Baseline to Baseline recaps: Robin Lopez, Luke Babbitt key wins. It was that kind of night.

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while trying to decide if you love or hate the new Air Jordan XX8….

Clippers 105, Jazz 104: Blake Griffin has his biggest scoring game of the year and the Clippers hand the Jazz their first home loss of the year. Our man D.J. Foster broke it all down for us.

Trail Blazers 118, Bobcats 112 (OT): You can’t stop Luke Babbitt, you can only hope to contain him. And up by 18 points with five minutes to go the Bobcats couldn’t contain Babbitt. Or LaMarcus Aldridge (25 points, 13 rebounds, 5 assists). Or Damian Lillard (12 points in the fourth quarter). Frustrating loss for the Bobcats because they owned the first 42 minutes of the game, but the last six and the five more in overtime were all Portland, and you can guess who won. Ben Gordon was himself, out there gunning away, and had 29.

Hornets 102, Bucks 81: To continue a theme… you can’t stop Robin Lopez, you can only hope to contain him. He had a single-handed 11-point run in the third quarter that had New Orleans pull away for good. Lopez finished with 21, Ryan Anderson 22. For Milwaukee, they over-dribbled and became easy to defend. Brandon Jennings had 25 and Monta Ellis 17 combined shot 28.6 percent and were not efficient. No other Buck got into double digits.

Nuggets 113, Raptors 110: Denver was in control of this one, up by as many as 19 in the middle of the fourth quarter, the game was up-tempo the way the Nuggets like it. Then the Raptors went on an 18-2 run, sparked by Kyle Lowry who had 12 of his 24 in the quarter. The Raptors got it to 105-104 with three and a half minutes left. But Ty Lawson hit a key three and the Nuggets hung on. Kenneth Faried had 18 points and 10 rebounds, we also had a sighting of good JaVale McGee, he had 17 points and five blocks.

Magic 102, Warriors 94: This was an impressive game for Orlando. You really shouldn’t underestimate the emotional investment they had in beating the Lakers and embarrassing Dwight Howard on Sunday night (why do you think they went to hack-a-Dwight?). Often a game like that there can be a let down, but the Magic showed up for the second game of a back-to-back and earned a win.

This game was tied 72-72 in the fourth when the Magic took control with a 17-6 run. Key in that run was J.J. Redick, who nailed a couple threes and finished with 22 points on 13 shots. Glen Davis and Arron Afflalo each had 24 points in the win. Stephen Curry had 25 points and 11 assists, but down the stretch the Warriors could not get a stop.

Pistons 89, Cavaliers 79: Cleveland shot 33.7 percent — Detroit owned the paint and blocked 13 shots on the night, meanwhile Cleveland shot just 3-of-20 from beyond the arc. Andre Drummond had three of those blocks plus a dozen rebounds (nine offensive), Jason Maxiell added five blocks. Detroit was in control the entire way with Brandon Knight leading the way with 17 points. The lone bright spot for Cleveland is that Anderson Varejao’s trade value went up with his 17 points and 18 rebounds.

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

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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.