Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Lakers win, but it’s not pretty

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while reading up on the gory, unromantic history of Valentines Day

Lakers 91, Suns 85: The Lakers won this one eventually, but as has been the case plenty of times throughout the season, they made it unnecessarily difficult on themselves.

L.A. managed to score just nine points in the third quarter, and allowed a Suns team not exactly known for its offense to close the period on an 18-2 run to turn an 11-point deficit into a six point lead heading into the fourth. The Lakers stabilized from there and pulled away late, but a bizarre game from Kobe Bryant certainly wasn’t among the reasons why.

Bryant seemed determined not to shoot the ball at all in the first half, and even over-passed out of almost certain scoring situations to drive that point home. He didn’t take his first shot of the game until there were three and a half minutes gone in the third period, and made his only attempt from the field with 2:10 remaining in the game to put his team up eight.

Bryant finished with just four points on 1-8 shooting, to go along with nine assists and eight turnovers. Dwight Howard and Antawn Jamison carried the load offensively during Bryant’s effective absence, and finished with 19 points and 18 rebounds and 19 and 10, respectively.
—Brett Pollakoff

Raptors 109, Nuggets 108: The most entertaining game of the night. Toronto won this with a Rudy Gay jumper with 4.8 seconds left, followed by Gay’s defense on Ty Lawson’s attempt at the buzzer to win it. He’s made a difference for a Raptors team that is 4-2 since his arrival.

Toronto got another strong night from John Lucas III, who had 12 key points in the fourth quarter. Alan Anderson also had 10 in the fourth. Those bench guys put up 22 of Toronto’s 27 in the final frame. Denver was without Andre Iguodala, Danilo Gallinari and Wilson Chandler, which meant it was the Lawson show — he had 29. But came up just short on the game’s final shot.

Rockets 116, Warriors 107: The Rockets didn’t need a historic three point shooting performance to beat the Warriors this time, they just needed good ball movement and a slumping Warriors team that has played terrible defense and has now lost five in a row. Right now the Warriors perimeter players simply cannot stay in front of their man and that’s a real problem when you’re playing James Harden, who had 27. Chandler Parsons dropped a nice line of 21 points, nine assists and eight rebounds.

Jazz 109, Thunder 94: How often does a team shoot 55 percent from the field…and still lose by 15? No team compensates for their mistakes by getting buckets like Oklahoma City does, but this was just too much. It starts with the 20 turnovers — a number OKC could have overcome on its own. But when you add those turnovers to 16 offensive rebounds allowed and only 19 defensive rebounds collected, suddenly you’re at a big possession disadvantage.

That was the story all night — Utah just kept chasing down loose balls, kept being a step quicker to the glass, and kept pounding the ball inside. Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap combined for 41 points, and Utah’s bench outscored Oklahoma City’s 49-25. Oklahoma City isn’t easy to blowout, and Utah did get a total team effort, but the Thunder sort of beat themselves here.
—D.J. Foster

Heat 117, Trail Blazers 104: The LeBron James run of terror continues — 30 points on 11-of-15 shooting with nine assists and six rebounds. That would be six straight games of scoring more than 30 points and shooting better than 60 percent from the floor, and that’s an NBA record. I’ve been saying it a lot lately — LeBron’s play the last year and a half is as Jordanesque as we have seen since Jordan was in Chicago. MJ did it longer and undoubtedly is the better career player, but LeBron the last 18 months has been the closest we have seen.

But it was LeBron’s All-Star teammates who earned Miami this win. Chris Bosh was on his game and had 32 points (knocking down a lot of jumpers) and 11 rebounds, Dwyane Wade added 24 points and got half of them in the fourth quarter. Udonis Haslem left in the first quarter after a hard landing after a shooting foul and did not return; he could miss more than this game.

Portland took a healthy lead with a 23-8 run sparked by LaMarcus Aldridge (he had 15 of those 23) and midway through the second quarter the Blazers led by 10. But Miami closed the half on a 15-2 run and it was close the rest of the way (with the Blazers even leading in the fourth). Then came a 14-0 Miami run in the fourth as they pulled away to win.

Grizzlies 108, Kings 101: For the first time this season the Grizzlies gave up more than 100 points at home, but they will take the wins however it comes.

Memphis got some unexpected offense from Tony Allen, who had 19 points, plus the expected contributions of Marc Gasol (24 points and 12 rebounds). They needed those guys during a 16-6 run at the end of the third quarter when the Grizzlies created a little separation in a tight game and held on. Memphis, a team that has been all about the defense this season, is on a three game winning streak because of an offense shooting better than 50 percent in that stretch (the shoot 44 percent as a team on the season).

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.

