Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Cavaliers almost won one. Almost.

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What you missed while thinking about every move Nicolas Cage ever made

Pacers 117, Cavaliers 112: And we are at 22 losses in a row — but it was so, so close. This game was tied at 110-110 with just over a minute left. First the Pacers’ Darren Collison knocked down a three pointer. After a timeout Christian Eyenga — who I like more and more every game — hit difficult jumper to cut that lead to one.

Then the Cavs got a stop and hand a chance. Anthony Parker drove into the paint and put up the little runner, which ran around the rim and out. A few seconds later Danny Granger was fouled, knocked down two and it was 115-112 Pacers. Ramon Session drove the lane for Cleveland, drew defenders, dropped the ball of to J.J. Hickson, who fumbled it out of bounds, and with it went the Cavs chances.

It’s only been two games, but the Pacers are running again under interim head coach Frank Vogel — 99 possessions in this one.

Sixers 106, Nets 92: Some guys just have another guy’s number. Jrue Holiday just beats Devin Harris. I have no idea why but Harris cannot keep Holiday in front of him and while Holiday only scored 11 (he has averaged 19.5 against the Nets) he also had 11 assists and 10 rebounds. He had the triple double and set up the win.

Hawks 100, Raptors 87: Atlanta shot 55.3 percent overall and hit 10 of 24 from three, with Joe Johnson dropping 37. Of course, if there is one thing the Hawks know how to do it is look good against bad teams. The Raptors have lost 13 in a row and if it wasn’t for the Cavs we’d be talking about how awful they are.

Bobcats 97, Pistons 87: The Pistons started with Tracy McGrady on Stephen Jackson, but T-Mac doesn’t have the body to keep up with him anymore. So they went to Austin Daye, not exactly the best defender ever. Or even close to that. As you might imagine, Jackson got it going. The Pistons finally put Tayshaun Prince on him but now Jackson is feeling it. He drops 39 on the Pistons and that ‘s about it.

Mavericks 113, Knicks 97: The best bench player in the league the last week has been J.J. Barea, and he dropped 22 on the Knicks in this one. That’s six wins in a row for a Mavs team getting hot again.

Grizzlies 102, Timberwolves 84: They are talking playoffs in Memphis (in between bites of barbecue) and with this win the Grizzlies are now just half a game back of Portland for the last spot in the West. The Grizzlies starting five completely outplayed the starters for the Wolves and an 18-4 third quarter run put this one away for Memphis. Kevin Love kept his double-double streak alive with 10 and 10. So barely.

Thunder 104, Hornets 93: Kevin Durant is good. How good was he in this one? Try 43 points on 19 shots good. That first month of the season really seemed to quell his MVP campaign (everyone was high on him before the season) but he has 40 in three of the Thunder’s last four and if he keeps it up (and the Thunder keep winning) the campaign could revive.

Rockets 97, Jazz 96: Kevin Martin got the old-fashioned three — hitting a lob layup in traffic while being fouled by Al Jefferson — to give the Rockets the win. The real credit for the play goes to Shane Battier, who threw the pass to Martin with the kind of accuracy Aaron Rodgers can only hope to have this Sunday evening.

Nuggets 109, Trail Blazers 90: The West Coast to Denver back-to-back is the most brutal in the NBA. This one was one of those games — this was a close game until the final couple minutes of the third quarter, when Denver went on a 7-0 run against a weary Portland team and started to pull away.

Bulls 106, Clippers 88: The Clippers actually played pretty well against a stingy Bulls defense in the first half, but they couldn’t get a stop for 48 minutes and that was the difference. The Bulls were getting points inside so the Clippers went to a 2-1-2 zone that the Bulls shot over the top of, hitting 12-26 three pointers. Blake Griffin did his dunk thing but he had 25 in the first half and just 7 in the second as the Bulls did a good job frustrating him, bringing extra bodies to clog the lane. Kurt Thomas’ crazy eyes made an appearance as well.

