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: NBA could resume with group stage

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A fundamental conflict for the NBA:

  • The more traditional of a season – all 30 teams playing 82 games, four rounds of best-of-seven series – the league completes, the more more money it will make.
  • The more teams involved in a resumed season, the higher risk of coronavirus spreading throughout the league.

That’s why the NBA is considering a middle ground – resuming without teams far outside playoff position.

But how would the league structure a format for 20 teams?

Maybe a group stage to replace the first round of the playoffs.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

The 16 current playoff teams would qualify for the group stage, plus the four teams with the next-best records (Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, and Spurs). The remaining 10 teams would be done for the season. The survey sent to each general manager noted that “tiers” would first be created using the regular-season standings to ensure competitive balance between the groups.

Groups could then be randomly drawn, with one team from each tier going into each group. The NBA is working on approaches to fairly balance the groupings, such as limiting each group to only three Western Conference teams, according to multiple front office sources. Drawings for the group stage could be televised, league sources say.

As an alternative to having groups randomly selected, multiple league sources say the league has considered allowing Tier 1 teams—the Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers—to draft their own groups.

Teams would play opponents within their own groups twice, meaning every team would play eight games. The two teams in each group with the best record would move on.

Based on the current standings, the tiers would be:

  • Tier 1: Bucks, Lakers, Raptors, Clippers
  • Tier 2: Celtics, Nuggets, Jazz, Heat
  • Tier 3: Thunder, Rockets, Pacers, 76ers
  • Tier 4: Mavericks, Grizzlies, Nets, Magic
  • Tier 5: Trail Blazers, Pelicans, Kings, Spurs

As far as ways to resume with 20 teams, this isn’t bad. The draw – whether random or top-team choice – alone would be a revenue-drawing TV event.

The ninth-place (Wizards) and 10th-place (Hornets) teams in the Eastern Conference might argue they should be included over the 11th-place (Kings) and 12th-place (Spurs) teams in the Western Conference. But Sacramento and San Antonio have better records than Washington and Charlotte. If there were ever a time not to stress conference affiliations, it’s now with the league preparing to resume in a single location.

There would be increased risk for top teams getting knocked out early if their group is challenging. They’ve already lost home-court advantage. But there’s also chance of upset in a regular playoff series. Besides, downside could be mitigated by allowing the top teams to draft their groups* and using regular-season record as a tiebreaker.

*This could even be done in reverse – i.e., the top teams selecting which lower-tier teams not to put in their own group.

The Bucks, Lakers, Raptors and Clippers could rotate selecting lower-tier teams to avoid. Once three top-tier teams have nixed a team, that lower-tier team would be placed in the fourth top-tier team’s group. Each group would still be required to have one team from each tier.

Or maybe the top-tier teams could even rotate sticking lower-tier teams into a specific top-tier team’s group. The Bucks could use their first selection on placing the 76ers into the Lakers’ group, for example.

There are many possibilities how to structure a group draft.

If the NBA locks into resuming with 20 teams, the other 10 teams would be incentivized to vote for whatever system generates the most revenue. Those 10 votes could boost any proposal that would otherwise be doomed by teams trying to clear their own path deep into the playoffs.

This system would satisfy players on marginal teams – like Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard – who want to play only if the games are meaningful. It’d also allow the worst teams just to be done.

The draft order and lottery odds would have to be re-considered with a 20-team group phase. Though that’s a minor issue, it’d involve every team. Again, self-interest would creep in.

This idea has some rough precedent. In 1954, the playoffs began with three-team round robins in each the East and West.

The bigger question is how many NBA teams should resume? But if the best answer is 20, this is the best format I’ve seen.

Lakers’ Jeanie Buss talks steps that led to brother Jim’s removal

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Late Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss set up a very detailed trust and succession plan for his beloved franchise. His daughter Jeanie Buss would be the team’s governor, and his son Jim Buss would run basketball operations. If there was an issue, Jeanie had the ultimate power.

In 2017, after the Lakers missed the playoffs for a fifth straight year and were floundering as an organization, Jeanie used that power to oust Jim and bring in a new front office (Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, of which only Pelinka remains). Recently, Jeanie appeared on the “Daddy Issues with Joe Buck and Oliver Hudson” podcast and laid out the philosophy behind removing her brother. (Hat tip Lakers Nation)

“When my brother wasn’t going with the way my dad did things, it was a little distressing for me…

“You’re down and losing, and then my brother was changing coaches every 18 months. Sometimes you have to make coaching changes, I get that. But when you go from a coach like Mike Brown, whose emphasis was defense, to a coach like Mike D’Antoni, who really doesn’t worry so much about defense, that’s two different rosters that you need. Then the outside world thinks, ‘They don’t know what direction they’re going in.’

“You should be able to see a pathway as you hire a coach, you give him the players for his style of basketball and you make decisions that follow ones before it. You follow the path and what the person is thinking. But I couldn’t see what was going on, where he was trying to go and what our identity was going to be as a team.”

The path was clearer with Magic and Pelinka because they quickly landed LeBron James as a free agent (how much they had to do with LeBron’s decision is up for debate). The Lakers instantly became a win-now team and, a year later, traded a lot of the young players and picks to put Anthony Davis next to LeBron. The result has been the team with the best record in the West heading into the playoffs (whatever they look like).

