Baseline to Baseline recaps: Carmelo has Knicks on top in New York

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while you were wondering who thought an Angry Birds movie was a good idea…

Cavaliers 100, Lakers 94: It’s not just one thing with the Lakers – their offense was off, their defensive rotations are sloppy, their big men missed shots, but the real culprit was Kyrie Irving. He is back and the Cavs look much better. We broke down the Lakers third straight loss here.

Knicks 100, Nets 97: Brooklyn started out the game on a 21-5 run, playing some of their best interior defense since Brook Lopez went down (which is a weird thing to type). Deron Williams was attacking. Things were clicking and the Nets shot 67 percent in the quarter.

But starting with a 12-2 run in the middle of the second quarter the Knicks owned the rest of the game. Part of that was Carmelo Anthony, who had 14 points in the second quarter, 15 in the fourth when it mattered and a grand total of 45. The Knicks were moving the ball, getting and hitting three point looks — 14-of-28. Andray Blatche had 23 to lead the Nets. It was another fun, close game between these teams. But old man Jason Kidd was the difference when it mattered most. (He missed the free throw on the and-1, but ‘Sheed did not yell “Ball Don’t Lie.”)

Clippers, Bulls: The Bulls did everything by the books. They created 4-on-3 opportunities in the high post for Joakim Noah (6 assists) to pick apart the defense. They got Carlos Boozer open looks along the baseline, where he used his power to overwhelm (24 points) the Clippers frontcourt. And of course, the halfcourt defense was wonderful.

But here’s the thing — the Bulls can do everything right schematically and still lose because the talent just isn’t on par with the league’s elite teams. Marco Belinelli clanked his way to a 6-for-22 shooting performance. Should Belinelli shoot 22 shots ever? Probably not, but these are the types of realities good teams will force the Bulls to face.
—D.J. Foster

Nuggets 101, Pistons 94: The Nuggets led the entire second half, but these are a scrappy Pistons bunch and they made Denver work for it. The real key for the Nuggets was their bench — Corey Brewer had 15 points, JaVale McGee 12 and Andre Miller 11. And the three did it shooting 66.7 percent. Ty Lawson also filled up the stat sheet with 26 points, getting 16 of those in the second half. The Pistons Greg Monroe had 27 points and 10 rebounds.

Wizards 77, Hornets 70: Even Anthony Davis’ return couldn’t save this from being an ugly affair. The Wizards shot 32.9 percent and won (the Hornets were 32.5). Washington scored just 11 points in the first quarter, but that was better than New Orleans 10 in the fourth quarter. Heck, Jordan Crawford outscored the Hornets by himself 14-10 (Crawford finished with 26). Davis had 13 points and 8 rebounds in his return.

Watch the Alex Caruso to LeBron James alley-oop

LeBron Caruso
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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One of the keys to Denver having a shot in the Western Conference Finals: Keep the Lakers out of transition.

That did not go so well to start.

Denver had seven second-quarter turnovers, which allowed the Lakers to get out an run and the result was this highlight, Alex Caruso to LeBron James for the monster alley-oop.

The Lakers added more points per 100 possessions in transition than any other team in the league, and the Lakers have started a higher percentage of their offense in transition than any other team in the playoffs (16.5% of their plays start that way, stats via Cleaning the Glass). Denver has improved halfcourt defense this postseason, but their transition defense has struggled in the playoffs. That is potentially a bad combo for the Nuggets.

 

Report: Heat tried to trade Goran Dragic away in Jimmy Butler deal

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The Miami Heat are not in control of the Eastern Conference Finals — just two wins from the NBA Finals — without the combination of Jimmy Butler and Goran Dragic. They are the shot creators, the two penetrating into the paint, breaking down the Celtics’ defense, then kicking out to shooters. Butler is an All-NBA player, and Dragic is playing like the All-NBA player he was six years ago.

That pairing almost never happened.

Michael Lee at the Athletic told the story.

What’s hilarious about the Dragic-Butler partnership – a bromance that has found them bonding in the bubble over bottles of Michelob Ultras, cups of Big Head coffee, and singing the “Bad Boys” theme song from “Cops” – is it nearly didn’t happen. The initial three-team trade [Heat president Pat] Riley facilitated to get Butler involved sending Dragic to Dallas. Dragic would’ve teamed up with his Slovenian little homie, Luka Doncic, but would’ve said farewell to what he intended to do with the Heat.

