Baseline to Baseline recaps: Close games and playoff races

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Knicks 111, Bucks 107: In a must-win game for both teams, the Knicks got the stops and gutted out a win that likely sends them to the playoffs.

Clippers 100, Thunder 98: On the ESPN studio show, injured Clippers guard Chauncey Billups said the key to beating the Thunder in Oklahoma City is just to keep it close, hang around and turn it over to the “liitle guy” Chris Paul at the end. The Clippers did that, they got a fantastic all-around game from Blake Griffin (16 points, 12 boards and 7 assits) and some good play off the bench from Kevin Martin. They kept it close, then at the end CP3 did his thing. (Then Durant missed a game-winning three.)

When the Thunder get going and use their defense to create offense, they can beat anyone. But they were not consistent with it this game (there was plenty of lapses) and they hurt themselves with untimely turnovers. They feel vulnerable in ways a contender should not.

Lakers 98, Spurs 84: You can’t read too much into one regular game. So be careful here. But the Spurs got bumped from the playoffs last year because they could not contain the front like of the Grizzlies (and yes, Manu Ginobili was out). Then in the offseason they Spurs did not address the front line issues.

Enter Andrew Bynum and the Los Angeles Lakers Wednesday. Bynum grabbed 30 rebounds. Thirty. He had 16 points, Pau Gasol had 21 and Metta World Peace had 26 (which is a bit flukey). The Lakers owned the Spurs inside and won without Kobe Bryant on the floor. It’s one regular season game, but it should be a concern for the Spurs.

Grizzlies 104, Suns 93: An 14-1 Suns run early in the fourth quarter made it look like this was going to be a game to the end, but Memphis took control behind Rudy Gay (Grant Hill was not playing and nobody else could check him) and Dante Cunningham. Gay finished with 32 points. Marcin Gortat had 19 for the Suns.

With the Suns loss and a Jazz win the Suns fall to the 10 seed, two games back of Houston in the eight seed. That is going to be hard to make up.

Jazz 103, Rockets 91: Huge road win for the Jazz who took the lead in the second quarter and withstood every Rockets rally all game long. Gordon Hayward was a machine, with 29 points on 14 shots, plus he chipped in six assists. Paul Millsap is still playing the three and it works, he had 21. Kyle Lowry led a fourth-quarter charge by the Rockets, but it was too little, to late. With the win the Jazz move into the nine seed, just 1.5 games back of the eight seed Rockets.

Celtics 88, Hawks 86 (OT): On the second night of a back-to-back, Boston was able to control the tempo — the Hawks wanted to run the Celtics out of the building but never really got to. Boston (and by that we mean Kevin Garnett) also traditionally is able to hold Josh Smith in check, and while he ended up with 20 points and 11 boards he did not score in the fourth quarter or overtime. Meanwhile, Rondo was dishing with 20 assists on his way to a triple-double (despite a 3-for-16 shooting night). Boston gutted out a tough win a night after beating the Heat, they will take it. Plus, just great to see Mickael Pietrus back on the court.

Sixers 93, Raptors 75: Philly continues to secure their playoff spot thanks to an easy schedule down the stretch (save for a couple games against the Pacers coming up). This game was close until a 17-4 fourth quarter run by the Sixers. Thaddeus Young led the 76ers with 17 points, and six boards.

Pacers 104, Cavaliers 98 (OT): It took a late fourth quarter 11-1 run by the Pacers just to force overtime, a run sparked by George Hill who had 8 in the quarter (and 17 for the game). That run was almost enough to win it, until Lester Hudson continued his amazing play of late with a game-tying floater to force overtime. Danny Granger was the best player in OT with a clutch three, scoring 5 of his 23 points coming in the bonus period.

Nuggets 113, Timberwolves 107: Minnesota had to play the end of his game without Kevin Love, who was taken to the hospital with a concussion. Denver owned the first half of this game and was up 21 at the break, But then a 27-8 Minnesota run made it a game again — a run sparked by Anthony Randolph’s 19 second half points. Martell Webster tied the game at 105-105 with a key three, but then Minnesota fell asleep and allowed Arron Aflalo to score a transition layup off the inbounds and that was the momentum Denver needed to win.

