Baseline to Baseline recaps: Bobcats snap 18-game losing streak with win over Bulls

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s games in NBA action. Or, what you missed while ringing in the New Year with an 80-pound Moon Pie …

Heat 112, Magic 110 (OT): Orlando was without Glen Davis and Jameer Nelson in this one due to injury, but Miami played down to the level of its competition just as it has many times this season, and after the first quarter we had a game that was perhaps more competitive than it should have been the rest of the way.

LeBron James finished with what’s becoming a common statistical performance for the league’s best player — a near triple-double line of 36 points, eight rebounds, and 11 assists. Nikola Vucevic was the likely reason James finished two rebounds shy of the feat, considering the franchise record 29 rebounds he hauled in during Orlando’s loss.

Dwyane Wade’s steal in the waning seconds of overtime sealed it for the Heat, who went on to notch their conference-best 21st win of the regular season.

Bobcats 91, Bulls 81: The streak that had reached 18 consecutive losses is finally over.

Kurt Helin broke this one down for us.

Pacers 88, Grizzlies 83: Memphis led this one by seven after three, but was outscored 28-16 in the final period by a Pacers team that’s now won eight of its last 10 games. Indiana is rolling, and finds itself sitting at fourth place in the East without Danny granger having played a single game for them yet this season.

The Grizzlies, meanwhile, shot just 37.8 percent from the field in this one, and is going to have a tough time winning any game that sees its leading scorer in Rudy Gay knock down just 3 of his 17 shots.

Rockets 123, Hawks 104: James Harden scored 28 points, Omer Asik grabbed 17 rebounds, and Carlos Delfino hit 6-of-8 from three-point distance for Houston off the bench. All that, combined with just nine turnovers spelled doom for the Hawks, facing a Rockets team eager to bounce back after suffering two straight disappointing losses at the hands of the Thunder and the Spurs.

Spurs 104, Nets 73: Even Phil Jackson can’t save a team that only manages to score five points in the third quarter of an NBA contest, which is what happened to the Nets after trailing by just eight at the half in San Antonio.

It was a franchise record for the Spurs for fewest points allowed in a quarter, one in which the Nets shot just 2-of-20 from the field. It was the third-lowest third-quarter scoring output by a team in NBA history, according to ESPN Stats & Info. All of which is to say, the problems in Brooklyn go much deeper than Avery Johnson.

Thunder 114, Suns 96: This game was much closer than the score would indicate, with the Suns being down just two at 87-85 with a little over nine minutes to play. But then the Thunder turned it on, and the result was essentially what you’d expect.

The Suns have competed in plenty of their games this season, including this one. But ultimately, they’re overmatched from a talent and cohesiveness (to use a word that Steve Nash did a lot in his last couple of seasons in Phoenix) standpoint, and the current six-game losing streak is indicative of that.

Michael Beasley, who started the season in Phoenix with hopes that he’d become “the Man” for this team offensively, received a DNP-CD in this one.

Russell Westbrook caught an elbow to the face that caused a cut that required eight stitches to seal, but he returned to action after ward and finished with 24 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists.

Pistons present themselves as Eastern Conference heavyweights with Dwane Casey

AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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DETROIT – Pistons spokesman Mark Barnhill, introducing new coach Dwane Casey, said he tucked his notes for today’s press conference into his jacket pocket. Then, as he pulled them out, he discovered an old Pistons playoff ticket in the same pocket.

“It’s a bit of an omen and a bit of a challenge,” Barnhill said.

The ticket was for the Pistons’ best playoff performance in a decade.

“No pressure,” Casey said.

Actually, really, no pressure.

Detroit lost by only two points in Game 4 of the 2016 first round, getting swept by the Cavaliers in the game Barnhill referred to. The Pistons haven’t won a playoff game in the last 10 years and reached the postseason only twice in that span. A two-point loss was their best result.

They’re starving for only moderate success. The 59 wins and second-round loss that got Casey fired by the Raptors? That’d be a dream season in Detroit. Even just making the playoffs next year would be welcomed.

“Our time is now,” Casey said. “…The talent level on the roster is there.”

It better be.

