Baseline to Baseline recaps: Magic cool off Heat

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What you missed while watching a guy get bit in the face by a dog on live television

Magic 102, Heat 89: Maybe the Magic owner should tell the media he doesn’t want to trade Dwight Howard before every game.

Orlando played the game it wants to play — good defense (especially challenging in the midrange), have Howard dominate in the middle then play off that with open shooters from three. A lot of threes. Orlando took a franchise record 42 from beyond the arc and got half (51) of their points from there. (I’ll save you the math, they hit 17 of the 42 from three, 40 percent.)

The teams that will give Miami trouble are ones that have bigs who can score — Howard had 25 points and 24 boards as the Heat have nobody who can check him in the least. Ryan Anderson had 27. Dwyane Wade had 33 for the Heat but LeBron James had an off night. One of the other keys to this game was the Magic role players simply outplayed their Heat role players.

Cavaliers 99, Clippers 92: The concern with Chauncey Billups gone for the season was how that would impact the Clippers defense. Well, it’s just one game, but a Cleveland team that is bottom 10 in the league averaging 97.2 points per 100 possessions scored at a 111.2 pace against the Clippers. That’s 8 points per 100 higher than the Clippers average. It’s just one game, but it’s a trend to watch.

Ramon Sessions outplayed Chris Paul. You read that right. Sessions drove up his trade value getting the start for an injured Kyrie Irving (concussion) and had 24 points (on 16 shots) and 13 dimes. The other thing Cleveland has going for it is Anderson Varejao — a big man who can defend Blake Griffin straight up. Oh, Griffin got his (25 points, 14 boards) because he is impossible to stop, but Varejao made him work for it (and work at both ends).

Knicks 107, Wizards 93: Linsanity continues. Jeremy Lin was lined up opposite No. 1 overall pick John Wall and dropped 23 points and 10 boards. There’s no great secret to what Lin does — he attacks hard off the pick and roll. Those attacks are why New York shot 14 more free throws than Washington. The Wizards obliged by playing some of the worst pick-and-roll defense you will see, fighting over the top of picks and basically rolling out the red carpet for Lin to get into the lane. Help rotations were slow to non-existent, but when they came it opened up passes to Tyson Chandler who had 25 points.

Spurs 100, 76ers 90: Tony Parker was the best player on the court by far, 37 points and 8 assists, carving up the Sixers defense on the pick-and-roll. That was the top-ranked Sixers defense we are talking about. Parker was All-Star good (and the Sixers had a bad night, Jrue Holiday looked like a baseball player whose swing is off the game after facing a knuckleball pitcher… I guess Derek Fisher will do that to you). Tiago Splitter, NBA’s most improved player?

Bucks 105, Raptors 99: You can’t stop Carlos Delfino — he had 11 of his 25 in the fourth quarter, including hitting two threes, as the Bucks pulled away to get the win. The Bucks attacked more all game and shot 20 more free throws than the Raptors.

Hawks 97, Pacers 87: Atlanta was in control of this game the entire way. Josh Smith took 9 shots right at the rim and 8 from beyond 16 feet, not exactly the balance one would hope for. But he finished with 28 points and he knocked down both threes he took — it was just that kind of night for the Hawks where whatever they tried worked a lot better than whatever the Pacers were trying.

Pistons 99, Nets, 92: Well, someone had to win this game.

Grizzlies 85, Timberwolves 80: Minnesota looked a step slow — second night of a back-to-back, going without Kevin Love against a good front line, this is kind of what you expect. Memphis grabbed 21 offensive rebounds — 36 percent of the time they missed a shot, they got a second chance. That’s where Love was missed. Rudy Gay had 19 to lead Memphis.

Bulls 90, Hornets 67: The best part of the game was the player introductions. After that, the Bulls defense just smothered the Hornets, holding them to 37 percent shooting and a 74.4 points per 100 possessions pace. Carlos Boozer had 18 to lead the Bulls.

Mavericks 105, Nuggets 95: Really entertaining offensive basketball game — both teams are just hard to defend when they have it going. Dirk Nowitzki has found his mojo (or health or conditioning or whatever it was) and dropped a cool 25. Denver’s ball movement was good but Dallas was active on defense.

Rockets 103, Trail Blazers 96: Portland looked like it never fully got over the heartbreaking overtime loss to the Thunder the night before — they looked physically and mentally tired. By the way, that is back-to-back Trail Blazers losses at home, which just doesn’t happen. Chase Budinger had 22 points on 14 shots and Goran Dragic played well for Houston once Kyle Lowry went down with an arm injury.

Report: Tim Connelly rejects Wizards, staying with Nuggets

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Nuggets president Tim Connelly could have led the Wizards’ front office, worked close to his native Baltimore and presumably gotten a raise from his reported $2 million salary.

Instead, he’s stay in Denver.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is a huge win for Denver and even bigger setback for Washington.

