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.

Bucks, 76ers, other teams practicing with “4 point line” to improve spacing instincts

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Space is the name of the game in the modern NBA.

Milwaukee is thriving in part because of the addition of three-point bomber Brook Lopez (still weird to type that) and a coach in Mike Budenholzer who encourages his players to shoot from deep, opening up the floor for Giannis Antetokounmpo to drive the lane.

How Budenholzer reinforces that spacing — adding a four-point line on the practice floor and color-coding parts of the court — is part of a fascinating story by ESPN’s Malika Andrews on how coaches are “gamifying” practices to get through to players. The 76ers, Hawks, Nets, Bulls, and Bucks are the teams we know are using a four-point line in practice right now.

To explain how the Hawks’ 4-point line — which is painted onto the floor 5 feet beyond the regular 3-point line — helps his team, [Atlanta Hawks coach Paul] Pierce walks onto the court to physically demonstrate. The condensed version of Pierce’s 36-minute explanation, which is punctuated by wild gesticulation, is this: “Spacing changes the whole game.”

Atlanta targeted Young out of Oklahoma in the 2018 draft lottery, with hopes of building an offense around his long-range shooting and passing skills. Because Young is willing and able to shoot off the dribble from well beyond the 3-point arc, defenders are forced to step out to defend him almost as soon as he crosses half court. Although he already had that range before he joined the Hawks, Young acknowledges that not everybody has the natural instinct to pull up from that deep, so it helps to have a visual reminder…

Lloyd not only wants Young to shoot from the 4-point line but to make plays from there, too. Expanding the floor outward, in turn, creates space in the paint for big men such as second-year breakout John Collins. If a guard like Young can initiate a play from behind the 4-point line, defenses are forced to cover more ground and, eventually, make difficult choices and compromises.

While Young is struggling with those deep shots this season — 24.1 percent from three — the principle is still valid, and just his and the Hawks’ willingness to shoot from there has stretched defenses (they just don’t have the talent and experience yet to exploit those defenses properly). It’s what Stephen Curry brings naturally to the Warriors (that team has the talent and experience yet to exploit defenses).

It’s not just the four-point line. In Philadelphia, the corner-three spot on the court is a different color, a reminder to players they want to be and shoot from there. In Milwaukee, there are five taped-off boxes on the court, each about the size a person takes up standing there, a reminder of where Budenholzer wants players to be in a five-out offense.

For young players raised on computer learning and video games, the color coding — what Brett Brown called “gamification” of the court — works as reminders. Ones that, ideally, carry over into games themselves.

Don’t forget, Boston reportedly “hawking” Anthony Davis, too

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If Anthony Davis hits the trade market — and that’s still an “if” because the Pelicans are pushing to win now, they are active on the trade market, and they will put a $235 million guaranteed contract in front of him next July, $40 million more than anyone else can offer — there’s been a lot of talk about how the Lakers are poised to pounce.

But don’t sleep on Boston — GM Danny Ainge has eyed Davis for a while and the Celtics have a lot of assets to throw in a deal. Something Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on the Woj&Lowe NBA trade season broadcast special recently.

“Boston has been hawking Anthony Davis for years. They always hoped that it would be—whether it’s the end of this season or the beginning of next before the trade deadline—that they would gather up all those assets, all those picks Danny Ainge has, young players, and they’d be the team to be able to get Anthony Davis.

“But now you have L.A., and if they get shut out in free agency, they’re going to have to take all their young players to try to use them to get Anthony Davis.”

If Davis becomes available, the Celtics and Lakers will be at the front of a very long line.

Boston would throw their best assets in a trade for Davis — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and draft picks — that may be more interesting to New Orleans than Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. (Boston could have four first-round picks in next June’s draft, but trading them is complicated because the draft is weeks before July 1 when the Pelicans make their offer to Davis, it’s possible to delay signing the rookies to keep them tradable but that’s not the norm; also if the Clippers miss the playoffs this year then Boston has their 2020 pick lottery protected).

Also, know that other teams are going to jump in with offers, the way Oklahoma City did with Paul George and Toronto did with Kawhi Leonard. New Orleans is obligated to get the best trade for New Orleans, not to send Davis somewhere he wants to go. If another team comes in with an over-the-top offer the Pelicans may jump at it.

Right now, NBA GMs are just watching what is happening with Davis like hawks. Or, maybe more accurately, vultures.

Not so fast: Austin Rivers reportedly will not sign in Memphis, other teams interested

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Austin Rivers is a below-average guard (his 7.1 PER this season is well below his 10.4 career average, and that was already troublingly low) and certainly was not the most popular guy in the Clippers’ locker room, but for a team in desperate need of guard depth, they could do worse. Especially for a minimum contract the rest of this season.

Which is why the rumors of Rivers to Memphis after he clears waivers from the Suns made some sense (Rivers was traded to Phoenix from Washington in the Trevor Ariza deal). Mike Conley is a borderline All-Star but behind him the Grizzlies are giving Shelvin Mack, MarShon Brooks, Wayne Selden, and others regular run. Maybe Rivers could help.

But…

Rivers will not be signing in Memphis, reports the well connected Chris Herrington of the Daily Memphian.

Contrary to today’s reports, a source with knowledge of the negotiation tells The Daily Memphian that while the Grizzlies considered the matter, the team is not signing Rivers. Unlike on Friday night, when early reporting seemed to reveal some internal confusion among the NBA teams involved in a proposed transaction, this seems merely to be a case of a premature report.

Even The Athletic’s Shams Charania, who first broke the news, has backed off.

There is not a huge demand for Rivers’ services, but some team in need of depth will role the dice.

Raptors coach Nick Nurse fined $15k for criticizing refs on behalf of Kawhi Leonard

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After the Raptors lost to the Nuggets on Sunday, Toronto coach Nick Nurse said:

“You can’t tell me that one of the best players in the league takes 100 hits and shoots four free throws, and they handed him two for charity at the end,” Nurse said in a two-part rant that will earn him a fine from the league office. “So he was going to have two free throws for the game with all the physical hits and holding and driving and chucking and doubling and slapping and reaching and all the stuff. It’s been going on all year. I do not understand why they are letting everyone play one of the best players in the league so physically. I do not understand it.

“Tonight was a very severe case of a guy who was playing great, taking it to the rim and just getting absolutely held, grabbed, poked, slapped, hit and everything. And they refused to call any of it. It’s unbelievable to me. Unbelievable to me. It’s ridiculous. The guy is one of the best players in the league and he doesn’t complain, he doesn’t do this, he doesn’t do that, and they just turn their head and go the other way. It’s been going on all year.”

Predictably…

NBA release:

Toronto Raptors head coach Nick Nurse has been fined $15,000 for public criticism of the officiating, it was announced today by Kiki VanDeWeghe, Executive Vice President, Basketball Operations.

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

This obviously doesn’t come close to putting the Raptors over the top for Leonard in free agency next summer. Los Angeles teams are still favored. But this bodes well for Toronto re-signing Leonard.

Not only did Nurse endear himself to Leonard, the coach might even help Leonard get a more favorable whistle going forward. If that happens, it’ll make the Raptors more likely to win and therefore more likely to keep Leonard.