Baseline to Baseline recaps: Lin, ‘Melo play together well

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What you missed while stacking 2.5 feet of pancakes

Warriors 106, Suns 104: We have other details, but you really should just click this link to see Monta Ellis’ game winning shot.

Knicks 99, Hawks 82: It was just a second game with everyone healthy on the Knicks, but you could see an improved chemistry. Jeremy Lin had a rough first quarter trying to find the holes in the Hawks defense, but when the Knicks bench came in they led a 15-0 New York run, and from there the Knicks dominated the game (the Hawks made a 19-2 third quarter run, but the Knicks answered quickly with a 9-0 run of their own). Lin had 17 points and 9 assists as he found his groove and made plays. Steve Novak also had 17. Carmelo Anthony had 15 points but took 16 shots to get there. Baron Davis and J.R. Smith are showing some chemistry and that could make the Knicks second unit dangerous.

Thunder 119, Celtics 104: Boston hung tight for half of the first quarter, but a 23-3 run made this a blowout. Without Rajon Rondo (you can’t throw the ball at the ref young man) the Celtics stood no chance and gave up 72 points in the first half. Really, not sure Rondo would have mattered much. Boston did make a 15-4 run behind Ray Allen’s 9 fourth quarter points to cut the lead to six, but the Thunder answered with a 11-2 run of their own and that was the ballgame. Russell Westbrook had 31, Kevin Durant 28 for Oklahoma City. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett led Boston with 23 a piece.

Lakers 96, Mavericks 91: When I think Dallas could be in trouble in the playoffs, it’s games like this that plant that seed in my mind. Pau Gasol had 24 points and nine boards, Andrew Bynum had 19 points and 14 rebounds. And Dallas had no real answer for it. They had Dirk Nowitzki (25 points) and Vince Carter (20) but they miss what Tyson Chandler brings in the paint. The Lakers are playing pretty well of late.

Raptors 103, Pistons 93: Fantastic game from DeMar DeRozan, who had 23 and showed tremendous energy (and following his lead, the Raptors played with great energy). Greg Monroe did drop 30 points in a losing effort.

Hornets 89, Cavaliers 84: Chris Kaman is just a little better at everything than you think he is — he is a good NBA center. Some team is going to trade for him. He had 21 points and 13 boards, and suddenly the Hornets are 4-2 in their last 6.

Timberwolves 100, Jazz 98: When you finish the sentence “The guy I want to take the game winning shot for Minnesota is…” the name Luke Ridnour doesn’t come up all that often. But he had the opening, drove the lane and put up an ugly floater that fell as the red light went on behind the backboard. It capped an 18-point comeback by Minnesota. Paul Millsap had 25 for Utah, Al Jefferson 18 including the sweet face-up jumper over Kevin Love with 7 seconds left to tie it up. J.J. Barea had 22 off the bench for Minnesota.

Pacers 102, Bobcats 88: The Pacers should wear those blue ABA throwbacks every game. Love those. They were the best part of this game.

Kings 115, Wizards 107: Kings had lost the first five games of and East Coast swing but found the energy to have a big fourth quarter — led by Isaiah Thomas who had 10 in the quarter — to get the win. Marcus Thornton also had a big fourth quarter and finished with 22 (as did Tyreke Evans). Jordan Crawford had 32 off the bench for the Wizards, John Wall had 21 (and is still fast end-to-end).

Bulls 110, Bucks 91: There was balance in Chicago — six Bulls were in double figures, led by Carlos Boozer with 20. Joakim Noah had the triple-double with 13 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. The Bucks got behind a little and played like a team thinking about having the weekend off.

Magic 108, Nets 91: Orlando dominated this game behind 20 points and 17 assists. This one was over early. The only hope for the Nets would have been to have Dwight Howard on their side… oh, yea.

Rockets 93, Sixers 87: This is now five losses in a row for the Sixers, who could use the All-Star break to right the ship. The Sixers did get a big tame out of Nikola Vucevic, the rookie led Philly with 18 points. This was a close game but down the stretch Kyle Lowry who twice got in the lane (going to his right) and finished. He had 13 and will be great at the All-Star Game… oh yea, he got snubbed. Luis Scola had 19 to lead r

Clippers 103, Nuggets 95: Was this game played on NBA 2K12? NBA Jam? Sure felt like it. Blake Griffin was in in “boom shakalaka” form. Kenneth Faried was catching half-court lobs from Andre Miller. Jordan Hamilton and DeAndre Jordan were throwing down monster slams. This was close the entire was and tied 91-91, but down the stretch the Clippers had Chris Paul (36 points) and Griffin (27) and the Nuggets (without Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari and Nene) didn’t have someone who could get the buckets they needed.

 

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.

76ers star Ben Simmons leaving bubble for surgery

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Ben Simmons injured his knee, and the 76ers didn’t hide their concerns.

This is serious.

Serena Winters of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Obviously, the surgery itself is a setback. If Simmons becomes healthy enough to return before Philadelphia gets eliminated, he could be required to quarantine in his hotel room – which would limit rehab and training.

And of course it will be difficult for Philadelphia to advance deep into the playoffs without Simmons.

There are even graver concerns beyond this season. Will Simmons now be more susceptible to future injuries? This could derail a budding championship contender with Joel Embiid and Simmons.

Embiid already has long-term health concerns. It was always uncertain how long Philadelphia’s window would remain open despite Embiid and Simmons being so young.

Even next season could be perilous. How long will Simmons take to recover? Next season could be right around the corner (or not). If the 76ers’ outlook looks worse – especially amid the economic downturn caused by coronavirus – they could no longer follow through on their plan to pay the luxury tax. Slashing payroll could further reduce the roster’s effectiveness.

Already, expectations shrink this season without Simmons. Philadelphia appears increasingly likely to land the No. 6 seed and a tough first-round series against the Celtics (rather than a spot in the 4-5 series against the Heat or Pacers).

Will these difficult circumstances give 76ers coach Brett Brown more leeway to keep his job? Or do they just make it more likely the 76ers lose early in the playoffs and fire him?

He has plenty of options for proceeding without Simmons. Simmons was a multi-positional star who spent most of the season at point guard but had been playing power forward in the bubble.

Without Simmons, Al Horford moved back into the starting lineup, and Mike Scott – who had been out with a knee injury – joined the rotation. Glenn Robinson III could also get an expanded role once he’s healthy.

Many sans-Simmons lineups could give Philadelphia more spacing around Embiid, which makes the star center even more dangerous.

But this loss of talent can’t be offset and significantly lowers the 76ers’ ceiling this season and maybe reduces their odds of reaching their ceiling in future seasons.