Baseline to Baseline recaps: Chicago gives one up to Atlanta

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What you missed because you have tiger blood….

Atlanta 83, Chicago 80: Chicago was going to win ugly — this was not a pretty game as both teams struggled to score. However, the Bulls raced out to a 14-0 lead to start the game and held that lead for the first 47:31 of this game, at times by as much as 19 but they never trailed. Well, until an Al Horford jumper with 29 seconds left. The Hawks led those final seconds, they led when the final buzzer sounded. The Bulls were crushed by this one.

There’s been a lot of talk about how the Bulls are contenders now. And they are close. But this game was a reminder that they have an average offense —16th in the NBA in points per possession. They play great defense but they can be stopped, too. Can they score enough, even with Derrick Rose, to win deep in the playoffs?

Warriors 106, Wizards 102: The Warriors looked like they would run away with this, up 17 heading into the fourth, but the Wizards made an run and it was a three point game late. But the Wizards hit a dry patch and never closed it out.

Maybe the key play came with 40 seconds left, Washington down three and Golden State with the ball. The Warriors got a shot they loved, a wide-open three for Dorell Wright (39.4 percent for the season), but the shot rims out.  Then David Lee outworks two Wizards for the rebound, which out of bounds off a Wizard. They were forced to start fouling but a Kobe-esque crazy three by Nick Young gave Washington one last chance to tie (after two Stephen Curry free throws). A double screen freed Young up for a pretty good look but he missed and couple more Curry free throws and it was over.

Spurs 109, Cavaliers 99: Did you expect another Cavs upset? Really?

Stat of the night: This was the Spurs 50th win, making it 12 years in a row they reached that number. Think about that, 12 in a row. It ties the NBA all-time record (the Showtime era Lakers).

Knicks 107, Hornets 88: Chris Paul was outplayed by Toney Douglas. Not Chauncey Billups, Toney Douglas. Paul is really struggling of late — he is shooting 35 percent in the last 10 games, scoring 12.4 a game with 8.7 assists (both well off his season averages). And if he struggles, the Hornets struggle. Badly. Paul denies there is anything physically wrong, but it’s tough to believe that.

Celtics 115, Suns 103: This was a slightly faster pace (but not dramatically) than the Celtics normally at, but it turns out the old men can run. And if you play iffy defense they will put up a lot of points on you. Troy Murphy made his debut and looked quite rusty.

Timberwolves 116, Pistons 105: Fast pace, not a lot of defense being played and Minnesota shot 52.6 percent overall and 43.8 percent from three. Those are really the numbers that matter. Well than and Kevin Love had 20 and 20. Beast.

Thunder 113, Pacers 89: This was a laugher from the start for the Thunder, who were up 35 at one point. Well, laugher except nothing is funny when Kevin Durant gets hurt

Nuggets 120, Bobcats 80: Matt Carroll led the Bobcats with 19 points. If Matt Carroll is your leading scorer, you are in are in for a long night. Once again, great defense from these new Denver Nuggets. Except on Carroll, of course.

Trail Blazers 107, Kings 102: The Kings got 28 points and 11 boards from DeMarcus Cousins off the bench. The Kings got 26 points from Marcus Thornton off the bench. Too bad their starters couldn’t keep the Trail Blazers off the offensive glass, and those starters turned the ball over a little too much. Wes Mathews had 21 points on 12 shots for the Blazers.

Clippers 106, Rockets 103: The Clippers broke out their new backcourt for everyone to see Wednesday — Eric Gordon had 24 points and Mo Williams had 17 points and 11 dimes. Not bad, not bad at all. Chris Kaman had 21 points off the bench for the Clippers. Of course the scrappy Rockets mean no win is easy, but the Clippers got one back at home.

Doncic’s 30, Mavericks’ 17-0 run lift them past Knicks at MSG

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NEW YORK (AP) — Luka Doncic had a game-high 30 points, Tim Hardaway Jr. chipped in 28 points against his former team, and the Dallas Mavericks beat the New York Knicks 121-100 on Saturday.

Spencer Dinwiddie scored 17 points for Dallas, which outscored New York 69-41 in the second half for just its second win seven games.

“I think it’s great that everyone’s in the locker room smiling,” Mavericks coach Jason Kidd said. “Everybody saw the ball go in, we shared the ball, we played the right way. … We’re a team that lives or dies by the 3, and today we made them.”

Forward Julius Randle led the Knicks with 24 points, and Immanuel Quickly chipped in 23. Leading scorer Jalen Brunson had 13 points playing against Dallas for the first time since he signed with the Knicks on July 12, but New York fell for the sixth time in its past eight games.

“To be honest, not fun,” Brunson said when asked what it was like playing against his former team. “They played great tonight. You got to give them credit. No matter who is on the floor, my approach stays the same. But to see them after the game and shake their hands, that was pretty cool.”

Hardaway exacted revenge against his former team, with whom he played 254 games over parts of four seasons. Hardaway had 17 points in the third quarter, including five 3-pointers, during a 27-6 run. He credited familiarity in New York – and Dallas’ previous game in Detroit – as keys to his third straight 20-plus point game.

“This road trip, when you have family and friends in both cities, it lightens you and brings some positive vibes and some positive energy,” Hardaway said. “To come here, to Detroit and to New York, both places where I used to play college and professionally, was a great atmosphere. I was comfortable, and my teammates (were) keeping me positive.”

Doncic, the NBA’s leading scorer, had just 11 points on 3 of 11 shooting in the first half. But he took over in the third, scoring 19 points on 8 of 10 shooting. Dallas outscored New York 41-15 in the third quarter, turning a tight game into a rout.

