Baseline to Baseline recaps: LeBron, Wade enough for Heat

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while trying out your stylish new Get Smart shoe-phone….

Heat 114, Rockets 108: What a fun finish. After collapsing in the finals last year against the Heat, James Harden exacted a little personal revenge. Harden was a one-man wrecking crew, scoring 36 points 10-for-16 shooting on the night. Whenever it looked like the Heat would put away the Rockets for good, Harden kept coming back with an answer, scoring 8 straight points late in the fourth quarter. Ultimately though, two was better than one, as Dwyane Wade put together his best performance all season with 31 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds, while LeBron James (32 points) just sort of did what he always does.

Despite the offensive prowess of the dynamic duo, the Rockets had a few chances late to tie the game. However, it was ultimately Miami’s role players that did what they’re paid to do. Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem drew back-to-back charges in a one possession game helping Miami to win the high-scoring 114-108 game with a little defense.
—D.J. Foster

Thunder 119, Warriors 98: Oklahoma City took control of the game with a 12-2 run in the first quarter and never looked back. It was a blowout. Sure, the Warriors got the lead down to 11 at the end of the third quarter, but the Thunder opened the fourth on a 16-4 run and that was all she wrote. Oklahoma City did a great job moving the ball all night and the Warriors defense could not keep up. Kevin Durant had 25 points and seven rebounds, Russell Westbrook added 22 points and Kevin Martin finished with 21.

Wizards 106, Knicks 96: John Wall got into the paint pretty much whenever he wanted, carving up the Knicks defense like Top Chef’s Hung Huynh with a chicken. Wall had 21 points, 9 dimes and just abused the Knicks pick-and-roll defense. Paired with that for the Wizards was the 11-for-20 shooting from three, spacing the floor and making life hard for any defense. Washington took control in the fourth quarter when it shot 68.4 percent and outscored New York 36-23.

The Knicks just seemed flat. With everyone getting healthy in Washington you can’t just show up flat and expect to roll them anymore. So much for the Knicks five-game winning streak, their defense let them down. Carmelo Anthony had 31 for the Knicks, but like the rest of the team he didn’t really have it all going at his peak.

Celtics 99, Raptors 95: If you’ve been following the Raptors this season, you know the story. They get up early, play well through three quarters, and then completely collapse down the stretch. Holding a 10-point lead going into the fourth, Toronto quickly saw it melt away, as Celtics guard Leandro Barbosa went into takeover mode by scoring 12 of his 14 points in the final period.

When it wasn’t Barbosa issuing the damage, it was Kevin Garnett, who led all scorers with 27. KG had a few ridiculous shots fall in, but his jump shooting down the stretch kept the lead cozy and gave the Celtics a 99-95 win.

As for the Rudy Gay-DeMar DeRozan experience? Not so great tonight. A lot of wing players have inefficient nights against Boston, but Gay and DeRozan combined to go 13-for-40 while the Raptors only connected on 4-for-18 as a team from behind the arc. Andrea Bargnani is probably not the savior.
—D.J. Foster

Nets 93, Pistons 90: Coming off a tough loss to the Lakers the night before, the Nets bounced back in this one and held on to beat a game Pistons team.
The first half saw the Pistons mostly control the action and actually lead after 24 minutes. The Nets struggled to hit shots (35.6% shooting in the first half) while the Pistons executed their offense and were able to get out in the open court and turn turnovers into easy baskets. Led by Greg Monroe (8 points in the first half, 23 for the game) and Jose Calderon (8 points, 9 assists for the game) it looked like the Pistons were going to give the Nets their second loss in as many nights.
In the 2nd half, however, the Nets found their stride on both sides of the ball. Defensively they were able to contain everyone but Monroe and held the Pistons to 40.5% shooting as a group. And offensively, Brooklyn controlled the action by going to Brook Lopez whose 11 points (17 for the game) on 5-6 shooting set the tone. Also chipping in was Gerald Wallace who scored 9 of his 14 points in the second half while Deron Williams controlled the action handing out 7 of his 9 assists in the final two periods. Overall, the Nets simply had too much for the Pistons down the stretch and were able to hold on by hitting key shots in the closing minutes that clinched the game.
—Darius Soriano

Spurs 104, Timberwolves 94: It was a vintage Spurs-style win to kick off their annual rodeo road trip — Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili are out injured, so Danny Green steps up and scores 14 in the fourth quarter and he finishes the game with 8 three pointers and 28 points. As a team the Spurs shot 55 percent in the fourth quarter and that’s how they pulled away. Tony Parker had 31 points to lead the Spurs, because he is really good.

On the bright side for Minnesota, Ricky Rubio seems to be finding his form again and had 11 assists.

Mavericks 105, Trail Blazers 99: If Dallas entertains any shot at making up the five games they are back and squeaking into the playoffs, their current homestand has to be a springboard. And a win against the Trail Blazers is a good start.

In the first half it was the O.J. Mayo show as he scored 20 of his 28 points on the night before the break. But the Mavericks got other key contributions as the game wore on — it was Vince Carter moving the ball to score 17 (the offense is better when he is in), Dirk Nowitzki with 16 and looking good in the pick-and-roll, and Shawn Marion with 13 points and 10 rebounds. LaMarcus Aldridge always seems to play well back in his home town of Dallas and had 27 points and 10 boards. But it wasn’t enough.

Congratulations to Rick Carlisle, who gets his 500th win as a coach in this one.

Hawks 103, Grizzlies 92: The Memphis front office turned over the roster midseason and coach Lionel Hollins is struggling to find a rotation that works for him. And he is throwing everything against the wall to see if it sticks — it feels like a preseason game with the Grizzlies as everyone tries to find their way. On the other side the Hawks know who they are and with the once-stout Memphis defense still trying to find it’s footing some Hawks had big nights: Jeff Teague had 22 points and 13 assists; Josh Smith 19 points, 11 rebounds; and Al Horford finished with 17 points, and11 rebounds. Atlanta shot 51.4 percent and took control of the game with an 11-3 run in the second.

Jazz 100, Bucks 86: The Bucks got off to a fast start behind 10 first quarter points from Brandon Jennings. But as the Bucks depleted bench came on the court the Jazz took control of the game, with a 21-4 second quarter run being the big moment. The Bucks looked like a team playing the second night of a back-to-back at altitude and the Jazz took advantage by pounding Milwaukee inside to the tune of 56 points in the paint. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap each had 19 points on the night, Enes Kanter had 17 off the bench.

Pacers 88, 76ers 69: In what was an ugly display of basketball for most of the night, the Pacers were able to dispatch the short handed 76ers who were down Thadeus Young and Jason Richardson (who will miss the rest of the season).
Philadelphia could have used both players in  this one as their offense struggled to get anything going all night against a rugged Pacer defense. The Sixers shot just 34.4% from the field on the night with LaVoy Allen (12 points, 6-13 shooting) the only player scoring with any sort of efficiency. The other Sixers, however, could only hope to shoot as well with Evan Turner (1-10), Spencer Hawes (3-13), and Nick Young (4-13) having particularly rough nights.
Meanwhile the Pacers — who also shot a poor 39% from the field — ground out points they needed to win. Led by Roy Hibbert’s double-double (18 points, 14 rebounds) and solid efforts from George Hill and David West (15 points a piece), Indiana found more than enough effective offense to pair with their stifling defense to cruise to the win.
—Darius Soriano

Clippers 86, Magic 76: This was bad. Really bad. 16 minutes into the game, the Magic and the Clippers both had as many turnovers as they did made field goals. The Clippers barely shot over 40 percent from the field on the game, and the Magic checked in at a cool 34.5 percent. It’s not like shots just weren’t falling — this game had a month’s supply of airballs.

You can blame the poor offensive performances on the Clippers being without Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford and the Magic being without Arron Afflalo and J.J. Redick, but there was almost nothing redeemable on either end for either team. Jameer Nelson started hot with 18 points in the first off and had the Magic in good shape, but when he fell off in the second half, so did the Magic

For the Clippers, Eric Bledsoe enjoyed the extra possessions and scored a career-high 27 points on some nice perimeter shooting to seal the 86-76 victory. But outside of him? Clippers backup center Ryan Hollins may have been the third best player in the entire game with 13 points and 8 rebounds, which kind of tells you all you need to know.
—D.J. Foster

Cavaliers 122, Bobcats 95: Kyrie Irving had 22 points, Dion Waiters 19 and this was a thrashing. Marreese Speights had 11 points and 10 rebounds off the bench and the Cavaliers are 5-2 since getting him from the Grizzlies. Not much else to say about this one.

Hornets 93, Suns 84: This was a two-point game midway through the fourth quarter when the Hornets put together a 13-2 run to seal it. They got a lot of help from Phoenix who missed shots and turned the ball over during that stretch. It wasn’t pretty, but the Hornets snap a four-game losing streak so they will take it, especially since they have to hit the road for a few days with Mardis Gras coming to town. Greivis Vasquez’s led the Hornets with 19 points and 12 assists.

