Baseline to Baseline recaps: Denver makes lay-ups, beats L.A.

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What you missed while breaking your New Year’s resolutions already…

Nuggets 99, Lakers 90: Best game of the night and there was a little fire to this one — second nights of a home-and-home often carry over some tension. Denver jumped out early with Kobe Bryant shooting only 1-of-10 in the first half and the Lakers as a team hitting just 32.4 percent of their shots in the first 24.

But the entire second half and fourth quarter was pretty close. It was 90-88 Lakers with 2:45 left when Denver closed it out on an 11-0 run. First Kobe took a three that Danilo Gallinari ran out on then released and nobody went with him — Kobe missed, the Nuggets rebounded and threw it down for a cherry-pick dunk. The Nuggets got their next bucket on a steal off a bad Kobe pass that became a 2-on-1 fast break. Teams can run on the Lakers and the Nuggets did it. Then Kobe missed another three (1-for-8 from deep, 6-for-28 overall for the game) and that was pretty much it.

Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were 15-of-27 (55.6 percent), the rest of the Lakers 20-of-61 (32.8 percent).

Heat 129, Bobcats 90: This game was pretty much what you would expect (as opposed to last Wednesday when the Bobcats hung tight with the Heat). Well, except for the part where LeBron James was really quiet for the night (16 points but no buckets until late in the second quarter). This was Chris Bosh’s night, he was aggressive from the start and finished with 24 points on just 13 shots. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole made a very efficient point guard combo. And we have your ridiculous Heat highlight of the night.

Magic 102, Raptors 96: Toronto was in charge of this game, playing aggressive and getting to the free throw line for a change, in part because Jose Calderon was attacking off the pick-and-roll (18 points, 13 assists, one turnover). Then midway through the fourth quarter Orlando went on a 16-0, took the lead and kept it for the win. Orlando did it first with defense, closing out Calderon and not letting Andrea Bargnani (28 points) just pick-and-pop at will. But in the crunch this looked like the 2009 Magic, with Hedo Turkoglu looking strong on the pick and roll and J.J. Redick stepping up with 21 points off the bench on Sunday (3-of-5 from deep).

Celtics 94, Wizards 86: The Celtics are better than they looked the first couple games. The Wizards are as bad as they looked the first couple games. Boston was in control of this one, mainly because Rajon Rondo putting up a triple double (18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds). Boston got a comfortable win while resting their starters for long stretches. John Wall looked better, heck Washington looked the best they have this season, but that’s not enough against Boston. Or most teams.

Cavaliers 98, Nets 82: Sloppy game. But it was close until midway through the fourth quarter when every perimeter shot the Cavaliers put up went through the hole and they went on a 20-4 run pull ahead comfortably. Among the hot hands late was Daniel Gibson who had 8 in fourth, finished with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting and knocked down 5-of-7 threes.

Timberwolves 99, Mavericks 82: This ends the Wolves 18-game losing streak going back to last season. Kevin Love had 25 points (with five threes) and 17 rebounds and knocked the biggest shots of the game. This was a two-point game when Love drained two three pointers in a row leading the Wolves to pull away. Dallas… ugh. They are inconsistent and that felt like a step backwards.

Kings 96, Hornets 80: Who needs DeMarcus Cousins? Apparently not the Kings who got their second win, this one without him. Tyreke Evans had 27 but this wasn’t really about the Kings playing great as much as it was the Hornets playing terribly (once again without Eric Gordon) — Jarrett Jack had as many turnovers as assists (eight each) and as a team New Orleans was 0-15 from three.

Bulls 104, Grizzlies 64: Home opener for the Bulls and they came out and dominated the Grizzlies from the opening gun. It was 54-28 Bulls at the half as the Grizzlies shot only 26.8 percent. It got up to 31 percent for the game. We’re going to assume the Grizzlies had a really good New Year’s Eve and this is just the hangover.

A few injuries of note. Richard Hamilton didn’t play due to a groin injury and is day-to-day. Zach Randolph left in the first half with a sprained knee. He could have returned but what was the point in this thrashing? He says he is day-to-day.

Clippers 93, Trail Blazers 88: The Clippers came out with real ball pressure and that meant Portland started out ice cold, had just 17 points in the first quarter after shooting 33 percent for the first half. The Clippers pulled away as the game went on… then Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum almost changed it around. The Blazers bench stars combined for 24 in the fourth quarter and made a game of it, but the Clippers held on. Blake Griffin had 20, Caron Butler 19.

And of course there were big dunks.

Kobe Bryant on Kanye West’s comments: “What the hell are you talking about?”

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Kanye West, the President Trump backing hip-hop star, drew a lot of backlash for his comments on TMZ:

“When you hear about slavery for 400 years — for 400 years? That sounds like a choice. You were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned.” 

Mentally, maybe in some cases. But more so physically, with guns and whips and attack dogs and a whole lot more weapons that were all on one side. Nobody chooses slavery.

