Baseline to Baseline recaps: Turns out, the Heat and Thunder are pretty good

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while having to deal with all the people knocking on your door asking for their lost cell phones….

Heat 92, Warriors 75: As it has been with the Heat all season long, when they are focused and defend they destroy teams. Especially teams without their offensive catalyst, which the Warriors were with Stephen Curry out. Oh, and LeBron James is very good at basketball and set records. Darius Soriano broke the whole thing down for us.

Thunder 117, Nuggets 97: Denver has been playing much better basketball of late. The Thunder would like to remind them exactly who the best team is in the Western Conference. Oklahoma City opened the game on an 11-2 run and never looked back, leading by as many as 28. This was rout.

What is the difference between the Thunder and Nuggets? Russell Westbrook (32 points on 20 shots) and Kevin Durant (20 points on 12 shots). Denver has a lot of good players — Kenneth Faried, Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari — but they lack a superstar. Or two. And those superstars win.

Hornets 90, Celtics 78: New Orleans had won five out of six coming in and were not to be ignored, but the Hornets were without Eric Gordon (coming off knee surgery they don’t have him playing the second game of back-to-backs). Didn’t matter.

Neither team shot well from the perimeter but the Hornets were able to get their points in the paint — they outscored Boston 24-12 in the paint in the second half and 48-32 for the game. The good Robin Lopez showed up with 17 points on 7-of-11 shooting, Al-Farouq Aminu had 18 points on just nine shots, and Anthony Davis chipped in 10. (Note to Monty Williams, good job giving Davis nearly 27 minutes of run — you’ve cut him back lately and you shouldn’t. He needs to learn.)

Austin Rivers played one of his better games in a while with 8 points, just to rub it in his dad’s face. The Celtics bench seemed to take the night off.

Spurs 103, Grizzlies 82: Memphis is in a slump — three straight losses by at least 20 points. Of course, the Spurs with their precise execution are only too happy to help with such things. This was close for the first half but a 12-2 Spurs early in the third quarter changed that and the Spurs never looked back. Boris Diaw led the run in the third quarter with 6-of-7 shooting. Also, Tim Duncan dropped 19 points and Tony Parker added 17 and 11 assists.

Hawks 109, Nets 95: Whatever Larry Drew shook up — or maybe the suspension of Josh Smith sent the right message — it worked. The Hawks were much better at the start of this game than they had been the last few, particularly on the defensive end. They held the Nets to 39 percent shooting in the first half and that gave the Hawks the chance to run, which they did and got some easy buckets. Look at it this way: At the half Atlanta’s backcourt of Devin Harris and Jeff Teague had outscored Joe Johnson and Deron Williams 24-11. And the third quarter was when the Hawks pulled away.

The up-and-down Jeff Teague was up and led the Hawks with 28 points. The Hawks win snapped Brooklyn’s seven-game win streak and handed P.J. Carlesimo his second loss as Nets coach.

Magic 97, Pacers 86: On the season, the Pacers allow teams to score 95.6 points per 100 possessions, the best defense in the NBA. The Magic scored 105.2 per 100. It happened because the Magic hit 10 of their first 16 threes and finished 12-of-21 (57 percent, on the season the Pacers usually allow 32.1 percent).

Indiana led early but starting midway through the first quarter the Magic went on a 32-8 run and once they had the lead they never let it go. Orlando led by as many as 22. Nikola Vucevic continued his run of double-doubles with 16 points and 15 rebounds, Glen Davis added 11 points. Paul George had 20 for Indiana, a game the Pacers should just flush and chalk up to one of those nights.

Mavericks 105, Rockets 100: Can the Dallas Mavericks make the playoffs? They are actually behind the Lakers but Dallas has won four in a row now and with this win. They are 4 games back of the eight seed, which is currently the Rockets. It is still a bit of a longshot (they likely have to go 28-14 the rest of the way) but it could happen.

Dallas too, the lead on a 19-0 run early where the Rockets turned the ball over seven times, and it looked like they would ride that to a win as they were up seven points after three quarters. Then Jeremy Lin sparked a rally — he scored 14 points in the fourth quarter (19 for the game), the Rockets went on a 15-4 run and tied the game at 97-97. But Dallas got key stops — Elton Brand blocked a James Harden shot in the lane and Dahntay Jones stole a Jeremy Lin pass. Then when the pressure was on Dallas hit their free throws late. That includes a pair from Dirk Nowitizki, who finished with a team-high 19 points.

Bulls 107, Raptors 105 (OT): For much of the first half the Bulls looked tough and the Raptors looked soft, which is why the Bulls put together an 11-0 run that had them up 52-44 at the half. That lead stretched out to 19 in the third quarter. Carlos Boozer was very impressive — seriously, he played well — and had 36 points and 12 rebounds.

