Baseline to Baseline recaps: Suns rising while Rockets crash back to earth

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What you missed while watching the holographic Tupac set from Coachella

Clippers 92, Thunder 77: Oklahoma City scored just 25 points in the second half. It’s the kind of game that makes you go hmmmm…..

Nuggets 104, Rockets 102: In the first half, the Rockets were playing with a sense of desperation on defense. How desperate the situation for them was didn’t change at halftime but their defense did — the Nuggets shot 68 percent in the third quarter and 56 percent in the fourth to come back and win. They did it with a backcourt of Ty Lawson (25 points) and Arron Afflalo (26) providing most of the scoring. Plus, Kenneth Faried is a spark plug.

With the Rockets loss they fall out of the playoffs — they are actually tied with the Suns for the 8/9 seed but Phoenix has the tiebreaker. Losing both games to Denver in a home-and-home could be their season. On the flip side, Denver moved past Dallas (who lost to Utah, keep reading) and into the six seed.

Jazz 123, Mavericks 121 (3OT): Let’s move on from the “wet Willy” and talk about the game. This was one it looked like the Jazz had but the feisty defending champs went on a 17-6 run to close out the game and almost win it. Paul Millsap was a beast — 28 points, 26 rebounds and his putback sent the game to overtime. Dirk Nowitzki was everything you ask your star to be with 40 points and some key shots. The Jazz got good guard play from Devin Harris (23 points) and Gordon Hayward (24). This was a real battle of a game, two teams playing with some playoff desperation.

With the win, the Jazz are just half a game back of Houston and Phoenix for the 8 spot and they have a chance. Dallas, with its second overtime loss in a row (Lakers on Sunday) fall to the seven seed in the West.

Heat 101, Nets 98: This is why you want to have LeBron James on the roster — he scored the final 17 points for Miami, led his team on a 13-1 run late and got the Heat a win they really didn’t deserve. New Jersey led almost the entire game because the Heat just would not play defense — the Nets shot 53.5 percent for the first half and 50 percent for the game. Steam was coming out of Erik Spoelstra’s ears. But the Heat bench made a push to make the game close again midway through the fourth quarter, then James did his thing.

Wizards 87, Bulls 84: No Derrick Rose and no Luol Deng for Chicago and it showed — Miami had a healthy star to take over at the end and get a win when they were outplayed Tuesday, Chicago did not. Wizards big man Kevin Seraphin had 21 points, helping the Wizards score 48 in the paint. The Wizards also ran on the Bulls all night long, you can imagine how that went over with Tom Thibodeau.

Magic 113, Sixers 100: No Dwight Howard, no Glen Davis, no Hedo Turkoglu and the Magic still won this handily. Ryan Anderson had 26 points and 16 rebounds for Orlando. Philly is just a mess — they should have pounded Orlando inside and on the glass but they could not and did not, plus they didn’t defend the arc (Orlando was 11-for-18 from three).

Pacers 111, Timberwolves 88: Indiana has won 9 of 10 now, they have a balanced team — all five starters scored in double figures in this game. Teams keep trying to avoid the Heat and Bulls in the East (with reason) but the Pacers are not pushovers. Minnesota is a mess and has now lost 26 consecutive games in April, an NBA record.

Suns 125, Trail Blazers 107: The Suns went on a 14-4 run to take the lead in the first half and never looked back. The Suns were desperate and the Trail Blazers had a starting backcourt of Jonny Flynn and Luke Babbitt. If the playoffs started today the Suns would be in as the eight seed… but they don’t start today and they are tied with Houston and half a game up on Utah. They have a lot of work left to do.

Spurs 120, Warriors 99: First of three games in three nights for the Spurs so Gregg Popovich made sure his stars got plenty of rest — Tim Duncan played 13 minutes, Manu Ginobili 12 and Tony Parker just 8. That’s all the Spurs needed against a Warriors team trying to lose enough games to keep their draft pick. San Antonio went on a 14-0 first quarter run and never looked back. Gary Neal had 17 to lead them. Klay Thompson had 29 for Golden State.

Hawks 109, Raptors 87: Second night of a home-and-home and it was a complete reversal from the first game? Why? The Hawks can fall in love with their jumper and miss it a lot, which they did Sunday. Monday Jeff Teague was attacking the paint and with it the Hawks got better looks. Still, it was close for nearly three quarters, but the Hawks closed out the third on a 12-2 run and the rout was on. Ivan Johnson had 21 points for the Hawks.

Hornets 75, Bobcats 67: New Orleans has a four-game winning streak. I don’t care who it’s against, that is something worth celebrating. I don’t care how ugly this game was (in the third quarter the two teams combined to shoot 6-for-40 and score 20 points, total). A win is a win.

Report: Cavaliers, Larry Nance Jr. talking contract extension

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When the Cavaliers made the trade deadline deal with the Lakers last February, they got Larry Nance Jr. (the son of a Cavs legend) and Jordan Clarkson (surrendering Channing Frye, Isaiah Thomas and a 2018 1st round draft pick that became Moritz Wagner).

Nance is the one the Cavaliers seem intent on keeping, and they may extend him, reports Tom Withers of the Associated Press.