Suns 92, Bucks 77: The Bucks shot 31.1 percent. Against the Suns defense, ranked 29th in the league in defensive efficiency. That’s just bad.

New Bulls forward Jabari Parker: ‘They don’t pay players to play defense’

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Jabari Parker never found his footing with the Bucks. Parker’s injuries and Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s ascension left Parker – a top recruit then No. 2 overall pick – trying (and often failing) to to fit into a complementary role he clearly never envisioned for himself.

After signing a contract to become the Bulls’ highest-paid player, Parker is unapologetically embracing a new mission.

Parker, via 670 The Score:

I just stick to my strengths. Look at everybody in the league. They don’t pay players to play defense. There’s only two people historically that play defense. I’m not going to say I won’t, but to say that’s a weakness is like saying that’s everybody’s weakness. Because I’ve scored 30 and 20 on a lot of guys that say they play defense.

If you know the game, you also know that everyone’s a pro, right? And you know that certain guys have an average. No matter what you do, they still get that average. They pay people to score the ball, and I would hope that somebody scores the ball on me if they pay them that much. So, I’m not saying that to cop out or nothing. It’s the NBA. We’re professionals. Everybody scores. It’s just about limiting them as much as you can, trying to contain them.

A better offense wins a championship.

Parker is generally right. Scoring is rewarded far more than defense. If NBA teams don’t want to encourage that attitude, they ought to pay players more for other skills. Until then, players like Parker – who has no salary guarantee beyond this season – will continue to be drawn to scoring.

Parker is also correct that certain players get their points-per-game average no matter what. What he fails to explain: If that player needs too many shots to get it, he hurts his team. Good defenders force inefficiency from their opponents.

But, again, players who get theirs in the points column are often rewarded in salary.

So, expect Parker to hunt his points during his upcoming contract year.

These quotes only reinforce what we’d already seen from Parker. He showed glimpses of strong defense during this year’s playoffs, but that was rare for him. His skill set and approach are offense-first.

And great offense probably beats great defense. But offenses are rarely reliably great. Defense more often can be. The Warriors, as exceptional as they are offensively, are also elite defensively. I’m not sure Parker grasps that.

It’s on Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg to convince him, but managing this issue is easier said than done. Not only does Parker bring years of habits to Chicago, he’s playing to prove himself next season. The Bulls have a team option on him for 2019-20.

Parker will most positively affect winning by trying hard on both ends of the floor. He might most positively affect his bank account by saving his energy for offense.

You might not like him saying it, but it’s also reality.

Report: Kawhi Leonard warming to playing for Raptors

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Shortly after the Spurs traded Kawhi Leonard to the Raptors, word leaked he didn’t want to play for Toronto.

That stance is apparently softening.

Adrian Wojnarowski on ESPN:

They’ve been in communication with Kawhi Leonard’s camp. He’s going to play. He’ll be in training camp. He’s healthy. He may be at USA Basketball’s minicamp next week which Gregg Popovich is coaching. That’s possible.

But the one thing I was told today he’s started to warm to the idea that he’s going to a contender. He’s got a team that could be as good as anybody in the Eastern Conference.

And now it’s on Toronto to try to recruit him, keep him. But in his mind right now, he’s headed to L.A. next year.

Leonard has little choice but to get on board. If he withheld services from the Raptors, they could fine him – eventually all the way up to his entire $20,099,189 salary for next season. Perhaps even more catastrophically, if it was determined he withheld services for more than 30 days of the season, he could be denied free agency entirely.

Maybe he could have finessed using his injury as an excuse rather than explicitly holding out. It has been threatened before. But that’s hard to manage and would have hurt his stock among all teams, including his preferred destination(s).

The best way for Leonard to get everything he wants is going to Toronto, playing well then becoming a free agent next summer.

I’d advise Leonard to keep an open mind until then. It might have made sense to posture against the Raptors to discourage a trade. But the trade has happened. Maybe he’ll join Toronto and like it more than he expects.

