Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Kings take Heat two overtimes

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while scrolling through the Florida Man twitter feed….

Heat 141, Kings 129 (2OT): What looked like a blowout on paper ended up being the best game of the night. The Kings may deny it was a moral victory for them, but it was. They were scrappy all night, they played with a fight you wish we had seen all season. It LeBron James taking over in the second overtime with 11 points in 3 assists to get Miami it’s 12th straight win.

I don’t know that you can say Marcus Thornton outplayed the Heat’s wing players but he had 36 points of his own, while Tyreke Evans had 26 and Isaiah Thomas added 14 — they consistently got into the paint and knocked down shots. Then there was DeMarcus Cousins, who overpowered the Heat front line at points and had 24 points.

By the way, your mind blowing LeBron stat of the night is not his line of 40 points, 16 assists and 8 rebounds. No, it’s that by shooting 14-of-23 he becomes the first player to shoot 64 percent in a calendar month (minimum of 200 shots) since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar did it in 1983.

Pacers 108, Warriors 97: Hey, there was a basketball game to go with the fight. Although who wants to talk about anything but the fight? Roy Hibbert is going to miss at least a game for throwing Stephen Curry around like he is half his size… well he is, but Hibbert still can’t just throw him around like that during a shoving match.

After that incident, when the Pacers were already up 10, it was David West who took over and made sure the Pacers held on for their fifth straight double-digit win. West finished with 28, George Hill had 23 and both he and Curry — who may have been the best player on the floor and finished with 38 points — seemed to score at will on difficult shots. In the end the Pacers were simply too much.

Magic 98, Sixers 84: Philadelphia has reached a new low. But don’t take my word for it, ask Philly coach Doug Collins.

After leading 29-20 the Sixers coasted while the Magic (as they have most of the season) played hard for Jacque Vaughn. Six Orlando players were in double figures, led by Tobias Harris and Arron Afflalo with 16. Former Sixer Nikola Vucevic finished with 12 points and 19 rebounds. Meanwhile for Philly everyone was off: Jrue Holiday shot 4-for-11, Thaddeus Young was 4-of-11 also, Nick Young finished 1-for-6 and Evan Turner was 2-for-7. It wasn’t pretty. Ask Doug Collins.

Cavaliers 101, Bulls 96: In an alternate universe where Kyrie Irving and Derrick Rose are healthy this game is a lot more interesting.

Chicago finally put up some points but this time their usually stout defense couldn’t stop the Cavaliers most of the game. Especially when it mattered. A Kirk Hinrich three made it a one-point game inside three minutes. But the Cavaliers answered with a couple of buckets from Dion Waiters (who finished with 25), and a bucket from Luke Walton might have been the dagger. Actually, the Dagger was with 15 seconds left when a hustling Walton stole a lazy Carlos Boozer inbound pass.

Nets 101, Hornets 97: Brooklyn thought this was a game they would be able to sit their starters the fourth quarter and relax. They took the lead with a 9-0 run early in the first quarter, had that all the way up to 22 in the second quarter and thought they had a laugher. But the Hornets got serious on defense (the Nets shot just 35.9 percent in the second half) and chipped away until this was as close as a two-point ballgame late.

Deron Williams took charge and scored the Nets last 11 points to secure the win, and he finished with 33 points and 8 assists. Brook Lopez added 20 points and Keith Bogans was key late with three from beyond the arc. Greivis Vasquez had 20 to lead the Hornets.

Bucks 95, Mavericks 90: This was a vintage Dirk Nowitzki performance — 21 points and 20 rebounds. He seemed to do everything. But with this Mavericks roster that is just not enough some nights. Monta Ellis had 11 fourth quarter points (22 for the game) and sparked Milwaukee to finish the game on a 12-2 run and get the win. J.J. Redick was second on the Bucks with 14 points. Losses like this kill any Dallas playoff dreams.

Clippers 106, Bobcats 84: You wouldn’t know it from the final score but this was a close game with the Bobcats leading much of the first half. But the Bobcats got away from the cardinal rule of beating the Clippers — take away the easy dunks in transition — late in the first half and a few Blake Griffin dunks fired up the team. A late 15-3 first half run by the Clippers was the beginning of the end. Griffin had 24 points, Chris Paul finished with 13 assists and the Clippers rolled to a win.

Suns 84, Timberwolves 83 (OT): Well, somebody had to win this game. The Suns led by as many as 18 in the first half but the Timberwolves guards sparked runs in the fourth quarter to make it close — J.J. Barea had 12 points and Ricky Rubio had 7 assists in the fourth quarter alone.

