Baseline to Baseline recaps: Lakers, Celtics both lose; it’s not the ‘80s anymore

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Our nightly recap of the games from around the NBA. Or, what you missed while going out tonight because you have to deal with your family tomorrow…

Thunder 117, Clippers 111 (OT): Nobody stops Chris Paul, but the Thunder did a better job of slowing him down than anyone has this season and that’s how they got a quality win at home and our own D.J. Foster broke it down.

Kings 113, Lakers 98: What have we all been saying about the Lakers? Right, it’s all going to be about how they defend. When you have Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol and eventually Steve Nash they are going to score points in bunches no matter what offense they run. But can they defend.

They didn’t against the Kings, especially in the fourth quarter — with the game on the line the Kings shot 63 percent. Marcus Thornton tore them up for a dozen points in the quarter (and 23 for the game). Dwight Howard looked tired and out of shape all night (he had four field goal attempts on the game) and when he isn’t sharp neither is the Lakers defense. Pau Gasol was 3-of-10. Also, the turnover issue was back with the Lakers having 20

The only Laker who looked good was Kobe — 38 points on 20 shots, again breaking down defenses with the pick-and-roll. But he has now played 79 minutes on the two nights of a back-to-back and that is too many for an older player with most of the season still ahead of him.

For the Kings, it’s fun when everything clicks. Tyreke Evans had 18, Isaiah Thomas was carving up the Lakers defense in the fourth, and Jason Thompson was in a groove late. That’s how you end a losing streak with authority.

Spurs 112, Celtics 100: If you want statistical evidence of how San Antonio simply was the superior team all night, try this one on for size — Boston had zero offensive rebounds. Not one. They are not a good offensive rebounding team, but blind luck and funky bounces should grant them one or two a game. Nope. Spurs controlled it and controlled everything it felt like — Boston would try to make a run, San Antonio would answer with a better one. We saw that in the fourth quarter — the Celtics got it within six, the Spurs hit another gear and cruised to a win. Tony Parker had 26 points on 17 shots, plus six assists and was the best player on the floor.

It was so much fun to see Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett battling and trading shots all fourth quarter long. I’d say it was a throwback but both are still fully capable of games like this now.

Mavericks 114, Knicks 111: It was “turn back the clock” night in Dallas — in the fourth quarter the Knicks were getting their points from Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler while Vince Carter gave the Mavs 14 in the fourth quarter alone. Dallas took charge of the game with a 20-8 run in the third quarter. But it wasn’t over — the Knicks hit a shot cut it to four, but then the next trip down J.R. Smith was looking to gamble and sagged off a hot Carter, who drained the corner three. Give credit to Shawn Marion, who did a good job on Carmelo Anthony all night.

Nuggets 101, Timberwolves 94: Kevin Love was back and Minnesota rode the emotion of that a 17-point lead during the first half. Love was his old self — he had 14 of Minnesota’s first 18 points on his way to 34 plus 14 rebounds. But the Nuggets came out a different team in the second half, went on a 14-2 run and cranked up the defense, holding Minnesota to 27.3 percent shooting for the second half (Minnesota scored just 36 in the second half). Meanwhile Denver had three guys score 11 points in the second half — Andre Miller, Andre Iguodala and Danilo Gallinari had 11 points in the second half (Gallinari led the Nuggets with 19).

Heat 113, Bucks 106 (OT): Milwaukee just one of those teams that seem to give Heat trouble. It didn’t look that way at first Wednesday — Milwaukee started 6-of-27 shooting, 1-of-9 from three and a 21-2 Heat run gave them an 18-point lead early in the second quarter. But when Larry Sanders got ejected the Bucks responded with a 13-0 run and we had a game from there on. Both teams had their chances at the end of the game and Monta Ellis may have saved the day with a quality block on Dwyane Wade at the buzzer. But a Ray Allen three, some LeBron James buckets (he finished with 28) and some Chris Bosh free throws had Miami pulling away in the overtime.

Cavaliers 92, Sixers 83: No Kyrie Irving but the Cavaliers were still pushing the pace and moving the ball well early. They got up 32-17 early. But a 16-1 run early in the second quarter changed all that and we had a ballgame. And it went like that all game — the Sixers would make a run and the Cavaliers would answer with one of their own. But Cleveland had the last 13-0 run late in the fourth that Philly could not respond to. Irving’s replacement Jeremy Pargo had 28 to lead all scorers. For a night Cleveland played like they didn’t miss him.

Pacers 115, Hornets 107 (OT): Indiana needed a win. Any win would do. So the fact it was an overtime win against an undermanned New Orleans team doesn’t matter. They got a win behind a triple double — 10 points, 11 rebounds and 11 blocks — from Roy Hibbert and 33 points on 11 three pointers from Paul George. They will take it.

