Baseline to Baseline recaps: Jeremy Lin is king of New York

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What you missed while thinking that even though you didn’t love Madonna’s halftime show at the Super Bowl, it was better than the Black Eyed Peas doing Tron or whatever it was the year before….

76ers 95, Lakers 90: It was the Kobe Bryant and Lou Williams show, and it was our game of the night.

Knicks 99, Jazz 88: Jeremy Lin is not a great point guard (he turns the ball over too much, not great going to his left), but he attacks off the pick-and-roll like a pit bull, and the Knicks have been missing that. Badly. They look like a different team with a guy who can run Mike D’Antoni’s offense as it was designed.

There was no Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony pulled up injured midway through the first quarter, but the Knicks had Lin’s 28 including 13 in the fourth to seal the win. His ability to drive and draw defenders had Tyson Chandler throwing down lob passes from him, Steve Novak draining open threes and the entire Knicks offense humming. It looks like a new offense we haven’t seen this season in New York. Knicks fans are ready to name a park after Lin and put up a statue.

The Jazz looked like a tired team that had just flown across the country. Or gone out partying in New York like the city had won the Super Bow (not saying they did, saying they played like they did)l. Al Jefferson had 22 but needed 20 shots to get there. Utah looked a step slow and couldn’t catch up with the Lin momentum.

Thunder 111, Trail Blazers 107 (OT): The best game of the night, one of the most entertaining of the season.

There was controversy at the end of this one — Kevin Durant tied the game and sent it to overtime with a layup that LaMarcus Aldridge blocked but was called a goaltend. It wasn’t, he got it before it hit the glass. Look for yourself (although I think you could have called a foul here with his arm into Durant’s body):

(As a side note, this game featured two of the most homer announcing crews in the league. Both called that play with their hearts, but for the OKC crew not to admit it was a block moves them up the ladder to one of the worst homer crews in the league, right there with the Spurs.)

That controversy shouldn’t mar a fun game. Kevin Durant had 33 points (although he needed 33 shots to get there), with a lot of jumpers down the stretch that kept the Thunder in it. Russell Westbrook had 28 points and a key block on Nicolas Batum at the end of regulation. Aldridge was the best player on the floor with 39 points and 15 rebounds, OKC did not have an answer for him. The Thunder won this game because of their amazing athletes, but their end-of-game execution is not impressive and they are often left with tough shots in isolation, come the playoffs that is going to haunt them if it doesn’t improve.

Clippers 107, Magic 102 (OT): The Magic had their offense clicking in the first quarter — Dwight Howard was getting baskets at the rim (he had 13 in the quarter, 33 for the game) and Jason Richardson was knocking down a couple threes as Orlando shot 68 percent and raced out to a lead that reached 15.

But this was a game all about offense (the Magic had an offensive rating of 110 points per 100 possessions, the Clippers 115.4, both insanely high numbers) and that meant the Clippers were going to get back in it. Chris Paul dissected the Magic with dribble penetration that got him 29 points on the game (13 in the fourth quarter) and eight assists. The Clippers led by nine in the second half but it was Orlando’s turn to fight back. However, in the overtime Los Angeles secured the lead with a Caron Butler three off a Glen Davis turnover, then next trip down Paul hit a baseline step back rainbow over Howard — how anyone gets that shot off over D-12 is beyond me, let alone a PG. Clippers got a hard-fought win.

Bulls 108, Nets 87: I liked the Nets throwback uniforms. That’s about the only think Nets related I liked. Chicago’s defense suffocated New Jersey and this was a blowout from the first quarter on, Derrick Rose or not (he left with back spasms and is day-to-day). Deron Williams had 25 for New Jersey, Carlos Boozer 24 for the Bulls.

Wizards 111, Raptors 108 (OT): Washington did a good job pushing the pace early and that led to a healthy lead. John Wall had 11 of his 31 in the first quarter, Nick Young 10 of his 29. But midway through the fourth the Raptors starting hitting every three — Jarryd Bayless had four from deep in the quarter and 16 points and it was a ball game again. One headed to overtime — not a very pretty overtime as only one field goal made, everything else at the line. But the Wizards will take it.

