Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Bobcats, Sessions end Celtics winning streak

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while looking at some really uncomfortable Valentines Day photos….

Bobcats 94, Celtics 91: A Celtics team on the second night of a back-to-back where the first game went three overtimes ran into a Bobcats that doesn’t have a lot going for it but does have young legs. And at the end of the game the fresh legs of the Bobcats went on a 7-0 run and got a game-winning jumper from the not quite so young Ramon Sessions.

For much of the night the Celtics couldn’t slow Bobcats big may Byron Mullens, who had 25 points and 18 rebounds. But with the game on the line late and the Celtics missing shots it was a Gerald Henderson three that got the Bobcats within one (he finished with 16). Then on the key play Sessions got a clean look at the 16 footer to win it when Avery Bradley seemed to take a misstep (tweaking something) which gave him space, and Sessions is too much of a pro to miss that shot.

Jeff Green had 18 points while Kevin Garnett added 16 points and 13 rebounds. The bigger news for Boston is Leandro Barbosa went down with what looked a whole lot like a season ending knee injury. We’ll know more Tuesday.

Spurs 103, Bulls 91: No Tim Duncan, no Manu Ginobili, no Tony Parker, no home court advantage — no problem. San Antonio’s winning machine just kept on rolling without their stars, as Kawhi Leonard dropped 26 points on Chicago’s vaunted wing defenders to lead the Spurs to a 103-89 victory.

Outside of Leonard being a little more aggressive in looking for his own shot, the Spurs didn’t do a heck of a whole lot differently than what they’d normally do with their stars. They ran shooters off screens in crisp well executed sets, rarely leaving themselves in a position where they had to attack Chicago’s defense directly off the dribble. The game really had a college basketball type feel to it, but the Spurs were sharper with their stuff. Chicago turned the ball over 19 times, and the Spurs ran away with the game with 29 points off turnovers.
—D.J. Foster

Nets 89, Pacers 84 (OT): This was a game played on Indiana’s floor at Indiana paces — it was an ugly, grinding, defensive game. And yet the Nets came away with the win even without Deron Williams (sitting out with ankle issues).

The Pacers could have had this one, they were up four (76-72) with just more than 1:30 left in the game, but they missed their final four shots. Then Joe Johnson forced OT with a little 13 footer. Once in overtime rookie Tyshawn Taylor knocked down a couple difficult shots to give the Nets the lead for good. The Pacers best players just could not knock down a shot — George Hill, Paul George and Roy Hibbert combined to shoot 8-of-39 on the night. Basically 20 percent. You don’t win a lot of games that way. Brook Lopez led the Nets with 25 wins.

Clippers 107, Sixers 90: Nick Young of the Sixers said it best, “It was like they practiced on us.” The Clippers came out with intense defensive pressure, got five steals in the first quarter and that got them out and running. And when they run the highlight reel dunks follow. Los Angeles attacked the rim with a vengeance all night. Chris Paul had 21 points and 11 assists, Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford each added 20 points to the cause. Young did have 29 for the Sixers.

With this win, the Clippers finish their Grammy road trip 4-4.

Hawks 105, Mavericks 101: Josh Smith had 20 of his 26 points in the second half (plus he had 13 rebounds) and looked like the kind of guy you want to trade for in leading the Hawks to a come-from-behind win over the Mavericks. Here is how you know it was Smith’s night — he hit 4-of-5 from three-point range.

Dallas had their chance at the end. Down 99-98 with 30 seconds left Elton Brand made a nice defensive play and stripped Smith of the ball, and the Mavericks were off in transition. O.J. Mayo had the ball and seemed to be looking for his shot when a hustling Devin Harris stripped him from behind. At the other end, Smith was fouled and knocked down a couple free throws, so it was 101-98 Hawks but the Mavs weren’t dead yet. Well until Mayo turned the ball over again — he made a terrible pass to Vince Carter that was picked off by Jeff Teague. That was your ballgame. The bright spot for Dallas in this is Dirk Nowitizki started to look like his old self with 24 points.

