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.

Giannis Antetokounmpo joined protesters, spoke in Milwaukee, “We want justice”

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Saturday protestors filled the streets from Los Angeles to New York and countless cities in between, speaking out against racial injustice, police brutality, and the systemic racism in our nation. All of it sparked by the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, but the movement has gotten much bigger than that, and the voices have gotten louder.

Giannis Antetokounmpo was one of those voices.

The NBA’s reigning MVP joined Bucks’ teammates — Sterling Brown, Donte DiVincenzo, Brook Lopez, Frank Mason II, and Thanasis Antetokounmpo — in taking part in the protest. Giannis also spoke to the crowd.

“We want change, we want justice, and that’s why we’re out here. That’s what we’re going to do today. That’s why I’m going to march with you. I want my kid to grow up here in Milwaukee, and not to be scared to walk in the streets. I don’t want my kid to have hate in his heart.”

Sterling Brown’s participation is fitting. In 2018, Brown was surrounded by a group of Milwaukee police officers following a parking violation at a Walgreens, he was taken to the ground and tased by the officers, then arrested. That incident and Brown’s willingness to fight it has led to a firing and suspensions of some officers. Recently, Brown rejected a $400,000 settlement offer from the city.

Brown has been a public face in Milwaukee for what protestors across the nation were trying to say on Saturday.

Timberwolves head into offseason in need of healing, with big decisions looming

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Another season of setback and tumult has mercifully ended for the Minnesota Timberwolves, this time in the strangest of ways after the NBA’s decision to resume virus-halted play with 22 teams.

The revelation of the makeshift plan immediately put the Timberwolves, who finished 19-45 for the third-worst record in the league, in offseason mode after nearly three months in limbo while the world wrestled with the COVID-19 pandemic and all NBA arenas went dark.

There was no arguing from Minnesota, where the 18 games remaining on the original schedule before the shutdown would have had little benefit as long as star center Karl-Anthony Towns was sidelined with a wrist injury.

“While we are disappointed for our team and our fans that our season is coming to an end, we understand and accept the league’s plan to move forward with 22 teams. It is important that we be a good teammate not only to the NBA, but to the other 29 teams to support the efforts to complete this season and prepare for next season in a healthy and safe manner,” president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas said on Thursday after the league’s announcement.

Whether due to injuries or trades, the repeated disruptions during the season made the assessment of 34-year-old head coach Ryan Saunders difficult. First-timers aren’t typically hired without at least some commitment from the franchise to patience, but the Wolves are 36-70 under Saunders since he replaced the fired Tom Thibodeau halfway through the 2018-19 season. No NBA jobs are ever guaranteed.

Rosas, in his season-ending statement distributed by the team, appeared to apply some pressure on what will be for the Timberwolves a critical summer – and fall, since the draft has been pushed back to Oct. 15. Rosas promised an “intensive and thorough” program to help make up for the time lost to the shutdown. He also said Saunders and the rest of the staff would be “creative, aggressive and proactive” in approaching team building and player development in the meantime.

Here are some other key angles to follow as the offseason unfolds:

HEALING FIRST: Before the Timberwolves embark on the free agency and trading period, and enter the draft with two first-round selections, they could use some time simply for healing.

The city of Minneapolis became the epicenter for a nationwide wave of protest, anger and destruction after the death on May 25 of George Floyd, the black man who was handcuffed and pinned to the street by a white police officer who pressed his knee to Floyd’s neck until and after he stopped breathing. Since then, Saunders and guard Josh Okogie have been particularly outspoken on the issue of racial justice, and they joined on Friday a group spearheaded by Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph to distribute essential goods to community members in need in front of a grocery store that was vandalized, looted and burned last week during the worst of the violence.

All this came after the organization was mourning the loss Jacqueline Cruz-Towns, the mother of Towns who died of complications from COVID-19 on April 13.

WHEELING AND DEALING: Rosas proved in his first year on the job that he could swiftly and thoroughly change the roster, making four trades in the span of less than a month that fetched nine new players and dealt nine others elsewhere, not to mention the draft picks that swapped hands. That was more than half of the roster. The linchpin of the early February activity was D'Angelo Russell, who was acquired in a deal with Golden State that sent former cornerstone Andrew Wiggins packing.