The Pistons are too close to the luxury-tax line to use most of the mid-level exception. They surrendered their first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade. They’re left with only the No. 42 pick in the second round.

“Whatever player we get, that would be great. But we don’t need another one,” Pistons owner Tom Gores said. “Like, we’re good. That’s why Dwane is here.”

That and $35 million.

The Pistons presented Casey with a favorable contract, a front-office head he knows (more on that later) and a solid roster. Detroit is probably better off trying to win now, because the alternative would be even trickier to pull off. With so many highly paid players stained by losing, the Pistons can’t easily switch paths and rebuild. Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are close enough to their primes that the present should be the priority, even if this team maxes at pretty good.

Yet, Detroit’s brass couldn’t help but raise expectations even further.

“We have three very – we have a great roster – but very special players,” Gores said of Griffin, Drummond and Jackson.

That’s an overstatement. Besides, how much noise can Detroit make with the Celtics and 76ers rising the Raptors still hanging around?

“I feel very comfortable that we’ll have a product that will compete with the teams that you just said,” Gores’ advisor, Ed Stefanski, said. “We have to win games, as Tom said. But you don’t usually get to an organization and have three core guys like we have.”

Again, they’re talking about Blake Griffin, Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson.

Griffin hasn’t made an All-Star team in three years, a drought players rarely escape. Drummond is a borderline All-Star in the East (and a tough fit with Griffin). Jackson has only once even sniffed the All-Star discussion.

Casey also praised those three – and Detroit’s last three first-round picks: Stanley Johnson, Henry Ellenson and Luke Kennard. Johnson particularly drew attention from Casey, whose Raptors got swept by LeBron James‘ Cavaliers the last two years and lost the most lopsided six-game series in NBA history to Cleveland the previous year.

“Somebody said, ‘Well, what happened to Toronto in the playoffs? ‘Well, I said, ‘It’s about matchups,'” Casey said. “And Stanley Johnson is the best match up for 23 in Cleveland that there is, physically.”

Maybe Casey, with his strong record of player development, will help Johnson eventually compete at those high levels.

“We’re not developing,” Casey said. “We’re not two or three years away. We want to win right now.”

The Pistons are so confident in their current roster, they haven’t even hired a general manager or equivalent. For now, Stefanski – advisor to the owner with the title of “senior executive” – is running the show. It sounds as if that could continue for a while.

“We could make Ed GM tomorrow,” Gores said. “That’s easy. If you guys want a title, that’s kind of easy.

“That’s not the point. The point is we’re building an organization, not around one person, but around what our vision is.”

Stefanski said, no matter how the front office is assembled, Casey will report to him. And Stefanski will report to Gores.

After giving Stan Van Gundy massive control, the Pistons are dispersing power.

Casey is a good coach, and he’ll help. Stefanski has plenty to prove as a front-office head. Gores is still learning as an owner, a failed experiment (keeping Joe Dumars) and unfulfilling tenure (Van Gundy’s) behind him. The roster is solid, though unexciting, when healthy.

They’re now all in it together, awaiting a chance to deliver. Considering how modest external expectations are, maybe they will.

But as the Pistons overstate their standing, it gets harder to take them seriously.

PBT Extra: Dwight Howard traded to Brooklyn, does anybody win?

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Dwight Howard is on the move. Again. Leaving a wake of unhappy teammates behind him. Again.

The trade can’t be consummated until the NBA free agent moratorium ends on July 6, but a deal has been struck where Charlotte sends Howard to Brooklyn for Timofey Mozgov, two second-round picks, and cash.

I don’t love this trade for the Nets — it’s going to get awkward with Howard being asked to come off the bench behind Jarrett Allen (and he should come off the bench). But it frees up an extra $17 million for the Nets in the summer of 2019 as they start to reshape their roster.

The Hornets get away from the luxury tax with this move but tie up their cap space next year with Mozgov still getting paid off the contract former-Laker-now-Hornets GM Mitch Kupchak gave him years ago. It was a short-term move that isn’t great for the long term. Unless Kemba Walker wanted Howard gone and the Hornets want to re-sign their point guard. A lot of unanswered questions still about this team.

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.