Baseline to Baseline recaps: Night of the living game-winning shot

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What you missed while realizing you figured out who is going to win the Darwin Award this year….

Sixers 103, Celtics 71: This battle for the top spot in the Atlantic division — and the four seed at least in the playoffs, allowing a team to avoid Miami and Chicago in the first round — was our game of the night. Although it wasn’t much of a game.

Wizards 106, Lakers 101: Lakers fans aren’t just reaching for the panic button, they are pounding it.

Los Angeles was in control of this one, coming out with renewed energy after an ugly loss in Detroit Tuesday. They pulled away in the second quarter with everyone contributing — Steve Blake the shooter came in and got 6 assists and no turnovers. Oh, that Kobe Bryant guy was pretty good, too, he had 14 in the first quarter and 20 for the half. Early in third the Lakers were up 21 and cruising.

But a 22-4 third quarter run changed everything. It was one sparked not by the Wizards stars (John Wall was awful, as Mike Prada at SBN noted, length bothers him and the Lakers are nothing if not long). No it was Nick Young and guys like Shelvin Mack, Trevor Booker and even Kevin Seraphin who dominated the Lakers bench. Mike Brown tried to ride Kobe Bryant but was 1-for-10 in the fourth quarter. Kobe had 30 points for the game but was 9-of-31 shooting to get there. In an age-old story Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol combined for 38 points on 12-of-18 shooting but the Lakers didn’t feed them enough, especially when things got tight.

From this, we bring you the funniest play of the night:

Bulls 106, Bucks 104: This game was pretty close the entire way, with Ersan Ilyasova keeping the Bucks within arms reach thanks to his 32, plus Drew Gooden had 16 in the first quarter and finished with 27. But really, all we need to do is show you the last two of Derrick Rose’s 30.

Nets 101, Clippers 100: Yes, the Nets won this on Jordan Farmar’s three in the final seconds, but they deserved this win — New Jersey led most of the way. If the Clippers won this they would have stolen it behind a great hustling effort from Blake Griffin (28 points, 17 rebounds, the Nets had nobody who could contain him). The Clippers defensive rotations were poor all night long so it’s fitting nobody rotated out on Farmar for the game winner. The Clippers are still learning how to be an elite team, about bringing effort every night on the road. Deron Williams had 21, MarShon Brooks 19.

Heat 89, Hawks 86: With the game on the line in a close, playoff-style game Wednesday night Dwyane Wade passed — twice to Udonis Haslem and once to Chris Bosh, all in the final 1:10. They each hit their shots and the Heat got the win. All of which is to say that the Heat are what they are — not a team of guys playing hero ball, rather a team of guys trying to make smart basketball plays. It gets them a lot of wins. Joe Johnson was out for the Hawks with his knee still bothering him.

Timberwolves 106, Trail Blazers 94: Minnesota’s win combined with a Houston loss moves Minny into the eighth playoff spot in the West. Making the postseason would be a huge accomplishment. Portland lived by Raymond Felton and the jumper in the first half and died by it when they shot 35 percent in the third quarter. Kevin Love had 29, Luke Ridnour took advantage of unimpressive Blazers perimeter defense for 22.

Raptors 116, Rockets 98: Houston falls out of the eighth spot in the West with the loss. This was a schedule makers loss — the Rockets just faded in the fourth quarter on the second night of a road back-to-back. Toronto went on a 25-5 run in the fourth to seal the win.

Jazz 99, Bobcats 93: You didn’t really expect a winning streak for Charlotte, did you? Utah took control of this game in the third and only a too-late 8-0 run by Charlotte made it look close. Al Jefferson had 31 for Utah; Corey Maggette had 25 for Charlotte.

Thunder 115, Suns 104: Another day, another come-from-behind win for Oklahoma City. Thanks to a dozen first quarter points from Marcin Gorat the Suns took control early and led by as many as 16 in the third. But midway through that quarter the Thunder went on a 16-4 run, and we had a ballgame. In the fourth it was what you expect from the Thunder — Kevin Durant with 12, Russell Westbrook with 9 and James Harden finished with 8.

Spurs 118, Knicks 115: The Spurs are Tony Parker’s team right now, he had 32 points and is playing the best of the San Antonio big three — the Spurs are following his lead. He is playing with incredible confidence. On the flip side, the Knicks are no longer Jeremy Lin’s team — they are Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire’s — and it shows in his game (Lin had 20 points, but 8 came in garbage time at the end). No Tyson Chandler so the Spurs owned the paint all night, Tim Duncan had 17. Anthony had 27 for the Knicks but was his black hole self, stopping the ball on offense all night long.

