Baseline to Baseline recaps: Lakers show up for a half, that’s enough in New Orleans

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while watching Bilbo Baggins going on a drunken ‘Unexpected Journey’

Lakers 103, Hornets 87: On night where Kobe Bryant became only the 5th player in NBA history to hit the 30,000 career point plateau, the Lakers also got the win. And so everyone in Laker-land can rest easy for at least one night.

This game really showed the two diverse poles of the Lakers’ personality as a team. In the first half they struggled to defend even the most simple of Hornets’ sets, not rotating on the pick and roll and not recovering to shooters on the wings. On the other side of the ball they played too much one on one basketball, the ball sticking to one side of the floor as the guy who caught the ball looked to score for himself. The result was a first half deficit and a style that looked all too familiar to those who’ve watched this team toil early this season.

In the second half, however, all that changed. The ball moved on offense and everyone started to get involved. Kobe (29 points, 4 assists) poured in his points, but also initiated the offense well by looking to set up others. Dwight Howard asserted himself and controlled the paint on both ends (18 points, 5 blocks). The bench found their stride (27 points) and everything came together for a team that sorely needed it too.
—Darius Soriano

Knicks 100, Bobcats 98: It wasn’t easy for New York, and it took some buzzer-beating heroics from J.R. Smith to ultimately get the job done, But in a classic look-ahead game for the Knicks, with a trip to Miami against the defending champion Heat up next, they’ll take a win any way it comes.

Charlotte was actually in a pretty good position to take this one, outrebounding and outshooting the Knicks on the night. But turnovers killed them, especially late, when they gave it away on their final two possessions, both times with a chance to take the lead or win the game with under 40 seconds remaining.

Kemba Walker’s 25-point, 11-assist outing was ultimately wasted, while Carmelo Anthony left the game with 2:10 to play due to a cut on his left hand which required stitches. His status for Thursday night in Miami is questionable.
—Brett Pollakoff

Spurs 110, Bucks 99: This was a tie game, 76-76, heading into the fourth quarter, the Bucks left their big guns in while Gregg Popovich rolled out a lineup of Nando De Colo, Gary Neal, Matt Bonner, James Anderson, and Tiago Splitter. And the Spurs went on a 17-3 run and never looked back. Neal finished with 22, as did Tony Parker. They dominated the Bucks backcourt of Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings who combined to shoot 10-for-34 for the game. That would be 29 percent for those of you scoring at home.

Clippers 112, Mavericks 90: This was a wire to wire blowout for the Clippers, who got pretty much what they wanted when they wanted it against a Mavericks team that was simply overmatched.

L.A. led by 11 after one and by 18 at the half, before turning the remainder of the game into extended garbage time where they showcased their high-flyers with dunks against little or no resistance. One interesting note for Dallas was the play of Derek Fisher, who scored 11 points in just over eight third-quarter minutes to help his team briefly get back within 12. Fisher was +2 in his time on the floor in this one, the only Maverick player on the positive end of a plus/minus statistic that is usually tells us nothing in a game as lopsided as this one.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 99, Trail Blazers 92: Portland made a run early with LaMarcus Aldridge and Damian Lillard combining for 14 first quarter points, but the Pacers cranked up the defensive pressure and this was about even through the half. Then the Pacers ended the third on 19-6 run and never looked back. Another strong game from Paul George with 22. He is taking on the role of leader on this team. David West had 12 of his 16 in the second half.

Warriors 104, Pistons 97: The first half of this game was not pretty — the Pistons struggled against the Warriors 1-2-2 zone, which forced them to be shooters. But the Warriors were not shooting any better. The third quarter was a different story because Klay Thompson was hot — he had five three pointers and he had 19 points in the quarter. The Warriors were in control… until an 18-4 late run by the Pistons made it interesting. Golden State held on for the win.

Stephen Curry had 22 points and 10 assists — that is four straight games of 20 points and 10 assists. You should have drafted him higher in your fantasy league.

Celtics 104, Timberwolves 94: Rajon Rondo was back (with 17 points but 5 turnovers), Kevin Garnett played like he was back (he came out hot and hit six of his first seven), and Jason Terry played his best game in a while with 18. It’s not a head turning win, but Boston will take it. Kevin Love had 19 points and 13 assists.

Bulls 95, Cavaliers 85: We have a Marco Belinelli sighting — he had 23 points on 15 shots. Luol Deng had 22 points on 13 shots. So for one night, there was an efficient offense from Chicago (105.7 points per 100 possessions, six better than their season average). The Bulls were in charge of this game from the first quarter on, and when the Pacers made a push late in the third quarter and Kirk Hinrich responded with a couple threes. Donald Sloan gave the Cavs 14 off the bench, if you want a bright spot.

Jazz 87, Magic 81: Utah was able to do what the Lakers were not — beat the Magic in the paint. Jefferson had 31 points and 15 rebounds, while Paul Millsap added 22 points. Which was good for Utah because the rest of the team combined to shoot 25.6 percent on the night. Utah led most of the night but a 12-2 run by the Magic had them up 79-78 lead with 3:33 left in the game. But Utah closed the game on a 9-2 run, including four more Jefferson points, to get the win.

Hawks 108, Nuggets 104: It’s not that Denver doesn’t have an identity, it’s that they can’t execute it. They want to run and gun, but they can’t do that effectively when Andre Iguodala has 5 points and 7 turnovers. They can’t do that when their best shooter — Danilo Gallinari — is 3-for-10 and is more straight-line driver than dangerous weapon.

