Baseline to Baseline recaps: Boston rolls over, Miami gets two seed

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Heat 98, Hawks 90: The Heat came out playing with real energy — they wanted to win this and take care of the second seed.

Miami got help early on because Atlanta just played lazy defense in the first half. Hawks players did not fight over screens, did not get back in transition, and the Heat are too good to just let have quality looks. The result was the Heat had 62 points on 63.4 percent shooting in the first half.

But it got close late thanks Miami shooting 33 percent in the fourth and Atlanta going on a 16-2 run sparked by the Hawks bench — Larry Drew ran with the subs the entire fourth quarter. Atlanta got a gift after a frustrated Big Z threw the ball off Zaza Pachulia’s back and got ejected — Atlanta’s technical free throw tied it at 88 with less than three on the clock. But then Hawks fouled James Jones on a three to make it a four-point play. On their next possession the Hawks looked lost and got a 24 second violation. Then another Jones three and Miami was up 7 with 2:30 left the Heat basically had it wrapped up.

Miami now gets Philadelphia in the first round.

Wizard 95, Boston 94 (OT): Boston chose rest over pushing to see if they could get the two seed — the big four all sat. That meant a sloppy game where the winning team shot 40 percent. It also showed us that Boston’s bench is basically as good as the Wizards’ starters. Jordan Crawford hit the game-tying shot at the end of regulation, John Wall had 24 points and got to the line 15 times.

Boston gets New York in the first round.

Mavericks 98, Rockets 91 (OT): Dallas sleepwalked through three quarters of this than woke up in the fourth, made some nice runs and forced overtime (they might not have needed that if Jason Terry had not missed some free throws to win the game). That the Mavs needed overtime against a Houston team without Luis Scola and Kyle Lowry shows you how seriously they seemed to take most of the game.

Magic 95, Sixers 85: No Lou Williams or Andre Iguodala for Philly, and they had no way to stop the Magic inside. Orlando only shot 43.8 percent on the night but they were grabbed 19 offensive rebounds — Ryan Anderson had seven by himself. The Magic grabbed the offensive rebound on 45 percent of their missed shots, and that was the difference.

Bobcats 105, Nets 103: With the game on the line late D.J. Augustin was patient, came off a Boris Diaw pick and hit the fade-away jumper with 1.1 seconds left to seal the Bobcats win. Diaw, by the way, had 18 second half points. Not much defense played in this one but the ending was entertaining.

Cavaliers 110, Pistons 101: CLEVELAND IS NOT THE WORST! Neither team seemed to care in this one, Daniel Gibson sparked a 12-1 run at the end of the third and the result was a Cavs win. That win moved them out of having the worst record in the NBA. Congratulations Timberwolves, wear that crown with pride.

Jazz 90, Hornets 78: Utah started hot, shooting 60 percent for the first 18 minutes, including C.J. Miles taking charge early with 10 first quarter points. Utah never really backed off and won handily. New Orleans is playing poorly heading into the playoffs.

Bucks 93, Raptors 86: Stat of the night from Raptors Republic: Of the nine Raptors that played against the Bucks, only one played on opening night – DeMar DeRozan. Toronto led most of the way but a 15- fourth-quarter run sparked by Drew Gooden got the Bucks the win.

Nuggets 134, Warriors 111: Very fast pace — 102 possessions — suited Denver well as nine Nuggets scored in double digits and they shot 53.2 percent as a team. J.R. Smith had 22, Kosta Koufos had 18 points on 8 shots. This gave Denver win number 50 on the season.

Suns 135, Timberwolves 127 (OT): For a meaningless game both teams really brought some effort to this one. Not defense, nobody brought that. But there was effort. Channing Frye had 33 points and was 9-of-14 from three. The Suns went on an 8-0 run in overtime to earn the win.

Thunder 120, Kings 112: Credit the Thunder for winning what could have been a trap game after beating the Lakers Sunday. The Thunder shot 57 percent, Kevin Durant had 32 points on 16 shots and Serge Ibaka had some big blocks that sparked the Thunder win.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.

Larry Brown once told Trevor Ariza to never shoot

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Larry Brown is a legendary basketball coach, but he’s also been known to ascribe to a certain style. Brown’s regimen has sometimes rubbed players the wrong way, and likewise Brown has been overly attached to players which he likes.

For Houston Rockets wing Trevor Ariza, Brown’s staunch attitude almost ruined his career.

Ariza was a second-year player with the New York Knicks during the lone season Brown coached in the Big Apple in 2005-06. The UCLA product didn’t shoot well from the 3-point line in college or during his rookie season, so when Brown came to town he told Ariza to stop shooting from beyond the arc entirely.

Seriously.

Via Dan Woike and the LA Times:

More than a decade ago when Ariza was a second-year player, his coach with the New York Knicks, Hall of Famer Larry Brown, thought Ariza shouldn’t shoot from the perimeter. Like ever.

