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: Boston nearing agreement to retain Marcus Smart

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When free agency began, a lot of us said that the restricted free agent market was going to be tough — not a lot of teams had cap space to start with, and those that did were not targeting players where the offer could be matched. Zach LaVine got a deal, but other name RFA were waiting, Clint Capela and Marcus Smart being the biggest names on the board.

We may be able to cross Smart off that list soon, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

That is in the range of what the Celtics had wanted to pay him from the start, around $12 million a season.

Smart expected more — north of $17 million a season — and was frustrated that no offers sheets came in that would force the Celtics to match. He reportedly was “hurt and disgusted” that the Celtics didn’t come in and recruit him or make a larger offer. Welcome to a tight market, the Celtics had leverage.

Smart is one of the top defensive two guards in the league, a switchable defender who can guard any perimeter position, all of which fits with Brad Stevens’ defensive system. He also brings a high motor — he generates steals and gets to loose balls. Offensively he’s a liability — teams can help off him, daring him to shoot — but when healthy the Celtics have the players to cover that up.

This looks like it will get done and be a fair deal for both sides.

Kawhi Leonard may not want to play in Toronto, but he will. For now.

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The moment it was reported that Kawhi Leonard was being traded to Toronto for a package based around DeMar DeRozan,  a second theme followed:

Leonard did not like this.

Leonard and his uncle/management team had tried to force their way to Los Angeles — in Las Vegas for Summer League I heard rumors about him wanting to be with either the Lakers or Clippers, depending on the source. (As with everything around Kawhi’s inexperienced management, there was no clear voice or vision, so there were a lot of conflicting rumors.) L.A. never happened because the Lakers think he will sign with them next summer, so they did not throw their best players into a trade — Brandon Ingram, in particular — while the Clippers didn’t have the assets to get a deal done. The Raptors jumped into that breach.

This has led to online speculation that Leonard will sit out in Toronto, saying he is injured, and try to force another trade.

Don’t bet on it.

Why? Because if he doesn’t play next season, even the Lakers would be very hesitant to jump in with a max contract offer next summer.

Leonard played in just nine games last season due to a quadriceps tendon issue, something that dates back to the season before that (he just played through it then). There was disagreement between doctors (and the sides) about whether this was a muscle or tendon issue, but the injury was real.

Right now, teams do not know how well he has responded to treatment, outside of second-hand reports. The physical Leonard has to undergo to complete this trade will be interesting.

If Leonard sits out all or even much of another season with the same injury, how healthy he would ever be must come into question. Even the Lakers and other teams that want him would have to be cautious about a four-year, $140.6 million contract (the max they can offer) to a guy who had missed a lot of the last two seasons.

To get where he wants to go and get paid, Leonard has to get on the court and play well. He has to look like Kawhi Leonard again, or something close to it.

He knows that, so he will be on the court in a Raptors uniform. If only for a year.

 

Lonzo Ball had arthroscopic surgery on knee Tuesday, should be ready for training camp

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It’s done.

As expected, Lonzo Ball has had left knee surgery on Tuesday and is currently in recovery. He reportedly will be good to go by training camp in September.

Ball averaged 10.2 points and 7.2 assists per game last season and made the NBA All-Rookie second team. This summer he had been working hard on his conditioning and jumper before the injury.

Ball will be asked to push the pace (as he did last season) and be a secondary ball handler who can create shots when LeBron does not have the ball in his hands. They fit together better on the court than some people think (Lonzo did play off the ball some at UCLA), but the challenge for L.A.of teams helping off Lonzo to double/trap LeBron on the perimeter is real.

The Lakers also took a couple of shots across the bow of Ball — and his father LaVar — this summer. First there was the signing of Rajon Rondo, then Magic Johnson said this about Josh Hart at Summer League:

The message is clear, the days of soft-pedaling and catering to Ball are over. He must earn his starting job, and there are legit challengers for his minutes. At some point, if the balance of off-court distractions and on-court production gets out of alignment, Ball’s job and standing with the Lakers are not safe.

But for now, he just needs to get right before the season.

DeMar DeRozan expresses anger at trade to Spurs on Instagram

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DeMar DeRozan has been loyal to Toronto.

He embraced the city when former stars abandoned it and pushed their way out of town. In 2016, as a free agent, he didn’t even meet with another team, he had no intention of leaving. He said he wanted to go down as the greatest Raptor ever. A Los Angeles kid himself — born and raised in Compton — he never pushed to go home, instead becoming incredibly active in the community off the court as well as being a four-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA player on it. He has led the greatest run of Raptors basketball in franchise history.

The Raptors were not loyal to DeRozan — they are shipping him to Texas in a trade for Kawhi Leonard that is being finalized.

DeRozan reportedly hates the move and put this up as an Instagram story.

“Be told one thing & the outcome another. Can’t trust em. Ain’t no loyalty in this game. Sell you out quick for a little bit of nothing… Soon you’ll understand… Don’t disturb…”

It’s not the destination that has DeRozan unhappy, he did not want to be traded, period.

Leonard reportedly also is unhappy with the trade — he wanted to go home to Los Angeles. However, Lakers would not the players the Spurs wanted into a trade (Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma and more), and the Clippers do not have the assets to interest the Spurs in a trade. San Antonio was holding out for other bidders, biding their time, and in came Raptors’ GM Masai Ujiri with an aggressive move.

Leonard’s inexperienced management team, which did not handle this situation well, wanted him in a major market that would boost Leonard’s marketing opportunities. While Toronto is a big market — sixth largest in the NBA, bigger than Philadelphia — and is the team of a nation with fans across Canada, this is not what Leonard’s people wanted. He is a free agent next summer in 2019.

DeRozan has every right to feel betrayed — next time you think of complaining about how players are not loyal to cities/teams/fans, remember this. Loyalty is a luxury in the NBA and one rarely rewarded.

DeRozan also will come around and embrace San Antonio, the Spurs culture, and Gregg Popovich. He will help them win a lot.

Whether the Raptors can win over Leonard becomes one of the NBA’s biggest storylines of 2018-19.