Baseline to Baseline recaps: Derrick Rose bests Deron Williams in the clutch

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What you missed while playing a sad, sad song for the end of Guitar Hero

Bulls 91, Jazz 86: At the end of this one Deron Williams and Derrick Rose were putting on a clinic. Two of the best pick and roll ball handlers in the league were slicing defenses with drives, dicing them up with passes to big men. It really was a thing of beauty.

But with the game on the line Rose made the key plays, including running down Williams in transition and making a steal from behind with under a minute to go. Rose was the best player on the floor and that’s why the Bulls won. That and the 11 offensive rebounds in the second half. And the three late key turnovers by the Jazz.

Paul Millsap had spent years as Carlos Boozer’s understudy, and he came out fired up for this one. He finished with 20 points, 14 rebounds. The Jazz did a good job on Boozer, holding him to 14 points on 6 of 16 shooting, and blocking five of his shots. What really hurt the Jazz (again) was depth — they got just five points off the bench all night, and four of those came from C.J. Miles early in the fourth.

But Jazz fans did get to boo Carlos Boozer, and they took full advantage of it.

Pistons 103, Cavaliers 94: There are so, so many ways to beat the Cavaliers. The Pistons went with the “our bench is so much better than yours” system and it worked — 61 bench points for Detroit. Thing is, the Pistons actually have a pretty good bench, they usually lose because of the starters.

Cleveland actually shot 51.4 percent on the night and hit 8 of 19 threes but the 17 turnovers by the Cavs and the 17 offensive rebounds for the Pistons were the difference. We are at 26 straight losses and counting.

Magic 99, Sixers 95: Philadelphia doesn’t have anyone who could stop Dwight Howard. Not a lot of teams do, but Howard made the Sixers pay a steeper price — 30 points, 17 boards. The Sixers tried fouling him — hack-a-Howard — but he hit 14-of-19 free throws. Lou Williams hit two threes in the final minute to make the Magic sweat it out.

Wizards 100, Bucks 85: The Wizards were home where they are over .500, and the Bucks offense still sucks. Washington had six players in double figures and really got solid play out of every key guy not named Rashard Lewis.

Spurs 111, Raptors 100: This game was pretty close for three quarters, then exactly what you expected to happen, happened — DeJuan Blair took over. What, you didn’t expect 16 fourth quarter points and a team-high 28 for the game out of Blair? What if we told you he was being covered by Andrea Bargnani, does it make more sense now? Aside that, basically the Spurs started to focus on defense in the fourth (the Raptors started 5 of 18 for the quarter) and that led to a 22-4 run that was the ballgame.

Nets 103, Hornets 100 (OT): Phil Jackson may try to take credit for this win — former Laker Sasha Vujacic had 25 points, while his former teammate Jordan Farmar was a game high +21 for the Nets. Chris Paul was not at his best (9 points, 11 assists and 7 turnovers) but David West had 32 points, 15 rebounds in the loss.

Pacers 104, Bobcats 103: Here’s why this win was key — if these two teams are tied at the end of the season the Pacers now have the tie-breaker (head-to-head). With the win the Pacers are the eight seed right now, one game up on the Bobcats. Roy Hibbert had 29 points (on 19 shots) because Eduardo Najera can’t guard hm. Indiana led most of the way but 13 points from Stephen Jackson in the fourth quarter led a comeback that made this one tight.

Clippers 116, Knicks 108: Tonight the part of Mr. Clutch will be played by Randy Foye. He had 17 in the fourth quarter to help the Clips hold on. Timofey Mozgov started for the Knicks, and ha 18 points (on 9 shots), six rebounds, and threw down a lot of dunks, as if to say “see me Blake Griffin, I can dunk, too.” Actually, the entire first half seemed like a dunkfest as nobody seemed to play much interior defense. Clippers also got good play out of Ryan Gomes. You read that right.

Mavericks 102, Kings 100: You are right to complain about the call Kings fans — there is no way DeMarcus Cousins (or Tyson Chandler) should have gotten technical for pushing hard to get a free throw rebound with 48 seconds left (it was Cousin’s second tech so he was gone, but the league should rescind). Those two had gone at it hard for a few plays but a ref has to understand the time in the game and let some things go. However that was not reason the Kings lost — the Mavericks executed better and got better looks in crunch time than the Kings. Jason Terry had 26 off the bench.

