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.

 

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns GM: ‘Overwhelming likelihood’ team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.