Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Martin Luther King Day games

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What you missed while listening to the “I have a Dream” speech…

The Lakers defeating the Thunder in a contest that looked a lot like last-year’s playoffs was our game of the night.

Celtics 109, Magic 106: Kevin Garnett is back. Is he ever.

It was a full slate of 13 NBA games Monday and this was the best one. It felt like the playoffs. The Magic and Celtics stood toe-to-toe, trading Jameer Nelson penetrations for Ray Allen jumpers. It was chippy. The crowd was roaring. Damn, it was just fun. There were a lot of keys — like the aforementioned Allen, who seems to get ignored by the defense at key moments as if he were Jeff Teague. Everyone talks about not letting Allen get open late, but he always does.

The real difference was Kevin Garnett, and not just the dramatic game-sealing steal. The Celtics just play with a different, more intense energy when he suits up. He’s back and the Celtics get the win. Not a coincidence.

Suns 129, Knicks 121: Amar’e Stoudemire again reminded Phoenix fans what got away, putting up 41 and looking all the world like an MVP candidate. But this was won at the point guard — Steve Nash played a controlled game (15 points, 11 assists) while Raymond Felton was 3 of 13 shooting (but with 13 assists). Nash gave his team what they needed. Really impressive all-around game from Vince Carter — hitting the outside shot, driving, tipping in rebounds. Carter also passed the 20,000-point level for his career.

Wizards 108, Jazz 101: There are games where Andray Blatche comes to play and when it happens the Wizards are a much more dangerous team. This was one of those games. Blatche had 21, JaVale McGee had 11 rebounds and we could swear we saw him pass the ball, and John Wall looked as good as he has this season with 19 points (7-of-12 shooting) and 15 assists.

Bulls 96, Grizzlies 84: Memphis shot terribly against that tough Bulls defense, hitting 37.7 percent overall and 1-of-7 from three. The Bulls did a great job of jumping on the Grizzlies early, Derrick Rose had his first-ever triple-double (22 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds), Luol Deng dropped 28 on 11-of-17 shooting and Kyle Korver was raining threes.

Pistons 103, Mavericks 89: In his second game back, Dirk Nowitzki really looked like he had his legs back with 32 points on 10-of-17 shooting. The problem with Dallas remains on defense — the Pistons shot 57.5 percent (60.3 eFG%, once you count in the made threes). Once they start defending again the Mavs will break out of this slump. For the Pistons, Greg Monroe continues to grow and look like a guy starting to figure it out.

Sixers 96, Bobcats 92 (OT): This one went to overtime because the Sixers got some big shots out of Lou Williams and some smart play from Andre Iguodala down the stretch. They won it in overtime because the Sixers just executed better.

Down two with less than 20 seconds remaining in overtime, the Bobcats ran a pick-and-roll, and just as you would expect in a late game situation the Sixers switched. That left Jrue Holiday on Boris Diaw, who already had a triple double (25 points, 11 boards and 11 assists). D.J. Augustin got Diaw the ball, he backed Holiday down, made a move into the middle then seemed surprised when the help came — so he dumped it to Kwame Brown. That means the Bobcats need Kwame to make a quick, smart decision. You can see the problem there. He throws it away and from there it’s all Sixers and free throws. Which the Sixers executed.

Rockets 93, Bucks 84: The Bucks were, for a change, the better shooting team in this one — 44 percent to 36.8 percent. But the Rockets did everything else needed to win — they got to the free throw line more, got more offensive rebounds and just generally out worked the Bucks.

Hornets 85, Raptors 81: Chris Paul had six points on eight shots. He had 11 assists but he did not look right. Emeka Okafor had 12 offensive rebounds,  setting the Hornets’ franchise record for offensive rebounds in a game, and finished with 17 points on 8-of-12 shooting.

Clippers 114, Pacers 107: Damn the Clippers and their 1-13 start to the season. I want to see this team in the playoffs, but they dug such a deep hole in a still pretty deep West that it’s going to be hard to climb out of it (they are six games out of the eight seed with four teams ahead of them). Blake Griffin is a stud.

Warriors 109, Nets 100: We have a David Lee sighting, 24 points and 10 boards. The Nets, they really could have used someone like Carmelo Anthony in this game.

Hawks 100, Kings 98: The Kings almost got a quality win, they led from the opening tip all the way until midway through the fourth quarter. With the game tied 98-98 and time running out the Hawks went to their standard end-of-game Joe Johnson isolation play (which isn’t bad when he is hot, and he had 36 in this one). With Tyreke Evans on him Johnson drove right got to a spot, pulled up and Evans caught him on the arm with the foul. Two free throws with 0.6 left and that was he ballgame.

Blazers 113, Timberwolves 102: Minnesota had Michael Beasley back from a sprained ankle, and he had 12 on 4-of-8 shooting. Portland pulled away from Minnesota in the second half because nobody on the Wolves could stop LaMarcus Aldridge, who had 37 points and 12 boards.

Report: 76ers trade No. 39 pick to Lakers

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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The 76ers have too many 2018 draft picks – Nos. 10, 26, 38, 39, 56 and 60.

Philadelphia already has 11 players under contract for next season. Plus, the 76ers have the space to add premier players. There just isn’t room for everyone on the roster.

So, Philadelphia unloaded one of those selections.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is good return for the 76ers, who everyone knew had to trade a draft pick. The rebuilding Bulls could easily land a higher second-round pick than No. 39 next year.

Why do the Lakers want an extra second-rounder this year? Second-round picks don’t count against the cap until signed, and they can always slightly sweeten a trade offer. They’re helpful for a team with big plans and little wiggle room.

Kyle O’Quinn opts out of Knicks contract

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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The Knicks have the No. 8 pick, and tomorrow’s draft will be the most important part of their offseason.

Will they also have cap space to add talent in free agency? That hinges on Enes Kanter‘s player option.

If Kanter opts out, New York will have even more room to operate thanks to Kyle O'Quinn declining his $4,256,250 player option.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Knicks expected this for a while, and they’re probably not disappointed. Steve Mills and Scott Perry want to put their stamp on the franchise. O’Quinn is a leftover from the Phil Jackson era and a reminder of the recent tumult in New York.

O’Quinn’s combination of block percentage (6.1) and defensive-rebounding percentage (27.8) was unmatched last season. He just really struck a nice balance between contesting shots and remaining in position on the glass. He’s also a smooth mid-range shooter with an improved ability to distribute.

How much is that player worth?

It’ll be a tight market, especially for bigs. For his sake, I hope the 28-year-old O’Quinn already has assurances from other teams. He might get a similar salary or, more likely, a larger overall guarantee on a multi-year deal. But it’s also possible he comes out behind by testing free agency.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.