Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Break up the Raptors, that’s four straight wins

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while looking at toys you can buy that would traumatize your child….

Celtics 71, Bulls 69: Man this game was ugly. You knew it was going to be low scoring — two defensive minded teams both missing the point guard that stirs their offense — but this was worse than expected. Jason Terry was the hero with a couple late threes and a blocked shot to win it. We broke it down in ugly detail.

Raptors 92, Knicks 88: Break up the Raptors! After knocking off New York Wednesday Toronto has won four in a row and is 5-2 since trading for Rudy Gay. Not that Gay had anything to do with this win — he was 4-for-21 on the night for 11 points (he did have some important free throws late).

You could say the referees cost the Knicks this game — it was 55-55 when they ejected Kyle Lowry and John Lucas III came in for Toronto. The sub continued his hot play of late, knocking down a quick three. Soon the Raptors were up by nine and the Knicks could never close the gap. Although the bigger issue for the Knicks was Carmelo Anthony’s “dead arm” — he took a DeMar DeRozan elbow to the bicep early in the game, battled numbness throughout and shot just 5-of-24 on the night.

Remember when the Knicks started the season 10-0 at home? They are 9-7 since and go into the All-Star break needing to find some answers — and find their defense again — if they are going to be a real threat come the playoffs.

Clippers 106, Rockets 96: The Clippers recorded their highest scoring quarter in any game since 1986, dropping a whopping 46 points on 17-for-22 shooting while nailing 6-for-8 from behind the arc in the first quarter. At one point in the quarter, the Clippers were on pace for 222 points per 100 possessions, and by the quarter’s end, Caron Butler was on pace for 58 points. Neither of those things happened (obviously) as the game slowed down and things started getting sloppy, but the hot first quarter pretty much put a Rockets team without James Harden out of the game.
—D.J. Foster

Pacers 101, Bobcats 77: The Bobcats hung in there until the middle of the third, when the Pacers went on an 18-4 run and that was it. The Bobcats just were not going to be able to generate enough offense against this Pacers defense. Paul George capped off his All-Star first half of the season with his first triple-double ever — 23 points, 12 rebounds and 12 assists.

Danny Granger’s knee was ready to go for the first time this season, but he came down with the flu so the rest of him wasn’t. He’ll make his debut after the All-Star break. David West also was out for Indiana with a scratched eye suffered against the Nets earlier in the week.

Nets 119, Nuggets 108: How bad was Denver’s defense without Andre Iguodala? How about allowing 119 points to a Brooklyn Nets team without Deron Williams type bad? The 119 points scored by Brooklyn was a season-high, and they got there with 3-point shooting. The Nets went 16-for-27 from behind the arc, getting big nights from C.J. Watson (25) and Joe Johnson (26). The Nuggets surprisingly shot it pretty well too, as Ty Lawson had a perfect 5-for-5 night as Denver shot 12-for-17 from behind the arc. Even with Denver’s unexpected perimeter performance (they’re 27th in 3-point shooting this season), the Nets weathered the late run and held on for the win.

The lack of defense on the road is sort of a disturbing trend for Denver, as they give up 3.7 more points per game on the road than they do at home. Not coincidentally, the Nuggets are now 11-18 in those games.
—D.J. Foster

Hawks 108, Magic 76: If these really are the last days of Josh Smith playing alongside Al Horford, let’s remember tonight as the shining example of how capable they were as a duo. Smith and Horford combined for 56 points and 22 rebounds in the 32 point drubbing of the Orlando Magic, but those big numbers were only overshadowed by the selflessness and beautiful ball movement the two big men displayed all night.

Smith and Horford both recorded 5 assists by regularly playing off one another with great high-low basketball. The Hawks as a team recorded 32 assists on 41 field goals with just 9 turnovers. Decision making doesn’t get much better than that.
—D.J. Foster

Spurs 96, Cavaliers 95: Oh, Dion Waiters. In the NBA when you learn lessons you learn them in a very public and embarrassing way. It was the Cavaliers rookie that in the game’s final minutes sagged into the lane and off Kawhi Leonard — a 48.8 percent shooter on corner threes this season — and of course Tony Parker found Leonard for the game-winning shot. Watch the video below, watch Waiters.