The overtime was close the entire way but a P.J. Tucker fast-break layup gave Minnesota a four-point lead. The teams traded buckets then a Derrick Williams three made it a one-point game. The Suns tried to ice it but Nikola Pekovic blocked a Wesley Johnson shot and the Timberwolves got one final shot at it. Alexey Shved drove the lane but his contested layup rolled off the rim and the Suns hung on for the win.

Damian Lillard throws pass away from basket, off Tobias Harris, into hoop (video)

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Damian Lillard was making everything yesterday.

EVERYTHING.

Lillard, who scored 51 points in the Trail Blazers’ win over the 76ers, even got a bucket on this wild pass off Tobias Harris.

Sometimes, it’s better to be lucky than good. It’s even better to be both.

LeBron James admits he’s still adjusting to playing without fans

LeBron James
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images
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LeBron James has played to overflowing gyms and arenas since he was a sophomore in high school. There is always a crowd around him to watch him play. Or a massive crowd of reporters around him after the game. Or throngs of fans when he travels through China on a shoe tour. LeBron has always packed the house.

Until now. There are no crowds, no fans at the NBA’s restart at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando. It’s now games in a stripped-down, made-for-television gym. And LeBron admitted to reporters after the latest Lakers’ loss he is still adjusting. Via Mark Medina of the USA Today.

“I am getting more and more used to being out there. It’s a very weird dynamic. I haven’t played in an empty gym in a very, very long time,” James said following the Lakers’ 116-111 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Saturday. “It’s been a very long time since no one has been watching me play the game. I’m just trying to find that rhythm and lock in…

“I’m getting more and more comfortable playing in an empty gym,” James said. “Just having the backdrop here is a lot different from playing in a high school gym or a college arena where you’re playing in the summer time, whatever the case may be. It’s very dark, extremely dark. You can literally hear a feather hit the ground. I’m just getting more and more comfortable playing with my game here in the bubble.”

LeBron has still been very good in the bubble — 21.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 6.4 assists a game — but he has not been quite the otherworldly, MVP candidate level player he was before the shutdown. His true shooting percentage of 51.9 at the restart is down from 57.7 before the break (and it has been below the league average since the restart). The Laker offense overall has scored less than a point per possession in the bubble and has been the worst offense in Orlando (leading to a 2-4 record so far). It’s not all LeBron, the Lakers as a team have struggled to get their pre-hiatus traction back, the chemistry is not quite right. But we know who leads this team.

LeBron and company also know they need to find that rhythm soon. They will enter the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and face and eight seed — likely Portland or Memphis — that had to battle its way into the postseason. That team, whoever it is, will come in battle-tested and motivated.

The fans will not be there to pick up LeBron and the Lakers.

“I definitely love playing in front of the fans. The fans are what make the game,” James said. “Without the fans, I wouldn’t be who I am today. To all the fans out there that come watch me play, I miss you guys and hopefully someday I can get back to that interaction.”

Someday we all hope for that.

In the short term, LeBron and the Lakers need to find their groove in a fanless world.

 

Three Things to Know: Turn out the lights, the party’s over for New Orleans

Pelicans out of playoffs
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack — especially with games spread out every day in the bubble — so every weekday during the NBA restart we are here to help you break it all down. Here are three things you need to know from yesterday in the NBA.

1) Turn out the lights, the party’s over for New Orleans…

Phoenix, on the other hand, is still trying to crash that party.

Which is not how anyone saw this going (except maybe Monty Williams). Before players flew to Orlando to be part of the NBA’s restart project, it seemed the dream of hoop fans everywhere (not to mention television executives) was LeBron James vs. Zion Williamson in the first round of the playoffs.

That dream is dead. Turn out the lights on the LeBron/Zion party.

The New Orleans Pelicans and Sacramento Kings were casualties over the weekend in the West playoff chase — or, more accurately, the race to get into the play-in series to earn the eighth seed and a shot at the Lakers. Both were mathematically eliminated Sunday.

LeBron will still be there in that first round. However, Zion and the Pelicans’ chances of meeting him were essentially done after they lost to the Spurs on Sunday, 122-113. Maybe they were done when Zion had to leave the bubble for family reasons. The Pelicans got good play from J.J. Redick (31 points Sunday), who saw his 13-season playoff streak end, but overall the offense struggled and was inconsistent. New Orleans will play out the string of two more games in the bubble then spend an offseason wondering how to make a talented roster fit together better — and how to keep Zion on the court.

There will be a play-in series in the West, and it’s likely between Portland and Memphis.