BETTER WITH BEASLEY?: The pairing of Towns and Russell gave Rosas the potential star duo he sought. Shooting guard Malik Beasley was another key acquisition during the flurry of activity, should the Timberwolves decide to keep him. The 23-year-old averaged 20.7 points in 14 games.

“We’re big fans of Malik. We tried hard. We paid a very, very strong premium to get him here in Minnesota, but we’re excited,” Rosas said.

WHAT’S NEXT: There are six players on the roster whose contracts are set to expire, with Beasley, power forward Juancho Hernangomez and power forward James Johnson the most notable.

Johnson, who at 33 is the oldest on the team, had a productive 14-game stretch after arriving from Miami during the trading spree. He has a player option he can exercise for about $16 million next season. Hernangomez, who is only 24, will be an unrestricted free agent. The 6-foot-9, 220-pound native of Spain averaged 12.9 points in 14 games with the Wolves, after coming with Beasley in the deal with Denver.

Jonathan Isaac, Al-Farouq Aminu not expected to be back for Magic when games restart

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Jonathan Isaac was having a breakout season for Orlando. He had become a go-to defensive stopper for the Magic, a long, athletic, switchable defender averaging 2.4 blocks and 1.6 steals a game. He was going to get All-Defensive team votes this season and looked like a future Defensive Player of the Year candidate. (On offense he’s averaged 12 points and 6.9 rebounds a game, both career bests, but he is still a project.)

He hyperextended his knee and suffered a bone bruise in January, but it looks like neither he nor veteran Al-Farouq Aminu (torn meniscus) will be on the court for the Magic when games restart in July, reports Roy Parry of the Orlando Sentinel.

Injured forwards Jonathan Isaac (knee) and Al-Farouq Aminu (knee) most likely will not be healthy enough to return…

“Not a whole lot of news there,” [Magic president of basketball operations Jeff] Weltman said when asked about the possibility of Isaac or Aminu returning. “As always, we’re going to wait and see how they respond to rehab. They’re both working very hard.

“There’s a difference of being healthy and then being safely healthy. It will have been a long, long time since those guys played and you know organizationally that we’re never going to put our guys in a position where they’re exposed to any sort of risk of injury. So that being said, we’ll just continue to see how they progress.”

Put plainly, the risk is not worth the reward. Isaac is a key part of what the Magic want to build in the future and they do not want to push him too hard to return for this handful of games.

Come July, the Magic will head down the street to the Walt Disney World resort complex in Orlando as the eighth seed in the East with a 5.5 game lead over the ninth-seeded Wizards (who will not have John Wall back). If Washington can close that gap to four games or fewer during the eight “seeding games,” then there will be a two-game play-in series between the teams, with the Magic just needing to win one of the two to advance (assuming they are still the eight seed).

After that, it’s on to the first round of the playoffs and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Isaac’s defense would be helpful against Bradley Beal and/or Giannis Antetokounmpo, but the Magic are thinking bigger picture.

Winning percentage will determine final seedings in NBA restart; regular tiebreakers used

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Heading into the NBA’s restart in Orlando, the Trail Blazers are the nine seed in the West, followed by the Pelicans and Kings. All three of those teams are 3.5 games back of Memphis for the eighth seed, however, Portland gets the nine seed because it played two more games than either New Orleans and Sacramento, went 1-1 in those two games, and that gives Portland a slightly better winning percentage (.439 to .438).

That winning percentage matters because it’s how the league will determine seeding in a situation where teams have played a different number of games, reports Tim Bontemps of ESPN.

In practical terms, this may not matter much.

In the West, if Portland and New Orleans both went 8-0 in the seeding games then winning percentage would play a role with the Blazers getting the higher seed. However, that scenario is highly unlikely. More likely is wins and losses in Orlando will decide this and other tiebreakers (New Orleans beat Sacramento in their one head-to-head meeting, but our projected schedule for those teams has them playing twice, so the head-to-head tiebreaker is still up in the air). Because of how the records shake out, tiebreakers are irrelevant to Portland — it will not tie any teams, winning percentage will decide their seed.

In the East, winning percentage is irrelevant for the playoff chase — either Washington gets within four games of Orlando hand forces play-in games for the final playoff spot, or it doesn’t and Orlando is in.