Hornets 105, Kings 93: New Orleans took control with a 17-3 fourth-quarter run and never looked back. All you really need to know is Jason Smith scored 22 and outplayed DeMarcus Cousins.

Trail Blazers 118, Warriors 110: A 10-0 Warriors run to open the fourth made this a game, but Portland closed the game on their own 7-0 run to secure the win. Jamal Crawford had 34 and looked like his old self for the Blazers.

Warriors’ reportedly showing no urgency to trade D’Angelo Russell

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It’s been the same story since Golden State did a sign-and-trade with Brooklyn last summer that brought them back D'Angelo Russell on a new max contract.

Around the league, executives with other teams expect the Warriors to trade Russell, questioning how he fits long-term with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Golden State itself, however, has pushed back on the idea it just got Russell to trade him and they want to see if a three-guard rotation can work.

Come Dec. 15, Russell — and most players signed this summer — become eligible to be traded. The Warriors still appear to be in no rush, reports Sean Deveney of Heavy.com.

“If it is something that they’re going to do quickly, like before the end of this month, I wouldn’t say they’re pushing for it,” one general manager said. “Maybe they have a deal in mind, maybe they’re sitting on something and laying low. But I’d be surprised. That’s not how they’d approach it, I’d think. You want to create a market if you are going to trade a player like him, you want to pit teams against each other, drive up the price. You don’t want to lock into one deal. But the market thing, that’s not really happening yet. They’re not pushing the market for him.”

What is the motivation for Golden State to move Russell now, or at the February trade deadline, as opposed to next June around the draft? Or next July? There isn’t, unless some team approaches them with a Godfather offer. This season is a lost cause for the Warriors, and next season they are going to be looking for veterans to help them win now more than rookies to develop.

Russell has averaged 22.3 points a game and played well when healthy, but he has missed half of the Warriors games so far this season due to injury. That’s not exactly boosting Russell’s trade value, another reason to be patient.

Maybe the Russell trade drama ramps up after the season ends, but for now the Warriors continue to play it cool.

People with power within Knicks reportedly “obsessed” with Masai Ujiri

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In the latest sign of dysfunction in New York, Knicks president Steve Mills and GM Scott Perry didn’t show their face and talk to the media Saturday about the firing of coach David Fizdale. Instead, they sent interim head coach Mike Miller to a podium, by himself, to talk about the situation. It was awkward. It’s also not how well-run organizations handle things.

Mills and Perry are on the hot seat — and they should be. This 4-19 Knicks season is more on them and how this roster was built than Fizdale (who was not blameless in all this).

There have been rumors owner James Dolan may go after Raptors president Masai Ujiri to take over Knicks, and that is growing into an “obsession” with influential people, reports Ian Begley of SNY.tv.

Will the Knicks have a shot at landing Ujiri? That’s unclear. But once the Knicks started struggling last month, multiple Madison Square Garden people in positions of influence have been ‘obsessed’ with – and ‘enamored’ by – the Raptors executive, per SNY sources.

In order to land Ujiri, it will probably take significant money and full autonomy.

There is no evidence that Ujiri, the man who built Toronto into a champion, would seriously consider leaving the Raptors for the Knicks.

The real key to luring Ujiri to Madison Square Garden is “full autonomy.” No Knicks president has had it. Phil Jackson was told he had it, but he wasn’t able to bring in his people who pushed out some of the entrenched staff. Sources told me that other people considered for team president have asked for the power to clean out the front office and bring in their own guys, only to learn Mills and others would remain in positions of power.

Owner James Dolan has stepped back from involving himself in basketball decisions in recent years, will he take the next step and let someone else fully run his basketball operations side without any pushback or interference internally?