This seems like a good fit for both sides, if they can find a number that works. The Cavaliers are committed to not bottoming out right now — which is why Kevin Love got a new massive contract — and Nance fits with that.

This is not going to be a max contract, but Nance has made it clear he likes playing in Cleveland and wants to stay. After he came over last season he averaged 8.9 points on 55 percent shooting, 7 rebounds, 1.4 assists, and 1.4 steals a game. Those numbers could go up with LeBron James no longer in the picture.

LeBron James on earning Lakers’ fans loyalty: ‘I signed a four-year deal’

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Living in Los Angeles, with most of my friends Lakers’ fans, I can tell you that the majority of the city is excited and on board with the LeBron James era. They get that he’s right, the Lakers are not yet on the Warriors’ level, but they like the idea of the game’s best player with the Lakers’ young core, and the potential of that with another star player in the next 10 months or so. They are excited.

Most Lakers fans that is. There is a segment, best described as the “Kobe Bryant could walk on water” crowd, who are not sold on LeBron as a Laker. Who see him somehow as a threat to their Kobe worship. They question LeBron as a “real Laker” and his loyalty.

That took all of two days of training camp to come up, and for LeBron to shoot it down. Via Ben Golliver of Sports Illustrated.

LeBron nailed this. He has signed on and trusted Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka more than he had anyone since Pat Riley — LeBron never signed long-term deals in Cleveland and trusted Dan Gilbert. He trusts Magic and Jeanie Buss. That is huge.

LeBron’s Laker era is ultimately going to be judged by winning a title, because all Lakers’ eras are judged that way. Kobe would talk about nothing else. LeBron understands that reality. But the era of being able to buy an NBA title is gone — the Lakers have free agency advantages few other franchises do (thanks to the location and the brand) but that is not enough. The biggest question for the Lakers is not can they land another star before next season, but rather can the core of Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and the rest be the guys that stand with LeBron? If at the end of games this season it is LeBron sharing the court with Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, and Michael Beasley, the Lakers have much bigger problems than who is the next star they sign.

LeBron is all in. He can help cement his legacy with a title in Lakers’ Forum Blue and Gold, but he knows he needs help. And he’s willing to wait for them to get it. At age 33, what else can you ask of the man?

Kevin Durant says he is taking free agency ‘year by year’

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Talk to sources around the league about the Warriors and they think Kevin Durant — not Klay Thompson, who is also a free agent next summer, or Draymond Green in the summer of 2020 — will be the first to leave the team. It may not be this summer, especially if they three-peat, but he was last in and will be first out.

Durant, for his part, is not playing the speculation game.

When asked about it, Durant was vague, reports the USA Today’s Erik Garcia Gundersen.

“Just one of those things where you’re confident in your skills and taking it year by year. And keeping my options open was the best thing for me. I could have easily signed a long-term deal but I just wanted to take it season by season and see where it takes me. And I think this year is going to be a fun, exciting year for us all. I’m looking forward to just focusing on that and we’ll see what happens after the year.”

Golden State owner Joseph Lacob admitted he would have given Durant whatever deal he and his agents wanted. They chose the short-term option, keeping a lot of doors open.

The conventional wisdom around the league is that this summer Durant will opt-out this summer then sign a five-year contract. Probably with the Warriors, but the door is open, and there are a lot of teams with max salary slots. Maybe Durant is ready to have his own team again and move on. Maybe he is happy where he is.

Durant doesn’t know the answer to that question, yet. Nobody does. But that has other teams ready to pounce, just in case one of the world’s top two players decides it’s time to move on.

What if the Timberwolves don’t trade Jimmy Butler?

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I expect the Timberwolves to trade Jimmy Butler soon. Most people expect the Timberwolves to trade Jimmy Butler soon.

But they’ve thrown enough uncertainty into the process that nothing should be taken for granted. Tom Thibodeau said he expects Butler to report to training camp if not traded within a week, and as of yesterday, the president-coach was reportedly still trying to convince Butler to stay in Minnesota.

What happens if the Timberwolves don’t trade Butler and he refuses to report?

If he withholds playing services for 30 days after training camp begins, he won’t accrue a year of service and can’t become a free agent next offseason. He couldn’t sign with another professional basketball team unless Minnesota agreed.

That 30-day clock seemingly isn’t ticking, as Butler is excused while recovering from offseason hand surgery. But if the Timberwolves want to get serious about keeping Butler, they could press the issue.

But Butler would have options, too. He could – a la Mo Williams with the Cavaliers – undergo surgery and claim he’s not healthy enough to report. Players, especially ones as damaged as Butler, often have medical issues to clean up. That could mean embellishing the effect of the hand surgery or undergoing a new surgery altogether. An elective surgery could legitimately sideline Butler. Claiming Butler is actually healthy enough to report when he says he isn’t could get quite messy if the team objects.

Again, I don’t expect it to get that far. I doubt the Timberwolves, particularly owner Glen Taylor, desire to hold Butler hostage like that. Even if they do, Butler could just report and play. He can become an unrestricted free agent after the season and leave then.

But these are the extreme options on the table if this situation devolves further.