The Mavericks had no interest in taking on Dragic – a 30-something hobbling on a surgically-repaired knee whose best years were way in the rearview – so the Heat had to get more creative, while remaining stuck with seemingly damaged goods. Again, nothing went according to plan.

We knew this at the time, consider this a reminder. Also, don’t blame Dallas on this one. Dragic played 36 games last season, had knee issues, and had looked like a shell of the All-NBA player he used to be, and on top of it he was getting paid $19.2 million. There were not a lot of teams looking to get in the Dragic business before this season started.

Instead, Dragic stayed, got healthy, accepted a sixth-man role (until the playoffs, before that Kendrick Nunn started and Dragic was the change of pace off the bench), and found his stride.

In the bubble, Dragic has taken off as the second scoring/shot-creating option in the Heat offense. Erik Spoelstra, as he does, has put Dragic in positions to succeed.

And, after these playoffs, get paid this offseason when Dragic is a free agent.

Brad Stevens hosts late night meeting with Smart, Brown, Celtics’ leadership

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A frustrated Marcus Smart yelled and vented at teammates after Boston’s come-from-ahead loss to Miami to go down 0-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Jaylen Brown reportedly snapped back that the team needed to stick together and not just point fingers. Things reportedly were thrown around in the Celtics’ locker room.

Boston coach Brad Stevens knew he had to get everyone back on the same page before Game 3 on Saturday, so he had Smart, Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker meet and talk through their issues, reported Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

It was a smart move by Stevens, and it apparently worked. The Celtics have moved on from the incident, reports A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston.

But one source within the bubble told NBC Sports Boston that the emotions of Thursday night are “water under the bridge now” as the team prepares for a must-win Game 3 on Saturday.

The Celtics need to match the Heat’s “do whatever it takes to win” intensity on Saturday. It would be a help if Gordon Hayward plays, which appears possible (he is officially listed as questionable but seems to be moving toward playing.

Everything that happened before to Boston needs to be a lesson on what it takes to win at the highest level. Miami is confident and rolling, plus they have the relentless Jimmy Butler in their corner.

One of the four players in Stevens’ room Thursday night — Boston’s leaders — has to be the one to step up and match that intensity. If not, the Celtics will be watching the Finals from home like the rest of us.

Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo: Agents will position me to succeed ‘with the team or another team’

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Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s moment has arrived.

He won Most Valuable Player, yes. But he’s also the center of speculation as he approached 2021 unrestricted free agency. He could head that off by signing a super-max extension with the Bucks this summer.

In the meantime, every word he says will be scrutinized for clues about his future.

That includes grainy video today from Greece, where – because Milwaukee already got bounced from the playoffs – Antetokounmpo conducted a conference call with reporters and an interview on NBA TV about his award.

The Bucks’ season is so far in the rearview mirror, Antetokounmpo already met with Bucks ownership and returned home. Now, attention turns to his long-term outlook.

Antetokounmpo:

I have two great agents that help with that, and I know they’re going to put me in the best situation to be successful with the team or another team. But at the end of the day, I had a great conversation with the owner. And as I know so far, we’re on the same page. And I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career. But at the end of the day, we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship.

As long as everybody is on the same page and as long as everybody is fighting for the same thing … every single day, which is to be a champion, I don’t see why not be in Milwaukee for the next 15 years?

I believe Antetokounmpo prefers to find a way to stay with the Bucks. But even while professing his loyalty, Antetokounmpo had made clear he doesn’t hold blind allegiance to Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo’s agent, Alex Saratsis, said in February, “Everything is open.”

Yet, this is the first time I recall Antetokounmpo himself so directly mentioning the possibility of joining “another team.”

The other time he supposedly said something like that, he claimed he was misquoted.

Of course, you could focus on other portions of his responses today like: “I want to be in Milwaukee for the rest of my career.” Yet, there’s that “we’ve got to want the same thing, which is a championship” caveat.

Two major questions:

1. How willing are the Bucks to pay the luxury tax to maximize Milwaukee’s title chances?

2. Even with a financial commitment from ownership, how equipped are the Bucks to win after a couple years of shortcuts?

Antetokounmpo must evaluate.

But he’s not just putting the onus on the organization. He spoke about working to continuing to improve, doing his part to achieve his main goal.

When talking about his 2019 MVP, Antetokounmpo said at the time, “Please, after this day, don’t call me MVP because until I win it again next year.”

Is he ready to be called MVP now?

Antetokounmpo:

Don’t call me MVP. Don’t call me two-times MVP until I’m a champion.