Baseline to Baseline recaps: Another day, another Lakers loss

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while working on your eyelid weightlifting….

Grizzlies 106, Lakers 93: The Lakers added injury to insult when Dwight Howard re-aggravated his shoulder problem in the first half, and the Grizzlies took full advantage by recording 16 offensive rebounds and 60 points in the paint en route to a blowout victory. While the Lakers struggled to address any of their issues, the Grizzlies bench responded well in their first action after the trade, as Darrell Arthur led the way with 20 points. With Mike Conley predictably burning up the Lakers’ pick-and-roll defense, Steve Nash was nothing more than a liability defensively and an afterthought offensively. We knew the Lakers were a mess, but giving up 100 points to the Grizzlies has been a feat allowed by only the worst defenses lately.
—D.J. Foster

Warriors 104, Thunder 99: Stephen Curry played like an All-Star and that was the key here. He had 31 points, but on an off shooting night (3-of-14 from three) he adjusted and went 8-of-12 inside the arc and made the biggest play of the game on defense. It was 101-99 Warriors with 30 seconds left and Golden State wisely doubled Kevin Durant to take the ball out of his hands. Kendrick Perkins made a smart play and was rolling all by himself down the lane, Durant saw him, and Curry quickly left his man and slid down with the help, stole the pass and that was the ballgame. Well, he was fouled and hit some free throws, but the defensive play was key. Kevin Durant had 33 points and 9 assists but added 6 turnovers. David Lee had 22 points and 12 boards for Golden State.

The Warriors have now beaten the Clippers and Thunder in the last week. They are the NBA’s surprise team this season.

 Heat 123, Raptors 116 (OT): You kept waiting for the Heat to make a run that never came. The Raptors led 28-22 after first quarter and 57-53 at the half — and it would have been a lot worse if the Heat hadn’t closed the half on an 11-3 run. The Heat defense was back to lazy mode and the Raptors, playing better in recent weeks, have the weapons to make you pay if you get sloppy. Toronto shot 58 percent in the first half, committed just two turnovers and got 22 points off their bench.

Jose Calderon knocked down consecutive threes inside the final two minutes to put Toronto up 108-105 and you thought they had a chance, then LeBron answered with a three of his own from the top of the key and it was tied 108-108. Then LeBron didn’t close it out — he made a terrible pass (unless he was aiming for the guy in the first row) then on the game’s final play… actually it was no play it was LeBron and isolation hero ball and he hit the back rim on contested 21 footer. We were headed to overtime, where the Heat went on a 13-2 quick run and that was the ballgame.

Bulls 85, Pistons 82: No Luol Deng (and at of course no Derrick Rose, not yet) but Bulls defense did its job and the Bulls beat the Pistons for the 17th straight time. Barely.

The end of this game was tight, back and forth after a Jason Maxiell rainbow jumper, a Tayshaun Prince contested three, then a Rodney Stuckey 10-foot pull up capped 7-0 run for Pistons to give them a one point lead. Chicago took the lead back when Nate Robinson drove, kicked it out to open Butler for a corner three. Then Maxiell tied it when Taj Gibson just left him on defense and Maxiell cut to the basket, got the pass, then had a wide-open layup

It was tied 82-82 with 29.4 seconds left when Joakim Noah made the play of the game — Marco Belinelli misses contested long two, Noah saves it going out of bounds right to cutting Belinelli for layup. As Stacy King says, “I like my meatballs spicy!”

Spurs 106, Hornets 102: No Tim Duncan (sore knee), no, Kawhi Leonard (bruised knee) and no Gregg Popovich (sick) helped make this one close — 83-83 midway in fourth. Then San Antonio cranked up their defensive pressure and that led to an 18-6 run. And that was it, although a late 8-0 Hornets run made the final score close.

Really the Spurs got back to playing defense at halftime after giving up 64 points and allowing New Orleans to shoot 63.2 percent in the first 24 minutes. In the second half the Hornets shot just 32.6 percent. Tiago Splitter led the Spurs with 25 points on 10-of-11 shooting.