Cavaliers 100, Nuggets 98: Kyrie Irving, ladies and gentlemen. He had 10 of the Cavaliers final 12 points and seemed to get into the lane with ease all night long. It was not exactly Denver’s finest defensive performance of the year. Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo could not stay in front of him all night long. Antawn Jamison dropped 33 on Denver also. I’m guessing George Karl swore a lot after this one.

Grizzlies 110, Warriors 92: Good play inside beats good play outside. Not that Memphis doesn’t have some perimeter players — Rudy Gay had 10 in the fourth quarter and 26 overall to lead the Griz — but Marc Gasol is the kind of big man Golden State needs. Memphis took control of this game with an 11-0 run in the third and never looked back.

Kings 99, Hornets 98: Kings fans had been celebrating the new arena deal, not much on the court of late, they needed a win to pump up the crowd. They got one thanks to Isaiah Thomas’ defense.

Kings now sole owners of second-longest playoff drought in NBA history

Sacramento Kings
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The Kings’ 2018-19 season ended with optimism.

Facing a meager over/under of 25.5 wins, Sacramento surged to 39 wins – its best record in 13 years. Under Dave Joerger, the Kings played a fast and fun style. De'Aaron Fox made historic improvements. Buddy Hield broke out. Several other young players showed promise.

Sure, the Kings missed the playoffs for a 13th straight season – matching the second-longest playoff drought in NBA history. But they were on track to end the skid soon enough.

Except, of course that’s not how it went in Sacramento.

The Kings were eliminated from the postseason chase yesterday, ensuring a 14th straight season outside the playoffs. That alone is now NBA’s the second-longest-ever postseason drought, breaking a tie with the Timberwolves (2005-17). Only the Buffalo Braves/San Diego/Los Angeles Clippers’ 15-year non-playoff streak (1977-91) is longer.

Here are the longest postseason droughts in NBA history:

The Suns could still reach 10 straight years outside the playoffs, but they’re still in the race this season.

The Kings might not be far from climbing this list, either.

Their future looks far bleaker than a year ago. Sacramento fired Joerger to hire Luke Walton, who has underwhelmed. Buddy Hield signed a lucrative contract extension then had a rough season. Fox progressed, though he didn’t make the desired leap into stardom. Other young players had ups and downs. Luka Doncic casts an even larger shadow from Dallas. The Kings’ organizational turmoil continues.

This was a feel-bad season in Sacramento, anyway. All the preceding losing only adds to the misery.

The Kings enter next season with one last chance to avoid the longest playoff drought in NBA history, and they do have a chance. But there’s only pessimism now.

Damian Lillard throws pass away from basket, off Tobias Harris, into hoop (video)

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Damian Lillard was making everything yesterday.

EVERYTHING.

Lillard, who scored 51 points in the Trail Blazers’ win over the 76ers, even got a bucket on this wild pass off Tobias Harris.

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better to be both.

LeBron James admits he’s still adjusting to playing without fans

LeBron James
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LeBron James has played to overflowing gyms and arenas since he was a sophomore in high school. There is always a crowd around him to watch him play. Or a massive crowd of reporters around him after the game. Or throngs of fans when he travels through China on a shoe tour. LeBron has always packed the house.

Until now. There are no crowds, no fans at the NBA’s restart at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. It’s now games in a stripped-down, made-for-television gym. And LeBron admitted to reporters after the latest Lakers’ loss he is still adjusting. Via Mark Medina of the USA Today.

“I am getting more and more used to being out there. It’s a very weird dynamic. I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time,” James said following the Lakers’ 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. “It’s been a very long time since no one has been watching me play the game. I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in…

“I’m getting more and more comfortable playing in an empty gym,” James said. “Just having the backdrop here is a lot different from playing in a high school gym or a college arena where you’re playing in the summer time, whatever the case may be. It’s very dark, extremely dark. You can literally hear a feather hit the ground. I’m just getting more and more comfortable playing with my game here in the bubble.”

LeBron has still been very good in the bubble — 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists a game — but he has not been quite the otherworldly, MVP candidate level player he was before the shutdown. His true shooting percentage of 51.9 at the restart is down from 57.7 before the break (and it has been below the league average since the restart). The Laker offense overall has scored less than a point per possession in the bubble and has been the worst offense in Orlando (leading to a 2-4 record so far). It’s not all LeBron, the Lakers as a team have struggled to get their pre-hiatus traction back, the chemistry is not quite right. But we know who leads this team.

