Baseline to baseline recaps: Celtics fall, Knicks fall, Heat almost join them

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What you missed while worried about what a bad year this was for elephants

Oklahoma City 98, Memphis 95: This playoff rematch was our game of the night.

New Orleans 97, Celtics 78: Don’t hit the panic button yet, Celtics fans. Still too early. But if you want to feel uncomfortable and a little ill, go ahead. You are 0-3 on the season. On the second game of a back-to-back (and third game in four nights) the Celtics looked old and slow. And unmotivated. They had given a lot the night before in a comeback and moral victory against the Heat and looked like they had nothing left. For the third straight game they were down double digits in the second quarter and could never really crawl back.

The only bright spot was backup center Greg Stiemsma who had six blocks. Of course, he was getting run because Jermaine O’Neal was awful (1-of-6 shooting).

The Hornets played hard and looked good — and were without Eric Gordon. Jarrett Jack sliced and diced the once feared Celtics defense for 21, Carl Landry added 20 and 11 with his usual efficiency. Credit coach Monty Williams, he has this team playing hard and playing smart defense — and they are now 2-0. Thank you very much.

Heat 96, Bobcats 95: Charlotte jumped out to a fast 11-0 run, hitting their shots which let them get back on defense and get set, slowing the running onslaught the Heat try to bring. The Bobcats basically forsook offensive rebounding to get back on defense. Miami looked a little dead-legged on a back-to-back. Miami’s entire system is based on defense and the Bobcats put up 60 points in the first half.

Miami charged back from 15 down in the third behind 12 points in the quarter from LeBron James, then Chris Bosh had the momentum in the fourth. Dwyane Wade was out with a foot injury (a contusion) for most of the third but came back and hit the game winner, a little bank with 2.9 seconds left. Not a great game by Miami, but they escape with the win and a few impressive highlights.

Warriors 92, Knicks 78: Golden State had to play without Stephen Curry, meaning the Knicks could exploit the point guard matchup… oh, yea, Mike Bibby was back, so I guess not. This was not a good night for the Knick shooters — Carmelo Anthony 3-of-13, Amare Stoudemire 5-of-15 and as a team the Knicks shoot 40 percent. Tyson Chandler had two points, three rebounds, zero blocks and five fouls.

The Warriors dominated the second half, particularly the start of the fourth quarter, to pull away for the win. Monta Ellis had 22 points but needed 22 shots to get there. Brandon Rush looked good with 19 points on 7-of-13 shooting. Kwame Brown had five offensive rebounds (not Chandler’s best night, as we mentioned). As a team the Warriors shot a pedestrian 45.5 percent but that was good enough.

Pacers 90, Raptors 85: Toronto had 11 points in the first quarter (total!) and shot 39.5 percent for the first half — and they were the better shooting team. This game was filled with some post-lockout slop. .DeMar DeRozan had zero first half points but had 16 in the fourth, but it was not enough against the balance of the Pacers starters. Danny Granger had nine points in the fourth quarter alone including some key threes, and David West hit key buckets late.

Hawks 101, Wizards 83: Two wins in two nights for the Hawks, maybe not against the best competition but they are beating the teams they are supposed to. That said, 46 of their 75 shots (61.3 percent) came from beyond 16 feet — that is not a sustainable way to win. Nick Young had 21 and John Wall had 20 but nobody on the Wizards impressed, that is not a very good team.

Cavaliers 105, Pistons 89: After an ugly NBA debut, top pick Kyrie Irving looked good, not only scoring (14 points) but he was an impressive playmaker, seeming to make the smart play every time down. Samardo Samuels (17) led six Cavs in double figures scoring. Cleveland also owned the offensive glass in this one.

Spurs 115, Clippers 90: I love watching the Clippers play but I’ve said this from the start about them as a power in the West — I need to see them play good consistent defense before I totally buy in. The Spurs shot 56.3 percent on the night and were 10-of-19 from three as a team. It was vintage Manu Ginobili as he sliced and diced the Clippers for 24 points. DeJuan Blair had 20 points and dominated the heralded Clipper front line.