Trail Blazers 100, Pacers 80: The Trail Blazers picked apart the best defense in the NBA, LaMarcus Aldridge had 27 points, Damian Lillard had 20 and eight assists and the Blazers cruised. It was actually tied 24-24 early in the second quarter when Aldridge helped spark a 20-4 run and that was pretty much it. Paul George had 22, David West 21 for the Pacers.

Nuggets 105, Rockets 95: Houston wants to get out and run, but when you turn the ball over on 22 percent of your possessions — better than one in every five trips down the court — that fast pace becomes easy buckets at the other end. Which is what the Nuggets got in their win. James Harden kind of summed up the Rockets night — he had 23 points and seven assists, but also committed seven turnovers (Andre Iguodala was on him much of the night and did a good defensive job). Ty Lawson had 21 points and 7 assists to lead the Nuggets.

Hawks 104, Bobcats 92: Josh Smith had a quick 10 points and the Hawks led early in this one, but they didn’t really pull away until a 10-0 run in the third when the led by as many as 17. Smith had a monster night — 30 points, 13 rebounds and seven assists. That is two straight wins for the struggling Hawks, something they haven’t done all month.

Nets 91, Timberwolves 83: Brooklyn is 10-1 in January, the best record in the league for the month, and they cruised wire-to-wire here. Brook Lopez had 10 of his 22 points in the first six minutes of the game, feasting on the lack of physicality with Nikola Pekovic out of the lineup, and Lopez finished with 22. Minnesota made a run and got within two in the fourth quarter, but C.J. Watson made nine straight points for the Nets to stretch the lead back out and that was the ballgame.

Jazz 92, Wizards 88: Utah was in control of this game until late in the third quarter when Washington went on a 20-2 run that carried over into the fourth and made this a game. John Wall, Jordan Crawford and the Wizards bench made the run so coach Randy Wittman stayed with them most of the fourth quarter. But the Jazz tightened up their defense late — the Wizards had only two baskets in the final four minutes — and that was key. Utah were helped out when Paul Millsap stole the ball from Nene, got the ball ahead to Gordon Hayward and Trevor Ariza committed the clear-path foul (two free throws and the ball out of bounds to the Jazz. Millsap had 16 points and 15 rebounds on the night.

Suns 106, Kings 96: Lindsey Hunter is 1-0 as an NBA coach. The reason was good Michael Beasley showed up for a quarter — the hot and cold gunner had 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter, when the Suns came from behind to win. You never know when good Beasley will make an appearance. You can always count on Luis Sclola, who had 9 of his 21 for the game in the fourth quarter. DeMarcus Cousins had 15 points and 15 boards to lead the Kings.

Report: Celtics were ‘very much enamored’ with Tyler Herro, whom Heat took one pick before Boston

Heat guard Tyler Herro vs. Celtics
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
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The Celtics – holding the Kings’ first-round pick – lost a tiebreaker with the Hornets and Heat in last year’s draft. Charlotte picked No. 12, Miami No. 13 and Boston No. 14.

The Heat took Tyler Herro No. 13.

A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston:

On NBA draft night last year there was a collective moan among the Boston Celtics brass right about the time the Miami Heat used the No. 13 pick to select Tyler Herro.

The Celtics were very much enamored with the 20-year-old leading up to last June’s draft

The draft is full of smokescreens and disinformation, especially from Boston. So, this can’t be taken as gospel.

But it’s still another fun chapter in the Pat Riley-Danny Ainge rivalry, which includes a previous example of the Heat drafting a player the Celtics coveted.

Herro made the All-Rookie second team and is now helping Miami against Boston in the Eastern Conference finals – no small feat for a rookie.

The Celtics settled for Romeo Langford, who had a far less productive first season and is now out for the year.

Of course, it’s far too early to declare either player will absolutely have a better career than the other. Besides, Boston never chose between Herro and Langford. The Heat got the choice and took the player both teams seemingly agreed was better.

Down 2-1 to Lakers, Nuggets sense a familiar bubble series pattern

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Mike Malone thinks he’s been here before.

Not just down 2-1 in an NBA bubble playoff series and having to come from behind, but the pattern of it — his team getting stronger and figuring things out while the opponent falters.