Warriors 116, Nuggets 114: Terrible end of game execution. Monta Ellis — who hit what turned out to be the game winning three before — tries another from the same spot as the shot clock runs out, he misses and with two timeouts Denver’s Ty Lawson gets the ball and runs up court. Carmelo Anthony trails him b a couple steps asking for the ball but is ignored. No timeout to set up a play, no Melo, the Nuggets end up going with an 18-foot, off-balance jumper by Nene. That predictably clangs off and the Warriors get the win. They executed better in crunch time.

Are the Clippers, Knicks really equal threats to sign Kevin Durant?

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Is Kevin Durant going to stay with the Golden State Warriors? Is he going to sign with the New York Knicks? How about the Los Angeles Clippers? We just don’t know whether Durant will stay with the best team ever assembled, or strike it out on his own with several championships under his belt.

Durant is not currently playing for the Warriors, having injured his calf and missed the entirety of the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trail Blazers. However, a new report says that there are rumblings that the Los Angeles Clippers are a serious destination for Durant should he decide to opt out of his contract and leave Golden State.

The only caveat? According to Mark Stein, all of the aforementioned teams have been rumored as the “favorite” for Durant by people he trusts.

Via NY Times Newsletter:

Within the last month, very smart and plugged-in people I have consulted say that the Los Angeles Clippers have emerged as an equally dangerous threat to the Knicks to sign Durant away from Golden State. And I believe it.

Problem is, at various points during the season, I have heard trusted insiders state with conviction that Durant is already planning to join the Knicks … and then that he is likely to consider the Nets as well … and now that he is eyeing the Clippers just as intently as New York.

It leads one to conclude that maybe the best forecast, at least for the moment, is that nobody but Durant and his business manager Rich Kleiman know.

Durant is one of the more tiring personalities in the NBA, and his constant need for ego-stroking has worn thin despite the Warriors’ success. If he decides to leave — and it just sort of feels like he will at this point — no doubt it won’t be the last we hear of this story.

Tim Connelly eager to finish what he started with Nuggets

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DENVER (AP) The prospects of a return home to Washington were undeniably appealing to Tim Connelly.

Not nearly as alluring as this: Finishing what he’s started.

The Denver Nuggets president of basketball operations elected to stay in town even with the Wizards calling. Things are booming these days with a Nuggets team that boasts a young nucleus led by big man Nikola Jokic and that won 54 games in the regular season. They were the No. 2 seed in the West before losing to Portland in Game 7 at home during the second round of the playoffs.

There was just too much work left to be done in Denver to consider taking Washington’s front office job even if it would’ve been with the organization where Connelly got his start and in the area where he and his wife are from.

“It’s safe to assume, and maybe it’s me being overly optimistic, that we’re going to see a better version of us next year,” Connelly said Tuesday. “I don’t know if that means more wins. I don’t know if we’re going to win a playoff series and advance, but I don’t think there’s any reason to think there will be any regression next season.”

A Baltimore native, Connelly appreciated the audience with Wizards owner Ted Leonsis. He said he was flattered by their recent “exchange of ideas” as the Wizards look to fill the role of team president after Ernie Grunfeld was fired in April.

“The relationships that have been built up here and the hard times we’ve been through – it was very hard to envision leaving something that has been so hard and so long coming in its build,” said Connelly, who broke into the NBA with the Wizards as an intern in the basketball operations department, then as an assistant video coordinator and as a scout.

Connelly was hired as Denver’s general manager in July 2013 and it took a while for the team to take off. Team President Josh Kroenke stayed patient with him. Connelly brought in coach Michael Malone before the 2015-16 season and they’ve steadily progressed since – from 33 wins in Malone’s first year to 40 wins in ’16-17 to 46 in ’17-18 and finally to 54 this season, including a league-leading 34-7 home mark.

“We did not get off to a good start by any stretch, and (Kroenke) doubled down on what easily could have been perceived as an initial mistake because he liked the processes and liked how we attacked our job day to day,” said Connelly, who was promoted to president of basketball operations in 2017. “Loyalty and patience is such a rarity in professional sports and that’s here in spades. So those things matter to me.”