Connelly has put the Nuggets into a great position. They’re young and good in a combination rarely seen in NBA history. Connelly drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round then built around him a short time later. This season, Denver won 54 games and reached Game 7 of the second round with 24-year-old Jokic flanked by Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

More decisions always lie ahead – notably Millsap’s $30 million team option for next season. But the Nuggets’ core is already in place and mostly under team control.

The Wizards need far more work. John Wall‘s contract is arguably the NBA’s worst. Ian Mahinmi and Dwight Howard are also roadblocks. Several key players will be free agents this summer. If he makes an All-NBA team this season, Bradley Beal be eligible for a super-max extension – a tricky decision for the club.

It would have been great for Washington to entrust Connelly with all that. He has proven excellent at his job.

Troy Weaver, Danny Ferry or Tommy Sheppard might do well for the Wizards. But they’re candidates who offer far less certainty.

Kawhi Leonard tries to downplay leg issue, “I’m good”

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Toronto won a gritty Game 3 at home — and are back in the Eastern Conference Finals — because of Kawhi Leonard.

From the opening tip, he was the man guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo (although in a game with a lot of switching plenty of others also got their shot). It was the biggest adjustment Toronto coach Nick Nurse made — and it worked. Antetokounmpo had 12 points on 16 shots in the game and, according to ESPN’s tracking, was 1-of-9 when guarded by Leonard. On the other end, Leonard had 36 points, nine rebounds, and played 52 critical minutes. He was the MVP of Game 3.

And he did it all through a noticeable limp.

He landed awkwardly on a first-quarter layup and all game this clearly limited his mobility.

When asked about it after the game, Leonard shrugged it off.

For much of the season, whenever Leonard was mentioned so was with the phrase “load management.” He had missed all but nine games the season before with quadriceps tendinopathy — the treatment for that, and whether it was a muscular injury or not, was at the heart of Leonard’s discord with San Antonio — and in Toronto he missed 22 games in the regular season to help keep that issue at bay.

That may not be related to what is bothering him now, but the Raptors and Leonard had gone to great lengths to get him rest during the regular season so he would be ready for the playoffs. He has responded, being the best player in the East through the postseason so far. That includes hitting the game-winner to send Philadelphia home, then on Sunday keeping Toronto alive against the Bucks by force of will. But he has played a heavy load of minutes — physical, playoff minutes — to get there.

Will that slow Leonard Tuesday night in Game 4?

It can’t if they want to even this series. Milwaukee will play better in Game 4, keeping Antetokounmpo bottled up may be near impossible, and other Bucks had off-games as well (they shot 37.3 percent as a team in Game 3). Toronto will have to play better to keep pace. Marc Gasol will need to continue taking and hitting the threes (shots the Bucks dared him to take in the first two games), Pascal Siakam will have to have another big game, as will the Raptors’ bench.

But mostly, Leonard needs to be the best player on the floor again, the guy doing this:

If not, Toronto’s season will be on the brink.

After coaching search, Minnesota reportedly settles on owner-favorite Ryan Saunders for job

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“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]… I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”

That was Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on his interim coach, Ryan Saunders, a statement made with about 20 games to go in the season. The Timberwolves reportedly negotiated the outline of a contract with Saunders, but when Gersson Rosas was brought in as team president, he was given the freedom to run a full coaching search.

He has settled on the guy the owner wanted, a story broken by Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Rosas interviewed other candidates and ran a legitimate job search for the position, but it seems the smart political move for the guy new on the job to hire the guy the owner wanted, and the guy the star player bonded with.

That’s not to say Saunders is a poor choice, he earned this chance. Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler‘s sabotaging of the team’s season led to coach/GM Tom Thibodeau being shown the door. Saunders quickly developed a strong relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, who played much better under Saunders the second half of the season. There were other signs Saunders was up to the task and would be a good hire, not just a prudent one.

Now it appears Saunders has the job.

The real task for Rosas is to give Saunders a team that can live up to Towns’ potential. It will not be easy with a capped out roster and some anchor contracts (Andrew Wiggins).

Report: Cavaliers hire J.B. Bickerstaff to John Beilein’s staff

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are still trying to figure things out. LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and now the team has hired John Beilein to be its head coach. The team doesn’t have a top pick the way it has in years past, and barring any trades they will select 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But at least they are figuring out there coaching staff Issues.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be its top assistant coach. Bickerstaff was apparently also in talks with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.

Via Twitter:

Bickerstaff previously headed the Houston Rockets from 2015 to 2016, and was the top man for the Grizzlies over the last two seasons after the team canned David Fizdale.

This is a solid hire for the Cavs. Bickerstaff has been a respected assistant in the league for the past decade-and-a-half, and he should give some veteran NBA oopmh behind Beilein, who most recently coached at Michigan for 12 years and is headed into his rookie season.