Baseline to Baseline recaps: That Kevin Durant guy is pretty good

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while being more than willing to do your part to fight breast cancer….

Knicks 100, Nets 86: Battle of New York? Not really. The Knick are an elite team that got Carmelo Anthony back and he dropped 31 (that makes it 110 points on the Nets in their three meetings). The Nets are 2-8 in their last 10 and struggling on defense. We break it all down in more detail here.

Thunder 100, Hawks 92: And the Thunder are up to an even dozen wins in a row after cruising to a win over the Hawks (don’t let the final score fool you, this simply was not that close). The Thunder started to pull away at the end of the first quarter and never lost that lead. Russell Westbrook owned the first half, scoring 21 of his 27.

The Hawks fought back and early in the fourth quarter got the lead down to 4, but then it was the Kevin Durant show, he had 18 in the fourth quarter on his way to 41 for the game. The Hawks would make runs in the fourth quarter, then Durant would happen. There was nothing anyone could do. Jeff Teague led Atlanta with 19 points, Josh Smith had 17 points and 12 boards.

Rockets 125, 76ers 103: Finally, James Harden and Jeremy Lin clicked on the same night — Harden finished with 33 (and got 17 at the free throw line as he was aggressive) and Lin 18 points on 12 shots. When they both score like that the Rockets are very difficult to beat. Of course, it helps to play the Sixers, who have been a defensive disaster for a couple weeks now. Mix those two and you Houston shooting 56 percent on the night and cruising for the win.

Celtics 103, Cavaliers 91: Paul Pierce can still take over a game — he dropped 40 and keyed the win that stopped the Celtics three game losing streak. But it wasn’t easy. Boston pulled away late in the second quarter and early in the third, eventually leading by 20. But then a 20-2 run sparked by Kyrie Irving (22 points on the night) cut that all the way down to two in the fourth. It took a key layup by Rajon Rondo and some Pierce fireworks to seal the win for Boston.

It’s a win for the Celtics, but this is a 5-22 Cavaliers team, losers of five straight, who were without Anderson Varejao, and the still were in it in the fourth quarter. The Celtics still have some issues to work out.

Grizzlies 90, Bucks 80: Good defensive teams win games because even on nights their offense goes cold they stay in the game and have a chance. That’s how Memphis won this — they can win ugly as well or better than any team in the league. The Grizzlies shot just 40.9 percent on the night, but that was better than the Bucks 35.3 percent.

The king of futility in this game goes to Monta Ellis, who started 0-for-13 shooting (he hit his last shot of the game to go 1-14). On the other end of the spectrum, Zach Randolph had 15 points and 17 rebounds.

Pacers 104, Jazz 84: This was a blowout of epic proportions for the Pacers. Indiana led by as many as 32 points on the night, and had this game wrapped up by halftime after a horrific offensive second quarter from the Jazz.

Utah managed just eight second-quarter points on 3-of-20 shooting, while missing all eight of its three-point attempts in the period. Indiana wasn’t that much better, scoring just 22 points on 42.9 percent. But it was enough to build a 22-point lead by halftime that was never in jeopardy the rest of the way.

The Pacers got balanced scoring, with five players in double figures and three — Paul George, George Hill, and Gerald Green — all getting 20-plus.

The Jazz were coming off of a nice win in Brooklyn the night before, but an effort like this tends to erase that memory pretty fast. “I don’t know if we can get past this quickly,” Utah guard Gordon Hayward said afterward, which is probably the appropriate response.
—Brett Pollakoff

Kings 131, Warriors 127: We had an old-fashioned shootout in Sacramento. There were 102 possessions (the league average is close to 94) and both teams shot 50 percent. The game was tied 118-118 with 2:13 left when the Kings when John Salmoms attacked off the dribble and Stephen Curry — who had 23 points in the second half and 32 for the game — picked up his sixth foul and went to the bench. That was followed by an Aaron Brooks three and a Marcus Thornton three (he had 19 points) to get the Kings the win. Sacramento was 11-of-19 from three and that was key in the game.

DeMarcus Cousins had 24 points and Brooks had 23 — and both took just 12 shots a piece. David Lee put u 29 points and eight rebounds for Golden State, while Jarrett Jack added 28 points.

Clippers 93, Hornets 77: After the Clippers picked up their 11th win in a row, owner Donald Sterling went into the Clippers locker room and led a “hip-hip hooray” chant. Seriously.

As for the game, the Clippers are just way more talented and it showed. Lob City was in full effect, Los Angeles was having fun. They led by 10 at the half and when the Hornets made a run to get it close in the third quarter the Clippers went on a 13-3 run and that was it. Chris Paul ended up with 10 points and 12 assists.