In the fourth quarter Kyle Lowry won the “Kyle Lowry or Jose Calderon” argument because they needed his aggressive playmaking and got it — he had a dozen points to help lead the Raptors back to tie it up and send it to the extra period. He also had a floater in overtime that tied the game up at 105-105. But a Luol Deng 18 footer was the game winner.

Cavaliers 93, Trail Blazers 88: Damian Lillard has game beyond his years, but that doesn’t mean Kyrie Irving didn’t teach him a thing or two. Irving took it right at Lillard all night, and even when the rookie played picture perfect defense, Irving managed to slip his way out of traffic with some of the fanciest pivoting you’ll see this side of Kobe Bryant.

With Lillard neutralized (3-for-9) by the length of Alonzo Gee, Portland struggled mightily to score in the first half and fell behind big. But after crawling back from a 17-point deficit at the half, Irving’s two late game buckets (a layup on a nasty crossover move and a tough kiss off the glass) and free throws put an end to the comeback and gave Portland a rare home loss.
—D.J. Foster

Kings 95, Wizards 94: Don’t let the names fool you — this was a really well played game. Part of that had to do with the lights out performance by Bradley Beal, who knocked in 6-of-7 from deep and tallied a new career-high with 26 points. Ultimately though, the game came down to the two Kentucky kids: John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.

Wall (14 points, 10 assists) was wonderful in transition all night, but when the game slowed down and Washington tried to milk the clock to preserve a lead, the offense sputtered. Wall’s forgettable fourth quarter included two missed free throws in a tie game with 30 seconds left, which left the door open for Tyreke Evans to win the game with a free throw of his own. Make no mistake about it though — the Kings wouldn’t have been in that position without the post play of Cousins. His 21 points, 16 rebounds and 5 assists carried an offense that has very quietly been pretty good this year.
—D.J. Foster

Report: NBA not bringing other eight teams to Disney World bubble

Knicks vs. Bulls
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The NBA bringing the “Delete Eight” teams to its Disney World bubble to train as other teams depart?

Like other plans for the Knicks, Bulls, Cavaliers, Pistons, Hawks, Hornets, Timberwolves and Warriors… it’s not happening.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The NBPA has no interest in that idea, sources said. It’s a non-starter. The inevitable solution for the eight teams left out of Orlando: The NBA and NBPA agreeing upon voluntary workouts in the team facilities, sources said.

The NBPA won’t agree to mandatory reporting for players on the eight teams outside of the restart but will eventually allow it on a voluntary level, sources said.

Bringing those other eight teams to the Disney World bubble was always a ridiculous idea. Why would the NBA jeopardize its highly profitable setup just so some lousy teams could train and maybe hold glorified scrimmages?

Voluntary team workouts are a reasonable allowance. Though it’s difficult to ensure players coming and going from a team facility won’t spread coronavirus, some players are playing basketball in groups, anyway. At their own facilities, teams can at least enforce protocols to increase safety. And players who’d rather be more careful wouldn’t be forced to participate.

There’s no reason to make anything mandatory. These eight teams’ seasons are over.

Suns keep winning, T.J. Warren keeps scoring, Nuggets outlast Jazz in 2OT

Suns star Devin Booker vs. Heat
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The Suns are unbeatable. T.J Warren is unstoppable. And the NBA is unapologetically fun.

Just another day in the NBA bubble.

Phoenix – already the NBA’s only undefeated team at Disney World – moved to 5-0 in seeding games with a 119-112 win over the Heat.

The Suns are still a half game outside play-in position with a tougher closing stretch than the ninth-place Trail Blazers.* But Phoenix sure is making the race interesting, and Portland isn’t closing the door.

*Both teams still play the 76ers and Mavericks. The Suns also play the Thunder. The Trail Blazers’ last seeding game is against the Nets.

Whether or not they make the playoffs, the Suns should absolutely be encouraged by this stretch. Unlike an early-season surge, when Aron Baynes and Ricky Rubio carried big loads, Phoenix’s young players are leading the charge now. Devin Booker scored 35 points tonight. Jevon Carter added 20 points on 6-of-8 3-point shooting off the bench. Deandre Ayton (18 points and 12 rebounds) continues to impress. Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson have steadily contributed at forward.

Expectations are rising for next season.

First, the Suns aren’t ready for this season to end soon.

All the best bubble stories were in Phoenix last season.

Pacers forward T.J. Warren – whom the Suns dumped with a draft-pick sweetener last summer – continued his scoring binge with 39 points in a 116-111 win over the Pacers.

Warren could always get buckets. But he has been on another level lately.

