Baseline to Baseline recaps: No LeBron, no Wade, no problem

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What you missed while wondering what a crocodile would do with a lawn mower

Heat 116, Hawks 109 (3OT): No LeBron James or Dwyane Wade for Miami, yet the Heat were gritty (a little lucky) and get an unexpected win. This game was entertaining and dramatic, much more so than we expected going in. But can we be honest — the Hawks played terribly.

I like how Atlanta came out and stepped up the ball pressure to start, even in the back court. That was about the only thing I liked that they did. Jeff Teague should tear up the Heat point guards but he was unimpressive. Joe Johnson should have been the best wing player on the floor by a mile, but he was going half speed. Al Horford should have owned this game but he seemed a spectator. The Hawks best, most steady player was Ivan Johnson. Who, you ask? Exactly.

The game was dramatic, and once again Tracy McGrady was fantastic in the fourth quarter. But Chris Bosh sent the game to overtime with a three that is not really in his bag of tricks but it worked this time. Bosh finished with 33 points.

In the third overtime (and really much of the second half, it was Mario Chalmers who rode to the rescue for the Heat. This was a nice win for Miami. It’s the kind of game that makes you wonder if anything is different in Atlanta.

Trail Blazers 107, Lakers 97: The Portland Trail Blazers are the best team in the West right now.

They are atop the conference standings at 5-1 and this week have beaten both the Thunder and now Lakers. We’ve got questions about whether they can perform like this come playoff time, but as of early January they are playing better than anyone in the West.

In the first half the Lakers did what they wanted to on offense, getting the ball inside first as Andrew Bynum had 14 points on 7-7 shooting, plus Kobe Bryant had 17 points on 8-of-11. As a team, the Lakers shot 64 percent.

In the second half Portland stepped up their pressure — they played better defense and attacked the Lakers off missed shots. The Lakers started to settle for jump shots, hit just 32 percent of their shots for the half and Portland just ran. Gerald Wallace had 10 points in the third quarter alone while LaMarcus Aldridge led the Blazers with 28. Jamal Crawford created his own shots on the wing to the tune of 17 points and the Lakers wish they had somebody like that.

Spurs 93, Dallas 71: Sort of like the Heat, no Manu Ginobili and still no problem. This was the fourth game in five nights for an older Mavericks team and it showed, they looked old and tired. Dirk Nowitzki had just 6 points and got outplayed by Matt Boner (a team high 17 points), only two Mavs scored in double digits (Jason Terry and Delonte West) and as a team Dallas shot 1-of-19 from three. Both teams shot under 40 percent for the game, this one just wasn’t very pretty. But for a Spurs team without Manu Ginobili, this is a win they could use.

Kings 103, Bucks 100: Keith Smart is undefeated as Kings coach. The Bucks dominated the first half and were up 21 points in the third when things started to come apart. Marcus Thonton had 25 points in the second half for the Kings to lead the charge. Stephen Jackson had his chances for the Bucks, he wanted the ball and didn’t do much with it, finishing with 13. That includes a last a missed shot from the block to t The Bucks sure could have used Andrew Bogut back.

Only high schoolers who would’ve been consensus draft candidates to receive $125,000 minor-league offer

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The NBA’s minor league’s plan to offer players $125,000 salaries straight out of high school sparked two major questions:

  • Who will receive that offer?
  • Who will take it?

Former NBA player Rod Strickland and former WNBA player Allison Feaster will run the program, and they’re answering the first question.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBA is limiting eligibility for the professional path program to prep players who would be considered consensus candidates for the draft if there were no early entry rule to prohibit them. Feaster will work with a group that includes Strickland and the NBA’s basketball operations and player development staffs to evaluate the potential players.

“It will be elite prospects with a readiness for a professional league,” Feaster told ESPN. “We want to target players who would not be going to a university if it weren’t for the NBA eligibility rule. That’s more or less what’s going to dictate this.”

Feaster expects a “handful” of players to be part of the initial group in the professional path. Feaster and Strickland emphasized that the program will be judicious in choosing those eligible for the pro path opportunity.

