Baseline to Baseline recaps: Nets, Warriors get statement wins

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the games yesterday in NBA action. Or, what you missed while figuring out what’s in and what’s out for 2013

Nets 110, Thunder 93: Well, P.J. Carlesimo has his signature win and for a night the Nets looked like the team from the first weeks of the season. Oh, they’re going to call Phil Jackson anyway, but it is a good win.

From the opening tip this was the Nets night — they opened the game on an 11-2 run, hit 8-of-11, then Andray Blatche ended the first quarter with this horrid one-handed 14-foot straight away shot that banked in. It was that kind of night and the Nets were up 33-19. That lead blossomed all the way up to 55-32 at one point, in part behind Joe Johnson who had 20 first half and 33 points overall.

You knew the Thunder run was coming and it did, tying the game in the fourth quarter. But Johnson had eight straight points including a jumper to break the tie. Brook Lopez was sharp with 25 points and Deron Williams added 19 to get the Nets get a big win. Kevin Durant had 27 points in a losing effort.

Warriors 115, Clippers 94: Golden State won this game with defense. Seriously. Yes, Stephen Curry had 31 points and 8 assists, while David Lee had 24 points and 13 rebounds and worked beautifully out of the high post, but it was the defensive end of the floor where the Warriors were best.

Golden State played the Clippers pick-and-roll very well and force Chris Paul into long passes, then rotated well on them. Lee did a fantastic job on the slumping Blake Griffin. The Clippers shot 36.4 percent overall and were 8-of-29 from three. Clippers not named Paul, Jamal Crawford and Matt Barnes combined to score just 18 points.

While the Warriors turned the ball over one in five times down the court in an up-tempo game, but the Clippers did not convert that into all the highlights and big runs you expect form Los Angeles. Again, credit Golden State.

Heat 119, Mavericks 109 (OT): There were some good signs for Dallas in this game — like the 30 points and 4-of-10 three pointers from O.J. Mayo, who looked like his old self. Or that Dirk Nowitzki played nearly 30 minutes and had 19 points.

But what was really fun about this game was the final minute of regulation. Miami was down one going for what would be their second to last shot and of course it was LeBron James driving the lane, then when the defense collapsed he kicked to Shane Battier for the corner three. Great find, great shot. Remember a few years ago when some shortsighted fans used to kill LeBron for those passes saying he was “not being the man” by making the right basketball play? Gotta love the Internet.

Then without a timeout to set up a play the Mavs (down two) end up with Darren Collison dribbling around, picking up his dribble at the elbow and getting stuck. Then Dirk Nowitzki ran over, took a handoff from him and hit a vintage one-legged fade away to tie it up.

LeBron missed a good-look pull-up 20 footer over Vince Carter and we were headed to overtime… where the Heat started 3-3 and the Mavs 0-3 and it was basically all over. But the game was a lot of fun — Miami gets a win off Lebron’s 32 points and Dallas has a game to build off.

Grizzlies 93, Celtics 83: So Avery Bradley is not the instant, just add water savior of Boston basketball. He returned, the Celtics still looked bad in a loss. To be fair Bradley defended well, they tracked it at WEEI’s Green Street — when Bradley was on Grizzlies point guard Mike Conley had five points and two assists in the first half, but when someone else was on him Conley was 4-of-6 with three assists. Bradley was -11 on the night.

Kevin Garnett was not good in the first half, shooting 1-of-7 from the floor as he seemed to struggle with the long, physical defenders of the Grizzlies. Paul Pierce kept the Celtics in this game in the first half, going 4-of-4 from three. Memphis led at the half 50-41.

Boston made a run in the fourth but it wasn’t enough. The Celtics drop to 3-17 on the season.

Spurs 117, Bucks 100: Ah, yes. The Stephen Jackson bowl.

Jackson had eight points and four assists in 21 minutes off the bench against the team he played for briefly last season, but the real story was Tim Duncan and Tony Parker logging 34 and 36 minutes respectively.
Why is that? Well, with a game in New York against the Knicks on deck Thursday — one which will be San Antonio’s fourth in five nights — the temptation will be there for Popovich to rest his starters, as he did the last time he was faced with this situation in Miami against the Heat.
The fact that the game won’t be televised nationally on TNT might save the Spurs from a fine, or it might not — but either way, whatever Popovich and the organization decides will be infinitely more interesting than was this easy win over the Bucks.
—Brett Pollakoff

Bulls 96, Magic 94: Chicago won the battle of the shorthanded, playing without Joakim Noah, while Orlando missed Glen Davis for the seventh time this season.