Connelly and his staff have struck it rich in the draft, taking Jokic with the 41st pick of the second round in 2014. They’ve also selected Jamal Murray, along with up-and-comers Juancho Hernangomez, Malik Beasley and Michael Porter Jr., who sat out this season as he recovered from back surgery.

The biggest offseason decision remains this: What to do with veteran leader Paul Millsap. The team holds a $30 million option, which could be restructured.

“I fully expect Paul to be back in a Nuggets uniform,” Connelly said.

On the free agency front, Denver hasn’t exactly been an attractive landing spot in recent summers. But Connelly sees that starting to change and believes the unselfish play of Jokic could be an enticing selling point. Denver could be in the market for another shooter and a power forward in order to take the next step.

“It will be fascinating to make those calls” in free agency, Connelly said. “If they say it’s about winning and the answer is about winning and they don’t talk to us, then I think it’s a disingenuous answer.”

The Nuggets definitely turned some heads throughout the regular season as they challenged Golden State down to the wire for the best mark in the West. They beat San Antonio in seven games in the first round before falling to the Trail Blazers.

“We sent a pretty loud message,” Malone said. “I think there were questions about our team all year long, for whatever reason: How legitimate are they? Are they really a No. 2 seed? Can they take their game into the playoffs with so many young guys that’ve never been there before?

“We answered so many questions about our team in the best way possible.”

NOTES: Malone said Jokic’s race horse, Dream Catcher, recently won a race in Serbia. “He made sure I knew about it, because the last race he won I was at,” Malone said. “I thought I was a good-luck charm but obviously I’m not.”

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/NBA and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Watch Kawhi Leonard dunk all over Giannis Antetokounmpo

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Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors took Game 4 against Giannis Antetokounmpo and the Milwaukee Bucks on Tuesday, 120-102.

Things started off okay for Milwaukee but started to peter off as the hometown Toronto crowd got behind their Raptors. The bench continued to show up for Leonard’s squad, and it was Kyle Lowry dueling it out with Antetokounmpo in the first quarter.

Leonard scored 19 points to go with seven rebounds and four steals, and perhaps his most impressive play of the night came early in the third quarter. Running a little two-man game with Marc Gasol, Leonard cut to the basket and wound up dunking all over the Milwaukee star.

Via Twitter:

Leonard appeared to hobble a little bit after his dunk, but he should be ready to go for Game 5 on a Thursday night. Meanwhile, the series heads back to Wisconsin all tied up at 2-2.

The victor of this series will get to take on the Golden State Warriors in the 2019 NBA Finals.

Andre Iguodala says Stephen Curry is the second-best PG ever

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The Golden State Warriors are moving on to the NBA Finals yet again, thanks in large part to the efforts of Stephen Curry. Golden State’s point guard is now heading to his fifth-straight finals, and without Kevin Durant he was a big reason why the Warriors were able to beat the Portland Trail Blazers in just four games.

Of course there is a real worry that Durant won’t be able to play in the NBA Finals, either partially or fully, thanks to a calf injury. If that’s the case, and the Warriors can take home another championship trophy, it could mean great things for Curry’s legacy.

Curry is currently chasing Magic Johnson as the best point guard ever in the eyes of many folks. What might help solidify Curry’s place in history would be an NBA Finals MVP, which he would likely wind up with if Durant is unable to impact the Finals the way he has.

At least for Andre Iguodala, Curry is already the second best point guard of all-time.

Via The Athletic:

“I think he’s the second best ever,” Iguodala said. “I always thought that about him. I knew but other people didn’t know. So I wasn’t surprised when he took over that series. But I always gave Tony Allen credit. Playing against him made you understand the grind of how hard it is to win. It’s supposed to be hard. You’re supposed to have to find another way. It’s supposed to be uncomfortable. He just embraced that. Just ingrained that into his system and it’s been there ever since.”

The real question is what Curry’s legacy will be after these Finals, particularly if they win without Durant. Some people aren’t keen to compare eras, and might never move off of Johnson for that spot. It seems reasonable to say that Curry is already the best shooter of all-time, but June could elevate him even further.