Sixers 103, Suns 83: There is something very wrong with the Suns offense — Steve Nash finished with four points, one assist and six turnovers in just 17 minutes. Yikes. Philly looked good again with a balanced attack — Jrue Holiday, Andre Iguodala and Thaddeus Young all had 15 points. Holiday left at the end after banging his knee but said post game it was not serious, he could have returned if he were needed.

Nuggets 117, Jazz 100: Two games, two impressive wins for the Nuggets. Nene had 25 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks to lead the way. Two games, two ugly losses for the Jazz. In both cases, we may be seeing a trend here.

People with power within Knicks reportedly “obsessed” with Masai Ujiri

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In the latest sign of dysfunction in New York, Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry didn’t show their face and talk to the media Saturday about the firing of coach David Fizdale. Instead, they sent interim head coach Mike Miller to a podium, by himself, to talk about the situation. It was awkward. It’s also not how well-run organizations handle things.

Mills and Perry are on the hot seat — and they should be. This 4-19 Knicks season is more on them and how this roster was built than Fizdale (who was not blameless in all this).

There have been rumors owner James Dolan may go after Raptors president Masai Ujiri to take over Knicks, and that is growing into an “obsession” with influential people, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Will the Knicks have a shot at landing Ujiri? That’s unclear. But once the Knicks started struggling last month, multiple Madison Square Garden people in positions of influence have been ‘obsessed’ with – and ‘enamored’ by – the Raptors executive, per SNY sources.

In order to land Ujiri, it will probably take significant money and full autonomy.

There is no evidence that Ujiri, the man who built Toronto into a champion, would seriously consider leaving the Raptors for the Knicks.

The real key to luring Ujiri to Madison Square Garden is “full autonomy.” No Knicks president has had it. Phil Jackson was told he had it, but he wasn’t able to bring in his people who pushed out some of the entrenched staff. Sources told me that other people considered for team president have asked for the power to clean out the front office and bring in their own guys, only to learn Mills and others would remain in positions of power.

Owner James Dolan has stepped back from involving himself in basketball decisions in recent years, will he take the next step and let someone else fully run his basketball operations side without any pushback or interference internally?

One thing to watch with the Knicks going forward: Do they make any trade deadline deals? (That market really opens up soon, on Dec. 15 players signed this summer can be traded.) If New York does make a trade, is it a short-term boost kind of move designed to get wins now and maybe help save certain executive’s jobs, or are they trades focused on the long-term building of a winner? Since Jackson was in charge, the Knicks have done a good job not trading away their first-round picks, this would be a poor time to change that trend.

 

Myles Turner block, Julius Randle missed free throw with 0.1 left gives Pacers one-point win

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For the Knicks, under interim coach Mike Miller, this was a step forward. New York had been blown out by 37+ points their last two games, and that helped cost David Fizdale his job, but here they were with a chance to send the game to overtime late.

For the Pacers, this is just a win.

But that win came down to the final play — a blocked shot by Myles Turner then a missed Julius Randle free throw with 0.1 on the clock gave Indiana the 104-103 win.

“You get in those games, you’ve got to make another play and we just didn’t make another play,” Miller said, via the Associated Press. “Loved the effort. That was fun.”

A Jeremy Lamb and-1  had the Pacers up by six, 104-98, with 5:17 left. The Pacers would not score again.

What kept the Pacers alive was their defense — the Knicks shot 2-of-15 in the final 5:05 of the game, then with everything on the line Myles Turner came up with the game-saving block on Michell Robinson.

Julius Randle got the offensive rebound and was fouled when he went back up. That sent Randle — the Knicks biggest offseason signing — to the free throw line with 0.1 on the clock and the chance to force overtime. Randle hit the first, but…

There are no moral victories in the NBA, but this feels like one for New York.

For the Pacers, they will just take the win, thank you very much.

 

Russell Westbrook’s third-straight triple-double powers Rockets past Suns

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HOUSTON (AP) — On a night where James Harden‘s shots weren’t falling for three quarters, the Houston Rockets got big performances from those in supporting roles until the star stepped up late to close out the victory.

Harden scored 18 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and Ben McLemore added 27 points to help the Rockets outlast the Phoenix Suns 115-109 on Saturday night.

Harden had a tough shooting night through three quarters and was 5 of 19 overall and 1 of 10 on 3s with 16 points before getting going in the fourth. The game was tied with about 7 minutes left, and he scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-6 run that made it 102-95.