LeBron and company also know they need to find that rhythm soon. They will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and face and eight seed — likely Portland or Memphis — that had to battle its way into the postseason. That team, whoever it is, will come in battle-tested and motivated.

The fans will not be there to pick up LeBron and the Lakers.

“I definitely love playing in front of the fans. The fans are what make the game,” James said. “Without the fans, I wouldn’t be who I am today. To all the fans out there that come watch me play, I miss you guys and hopefully someday I can get back to that interaction.”

Someday we all hope for that.

In the short term, LeBron and the Lakers need to find their groove in a fanless world.

 

Three Things to Know: Turn out the lights, the party’s over for New Orleans

Pelicans out of playoffs
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Turn out the lights, the party’s over for New Orleans…

Phoenix, on the other hand, is still trying to crash that party.

Which is not how anyone saw this going (except maybe Monty Williams). Before players flew to Orlando to be part of the NBA’s restart project, it seemed the dream of hoop fans everywhere (not to mention television executives) was LeBron James vs. Zion Williamson in the first round of the playoffs.

That dream is dead. Turn out the lights on the LeBron/Zion party.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings were casualties over the weekend in the West playoff chase — or, more accurately, the race to get into the play-in series to earn the eighth seed and a shot at the Lakers. Both were mathematically eliminated Sunday.

LeBron will still be there in that first round. However, Zion and the Pelicans’ chances of meeting him were essentially done after they lost to the Spurs on Sunday, 122-113. Maybe they were done when Zion had to leave the bubble for family reasons. The Pelicans got good play from J.J. Redick (31 points Sunday), who saw his 13-season playoff streak end, but overall the offense struggled and was inconsistent. New Orleans will play out the string of two more games in the bubble then spend an offseason wondering how to make a talented roster fit together better — and how to keep Zion on the court.

There will be a play-in series in the West, and it’s likely between Portland and Memphis.

Phoenix, however, has become the darling of the bubble having gone 5-0 and they want to crash that party. Whether they get in the door or not will be decided in the next two days. Monday the Suns take on the dangerous Oklahoma City Thunder and Chris Paul, then on Tuesday they face the shorthanded 76ers. For Phoenix, despite the 5-0 start, those are virtually must-win games. As well as they played, they have to make up for an unimpressive first 65 games and they have a lot of work to do.

The playoff party out West is just getting started. Zion Williamson just didn’t get an invite.

2) Joel Embiid‘s ankle injury leaves 76ers with more questions than answers

When Ben Simmons had to leave the bubble for knee surgery, it meant Joel Embiid had even more weight to carry for Philadelphia.

Now he appears to be joining Simmons in watching Sixers games on television — Embiid left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and did not return.

There are no details as of this writing on Embiid’s condition and his potential return. Philadelphia has two more seeding games left — their next one is Tuesday against the red-hot Suns — before the playoffs start next week.

Should Philly sit Embiid until the playoffs start next week? The condition of Embiid’s ankle plays the biggest role in that answer, but a Sixers team that has not been able to get healthy may put the focus on that rather than trying to pass the Pacers or Heat in the standings.

This is a Philadelphia team that coach Brett Brown said preseason he thought could get the No. 1 seed in the East. Instead — in part due to injuries but maybe in larger part due to a flawed roster construction by GM Elton Brand that focused on size and defense over shooting — they likely enter the postseason as a stumbling sixth seed. A dangerous team on paper that never came together on the court.

How to correct that for next season, and how to get healthy and keep their stars on the court, are looming big questions for Philly.

For now, the question is, “when does Embiid return?

3) How’s that for a bounce-back game: Damian Lillard drops 51

Portland needed a win to keep itself in the driver’s seat to make the play-in series in the West. Damian Lillard needed a bounce-back game after a rough outing against the Clippers the day before.

How about 51 points from Lillard? That should cover it.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” Lillard told reporters after the game. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.'”

It didn’t happen. Portland sits as the nine seed in the West with games against Dallas and Brooklyn left on the schedule. For Lillard and company it’s simple — win those and they are in the play-in series, and from there they have a good shot at making the playoffs. Lose a game and it opens the door for the Spurs or Suns.

Lillard doesn’t sound like a guy who is going to let that happen.