Rumor: Knicks will take Villanova’s Mikal Bridges at No. 9

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Most mock drafts have the Philadelphia 76ers taking Mikal Bridges at No. 10, keeping the Villanova star in Philly.

But what if he’s not on the board?

Marc Berman of the New York Post reports the Knicks are going to take Bridges at No. 9.

Sources have indicated Bridges still is the favorite to be the Knicks’ selection at nine Thursday — even if Michael Porter Jr. falls. The Knicks are starting to get cold feet on the uber-talented Porter after his latest mishap last week, when he incurred hip spasms before his on-again, off-again, on-again public workout in Chicago….

In the big picture, president Steve Mills and (new GM Scott) Perry need to land a central building block that will contribute next season to show Kristaps Porzingis, a restricted free agent in 2019, there’s a future, and also to entice a 2019 free agent. Point guard Kyrie Irving is squarely on the Knicks’ radar.

While Kentucky freshman forward Kevin Knox opened the Knicks’ eyes with a surprising workout and has gotten consideration late in the process, Bridges is the best bet. Perry said recently adding “a solid rotational player” at nine is as important as shooting for an All-Star.

It’s unlikely Porter is on the board at No. 9. The Cavaliers like him a lot and will take him if he falls to No. 8, the Bulls could grab his one spot earlier, and there are teams farther down the draft board looking to trade up and snag Porter.

Bridges projects to be just what Mills may want — a solid rotational player, and one who can step in soon and contribute.

But the Knicks need talent, and Knox out of Kentucky has the higher ceiling thanks to elite athleticism (he has climbed a lot of teams’ draft boards during workouts). He can play some three or be a small ball four, and if he shows consistency with his jumper, he has the athleticism to be part of a team’s core.

 

Knox may have the higher ceiling, but the Knicks need not to miss, and Bridges is that.

Ayton, Young, Porter and more: PBT’s in-depth draft prospect breakdowns

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In the days before the draft, there’s more smoke clouding the picture around the NBA draft than there is at a Snoop Dogg concert.

What you need to cut through all that is someone who knows these players, has seen them multiple times over the years, spoken to them, knows their game.

That’s where Rob Dauster comes in. The lead writer at NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk, he has seen these players while they were in high school, spoken to them, followed their college careers — and he broke down their games for us at NBC. It’s what you need to know about the top guys in the draft.

Check these stories out:

DEANDRE AYTON

He has the size. He has the length. He has the athleticism, explosiveness, fluidity, and mobility. He can space the floor and, in theory, both protect the rim and handle his own if forced to guard on the perimeter. In theory, Ayton is the total package and an ideal five for the modern NBA.

Whether or not he will live up to his considerable potential is a different story.

MARVIN BAGLEY III

Offensively, he’s everything that you want from a small-ball five. He can dominate in the paint, he can space the floor and he is aggressive and productive on the glass. He was a walking double-double in college and it’s not hard to project him being the same in the NBA.

The problem is that he is not a five on the defensive end of the floor.

JAREN JACKSON JR.

He will fit seamlessly into the modern NBA given the combination of skills that he has while the other four players projected to go in the top five this year have more question marks….

He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He shot 39.6 percent from three after shooting 43.8 percent from three on the EYBL circuit in 2016. He averaged 3.0 blocks despite playing just under 22 minutes a night as a freshman. He is as switchable as any big man in this class defensively because of his ability to move his feet. 

MO BAMBA

A 7-foot-0.5 center with a 7-foot-10 wingspan — which will be the longest in the NBA as soon as he steps onto an NBA court — Bamba’s ability as a game-changing defensive presence is at the core of what makes him such an appealing prospect. He finished with freshman season with a block rate of 13.2, averaging 4.9 blocks per 40 minutes and anchoring a Texas defense that finished the year ranked 12th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric…

There are questions about his strength and his toughness and his love for the game. Does he play because he’s addicted to the game, or is it simply because he was blessed with the physical gifts that will makes NBA teams salivate and invest millions and millions of dollars into him in the hopes that he pays dividends as the NBA’s preeminent defensive anchor?

MICHAEL PORTER JR.

He is a tantalizing talent that can do things athletically and as a shooter that 6-foot-11 people are not supposed to be able to do… He was good enough at Hoop Summit and on the all-star circuit that there were people that were projecting him as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft as recently as November.

But all of that changed in the course of the last seven months. It starts with the back injury… And that’s before you get into the questions about his position and his makeup.

Porter has a ceiling as high as anyone in this draft, but when the floor is as low as his is, it makes him a scary — and risky — player to take.

TRAE YOUNG

He became the first player in Division I history to lead the nation in scoring and assists, but he did it as a player that doesn’t like to play defense on a team that couldn’t figure out how to win late in the year.

Is he the second-coming of Steph Curry?

Or is he Jimmer Fredette?