Baseline to Baseline recaps: Pacers, Bulls get together for shootout

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while building a nuclear fusion reactor in your garage like any normal teenager….

Pacers 111, Bulls 101: If you were expecting a defense struggle between two of the top three defenses in the Association… well, sorry. There wasn’t a lot of defense and fur the Bulls, if they are not defending they are going to struggle because they can’t score with teams. Not even the Pacers. With Joakim Noah out the Bulls had matchup problems and didn’t have the size to defend David West, who finished with 29. Paul George added 23 and hit the dagger for the Pacers while George Hill was hot to start (7-of-7) and had 22 on the night. Marco Belinelli led the Bulls with 24.

Thunder 112, Mavericks 91: This was an old-school beat down. After a tight first 9 minutes or so the Thunder went on a 7-0 run when their bench first entered the game and then it was on. In the second quarter the Thunder went on a 27-8 run right about when Russell Westbrook came back into the contest, he had 11 of his 24 in the second quarter. Eventually the Thunder led by as many as 33 in the second half and it was never close. Kevin Durant had 19 points and 10 rebounds. The only even remote bright spot for Dallas was the return of Dirk Nowitzki, but he shot just 3-of-11 on the night.

Knicks 99, Pistons 85: It turns out Kyle Singler and Rodney Stuckey cannot really guard Carmelo Anthony effectively. Who knew? ‘Melo had 27, the Knicks took charge with an 11-0 run midway through the first quarter and they never looked back as they cruised to their fifth straight win. Amar’e Stoudemire had 20 points and J.R. Smith added 16. Jose Calderon made his Pistons debut and had 15 points, but this wasn’t Detroit’s night.

Heat 99, Bobcats 94: It was LeBron James’ world, everyone else was just living in it — he had 31 points on 13-of-14 shooting and he took every single one of his shots in the paint. He simply bullied his way into the paint all night and Charlotte could not stop him. LeBron added 8 assists and 8 rebounds on a night where he played just about as well as a person could. Chris Bosh added 23.

Charlotte actually led this game by a point inside 8 minutes left, led by Ramon Sessions (18) and Ben Gordon (16) who had good games off the bench. But the Heat went on an 8-0 run to retake the lead for good. And on a night like this you knew LeBron was not going to let the Heat lose.

Wizards 98, Clippers 90: With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out injured the Clippers lost again, — their seventh loss in nine games. The Clippers fall to 1-3 on their big road trip and are coming back to the pack in the West (where Memphis, Golden State and Denver are). We will see how the team responds to some adversity now.

Wizards got off to 19-6 lead to open the game and held that lead until the third quarter when the Clippers made a 17-2 run to retake the lead. That’s when Martell Webster made his presence felt, scoring 11 of his 21 points in the quarter as the Wizards retook the lead. The Wizards sealed the game with an 11-2 run in the fourth quarter fueled by Clippers turnovers. Nene and Garrett Temple added 15 points a piece. Jamal Crawford led the Clippers with 28.

Sixers 78, Magic 61: What did you expect? The Magic were without Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo and of course Glen Davis. They probably asked Jacque Vaughn to suit up. The Sixers raced out to a 22-6 lead and while the game was ugly the rest of the way the Sixers never gave up the lead. Spencer Hawes had 21 points and 14 rebounds, while Nick Young added 15 points for Philly.

Trail Blazers 100, Timberwolves 98: If you watched most of this game you wouldn’t recognize the final score — it certainly wasn’t a pretty game but the Trail Blazers were in control of it. Minnesota scored just 38 first half points and was a total mess while LaMarcus Aldridge looked every bit the All-Star with 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Then came the final minutes, when Minnesota went on a 14-2 run and almost stole the game. They got it down to one point but Aldridge hit a key bucket to make it three with 27 seconds left. Of course, Aldridge missed the free throws that would have iced the game with 6.7 seconds left, giving the Timberwolves one last shot at it. They went to Dante Cunningham, who had the hot hand with 23 points on the night, but he came up just short. And Portland escapes with the win.