The Cavaliers had a three point lead with 1:38 left, but this is what the Spurs do, they execute late. The Spurs had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili together for the first time in a month and they combined for 42 points, 13 rebounds and 16 assists. Waiters had 20 to lead the Cavs.

Pistons 96, Wizards 85: It was a pair of 11-0 runs in the fourth quarter by Detroit — the second of those coming with the score tied and 5 minutes left — that gave them this win. And both of those were sparked by Will Bynum, who came off the bench to score 12 in the final frame and 20 for the game. Bynum and newly acquired Jose Calderon worked well together, with Calderon knocking down a key three during the decisive run (he had 24 on the night). Calderon has changed one key thing here — the Bucks had no fourth quarter comebacks before the trade, they’ve had two in the last five days now. Emeka Okafor led Washington with 20 points, while John Wall had 16 points and nine assists.

Bucks 94, 76ers 92: The Bucks went into this game with a three-game lead over Philly for the eighth seed in the East. Now they go into the All-Star Game with a four-game lead plus they own the tie-breaker, so it’s really a five-game lead. This was a huge win for the Bucks.

And it came down to a wild sequence at the end, with Milwaukee up two (by the score you see above). Holiday missed a contested, 14-foot, game-tying jumper and in the scramble for the rebound and loose ball Holiday and Luc Richard Mbah A Moute ended up tied up on the floor. Jump ball, five seconds left and at the Sixers end. Holiday surprisingly wins the jump ball to Royal Ivey, who controlled it and then turned to mass across the top of the arc to Holiday — but Mbah a Moute read the pass and deflected it into the back court. Then he chased down his own deflection headed out of bounds and saved it, which took enough time to end the game. So, just your every day game-saving deflection.

And for the Bucks, maybe playoff clinching deflection. Even if the Sixers get Andrew Bynum back (and that’s a mighty big if) making up five games at this point is highly unlikely.

Mavericks 123, Kings 100: How did you think this was going to end? This win makes it 18 straight home wins for Dallas over Sacramento, dating back to 2003. Vince Carter led the way with 26 points off the bench — enough to move him past Larry Bird on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. You read that right, Vince Carter now has more points than Larry Bird. You might want to start hoarding some canned goods in the basement, just in case this is the end of the world.

This was an old-school “Vinsanity” night. Dallas had been in control of the game since the second quarter but the Kings made a third quarter push to get the lead as low as seven. So Vince Carter knocked down two threes just after the five minute mark of the quarter to stretch the lead back out. Then he knocked down three more triples in the final minutes for good measure.

Hornets 99, Trail Blazers 63: Wow, Portland was bad. Sure, nice win for the Hornets and all, nice to see the slumping Anthony Davis score 21 and grab 11 boards. But the story of this game was that the Trail Blazers players were already mentally on vacation in Hawaii (or wherever) when this game tipped off and they never came back. The Blazers shot 32.4 percent on the night. The Hornets had 26 more points in the paint. But the bottom line is that New Orleans cared and Portland just did not.

Jazz 97, Timberwolves 93: Utah’s front line of Al Jefferson and Paul Millsap really works when it clicks. And it did against the Timberwolves — Jefferson had 20 points, Millsap had 21 and Utah picks up another win. Late in the third quarter and into the fourth the Jazz went on a 23-7 run that gave them some separation the Timberwolves could not close and that was the game.

Minnesota had a couple strong performances from young players. Derrick Williams had 24 points and a career-best 16 rebounds. Ricky Rubio nearly had a triple double with 18 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Former Kings selection Georgios Papagiannis leaves NBA historically quickly for lottery pick

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Even if he were talking about hot yoga, then-Kings star DeMarcus Cousins perfectly captured the feeling of Sacramento picking Georgios Papagiannis No. 13 in the 2016 draft: “Lord give me the strength.”