Timberwolves 100, Cavaliers 92: You can’t leave Luke Ridnour open. I’m not joking, he’s a solid veteran NBA player and you can’t just leave him open because he’ll knock down shots. But the Cavaliers gave him good looks late and he scored 13 of his 21 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Timberwolves to a win. The Timberwolves backcourt was key, they combined for 50 points on 21-for-36 shooting (58.3 percent). Minnesota got 16 points and 10 boards out of Nicola Pekovic and Ricky Rubio continues to look better and better with 13 points, 10 assists and 5 steals in this one. All-Star Kyrie Irving had 20 points and 7 assists.

Wizards 102, Bucks 90: Don’t sleep on the Wizards, this is four straight win. Washington took control of this game with a 22-7 second quarter run led largely by their bench and while they never pulled away they did lead the rest of the way to pick up the win. Bradley Beal was on fire with 28 but the real key for Washington was the play of center Nene, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds. John Wall was dishing with 10 assists to go with his 14 points. The Wizards are playing well.

Monta Ellis put up a good line for the Bucks — 24 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds and 7 steals. Meanwhile Mr. “I want a max contract” Brandon Jennings shot 3-of-17 from the floor.

Hornets 105, Pistons 86: Wearing their Mardi Gras uniforms it was the Hornets big men who were key — Ryan Anderson came off the bench and scored 31, Robin Lopez had 23 points and 10 rebounds, and that keyed the New Orleans win. The Hornets as a team also blocked 10 shots on the night, they were active defensively. The Hornets went on a 14-5 run at the end of the first half to really take control and the Pistons never got within a dozen in the second half. For the Pistons Rodney Stuckey had 19 point and Greg Monroe had 17 points and 11 rebounds. Anthony Davis has had a couple flat games in a row now.

Warriors know they have is something special, with uncertainty ahead

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry hears the dynasty discussion about his Golden State Warriors during another postseason run.

Draymond Green realizes special teams only stay together for so long before something breaks them apart.

That’s why the Warriors decided from Day 1 of training camp to cherish this season.

Golden State is a franchise in its prime – five straight trips to the NBA Finals and seeking a third consecutive title. But the clock is ticking and the Warriors are well aware of the possible ramifications of free agency and how things could change in a hurry this summer.

“Basketball careers aren’t that long. If you can get 10 out of it, you’re lucky,” Green explained. “To be to five straight finals, I don’t even know what to say about it. This is what you play for. This is our goal every year and to get here five straight times is special.”

The Warriors started this run with three All-Stars in Curry, Green and Klay Thompson. They added two more in Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins. How many they’ll have after free agency is any and everyone’s guess.

Curry – with nearly 11-month-old son Canon regularly in his arms for the ride – is certainly relishing this stretch of his decorated career, appreciating how far the Warriors have come during the 10 years he has been in the league.

A third straight title is suddenly within reach, which would be Golden State’s fourth championship in five years.

“We know what’s at stake and what we’re chasing this year, this series, this game, and that’s the only way that you can really put your best foot forward in terms of trying to get back to the mountaintop,” Curry said. “We’ll have plenty of time when we hang the sneakers up to really go back and think about all the different experiences and highs and lows, but right now, we’re two games away from another finals appearance. It’s pretty special.”

The Warriors are the first team to reach five straight finals since the Celtics advanced to 10 in a row from 1957-1966.

Another championship would cement this run of titles among the best ever.

The Los Angeles Lakers of 2000-02 – led by Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal – are the last team to capture three straight titles.

Golden State advanced without Durant, the reigning two-time finals MVP, and Cousins. Both were sidelined with injuries for the entire Western Conference finals. The finished off Portland without Andre Iguodala, another finals MVP who sat out Game 4 with an injury.

While the Bucks and Raptors are slugging it out in the East, the Warriors are rehabbing.

“I hope it doesn’t go unnoticed or underrated. Five straight finals hasn’t been done since the 60s, since Bill Russell’s Celtics,” fifth-year Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Hasn’t been done for a reason: It’s really, really difficult. I just can’t say enough about the competitive desire about the group of players that we have here and the culture that they have built together, playing together regardless of injury.”

Each Warriors run has been unique. When they won in 2015 it was the first title for the franchise in 40 years.

LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers derailed them in 2016, but the Warriors bounced back in 2017 with a dominant 16-1 record during the postseason.

