Baseline to Baseline recaps: Nate Robinson beats the Heat

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What you missed while being addicted to cracking your knuckles

Wizards 93, Raptors 78: The Wizards win! Theeee Wizards win!

Warriors 111, Heat 106: This was another Miami route, they were up 17 late in the third quarter, but then Nate Robinson happened. And then Dorell Wright happened. And suddenly Mark Jackson and the rebuilding Warriors had a signature win.

Miami dominated this game with Dwyane Wade returning to action and putting up 20 in the first half (34 for the game). LeBron James was in attack mode getting to the rim (he finished with 26). Miami’s pressure defense was forcing turnovers and getting the team easy buckets. They were in cruise control but they got a little passive.

That’s when Nate Robinson took over — he had 15 in the fourth quarter. He’s inconsistent but when he is on he can light up the scoreboard and he was on. He and the Warriors knocked down threes and attacked the rim on the drive drawing fouls. David Lee continued to outplay Chris Bosh and the Heat switched James onto him. But nothing changed the tide, a late 8-0 tied the game and it was headed to overtime. That is when Wright knocked down two big threes and Miami had no answer.

Warriors’ owner Joe Lacob was jumping out of his seat all night. For a franchise looking to change its culture, this is the kind of signature win it needs. For the Heat, it’s a reminder they can never take their foot off the gas. As much as Robinson and the Warriors took advantage, the Heat lost this game because the got soft.

Lakers 99, Suns 83: That whole thing about the Lakers running offense more through the big guys in the paint and leaning less on Kobe Bryant will have to wait. Kobe had 48 points — highest scoring game by any player this season — on 31 shots. He had 17 points in the first quarter and 16 points in the fourth quarter when the Lakers went on a 16-1 run to pull away for the victory. He’s banged up and older, but there are nights he can still score on anyone like he was 25 and when it happens the Lakers are tough to beat. The other reason the Lakers won this one was defense — the Suns scored one point the final 5:30 of the contest. Los Angeles was able to contain Steve Nash. Channing Frye led the Suns with 17 points.

76ers 112, Kings 85: One thing we’ve learned over the first couple weeks of the season — Philadelphia is much better than under .500 teams. The Kings are a mess, and the Sixers did what they have been doing all season against a soft schedule — six guys in double figures (three of them off the bench), plus holding the other team to under 40 percent shooting. Not to knock Philly much — they are playing well and beating the teams in front of them, but they take on the Knicks on Wednesday as their schedule starts to toughen up.

Mavericks 100, Pistons 86: What slow start? Dallas is a .500 team. They raced out to a 23-9 lead — Dirk Nowitzki hit is first seven shots — and stretched it out as they shot 63 percent for the first half. This game was pretty much what you expected from there, Detroit was overwhelmed.

Rockets 82, Bobcats 70: The winning team shot 38.6 percent. The winning team was led by 20 points from Chandler Parsons (while Kevin Martin, Kyle Lowry and Luis Scola combined to shoot 29 percent). It wasn’t pretty but the Rockets will take it.

Thunder 100, Grizzlies 95: It was the Russell Westbrook show. In the same building where he was so criticized last year during the playoffs he owned this game — his jumper was falling early, that opened up driving lanes and he had 30 points. The other keys were the Thunder taking care of the ball in the fourth quarter (zero turnovers). Kevin Durant finished with 22 points, while Marc Gasol had 20 points and 14 rebounds for Memphis.

Bulls 111, Timberwolves 100: Minnesota becomes the first team to lose the third game of a back-to-back-to-back (teams were 6-0 coming into the game). They landed in a tough spot however, with tired legs they asked Luke Ridnour to cover Derrick Rose (who had 14 in the first quarter). Chicago was up by 24 in the second quarter but fell asleep at the wheel and the Timberwolves closed out the first half on a 15-0 run to make it a game at 53-47. Kevin Love found space away from Joakim Noah and sparked that run with 11 second quarter points. It was close the rest of the way, but Rose had 14 in the fourth quarter and Ronnie Brewer’s late seven points sealed the win.