Paul George didn’t expect to stay with the Thunder, but he considered them throughout the season and found a long-term home. I don’t expect that to repeat with Leonard and the Raptors, but it could. Why close the option?

If not, Los Angeles will always be waiting.

Report: Spurs wanted to declare Kawhi Leonard out for the season, but he wouldn’t let them

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In February, Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again during the 2017-18 season. Leonard didn’t, but the Spurs never followed Popovich’s doubt with a clear statement on Leonard’s status. Instead, Popovich repeatedly deferred questions of Leonard’s health in the following months to Leonard’s “group.”

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Privately, officials within organization had hoped Leonard would let the Spurs declare him out for the season due to his injury, according to sources with knowledge of the situation. Believing he’d eventually return, Leonard declined each time

Did Leonard not realize this made him – not the Spurs – look bad? Especially once it leaked he’d been cleared medically. Especially when he told the team repeatedly and public once he’d return soon but never did.

Perhaps, this was just genuine competitiveness. Maybe Leonard really thought, or at least wanted to believe, a return was around the corner. This could have been him valiantly never giving up.

But there’s a reason teams usually err on the side of caution in long-term injury announcements. It’s to protect the player from looking bad for remaining out if he’s not quite ready as quickly as initially projected.

The Pacers received a disabled-player exception for Paul George in 2014-15, and he still beat the odds to return late in the year. The Celtics called Gordon Hayward out for this season and weren’t going to stray from that public stance until he suited up, even when – for a moment – it appeared he had a chance of returning.

Even if the Spurs publicly declared him out for the rest of the year, nothing would have stopped Leonard from playing. It’s not a binding resolution. Instead, he repeatedly missing targeted return dates and looked soft to many because of it.

And he insisted on the strategy that led to that perception!

This is just more evidence those around Leonard might not know what they’re doing.

Report: Spurs wouldn’t trade Kawhi Leonard to 76ers unless they included Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid

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The 76ers reportedly refused to include Markelle Fultz in trade offers for Kawhi Leonard, which seems misguided to me. Leonard carries major questions about his future, but after his rookie year, so does Fultz! At least Leonard has proven he can reach an elite level. That’s not to say Philadelphia should have definitely dealt Fultz for Leonard. The 76ers definitely have a better understanding of Fultz’s behind-the-scenes progress, and they might have more information on Leonard’s health and willingness to stay long-term. I just wouldn’t have made Fultz a deal-breaker in negotiations.

But it seems the Spurs placed a far more unreasonable restriction on Philadelphia, though.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

The Spurs made it clear any deal with Philly would require Ben Simmons or Joel Embiid (likely Simmons), and the Sixers weren’t going anywhere near that, league sources say.

Given their age and contract status – and, in Simmons’ case, health – Simmons and Embiid are each way more valuable than Leonard. There’s no way the 76ers would have dealt either of those two for Leonard.

Which apparently took a still-viable suitor off the table for San Antonio.

Between Fultz, Dario Saric, Robert Covington, Zhaire Smith, the Heat’s 2021 first-rounder and Philadelphia’s own picks, the 76ers could have assembled a better package than the Raptors sent the Spurs for Leonard. Maybe the 76ers wouldn’t have. But it would have been worth at least exploring.

It seems San Antonio placed too much on remaining competitive, which led to a deal revolving around DeMar DeRozan. There’s nothing wrong with that strategy per se, but it gets more difficult to defend when the Spurs got so little. In this Western Conference, they could slip out of the playoffs, even with DeRozan and Jakob Poeltl. A long-term approach should have at least been considered.

To be fair, I’d also caution against taking this report at face value with no skepticism. Today, 28 teams – especially those, like Philadelphia, linked to Leonard – are trying to explain why they didn’t get the star. This could easily be the 76ers’ spin and not an accurate reflection of the Spurs’ stance.

But Lowe is a great reporter, and I tend to trust this – which raises red flags about San Antonio.