Baseline to Baseline recaps: Miami malaise means another loss

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What you missed while being freaked out by 9-pound Gambian rats….

Knicks 89, Bucks 80: It wasn’t pretty. Actually, it was put-a-bag-over-it ugly. But with this win the Knicks are far more likely to make the playoffs, and it was our game of the night.

Pacers 105, Heat 90: I don’t want to go all Jimmy Carter on you guys, but there is a malaise in Miami.

First off, let’s not take anything away from the Pacers here. Miami came in coasting, the Pacers showed up with their lunch pails. Indiana wanted this more. The game was close through the first half but Paul George hit a three at the halftime buzzer to give the Pacers the lead. Then in the third quarter the Pacers outscored the Heat 29-19 and that is where they earned a win. Danny Granger had 25 points, Darren Collison 20 and the Pacers just outworked the Heat play after play.

Miami is 4-4 in its last 8 and that is certainly not talent. Their offense has been off (just 95.7 points per 100 possessions against the Pacers) as they have slowed it down and gotten away from the “pace and space” system used earlier in the season. They are not executing. Every team suffers lulls, but it is magnified with the Heat. It’s still a month until the playoffs, but the Heat have things they need to figure out.

Pistons 79, Wizards 77: The Wizards seemed to have this one, but they shot 31.5 percent in the final quarter, meanwhile the Pistons made huge runs — 12-1 at one point, 10-4 at another. Rodney Stuckey had 12 of his game-high 24 in the fourth quarter, including the game winner. The Wizards should kick themselves for the missed opportunities.

Celtics 102, Bobcats 95: This was closer than one would expect — credit the Bobcats or blame Celtics depending on your viewpoint. The Bobcats put up 35 on whatever it was the Celtics tried to pass off for defense in the second quarter, and it was a two-point game at the half (favoring Boston). From there on the Boston held on to get the win but never pulled away for the blowout everyone expected. Paul Pierce had 36 points, 10 boards to lead Boston.

Still, a win is a win — this victory tied the Celtics with the 76ers for the lead in the Atlantic Division. With a division crown the Celtics run with the Big Three lasts a little longer.

Jazz 105, Nets 84: Utah played four overtimes the night before, got on a plane, flew to New Jersey and played with far more energy than New Jersey. Paul Millsap had 24 and Al Jefferson 19 as the Jazz pounded the Nets inside and cruised to an easy win.

Nuggets 108, Bulls 91: Chicago pushed out to a first quarter lead but Denver hung around because they hit 5-of-7 threes early on. It stayed close, then the Nuggets went on a 12-0 run to start the second half and they never looked back.

Of late Denver has looked like a team that could fall out of the playoffs in the West, but this was a gutty performance. They did a great job of pressuring the ball on the Bulls pick-and-roll and keeping them out of the paint — they forced the Bulls to be a perimeter team. It is where the Bulls really missed Derrick Rose. C.J. Watson had 17 for the Bulls, Ty Lawson had a great game for the Nuggets and finished with 27.

Magic 117, Raptors 101: Orlando raced out to an early 16 point lead, then Toronto closed the first quarter on an 18-4 run to make you think there might be a game here. Then a second quarter run by the Magic — sparked by Ryan Anderson, who and 9 of his 28 in the quarter — gave the Magic a healthy lead they never relinquished. Toronto is an inconsistent defensive team and the Magic are good enough to exploit it, which is what happened here.

Rockets 113, Kings 106 (OT): The Kings raced out to a 26-10 lead behind a monster night from DeMarcus Cousins (38 points, 14 rebounds), but slow and steady won the race in Houston. The Rockets chipped away at the lead all game, with Patrick Patterson having a big night (24 points off the bench and being a +18 for the game). Just signed Earl Boykins had 10 for the Rockets including four in overtime.

Clippers 97, Hornets 85: Consider this a little payback for last week. The Hornets were without the two players that sparked their upset win last week — Chris Kaman and Jason Smith — and the Clippers pulled away in the second quarter and never looked back. Denver made it close with a 13-0 fourth quarter run, but the game was never in doubt. Chris Paul had 25 points, Blake Griffin 20 for the Clippers.

