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.

James Harden on his struggles shooting: “Who cares?”

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns’ GM says there is “overwhelming likelihood” team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.

Draymond Green guarantees Warriors will beat Rockets in Western Conference finals

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Warriors coach Steve Kerr is confident despite his team trailing the Rockets 3-2 in the Western Conference finals.

Golden State forward Draymond Green goes further.

Green, via Marcus Thompson II of The Athletic:

“We still winning this,” Draymond Green said. “Book it.”

Of course, Green is confident. He’d never say he expects his team to lose.

But he didn’t need to frame it this way. He could’ve said he was just focused on the next game rather than make such a bold proclamation.

He’s taking pressure upon himself and putting his reputation on the line. If Golden State loses, especially in Game 6 at home with Chris Paul out, Green will be widely mocked.

If he and the Warriors pull through, he’ll probably deserve praise for setting a tone that helped them advance.