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

James Harden reiterates it was “false talk” he and Chris Paul were at odds

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The Houston Rockets — not in an anonymous way, but in a “we are putting our names on this, quote me” kind of way — have pushed back hard on the narrative that there was tension between Chris Paul and James Harden that led to the Rockets trading CP3 for Russell Westbrook this offseason. Rockets GM Daryl Morey has denied it, team leader P.J. Tucker called it fake news, and Paul himself has pushed back.

Harden has done that again, speaking at his camp on Saturday.

The counter-argument to this: Chris Paul is in Oklahoma City right now.

People will believe what they want to believe, but the Rockets guys have all gone on the record about this. Nothing leaked and anonymous.

From the Rockets’ perspective, they made a trade for Westbrook that is a roster upgrade. Houston has a dynamic duo that can compete with the Los Angeles teams and the other contenders around the league, and whatever questions fans and the media may have about the ultimate fit of Harden and Westbrook the talent level is not in question.

Do the Rockets make that trade if everything is great between Harden and Paul? Probably, if they saw CP3 as in decline and Westbrook as a talent upgrade (which they did). The Rockets can be a cold, business-like organization in terms of their pursuit of a title.

We will see next season if that calculation paid off. Whether or not Harden and CP3 got along.

Report: Kyle Korver reaches one-year deal to join Milwaukee Bucks

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The Bucks can never have enough shooting around a driving Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Enter Kyle Korver. The veteran sharpshooter will be headed to Milwaukee on a one-year contract, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This is a quality pickup at the minimum (it is a veteran minimum contract). Korver averaged 8.6 points per game last season, taking 72 percent of his shots from beyond the arc and knocking down 39.7 percent of them. The man has gravity and pulls a defender because even at age 38 defenders cannot leave him. Shooting is a skill always in demand.

The Bucks will start Wesley Matthews at the two and have Sterling Brown behind him. They have Khris Middleton and Pat Connaughton at the three. Now they have some reliable veteran depth at those spots and a guy who can hit the big shot for them.

James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.

Report: R.C. Buford moving on from Spurs GM role, Brian Wright taking over

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For 15 years, through championships and an unparalleled run of playoff berths and success, R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich seemed to work as one brain. Popovich was the coach but also team president, Buford the GM, and together they built an NBA powerhouse.

Buford is moving on from that role. Or, more precisely moving up into a new management role, and assistant GM Brian Wright is taking over as GM, reports Jabari Young of The Athletic.

After a little more than 15 years serving as GM, Buford is getting prepared to bequeath the role to assistant GM Brian Wright, league sources have confirmed to The Athletic. Wright will report directly to Buford, who will officially get a new title that some around the NBA believe will be a role helping to oversee Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

When the Spurs initially hired Wright in 2016, he stayed behind the scenes and focused mainly on scouting. But sources have informed The Athletic over the last year Wright has been more involved, even fielding calls and packages for the trade of Kawhi Leonard the previous summer.

Wright came to the Spurs from the Pistons a couple of years ago. That said, don’t expect a big change in how things are done in the Spurs front office. For one thing, Popovich is still there. Also, Wright has an excellent reputation around the league as being smart and a straight shooter. On top of all of that, Buford will remain his ultimate boss, although Buford’s role will change into one of more of a business manager for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

Young hints there could be more changes coming. Obviously, the biggest would be when Popovich decides to step back in his dual roles as coach and president, but there could be shifts in the assistant GM ranks as well.

Just don’t expect the Spurs to stop being the Spurs.