Phoenix, however, has become the darling of the bubble having gone 5-0 and they want to crash that party. Whether they get in the door or not will be decided in the next two days. Monday the Suns take on the dangerous Oklahoma City Thunder and Chris Paul, then on Tuesday they face the shorthanded 76ers. For Phoenix, despite the 5-0 start, those are virtually must-win games. As well as they played, they have to make up for an unimpressive first 65 games and they have a lot of work to do.

The playoff party out West is just getting started. Zion Williamson just didn’t get an invite.

2) Joel Embiid‘s ankle injury leaves 76ers with more questions than answers

When Ben Simmons had to leave the bubble for knee surgery, it meant Joel Embiid had even more weight to carry for Philadelphia.

Now he appears to be joining Simmons in watching Sixers games on television — Embiid left Sunday’s game with an ankle injury and did not return.

There are no details as of this writing on Embiid’s condition and his potential return. Philadelphia has two more seeding games left — their next one is Tuesday against the red-hot Suns — before the playoffs start next week.

Should Philly sit Embiid until the playoffs start next week? The condition of Embiid’s ankle plays the biggest role in that answer, but a Sixers team that has not been able to get healthy may put the focus on that rather than trying to pass the Pacers or Heat in the standings.

This is a Philadelphia team that coach Brett Brown said preseason he thought could get the No. 1 seed in the East. Instead — in part due to injuries but maybe in larger part due to a flawed roster construction by GM Elton Brand that focused on size and defense over shooting — they likely enter the postseason as a stumbling sixth seed. A dangerous team on paper that never came together on the court.

How to correct that for next season, and how to get healthy and keep their stars on the court, are looming big questions for Philly.

For now, the question is, “when does Embiid return?

3) How’s that for a bounce-back game: Damian Lillard drops 51

Portland needed a win to keep itself in the driver’s seat to make the play-in series in the West. Damian Lillard needed a bounce-back game after a rough outing against the Clippers the day before.

How about 51 points from Lillard? That should cover it.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” Lillard told reporters after the game. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.'”

It didn’t happen. Portland sits as the nine seed in the West with games against Dallas and Brooklyn left on the schedule. For Lillard and company it’s simple — win those and they are in the play-in series, and from there they have a good shot at making the playoffs. Lose a game and it opens the door for the Spurs or Suns.

Lillard doesn’t sound like a guy who is going to let that happen.

Watch Damian Lillard put up 51 on shorthanded 76ers

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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. (AP) — Everything is back to normal for Damian Lillard.

The All-Star point guard scored 51 points after a frustrating finish a night earlier, and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 124-121 on Sunday.

On Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, Lillard missed a pair of free throws with 18.6 seconds to go and a 3-pointer with 9.5 seconds left in a 122-117 loss. Clippers players Paul George and Patrick Beverley were seen laughing at Lillard’s misfortune.

Lillard got the last laugh Sunday by scoring 18 points in the fourth quarter.

“It wasn’t really so much my performance yesterday and I wanted to perform a certain way today,” he said. “It was like, we let one slip that we should have had yesterday, and I’m a big part of why it got away from us. So tonight, I was like ‘That’s not going to happen.’”

Portland bounced back and pulled within a half-game of Memphis for eighth place in the Western Conference. The Trail Blazers increased their chances of qualifying for the play-in series, which will start Saturday.

The 76ers lost much more than the game. All-Star center Joel Embiid left in the first quarter with what the team called a left ankle injury, and he did not return. He contested a shot, then backed up and stepped awkwardly into the stanchion. He had been averaging 30 points per game since the restart.

76ers coach Brett Brown wouldn’t say whether Embiid would miss time.

“I’m going to learn more physically,” Brown said. “I don’t know enough to comment on it.”

It was more bad injury news for the 76ers. All-Star point guard Ben Simmons is out indefinitely with an injured left knee.

Josh Richardson scored a season-high 34 points and Alec Burks added 20 for Philadelphia. The 76ers would have moved into a tie with the Indiana Pacers and Miami Heat for fourth place in the Eastern Conference standings with a win.

Without their stars, the 76ers fell behind by 17 in the second quarter and trailed 67-58 at halftime.

The game tightened up late. Philadelphia’s Al Horford hit a 3-pointer to trim Portland’s lead to 122-121. Portland’s Jusuf Nurkic made two free throws with 10.2 seconds remaining to put his team up three. Richardson missed a 3-pointer for Philadelphia, and the 76ers couldn’t get another shot off after a scramble for the rebound.

“I thought our guys fought,” Brown said. “I really thought the spirit of the group was fantastic. We called upon many different players that I think played with a spirit and a passion that you’re proud of.”