Jazz 98, Kings 91 (OT): Apparently Utah wants to show it can host a Super Bowl t0o — they had some lighting issues at the start of the game. Once they got going it looked like Utah would pull away with this in the second quarter but Sacramento closed the first half with a 9-0 run and we had a game. In the overtime Randy Foye had 6 of his 20 points and Paul Millsap 4 of his 14 to secure the win. The Kings could really have used DeMarcus Cousins late in this one but he got ejected just before the half. The real key for Utah in this was the 41 points they got from the bench, led by Alec Burks with 14 and Derrick Favors with 13.

Warriors post longest playoff home winning streak in NBA history

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You remember the Warriors’ last home playoff loss.

Golden State hasn’t lost a playoff game in Oakland since signing Kevin Durant. The Warriors went 9-0 at home last year and are 7-0 at home this year. Their Game 3 win over the Rockets last night gave Golden State a record-breaking postseason home winning streak.

The Bulls (1990-91) previously held the record. The leaderboard:

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Are the Warriors atypically good at home? The more accurate answer is they’re just atypically good.

They’re 10-4 on the road the last two postseasons, an incredible mark in its own right. Like most teams, they’re better at home.

That presents a tough challenge for Houston with Game 4 of the Western Conference finals Tuesday in Oakland.

Backed into must-win Game 4, here are three things Rockets must do to even series

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Three years ago, the Houston Rockets came back from 3-1 down in a playoff series to defeat a Los Angeles Clippers (and give that franchise a punch to the gut from which it has not recovered). It was one of the great Rockets’ moments of the last decade.

Houston is not going to be able to do that against these Golden State Warriors. Go down 3-1 after Game 4 Tuesday at Oracle and the series is all but over.

Which means after the Rockets’ blowout loss in Game 3 Sunday night, Houston finds itself in the same must-win spot it did after Game 1. And unlike Game 2, the Rockets will not get helped out by an arrogant Warriors team not playing at its peak — the Rockets are going to need a near perfect game to beat a full-force Warriors team on Tuesday.

Here are the three key areas the Rockets must improve to win Game 4:

1) Just shoot better — finish shots at the rim and hit some threes. It’s rather obvious and simplistic, but it’s the reality: Houston just has to shoot better in Game 4.

The Rockets took a full one-third of their shots at the rim in the restricted area in Game 3, but they struggled with those making just 13-of-27 (48.1 percent). The Rockets took 42 percent of their shot attempts from three but hit just 11-of-34, and they were 7-of-25 on above the break threes. That’s not good enough, the Rockets are going to need at least 15 made threes in a game to win.

“Those are double whammies,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said of the missed shots at the rim. “It’s like we missed layups first half especially and they go down and score. So in transition, you’ve got to keep them out of transition, you’ve got to make layups. We didn’t do that. When they did miss, we didn’t box out all the time, and then we turned it over 20 times. It’s a formula for losing, and for us to correct that, we can’t turn it over. Got to make layups for shots, and get back.”

To be fair, the Warriors contested shooters well all game, especially guys driving the basket, but still, the Rockets need to knock down more of their shots contested or not. It’s the most basic premise of basketball.

2) Houston has to play faster. D’Antoni said it above, the Rockets and their missed shots let the Warriors get out in transition and control the pace. It’s also a simple fact that the team that controls the pace — the team that gets transition opportunities and gets into its offense earlier in the shot clock — will win the games.

Golden State had 26 transition opportunities to 12 for the Rockets, according to the Synergy Sports stats breakdown.

Or, look at it this way (via Cleaning the Glass), in Game 3, Houston started just10.4 percent of their possessions in transition (and scored a dreadful 0.89 points per possession on those plays). For comparison, in their Game 2 win, the Rockets started 18.7 percent of their possessions in transition. On Sunday night in Game 3 Warriors started 19.8 percent of their plays in transition, nearly one in five trips down the court, and they scored 1.44 points per possession on those plays.

The Rockets need to make more shots and then, even when they miss, get back in transition and not let the Warriors get rolling early in the clock. Houston also needs to defend better and force more Warriors misses, which will allow them to run. It’s all tied together, the Warriors were making shots so the Rockets were taking the ball out of the basket and coming up against set defenses; the Rockets were missing shots that let the Warriors come up fast and forcing the Rockets to scramble on defense (Golden State tears apart teams in those situations). It’s a holistic thing, but the evidence it’s working is which team controls the pace, and the Rockets need to do that in Game 4.