Spurs 89, Grizzlies 84: Three Spurs stood out in this one. Tim Duncan continues to find himself, scoring 17 and playing some good defense on Marc Gasol, including having a key block. Kawhi Leonard was given the task of guarding Rudy Gay and held one of the game’s best forwards to 18 points on 9-of-26 shooting. Tony Parker is playing like an All-Star on both ends of the floor; he had 21 points, 7 assists and some good defensive plays as well.

Kings 100, Hornets 92: New Orleans was in charge of this one, up 18 just before the half and cruising behind its defense, holding the Kings to 33 percent shooting for the half, and Emeka Okafor, who had 11 points in the first quarter alone. But Kings’ rookie Isaiah Thomas sparked a comeback, playing with real energy and scoring 14 points and having 5 assists in the second half (he had 17 points total). That seemed to wake up DeMarcus Cousins, too, who was a beast and finished with 28 points and 19 rebounds.

Rockets 99, Denver 90: This was a tight game the whole way, the final score was actually the largest lead either team had all game. Houston took control in the fourth with a small lineup that had Kyle Lowry (20 points on the night plus he played great defense on Ty Lawson, winning that battle) and Goran Dragic in at the same time, along with Courtney Lee. Luis Scola’s face and game seemed fine, and he dropped 25. The difference in this game was the threes — the Rockets were 10-19, the Nuggets 3-22.

NBA playoffs mired in worst pre-Finals competitive-game drought ever

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Exciting games. Clutch plays. Close finishes.

Remember those?

The NBA playoffs have hit a lull. It has been 11 days since the last game decided by fewer than 10 points.

Longer competitive-game droughts have occurred – though not many, and never before the NBA Finals. The most common route for going so long without a competitive game is decisive victories to end the conference finals, a lengthy break before the Finals then decisive victories to start the Finals.

But we’re not to the Finals yet.

In this case, every second-round series ended in five or fewer games – culminating with the Celtics’ 114-112 win over the 76ers on May 9, the last single-digit game. Three league-wide off days followed. The Celtics routed the Cavaliers twice in Boston, and the Warriors and Rockets traded lopsided wins in Houston. Two more league-wide off days, Cleveland winning by 30 Saturday, Golden State winning by 41 last night, and we’re at 11 straight days without a competitive game.

Here are the longest-ever streaks of days between single-digit playoff games before the conference finals ended:

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Both conference finals are as close as possible, 2-1 (favoring the Warriors and Celtics). But the individual games just haven’t matched the tightness.

Why is this happening?

The peculiar overlapping three off days for each conference finals certainly factored.

Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers – who’ve met in the last three NBA Finals – are that much better than the rest of their conferences when locked in. Maybe the Warriors and Cavaliers know that, leaving them prone to bad losses the teams know they can rally from. Maybe the Celtics are just that good at home and that bad on the road. Maybe it’s just a random occurrence.

No matter the reason, the result is certain: We’ve gone a long time without seeing a competitive game.

Hopefully, Cleveland and Boston change that tonight.

Andre Iguodala doubtful for Warriors-Rockets Game 4

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Andre Iguodala hurt his knee during the fourth quarter of the Warriors’ win over the Rockets last night. Golden State coach Steve Kerr brushed off concern about the injury and praised his starting small forward in these Western Conference finals.

“When we’re right, when we’re playing how we are supposed to play, Andre’s right in the middle of it,” Kerr said. “His defense and being smart, making good decisions. Andre is one of the guys who seems to set the tone for that for us.”

The Warriors might have to set that tone without Iguodala in Game 4 Tuesday.

Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

Replacing Iguodala in the lineup won’t be easy. He boosts the Warriors offensively and defensively, and they’re short on wings.

Will Golden State just spread Iguodala’s minutes between Nick Young, Shaun Livingston, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson? Durant and Thompson already play so much. Young is a defensive liability.

Will the Warriors go big more often with Kevon Looney, Jordan Bell and/or David West – shifting Draymond Green from center to power forward and Durant from power forward to small forward? Looney already has a relatively large role in this series, and it’s imperative he plays with full effort whenever on the court. More minutes could harm him. Kerr doesn’t appear to trust Bell, and West might be too slow to keep up with the Rockets.

