Baseline to Baseline recaps: Rockets, Celtics, Clippers get Christmas blowouts

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the day in NBA action. Or, what you missed while running to the store to buy more double-AA batteries for those Christmas toys….

Celtics 93, Nets 76: The Nets are not a good defensive team, rather they are prone to lapses, like the second quarter when Boston put up 34 points. And with Deron Williams and the rest of the Nets offense struggling — especially against a good defensive team like Boston — you get the kind of blowout loss where the team CEO tweets an apology to the fans afterwards. As for Boston, they looked good, something to build on heading into a road trip out West. We broke it down in detail in this story.

Lakers 100, Knicks 94: Don’t look now, but the Lakers have won five in a row. That felt like a mirage until this win, when you started to see how Steve Nash does space the floor and Pau Gasol can work in the system. As for the Knicks, teams are taking away the three — they shot better than 40 percent the first 20 games of the season, but just 31.2 percent the last five games and were just 9-of-26 (34.6 percent) in this one. We broke the game down in more detail with Brett Pollakoff who was on the scene.

Heat 103, Thunder 97: This well could be a finals preview, and if so can we start it tomorrow. The most spirited game on Christmas Day featured the two defending conference champions and the two teams to beat for those aspiring to the finals. It featured LeBron James and a near triple-double, while Kevin Durant dropped 34. But in the end the Heat defense still takes the Thunder offense out of its rhythm and that is just enough for them to hold on for a close win. We broke this game down as well.

Rockets 120, Bulls 97: With Derrick Rose out, the Chicago Bulls have almost no margin for error — if they don’t bring their best defensive effort all night they can get blown out. The Rockets did that, pushing the pace as much as they could (31 fast break points, although the Bulls did grind this down to pretty much a league average pace game overall). The Rockets attacked and had half their points (60) in the paint, compared to 32 for the Bulls. The Rockets started to pull away in the second quarter, when Jeremy Lin had 10 points, and by the third quarter this was a rout. Nate Robinson got it as close as 15 in the fourth, but there was to be no comeback. Houston’s Omer Asik had 20 points and 18 rebounds against the team that would not match the Rockets offer sheet for him last summer. James Harden had 26.

Clippers 112, Nuggets 100: That is 14 wins in a row for the Clippers and at 22-6 Los Angeles now has the best record in the NBA. Let the historic relevance of that sink in — the Clippers have the best record in the NBA. They did it with a monster 42-point second quarter where they cranked up the defense — Denver shot 33 percent and had five turnovers — and turned those into a dozen highlight-reel fastbreak points plus 26 points in the paint. The Clippers were up 19 at the half and it was all over save for a few more dunks. Jamal Crawford had 22 off the bench (including a great move), Matt Barnes had 20 and Chris Paul continues to be the best player nobody is watching because he controls the game but doesn’t put up crazy stat lines. He just wins.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.