percent.

Watch the Alex Caruso to LeBron James alley-oop

LeBron Caruso
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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One of the keys to Denver having a shot in the Western Conference Finals: Keep the Lakers out of transition.

That did not go so well to start.

Denver had seven second-quarter turnovers, which allowed the Lakers to get out an run and the result was this highlight, Alex Caruso to LeBron James for the monster alley-oop.

The Lakers added more points per 100 possessions in transition than any other team in the league, and the Lakers have started a higher percentage of their offense in transition than any other team in the playoffs (16.5% of their plays start that way, stats via Cleaning the Glass). Denver has improved halfcourt defense this postseason, but their transition defense has struggled in the playoffs. That is potentially a bad combo for the Nuggets.

 

Report: Heat tried to trade Goran Dragic away in Jimmy Butler deal

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The Miami Heat are not in control of the Eastern Conference Finals — just two wins from the NBA Finals — without the combination of Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. They are the shot creators, the two penetrating into the paint, breaking down the Celtics’ defense, then kicking out to shooters. Butler is an All-NBA player, and Dragic is playing like the All-NBA player he was six years ago.

That pairing almost never happened.

Michael Lee at the Athletic told the story.

What’s hilarious about the Dragic-Butler partnership – a bromance that has found them bonding in the bubble over bottles of Michelob Ultras, cups of Big Head coffee, and singing the “Bad Boys” theme song from “Cops” – is it nearly didn’t happen. The initial three-team trade [Heat president Pat] Riley facilitated to get Butler involved sending Dragic to Dallas. Dragic would’ve teamed up with his Slovenian little homie, Luka Doncic, but would’ve said farewell to what he intended to do with the Heat.

The Mavericks had no interest in taking on Dragic – a 30-something hobbling on a surgically-repaired knee whose best years were way in the rearview – so the Heat had to get more creative, while remaining stuck with seemingly damaged goods. Again, nothing went according to plan.

We knew this at the time, consider this a reminder. Also, don’t blame Dallas on this one. Dragic played 36 games last season, had knee issues, and had looked like a shell of the All-NBA player he used to be, and on top of it he was getting paid $19.2 million. There were not a lot of teams looking to get in the Dragic business before this season started.

Instead, Dragic stayed, got healthy, accepted a sixth-man role (until the playoffs, before that Kendrick Nunn started and Dragic was the change of pace off the bench), and found his stride.

In the bubble, Dragic has taken off as the second scoring/shot-creating option in the Heat offense. Erik Spoelstra, as he does, has put Dragic in positions to succeed.

And, after these playoffs, get paid this offseason when Dragic is a free agent.

Brad Stevens hosts late night meeting with Smart, Brown, Celtics’ leadership

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A frustrated Marcus Smart yelled and vented at teammates after Boston’s come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jaylen Brown reportedly snapped back that the team needed to stick together and not just point fingers. Things reportedly were thrown around in the Celtics’ locker room.

Boston coach Brad Stevens knew he had to get everyone back on the same page before Game 3 on Saturday, so he had Smart, Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker meet and talk through their issues, reported Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It was a smart move by Stevens, and it apparently worked. The Celtics have moved on from the incident, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

But one source within the bubble told NBC Sports Boston that the emotions of Thursday night are “water under the bridge now” as the team prepares for a must-win Game 3 on Saturday.

The Celtics need to match the Heat’s “do whatever it takes to win” intensity on Saturday. It would be a help if Gordon Hayward plays, which appears possible (he is officially listed as questionable but seems to be moving toward playing.

Everything that happened before to Boston needs to be a lesson on what it takes to win at the highest level. Miami is confident and rolling, plus they have the relentless Jimmy Butler in their corner.

One of the four players in Stevens’ room Thursday night — Boston’s leaders — has to be the one to step up and match that intensity. If not, the Celtics will be watching the Finals from home like the rest of us.

Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo: Agents will position me to succeed ‘with the team or another team’

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s moment has arrived.

He won Most Valuable Player, yes. But he’s also the center of speculation as he approached 2021 unrestricted free agency. He could head that off by signing a super-max extension with the Bucks this summer.

In the meantime, every word he says will be scrutinized for clues about his future.

That includes grainy video today from Greece, where – because Milwaukee already got bounced from the playoffs – Antetokounmpo conducted a conference call with reporters and an interview on NBA TV about his award.

The Bucks’ season is so far in the rearview mirror, Antetokounmpo already met with Bucks ownership and returned home. Now, attention turns to his long-term outlook.

Antetokounmpo:

I have two great agents that help with that, and I know they’re going to put me in the best situation to be successful with the team or another team. But at the end of the day, I had a great conversation with the owner. And as I know so far, we’re on the same page. And I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship.

As long as everybody is on the same page and as long as everybody is fighting for the same thing … every single day, which is to be a champion, I don’t see why not be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years?

I believe Antetokounmpo prefers to find a way to stay with the Bucks. But even while professing his loyalty, Antetokounmpo had made clear he doesn’t hold blind allegiance to Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo’s agent, Alex Saratsis, said in February, “Everything is open.”

Yet, this is the first time I recall Antetokounmpo himself so directly mentioning the possibility of joining “another team.”

The other time he supposedly said something like that, he claimed he was misquoted.

Of course, you could focus on other portions of his responses today like: “I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career.” Yet, there’s that “we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship” caveat.

Two major questions:

1. How willing are the Bucks to pay the luxury tax to maximize Milwaukee’s title chances?

2. Even with a financial commitment from ownership, how equipped are the Bucks to win after a couple years of shortcuts?

Antetokounmpo must evaluate.

But he’s not just putting the onus on the organization. He spoke about working to continuing to improve, doing his part to achieve his main goal.

When talking about his 2019 MVP, Antetokounmpo said at the time, “Please, after this day, don’t call me MVP because until I win it again next year.”

Is he ready to be called MVP now?

Antetokounmpo:

Don’t call me MVP. Don’t call me two-times MVP until I’m a champion.