One interesting note: Wolves coach Rick Adelman leaned heavily on his bench players (like Ricky Rubio and Derrick Williams) in this one, with starters Wes Johnson, Darko Milicic and Wayne Ellington benched in the second half.

Bucks 106, Spurs 103: San Antonio was up 10 in the first quarter as they shot 68 percent for the first frame behind a dozen from Tim Duncan. But as they did all night the Bucks went on a quick run (13-1 this time) and took the lead back. They made similar runs (10-2, another 11-3) in the fourth quarter to get the win, although it was close. It took an Ersan Ilyasova three to seal it late, while Richard Jefferson missed a couple late threes for the Spurs. Tony Parker had 22, but he can’t create offense for the Spurs the way Manu Ginobili did.

Stephen Jackson has 12 of Milwaukee’s first 18 points. He finished with 34 and also had some nice assists. Why doesn’t he play like this every night?

Jazz 113, Cavaliers 105: Al Jefferson had 30, Josh Howard had 11 off the bench in the fourth quarter and the Jazz get the win. Let me be honest, on a night with 11 games there some games I see little of, this was the sacrificed game tonight.

Trail Blazers 105, Clippers 97: Pretty intense game for this early in the season, the Blazers took the lead in the second quarter then held off Clippers charges all night — even into the last minutes, when Raymond Felton turnovers gave the Clippers hope. But Portland is overcoming its mistakes and continues to play like the best team in the West so far. They had 20 points from Gerald Wallace, 18 from LaMarcus Aldridge and 17 from Felton. The Clippers show flashes but their late game execution — bad fouls, poorly drawn up plays when they need buckets — shows they have a ways to go. And Vinny Del Negro — you can trust Chris Paul to close out the first half, even if he has three fouls. If you can’t trust CP3 to play smart, who can you trust?

Report: Al Horford opting out with Celtics

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Celtics president Danny Ainge called restructuring Al Horford‘s contract status – which would involve the center declining his $30,123,015 player option then re-signing for a lower starting salary but more total compensation in a multi-year deal – a priority.

This is either a step toward that or a step toward Boston, with Kyrie Irving seemingly exiting, losing multiple stars this summer.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Celtics would project to have about $32 million in cap space. That’d be about enough for a max player with fewer than 10 years experience, and Boston would get the room exception (projected to be about $5 million)

Or the Celtics could use Bird Rights to re-sign Horford, Terry Rozier and Marcus Morris. That route would come with a mid-level exception, either the non-taxpayer (projected to be about $9 million) or taxpayer (projected to be about $6 million).

Horford could determine Boston’s path. If the 33-year-old wants to re-sign, that’d probably consume most of the Celtics’ cap space. If he sees Irving leaving and wants to chase a title elsewhere, Boston could reset around Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and three first-round picks in Thursday’s draft.

The Celtics could bring back Rozier, who’ll be a restricted free agent, in either scenario. But if Horford departs, that’d at least open the door to pursue an outside point guard – like D'Angelo Russell or Malcolm Brogdon – to replace Irving.

Report: Kyrie Irving has ‘ghosted’ Celtics as free agency approaches

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The emerging expectation: Kyrie Irving will sign with the Nets in free agency.

Many thought the Celtics had a chance of changing his mind by trading for Anthony Davis. But Boston didn’t deal for the star center.

There’s little reason to believe Irving will re-sign with the Celtics now.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

The strangest part of the Irving situation right now is that it appears he has essentially ghosted on the Celtics. The people within the organization I have spoken with have made it clear that they have had little, if any, communication with Irving in recent weeks.

Irving is the prize. He’s not interviewing for jobs. Employers are chasing him. By becoming one of the best basketball players in the world, Irving has earned the power to act however he wants in this situation.

The season is over. If Irving wants space, he’s entitled to it.

Maybe it’s because he’s being a jerk. Maybe it’s because telling Boston he wants to leave isn’t an easy message to deliver.

