Baseline to Baseline recaps: Turns out LeBron can score a lot

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What you missed while watching Baylor win the national title and thinking Brittney Griner can flat out ball….

Heat 99, Sixers 93: The Heat needed a win and they had LeBron James in a scoring mood — those things go together like Oreos and milk for Miami. The result was James putting up a season high 41 (while Dwyane Wade sat with what officially is a sore knee but he had looked tired lately) and the Heat got a win they needed.

The 76ers led most of the second quarter thanks to Evan Turner’s 11 points in the period (he had 26 for the game), but the Heat opened the second half on a 12-1 run and never looked back. The other key turning point was when Mario Chalmers accidentally poked Andre Iguodala in the eye in the third quarter — Iggy left and did not return. Without his defense, James had 15 of his points in the fourth to keep the game out of reach.

With the win the Heat are 2.5 back of the Bulls for the best record in the East, the Sixers are now 1.5 back of the Celtics for the Atlantic Division crown. Both of them could catch the teams above them, but both will need help.

Pacers 112, Knicks 104: New York led by 15 heading into the fourth quarter then got outscored 40-17 in the final frame and lost. Indiana shot 59 percent in the fourth — Danny Granger had 14 of his 27 in the final frame including some key threes — while the Knicks hit just 35 percent. Tyler Hansbrough had a dozen points in the fourth, Leandro Barbosa six as it was the Pacers’ bench (with Granger) that made the run. Lou Amundson deserves a shoutout too for his efforts — he is one of the best energy off the bench bigs in the game.

Carmelo Anthony had 39 points and played well most of the night — he is so obviously happy being the top dog where the offense must go through him. But this is a potentially soul-crushing loss for the Knicks, we’ll have to see how they bounce back.

Spurs 125, Cavaliers 90: The Spurs did what the Spurs do — they got in the lane (Tony Parker on drives) and either made shots close to the basket or got fouled, then when you adjust they kick out for threes and knock them down. They are an efficient machine. Patty Mills had 20 off the bench to lead six Spurs in double figures. San Antonio’s Danny Green dropped 19 on the team that cut him as some sweet revenge. Cleveland looked like a team playing out the string.

Pistons 102, Magic 95: Once again no Dwight Howard and this time no Ryan Anderson for the Magic. Without Howard to defend him Greg Monroe had 22 points on 11 shots, plus grabbed 11 boards. Glen Davis had 31 trying to balance out the Magic’s offense, but he can’t defend anywhere near like Howard.

Lakers 91, Nets 87: This looked like the Lakers cruising to a win, up 12 entering the fourth quarter. But then Los Angeles went cold, shooting 30 percent in the final frame and scoring just 13 points and letting the Nets come back to tie it. Five of the Lakers fourth quarter points came on late Kobe buckets (including the dagger three) to save the day, but it shouldn’t have come to that if you ask the Lakers. With Andrew Bynum out Pau Gasol had a good game with 22 points and he got 16 of his shots at the rim. Deron Williams had 20 — 10 during the fourth quarter — to lead the Nets.

Grizzlies 98, Warriors 94: Memphis needed a 17-2 run to come back from a dozen down in the fourth quarter and get this win. Memphis outscored Golden State 28-15 in the final frame. Mike Conley was back and had 18 points for Memphis, who also got nine points in the fourth quarter from Dante Cunningham. The on-fire Nate Robinson showed up for the Warriors and had 18 — it’s always entertaining when good Nate is at the party — and David Lee had 22.

Raptors 92, Bobcats 87: Toronto led from the second quarter on but never pulled away because… well, because they’re Toronto. Andrea Bargnani had 30 while DeMar DeRozan had 20 and controlled the second half. Good game from Byron Mullins, who had 20 and 14 for Charlotte.

Suns 109, Kings 100: First things first — DeMarcus Cousins was a full on beast and had 41 points. He helped the Kings erase a 17-point fourth quarter deficit to make a game of it. But there was Steve Nash at the end — he had 18 points and 12 assists and in the final minutes was controlling the game. With the win, the Suns slim playoff hopes stay alive.

 

Report: 76ers trade No. 39 pick to Lakers

AP Photo/Chris Szagola
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The 76ers have too many 2018 draft picks – Nos. 10, 26, 38, 39, 56 and 60.

Philadelphia already has 11 players under contract for next season. Plus, the 76ers have the space to add premier players. There just isn’t room for everyone on the roster.

So, Philadelphia unloaded one of those selections.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is good return for the 76ers, who everyone knew had to trade a draft pick. The rebuilding Bulls could easily land a higher second-round pick than No. 39 next year.

Why do the Lakers want an extra second-rounder this year? Second-round picks don’t count against the cap until signed, and they can always slightly sweeten a trade offer. They’re helpful for a team with big plans and little wiggle room.

Kyle O’Quinn opts out of Knicks contract

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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The Knicks have the No. 8 pick, and tomorrow’s draft will be the most important part of their offseason.

Will they also have cap space to add talent in free agency? That hinges on Enes Kanter‘s player option.

If Kanter opts out, New York will have even more room to operate thanks to Kyle O'Quinn declining his $4,256,250 player option.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Knicks expected this for a while, and they’re probably not disappointed. Steve Mills and Scott Perry want to put their stamp on the franchise. O’Quinn is a leftover from the Phil Jackson era and a reminder of the recent tumult in New York.

O’Quinn’s combination of block percentage (6.1) and defensive-rebounding percentage (27.8) was unmatched last season. He just really struck a nice balance between contesting shots and remaining in position on the glass. He’s also a smooth mid-range shooter with an improved ability to distribute.

How much is that player worth?

It’ll be a tight market, especially for bigs. For his sake, I hope the 28-year-old O’Quinn already has assurances from other teams. He might get a similar salary or, more likely, a larger overall guarantee on a multi-year deal. But it’s also possible he comes out behind by testing free agency.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.