Baseline to Baseline recaps: Sixers get win despite Vince Carter heroics

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while watching a Christmas lights show timed out to “Gangnam Style”

Pacers 79, Lakers 77: Sometimes you watch a game and think neither team deserves to win it. That was this game. It was ugly. But despite 40 from Kobe Bryant it was a George Hill high-arcing layup that won Indy the game, and we broke it all down right here.

Sixers 100, Mavericks 98: This game was decided in the middle of the fourth quarter — it was 81-81 with 8:30 remaining when the Mavericks turned the ball over on six consecutive possessions and that led to a 12-0 Sixers run and a lead Philly would never relinquish.

It seemed over, Philly up seven inside two minutes to go when Vince Carter happened. First he drained a ridiculously deep three, about five feet behind the arc. After a defensive stop for Dallas, the next trip down Carter had a spinning driving layup. Suddenly the lead was just two with 17 seconds left. Jrue Holiday, who had 18 points and was good most of the night, had two possessions where he over-dribbled and got no good shot. He did it again and with time running out Dallas had one last shot to win. Dallas got the ball to Carter but Philly wisely doubled-teamed him, so he passed and with some nice ball movement the Mavs found O.J. Mayo in the lane and he was fouled

Mavs double Carter, two passes to cutting O.J. Mayo who was fouled on a bad reach by Holiday. Two free throws to tie it. Mayo missed first, intentionally missed second, Dallas rookie Jae Crowder actually got the rebound had a shot at a three to win but just missed.

Evan Turner had 22 points on 13 shots for Philly.

Rockets 117, Raptors 101: This game was not exactly a defensive struggle — the Rockets shot 53 percent overall and hit 13-of-26 threes. The Rockets put the nail in this at the start of the third quarter when James Harden hit two threes — he had 24 points and a career-best 12 assists. Toronto, who has struggled on defense all season, let the Rockets put of points at a 124.2 points per 100 possessions pace. The bright spots for Toronto were rookie Terrence Ross, who had his best game as a pro with 19 points, and Andrea Bargnani who had 21 points on 12 shots.

Suns 91, Cavaliers 78: It was the second night of a back-to-back and the fourth game in five nights for Cleveland and it showed — they hung tight until late in the third quarter when a 14-0 run turned a two point deficit into a comfortable win. The Suns pushed the pace and ran during hat stretch and Cleveland just could not keep up. Goran Dragic had 19 points, Michael Beasley added 15. If Cavs fans want a bright spot, Anderson Varejao totally outplayed Marcin Gortat

Timberwolves 97, Kings 89: The Timberwolves led this one from the second quarter on, but they never pulled away so it was interesting at the end. Kevin Love put up a line like we expect from him — 23 points, 24 rebounds — and that included a prayer that was answered in the final minute solidifying the Minnesota lead. Love needed to hit that shot because the Kings zone defense in the fourth quarter seemed to throw the Timberwolves off and make it a game. Nikola Pekovic added 16 for Minny. DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans each added 20 for the Kings. This snapped a five-game losing streak for Minnesota.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.