Taj Gibson started in Noah’s place and finished with 21 points and 10 rebounds, and Carlos Boozer finished with 31 and 10. That was enough to put away the Magic, despite Orlando’s comeback from 18 down in the third that made this a contest that wasn’t decided until the final few possessions.
—Brett Pollakoff

Rockets 104, Hornets 92: dThe Hornets did a good job in this game of controlling the tempo, not letting the Rockets just run away. Well, until the second half of the fourth quarter when a 20-6 Rockets run decided this one. Patrick Patterson keyed the run with 13 fourth quarter points on 6-of-6 shooting. James Harden had 31, Omer Asik added 21 for Houston. Eric Gordon sat out for the Hornets they continue to ease him back in. Ryan Anderson had 18 off the bench and Greivis Vasquez had 15 for New Orleans.

Jazz 106, Timberwolves 84: Utah — always more dangerous at home — started the second quarter on a 15-4 run and never looked back from there. This was the kind of win the Jazz needed (and not just because they lost seven of nine) because with Mo Williams out for six weeks they are going to need this kind of team effort with six guys in double digits. Gordon Hayward led the way with 17.

Minnesota couldn’t buy a basket — they shot 34.5 percent as a team and were 2-of-17 from three. Kevin Love was 4-of-14, Luke Ridnour was 4-of-11. With that shooting their energy faded and Utah outplayed them in pretty much every way imaginable.

Pacers 89, Wizards 81: Washington opened this game on the wrong side of an 8-0 run, and scored less than 20 points in two of the game’s four quarters. The team was competitive and closed the gap before halftime, but the Pacers led by as many as 18 in the third, and got a sensational 29 points and 14 rebounds from Paul George to close the Wizards out.

In case you were wondering how bad the Wizards are right now, their starting five combined for 33 total points, and two of them — Martell Webster and Garrett Temple — went scoreless. So, yeah. Lots more losing on the horizon in Washington.
—Brett Pollakoff

Raptors 102, Trail Blazers 79: Portland beat the Knicks in New York on Tuesday, so on the second night of a back-to-back on the road in Toronto, a let down performance was somewhat to be expected. Especially with the way the resurgent Raptors have been playing as of late.

Terrence Ross led the way for the Raptors with 26 points in 25 minutes off the bench, and DeMar DeRozan, Ed Davis, and Amir Johnson did the rest of the damage. If these names don’t sound familiar to you, they will soon — Toronto is 8-1 over its last nine games, with wins by a margin of 20 or more points in three of those contests.
—Brett Pollakoff

Kings 97, Cavaliers 94: Sacramento got a rare road victory, and did so with both Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton sidelined due to injury. Cleveland, meanwhile, has its own injury issues, and was without Anderson Varejao — who leads the league in rebounding — for the seventh straight game due to a knee injury.

DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson did the heavy lifting for the Kings, finishing with a combined 37 points and 23 rebounds in Varejao’s absence. Kyrie Irving was held in check, and finished with 22 points, five rebounds, and six assists.

The Cavs continue to compete at times, but are still searching for answers. Dion Waiters was replaced by C.J. Miles in the starting lineup, but they played the same amount of minutes (29), and neither was particularly efficient in scoring the basketball.
—Brett Pollakoff

Suns 95, Sixers 89: Phoenix snapped a six-game losing streak, thanks to solid all-around performances from several of the team’s most important players.

Luis Scola put up big numbers for the third consecutive game, and led the Suns with 21 points and nine assists. Marcin Gortat was big, especially in the first half, and finished with 11 points and 14 rebounds. P.J. Tucker found himself in the starting lineup for the second consecutive game for defensive purposes, but was able to finish inside when given the opportunity, and knocked down a clutch jumper late after Scola passed out of a double team in one of the game’s final key possessions.

Jrue Holiday was largely held in check, despite his triple-double line of 16 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists.

The arena was more packed than it has been for a random weekday game this season, thanks to thousands of Kansas State supporters who were in town for college football’s Fiesta Bowl showing up to check out their most famous NBA alumnus, Michael Beasley.

The crowd chanted for Beasley, who received a DNP-CD in his team’s previous game, while booing Markieff Morris, who hails from in-state rival Kansas University. Beasley played less than seven minutes, but made the most of his time by putting up four shots and hauling down 4 rebounds — though he was a -11 in his time on the court, thanks to the way the Sixers manhandled the Suns second unit to start the second quarter.
—Brett Pollakoff

Report: Rockets want to target Jimmy Butler. Reality: Getting that cap space will be hard

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Rockets GM Daryl Morey is always thinking big. He deserves credit for that.