There’s no good answer here, just different cracks Houston can exploit if Iguodala is out or even just slowed tomorrow.

New Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer: ‘I think I’m in the best place in the league’

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Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo will almost certainly finish fourth in Most Valuable Player voting this year, his age-23 season.

The last coach to take over a team with a player who already accomplished so much at such a young age – Del Harris (a familiar name in Milwaukee), who inherited reigning MVP Moses Malone with the Rockets in 1979. It’s just so rare for jobs coaching such a promising player top come open.

“I think I’m in the best place in the league,” new Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer said at his introductory press conference today.

Budenholzer had his pick of Milwaukee and Toronto, another highly successful team, especially for one seeking a new coach. But the Bucks offer Antetokounmpo and more modest expectations.

Milwaukee hasn’t won a playoff series in 17 years. Budenholzer was asked today as much about delivering a division title as an NBA title.

Topping the Cavaliers, Pacers, Pistons and Bulls sounds much easier than surpassing the Warriors, Rockets, Celtics and 76ers in coming years.

Not that Budenholzer, who reached the conference finals with the Hawks, is completely ducking big talk.

“We’re lucky to have a Giannis, who will do anything to win, and a Khris Middleton that will do anything to win,” Budenholzer said. “When you have your best players that are true competitors and that are truly unselfish and care more about the team than they do themselves, those are a couple of big, foundational blocks to winning championships and doing things that are special.”

The Bucks held the press conference at their still-under-construction new arena, the media wearing hard hats and orange vests:

But this isn’t a complete rebuild for Budenholzer.

Milwaukee has made the playoffs the last two seasons, including winning 44 games this year. Antetokounmpo is a superstar. Middleton is a borderline All-Star. Eric Bledsoe is a solid starter. Restricted free agent-to-be Jabari Parker is talented. The rotation is somewhat deep.

The Bucks just underachieved under former coach Jason Kidd (and never capitalized before him for more than a decade for other reasons).

Citing the potential of current players, Budenholzer said Milwaukee could become “elite” defensively. The Bucks are full of long and athletic players, and Budenholzer coached sound defenses in Atlanta. There’s only one reason to doubt him: Milwaukee finished just 17th in points allowed per possession this season.

But that’s a feature of this job, not a bug. The Bucks aren’t stuck with an inevitably bad defenders. They just underperformed. Budenholzer can nudge them ahead – and is positioned to receive outsized credit if he does.

“Working with the entire with the entire roster, with the front office, with ownership,” Budenholzer said, “I can’t wait to take us to the next level in Milwaukee.”

That next level isn’t that high, which is why Budenholzer is right.

Milwaukee is a great place for a coach to be.

Mike D’Antoni: Rockets ‘played soft’

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The Warriors beat the Rockets by 41 last night to take a 2-1 lead in the Western Conference finals.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni:

We didn’t switch up into people, we didn’t box off. It’s just one thing led to another. Played soft, actually.

His stars agreed.

James Harden:

He’s right. We weren’t as aggressive as we needed to be. We started off the game pretty solid, and then we let them gain some confidence to end the first quarter. You know, but just defensively they didn’t feel us and it showed tonight.

Chis Paul:

Coach is right. We’ve got to be better. I think, you know, we’ve got to come out more aggressive. We were letting them hit first, you know what I mean? They were running their screens and all that stuff like that. I mean, we know that we’re at our best when we’re in transition and not taking the ball out the net. And tonight we were taking the ball out the net. We had 19 turnovers. That’s uncharacteristic of us. We knew we were going to get a great game from them being back here at home, but we’ve got to be better Game 4.

That’s a harsh assessment – but at least somewhat warranted. The Rockets applied far too little defensive pressure, and they missed shots inside and committed turnovers as if they were rattled.

I don’t think the Rockets are soft. But they looked soft in the face of Golden State’s elite ability.

The Warriors pressure teams into mistakes and then exploit many of them. Play that doesn’t look soft against other opponents suddenly does against Golden State.

Houston can toughen up before Game 4 Tuesday. Acclimating to the Warriors’ high level of play, especially at home, could help. The Rockets are good enough to hang at this level.

But it certainly won’t be easy.