“He told me not to even look at the basket or shoot the ball,” said Ariza, 32. “I was definitely afraid to shoot. I just wouldn’t. I would not shoot.”

Woike’s story is pretty incredible, and goes on to detail how Ariza’s trade to the Los Angeles Lakers reignited his career and his confidence to shoot the ball. That’s obviously crucial for the Houston Rockets who need Ariza docked in the corner as Chris Paul and James Harden run pick-and-rolls and isolate.

Stories like this always sound wild, if only because they’re contextually being compared to completely different eras. Ariza was drafted in 2004, and has seen three different eras of NBA basketball (Iverson era, point guard PNR era, 3-point era) pass by during his time.

Larry Brown’s in the Hall of Fame but he whiffed on this one.

Stephen Curry goes berserk, Warriors beat Rockets by 41 in Game 3

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Stephen Curry had yet another big third quarter. Who could have seen that coming?

On the heels of the Houston Rockets’ 22-point win in Game 2, the Golden State Warriors decided to turn up the intensity as they returned home to Oakland on Sunday. The Warriors leapt out of the gate, scoring 31 points in the first quarter and playing monumental defense at the rim. Houston suffered from blown attempts in the paint for the entire first half, but it was their 3-point defense that stabilized their offense. The Rockets shot just 27 percent from beyond the arc in the first two quarters.

Then, perhaps expectedly, came the third quarter. The realm of 2-time NBA MVP Curry.

Golden State’s golden point guard failed to miss a single field goal in the quarter, helping the Warriors rally to start the half as well as fend off a Houston charge midway through the period. Curry completely took over with around six minutes left, dropping five of the Warriors’ next six made baskets.

It was enchanting, and everything we’ve come to expect from Curry when he’s at his best. After a made bucket, there was a shimmy. After a follow-up layup, a defiant stance on the baseline as he yelled to the crowd about Oracle Arena being his house.

Indeed, it was.

Curry and the Warriors did not let off the gas in the fourth quarter, finally burying the Rockets that both sides called a truce with 5:11 left, subbing out their big stars.

Houston was led by James Harden, who scored 20 points with nine assists and five rebounds, although he turned the ball over four times. Chris Paul had 13 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists. Eric Gordon helped with 11 points off the bench. The Rockets turned the ball over 20 times, allowing 28 points off turnovers to the Warriors.

For Golden State it was Curry’s 35 points and six rebounds as the big story. Kevin Durant added 25 points, six rebounds, and six assists. The Warriors shot 41 percent from 3-point range as every starter scored in double-digits. Golden State was also able to limit its turnovers to just eight.

Game 3 exemplified the stratification between the two teams. Houston was arguably the best team of the regular season, with the caveat being that Curry was out for huge swaths of time due to injury. With Curry back on the floor and playing at full tilt, Golden State again looks unbeatable.

Steve Kerr was able to counter the Game 2 strategy from Mike D’Antoni, who ran everything during Houston’s win directly at Curry on defense to tire out the recently-returned star. Kerr’s tweaks resulted in a complete eruption from Curry, one Houston was powerless to stop. Coupled with the continuous pounding from Durant and the incessant, extra pass 3-pointers, the Rockets didn’t have a counterstrike option.

Game 4 is in Oakland on Tuesday at 6:00 PM PST. We’ll see if D’Antoni can work his magic and come up with another new strategy to try and slow the Warriors.

Marcus Morris: II did a s–t job defensively against LeBron’

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The Cleveland Cavaliers aren’t dead. Not yet, at least.

LeBron James helped lead his team to a victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday, 116-86, to set the series at 2-1 with the Cavaliers trailing.

James was efficient, scoring 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting while adding 12 assists, five rebounds, two blocks, and two steals. As a team Cleveland shot an impressive 50 percent from 3-point range, dwarfing their marks from Games 1 and 2 in the series.

Meanwhile, the team-first strategy implemented by the Celtics finally got its first big test of the Eastern Conference Finals. A top defensive team, Boston was embarrassed by how it played in Game 3 and they weren’t afraid to admit it. Four of its five starters were double-digit minuses in the box score, including Marcus Morris, who many were touting as a LeBron stopper (or LeBron slower).

Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Morris gave his honest opinion of how he played vs. LeBron. Meanwhile, Jaylen Brown said he was embarrassed.

Via Twitter:

Sounds about right.

Because you play the same team over and over again, by the time you get to the conference finals it’s all about finding counters to your opponent’s counters. The game-by-game strategy changes so much, and out of necessity.

The Cavaliers finally found their sweet spot, not only from beyond the 3-point line but in limiting the offensive contributions of both Morris and guys like Al Horford.

How Brad Stevens counters Ty Lue’s Game 3 strategy should be fun to watch, and reciprocal changes in the coming games will be the story of the series. Boston still has the edge, but the Cavaliers aren’t letting someone take The King’s crown without a fight.