Nets GM says he’s unsure if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving would return for playoffs (don’t bet on it)

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The idle hands of time forced by the NBA’s coronavirus hiatus has lead to everything from conspiracy theories to outright fantasies about the future of the NBA when play returns.

One of the favorites: the delay allows Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving to return when the NBA playoffs start, and the Brooklyn Nets become the most dangerous seven seed ever and a potential contender.

When asked about that idea Wednesday in a conference call, Brooklyn GM Sean Marks took the diplomatic “there’s no way we can know” approach.

If you’re reading this, seeing the odds of the Nets as 66-1 as NBA champions and thinking “that’s not a bad bet” let me help you out:

Save your money. Spend it on a takeout dinner from a struggling local restaurant, that will help far more people than giving away your money to a casino. Marks saying it’s too early to tell is the GM being diplomatic and deferential to his stars. They are not returning this year, something NBC Sports has heard from sources, plus it just makes sense. Let’s get into why.

The second part of that Tweet, the idea that rehab has been slowed a little because of facilities being closed, is one reason not to expect KD and Irving.

That ties into the bigger issue: Injuries often occur when players find the load on them and their activity level spiked. Sports science has shown leaps in stress levels on muscles leads to fatigue and more injuries, that returns need to be ramped up slowly (why you see minutes limits on guys when they first come back). Durant and Irving are the faces of the Nets franchise and they need both of them to be contenders. So are the Nets going to take those guys, who have missed extended time due to injuries, and throw them straight into an NBA playoff game with that intensity? Let’s politely say that kind of return has not worked well for Durant in the past. Two weeks or so of a condensed training camp will not be enough to have them ready for playoff basketball.

On another note, Marks said the suspension of the league also has brought to a stop the Nets search for their next head coach after Kenny Atkinson was let go.

The front office will pick the next coach, but if that “blue chip, veteran” coach does not get a thumbs up from Durant and Irving, the interview is over.

Regional TV challenges with moving NBA season to a mid-December start

NBA
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Before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NBA to think about playing games deep into the summer, that idea was already on the table. At the Sloan Sports Analytic Conference hosted by MIT, Atlanta Hawks CEO Steve Koonin proposed moving the NBA to a mid-December start. Essentially, Koonin wants to move the entire NBA schedule back by two months. Currently the NBA regular season starts in mid-October.

Koonin’s idea is to move away from the NFL season as much as possible. He said at the time “Relevance equals revenue. We’ve got to create the most relevance, and the revenue will fix itself.”

Under Koonin’s proposal, the NBA schedule would tip-off in mid-December and the NBA Finals would wrap up in August. Koonin’s hope is that with less competition from the NFL, the NBA ratings would go up. He said “A big piece is you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to enhance ratings. Sometimes, moving away from competition is a great way to grow ratings.”

This is far from the first time a proposal has been floated to move the start of the NBA season. Many suggest that casual fans don’t really care about the NBA until Christmas anyway. That’s when the NFL season is winding down and the NCAA football season is just about wrapped up. Currently, the NBA season overlaps with the NFL season, including the NFL playoffs, by three-and-a-half months from mid-October through January.

The NBA, and the NHL, have the winter months of February and March mostly to themselves. In mid-March, the NCAA gets the shine for the NCAA Tournament, but that’s only for a few days a week.

Starting in late-March/early-April, the NBA shares the sports calendar with MLB. Baseball’s Opening Day usually comes two-to-three weeks ahead of the NBA Playoffs.

By getting clear of the NFL, the NBA avoids a ratings monster that now dominates Sundays, Monday nights and Thursday nights. In addition, the NBA would avoid college football’s foothold on Saturdays. Overlapping more with the less-popular MLB could give the NBA a ratings boost.

Yet, it’s with MLB that a seemingly overlooked challenge lies for pushing back the NBA schedule.

While the focus generally lies on the NBA’s nationally televised games on ABC, ESPN and TNT, the vast majority of games are broadcast on regional sports networks or RSN’s. The national TV contracts pull in billions of dollars to be sure, but the RSN deals make up a big portion of the television pie as well.

When you remove games broadcast on NBATV, which usually pick up an RSN feed, the best NBA teams generally play between 20 and 30 games on national TV. That leaves over 50 games to be broadcast by the RSN. And those RSN’s pay tens of millions of dollars to do so.

Unfortunately for the NBA, many of those RSN’s pay tens of millions to also broadcast games for the region’s MLB team as well.