For the last couple of years, the Rockets have been the second best team in the West, and with the injuries (and maybe free agency) hitting the Warriors it should be Houston at the front of the line. However, Morey doesn’t want to stand pat, he wants to add another star to the roster that can put them over the top.

Such as Jimmy Butler, reports Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.

Butler would be a good fit, although he would be another big ego in that locker room. Have fun with managing all that with a lame duck coach in Mike D’Antoni (he has yet to sign an extension to stay).

Reality, however, is going to make landing Butler tough to pull off.

The first challenge is Butler himself. Sources have told me the Sixers plan on keeping him and offering him a five-year max contract for $191 million. He’s expected to sign it. Butler will turn 30 before next season, plays a hard-charging style, and has started to rack up an injury history because of it. That guaranteed fifth season may matter a lot to him.

Next, even if Butler were willing to leave Philly and go to Houston (over, say, the Lakers, who have an interest and are trying to clear out cap space), there is still the issue of the salary cap. The Rockets are way over it. Chris Paul will make $38.5 million next season, James Harden $37.8 million, Clint Capela $16.4 and Eric Gordon $14.1. That’s $106.8 million in four players. The NBA salary cap is projected to be $109 million. Throw in P.J. Tucker and the 10 other players the need to have on the roster, cap holds and the like, and you can see the lack of cap space to sign a free agent.

Morey is reportedly willing to trade anyone on the roster not named Harden — although he and others in the organization have pushed back on the idea CP3 asked for a trade — but to do that to clear cap space means making the trade and not taking back salary that bleeds into the new season. Salaries have to be matched in a trade with teams over the cap, so the Rockets would need to convince a team with cap space to trade for Capela or Gordon and just send draft picks and non-guaranteed players back. That’s a really small market. If you’re thinking sign-and-trade, the new CBA took away the incentive of extra money for players that do it, so it just comes down to teams and the Sixers are not going to help him leave.

Expect the Rockets to make moves to shake up the roster this summer. Butler may be the ultimate dream, but getting there makes it nearly impossible to pull off.

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Is Jarrett Culver’s upside worth being a top five pick?

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Jarrett Culver.

Previous draft profiles:

Jarrett Culver is the second member of Chris Beard’s first real recruiting class at Texas Tech to go from totally under-the-radar to a guaranteed first round pick.

It started last year with Zhaire Smith, a sensational athlete and developing shooter that found his way into Tech’s starting lineup before eventually finding his way into being the No. 16 pick in the first round of last year’s draft. Most expected that Culver, who averaged 11.2 points and just 1.8 assists while shooting 38.2 percent from three, to soak up the role that Smith played for the Red Raiders, but that isn’t what happened.

Instead, Culver became what Keenan Evans — the 2018 Big 12 Player of the Year turned two-way player for the Detroit Pistons — was for the Red Raiders. He didn’t just become a better scorer and a talented wing prospect, he became their point guard.

And that is where the intrigue lies for Culver when it comes to his potential at the next level.

He has the size you want out of an off-guard and, at 6-foot-7 with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, is big enough to be able to guard small forwards in the NBA, but he doesn’t have the game of a typical 3-and-D player. As a sophomore, he averaged a team-high 3.7 assists for Texas Tech, but he wasn’t exactly what you would call a point guard. In fact, he was often essentially playing the four, with a trio of smaller guards on the floor around him. What Beard did was build an offense that was heavy with motion principles early in a possession, but as the shot clock wound down, the ball would end up in Culver’s hands, where he would be put into an isolation or a ball-screen action and allowed to create.

That is what he does best.

Shot creation.

Culver is excellent in triple-threat situations. His ability to shoot off the dribble consistently improved throughout his college career, and he’s generally at his best when he is allowed to get into a rhythm jumper off the bounce. He needs to quicken up his release in the NBA, but he has some wiggle room given the way that he gets his shot off. He’s not the most explosive athlete, but he can dunk on defenders when he gets a lane to the basket and his long strides and improving frame allowed him to be able to get to where he wanted to get to in the lane despite the fact that his first step is not all that quick.

But where Culver improved the most during the offseason was with his ability to operate ball-screens. He obsessively studied tape during the summer to learn the proper reads and proper passes to make when running a ball-screen, and the improvement showed. He forced teams to have to stop going under the screen against him because of his ability to step-back and make off-the-dribble threes. He can throw one-handed, live-dribble passes to shooters in either corner. He turned Tariq Owens into a serious threat on the offensive end of the floor with his ability to hit him on lobs while also knowing how to create the space and passing lane for a dump-off.

