Baseline to Baseline recaps: Bulls beat Heat even without that Rose guy

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What you missed while waiting for Dwight Howard to change his mind again….

Bulls 106, Heat 102: This just shows the different mentalities of these two teams. No Derrick Rose, no Richard Hamilton and yet the Bulls just brought it with fantastic energy. They defended, guys like John Lucas III (24 points) and Jimmy Butler step in in their roles and the Bulls lead the whole way. Joakim Noah was everywhere.

Miami got good games from LeBron James (35 points on 25 shots) and Dwyane Wade (36 points on 26 shots) but after that nothing. They had two bench points for the entire first half. Chris Bosh had 12 points on 15 shots. Nobody else showed passion or brought it.

I’m not going to take much out of this game and apply it to the future Eastern Conference Finals between these two teams. But it does show a difference of mentality toward the regular season.

Knicks 121, Trail Blazers 79: I don’t want to rain on the Knicks parade, but this game really had nothing to do with Mike Woodson replacing Mike D’Antoni and everything to do with the Trail Blazers being this bad. They may have been the worst team in the NBA over the past two weeks, and they were on the second night of a back-to-back with trade rumors hanging over them. It was ugly. J.R. Smith had 23 to lead the Knicks.

We’ll be able to judge the Knicks better after some time for Woodson to put his stamp on this team. Just remember, when he coached the Hawks his offense was nicknamed “iso Joe” for how often they ran Joe Johnson isolations. Carmelo Anthony has to love that.

Spurs 122, Magic 111: Defense? We don’t need no stinkin’ defense. San Antonio put up 63 points in the second half — Tony Parker had 16 in the fourth quarter alone — and the Spurs come from behind to win. Second night of a back-to-back for Orlando, and they may have been distracted by something.

Lakers 107, Hornets 101 (OT): Two overtime games in two nights — Kobe Bryant has played more than 100 minutes in them. But that didn’t slow him in the overtime when he had seven points then and 33 on the night. Andrew Bynum had 25 points, 18 boards. Gritty effort by the Hornets.

Pacers 111, Sixers 94: Philadelphia is a good defensive team. They were not this night. Indy shot 56.6 percent as a team and hit 7 of 17 from three (41.2 percent). Danny Granger led the way with 20 points on 13 shots.

Nets 98, Raptors 94: Do you really think anybody in the Nets organization is celebrating this win right now?

Bucks 115, Cavaliers 105: The Bucks had 38 assists on 46 baskets, they really had great ball movement and had six players in double figures scoring. We’ll see how that goes when Monta Ellis is in the lineup. The Bucks remain tied for eighth in the East with the Knicks but this win puts the two up on the Cavaliers, who are 10th.

Rockets 107, Bobcats 87: Houston led the whole way and this game went pretty much to form. Wonder what these rosters will look like 24 hours from now.

Pistons 124, Kings 112: In a game between two teams capable of mental nights off, the Pistons seemed more engaged. At least their stars did. Rodney Stuckey had 35 points, Greg Monroe had 32, 11 in the fourth quarter.

Clippers 96, Hawks 81: Atlanta did a pretty good job defensively of taking the ball out of Chris Paul’s hands and slowing Blake Griffin (at least for a half). Dare someone else to beat you. Like Mo Williams, who had 25 points. The Hawks on offense never seem to really go at the mismatches they have, they just take what they can get.

Celtics, 105 Warriors 103: Someone needs to explain to the Warriors about how to tank to improve your lottery odds — they played with great energy all night. Boston played up-tempo on the second night of a back-to-back and won. They got 24 from Kevin Garnett, who had 12 in the fourth quarter.

Suns 119, Jazz 111: Our own Brett Pollakoff was at this game and filed this report: Utah put a 20-3 stretch together early that had them ahead by 13 points two minutes into the second quarter. The Suns then dropped a 34-13 run from the second quarter into the third, pushing Phoenix’s lead to eight.

Phoenix held a lead of seven heading into the fourth, and Utah came back to tie it at 91 before the Suns’ starting unit was able to regain control.

The Suns were able to shoot 56.4 percent from the field for the game, including a combined 9-of-16 from three-point range from Channing Frye and Jared Dudley. Steve Nash was ridiculously efficient, finishing with 12 points on just four shots, while dishing out 16 assists. Marcin Gortat bounced back from his dismal effort against Minnesota with 25 points on 10-of-12 shooting.

The Suns weren’t pleased with their defense, but were happy to get the win. They’re now tied with Utah in the standings with a record of 20-22, still three games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff race that’s currently shared by Houston and Dallas.

 

Evan Fournier says that Frank Ntilikina just ‘needs a real opportunity’

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New York Knicks fans haven’t had a lot to cheer for recently. The team traded away Kristaps Porzingis, who is thought to be the franchise cornerstone. Now they move forward with a young core, RJ Barrett, and tons of cap space.

So what does that mean for players who have been around in the Big Apple like Frank Ntilikina?

Based on how Ntilikina played in the 2019 FIBA World Cup for France this year, things might be looking up.

Ntilikina’s statistics weren’t eye-popping, but he was seen as a very solid player in a backcourt that helped propel France to the bronze medal in China.

To that end, fellow countrymen Evan Fournier thinks that all Ntilikina needs is a chance to shine.

Via Twitter:

Ntilikina’s season last year was marred by injuries, and he played in just 43 games. Still, he has the physical tools to be a useful NBA player, and he’s just 21 years old. With the surprisingly low-pressure situation in New York, it’s possible that extended time playing in the World Cup could help aid what Ntilikina is able to produce next season for the Knicks.

