Baseline to Baseline recaps: Kevin Durant carries Thunder to win

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of the games yesterday in NBA action. Or, what you missed while taking a car through a drive-through with an invisible driver

Lakers 113, Cavaliers 93: Dwight Howard was back playing for the Lakers and it showed — he was blocking shots, drawing double teams and generally opening up the Lakers offense. Sure, it was the Cavaliers — the second worst offense in the NBA — but after six straight losses the Lakers will take any win they can get. Brett Pollakoff broke it all down for us in a post.

Knicks 100, Hornets 87: Carmelo Anthony got off to another slow start then admitted he has been fasting for the past 15 days. Turns out a professional athlete not eating doesn’t have a lot of energy. Who knew? He found the energy in the second quarter, went 6-of-7 and the Knicks started to pull away. I detailed it in another post.

Thunder 87, Trail Blazers 83: This was a defensive struggle — the winning team had an offensive rating of just 95.9 (points per 100 possessions). The Thunder took the lead with a 15-4 run in the third quarter behind Kevin Durant, who had the kind of game an MVP has. Durant had 33 points in the game and 22 of the Thunder’s 45 in the second half.

Portland made it close at the end with a 9-0 run that got them within two 85-83, with 8.5 seconds left. Portland went to LaMarcus Aldridge who had been their guy all night — 33 points and 11 rebounds. He got a shot he had hit all night, an 18-foot turnaround and proceeded to airball it. Russell Westbrook was fouled on the rebound and that was the ballgame.

Nets 97, Pacers 86: The Pacers defense looked like it might win them another game as they led 75-69. Then the fourth quarter happened. The Nets shredded the best defense in the league, going on a 17-0 run at one point and scoring 28 points on 57.1 percent shooting for the quarter. Meanwhile the Pacers shot 13.6 percent in the quarter — 3-of-22 shooting. That was the ball game.

David West had 27 points to lead the Pacers. Deron Williams had 22 but needed 18 shots to get there for the Nets.

Nuggets 116, Warriors 105: The Nuggets looked like the team we expected from the start of the season — they pressured the ball, forced turnovers, ran off them and showed real balance scoring. Well, not all game, for a long time the Warriors seemed to get open three look after open three look and they led by eight heading into the fourth. But the Nuggets cranked up the defensive pressure and an 18-2 run to open the fourth quarter helped them pull away for good. Denver got great games out of Danilo Gallinari (21 points) and the point-guard tandem of Ty Lawson (20 points) and Andre Miller (12 points and he was aggressive all night).

Golden State made a run and got it down to three point at one point in the fourth. But a Corey Brewer three changed the momentum back to Denver.

Bucks 107, Raptors 96: The first two quarters were like completely different games. In the first Jose Calderon had 15 points and the hot Raptors were off to a 20-point lead. In the second quarter the Raptors shot 27 percent and had 10 turnovers.

The second half was close until, with just over three minutes left, Larry Sanders blocked DeMar DeRozan and that sparked a 9-0 run that was the ballgame. Brandon Jennings had 19 points and 10 assists, and we had a rookie John Henson sighting with 19 off the Milwaukee bench. DeRozan had 23.

Spurs 106, Timberwolves 88: This is a dozen straight home wins for the Spurs. This one came with runs in the second half, particularly as the Spurs went to some smaller lineups that let them space the floor better. Tony Parker scored 20 points and Tim Duncan had a dozen plus was a defensive anchor.

Slightly worrisome for Spurs fans is Manu Ginobili straining his hamstring, he limped the locker room in the second quarter and didn’t play the second half. A strain is not usually that bad, but we’ll have an eye out for the official diagnosis on Monday.

Report: Gregg Popovich met with Kawhi Leonard in San Diego

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Don’t count the San Antonio Spurs out of the Kawhi Leonard sweepstakes just yet.

We have been waiting on pins and needles to see whether or not Spurs coach Gregg Popovich would meet with the apparently disgruntled Leonard this week before San Antonio approaches Thursday night’s NBA draft.

According to Yahoo! Sports’ Shams Charania, Leonard and Popovich met on Tuesday night in San Diego where Leonard has been working out.

Via Twitter:

For what it is worth, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski has reporterd that Popovich has not yet met with Leonard, but is traveling to Southern California to meet with the Spurs forward. Even further, Leonard has reportedly requested a trade to Los Angeles from the Spurs, specifically to the Lakers.

Via ESPN:

Leonard wants a trade to Los Angeles, preferably the Lakers over the Clippers, league sources said. He has privately maintained that he no longer wants to play in San Antonio, and will eventually alert rival teams considering trades for him that his intentions are to sign in Los Angeles — preferably with the Lakers — when he can become a free agent in 2019, league sources said.

Leonard had told confidants that he did not want to sit down with Popovich and has been purposely difficult for the Spurs to reach recently. Among the issues, Leonard is angry over what he believes was the Spurs’ mishandling of a quad injury, and remains irate with public comments out of teammate Tony Parker and Popovich that he felt were not supportive of him, league sources said.

We had to know this was coming. San Antonio wasn’t going to let Leonard dictate the terms of his departure from Texas all by himself. Although Leonard has put the Spurs in a tough situation given his reported open request to play in Los Angeles, no doubt both parties would be better off from a basketball perspective if they were together. San Antonio apparently doesn’t want to make a deal with a Western Conference team, either.

Since the Spurs were trying to get in touch with Leonard before Thursday’s big selection night, it could be a signal that Leonard is on the move. Several teams, including the Lakers, Philadelphia 76ers, and Cleveland Cavaliers are rumored to be interested in Leonard’s services.