He’s grown into being a high-level, well-rounded offensive weapon, and there is quite a bit of value in a player that can be a secondary shot-creator without having to play as a point or off-guard.

Now, there are some limitations as well.

Culver has averaged more than four threes per game in his two-year career, and he’s shooting just 34.1 percent from beyond the arc. He’s better as an off-the-dribble shooter, which actually is not exactly ideal for a player that is going to be spending quite a few possessions playing off the ball. He’s added some muscle since last season — and a growth spurt in the last year makes it seem possible that his body is not done developing — but he is still pretty slender and is not great at dealing with physicality on either end of the floor. There are some real concerns offensively about how he will handle the athleticism NBA defenders have, and the 5-for-22 shooting performance he put together in the national title game against De'Andre Hunter doesn’t assuage those concerns.

There are also some question marks about his defense. Personally, I think he’ll be fine. He’s never going to be a total lockdown defender, but I don’t think that he will be a liability. He’s not going to be the guy opposing coaches target. He has spent the last two years playing within one of the best defensive systems in college basketball, but one that is built on exceptional game-planning and coaching as much as raw talent. So while it may have left Culver somewhat over-hyped on the defensive end, to me it is also proof that he can execute a game-plan and do a job on that end.

Put it all together, and what you have is a guy that can do a lot of things really well. You have a guy whose combination of skills should allow him to be a valuable piece in an NBA rotation. What you don’t have is a player that is likely to end up being an NBA superstar. These comparisons aren’t perfect — they never are — but I think he’s going to end up being somewhere between Caris LeVert pre-injury and Evan Turner.

He’s a safe-bet to be a rock-solid starter in the NBA, potentially as early as this season.

But I’m not sure just how much upside he has.

Rumor: Al Horford thinks 4-year, $100 million contract awaits him in free agency

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Things have already gone sideways for the Boston Celtics. Kyrie Irving is set to leave, reportedly for the Brooklyn Nets. Al Horford opted out of his contract with the team this week, and reports have it that the integral big man is looking to go elsewhere.

Horford had $30 million left on his contract at age 33, so there had to be some belief that he would get a job elsewhere for more money than the Celtics would be willing to pay. Now, according to a new report, that is exactly the case.

It was floated on Tuesday night that Horford already knew that somebody was looking to sign him to another long-term deal. New York Times writer Marc Stein tweeted as much late Tuesday night, saying that Horford and his camp believe there is a deal around $100 million waiting for him in free agency.

Via Twitter:

It is — and we can’t stress this enough — freaking June. It’s literally and figuratively too early for this.

We all laughed last season about the arbitrary deadlines of free agency creeping forward. Deals were already done well before it was permitted to actually sign free agents in July. But this… is getting ridiculous.

Horford is a leader, the glue that apparently kept the Celtics from breaking apart last season. Reports surfaced this week that Brad Stevens’ dedication to former Butler Bulldog Gordon Hayward was at least one reason for the team chemistry starting to unfurl.

Whichever team grabs Horford will be getting a player who still has much left to give, and who can help guide a team into the playoffs. Whether he’s heading to a contender or an overpaying bottom-feeder, we don’t yet know.

This league just keeps getting weirder and weirder.

Daryl Morey denies that Chris Paul requested trade in James Harden dispute

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Things are not all that great for the Houston Rockets. They were bounced in the second round by the Golden State Warriors, and Chris Paul and James Harden appear to be at each other’s throats.

There been reports that Paul and Harden have each issued ultimatums to team management asking the executive branch to instigate a trade. This of course essentially means that the Rockets need to look for a trade partner for Paul.

The problem is that Paul has a massive $125 million left on his deal. It was an insane sum when Paul signed it, but the thought was that even a declining CP3 would be able to help the Rockets as they went all-out expecting a Warriors decline.

But Rockets GM Daryl Morey has refuted the idea that either player has issued an ultimatum. Morey told Marc Stein of the New York Times as much, and reiterated this stance on ESPN radio on Tuesday.

Morey is a veteran general manager, and openly noting that a player has requested a trade cuts his leverage. It has been widely reported that Morey has been looking for trades for Paul and his gargantuan contract for some time, with no apparent taker as of yet.

Now is the time to jump on things in the West. The Warriors are weak, particularly with injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson. Who knows what that roster will look like next season (and beyond)?

Houston has been the perennial contender against Golden State in the playoffs, but now they appear to be bursting apart at the seams. Morey is one of the best general managers in the NBA, and he has a history of taking big risks and turning wheat into gold. But until he can offload Paul’s contract, things will be tenuous in Texas.