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.

Deron Williams and Jerry Sloan finally buried the hatchet

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Deron Williams or Chris Paul? That was the conversation in the NBA just a decade ago, a conversation that now seems practically ridiculous. I never personally thought it was very close between the two, being an adamant Paul supporter. Now, CP3 is with the Houston Rockets and Williams is out of the league, despite Paul being just 200 days younger than the former Utah Jazz star (but having played more games).

Williams was part of a two-man attack, along with Carlos Boozer, that helped fuel the Jazz during the first decade of this century as they churned through the Western Conference. But Williams played just five-and-a-half seasons in Salt Lake City, traded after a blow-up with former Jazz coach Jerry Sloan.

Things were unsteady between the two during the 2010-11 season, and Sloan famously decided to retire after a game in February of 2011 in which the Jazz lost to the Chicago Bulls. During halftime of that game, there was a disagreement between Sloan and Williams that apparently pushed the legendary head coach to his tipping point.

Sloan retired and Williams was traded on February 23rd.

Now, it appears that the two have at least made amends. In a story of appearing on UtahJazz.com, Williams recently went to Sloan’s house to talk about the divide between the two and what happened some seven years ago.

Via UtahJazz.com:

“He doesn’t forget a lot of things, instances where I pissed him off, things I did to upset him,” Williams said. “He definitely told me about that—and rightfully so. He was great about some other things. It was kind of typical Coach Sloan, really. If you know him, he’s never been one to shy away from telling you the truth and how he feels.”

“Eventually, I think Jerry came around,” [Jazz CEO Greg] Miller said. “He never really said, ‘Let’s put it behind us’ or anything, but maybe in Sloan speak he did.”

“Two strong men said what they needed to say, shook hands and are now moving forward,” [Jazz president Steve] Starks said.

Sloan, 76, is living with Parkinson’s and reportedly not in the best of health. It’s good to hear that Williams was remorseful about how he acted, and that the two great sportsmen were able to come together and at least see each other’s point of view as a sort of armistice.

Masai Ujiri on Kawhi Leonard: ‘He is happy. There is no maintenance with him’

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No doubt there are big expectations for the Toronto Raptors this year after trading franchise cornerstone DeMar DeRozan for disgruntled San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard. Ever an enigma (and coming off of one of the worst-managed exits from a team in recent memory) Leonard has fans in Ontario biting their nails about whether he will return healthy this season, and happy for the next.

According to Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri, Leonard is giving them every indication that he is ready to go heading into the 2018-19 NBA season. Speaking to the media on Tuesday, Ujiri said that Leonard is happy.

Via Sportsnet:

“He is happy. From what everybody has told me he is healthy. He spends a lot of time with our coaches,” said Ujiri. “He went to L.A. to meet our guys out there. He will be here shortly.”

“He is just quiet … that’s his nature. We can’t all be the same kind of people. But he is as engaging as he would want to be and he’s very interesting. There is no maintenance with him. There’s nothing. It’s remarkable … His (focus) is on basketball which is what you want. He is a basketball junkie … once you just start to talk about basketball his eyes change.”

We have heard rumors that Leonard has purchased a home in Toronto instead of merely renting. We’ve also seen photos of Leonard happy and working out with players like Kobe Bryant, nearly even smiling. And Ujiri is doing his part here, trying to ease any sentiment around Leonard.

The PR machine is in sixth gear in Toronto, but you can’t really blame them. It’s the first good public relations move we’ve seen from Leonard’s enclave in more than a year, and it helps bolster the team if things go south.

Do I believe anything that is reported about Leonard anymore? No. Not after last season. Unfortunately, the issue with Leonard remains the fact that we will have to simply sit to wait and see what he chooses to do next year.

Raptors fans, who are dedicated and passionate, should be hoping that they finally make a Finals run this year. Just in case.

Report: 76ers rookie Zhaire Smith expected to return around Christmas

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76ers first-rounder Zhaire Smith suffered a Jones fracture in his left foot last month, leaving plenty of uncertainty about when he’d return.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

The 76ers expect injured rookie Zhaire Smith to be available to play in a game around Christmas, league sources say.

A rookie on a team with legitimate aspirations of deep-playoff advancement, Smith was already unlikely to crack Philadelphia’s rotation this season. All this lost developmental time makes it even less likely.

But the sooner Smith returns, the better for him and Philadelphia. The No. 16 pick impresses with his athleticism and motor, but he needs time to develop his perimeter skills.

Kevin Love launches “Love Fund” to bring more focus to mental health issues

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The NBA is not shying away from the issue of the mental health of its players.

In the wake of All-Stars DeMar DeRozan and Kevin Love coming forward about their mental health challenges, the league and the players’ union combined to tell players to speak out on the issue and take advantage of the services offered.

Kevin Love is doing more than just that, he has formed the Kevin Love Fund to help change the stigma around mental health issues. The fund has partners such as Headspace, with the focus being on prioritizing mental health awareness. He went on the Today Show on NBC to talk about it.

Love has become a leader and spokesman around the issue. Love came forward near the end of last season to talk about his battles with anxiety and depression. That opened the door for others around the NBA to step forward as well, such as Kelly Oubre and Paul Pierce.