Tuesday, Kobe Bryant surprised a group of about 300 high school students at WE RISE — a 10-day pop-up festival dedicated to sparking a movement for change in the mental health system — in Downtown Los Angeles. One of the students asked him about Kanye’s comments. Kobe is not down.

“I’m sure (I feel) the same way everybody else here in this room feels. What the hell are you talking about? I think that was my reaction as is everybody else’s reaction….

“The thing about our country is that you have the right to say whatever it is that you want to say…that’s the beautiful thing about living in a democracy. I think, for him, he’s one of these entertainers that’s always in a constant state of growth, he’s always challenging … himself, doing a lot of questioning internally himself…so I just take it for what it is and completely disagree.”

If I need to explain to you why Kobe is in the right here, you need to take a basic American history course again.

Good on Kobe for his comments. More importantly, good on Kobe for taking the time to promote mental health awareness.

“It’s easy for us as people to kind of ignore the emotional side of it,  especially when it comes to things that deal with negativity, things that deal with insecurity, things that deal with fear,” Kobe said. “It’s very easy to take the fear and just push it down, try to act like it doesn’t exist. The reason why it starts with imagination is because you first must imagine the life that you want to have. You must first imagine what it is you dream of becoming.”

Kobe did that, and now he’s got an Oscar. Oh, and a few basketball awards, too.

PBT Extra: LeBron, Cavaliers even series but Celtics far from dead

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If you want to make the case that the Cleveland Cavaliers are in the driver’s seat of the Eastern Conference Finals after sweeping two games at home, you’re in a good space. It’s a best-of-three and Cleveland has the best player on the planet on their side.

However, I still like the Celtics to hold on and win in seven.

I get into it in this PBT Extra, but the Celtics looked like a team that figured things out in the final three quarters of Game 4 (they just couldn’t make up for a disastrous first quarter), and they still have two games at home.

Either way, this feels like a series going the distance.

Did the Warriors deal Rockets a knockout blow in Western Conference finals?

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The Warriors beat the Rockets by 41 (!) in Game 3 of the Western Conference finals Sunday.

Biggest playoff win in Golden State franchise history.

Biggest playoff loss in Houston franchise history.

Biggest playoff loss ever handed to any team as good as the 65-17 Rockets.

“At the end of the day, it’s one win,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “It doesn’t matter if you win by 40 or if you win by one.”

Maybe it matters more than Green is letting on.

Golden State was the 17th team to -win a playoff game by more than 40 points. Of the previous 16, 15 – including the last 14 – won the series:

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The only exception came in my favorite playoff series of all-time, the best-of-three 1956 Western Division semifinals:

  • Game 1: St. Louis Hawks 116, Minneapolis Lakers 115
  • Game 2: Minneapolis Lakers 133, St. Louis Hawks 75
  • Game 3: St. Louis Hawks 116, Minneapolis Lakers 115

So, teams to win a playoff game by more than 40 are 15-0 in best-of-seven or best-of-five series. Will the Rockets buck the trend?

They can make adjustments. Maybe Houston’s strong regular season – better than any above blown-out team’s – indicates a rare capability to recover from this. Andre Iguodala‘s injury hurts Golden State. Teams sometimes make historic comebacks from blowouts, including against the Warriors.

But that Golden State ran toppled the Rockets so decisively in Game 3 suggests the Warriors are hitting a gear Houston won’t keep up with.

Ben Simmons and Donovan Mitchell receive, Jayson Tatum one vote shy of, unanimous All-Rookie first-team selections

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The 76ers’ Ben Simmons, Jazz’s Donovan Mitchell, Celtics’ Jayson Tatum and Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma were locks for the All-Rookie first team.

The final seemingly up-for-grabs spot? It went to the Bulls’ Lauri Markkanen, and it wasn’t close.

Here’s the full voting for All-Rookie teams (first-team votes, second-team votes, total voting points):

First team

  • Donovan Mitchell, UTA (100-0-200)
  • Ben Simmons, PHI (100-0-200)
  • Jayson Tatum, BOS (99-1-199)
  • Kyle Kuzma, LAL (93-7-193)
  • Lauri Markkanen, CHI (76-21-173)

Second team

Others receiving votes:

The first team matches our choices.

Dennis Smith Jr. and Josh Jackson are the only selections I’d quibble with. Those two were just so destructive with shooting efficiency and defense. To be fair, they were pressed into larger roles than they were ready for on bad teams. But if the goal is picking the rookies who had the best seasons (what I aim to do), Smith and Jackson didn’t cut it.

However, some voters give more credence to long-term potential, and Smith and Jackson both have plenty of that. Other voters are drawn by bigger per-game numbers, which Smith and Jackson produced in their larger roles. So, it’s minimally surprising they made it.

That one first-team vote for Jackson, though? That’s odd – and it was enough to get him on the second team by one voting point over Heat center Bam Adebayo.