Either way, Irving can proceed as he sees fit. The Celtics will still offer him a max contract if he wants to stay.

This is the same tact he reportedly took on his way out of Cleveland. So, it’s believable he’s behaving this way again.

But we’ve also repeatedly seen players smeared on their way out the door. Whether or not it’s accurate, this report will reflect poorly on Irving in many circles. So, in light of recent history, have at least a little skepticism for this depiction of Irving.

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Ja Morant is the future of the point guard position

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Ja Morant.

Previous draft profiles:

The trajectory that Zion Williamson and Ja Morant have taken to get to the point where they are projected to be the top two picks in the NBA draft could not be more different.

Four years ago, they were playing on the same, small AAU team out of South Carolina. From there, Zion blew up, becoming a viral sensation thanks to his athletic exploits, having his jersey get worn by Drake when he was still a high school junior and spending the majority of his time in the high school ranks as a top-five talent in his recruiting class.

Morant, on the other hand, was more or less a no-name prospect into the summer before his senior year. He eventually became a popular mid-major target, and he even received a scholarship offer from in-state South Carolina. He was hardly unknown, but he was miles away from being someone considered to be a potential franchise-changing talent at the NBA level.

As it stands today, the thing that both Zion and Ja have in common — besides the two most recognizable first names — is an otherworldly level of explosiveness that has both ratcheted up their hype and buried the lede. The reason Williamson is the most exciting prospect to come out of the college ranks since Anthony Davis is because of his ability to play the point and the five, all at the same time. He’s Draymond Green, only if he was injected with NOS from Dominic Toretto.

Morant’s athleticism rivals Williamson’s. Blessed with a 44 inch vertical, Morant’s motto this season was “jump with me if you want to go viral,” and that couldn’t have been more accurate. He spent more time on SportsCenter this season than every Ohio Valley Conference player before him combined, something that was highlighted by this dunk:

And that explosiveness matters, I would never try to say otherwise. Dunking over weakside defenders in the NBA is going to be more difficult than when playing at UT Martin, but being able to elevate the way Morant elevates will help him transition to the next level. His quick-twitch athleticism also manifests in his ability to make plays in the halfcourt, where his ability to change speeds — and to go from a standstill to top speed — is what allows scouts to be able to project Morant as a player that can create offense against set NBA defenses. For a player who did so much of his damage at the college level in transition, that’s a big deal.

Morant’s physical tools makes it very easy to see him as another De'Aaron Fox. They’re both about 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds with a 6-foot-6 wingspan, and Fox just wrapped up his second season in the NBA with averages of 17.3 points, 7.3 assists and 3.8 boards.

But simply focusing on Morant’s athletic ability is to ignore what he does best: Pass.

Because while Morant did average 24.5 points and 5.7 boards while shooting 36 percent from three, perhaps what is most impressive about his sophomore season with the Racers is that he led all of college basketball in assists at 10.0 per game, just like Lonzo Ball led the nation in assists in 2017 and Trae Young did in 2018.

I mention both of those guys for a reason. Morant does not have the same hit-ahead ability in transition that Ball does, but Morant’s vision in the open floor and ability to make long, accurate passes in the open floor is one of the things that he does best. He also thrives in early-offense, where his And-1 Mixtape handle allows him to keep his dribble alive and probe opposing defenses. Because he is such a threat as a scorer, defenses would then collapse, which is when Morant’s ability as a dump-off passer and a lob-thrower comes into effect.

And that’s not even what he does best as a passer, because where he really shines is in the halfcourt and working off of ball-screens. Morant’s basketball IQ is the most underrated part of his game. He knows how defenses are going to defend him. He knows how to use his eyes to move weakside defenders. He knows where the tag is coming from, and whether the shooter in the far side corner or the roll-man will be open. This is where that Trae Young comparison comes into play, because reading defenses is where Young thrived while at Oklahoma.