“The first half I wasn’t really participating,” Doncic said. “It was a challenge to come out of the locker room with more energy.”

The Knicks shot 55% in the first half, including 63% from the field in the first quarter. Randle had 14 of his 21 first-half points in the first quarter, including seven on a 9-0 run that gave New York an early 14-5 advantage.

The Knicks led by as many as 15 in the second quarter, but Dallas turned up the defensive intensity and cut New York’s lead to seven, 59-52, at halftime.

“The start of the game, I thought we were pretty good,” Knicks coach Tom Thibodeau said. “We built the 15-point lead, then we sort of lost traction mid-second quarter.”

Ja Morant fined $35,000 for using ‘ inappropriate language’ toward referee

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A frustrated Dillon Brooks and Ja Morant must have used some special language near the end of the Grizzlies’ loss to the Timberwolves, because both were ejected within a matter of minutes near the end of the game Wednesday night.

The league fined Morant $35,000 for “confronting and directing inappropriate language toward a game official and failing to leave the court in a timely manner following his ejection.”

Morant was not demonstrative at the time and was clearly surprised by the ejection. Before leaving the court he dapped up Anthony Edwards (who was shooting free throws) and a couple of other players before heading back to the locker room. Afterward Morant took to social media.

If the official said that to Morant, he should also be punished. The league can’t come down on players for not showing the referees respect if it’s not a two-way street.

It was an ugly loss for the Grizzlies, who fell to a Timberwolves team without Karl-Anthony Towns.

Teams reportedly watching to see if Bulls make stars available; Lakers had internal discussions on it

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It was a talking point going into the season: What teams we thought would be good will struggle, and then pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama in the lottery.

What about the 9-13 Chicago Bulls? They barely look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even at their best where do they fall in the East? Would they blow it up? With DeMar DeRozan, Nikola Vucevic and Zach LaVine, they have players that would interest other teams and could bring quality picks (or young players) back to Chicago. Other teams are watching, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

One of those teams: The Los Angeles Lakers.

That is according to ESPN’s Zach Lowe on the Lowe Post Podcast. He was discussing a potential trade floated by The Ringer’s Bill Simmons where the Lakers send Russell Westbrook and two future first-round picks (2027 and 2029) to the Bulls for DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vucevic.

“The trade I saw on Twitter was Russ and both picks, one with light protections I think for DeRozan and Vucevic. I can tell you 100% for sure that the Lakers have had internal discussions about that very possibility, if it would ever come up. Not that they would do that. Let me be clear.”

None of this matters if the Bulls don’t decide to pivot, and they are not there yet. They may never get to that point. But the Lakers and other teams are surveying what teams might make game-changers available at the deadline, and the way the Bulls are stumbling has other teams keeping an eye on them. Expect the rumors to keep coming.

But for now, that’s all they are, rumors and speculation.

On the bright side for Bucks, Khris Middleton looks good in return

Los Angeles Lakers v Milwaukee Bucks
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
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MILWAUKEE (AP) — Milwaukee Bucks forward Khris Middleton initially said that making his 2022-23 debut in his return from offseason wrist surgery felt great.

Then he quickly corrected himself.

“I should actually say good,” Middleton said Friday night after the Bucks’ 133-129 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. “If we got the win, I think I would have been (feeling) great. It felt really good to be back out there with the guys competing and playing,”

Middleton, 31, had 17 points and seven assists while playing 26 1/2 minutes in his first game since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee April 20 in Game 2 of the Bucks’ first-round playoff series with the Chicago Bulls. That injury caused him to miss the entirety of the Bucks’ Eastern Conference semifinal with the Boston Celtics, a series Milwaukee lost in seven games.

The 6-foot-7 forward then had surgery on his left wrist in the summer, having played through the injury late last season.

“Pretty impressive how kind of seamlessly he got back into the game on both ends of the court,” Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said.

Middleton said Friday at a post-shootaround availability that he might need some time to readjust, but the three-time All-Star didn’t show any signs of rust in his first game back. He shot 6 of 11 and went 3 of 4 from 3-point range.

“Just relying on my experience,” Middleton said. “Just (trying) not to rush and let the game come to me. Don’t try to do too much the first game back and try to fit in and play off my teammates.”

The most important thing is that Middleton felt just fine physically.

“Hopefully tomorrow when I wake up, I feel the same also and I won’t feel too sore or whatever,” he said.

The Bucks had gone 15-5 in Middleton’s absence. Milwaukee is second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Boston Celtics.

Middleton’s teammates believe his return should make them even better.

“It takes us to a whole different level,” Bucks forward and two-time MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo said. “We scored 129 points and we had a bad first half. That says a lot.”

Lakers coach Darvin Ham knows how much Middleton means to the Bucks’ title hopes. Ham was an assistant coach on Budenholzer’s Bucks staff from 2018-22, including their 2021 championship season.

“Giannis is the heart and soul and the engine, and Khris is like the steering wheel,” Ham said before Friday’s game. “He’s the GPS in terms of understanding what to do. Giannis is the focal point but Khris is the master of putting guys where they need to be. He’s like that quarterback.”

The Bucks aren’t going to overexert Middleton as he returns to the floor for the first time in about 7 1/2 months. Budenholzer said Middleton probably won’t play Saturday at Charlotte.

“We’ll talk about it on the plane, but my guess is he will not play a back-to-back,” Budenholzer said.

Middleton’s just happy he’s back on the floor at all.

“Just a range of emotions,” Middleton said. “(I’ve) been through a lot these last couple months. Happy, sad, anxious, nervous. To finally get out there and play and get a lot of those nerves past me felt pretty good.