Report: Lakers receive DeMarcus Cousins disabled-player exception

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A chance at a championship. LeBron James. Anthony Davis. The Los Angeles market. Great weather.

The Lakers can offer plenty to anyone who gets bought out this season.

Now, the Lakers – who lost DeMarcus Cousins to a torn ACL – get a mechanism to offer post-buyout players more money.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

The exception holds little value presently. It’s worth less than a full-season minimum salary for anyone with more than four years experience.

But minimum-salary and mid-level exceptions decline throughout the season. This exception does not.

So, on March 1, a team with only a minimum slot available can offer a free agent just between $233,459 and $666,546 (depending on the player’s experience level). The Lakers can offer $1.75 million.

This means an NBA-appointed doctor ruled Cousins is “substantially more likely than not” to be out through June 15. Given that prognosis, the Lakers could open a roster spot by waiving Cousins, who’s on a one-year deal and facing a domestic-violence charge. They’d still keep the exception.

If Cousins can return more quickly than expected, he’d be eligible to play, whether or not the Lakers use the exception.

Damian Lillard says he plans to play for Team USA in 2020 Olympics

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Stephen Curry said he wants to play for Team USA in the 2020 Olympics.

He isn’t the only star point guard eager for Tokyo.

Damian Lillard, via James McKern of news.com.au:

“I plan on being a part of that. I plan on playing,” Lillard said

Though neither Curry nor Lillard played for Team USA in this year’s World Cup, there’s a potentially large difference: Curry never agreed to play. Lillard did then withdrew. USA Basketball managing director Jerry Colangelo indicated particular scorn for players who decommitted.

Of course, Colangelo also wants to win. That might require swallowing his pride and accepting players who withdrew this year. He has talked tough in the past about players who didn’t show his desired devotion to USA Basketball. Lillard got cut in 2014 then missed the 2016 Olympics citing injury. It can be difficult to determine which absences Colangelo forgives.

One factor working against Lillard: The Americans’ point guard pool is deep. Curry rates higher. Kemba Walker earned respect by playing in the World Cup. James Harden (who also withdrew from the World Cup) and Kyrie Irving also factor.

I expect Colangelo to operate on a sliding scale: The better the player, the less prior commitment to USA Basketball necessary. Lillard is an excellent player. We’ll see how far that gets him.

And whether he’ll even want to play next year. The reasons for playing – pride of representing your country, prestige marketing opportunities – are more obvious now. The reasons not to play – injury, fatigue, personal commitments – are more likely to emerge closer to the Games.

Losing Kemba Walker would always sting. Hornets made it nearly as painful as possible

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NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

The Hornets faced a miserable choice this summer:

  • Lose not only their by far best player, but the greatest player in franchise and someone with a deep connection to the community
  • Sign a point guard to an expensive contract that will further inhibit an already-strapped team from competing at even a moderate level

Charlotte’s choice? Both.

The Hornets let Kemba Walker leave via free agency and replaced him with Terry Rozier (three years, $56.7 million). That’s a failure, not one of solely this offseason, but a failure nonetheless.

At 29, Walker would’ve likely become a negative value on a long-term deal. But at least he would’ve kept Charlotte more firmly in the Eastern Conference playoff race in the near term – not that on the fringes of that competition is a great place to be. There were reasonable arguments for and against keeping Walker.

But if the Hornets were willing to offer him only $160 million (about $62 million less than his super max), they should have traded him before it got this far. Why did they keep him past last season’s trade deadline? To have him represent Charlotte in the All-Star game there? To make a longshot run at the No. 8 seed? Without knowing exactly what other teams offered, that seems highly likely a mistake.

The Hornets weren’t good enough to make the playoffs with Walker. What makes them think they’ll be good enough with Rozier?

Losing Walker always would’ve invited a year of pain. Charlotte is too capped out, too veteran-laden to pivot in a meaningful way. But at least Bismack Biyombo‘s, Marvin Williams‘ and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist‘s contracts will expire next summer. Nicolas Batum‘s and Cody Zeller‘s will expire the following year.

Now, Rozier is on the books another year after that.

Maybe Rozier, 25, will become a key part of the Hornets’ next successful era. He has the requisite athleticism and has shown flashes of being a good starting point guard. But he’s coming off a down year. That counts, too.

It’s easy to pin Rozier’s struggles on a tough situation behind Kyrie Irving. That surely factored. Still, most players on a starting track would’ve fared better in those circumstances.

Credit Charlotte for creativity. By signing-and-trading Walker to the Celtics for a signed-and-traded Rozier, the Hornets got more spending power. But they probably would’ve been better off with a point guard in the mid-level-exception range like Tomas Satoransky, Delon Wright or Tyus Jones. It’ll take a major jump for Rozier to justify his near-$19 million-per-year salary.

Charlotte isn’t giving him much help. Jeremy Lamb left in free agency. Even though they have enough breathing room under the tax line to use the rest, the Hornets haven’t used their mid-level exception other than sliver for No. 36 pick Cody Martin.

Internal prospects look limited. Charlotte didn’t place anyone on our list of the 50 best players in 5 years. No. 12 pick P.J. Washington probably won’t change the franchise’s arc.

The Hornets didn’t reach this dismal point in one offseason. But this summer worsened the predicament.

Offseason grade: D-