Baseline to Baseline recaps: it’s a free throw-a-palooza

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What you missed while trying to beat up a police officer with a stuffed monkey….

Cavaliers 101, Suns 90: Kyrie Irving had his best game ever matched up against Steve Nash. Our own Brett Pollakoff broke it down as our game of the night.

Magic 117, Warriors 109: Mark Jackson decided the best strategy was hack-a-Howard, which sent Dwight Howard to the free throw line an NBA record 39 times. Jackson also tried to cover Howard one-on-one so his other defenders could stay home on the Magic shooters — which is a great strategy if you have a guy who can actually slow Howard. Oklahoma City did this well, but they have Kendrick Perkins. David Lee is not that guy. The result was Howard had 45 points and 23 rebounds and got a lot of key buckets late.

At the end of the day, the problem here is less Jackson’s strategy and more that the Magic are a more talented team and had the best player on the floor. That wins way more games than strategy.

Bucks 102, Pistons 83: More free throw history here — the Bucks and Pistons combined to go 41-of-41 from the stripe on the night. The two teams were perfect from the line. That, like Howard’s assault, is an NBA record.

Stephen Jackson had maybe his best game of the season — 25 points and six assists. He not only scored but kept the ball moving. Brandon Jennings had 27 points on 15 shots. Everything was clicking for the Bucks, who scored at a 114.6 points per 100 possessions pace (well above their 97.3 average for the season). That said the Pistons hung around in this one and made a push late behind Greg Monroe’s 12 fourth-quarter points. But this was the Bucks night.

Grizzlies 94, Knicks 83: Carmelo Anthony left the game with a sprained ankle early in the third quarter not to return (he is now day-to-day), but that is not why the Knicks lost. They were just flat on the second night of a back-to-back, the offense was stagnant and the Knicks were behind from the middle of the first quarter on. Rudy Gay took advantage of ‘Melo’s defense and attacked the rim, shooting 8-of-9 from the field to start the game Gay went on to finish with 26 points.

The Knicks still are trying to find their identity and get used to new teammates. That will mean a few tough nights like this one. O.J. Mayo added 18 for the Grizzlies.

Hawks 111, Bobcats 81: Atlanta is going to miss Al Horford… but not against the Bobcats. Zaza Pachulia got the start in Horford’s place and played solidly, finishing with 10 points and 10 rebounds. Joe Johnson had little trouble getting open (Tyrus Thomas could not keep up with him running off screens) and Josh Smith’s jumper was falling. When that happens he is nearly impossible to guard. This got out of hand, and as this is the first game of a back-to-back-to-back for the Bobcats, coach Paul Silas pulled the starters in early to keep their legs fresh. Smart move.

 

Unstoppable Meyers Leonard drops 25 on Warriors in first half (VIDEO)

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Stephen Curry had an I-don’t-want-to-play-Game-5 kind of first half for Golden State, scoring 25 points and hitting 5-of-7 from three.

However, he was the second best player on the court because Meyers Leonard held that crown.

Yes, Meyers Leonard.

He had 25 points of his own on 10-of-12 shooting.

Fans broke out a “Mey-ers Leon-ard” chant.

All that had Portland up 69-65 at the half in a defense-optional Game 4 where it is win-or-go-home for the Trail Blazers.

Knicks Frank Ntilikina reportedly wants to be traded, switches agents

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When the Knicks acquired Emmanuel Mudiay last season — a player Denver just released outright — Mudiay instantly jumped past Frank Ntilikina on the point guard depth chart. Then, when the Knicks traded for Dennis Smith Jr. at the deadline (part of the Kristaps Porzingis deal), the future of Ntilikina in New York was thrown into uncertainty.

Ntilikina sees that, wants out, and is getting a new agent as well, reports Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

Knicks guard Frank Ntilikina dropped CAA as his agency last season and planned to sign with French agent Bouna Ndiaye, the Daily News has learned.

Ntilikina, who was drafted eighth overall by Knicks in 2017, is on the trading block and desires a relocation, a source told the News. The Knicks declined offers to move Ntilikina at the trade deadline in February, acquired another point guard in Dennis Smith Jr., and Ntilikina quickly decided to change agents.

Ndiaye represents several French players in the NBA, including Rudy Gobert and Evan Fournier.

The Knicks are expected to try to trade Ntilikina, either at the draft or next summer. Mostly other teams will view him as a way to save money — if teams do not pick up his 2020-21 option by Oct. 31 he comes off the books after this next season — but also Ntilikina played good defense and other teams may try to take a flier on him.

Andre Iguodala out for Game 4 against Portland with sore calf

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Andre Iguodala was limited in Game 3 in Portland, playing just 18 minutes Saturday night, none after he was taken out with 7:49 left in the third quarter. An MRI on his left calf Sunday came back clean, but he was questionable with leg tightness, officially. Call it a sore calf if you prefer.

Up 3-0 in the series, there was no reason to risk something worse in Game 4, so Iguodala is out, coach Steve Kerr announced pregame.

Alfonzo McKinnie will start in place of Iguodala.

Iguodala joins Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins on the Warriors bench for Game 4.

If there is a Game 5, it will be Wednesday night in the Bay Area.

With the NBA Finals not starting until May 30 — a week from this Thursday — the Warriors have plenty of time to rest and get their starters healed before taking on a serious challenger from the East (whether that is Milwaukee or Toronto). The Warriors have used their depth against Portland to help keep minutes down for their starters and Kerr will lean on that bench to close out the series in the next couple of games.

Report: Rockets, Mike D’Antoni talking contract extension

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Mike D’Antoni, the father of the seven seconds or less system that started a revolution of NBA style, has changed in recent years. In Houston, with James Harden at his peak and this specific roster around him, D’Antoni now coaches an isolation-heavy team that has pushed the NBA envelope in other ways, particularly in trusting the three ball.

D’Antoni fits with Daryl Morey, and the sides have started talking contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

The Houston Rockets and coach Mike D’Antoni have had preliminary discussions about the framework of a contract extension that would keep the two-time NBA Coach of the Year from entering the final year of his deal…

“I’ve let [general manager] Daryl [Morey] and [team owner] Tilman [Fertitta] know that I’m energized to keep coaching — and believe that I can continue to do this at a high level for at least another three years,” D’Antoni, 68, told ESPN on Sunday night.

“I want to be a part of a championship here.”

This is the smart move, he is a part of what has made the Rockets such a success in recent years.

The Rockets should look for roster upgrades this summer but they should not be blowing things up. The Rockets were the second best team in the NBA last season and may have been again by the playoffs this season (it depends on where you want to put Milwaukee and Toronto in that ranking, but the Rockets were in the mix). Houston’s problem has been a historic dynasty in Golden State, but that could look very different next season. If the Warriors take a step or two back, for whatever reasons, Houston is poised to pounce. They will be contenders.

D’Antoni is a part of that, and the Rockets need to keep one of the best coaches in the game in house.