Suns 121, Bobcats 104: Believe it or not, this game wasn’t as close as the score would indicate … which is to say, it wasn’t close at all.

A 22-6 run from Phoenix over the first six-and-a-half minutes of the second quarter ran the Suns lead to 17, and put this one out of reach. Charlotte clearly carried some feelings of disappointment from Tuesday night’s close loss to the Lakers into this one, and didn’t have the energy to fight back from a lead that reached 20 before the end of the first half.

The Suns smelled blood once the third quarter began, and Shannon Brown had 18 points in the period on 7-of-10 shooting, including hitting four of his five shots from three-point distance. It was a season-high 26-point performance for Brown, surpassing his previous season-high, which also came against the Bobcats.

The lead got as high as 30 before the fourth quarter began, and the Bobcats cut into it to get within 14 once the Suns had already checked out for the evening, but the game was never in doubt. The Suns rained down a season-best 17 three-pointers, and did so on just 28 attempts for a mark of 60.7 percent from beyond the arc.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist finished with 25 points and 12 rebounds, and Kemba Walker led all scorers with 27 points on just 14 shots. The Bobcats players are buying what head coach Mike Dunlap is selling to a certain extent, but it was clear in the locker room afterward that the losing streak, now at 13 games, is beginning to weigh on these guys.
—Brett Pollakoff

Raptors 97, Pistons 91: Is Toronto better without Andrea Bargnani? It’s looking that way. The Raptors won their fourth straight with Bargnani sidelined due to injury, this time over a dreadful Pistons team that is now just 2-13 on the road this season.

DeMar DeRozan and Alan Anderson did the heavy lifting offensively for Toronto with 23 points and 16 points respectively, while Jose Calderon continued his strong play at the point with 17 assists.

Greg Monroe had a career-high 35 points to go along with 10 rebounds, but Rodney Stuckey was the only other Piston player to finish in double figures with 13 points.
—Brett Pollakoff

Magic 90, Wizards 83: The one thing these two teams have in common is the fact that no one expected either to be very good at all this season. While Orlando has exceeded all expectations by somehow getting out to a more-than-respectable 12-13 start, Washington seems intent on making sure those preseason projections were as accurate as possible — and then some.

This one wasn’t pretty, with each team managing to score less than 15 points in one of the two final periods; the Magic outscored the Wizards 38-33 in a fairly brutal second half.

Nene and Jordan Crawford led Washington with 20 and 19 points respectively, while the Magic got big contributions in limited minutes from two of their reserves. J.J. Redick had 17 points in 26 minutes, and E’Twaun Moore chipped in 15 in 20 minutes.

Glen Davis left the game with under a minute to play, after appearing to suffer a shoulder injury following a hard foul from Emeka Okafor. His status will be worth watching in the days ahead.

The loss dropped the Wizards to 1-11 on the road, and just 3-20 on the season.
—Brett Pollakoff

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: ‘If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work’

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James Harden and Chris Paul worked reasonably well together on the court, but they played through a lot of tension.

Now, the Rockets are going to a new star backcourt that invites even more questions.

How will Harden and Russell Westbrook fit?

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni on The Woj Pod:

If the superstars want to play together, then they will make it work.

To be able to win a title now, you have to get superstars together – and whether it’s two or three or how many else you can get. And then it becomes a chemistry. Because everybody’s ball-dominant. When you’re a superstar, you’ve been the main guy for sure. Now, you’ve got to make it work. And sometimes personalities, it doesn’t work. Sometimes, it works for a while. Sometimes, it’s hard to manage, sometimes. Again, if they’re not on the same page totally 100 percent, I think the organization has to look and see what’s best for the organization.

D’Antoni was asked about Harden and Westbrook. (Best I can tell, D’Antoni never named Westbrook on the podcast, which should allow the coach to avoid a fine.) But D’Antoni could have easily been describing Harden and Paul.

It seems Harden and Paul no longer wanted to make it work. Those two played better together than most people realized. The Rockets were one of the NBA’s best teams each of the last two years, and they had an elite offense. But Harden and Paul clearly grated each other.

Now, Harden and Westbrook will get a fresh start together. They sound eager to re-join forces after beginning their careers together with the Thunder.

D’Antoni is correct: Harden’s and Westbrook’s desire to make this work will go a long way.

But Harden and Paul were once enthusiastic about pairing, and that went south. An initial commitment to teaming up is important. It can also wane quickly.

It also can’t overcome every fit issue. Sometimes, stars just don’t match, no matter their intentions.

D’Antoni is also right about super teams generally require ball-dominant stars to sacrifice for the greater good. There are always diminishing returns on grouping stars.