“This is to me kind of similar to the last series,” Malone said after the Nuggets’ Game 3 victory. “Game 1 the Clippers blew us out. Game 2 we win. Game 3, we felt we gave that game away against the Clippers.

“[The Lakers] blew us out in Game 1. Game 2 we gave away at the end. We had to right that wrong and try to get a game under our belt, which we did tonight. This gives us that much more confidence going into this series letting them know that we’re here, we’re in this for the long haul. We’re going to continue to fight and do whatever we can.”

“You definitely learn more about your opponent, what to try to look for, tendencies, and all that…” Jamal Murray said about why Denver improves as the series gets longer. “Like I said, just taking care of stuff that we can control, whether it’s turnovers, communications, switches, rebounding. Areas that we should control, we got to do that if we want to win. If we’re consistent in our play, like we touched on earlier, we can win a lot of games, put a lot of pressure on other teams.”

Those tendencies and patterns, that history of success, has Denver feeling more and more like this is a series they can win. There is a confidence that is brimming from the Nuggets stars, especially Murray. He has stepped up his game, and it’s not just the three-point shooting — 34.6% in the regular season  47.7% in the playoffs — it’s his aggressive attacks and finishing at the rim. Murry, an inconsistent finisher at the rim even during this regular season, has been lights out when he gets inside in the playoffs. It stems from confidence.

“I think what I’ve seen from Jamal this year, aside from the growth defensively, which has been tremendous, I’m so proud of him in that regard, but now I know every night what I’m getting from Jamal,” Malone said. “Last year we knew what we were getting from Nikola, but what kind of game would Jamal have. That’s no longer the case. We have two superstars in Nikola and Jamal and a lot of young, talented players behind them.”

It should not be a surprise to anyone that the Nuggets played their best basketball with their backs against the wall — this team has been in four straight seven-game playoff series, winning three. They are used to the pressure. Nor should it have caught anyone off-guard that they would not go away quietly. Some in Lakers’ nation thought Anthony Davisgame-winning three to put the Lakers up 2-0 was a gut punch that would floor the Nuggets.

Malone made sure that was not the takeaway from the game.

“[Monday] when we met and we watched the film, I started off by watching the last play of the game,” Malone said. “Get the elephant in the room out of the way. Let’s talk about the play, what happened. When we’re in this situation again, let’s learn from it. Yes, we all take ownership. Let’s learn from it.

“After that, my goal was when we got done with that film, they saw so many positive clips of us doing the right things, which put us in a position to win. Now we had to do that for more than just a second half. We had to do it for four quarters.”

They did it for three, but that was enough to get the win thanks to some late heroics from Murray.

The key to the remainder of this series is defense. For both teams.

Denver is not an elite defensive team, they were middle of the pack for the regular season. What they can do throughout a series is become more disruptive. They have done it this series, quieting the Lakers’ halfcourt offense. The Lakers scored less than a point per possession — 92.8 points per 100 possessions — in their halfcourt in Game 3 (stats via Cleaning The Glass). Add to that the fact LeBron James is fading as games go on — he is dominant in the first quarter but struggling more in the fourth. Denver got a fantastic game from Jerami Grant in Game 3, they will need more of those games, but the Nuggets have a plan that works and that they can execute.

The heart of that plan is keeping the Lakers out of transition, which brings us to the other side of the equation: The Lakers intensity and physicality on defense almost won them Game 3. The Lakers forced turnovers — six in a row at one point — and turned those into transition buckets. The Lakers are as good a transition team as there is in the league and the Nuggets are terrible at defending it. When the Lakers run, they win. It’s just harder to do that when you’re taking the ball out of the basket each time down, the Lakers need stops.

Expect the Lakers to come out with intensity in Game 4, maybe helping them race out to a big lead. Maybe.  But even if that happens, the Nuggets will not be phased — they came from 16 and 19 back against the Clippers to win last round.

Denver has seen this movie before, and they liked the ending.

NBA playoff schedule 2020: Dates, times, matchups for all games

NBA playoff schedule 2020
AAron Ontiveroz/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
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And there were four.