Griffin’s midrange game is spotty still, so he has gone to getting all his buckets at the rim, where he is a beast. Smart move, he’s very difficult to stop down there. (Yes, eventually he does need to develop a midrange game to fully round out his talents, but when you are as had to stop around the rim as he is then you should get to the rim. He is. That’s smart basketball.)

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.

Report: Nets to buy out Dwight Howard

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The Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets all grew tired of Dwight Howard.

The Nets did it in record time.

After acquiring Howard in a trade from Charlotte yesterday, Brooklyn is moving toward shedding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

In the trade, the Nets dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s $16.72 million salary for 2019-20. Now, they could get a reduction on Howard’s $23,819,725 expiring contract. Brooklyn is doing a great job of unloading bad money.

Next year, the Nets will have their own first-round pick for the first time in six years. Though he has declined considerably from his Hall of Fame peak, Howard can still play some. Brooklyn didn’t need him interfering with its tanking and culture.

Instead, the Nets can focus on developing Jarrett Allen and losing enough to secure the best draft position possible.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Howard surrenders and where he goes. Again, he can still play. But the league is moving away from traditional centers, and he’s high maintenance.

Report: Cavaliers not planning to trade Kevin Love, no matter what LeBron James does

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The Cavaliers spent considerable time bemoaning a Kevin Love trade last summer falling through.

Will they deal him this offseason?

The No. 8 pick and Love are Cleveland’s best assets for upgrading their roster around LeBron James. If LeBron leaves, moving Love could jumpstart a rebuild.

But apparently the Cavs are now projecting attachment to Love, either way.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

The Cavaliers are not actively shopping All-Star forward Kevin Love heading into Thursday’s NBA draft, multiple sources told ESPN on Wednesday. Furthermore, regardless of what decision LeBron James makes about his future in Cleveland, the Cavs have interest in keeping Love next season, sources said.

File this under what else are they supposed to say? Even if the Cavaliers want to trade Love, insisting they won’t maximizes his trade value, forcing other teams to offer enough to pry him away.

But I also believe this accurately reflects the Cavs’ plans.

They just seem so determined to compete if LeBron leaves, and Love is their only other star. Love proved himself worthy of being the best player on a good team with the Timberwolves. (They were playoff quality when he played. They just completely fell apart whenever he sat.) In Cleveland, Love has fluctuated in his ability to bend his game around LeBron. If LeBron leaves, that’d no longer be a problem.

But Love will turn 30 before the season. He has declined out of his athletic peak, and I’d bet against him ever nearing his Minnesota levels again. And the other Cavs stink. It’s hard to see a LeBron-less Cavaliers team, even with Love, competing for the playoffs.

If LeBron stays, keeping Love makes some sense. With his $24,119,025 salary for next season and $25,595,700 player option for the following year, he probably doesn’t hold elite trade value. He doesn’t match up well with the Warriors, but good players who do come at a major cost.

Report: Lakers call meeting to warn employees about tampering

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Magic Johnson got the Lakers fined for tampering while still holding a ceremonial title. Once he actually took over the front office, he really got to work tampering. He got warned for blinking at Paul George on national television. Then – due to general manager Rob Pelinka’s communication with George’s agent and Johnson’s previous warning – the Lakers received one of the largest fines in NBA history. Johnson himself got the Lakers fined for praising Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The league investigated and cleared assistant coach Brian Shaw for tampering with George.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said the Lakers’ previous transgressions have put them under tighter scrutiny.

The Lakers just want this to end.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

Lakers co-owner and governor Jeanie Buss called the meeting, which was led by president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.

Sources said Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka spoke to a large group of team employees, warning them about tampering.

Other employees received written notices on the matter that referenced possible termination as punishment for anyone who does not adhere to NBA rules.

Tampering often takes much more benign forms than a president or general manager recruiting a star player before free agency. It could be an offhand comment by a coach, an overzealous ticket pitch or a speculative article on the team website.

If Johnson’s and Pelinka’s tampering increases the Lakers’ odds of landing a star, that’s just the cost of doing business. If a lower-level staffer tampers, that’s an avoidable mistake.

Really, it’s comical this meeting is even newsworthy, and that’s a product of the Lakers’ previous violations.

But, as they pursue stars, they don’t want to chance the league imposing any additional restrictions.

So, the Lakers, in some ways are right back where they started.