Jim Buss swung and missed plenty, but he had a few hits as well. From the outside looking in, the biggest challenge seemed to be he operated with a mindset of “Laker exceptionalism” — that the very best players would always flock to the Lakers because they are the Lakers. The NBA doesn’t work that way anymore. No doubt, the Lakers have advantages few franchises can match. But from Jerry Buss to Jerry West and Mitch Kupchak, all through the Lakers’ successful runs, they didn’t approach things with a mindset of exceptionalism. The Lakers’ front office was bold, but it was grounded and smart — they identified and developed talent, they always had a strong core, and they had strong relationships with players. It wasn’t exceptionalism, it was hard work.

On top of that, Jim had become the scapegoat of Lakers’ fans, the focus of their blame for the years not in the playoffs. Fair or not, it became a public relations issue, not just a management issue.

Jeanie made the right move. And it may even lead to another ring soon.

Damian Lillard: I won’t play if Trail Blazers have no shot at playoffs

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Most players on lottery-bound teams reportedly prefer to be finished rather than return as the NBA attempts to finish its season amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Someone finally put his name behind that sentiment.

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

“If we come back and they’re just like, ‘We’re adding a few games to finish the regular season,’ and they’re throwing us out there for meaningless games and we don’t have a true opportunity to get into the playoffs, I’m going to be with my team because I’m a part of the team. But I’m not going to be participating. I’m telling you that right now. And you can put that [expletive] in there,” Lillard told Yahoo Sports on Tuesday morning via phone.

I do feel like if we do come back and our mind is right, we can beat anyone. It’s going to be hard to get going with no fans, you’ve been off all this time and some people are just ready for summer like, ‘[Expletive] it, I haven’t played in a long time and the season is basically over to me. Do I really care like I cared before?’ It’s going to be a lot of those factors going on and that presents a lot of room for a team to sneak some [expletive]. Like, really mess around and knock some teams off and then, ‘Oh, they’re in the Western Conference finals.’ It’s room for that with this situation. So the fact that it’s possible and we wouldn’t get an opportunity at that, that’s weak to me. I ain’t getting no younger.”

In ninth place, Portland is 3.5 games behind the eighth-place Grizzlies. The Trail Blazers might still have a chance to reach the playoffs. It depends on the NBA’s format for resumption.

There’s consideration to bringing back only teams with a postseason chance, anyway. But there’s also talk of all 30 teams playing in order to fulfill local TV contracts.

Lillard is a tremendous leader. If he doesn’t play, that would cast such a negative feeling onto his Portland teammates – and beyond. Lillard’s voice could affect how the entire league handles its return.

With a super-max extension already signed, Lillard has the luxury of being able to afford risking his paycheck by not playing. Not everyone can do that. There are major complications in determining how much money, if any, non-returning players should earn.

This also gets into an issue even in normal times: There are too many games late in the season involving at least one team incentivized to lose. The Trail Blazers have made the playoffs every season after Lillard’s rookie year. He has never had to worry about this since becoming a star. But players and teams annually grapple with games that, at best, don’t really matter. It creates a horrible product.

The concern is just magnified now because of the heightened risk of playing.

The NBA should listen to Lillard’s apprehension, realize he’s not alone and take it seriously. Then, whenever normal play resumes, the league should also realize this type of situation comes up – admittedly, with lower stakes – every year.

Gary Payton was ‘hot’ about Michael Jordan laughing at The Glove, cooled off

Chicago Bulls guard Michael Jordan and Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton
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Michael Jordan bothered plenty of former Bulls teammates – including Scottie Pippen, Horace Grant and Craig Hodges – with “The Last Dance.”

Former Seattle SuperSonics guard Gary Payton was more forgiving.

In the documentary, Payton described how his defense bothered Jordan during the 1996 NBA Finals – a clip played for Jordan to react. Jordan laughed and replied derisively: “The Glove. I had no problem with The Glove.”

Payton on “The Opinionated 7-Footers:”

You know I was hot. I was thinking about calling him at the time. I’d be like, “Yo, OK, now you want to hindsight and lie in front of everybody? Alright. It’s all good,” I’d say.

But you know what, that’s what I expect out of Mike. Because I would’ve said the same thing. I would’ve said the same thing. You know me, B. I’m not going to admit to nothing, man. I’m not going admit to somebody that D’d me up or did nothing. I’ll always tell you that any time in my career, nobody gave me problems but one person, and that’s John Stockton to me. So, that is just the way the game goes.

I’m not mad at Mike, because Mike didn’t have too many games that nobody D’d him up. He always was dominant.

I’m glad he said that, because I wouldn’t expect nothing else from him. I wouldn’t expect nothing else from Michael Jordan. Michael Jordan is Michael Jordan. That’s why we’re talking about it.

I love this answer!

Payton and Jordan were great trash talkers. Jordan isn’t required to provide an accurate assessment of Payton’s defense. Jordan was just trying to hype up Jordan and diss a rival. Payton understands the game. He doesn’t need to turn it into something bigger.

He’ll just dish it right back with a line about John Stockton being harder to guard than Jordan.