Last year, Golden State joined Russell’s Celtics, Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls and trio of Lakers teams – including George Mikan and company in the 1950s, Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the `80s, and Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant nearly 20 years ago – as the only franchises in NBA history to capture three championships in four years.

“When I was here the first time, they rebuilt and retooled,” said Andrew Bogut, a member of the 2015 title team before rejoining the Warriors in March.

“They didn’t just sit on their hands thinking it was going to last forever. They freed up cap space, you have to give (general manager) Bob Myers, (owner) Joe Lacob and the coaching staff a lot of credit. There are a lot of teams that win a championship and kind of reward the whole roster, then they end up two-three years down the track and end up in a bit of a hole. Whereas this is a great run for a franchise that will end up as one of the all-time greats.”

The Warriors enjoy playing together and with so many selfless stars and a deep bench they are rarely out of any game.

That doesn’t mean it has been easy, especially with the constant free agency chatter this season.

Durant is an impending free agent and the basketball world continues to speculate on his next move. Thompson’s future with the Warriors is unclear as well, while Green is signed through next season.

“We know that these runs don’t last forever, and obviously there are so many questions and things that could possibly happen with this team this summer,” Green said. “So want to try to take advantage of this opportunity and make the most of it, and deal with the things that come after whenever those things arrive, but right now we’re focused on the task at hand and try to do something that hasn’t been done in a long time, or many times.”

The Warriors are aware of the dynasty talk, but aren’t labeling themselves. They have consistently said their focus is the task of raising another banner in the final season at Oracle Arena before the franchise moves into Chase Center in San Francisco to begin 2019-20.

“I don’t think in those terms. It’s just every opportunity we have to play, these are big moments, big games,” Curry said, “and the context of what this five-year run has been and all that stuff doesn’t really dominate my mind when we’re out there competing.”

 

Nikola Jokic announces he will play for Serbia in World Cup

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This year’s World Cup is going to be stacked with elite NBA players. It usually is a big draw, but this World Cup brings a couple additional things to the table. First, it’s part of the Olympic qualifying process for the 2020 games in Tokyo.

More importantly for players, the World Cup is in China. That is a fast-growing basketball shoe and apparel market and that will push Nike, Adidas, Reebok and any other shoe brand you can think of to “encourage” their stars to go. For example, the Sixers’ Ben Simmons will be playing for Australia.

Nikola Jokic will be one of those stars. The Denver Nuggets center told the Serbian state news agency, via ESPN.

“I am very pleased with everything I did in the NBA this season. I had a great year in which I performed at the All-Star Game and was selected [to the All-NBA first team]. For me, the cherry on top of this whole season would be a medal with the national team.”

Jokic and Serbia may be the USA’s biggest threat in that tournament, this is the team that picked up the silver medal in the last Olympics. Jokic is a better player than he was a few years ago and the team has a long list of quality players including Bogdan Bogdanovic, Milos Teodosic, and Boban Marjanovic.

The World Cup tips off Aug. 31 in China, right up against the start of NBA training camps.

 

Rumor: Clippers not interested in Jimmy Butler, he would sign with Lakers for max

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Should a team feel comfortable giving Jimmy Butler — who will turn 30 before next season, is a hard-charging personality who plays a hard-charging style that can be hard on his body, and has only once played 70 or more games in the past six seasons — a four-year, $141 million max contract?

If the Lakers strike out with Kyrie Irving and other top targets (Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard are not interested, according to sources), should they give Butler the max and sign him comfortable or not?

LeBron James has already reached out to start recruiting Butler, and if the Lakers offer him the max Butler would love to come, Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times said on the Colin Cowherd. Markazi adds that the Clippers are not interested because they are aiming higher on the food chain.

That is what a lot of sources have said about the Clippers, they would need to move Danilo Gallinari (and do a little more) to sign both Leonard and Durant, but would and should in a heartbeat.

Butler is going to have options, starting with the Philadelphia 76ers, who do not want to let him go. As it got near the end of Philly’s playoff run it had seemed Butler had found a home, both on the court as a primary ball handler in the halfcourt, and off the court as a leader and someone who bonded with Joel Embiid. Also, Philadelphia can offer more money, a projected $190 million over five years, and for a guy who has had injury issues that extra year and extra money might matter a lot.