As of the 2020, here are the markets that share an RSN for both NBA and MLB games:

  • Atlanta Hawks and Atlanta Braves – Fox Sports South/Fox Sports Southeast
  • Brooklyn Nets and New York Yankees – YES Network
  • Charlotte Hornets and Atlanta Braves – Fox Sports Southeast
  • Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox – NBC Sports Chicago
  • Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds – Fox Sports Ohio
  • Dallas Mavericks and Texas Rangers – Fox Sports Southwest
  • Detroit Pistons and Detroit Tigers – Fox Sports Detroit
  • Golden State Warriors and San Francisco Giants – NBC Sports Bay Area
  • Houston Rockets and Houston Astros – AT&T SportsNet Southwest
  • Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Angels – Fox Sports Prime Ticket/Fox Sports West
  • Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Dodgers – Spectrum SportsNet
  • Memphis Grizzlies and Atlanta Braves – Fox Sports Southeast
  • Miami Heat and Tampa Rays – Fox Sports Sun
  • Milwaukee Bucks and Milwaukee Brewers – Fox Sports Wisconsin
  • Minnesota Timberwolves and Minnesota Twins – Fox Sports North
  • Orlando Magic and Miami Marlins – Fox Sports Florida
  • Philadelphia 76ers and Philadelphia Phillies – NBC Sports Philadelphia
  • Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks – Fox Sports Arizona
  • Sacramento Kings and Oakland A’s – NBC Sports California
  • San Antonio Spurs and Texas Rangers – Fox Sports Southwest
  • Toronto Raptors and Toronto Blue Jays – Sportsnet
  • Utah Jazz and Colorado Rockies – AT&T SportsNet Rocky Mountain

All told, only eight NBA franchises don’t share an RSN with an MLB team.

It’s not a challenge for RSN to move a handful of games to an alternate channel for a handful of weeks in late-March/early-April. In addition, the early part of the baseball season regularly features day games that wrap hours in advance of the NBA game that evening.

When you start talking about RSN’s choosing how to handle months of overlap, months that baseball has had to themselves for years, things get messy. Not every television provider offers the alternate channels. Some contracts have specific language on when, if and how often their games can be bumped.

Moving the NBA calendar to run December-August vs October-June has a lot of pitfalls. It will involve negotiation between the NBA and NBPA as well. Some prominent players, like Damian Lillard, don’t like the idea of giving up the warm summer months to play basketball. You also have the challenge of attendance in arenas during the nicest parts of the year weather-wise. Some fans may not want to be inside on beautiful spring and summer evenings.

However, this will ultimately come down to TV and their money. And the RSN’s will have just as large a say in that process as the major networks.

Mark Cuban backs off belief NBA season could resume in mid-May

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban
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Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has backed off his belief that the NBA season could resume in mid-May. In appearance on ESPN’s Get Up, Cuban said, “I have no idea” when the NBA could resume the 2019-20 season.

Last month Cuban said he thought a return to play could happen as soon as mid-May. That timeline likely included the NBA Finals being played in late-July, after the two-month suspension of play.

Cuban’s Mavericks were on the verge of making the NBA playoffs. That would have been the Mavs first postseason appearance after a three-year absence. Dallas hasn’t advanced out of the first round since winning the NBA championship in 2011.

Cuban also added about returning to play: “I mean, I haven’t had any conversations where anybody discusses an actual date.”

The NBA season has been suspended since Wednesday, March 11. That night games in Oklahoma City and Sacramento were postponed after players and officials were tested for coronavirus. The league was already prepared to play games without fans present, but suspended operations after positive COVID-19 tests.

Four Nets players who tested positive for COVID-19 showing no symptoms

Kevin Durant
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On a conference call with the media Wednesday morning, Brooklyn Nets general manager Sean Marks shared some good news. The four Nets players who had tested positive for coronavirus are no longer showing symptoms.

Kevin Durant was one of the four Nets to come forward and say he had tested positive for COVID-19. Durant said at the time that he was feeling fine, but this report clarifies that he’s now clear of symptoms. Durant has been out for the entirety of the 2019-20 season as he rehabs from the torn Achilles’ he suffered during the 2019 NBA Finals.

Over a dozen NBA players tested positive for coronavirus since mid-March. About half of those players have been identified. Multiple reports have surfaced over the last two weeks of players being cleared of symptoms.

Marcus Smart of the Boston Celtics was recently cleared of COVID-19 after a positive test. Reports are that he plans to donate his blood plasma to National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project for research on the blood of those recovered from coronavirus.