The best way to describe Morant’s ability as a passer is that he not only knows when and where his teammates are going to come open, but he has the ability to find a way to make the pass that will get them an open shot. Morant is right-handed, but he will, at times, look like a left-handed player because of how often he makes bullet, live-dribble passes with just his left. He makes reads, and passes, that few point guards in the NBA today can make.

That passing is what makes all the difference, and as much as his athleticism or ability as a scorer, it’s the reason why he can be viewed as a player with the potential to be a franchise-changing point guard in the same stratosphere as the likes of Russell Westbrook and John Wall.

Now, Morant does have some flaws, and they are quite notable and relevant.

For starters, he is of a slight build, which is less than ideal. He is not going to be able to bounce off of contact in the NBA the same way he did in the OVC, and in a league where switchability is a priority at the highest-level, he is going to be targeted. Opposing coaches are going to target him by trying to force switches the same way that Nick Nurse did with Steph Curry in the finals. That is going to be an issue if he can’t add some weight and strength, particularly because he has not been a consistently great defender to date. Some of that can be attributed to the load that he was asked to carry offensively, and there is reason to believe that Morant’s athleticism, anticipation and quick hands will translate to being an above-average defender in the NBA.

Morant can also be a bit sloppy. He averaged more than five turnovers per game, and while some of that is strictly a result of workload and defensive attention, he also had a habit of trying to force passes that weren’t there.

But the biggest question mark, and what is going to determine his ceiling more than just about anything else, will be how well his jumper comes along. Morant shot 36.3 percent from three this past season, but that number drops to just 33.6 percent if his 7-for-8 shooting from three in the NCAA tournament is factored out.

Put another way, as good as Morant was this past season, there is still plenty of room for him to grow moving forward.

And in a league where ball-dominant lead guards that thrive in ball-screens is the norm, Morant is a player with quite a bit of value in the long-term.

Damon Jones says Lakers are in play for Kawhi Leonard

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I had heard from multiple sources going back to Summer League last year that the Lakers were not an option for Kawhi Leonard. He’s a guy who does not like a lot of drama and chaos around him, he just wants to play basketball, and being with LeBron James on the Lakers is to live in the spotlight with drama your constant companion.

Did the Anthony Davis trade change his thinking? Damon Jones, the former NBA player and assistant coach, said yes it did on ESPN’s Get Up show. He said a source that would know told him the Lakers are now in play.

Two thoughts here:

First, nobody knows what Kawhi Leonard is thinking. We can all play the “read the tea leafs” game — at the Raptors’ championship parade some fans started a “one more year” chant and Leonard’s close advisor Uncle Dennis (as he is commonly known) had one finger up and was chanting along, read what you want into that — but none of us really know which way Leonard leans. The “people close to Leonard” have sent mixed signals from the start, some have different agendas, and they are not Leonard. Stay in Toronto, come to the Clippers or Lakers? We don’t know.

Second, getting Leonard to the Lakers requires a semi-complicated salary cap move. After the Davis trade the Lakers have between $23 million and $27 million in salary cap space (depending on how much of Davis’ trade kicker he is going to take, if any) but that is not enough to sign Leonard to a max contract. And he’s not taking a discount. Los Angeles could create the room by delaying the Davis trade for a month. Follow along: Currently, the Davis trade can’t be executed until July 6. However, if the Lakers draft whoever the Pelicans want with the No. 4 pick, sign him, then wait a month and include that player and his salary in the trade (the CBA says a draft pick cannot be traded for 30 days after he signs his contract) then the Lakers could have $32.5 million in cap space, enough to sign Leonard (or Kemba Walker, or Jimmy Butler, or Kyrie Irving, or any free agent with 7-9 years of service and earning a max deal).

Except, the Pelicans want to get the trade done and, I was told, don’t have to agree to this delay. Would the Lakers have to throw in another second round pick or something to make this work? Maybe.

That all assumes Leonard wants to come to the Lakers. And nobody really knows that for sure.

Whatever happens, the board man gonna get paid.