Rumor: Cavaliers could have trade interest in Kemba Walker

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to do everything in their power to retain LeBron James. They are also doing everything they can do to prepare themselves for if James decides to leave Cleveland once and for all.

Last week we heard rumors about how the Cavaliers were trying to prepare an offer to snag Kawhi Leonard away from the San Antonio Spurs. That move could be seen either as an intent to entice James to stay, or as a replacement for The King.

Now, we have rumor that the Cavaliers could be interested in acquiring an Eastern Conference point guard, presumably to help LeBron next season.

According to Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, the Cavaliers have inquired to the Charlotte Hornets about the availability of point guard Kemba Walker.

Walker, 28, just became the Hornets all-time leading scorer this last season. The University of Connecticut product has just one year left on his current deal at $12 million, and could be both a good rental for a season as a means to bolster another James Finals run, or as a focal piece moving forward.

As is the issue with any package for Leonard, a trade to the Cavaliers from Charlotte for Walker really depends on what a third trade partner can bring into the mix. Not many of Cleveland’s young players have performed well enough to be used as trade bait for marquee guys. That necessarily means that Kevin Love will be the main trade bait, and it is tough for many teams to have interest in the sharp-shooting forward given many already have that position filled.

We are just 48 hours away from the 2018 NBA Draft and no doubt rumors like this will continue to heat up as we get closer to 4 p.m. Eastern on Thursday night.

Michael Porter Jr. compares himself to Kevin Durant, Giannis Antetokounmpo

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It has been rumored that Michael Porter Jr could be the player the Sacramento Kings draft at No. 2 overall on Thursday night in the 2018 NBA Draft. Meanwhile, according to Porter himself, there is good reason for his sudden leap up the draft boards.

Speaking on CBS Sports Radio on Monday, Porter said that he thought the players he most compared to right now were Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Tracy McGrady.

Of course, the context here is that Porter was prompted to give a current NBA comparison, and as a shooter and physical player, he was unlikely to compare himself to a role player. Still, it’s a bold statement from Porter to say that he is akin to the second best player in the league at this moment. Durant has a skill set that hasn’t been replicated or really seen in the NBA, so it’s tough for anyone to really compare themselves to him.

Here is the quote, transcribed thanks to Deadspin:

Right now, I’m a little, I’m a mix of Giannis and KD. You know, I like going to the hole a little more than KD does, I like bumping into people a little more physical than KD. But I also, you know I like to shoot the ball more than Giannis. So that’s what I like to compare myself to. Then also Tracy McGrady. I get compared to him a lot and I like that one a lot too. You know, those are three amazing players. So it doesn’t feel bad to be in the same conversation as them.

In a recent interview with Dime Magazine, Porter said that he thinks Durant is the best player in the league, particularly when he plays against LeBron James. So really, Porder compared himself to the best player in the league.

The Missouri product has a litany of both character and injury questions. Rumors are abound about how well he will fit into an NBA locker room, and he famously decamped to Missouri Lorenzo Romar was fired in Washington.

Porder sat out most of the year with a nagging back injury, and had to call off some of his draft workouts because of a hip issue. Porter has tried to downplay his injury concerns, and has said that former Portland Trail Blazers star Brandon Roy told him to remain patient through injury.

The draft is less than 48 hours away, and most believe that taking Porter at No. 2 is a huge risk for the Kings. We will see just how confident Sacramento is about Porter’s ability to become an NBA teammate and stay healthy here soon enough.

Michael Jordan will still have input on Hornets draft day decisions

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Michael Jordan hired proven general manager Mitch Kupchak this offseason to help turn around a franchise mired in mediocrity since he became the Charlotte Hornets’ majority owner eight years ago.

But that doesn’t mean the highly competitive Jordan won’t have input on personnel decisions, beginning with the NBA draft on Thursday night.

Kupchak said in a pre-draft news conference Tuesday that he’ll have final say in who the Hornets select before quickly adding, “well, with the exception of one person – and obviously that’s ownership.”

Kupchak has won 10 NBA championships, including seven as an executive with the Los Angeles Lakers – so he knows a thing or two about building a winning roster. But he’s quickly learning that Jordan, who many consider the best NBA player ever, is still very much a hands-on owner when it comes to the players he employs.

And Kupchak understands that.

“There is a huge business component to our relationship,” Kupchak said.

Kupchak said he has communicated with Jordan on the phone and via text throughout the draft evaluation process. The 55-year-old Jordan arrived in Charlotte, North Carolina on Monday and the two have been studying tape on potential draft picks since.

The Hornets, who have failed to make the playoffs three of the past four seasons, have the 11th overall pick in the draft.

Kupchak has known Jordan since he was a freshman at the University of North Carolina.

However, Kupchak said that while they both are former Tar Heels, he never had considered Jordan a friend prior to being hired this past offseason to replace Rich Cho as Hornets general manager.

Since then they have had dinner together and gotten to know each other a little more.

He said the relationship has changed for the better.

“Hopefully when all is said and done, our other relationship, which is our friend relationship continues to grow and is not altered in any way,” Kupchak said. “There are no favors being done here. We’re friends and I think we’ll remain friends, but the bottom line in this business is success and winning games.”

Kupchak was rather forthcoming in the team’s pre-draft press conference Tuesday, saying the does not expect to trade the 11th overall pick.

He also said he expects that the handful of top-notch big men will be off the board by the time the Hornets make their selection.

“Right now I think the best player on the board is the player we are going to go after – and I’d expect that player to be a guard or a wing,” Kupchak said. “… I think we expect that we will be looking at guards and wings, but we will see.”