For reference, 17 high schoolers were picked in the final two drafts (2004 and 2005) before the NBA implemented its one-and-done rule. So, that suggests about 8-9 players annually will get offered the $125,000 deal.

That still leaves the other question: Who will take it?

Kevin Durant said he wouldn’t have. Shoe companies are still spending the most money, and they’re heavily invested in the visibility of college basketball.

But every prospect’s situation is unique. With Strickland and Feaster in place, we’ll soon see how players receive this new path.

76ers sound caught off guard about Markelle Fultz stepping away

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Markelle Fultz has played in all 17 of the 76ers’ games this season, starting until they traded for Jimmy Butler. A couple weeks ago, Fultz called himself generally healthy.

Then, Fultz’s agent, Raymond Brothers, informed the 76ers the guard wouldn’t play or practice until visiting a specialist Monday. Fultz will miss at least three games – against the Pelicans, Cavaliers and Nets.

76ers coach Brett Brown:

It’s kind of the first real sort of red-flag-type news.

This news about his shoulder, it did catch me off guard. But if it’s that real that he needs to go seek further consultation, then we support him. In my eyes, it’s not complicated. If that’s what it is, then we’ll support him.

76ers general manager Elton Brand:

We thought it was the regular bumps and bruises.

There’s nothing that we saw medically that didn’t allow him to play.

This yet another odd turn in a saga that already included plenty of contentiousness, animosity, rumors and cringe-worthy moments. At this point, it’s hard to be shocked by anything with Fultz.

It’s also hard to take the 76ers seriously when they suggest it seemed like business as usual. Fultz’s shot is disturbingly broken. There is clearly a problem. Maybe letting Fultz play without fretting over the issue was the right course, but how surprised can Philadelphia be that he took a more drastic measure?

Hopefully, the specialist helps Fultz identify and fix this issue.

Bulls’ Denzel Valentine likely to miss entire season

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Bulls wing Denzel Valentine has had a rough go of it.

A lottery pick two years ago, battled ankle injuries during his rookie year and underwent ankle surgery after the season. He stayed mostly healthy last year, but his season still ended early for knee surgery. Then, over the summer, he got torched in the Drew League by Frank “Nitty” Session, who questioned how Valentine was in the NBA:

And now…

Mark Strotman of NBC Sports Chicago:

Denzel Valentine was originally expected to miss one to two weeks after suffering a sprained ankle on the second day of training camp. One setback led to another, and on Monday the Bulls announced that the third year guard will undergo surgical reconstruction on that left ankle. He’ll miss four to six months, the team announced, effectively ending his season.

The long end of that timeline will keep Valentine sidelined the entire season. The short end would allow him to return late in the year, but with Chicago so dismal, there’s little incentive to rush him back.

Valentine is under contract next season, the final year of his rookie-scale deal. He might need to prove himself to make Nitty’s question still relevant.

Report: J.R. Smith and Cavaliers separating as they seek trade

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DETROIT – Yesterday – yesterday! – J.R. Smith explained why he didn’t leave the Cavaliers when, a few weeks ago, they pulled him from the rotation and gave him the offer to step away.

“I can’t do that to the city and the fans,” Smith said. “A lot of people have been backing me since I’ve been here. I feel like it’s been a new start since I came here. The way the fans embraced me, the way that I’ve embraced the city, my teammates, I can’t do that to them.”

But Smith also said Cleveland is tanking and reaffirmed his desire to be traded. That probably set wheels in motion.

Joe Vardon of The Athletic:

Smith – who’s guaranteed $18.59 million on a contract that will surely end after this season – carries negative trade value. The Cavs shouldn’t attach the sweetener necessary to dump him. They’re better off just paying him for now.

Because just $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed, Smith’s contract could prove useful in a trade.

If Smith would reduce his guarantee with a buyout, let him go. But Smith probably shouldn’t do that without a new job lined up.

So, the stalemate continues.

If everyone is happier apart, all the better. Smith wasn’t making a difference on the court for a team he correctly identified as tanking.