Is Butler going to stay? What should we read into his cryptic Instagram post? If he leaves, does he want to play with LeBron? Is that the Lakers’ best option? (I think the Lakers should prefer Irving, who is younger and coming off an All-NBA regular season, plus he has a track record of winning with LeBron, but if not him…)

It is going to be a wild July in the NBA.

Raptors bench play key reason Toronto on cusp of first trip to NBA Finals

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There are multiple reasons the Toronto Raptors have beaten the Milwaukee Bucks three times in a row and now are one win away from the franchise’s first trip to the NBA Finals.

Kawhi Leonard and his play — particularly his defense on Giannis Antetokounmpo — is a huge one. So is the Raptors incredible halfcourt defense, which has held the Bucks to an 84.3 net rating on halfcourt possessions in this series. When the Raptors have been able to slow the game down (which they have done very well the last two games, with possession totals in the mid-90s) they win.

Just don’t forget about the Raptors bench.

Fred VanVleet, Serge Ibaka, and Norman Powell — the three guys coach Nick Nurse leans on in his regular rotations — have been critical for the Raptors, and if they are again on Saturday night in Toronto it will lift the franchise to a place it has never been before.

Toronto’s starters are -23 in this series. That fivesome — Kyle Lowry, Danny Green, Leonard, Pascal Siakam, and Marc Gasol — were -10 in Game 5, struggling against an impressive Milwaukee starting lineup.

In Game 5, it was the Raptors’ bench that led the comeback after the Bucks’ fast start. It has been that way all series. Lineups that have at least one of those core three Raptors bench guys on the floor are +30 this series. Lineups with all three of them on the court together are +12.

Different guys are stepping up each game. In Game 5 it was VanVleet’s turn. After a rough few games in this series, he got to Milwaukee late after being with his wife for the birth of their son, then proceeded to knock down 7-of-9 threes in Toronto’s come-from-behind win.

“He oozes the confidence that spreads to the other guys,” Toronto coach Nick Nurse said of VanVleet. “Again, he just stepped into the shots that were there tonight, and he was probably due to get hot in these playoffs. It’s been probably a long time coming. Great game by him.”

Toronto’s bench — and Leonard — are key reasons that this team responded to adversity, going down 0-2 in the series and bouncing back. It’s the experience of having been there before, having dealt with the pressure before, learning about themselves because they have been tested like this in previous years. Leonard and Green have rings from San Antonio, Gasol has been to conference finals in Memphis, Lowry has been there through all the Raptors struggles in recent playoffs. On the bench, Ibaka has seen plenty, and these guys have not been fazed by the moment.

It’s the test the Bucks are facing now — this group had never been challenged like this. Their athleticism and Antetokounmpo’s MVP-level season propelled this team to the best record in the NBA, then they swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs with an 8-1 record. After that, they beat the Raptors the first two games of this series.

However, now they have lost three in a row for the first time all season and they are learning about their weaknesses. The Bucks entire offense is based around the idea that nobody can slow Antetokounmpo one-on-one, except that Leonard has done just that. The Greek Freak has shot 35.5 percent this series (11-of-31, via Second Spectrum data) when Leonard has been his primary defender. Antetokounmpo also hasn’t found shooters and those guys have not hit the passes he does make, particularly in the halfcourt. Toronto has controlled the tempo the past few games, and when Antetokounmpo isn’t getting easy buckets in transition the Milwaukee offense stumbles. Toronto also has taken care of the ball and hit shots, with Leonard getting to his spots on the floor, which has limited the Bucks transition chances.

The Bucks need to make adjustments — finding ways to get Antetokounmpo the ball with better matchups, not having him attack from the top of the key every time and giving him some picks to force switches — and they need another ball handler, such as Eric Bledsoe or George Hill, to have a monster game. Khris Middleton and Malcolm Brogdon can and should do a little more shot creation.

And Milwaukee has to contain that Raptors bench and not get beat so badly when they are on the floor.

If not, the Bucks will be on vacation in Cabo next week while the Raptors are still playing.