The Hawks just beat up the Nuggets inside — they had 19 offensive rebounds as a team, Al Horford had 25 points and 12 rebounds, Josh Smith had 16 and 13, and they got Kenneth Faried out of the game and in foul trouble. Still it was close 101-101, but the Hawks made the plays late. The only reason Denver was in the game was Ty Lawson’s 32 points.

Kings 107, Raptors 100: This is how the Kings envisioned winning games — DeMarcus Cousins owns the night (25 points, 13 rebounds) then in crunch time, with the game tied 95-95, Tyreke Evans drains back-to-back threes and the Kings pull away for the win. At least they were able to do it against the Raptors. Kyle Lowry had 34 points and 11 dimes for the Raptors.

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.

Magic: Mo Bamba out for playoffs, undergoing post-coronavirus evaluation

Magic center Mo Bamba
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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Mo Bamba contracted coronavirus, fell out of shape, recovered, joined the Magic in the bubble then struggled to contribute on the court.

Now, he’s departing the bubble for good.

Magic:

The Magic are huge underdogs in their first-round series against the Bucks. This doesn’t really change the equation. Bamba had already fallen from the rotation, which is now comprised of Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch at center.

But it raises thorny long-term questions.

Bamba was the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Though he has underwhelmed so far, the Magic were still hoping he’d grow into a quality NBA player. Bamba at least improved from his rookie season.

His progress has obviously been halted. For how long? Will he face lasting effects?

Everyone is trying to get to the bottom of these difficult questions.

Reported Bulls coaching candidates: Kenny Atkinson, Stephen Silas, Darvin Ham, more

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The Bulls fired Jim Boylen. 76ers assistant Ime Udoka was reportedly frontrunner for the job, but Chicago will conduct a full search.

Who else is in the mix?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The broad search is expected to include former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, among others, sources said.

Atkinson is the only former head coach on that list. Like Tyronn Lue for win-now teams, Atkinson is the top available coach for rebuilding teams. (If fired by the 76ers, Brett Brown could supplant Atkinson.) Atkinson had a strong record of player development before Brooklyn shifted priorities.

The Bulls – with Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and a high first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft – could use someone like him.

But Atkinson could have options, and Chicago might not be the most desirable opening.

Udoka, Silas, Ham and Unseld are all rising assistants who have earned head-coaching consideration. Interviews should help determine whether they’re ready for that step.

PBT NBA All-Bubble Awards

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and Rockets star James Harden
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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The NBA will announce seeding-game awards tomorrow.

But the play-in is already set. Other playoff matchups are already set. The final seeding games today are just glorified scrimmages.

So, why wait to name the top performers in the bubble?

Here are our picks using the same format as the league – a Most Valuable Player, two five-player teams (no positions) and a coach:

Bubble MVP

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

Kurt Helin: It isn’t simply that Damian Lillard led the bubble in scoring at 37.6 points per game. It wasn’t how he got those points, with ridiculously deep threes and driving layups. It was when he did it that makes him bubble MVP: When the Trail Blazers had a rough outing (as did Lillard) and looked like they might fade from postseason contention, he came back next game and dropped 61. Then 51 the game after that. Then 42 in the final bubble game with the playoffs on the line. Lillard was the ultimate leader and willed his team to the play-in series, and that’s what makes him MVP of the seeding games.
Dan Feldman: James Harden was more consistently good and even sometimes great. But nobody hit higher levels than Lillard, who stepped up in the biggest moments to lead Portland into the play-in with the eighth-place advantage. Lillard set an emotional tone for a team constantly vulnerable of falling from the playoff race, and he delivered on the court with brilliant offense. He wasn’t perfect, but he went to great lengths to ensure the Trail Blazers met their goal. That’s the bubble MVP.

All-Bubble teams

First team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
Devin Booker (Suns) James Harden (Rockets)
T.J. Warren (Pacers) Devin Booker (Suns)
Luka Doncic (Mavericks) T.J. Warren (Pacers)
James Harden (Rockets) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Second team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Jayson Tatum (Celtics) Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)
Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
DeMar DeRozan (Spurs) Paul George (Clippers)
Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks) Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks)

Kurt Helin: It was difficult leaving Antetokounmpo off the first team, he played brilliantly but his team was in cruise control (plus he took himself out of the last game by headbutting Moe Wagner). A few players such as Fred VanVleet and Michael Porter Jr. also almost made the cut.

Dan Feldman: Lillard, Harden, Booker and Warren were first-team locks. Antetokounmpo was absolutely dominant when he wanted to be, which was limited with the Bucks locking up the No. 1 seed early. Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Chris Paul, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet were among the contenders for the final second-team spots.

Coach of the Bubble

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Monty William (Suns) Monty William (Suns)

Kurt Helin: Every young team talked about it heading into the restart (and developing teams not invited to the restart begged for the same opportunity): Using the bubble games as a chance for a young core to grow and take a step forward. Except teams like Sacramento and New Orleans didn’t do that. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams did — they became the story of the bubble at 8-0. Devin Booker exploded and got himself in MVP talk, Deandre Ayton played brilliantly, and the Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs. Williams set the Suns up to be a playoff team in the West next season.

Dan Feldman: Phoenix went 8-0! That alone is pretty darned impressive, and the context reflects even more favorably on Williams. The Suns entered the bubble with the lowest playoff odds among the continuing 22 teams. Needing to make up 2.5 games and – more significantly – jump four (!) teams, Phoenix could have easily arrived unmotivated and ripe for distraction. Instead, Williams had the Suns playing fearlessly, cohesively and joyously. Williams even leaned heavily on his young players rather than his veterans, taking excellent advantage of a player-development opportunity and positioning Phoenix to ascend next season.