Baseline to Baseline recaps: Indiana looks good for new coach… or they played Toronto

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What you missed while surfing huge waves at night while wearing an LED vest….

Pacers 104, Raptors 93: That was the most relaxed and loose the Pacers have looked since early in the season. The question becomes is that because of Frank Vogel being the coach instead of Jim O’Brien, or because the Raptors are that bad at defense? The same question can be asked of Roy Hibbert, who looked renewed and had 24 points and 11 boards against the soft interior defense of Toronto. Paul George added 16 as he got more burn.

The key thing for the Pacers is they were running again — there were 102 possessions in this total.  This team is better when running. It kept feeling like the Pacers would pull away in this one, but the 25 turnovers — almost one if four trips down the court — let the Raptors keep it closer than it should have been. We’ll see over the next few games if the Pacers are playing better or if it is the Toronto effect. That’s a dozen losses in a row for Toronto now.

Nets 115, Nuggets 99: The Nets are not a good offensive team, yet they put up a ridiculously good 130 points per 100 possessions against the Nuggets. Denver on the road plays terrible defense, and the Nets exploited them inside — Brook Lopez (27 points), Travis Outlaw (21) and Kris Humphries (15) had big games. Carmelo Anthony dropped 37 in the loss and got to answer a lot of questions after.

Heat 117, Cavaliers 90: This followed the pattern John Krolik described when we stuck a fork in the Cavaliers — Miami raced out to an early lead, then they got a lazy and sloppy and the Cavs were able to hang around. Cleveland scored 37 in the second quarter alone. Then the Heat refocused themselves and pulled away.

Grizzlies 100, Magic 97: Sentences I never thought I’d type include: Mike Conley outplayed Jameer Nelson badly in this one. Conley has really had a good season, I’ll eat some crow on that one. Anyway, that was one of the keys. That and just a good shooting night by Memphis, including 63.2 percent in the first half, against what is supposed to be a powerful Magic defense.

Mavericks 102, Wizards 92: A couple of times a season a coach just needs to rip his players and get his team’s attention. Monday night was one of those times in Dallas as midway through the second the Mavs were losing to the Wizards. Rick Carlisle snapped — admitting after the game is was the maddest he has been all season — and the result was a Mavs turnaround win. A bunch of Steelers players were in the house, by the way.

Jazz 83, Bobcats 78: No Deron Williams again, which meant 19 turnovers on the night for Utah. And they still won. This was just an offensively ugly game — the winning team shot 35.6 percent.

Clippers 105, Bucks 96: The Clippers could not buy anything long range (2-13 from three) but fortunately they had Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan, who combined for 48 inside. The Bucks are solid but not nearly athletic enough inside to match up with the Clippers front line.

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer reportedly tells organization he still wants playoff push

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When the Clippers traded their best player — Tobias Harris — right before the trade deadline, it was a move generally seen as throwing in the towel on this season’s playoffs, but it was applauded around the league because of the haul it brought back to L.A. It set the Clippers up with one max cap slot this summer and a reasonable path to a second one, plus the Clippers landed rookie shooting guard Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s 2020 first-round pick (lottery protected) and the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick unprotected.

Except then the Clippers not long after traded for Garrett Temple and JaMychal Green — boosting the roster’s depth in needed spots. Not a move a team looking to fall out of the playoffs makes.

That’s because owner Steve Ballmer doesn’t want them to fall out of the playoffs, reports Sam Amick of The Athletic.

Sources say Clippers owner Steve Ballmer has let it be known throughout the organization that he wants to keep making this playoff push. Never mind that such an accomplishment would cost them their first-round pick this season.

The coach and players should never be told to lose games, they need to go all-out every time they are on the court. That goes to the culture of an organization. If a decision is made to focus on the future, then it’s about roster decisions at the GM level. That is what the Clippers did, and there is nothing wrong — or even strange — about the owner telling them to push and try to make the playoffs.

Either way, it works for Los Angeles.

Make the playoffs as the eight seed and the Clippers are likely just the first-round appetizer for the Warriors as they chase a three-peat, but it shows potential free agents the role players on the team have grit and just need a star and leader. Their young stars would gain a little playoff experience. While the Clippers would lose this year’s first-round pick, giving up a late teens pick in what is considered a down draft (especially after No. 1) is not that painful a loss. It’s one less asset to throw in a potential trade (Anthony Davis anyone?), but it’s not devastating.

Miss the playoffs and they get a late-lottery pick and things go as expected.

Make or miss the playoffs, the Clippers are focused on July 1 and landing a couple of free agents, with Kawhi Leonard at the top of the list (and a lot of sources around the league think that’s where they are headed).