“That’s how deep we are,” Harden said. “We have a really good team and guys that can make plays and knock down shots. More importantly we were focused on our defense.”

Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his third straight triple-double and sixth this season. Harden finished 8 of 27, 3 of 17 on 3s and made 15 of 18 free throws.

Devin Booker led the Suns with 35 points after scoring a season-high 44 in an overtime victory at New Orleans on Thursday night.

Phoenix coach Monty Williams was proud of his team for staying in it until the very end.

“We have a mentality that we just don’t give in,” Williams said. “We’re playing young guys that are learning how to play against physical NBA men and that’s part of developing.”

The Suns cut the lead to five twice in the last 90 seconds, but both times Westbrook made a layup to extend the advantage. And the second time he was fouled on the shot and made the free throw to make it 114-106.

The Suns scored seven straight points, capped by a dunk from Kelly Oubre, to tie it at 85 with about 9 minutes left. After a timeout, Harden scored Houston’s first points in about three minutes on a layup to put Houston back on top.

It was tied again before Harden scored five points to give the Rockets a 94-89 lead. He stole the ball from Ty Jerome after that and was fouled by Booker on a drive, with Harden aggressively continuing forward and pushing Booker off the court. Harden later shoved Booker, and they both received technical fouls to the bewilderment of the Suns.

Harden made both free throws to make it seven points in a row and was fouled again after he stole the ball from Mikal Bridges. Harden made one of those free throws to make it 97-89.

“He finds a way to win the game,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “A lot of guys contributed. A lot of guys played well.”

 

Ben Simmons hits antother three, scores 34 points to lead 76ers past Cavaliers

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ben Simmons hit another 3-pointer, and his coach wants him to keep on firing.

Simmons hit his second career 3 and scored a career-high 34 points, and the Philadelphia 76ers didn’t need Joel Embiid‘s help to rout the Cleveland Cavaliers 141-94 Saturday night.

Simmons made 12 of 14 field goals, including his only 3-point attempt, and hit 9 of 12 free throws in 26 minutes to help Philadelphia improve to 11-0 at home.

“I was locked in,” Simmons said.

Simmons’ jump shot – or lack thereof – has been a hot topic in Philadelphia. He entered the season 0 for 17 from long range.

Coach Brett Brown has repeatedly said shooting is a part of Simmons’ game that will develop with time. After Saturday’s performance, Brown publicly upped the ante and called for more from his All-Star point guard.

“This is what I want,” Brown said. “I want a 3-point shot per game, minimum. … He will be liberated. His world will open up and, in many ways, so will ours.”

Embiid sat out with a left hip contusion.

Darius Garland had 17 points for the Cavaliers, who have lost six in a row and 12 of 13.

“They were going downhill on us all day long,” Cavaliers coach John Beilein said.

Philadelphia has been projected to be an NBA title contender, but the 76ers haven’t been able to consistently field its starting five of Simmons, Embiid, Josh Richardson, Tobias Harris and Al Horford. They have only started nine games together due to injuries and Embiid’s two-game suspension for fighting Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns.

The 76ers needed little more than Simmons in a dominant first half that ended with them ahead 77-36.

Simmons attacked the basket often and showed off a rarely seen mid-range game when he drained an 11-foot jumper with 6:04 left in the second quarter. That had 76ers fans cheering, but it was just an appetizer for Simmons.

With 3:41 left in the half, Simmons took a cross-court pass from Trey Burke and knocked down a 3 from the left wing. That send the sold-out crowd into a frenzy, and the roars continued when Simmons finished an alley-oop dunk from Burke on Philadelphia’s ensuing possession.

Simmons received a standing ovation at the next stoppage.

“I’m getting more comfortable learning my spots and just adjusting,” Simmons said. “I’m trying not to force it, trying to play the game I know how to play. Hard work pays off. Stay in the gym and keep working.”

Simmons finished the tremendous four-possession sequence with assists on Philadelphia’s next two trips, first to Horford for a 3-pointer and then to James Ennis III for a jumper.

Finally, Simmons ended the first half scoring with a 9-foot jumper for a 41-point lead entering the break.