Baseline to Baseline recaps: Dallas can still close out games

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What you missed while wondering why a man would try to rob a store wearing only chocolate and peanut butter

Mavericks 96, Clippers 92: What do you need to do to win in tight fourth quarters in the NBA? Execute. For example, don’t turn the ball over — the Clippers has seven fourth quarter turnovers. Or, hit your free throws — Blake Griffin was 2-of-9 from the charity stripe on the night. The Clippers look like a team learning what it means to be elite.

Dallas is finding its footing after a slow start this season, went on an 11-1 run in the fourth quarter because this team still knows how to execute late, and held on for a quality win. Dirk Nowitzki looked like his old self on the way to 22 points. That said, the Clippers had a late look at the win — they made a steal and rather than call timeout pushed the ball up court, had the Dallas defense scrambling in transition and the result was a wide open three to win it for Caron Butler — he was 5-of-10 from beyond the arc in this game but this was one of his misses.

Make no mistake by the way, the Clippers are Chris Paul’s team. He’s in control when on the court (which makes it odd that Vinny Del Negro pulled him when the Clippers made a run to take the lead in the third). Paul is the guy who decides their fate late most nights. And that’s not a bad thing.

Heat 114, Bucks 96: This was about as good a LeBron James performance as you are going to see — 35 points on 16-of-21 shooting as he just destroyed Carlos Delfino. Miami stepped up the defensive pressure in the second half and got out and ran — nobody is stopping James or Dwyane Wade (22 points on 14 shots) in the open court. Delfino did have 24 points but Drew Gooden and Brandon Jennings were taken out of their games.

Sixers 98, Bobcats 89: Charlotte made a game of this behind Kemba Walker’s 14 fourth quarter points — a 12-4 Bobcats run made it a 2 point game with 6:30 left. But in the end, the Sixers rebounded behind Lou Williams 10 points in the fourth (23 overall) and handed the Bobcats their 15th straight loss. Good game from Jrue Holiday, especially early, when he was very aggressive and had 11 of his 19 points.

Magic 102, Timberwolves 89: The Magic started to pull away in the second quarter as their defense tightened up and Jameer Nelson began to exploit the fact he was being covered by the even-smaller J.J. Barea. Nelson also did a good job of setting up Ryan Anderson, who had 10 points in the first half and 13 for the game. Then the Magic started the third quarter on a 10-1 run and Jason Richardson got hot (13 in the quarter, 17 for the game). Good win for Orlando on a night Dwight Howard is quiet due to foul trouble (11 points).

Hornets 86, Jazz 80: Second night of a back-to-back for the Jazz and it showed as they fell apart down the stretch. The loss dropped them to 3-8 on the road this season.  The Utah front line could not contain Chris Kaman, who had 27 points and 13 rebounds — numbers that might boost his trade value.

Warriors 102, Suns 96: That makes three wins in a row for the Warriors, who had guys step up all night long. David Lee sparked the third quarter run when Golden State went from 12 down to make this a tight game (Lee had 15 of his 28 points in the third). Nate Robinson and Klay Thompson hit ke threes to extend the Golden State lead midway through the fourth. Then with less than a minute left and the Warriors up three, a loose ball came to Ekpe Udoh, who drove the lane and finsished with authority to basically seal the win. Marcin Gortat had 25 and Channing Frye 18, but it wasn’t enough.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns GM: ‘Overwhelming likelihood’ team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.