The NBA is down to the conference finals — and the bubble has provided us with upsets galore. There are some unexpected teams in the NBA’s Final Four, but of course LeBron James is still there. The Lakers are the heavy favorites at this point.

Here are a few notes on the NBA playoffs schedule 2020:

• The NBA is continuing to push the pace with games every other day — except in the East, when ESPN wants a break not to clash with the NFL, and to let the West catch up. The fast pace of games will return with the NBA Finals.
Families for the players, and with the final four now the coaches, are in the bubble.
• The NBA has released an NBA Finals schedule to teams and their target is still a Sept. 30 Game 1. If either conference finals goes seven games that date will need to be pushed back.

Here is the NBA playoffs schedule 2020 (all times are Eastern):

EASTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 3 Boston Celtics vs. No. 5 Miami Heat

Game 1: Heat 117, Celtics 114, OT
Game 2: Heat 106, Celtics 101
Game 3: Celtics 117, Heat 106 (Miami leads series 2-1)
Game 4: Sept. 23, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 5: Sept. 25, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)
Game 6: Sept. 27, 7:30 p.m. (ESPN)*
Game 7: TBD (ESPN)*
*If necessary

WESTERN CONFERENCE FINALS

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers vs. No. 3 Denver Nuggets

Game 1: Lakers 126, Nuggets 114
Game 2: Lakers 105, Nuggets 103
Game 3: Nuggets 114, Lakers 106 (Lakers lead series 2-1)
Game 4: Sept. 24, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 5: Sept. 26, 9 p.m. (TNT)
Game 6: Sept. 28, TBD (TNT)*
Game 7: Sept. 30, TBD (TNT)*
*If necessary

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: Second Round results

Eastern Conference

No. 3 Boston beat No. 2 Toronto 4-3

No. 5 Miami beat No. 1 Milwaukee 4-1

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat Houston 4-1

No. 3 Denver beat No. 2 Los Angeles Clippers 4-3

NBA playoffs schedule 2020: First Round results

Western Conference

No. 1 Los Angeles Lakers beat No. 8 Portland 4-1

No. 2 L.A. Clippers beat No. 7 Dallas 4-2

No. 3 Denver beat No. 6 Utah 4-3

No. 4 Houston beat No. 5 Oklahoma City 4-3

Eastern Conference

No. 1 Milwaukee beat No. 8 Orlando 4-1

No. 2 Toronto beat No. 7 Brooklyn 4-0

No. 3 Boston beat No. 6 Philadelphia 4-0

No. 5 Miami beat No. 4 Indiana 4-0

Report: Dwight Howard was nearly ejected for language in Game 3

Dwight Howard
Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images
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Dwight Howard is thriving in his role as enforcer and Nikola Jokic antagonist for the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals — and he’s talking a lot on the court to let everyone know it.  Based on NBA.com matchup stats, Jokic is 3-of-7 shooting while guarded by Howard, with another 10 points at the free-throw line, which means he’s doing better than JaVale McGee or Anthony Davis (and he’s keeping Davis out of foul trouble).

Dwight Howard has been a spark of energy for the Lakers in that role, but he almost got ejected in the first half of Game 3 because of his language, reports Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports. Howard already has one technical because, with 7 minutes left the second quarter, Howard picked up a foul guarding Jokic and, in frustration with the call, threw the ball in the air, which will get any player a technical for showing up the referee and delaying the game.

Jerami Grant, who finished with 26 points, was at the free-throw line midway in the second period, and Howard uttered an obscene remark in the direction of the officials. It was apparently so off-putting that official Marc Davis shouted, “Hey, cut that out now! Are you serious? I’ve heard that twice now. Twice. Cut it out now!”

Howard got off with a stern warning, but he was visibly irritated.

Rajon Rondo had to get Howard’s attention before he made another mistake in terms of who to body up with on the free throw.

The Lakers will need better focus and play across the board to win the series than they have shown the last couple of games, particularly on the defensive end — the Lakers need stops and transition opportunities because their halfcourt offense continues to bog down. Howard can be a big part of that guarding Jokic, but he can’t step over the line and hurt the team.

Game 4 between the Lakers and Nuggets is Thursday at 9 p.m. Eastern. The Lakers lead the series 2-1.