3) Houston needs more out of Chris Paul. It’s easy to point to the Stephen Curry eruption in the third quarter as the time the Warriors ended the game, and there is truth to that. Golden State started the third on a 10-0 run (where Curry had five of those points) and the fire was lit, then Curry started hitting 30-foot threes and quickly the game was out of reach. Those Warriors runs are crushers.

However, to me the turning point in the game was when James Harden went to the bench for his usual rest with 2:46 left in the first quarter — the Warriors outscored the Rockets by nine before the quarter was up (part of an 11-0 run to end the quarter). By the time Harden returned with 9:16 left in the second quarter, the Rockets were down 10, a hole they never could get out of (they were down 11 at the half).

CP3 has to be better in that stretch. The Warriors threw bigger, switchable guards at him on defense — Shaun Livingston, Nick Young, and then Andre Iguodala — and Paul couldn’t get separation and make plays against them. Without Harden, the Rockets offense stalled out, and doing that led to the Warriors getting to push the pace and get their transition buckets. Paul looked slowed at points, reaching on defense and not as explosive as we’ve seen.

This isn’t the Utah Jazz. Harden was off in Game 5 against Utah, but Paul picked up the slack (his 41-point, 10 assist game) and Houston got the win. Against Golden State, both Paul and Harden must have good games for Houston to have a chance. The Warriors are too good, too deep, there is no margin for error anymore.

The Rockets have an elite game in them — we saw the blueprint of what they have to do in Game 2. Houston can do that again. The only question is can they do it in the face of Golden State’s pressure, because the sharks on the Warriors smell blood in the water and will be coming hard in Game 4.

Shaun Livingston crossed James Harden so hard it made Greg Anthony mispronounce “meme” (VIDEO)

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The Golden State Warriors embarrassed the Houston Rockets on Sunday night. Stephen Curry scored 35 points, didn’t miss a shot in the third quarter, and helped the Warriors win Game 3 and take a 2-1 series lead by a margin of 41 points.

Not too shabby.

But it wasn’t just Curry who turned the Rockets into shrinking violets. Shaun Livingston, who added 11 points off the bench while shooting 4-of-4, took his turn putting Houston to task.

During one play, Livingston crossed up James Harden on his way to a wide-open dunk. Livingston’s crafty dribble moves also shook commentator Greg Anthony’s brain up a little bit, so much so that Anthony forgot how to say the word “meme”.

Via Twitter:

Even during a 41-point decimation the NBA is still the funniest league on the planet.

Report: Kings, Hawks could pass on Luka Doncic if Suns don’t take him No. 1

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Luka Doncic or Deandre Ayton?

That’s the question many NBA fans are asking themselves, but according to one report it’s not the only thing several teams in the Top 3 of the 2018 NBA Draft are thinking about.

ESPN’s Jonathan Givony says that while the Phoenix Suns may still be considering taking Doncic with their No. 1 overall pick, the Sacramento Kings (2) and Atlanta Hawks (3) are not.

The Kings and Hawks are reportedly leaning toward taking an American frontcourt player, which would point us toward guys like Ayton, Marvin Bagley, Jaren Jackson, and Mo Bamba.

Via ESPN:

The growing consensus among NBA decision-makers in attendance at Stark Arena in Belgrade is that the teams drafting behind the Phoenix Suns at No. 1, the Sacramento Kings and Atlanta Hawks are likely to pass on European prodigy in favor of American frontcourt players. The question remains whether a team will trade up into the top three to snag Doncic, or if he will fall to the No. 4 (Memphis) or even the No. 5 pick (Dallas) after being heavily scouted in the Euroleague playoffs against Panathinaikos and mostly struggling.

The information we’re missing is whether the Kings and Hawks are turned off by Doncic specifically. Is it because they haven’t scouted him as much as the other guys? Is it because of perceived team need? Do they think Doncic has peaked already? Are they worried about less information being available from a Euro prospect? All are possible.

With all the hype around Doncic, it would be shocking to see him fall out of the Top 3. It’s happened before, but both Ayton and Doncic are the guys atop this draft that people are licking their chops to get.

Could we see a team trade up to get Doncic from the Hawks or Kings if Phoenix goes elsewhere? Is this just false information funneled to the media as a means of depressing the market for Doncic or for ferreting out a big trade offer?

The conference finals aren’t even over yet and here we are talking about the incessant drama of the NBA offseason. I love this league.