Hawks 101, Wizards 100 (OT): Good news for the Wizards — Nene returned to the court. He wasn’t fantastic (you don’t expect that the first time out) but he was back. This was pretty close the whole way, with big men leading the way for both sides — Josh Smith had 25 for Atlanta and Kevin Seraphin rose up with 21 for the Wizards. But late in the first overtime Devin Harris used himself as a screen to give Kyle Korver room to knock down the three that won it. Seraphin had a chance as time ran out but air balled a hook shot, Martell Webster made the smart play and tried to grab and put it in, but his basket was just a split second late.

Magic 90, Pistons 74: Detroit raced out to a 19-9 lead and it looked like a game. Then came the third quarter — Orlando opened the second half on a 21-0 run, the Pistons scored just 8 points in the third quarter. And that was your ballgame. Orlando had balanced scoring but Andrew Nicholson led the way with 15.

Bobcats 98, Raptors 97: The Charlotte Bobcats are 6-4. Damn. Charlotte did it with balance, having seven players in double figures, but it was Ramon Sessions with the shooter’s bounce game winner with :28 seconds left. It was maybe the best game Toronto has played in a while defensively, they had Kyle Lowry looking like his old self and Jonas Valanciunas was knocking down jumpers. But this was the Bobcats night.

Rockets 93, Bulls 89: The Bulls just don’t have the personnel to do what’s necessary most nights offensively to win games. This one against the Rockets was a prime example of that, as Chicago struggled to 40 percent shooting from the field, and a horrific 2-of-16 as a team from three-point distance.

Nate Robinson and Luol Deng led the Bulls with 21 and 19 points respectively, but combined to shoot a brutal 16-of-42 from the field to get there.

Meanwhile, James Harden was James Harden, pouring in an efficient 28 points on 14 shots. Houston also got solid games from Patrick Patterson and Chandler Parsons, but Jeremy Lin was ineffective, finishing with just four points and five turnovers on 2-of-9 shooting in 26 minutes. He was benched for the game’s final 3:21, when the Rockets were trailing by three at the time.

The Bulls used their trademark defense to force 23 turnovers, which kept things close. But ultimately their offense failed them, as the team went 4:31 without a point while Houston used a 10-0 run to turn a five-point deficit into a five-point lead to take it down the stretch.
—Brett Pollakoff

Suns 114, Blazers 87: The Suns made a change to their starting lineup for this one, after falling behind by double-digits in the first half of the majority of their games this season. Luis Scola and Jared Dudley headed to the bench, and Markieff Morris and Shannon Brown were inserted to provide some scoring and toughness from the opening tip.

While the lineup changes proved successful, it was the domination of Phoenix’s frontcourt players that was the difference. Marcin Gortat had 16 first-half points on the way to 22 for the game, Morris finished with 19, and Jermaine O’Neal’s corpse even did some damage with 17.

The Blazers, meanwhile, just don’t have the talent in their frontcourt rotation to be able to hang with a team with even decent options there. We’re talking Meyers Leonard, Joel Freeland, and Victor Claver — none of whom could do much of anything offensively, while the Suns exploited the mismatch on the offensive end of the floor to their advantage to lead by 13 at the end of the first half.

The third quarter saw Phoenix quickly build the lead to 21 after a 10-2 run to start the period, and that was essentially that. Rookie Damian Lillard played fine offensively, but overall, Portland’s skill players looked completely disinterested and there wasn’t any help available from the bench. The result was the blowout we saw tonight.
—Brett Pollakoff

Warriors 102, Nets 93: Remember the guy who was pegged by NBA General Managers to be the breakout player of the year? Well, he hadn’t shot over 50 percent from the field in a single game this season, and there was even talk about sending him to the bench in the first month of the season. But tonight, finally (finally!) Klay Thompson showed up for the Warriors in the second half of a tightly contested ballgame and went nuclear. Thompson connected on 8-of-11 of his second half attempts to provide the extra scoring punch the Warriors needed to separate from the visiting Nets.
—D.J. Foster

Report: Utah “frontrunner” to land Mike Conley Jr. if Memphis trades him this week

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Utah feels like it is close — a 50-win team two seasons in a row, an elite defense, an All-NBA center in Rudy Gobert and an elite shot creator in Donovan Michell. They look at the West next season, with a depleted Warriors team, and see an opening.

Yet when Utah fell to Houston 4-1 in the first round of the playoffs this year, it was reminded of what is keeping the team from being truly elite, and another shot creator and shooter is at the top of that list.

Enter Mike Conley Jr. He averaged 21.1 points and 6.4 assists per game last season, shot 36.4 percent from three, and plays strong defense. Conley would be an upgrade over Ricky Rubio at the spot.

The almost All-Star point guard out of Memphis is available via trade. He’s the kind of veteran floor general, shooter, and shot creator Utah could use. The Jazz and Grizzlies talked but couldn’t come to an agreement at the trade deadline, but the sides are talking again and conversations are “intensifying” in the run-up to the NBA Draft Thursday, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Grizzlies are intensifying talks to potentially move franchise cornerstone Mike Conley Jr., league sources told The Athletic. Memphis has been in conversations with the Jazz and Utah is a frontrunner to acquire Conley should the Grizzlies trade the point guard during draft week, league sources said.