But other situations have included stars with more complementary skills. So much of what Harden and Westbrook provide involves having the ball in their hands. The diminishment of returns will likely be greater in Houston.

Harden’s and Westbrook’s talent give the Rockets a huge leg up. Those two wanting to play together will push each to do his best to make it work.

It’s still far more complicated than that.

Report: Ben Simmons contract extension allows him to hit super-max triggers

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Ben Simmons signed a max contract extension with the 76ers.

It could turn into a super-max contract extension.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The exact value of Simmons’ contract extension won’t be determined until the salary cap set next year. That’s when the extension kicks in. The current projection has it worth about $170 million over five years.

If Simmons makes an All-NBA team next season, it could be worth 20% more – bringing the projected total to about $204 million.

Whether Simmons gets the full bump if he makes an All-NBA team was a matter of negotiation between him and Philadelphia. They could have agreed to pay different amounts depending whether he makes the first, second or third team. (Simmons could also trigger the super max by winning Most Valuable Player or Defensive Player of the Year next season, again contingent on the terms of the extension.)

We don’t yet know the specifics of Simmons’ super-max eligibility. But they’re in his contract now.

There will be a lot riding on his performance next season. We’ll eventually learn how much

The 76ers did well to avoid a player option in the deal. That was likely an advantage of signing Simmons to an extension now rather than forcing him to wait until restricted free agency next summer. Simmons is just 22. He should provide positive value to his team six seasons from now.

Simmons’ trade kicker won’t matter now. A trade kicker can’t take a player above his max salary, and Simmons is starting at his max. But if he struggles to fit with franchise player Joel Embiid, Simmons could be in line for a nice bonus if traded in a few years.

Report: Before Paul George trade, Thunder were already preparing to trade Russell Westbrook next year

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The Thunder are starting over in an unprecedented way.

By sending Paul George to the Clippers and Russell Westbrook to the Rockets, Oklahoma City is becoming the first team ever to trade two reigning All-NBA players in the same offseason. The Thunder are the first team in decades to trade even two reigning All-Stars in the same offseason.

The sequence appears clear: George requested a trade. Oklahoma City granted it. With one star gone, the Thunder had less ability to win with Westbrook. So, they dealt him, too.

But if George didn’t request a trade this summer, Westbrook might have been moved soon, anyway.

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

The clock was already ticking loudly on the Westbrook era, with team officials quietly preparing to hit the reset button next summer, per sources, after one more run.

George’s trade request was a blessing in disguise for the Thunder. They got a massive haul from the Clippers and clearance to trade Westbrook, a franchise icon. The Westbrook trade netted even more draft strong draft considerations from Houston. Oklahoma City has a great head start on its rebuild.

The Thunder had probably peaked. They’ve been good the last few years, but not good enough to win a playoff series. The supporting cast was expensive, and further upgrades would’ve likely been too costly. Westbrook is too good to tank. The four years and $171,139,920 remaining on his contract are a major liability.

However, Westbrook has meant so much to Oklahoma City. His loyalty after Kevin Durant left was so huge.

It would have been difficult to handle the politics of trading him if George didn’t ask out first. That made it so Westbrook was ready to leave. Thunder fans seem supportive of both Westbrook and the organization.

I believe Oklahoma City general manager Sam Presti believes he would’ve traded Westbrook soon, regardless. That was clearly the right move for getting past this era of stagnation.

But it’s another thing to pull the trigger on moving such a beloved player. It wouldn’t have necessarily happened, especially not smoothly.

Canada’s FIBA World Cup training camp features 17 NBA players

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No Andrew Wiggins, no problem.

The disconnect between Wiggins and Canada Basketball seemed like a big deal when Wiggins looked like a budding star from a country without much basketball pedigree. But Wiggins has stagnated. Canada, on the other hand, looks like a rising international power.

Canada Basketball announced its training-camp invitations for the FIBA World Cup. The list includes a whop 17 NBA players:

Though the Nuggets clearly expect Murray to reach the next level, this group is short on star power right now. Don’t expect Canada rival Team USA. But this is a deep pool of solid players. They should be competitive in the tournament this fall in China.

This group is also pretty young. Players like Murray, Gilgeous-Alexander, Barrett, Alexander-Walker and Clarke could take Canada to an even higher level in years to come.

And then the generation that’s growing up idolizing the championship Raptors will come through. Expect Canada’s climb to continue.

The other 12 players invited to Canada Basketball’s training camp: Aaron Best, Aaron Doornekamp, Andrew Nembhard, Andy Rautins, Brady Heslip, Kevin Pangos, Kyle Wiltjer, Melvin Ejim, Naz Mitrou-Long, Oshae Brissett, Phil Scrubb, Thomas Scrubb.