One thing to watch with the Knicks going forward: Do they make any trade deadline deals? (That market really opens up soon, on Dec. 15 players signed this summer can be traded.) If New York does make a trade, is it a short-term boost kind of move designed to get wins now and maybe help save certain executive’s jobs, or are they trades focused on the long-term building of a winner? Since Jackson was in charge, the Knicks have done a good job not trading away their first-round picks, this would be a poor time to change that trend.

 

Myles Turner block, Julius Randle missed free throw with 0.1 left gives Pacers one-point win

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For the Knicks, under interim coach Mike Miller, this was a step forward. New York had been blown out by 37+ points their last two games, and that helped cost David Fizdale his job, but here they were with a chance to send the game to overtime late.

For the Pacers, this is just a win.

But that win came down to the final play — a blocked shot by Myles Turner then a missed Julius Randle free throw with 0.1 on the clock gave Indiana the 104-103 win.

“You get in those games, you’ve got to make another play and we just didn’t make another play,” Miller said, via the Associated Press. “Loved the effort. That was fun.”

A Jeremy Lamb and-1  had the Pacers up by six, 104-98, with 5:17 left. The Pacers would not score again.

What kept the Pacers alive was their defense — the Knicks shot 2-of-15 in the final 5:05 of the game, then with everything on the line Myles Turner came up with the game-saving block on Michell Robinson.

Julius Randle got the offensive rebound and was fouled when he went back up. That sent Randle — the Knicks biggest offseason signing — to the free throw line with 0.1 on the clock and the chance to force overtime. Randle hit the first, but…

There are no moral victories in the NBA, but this feels like one for New York.

For the Pacers, they will just take the win, thank you very much.

 

Russell Westbrook’s third-straight triple-double powers Rockets past Suns

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HOUSTON (AP) — On a night where James Harden‘s shots weren’t falling for three quarters, the Houston Rockets got big performances from those in supporting roles until the star stepped up late to close out the victory.

Harden scored 18 of his 34 points in the fourth quarter and Ben McLemore added 27 points to help the Rockets outlast the Phoenix Suns 115-109 on Saturday night.

Harden had a tough shooting night through three quarters and was 5 of 19 overall and 1 of 10 on 3s with 16 points before getting going in the fourth. The game was tied with about 7 minutes left, and he scored all of Houston’s points in a 13-6 run that made it 102-95.

“That’s how deep we are,” Harden said. “We have a really good team and guys that can make plays and knock down shots. More importantly we were focused on our defense.”

Russell Westbrook had 24 points, 14 rebounds and 11 assists for his third straight triple-double and sixth this season. Harden finished 8 of 27, 3 of 17 on 3s and made 15 of 18 free throws.

Devin Booker led the Suns with 35 points after scoring a season-high 44 in an overtime victory at New Orleans on Thursday night.

Phoenix coach Monty Williams was proud of his team for staying in it until the very end.

“We have a mentality that we just don’t give in,” Williams said. “We’re playing young guys that are learning how to play against physical NBA men and that’s part of developing.”

The Suns cut the lead to five twice in the last 90 seconds, but both times Westbrook made a layup to extend the advantage. And the second time he was fouled on the shot and made the free throw to make it 114-106.

The Suns scored seven straight points, capped by a dunk from Kelly Oubre, to tie it at 85 with about 9 minutes left. After a timeout, Harden scored Houston’s first points in about three minutes on a layup to put Houston back on top.

It was tied again before Harden scored five points to give the Rockets a 94-89 lead. He stole the ball from Ty Jerome after that and was fouled by Booker on a drive, with Harden aggressively continuing forward and pushing Booker off the court. Harden later shoved Booker, and they both received technical fouls to the bewilderment of the Suns.

Harden made both free throws to make it seven points in a row and was fouled again after he stole the ball from Mikal Bridges. Harden made one of those free throws to make it 97-89.

“He finds a way to win the game,” Houston coach Mike D’Antoni said. “A lot of guys contributed. A lot of guys played well.”