The Nuggets (somewhat safely in third place) and Jazz (who might prefer to finish sixth) had few obvious reasons to care about beating each other.

But then the game got going, and both teams’ competitive juices took over.

Donovan Mitchell drove for a layup to force overtime. Nikola Jokic converted inside to force double overtime. Finally, Jamal Murray – who scored 23 points in his first game of the resumption – put Denver up for good with a jumper then 3-pointer in a 134-132 victory.

Bubble games have featured such great energy and competitiveness.

Damian Lillard to Paul George on Instagram: ‘keep switching teams … running from the grind’

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Damian Lillard missed a pair of clutch free throws in the Trail Blazers’ loss to the Clippers today. Patrick Beverley and Paul George let Lillard hear about it. Lillard boasted in his post-game interview about his series-winning shots over Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and George’s Thunder in 2019 (which literally came over George).

Now, the conflict has spilled onto Instagram.

Bleacher Report:

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Dame, PG and Pat Bev went at it in our comments 👀

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George:

And you getting sent home this year 🤣 respect✊

Beverley:

Cancun on 3😂😂😂

Lillard:

keep switching teams … running from the grind . You boys is chumps

George:

@damianlillard respect that too in my stint with my first team I had more success… Dame time running out g

George did lead the Pacers to Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference finals, losing to the eventual-champion Heat. Indiana also pushed Miami to Game 6 in the 2014 Eastern Conference finals. George doesn’t get enough credit for those achievements.

Though Lillard’s Trail Blazers peaked in the 2019 Western Conference finals, they got swept by the team that lost in the NBA Finals.

But George forced his way out of Indiana despite that being the only place he could earn a super-max contract. He also re-signed with the Thunder, announcing his plan at a big party thrown by Russell Westbrook, then requested a trade to join Kawhi Leonard on the Clippers only a year later.

Lillard just has different sensibilities. He said he’d stick with the Trail Blazers rather than join a super team. Lillard even talked disparagingly about players who get pressured into bypassing super-max contracts in order to be viewed as a winner elsewhere.

So, this clash makes sense.

Maybe it got too personal for George, who has overcome major injury and returned even better. He surely doesn’t want to be called a chump at this point in his career.

But I disagree with George’s championships-only argument. There is plenty of room for major achievements that fall short of a title – like the Pacers’ deep playoff runs George cited. And Lillard’s series-winning shot last year. George was the casualty on that play. There’s no way around it, and it’s likely still a sore spot. That was a high-profile moment that supersedes missed free throws in a seeding game.

Lillard and George can go back-and-forth about their accomplishments. Both have done plenty in this league. Their individual routes to success show their contrasting values. Neither are wrong. They’re just different.

That’s perfectly fine and – when it leads to spats like this – fun.

Damian Lillard misses clutch FTs, Trail Blazers blow key game against Clippers backups

Damian Lillard vs. Clippers
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The Clippers – maybe wanting to give the Lakers a tougher first-round matchup – showed their lack of interest in beating the Trail Blazers today by sitting Kawhi Leonard. Down five with two minutes left, the Clippers really waved the white flag by closing with a lineup of:

But that group ended the game on a 12-2 run to hand Portland a devastating 122-117 loss.

The Trail Blazers are now just half a game up for ninth in the Western Conference. This further opens the door for the Spurs, Pelicans, Suns and even Kings to make a play-in (and gives the Grizzlies more breathing room for advancing to that stage).

After McGruder hit the go-ahead 3-pointer with 26 seconds left, Damian Lillard drew a pair of free throws with Portland down one. Lillard is arguably the NBA’s most clutch player, and he had made 89% of his free throws this season. But he missed both – to the particular delight of injured Clippers guard Patrick Beverley:

Beverley and Lillard have a longstanding personal rivalry. The Clippers also have Paul George.

After the game, Lillard – who hit a series-winning shot against Beverley’s Rockets in 2014 and another series-winning shot over George, who was with the Thunder, last year – didn’t mince words.

Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

Lillard:

Asking me about Patrick Beverley, who – I sent him before at the end of a game. Paul George just got sent home by me last year in the playoffs. So, they know. The reason they’re reacting like that is because of what they expect from me, which is a sign of respect, and it just shows what I’ve done at a high clip more times than not. So, I’m not offended by it. If anything, it should just tell you how much it hurt them to go through what I put them through in those situations previously.

I love Lillard’s ability to remain calm and in control. Kudos for him for finding a way to boast after missing a pair of free throws that effectively cost his team a big game. Really. Lillard’s emotional maturity is an asset.

Expect the Trail Blazers to follow his lead and not further unravel. They can and probably should still be favored to reach the play-in.

But their margin for error definitely just shrunk.