Ranked No. 46 on Chad Ford’s board – which attempted to show league-wide consensus – Papagiannis was an old-school plodding center. He flashed interior skills during his limited playing time with Panathinaikos in Greece, but athleticism was a major concern. He was the type of player teams learned over the previous two decades not to fall for.

While an NBA team picking someone so high should be a positive indicator, it did little for Papagiannis. The Kings’ draft record had been miserable under owner Vivek Ranadive and general manager Vlade Divac. They didn’t get the benefit of the doubt (though their draft-night trade with the Suns that landed the No. 13 pick used on Papagiannis turned out well).

Every concern about Papagiannis and Sacramento proved justified.

The Kings waived Papagiannis during his second season – absurdly quick for any first-rounder, let alone a lottery pick. His agent blamed the team. Nobody came out looking good.

Papagiannis signed with the Trail Blazers, though he played only one game for them. Portland waived him earlier this summer.

Now, Papagiannis will return Panathinaikos on a five-year contract, the Greek team announced. Will this conclude the 21-year-old’s NBA career? It seems more likely than not.

If so, it will be one of the shortest ever for a lottery pick.

Papagiannis’ 477 career minutes are the sixth-fewest ever by a lottery pick, excluding 2017 and 2018 picks, who haven’t had time to play more.

Fran Vazquez (No. 11 pick in 2005 by Magic) continued playing overseas and never signed in the NBA. Len Bias (No. 2 pick in 1986 by Celtics) tragically died of a cocaine overdose after the draft.

Among lottery picks who actually made the league, only Aleksandar Radojevic (No. 12 pick 1999 by Raptors), Yaroslav Korolev (No. 12 pick in 2005 by Clippers) and Mouhamed Sene (No. 10 pick in 2006 by SuperSonics) played less than Papagiannis.

Here are the fewest minutes played by lottery picks between 1985, when the NBA instituted the lottery, and 2016:

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Papagiannis could still drop down the list.

After all, Radojevic left the NBA after two seasons, spent three years in Europe then somehow returned stateside to play 12 games for the Jazz. That NBA comeback seemed unlikely as he shuffled between the Raptors, Nuggets and Bucks while playing only three games (all with Toronto).

Nothing precludes Papagiannis from returning to the NBA, even if he must complete his entire Greek contract first.

But just because one unlikely thing happened before, I wouldn’t bet on another happening with Papagiannis.

Isaiah Thomas to Danny Ainge: ‘If the opportunity is there, I would just like to let you know that I’d love to come back’ to Celtics

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Isaiah Thomas had a rough year.

The Celtics traded him to the Cavaliers. He missed most of the season with a hip injury. In between, he played destructively bad for the Cavs and Lakers and got run out of Cleveland, in part, for making waves in the locker room. Free agency was especially cruel, Thomas’ Brinks-truck dreams ending in a minimum salary from the Nuggets – a historically low figure for someone who finished top-five in MVP voting just two seasons prior.

On a bright note: Thomas ended his feud with Celtics president Danny Ainge. In fact, those two spoke during Thomas’ free agency.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Before finalizing the agreement with Denver, Thomas had reached out to Boston GM Danny Ainge. They talked for 15 to 20 minutes, Thomas says, and he told Ainge: “If the opportunity is there, I would just like to let you know that I’d love to come back.”

Ainge says his mind was open to the idea, but the Celtics needed to work through Marcus Smart‘s restricted-free-agency discussions before they could consider making an offer to Thomas. Ainge was willing to continue the conversation, but Thomas accepted the Nuggets’ offer before Boston had reached its new deal with Smart.

“S—, I’d have gone back,” Thomas says. “I don’t hold grudges.”

Thomas played his best basketball in Boston. Brad Stevens empowered Thomas as a go-to offensive player and successfully hid him on defense. I understand the appeal of going back.

But that Thomas could never return to those Celtics. He’s older, and his hip injury might have sapped his athleticism. Boston acquired Kyrie Irving, and Terry Rozier broke out. Marcus Smart remains.

A reunion would have likely ended in disappointment.