What would be in a trade package? Certainly the No. 23 pick in this draft, plus some young players the Grizzlies like (maybe Grayson Allen, Royce O’Neal, and even someone like Jae Crowder. Reports say Derick Favors is not part of the discussion.

While anything can happen the week of the draft — and things change quickly — don’t be surprised if some version of this trade gets done.

Kawhi Leonard wins day with last laugh — his viral laugh — at end of speech

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Kawhi Leonard just won again.

He won his second NBA title leading the Toronto Raptors to the franchise’s first crown. He earned his second Finals MVP in the process.

Then on Monday he had the last laugh and won the Raptors’ championship parade in Toronto by ending his speech with his laugh, the same one that went viral at the start of the season.

Of course, what Leonard will do on July 1 was a cloud hanging over the parade, Leonard is a free agent this summer. Kyle Lowry at one point started a “five more years” chant during the parade, which is the maximum number of years Toronto can re-sign Leonard for.

Leonard, exactly as we all should have expected, dodged the question, while praising his time in Toronto.

Unfortunately, this was a parade marred by more serious concerns.

How corrosive is tension between James Harden and Chris Paul in Houston?

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Golden State is not going to be contending for a title next season. Sorry Stephen, but you’re just not.

That throws open the doors to the West crown and, eventually, the NBA title, and teams will be lining up to take their shots. The Lakers just added Anthony Davis to go with LeBron James. Denver should improve and is looking for wing help. Utah feels just one playmaker away. The Clippers are big game hunting, and if they land one they become a threat.

Houston, however, should be at the front of that line… if they don’t shoot themselves in the foot. Contract extension talks with coach Mike D’Antoni are stalled, and at ESPN Tim MacMahon put together a fascinating inside look at the tension between at his isolation-heavy and at his peak James Harden and the intense but declining Chris Paul.

But Paul noticeably lost a step last season, as evidenced by analytics and the eye test. Paul pushed for more plays and sets in the Houston offense, more screening and deception, despite Harden being in the process of putting together a historically dominant individual offensive season.

“Chris wants to coach James,” says a source familiar with the stars’ dynamic. “James looks at him like, ‘You can’t even beat your man. Just shut up and watch me.'”…

It has reached a point, team sources say, where Paul cherishes the chance to play without Harden on the floor. On several occasions, according to team sources, Paul barked at D’Antoni to keep Harden on the bench while he was running the second unit. Harden simultaneously would lobby — or demand — to check back into the game.

There’s tension there, but is it corrosive to the point of the team unraveling? Or, as GM Daryl Morey and everyone else with the Rockets says, is this just blown out of proportion? Time will tell.

Two things to point out.

First, tension between two stars and alpha personalities is far from new in the NBA (or any other professional sport), and it does not mean a team is in trouble. These things can be worked out, they just flared up more in the wake of the round two loss to the Warriors.

Second, these guys are stuck with each other. Obviously, the Rockets aren’t trading Harden. They would be open to trading CP3, but at age 34 and owed $124 million over three more seasons, there are no takers (unless the Rockets want to throw in a sweetener, which they don’t). The players around them may change, the coach could change, but Harden and Paul have years left together.

This team is so close to a title, it’s hard to envision them really coming apart at the seams next season. These guys are too professional for that… although in wild NBA crazier things have happened.

Report: Bucks trying to trade Tony Snell or Ersan Ilyasova with draft-pick sweetener

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Coming off their best season in decades, the Bucks will send four quality players into free agency – Khris Middleton, Brook Lopez, Malcolm Brogdon and Nikola Mirotic.

How will Milwaukee keep its core intact?

Maybe by unloading Tony Snell ($11,592,857 salary next season, $12,378,571 player option the following season) or Ersan Ilyasova ($7 million salary next season, $7 million unguaranteed the following season).

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

With Bird Rights for Middleton, Brogdon and Mirotic, Milwaukee faces no salary-cap restrictions on keeping just those three. The only cost is real dollars, including potential luxury-tax payments.

It’s trickier with Lopez. Giving him the non-taxpayer mid-level exception (which projects to be about $9 million) – the most they can pay without opening cap space – would hard-cap the Bucks at a projected team salary of about $138 million. That could be a difficult line to stay under.

Unless Snell or Ilyasova are off the books.

Neither player has a desirable contract, which is why Milwaukee is shopping them with a draft pick attached. But both can still contribute. Ilyasova is a smart veteran power forward who shoots well from outside and takes a lot of charges. Snell is also a good outside shooter, and though his all-around game is lacking, there’s a dearth of helpful wings around the league.

The Bucks have the No. 30 pick in Thursday’s draft. They could select on behalf of another team then trade the draft rights. The Stepien rule applies only to future drafts.

Beyond that pick, Milwaukee is short on tradable draft picks. The Bucks have already traded two protected future first-round picks and their next three second-rounders. Dealing another first-rounder would require complex protections. Perhaps, a distant second-rounder is enough.

It’s important for Milwaukee to figure this out. Giannis Antetokounmpo likes this core group, and everyone is watching his level of satisfaction with the Bucks as his super-max decision approaches.