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.

Adam Silver backs Knicks center Enes Kanter’s decision to skip London trip

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LONDON (AP) — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the safety and security of players will always be paramount for the league after New York Knicks center Enes Kanter did not travel to London for his team’s game against the Washington Wizards.

Kanter said he feared he could be attacked or killed over his opposition to Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he were to travel to London. Istanbul-based newspaper Daily Sabah reported that an arrest warrant was issued for Kanter by Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday.

Silver, speaking ahead of Thursday’s game, says “it was never a suggestion from the league that (Kanter) was not welcome on this trip.”

“There are significant issues that he is dealing with, and I recognize that for the NBA, by virtue of the fact that we’re a global business, we have to pay a lot of attention to those issues as well,” Silver says.

Kanter, who has frequently criticized Erdogan, had his Turkish passport revoked in 2017.

Wizards beat Knicks with game-winning goaltending call in London Game

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The good people of England could use a break from the dumpster fire that is Brexit, so the NBA came to town to entertain with their very best… their biggest stars… the teams that were willing to go, the Knicks and the Wizards.

But the Londoners got to see one unusual ending.

The Knicks were up 100-99 thanks to a Noah Vonleh hook shot, but the Wizards had three seconds to try to get off a game winner. Scott Brooks designed an interesting play, with Bradley Beal starting in the backcourt and sprinting into the frontcourt, and when the defense moved to him as the likely shooter he passed to Thomas Bryant rolling down the lane, he put up the finger roll and…

That was a goaltend by Allonzo Trier to my eyes — the ball is just starting its downward trajectory, and it may have been over the cylinder (in an NBA arena there would have been an above-basket camera with a better angle on if it was over the rim, but that did not seem to be available in London).

The Wizards — who owner Ted Leonsis said will never tank, so forget about them trading away assets at the deadline — have won 3-of-4 and are 6-4 since John Wall was sidelined with his foot injury, with a +3 net rating in those games. Washington is now just two games out of the playoffs in the East and GM Ernie Grunfeld does not believe in tanking, so expect them to make a push.

Which is why wins like this matter.

PBT Extra: DeMarcus Cousins’ return will be big boost for Warriors. Maybe.

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The Golden State Warriors — the two-time defending NBA champs, the team on top of the Western Conference with the best offense in the NBA — are about to get a whole lot better.

Maybe.

Nobody really knows.

What we know is DeMarcus Cousins is scheduled to make his return to the court on Friday night against the Clippers in Los Angeles. Cousins missed the end of last season and all of this season recovering from a ruptured Achilles.

I get into all of it in this PBT Extra.

As NBC’s Tom Haberstroh pointed out, the history of big men bouncing back from this injury does not bode well for Cousins. On the other side, Cousins was so skilled, if the Warriors can get 75 percent of the old Cousins it will be an upgrade over Kevon Looney and give Golden State a guy who can exploit mismatches.

On paper, the Warriors should get better with Cousins in the lineup. But nobody really knows.

Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich says he doesn’t know whether he’ll retire after season

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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said in 2015 he made a commitment to newly signed LaMarcus Aldridge, presumably to coach through the five-year contract he signed in 2014.

That contract will expire after this season.

Then what?

Popovich, via Marc Stein of The New York Times:

“I don’t know the answer,” Popovich said when asked about his plans for next season in an interview Wednesday

Maybe Popovich is legitimately undecided about his future. Maybe he has a firm plan and was just being dismissive because he didn’t want to discuss it publicly. There’s obviously a massive difference between the two, but it’s difficult to parse from only his quote.

Popovich will coach Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and 2020 Olympics. That responsibility means a lot to the Air Force veteran. Some have even speculated he’ll retire from the NBA after this season to prepare for his USA Basketball duties.

In the meantime, Popovich remains one of the NBA’s top coaches. He has helped San Antonio turn around its season, building a strong offense around mid-range shooters DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge and getting everyone on enough of the same page defensively to be reasonable on that end. The Spurs aren’t a great team, but they’re good in ways that have Popovich’s fingerprints all over them.

Popovich could continue to succeed in the NBA for the foreseeable future. The question is – with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili gone and Popovich nearing age 70 – how much longer he wants to do it.