Instead, Thomas will try to prove himself in Denver, backing up Jamal Murray. Thomas is aware of his standing, and his interview is both endearing and sympathetic. He wears his emotions on his sleeve and carries a chip on his shoulder – the reason so many of us are drawn to him. And he’s keenly aware that, in a league where so many players are paid based on past performance, he’s judged by a hip injury teams believe will hinder him going forward.

Thomas, as always, seems driven to prove himself. And maybe he will. Returning to a reserve role isn’t glamorous, but there’s an opportunity with the Nuggets.

But I also fear, no matter how well Thomas plays next season, teams will be apprehensive of a 30-year-old 5-foot-9 point guard with a history of hip problems in 2019 free agency. He might be stuck in a no-win situation and just can’t get his big payday.

Especially after this interview, though, I’m excited to watch him try.

Report: Carmelo Anthony to sign minimum contract with Rockets

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Carmelo Anthony signing with the Rockets has been a near-certainty for a while.

The final steps – the Thunder trading him to the Hawks, Atlanta waiving him, Anthony clearing waivers – are close enough that specifics are emerging.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Carmelo Anthony is planning to sign with the Houston Rockets upon clearing waivers in coming days, according to two people with knowledge of his plans.

He is expected to receive a one-year deal from the Rockets at the league’s veteran minimum salary

The Rockets have the $5,337,000 taxpayer mid-level exception available, but clearly wary of an expensive payroll, they’ll get Anthony for much less.

Anthony will count just $1,512,601 toward the cap and luxury tax. He’ll pocket pocket an extra $1,871,635 – in addition to the $27,928,140 paid by the Hawks. Not a bad summer for him, as he’ll get all his money plus a little more and get to join his desire team.

For the Rockets? It’s a classic tale. They let more expensive players – Trevor Ariza ($15 million from Suns) and Luc Mbah a Moute ($4,320,500 from Clippers) – leave and settled for minimum-salary players: James Ennis and Anthony.

Ennis fits well in Houston, but he lacks the talent of the departing players (who also fit well). Anthony brings name recognition, but unless he works to complement James Harden and Chris Paula huge question mark – this won’t go well. That’s why he’s leaving Oklahoma City, and there are many reasons to be skeptical he’ll acquit himself better with the Rockets.

You get what you pay for.

John Wall calls Washington’s off-season moves “pretty interesting”

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After another season where the Wizards underwhelmed — due to injuries, due to chemistry issues, due to a lot of things — what were the bold moves of this summer in our nation’s capital? Well, they signed Jeff Green. And in a trade they got Austin Rivers.

The other part of that Rivers’ trade was the big news — they sent center Marcin Gortat to the Clippers. That cleared the way to sign Dwight Howard this summer. The idea of adding Howard to a locker room with questionable chemistry is a bit of a punch line.

In a podcast with Chris Miller of NBC Sports Washington, Wall called the Wizards’ summer “pretty interesting” and praised Howard.

“Even though [Howard] is older, he’s still an athletic big averaging 16 [points] and 12 [rebounds],” Wall said in the pod. He talked up Howard as a pick-and-roll threat lob threat as he rolls to the rim, saying defenses can’t cheat off of him.

“Not only do you get more layups, probably, you get more wide open threes.”

That’s great, but Howard got the ball back as the roll man on 12.5 percent of his possessions last season — it has never been something he wants to do a lot. Post-ups, however, accounted for 40.1 percent of his possessions, once you include his passes out of the post (and the Wizards scored a rather meh 0.85 points per possession on those post ups). Howard has long been better as the roll man, he just dislikes to do it.

Last season, Marcin Gortat got 20.9 percent of his shots out of the pick-and-roll and just 18.2 percent on post-ups. The Wizards don’t want to take the ball out of Wall’s hands. Nor should they.

Howard, even at this point in his career (when he is not the force of nature he was back in Orlando), can be an upgrade for the Wizards at center, but not a massive one. Nothing else GM Ernie Grunfeld did this summer moved the needle in Washington.

It’s all “pretty interesting” I guess. The Wizards look like another middle-of-the-pack team just not living up to all the potential on the roster, and it’s hard to see what changes about that this season.