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: Pacers to target Ricky Rubio, also talking to Pelicans about No. 4 pick

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Indiana would have been a tough out come the East playoffs, that is until Victor Oladipo went down (ruptured right quadriceps tendon). They still believe with a healthy Oladipo this coming season they can move into the upper echelon of the East. But they need some roster upgrades.

Specifically at the point guard spot. D'Angelo Russell‘s name has come up, but target, but Ricky Rubio seems to be their top target, reports Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer.

Unrestricted free-agent point guard Ricky Rubio will be a top target of the Pacers, according to multiple league sources. Rubio would replace point guards Darren Collison and Cory Joseph—both unrestricted free agents—and share the backcourt with Victor Oladipo, who ruptured his right quadriceps tendon this past season. Rubio is a worse shooter than Collison and Joseph, but would provide a significant defensive and playmaking upgrade to better complement Oladipo’s score-first style.

Rubio gets a bad rap from some fans because he’s not a great shooter. However, he’s developed into a good floor general who runs a team well, can defend his position, and still throws some stunning passes. He could help a lot of teams, the Pacers being one.

The Pacers also might try to move up in the draft.

The Pacers have also discussed a trade with the Pelicans for the no. 4 pick in the draft, according to league sources.

You could remove the phrase “the Pacers” from that last sentence and put 27 team names in there and it would be accurate. The Pelicans have shopped that pick all over the league.

One way or another, expect the Pacers to be aggressive this summer. They are a team that believes they are one player away and they have both the cap space and trade assets to get something done. They want to open their championship window.

 

Report: Chris Paul demanded trade after Rockets’ second round loss

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Things apparently aren’t as bad as they have seemed recently between James Harden and Chris Paul.

They’re worse.

Paul demanded a trade after the Rockets’ playoff exit because that relationship couldn’t be salvaged, Vincent Goodwill of Yahoo Sports reports.

Paul went to Rockets management and demanded a trade, and Harden issued a “him or me” edict following the Rockets’ second-round loss to the Golden State Warriors, sources said.

The backcourt mates went nearly two months without speaking to each other during the season, sources said, creating a tenuous environment for teammates and everyone involved with the franchise…

“There’s no respect at all, on either side,” a source told Yahoo Sports. “They need to get away from one another. Chris doesn’t respect James’ standing in the league, and James doesn’t respect the work Chris has put in to this point.”

Rockets GM Daryl Morey denied that Paul is available in an interview on the Dan Patrick Show today.

“We were the best team down the stretch. We’ve spent a lot of time putting together two superstars. We’re trying to add a third,” Morey said. “Going backward from that doesn’t make a lot of sense to us.”

Paul is not easy to play with, just ask Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan. Paul is one of the highest IQ and most competitive players in the league, but that leads him to be relentless on teammates, continually pushing and correcting them, and that led to tension in Los Angeles.

Harden, who is the reigning MVP and finished second two of the previous three years (and that likely will be three-of-four after this year’s results are released), is a guy who is not going to put up with that.

At the heart of the issue is style: James Harden dominates the ball and likes to work in isolation, Chris Paul prefers a more fluid offense. Coach Mike D’Antoni, the guy who does not have a contract beyond next season (extension talks faltered), gives a lot of leeway to Harden. Paul, among other players, complained to D’Antoni about that. Nothing changed.

Still, it’s not going to be easy to split this duo up.

As a tandem they have made the Rockets the second best team in the West for two years running, and if not for CP3’s hamstring injury in 2018 they might both have rings. Do the injuries to Kevin Durant (who might leave the Warriors anyway) and Klay Thompson change their perception and approach to this relationship? Together they are a serious threat to win a title and they know it.

There’s also the practical matter: Trading Paul is going to be very difficult and might require the Rockets to throw a sweetener (a pick or young player) in the deal to get it done. It’s not that CP3 is terrible — he averaged 15.6 points and 8.2 assists per game last season, and he remains the best floor general in the game — but he is 34-years-old, lost a step last season, has an injury history (he played 58 games last season), and most importantly is owed $124 million fully guaranteed over the next three seasons. That’s a lot of money to take on.

The Rockets are rumored to have talked to teams seeking a point guard (Phoenix, for example) but sources have said there has been little traction on any deal. And again, Morey denied he was available (which he would do whether or not that was true).

Just as the door to the Finals through the West swings wide open, the Rockets are stumbling and may not be able to walk through it.

Report: Knicks, who have No. 3 pick, to work out Darius Garland

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Duke forward R.J. Barrett is the consensus No. 3 prospect in the upcoming NBA draft. He wants to join the Knicks. The Knicks have the No. 3 pick.

Perfect match?

Maybe not.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

Maybe this is just New York doing its due diligence. The Knicks could also be trying to drum up trade interest among teams that want Garland.

But this feels a little like 2015, when Jahlil Okafor was the consensus No. 2 prospect for most of the pre-draft process but D'Angelo Russell emerged late as the Lakers’ No. 2 pick.

Barrett is a flawed prospect. He didn’t hit jumpers efficiently at Duke. His decision-making is suspect. He’s too left-handed dominant. He rarely uses his defensive tools. There’s a lot to like, to be sure. Barrett has nice size, athleticism and physicality. He’s a good ball-handler and playmaker. He seems built for a leading role.

But it wouldn’t shock me if a team likes Garland more. The point guard is a knockdown shooter with the ball-handling and footwork to get that shot off. He needs work as a distributor and lacks Barrett’s defensive potential.

Garland might not be as good as Barrett right now. But Garland’s path to success might be a little more projectable.

Harrison Barnes declining $25,102,512 player option with Kings

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Harrison Barnes‘ salary was so high, he became a talking point in the debate about WNBA salaries.

But he’s so confident he’ll get a better deal, he’s leaving $25,102,512 on the table with the Kings.

James Ham of NBC Sports California:

If they renounce all their free agents, the Kings project to have about $60 million in cap space – likely more than they know what do with.

They could re-sign Barnes. By trading for him last year, they indicated they value him more than the rest of the league does.

Even if he settles for a lower salary next season than his player option called for, this could be the 27-year-old Barnes’ opportunity to secure a long-term deal. He’s a solid outside shooter and, even if he’s better at power forward, capable of playing small forward in a league thirsty for wings.

Sacramento could definitely use a player like him.

Can the Kings lure someone better, either this summer or – if they keep their books clean – a future year? Unless way overpaid, free agents have tended to avoid Sacramento. But the rapidly improving De'Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield are leading a turnaround.

Barnes’ free agency could be a good litmus test for the Kings’ reputation now. Can they convince him to continue his role on a rising team? Will they have to pay a premium to keep him? Or does he just want to leave?