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

Paul Pierce: ‘There is no loyalty to a franchise anymore … That’s the generation we live in’

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After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Paul Pierce criticized players for changing teams to win.

Now, Pierce is providing an assessment of players just changing teams generally.

Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal:

To be fair, Pierce doesn’t criticize players for not being loyal to franchises. In fact, he brings up that players are exercising their power.

But it’s still hard not to infer at least some disapproval from Pierce.

Why should players be loyal to franchises, though? Top players are assigned to teams through an anti-labor draft, the least successful teams getting the highest priority of selection. Those players are kept on an artificially low wage for five years can’t unilaterally leave the team for five years. If he plays well enough, his original team has a huge financial advantage in keeping him for up to 14 years. In this system, teams exercise far more control than they earn loyalty.

Players have such short careers. They should chase whatever they want. Money, winning, role, location, even steadiness with a franchise – if they choose.

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but let’s not forget:

Pierce asked the Mavericks to trade for him in 2005 so he could play with Dirk Nowitzkion a team one star away from contending. In 2007, he reportedly told the Celtics to trade him if they didn’t add a second star. Boston, of course, traded for Ray Allen and then convinced Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. In 2013, Pierce helped engineer a trade to the Nets. He and Garnett joined Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopezin Brooklyn and Pierce said, “We’re all about winning a championship and Brooklyn, we feel, gives us the best opportunity.” After stints with the Nets and Wizards, Pierce signed with the Clippers, which he described as a super team.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: ‘I have complete faith in Magic Johnson … I have patience’

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Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.

But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.

The Rich Eisen Show:

Buss:

I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.

Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.

The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.

What’s next for Johnson?

Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.

I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.

Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.

It’s on Johnson to maximize it.

Danny Ainge roasts Celtics players on Twitter

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Celtics president Danny Ainge has built a star-studded and deep team. Boston even has a few extra first-round picks to get even better in future years. The Celtics have 15 players with standard contracts, the regular-season limit. Unlike last year, Boston probably won’t swing a major late-summer trade.

So, Ainge is spending his time clowning his players.

He got Jaylen Brown:

Then Terry Rozier:

Do more, Danny! Kyrie Irving is overdue for another social-media feud.

Did Kevin Durant choose Warriors within day of Thunder losing to them in 2016?

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The Warriors eliminated the Thunder in the 2016 Western Conference finals on May 30. On the following July 4, Durant announced he’d leave Oklahoma City for Golden State.

But when did Durant actually decide on signing with the Warriors?

Durant, Rich Kleiman (Durant’s business partner) and Rudy Cline-Thomas (Andre Iguodala‘s business partner) sat on a panel at Bloomberg’s Players Technology Summit.

Cline-Thomas, as transcribed by Drew Shiller of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“Remember 2017, you just lost to the Warriors — no 2016, you had just lost the Warriors, May — you and I get together after the game. I thought I was just gonna focus on not talking about basketball, and you wanted to focus on talking about Silicon Valley — asking me how it was out here.

“You had been following what Andre and I were doing, how it was being surrounded by all these CEOs, innovators and entrepreneurs. And I was like, ‘Wow. First and foremost, like yo — this dude just told me he’s about to sign with the Warriors, right (laughter). So, I was like I’m not gonna tell anybody, didn’t tell anybody whatsoever, didn’t want any rumors to get started…”

Durant on when he began thinking differently about business opportunities, via Shiller:

“Probably about 2015, I had got hurt. Basketball had always been my world … it stopped, and I had to think about other parts of my life and what I was interested in … it was rough because I didn’t know what I wanted to do or what I liked or what type of person I wanted to be … I started to hear about Andre and more guys around the NBA — especially that play for the Warriors — that took advantage of the opportunities of being in the Bay Area.

“So throughout that whole year, me and Rich were talking about investing in companies and what I like to do outside of ball. Then I (saw) you and just all those questions came out at once and I was basically telling you I was coming to the Warriors (laughter).”

Kleiman, via Shiller:

“Well I just learned that he told you in May, before free agency — which is hardly factual, which we’ll have to clear up with Marc Spears and everybody here (laughter) — no way did that happen, but cool… (laughter).”

Did Durant really tell Cline-Thomas in May of a plan to sign with the Warriors? Did Durant know his intentions and inadvertently show his hand while talking to Cline-Thomas? Did Durant not consciously know where he’d sign but reveal clues to Cline-Thomas during their conversation? Were Durant and Cline-Thomas just joking?

Was Kleiman trying to set the record straight? Was he just trying to cover for Durant?

Durant was back in Oklahoma City for a press conference June 1, 2016. So, when Cline-Thomas says “after the game,” it sounds as if he meant the night of Game 7.

Of course, that will raise all kinds of questions about Durant’s competitiveness in the 2016 Western Conference finals. If he had one foot out the door to join the Warriors, how motivated was he to beat them? But Durant was awesome throughout that series. Golden State was just a great team. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he compartmentalized his feelings on the Warriors while facing them.

I also wouldn’t be surprised if he decided on Golden State shortly after the series. Draymond Green recruited Durant throughout that season. The Warriors’ desire to add Durant and their high level of appeal was well-established. Even without tampering, they didn’t have to wait until free agency officially began to become Durant’s choice. The NBA can control timing of permissible contact – not Durant’s mind.

It’s just tough to tell exactly what to take from Durant’s, Cline-Thomas’ and Kleiman’s comments – even with context of video: