Baseline to Baseline recaps: Mayo sticks dagger in Thunder

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What you missed while watching Kentucky win the national title they seemed destined to win….

Memphis 94, Oklahoma City 88: Apparently the Thunder are not comfortable on top of my (and everybody’s) power rankings.

This was always a dangerous letdown game for the Thunder — they beat the Heat, Lakers and Bulls in the eight days before and had the Heat coming up again Wednesday. This was the sandwich game, the one you ignored. And you can’t look past a desperate Memphis team in need of a good win. Memphis led much of the second half but you knew the Thunder run was coming. It did and this was close at the end. That’s when O.J. Mayo hit the dagger three with 17 seconds left, then celebrated with Russell Westbrook’s “six shooters in the holster” move. Nice. Mayo finished with 22. Big win for the Grizzlies who now sit fifth in the deep West.

Rockets 99, Bulls 93: The Rockets are not giving up that final playoff spot in the West without a fight. It was a roller coaster of a game with huge swings but a third-quarter 14-1 run by the Rockets tied it then a 17-2 run that spanned the third into the fourth gave Houston the win. Goran Dragic had 21 points to lead Houston.

This is two losses in a row for Chicago, the first time this season that has happened. Richard Hamilton returned and had six early points but mostly looked rusty and had five turnovers (the Bulls had 19, which was one of their problems on the night). Deng had 24 to lead Chicago, which finally looks like it needs Derrick Rose back.

Clippers 94, Mavericks 75: We knew it would take a little while for Blake Griffin and Chris Paul to really develop chemistry on the pick-and-roll. We knew that but we were still impatient. . Now we’re starting to see the fruits of that play, and the rest of the West may want to tremble a little. That play was key for the Clippers. The other guy who was hot was Randy Foye who had 28 points as the weakside outlet knocking down threes. Dallas shot just 39 percent for the game. Part of it was just an off night for Dallas but the Clippers defense deserves some credit, they were running the jump-shooting Mavs off their shots and making them put it on the floor.

Jazz 102, Trail Blazers 97: In a tight game where the Jazz fought back the Trail Blazers had a chance: Down one with 28 seconds left bringing the ball inbounds. Nicolas Batum made the pass to Raymond Felton, who was casual about catching it — Jamal Tinsley jumped in, made the steal, raced to the other end where seconds later Paul Millsap got a dunk that pretty much sealed the win. The lesson here kids — you have to give up position for possession. Or, to be more blunt, go to the ball, Raymond. Good come-from-behind win for the Jazz, who remain one game out of the playoffs in the West.

Bucks 112, Wizards 98: Washington did put up a fight, this was close until midway through the fourth quarter, but the Bucks were deeper — 15 more bench points — and they had Brandon Jennings. Ekpe Udoh also had 15 and 8, he’s been a good pick up for Milwaukee. The Bucks got a win that keeps them just two games out of the playoffs in the East.

Kings 116, Timberwolves 108: Sacramento opened the fourth quarter with an 11-0 run to get the win. Tyreke Evans had 24 points, Jimmer Fredette 19. The big story for the Timberwolves is Luke Ridnour suffered what looked like a nasty sprained ankle — this is a team already without Ricky Rubio. Tough break.

Rudy Gobert says lack of Team USA stars in World Cup will continue

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The 2019 FIBA World Cup is over, and the United States did not medal. It was a disappointing showing for Kemba Walker, Marcus Smart, and Jayson Tatum, who led the U.S. national team in a year in which several stars did not want to participate.

Instead it looks as though players like Stephen Curry and Draymond Green will play next year in the 2020 Olympics in Japan. Meanwhile, what can FIBA do to entice stars to play in their tournament?

There are lots of issues with how the World Cup works, including the wonky qualifying windows and the fact that the Olympics come in short succession. That’s not to say that folks back in the States don’t want the World Cup to be a big deal — USA basketball head Jerry Colangelo has said that he wants the FIBA contest to be a premier event.

But some, like Utah Jazz and French national team big man Rudy Gobert, don’t ever see that happening. Speaking to the New York Times’ Marc Stein, Gobert said that he doesn’t believe players will join in on the FIBA games thanks to how the modern NBA works.

Via NY Times:

“I wish all the best players would come, but it’s never going to happen,” Gobert said of the modern N.B.A. player’s approach in the Load Management Era. “They think about themselves more than anything — and it’s understandable. It’s a business. We all have families to take care of.”

Although FIBA has been around since 1932, it’s not a part of American culture yet and thus the Olympics seem to be what both players and fans care about in comparison. That the U.S. men’s team didn’t come away with the gold doesn’t even seem to be that big of a deal, culturally.

Gobert has the right idea in terms of the reality of the situation. Until respective national team organizations can entice their own players to join in, it’s not clear what the World Cup will mean for basketball fans in North America moving forward. As such, we are unlikely to see a star-studded World Cup Team USA in the near future.

Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young among players attending Rockets’ mini-camp

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The Houston Rockets have potential roster spots open.

With Iman Shumpert turning them down, the Rockets have just nine fully guaranteed contracts right now, plus eight guys on temporary deals. When the season starts, Houston has to have at least 13, and likely will have 14 or 15, players on the roster, even if some of those remain temporary contracts. In an NBA where guaranteed contracts are the norm, leaving very little drama for training camp, the Rockets are an exception.

Which is why a number of veterans — Corey Brewer, Raymond Felton, Nick Young, Thabo Sefolosha among them — are going to Houston’s mini-camp, reports Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Mbah a Moute has since changed his plans and will not show up.

Can Brewer and Felton — at their age — beat out guys such as Isaiah Hartenstein, Michael Frazier, Ben McLemore, and Gary Clark for spots on the Rockets’ roster? I’m not sold that they can (Hartenstein is very likely to make the final roster), but the first step is a good showing at mini-camp, which can lead to a training camp invite.

The Rockets are not a deep team, at this point in the summer they may present the best opportunity for anyone to earn their way into an NBA contract.

James Harden wants to win multiple championships — and he hears the clock ticking

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James Harden has a Hall of Fame resume already: An MVP (and he is convinced he should have won more), six-time All-NBA and seven-time All-Star, a two-time scoring champ (averaging the most points per game since Jordan last season), an assist champ, and a gold medal at the 2012 Olympics. Right now he is the most lethal scoring threat in the game, and while I wouldn’t go as far as Daryl Morey he is undoubtedly one of the best scorers ever. His step-back is unstoppable.

However, there is one thing missing from that resume: A ring.

It’s something that irritates Harden but he cannot just get by himself. He has just turned 30 in the past month and told Howard Beck of Bleacher Report that he can hear the clock ticking, which is why he wants to win right now.

“I still haven’t accomplished half of what I want to accomplish,” he says. “Like, multiple championships. I want to be one of those basketball players that you won’t forget. And obviously, we all remember the Kobes and the Jordans and the D-Wades and all those guys. I want to be in that same conversation, obviously, in championships and all that good stuff, and best shooting guards to ever play the game…

“Of course [a championship] matters to me,” he says. “I’ve been thinking about it maybe the last year-and-a-half, two years. I’m on the right path. You can’t rush winning a title. Some win it early, some win it late. It’s perfect timing. The time is going to happen when the time happens. I’ve just got to be patient, continue to work my butt off, continue to be a great leader, great teammate, and just try to bring as much talent and as much guys that have that same drive that I have. I think we all have it right now.”

The Rockets have been the second-best team in the West — and maybe the second or third best team in the NBA — the past couple of seasons (by the playoffs last season the Rockets were back to that level). That has not been enough when faced with the juggernaut of Golden State, but Harden and company have been knocking on the door for years.

That door is now open. The Warriors, while still good, are not the fearsome force of previous seasons and the West is wide open — and seven teams think they can get through that door first.

Houston believes it should be at the front of that line, and they went and got Russell Westbrook as the latest and greatest superstar pairing of the Harden era. It’s a duo that will bring energy and, at least through mid-April, a lot of wins.

But there are questions: Can isolation players James Harden and Russell Westbrook strike a balance (especially in the playoffs when they will share the court more)? Can this team defend well enough with Harden and Westbrook on the court at the same time? Do the Rockets have enough depth to contend?

That’s a lot of questions, but every team in the West has questions, which is what makes this season so compelling.

Just don’t doubt for a second that Harden wants it and wants it badly. That alone, however, will not be enough.

Kevin Durant reverses course on championship: ‘Every day I woke up, I just felt so good about myself, so good about life’

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Following his first NBA title, Kevin Durant said, “After winning that championship (last season), I learned that much hadn’t changed. I thought it would fill a certain [void]. It didn’t.”

How does Durant now reflect on that time with the Warriors?

Durant, via J.R. Moehringer of the Wall Street Journal:

“It’s very rare in our lives when we envision and picture something and it comes together the perfect way you envision it. [Winning a title] was the only time in my life that happened, and that summer was the most exhilarating time. Every day I woke up I just felt so good about myself, so good about life.… That was a defining moment in my life—not just my basketball life.”

It’s difficult to reconcile those two quotes. I’d love to hear Durant eventually explain.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he didn’t relish the championship aftermath as much he initially expected but, looking back, now realizes how much he actually enjoyed it. The end of his time with Golden State wasn’t totally pleasant. That might have provided perspective on the better times. Or maybe the difference is simply his mood on the day of each interview.

Durant is continuing to try to find himself while in the public eye. That isn’t easy, and it’ll lead to contradictions like this along the way. I appreciate his openness, even when he’s still difficult to understand.