Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Kobe pushes Lakers to .500

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching the wildest ending to a high school state championship game you will ever see…

Lakers 99, Hawks 98: It took a phenomenal performance down the stretch from Kobe Bryant, after the Lakers gave back all of a 16-point third quarter lead and found themselves trailing by one with 26 seconds remaining. But L.A. got this win thanks to Bryant, who drove and converted a tough lay-in over Josh Smith with nine seconds remaining that turned out to be the game-winner, getting the Lakers back to .500 for the first time since December.

This game featured wild swings by both teams, but neither held a lead of more than three points in the final period — one that featured six ties and 10 lead changes.

In the end, Bryant was the difference. He had an emphatic one-handed driving dunk over Josh Smith with just over two minutes left, and scored 11 points in the final period, including his team’s last six.

It isn’t great that the Lakers blew such a large lead at home, and needed heroics on the game’s penultimate possession to end up pulling this one out. It’s also not ideal that when the game got tight, L.A. went into isolation mode with Kobe for multiple possessions down the stretch. It worked on this night, however, and next up for the Lakers is a date with the Thunder in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.
—Brett Pollakoff

Heat 99, Knicks 93: The Knicks were getting some stops and knocking down threes in the first half (Jason Kidd, who had been a mess for a couple weeks, started out 4-of-4 from deep) and the Knicks led by as many as 16. But the Heat cranked up the defense, were the aggressors on offense and came back for the win. Our own Brett Pollakoff broke this game down.

Thunder 108 Clippers 104: Oklahoma City led pretty much from the start here and it looked for a long time like this would be a blowout win. But the Clippers made a spirited comeback, Serge Ibaka punched Blake Griffin in the… groin (and somehow didn’t get ejected) and the Thunder won behind some strong play from Russell Westbrook late. Brett broke this game down, also.

Pacers 97, Bulls 92: This win gives the Pacers the season series over the Bulls and a likely Central Division win. Add this with the loss by the Knicks and the Pacers are the current second seed in the East. David West was an anchor in this game, scoring 31 against the always-scrappy Bulls defense. West had 10 in the final quarter, which is when George Hill had 11 of his 21. Roy Hibbert had 18 points and 10 rebounds on the night and as he starts to find his groove again the Pacers, which makes them an even more dangerous playoff team.

One thing of note — for the second straight game coach Frank Vogel sat Danny Granger the entire second half. He played 8 minutes total. That concerns me.

Rockets 136, Mavericks 103: That ends a nine-game losing streak for the Rockets to the Mavs about as convincingly as you can. After a tight first half the Rockets opened the third quarter on a 15-0 run, went on to win the third 44-17 and that was all she wrote. Chandler Parsons had a career-high 32 points on an impressive 12-for-13 shooting. Jeremy Lin and James Harden each had 21, but Lin won the assists battle between the two nine to seven. Dallas had dropped four of five.

Spurs 114, Pistons 75: No Tony Parker but the Spurs ball movement was still crisp all night and that just overwhelmed the Pistons defense. The Spurs did it with incredible balance — Manu Ginobili led them with 17 points, and he scored them all in the first half. Tim Duncan and Danny Green each had 16 points for San Antonio. The Pistons have lost five of their last six.

Memphis 108, Magic 82: This was a rout from the first quarter, from when the Grizzlies went on an 18-6 run and never looked back. Memphis did it with balance, having six players scoring in double digits led by Tayshaun Prince’s 14. Marc Gasol was dishing as he finished with 12 points and 11 assists. As for the Magic, they haven’t held a team under 53 percent shooting in three games now.

Wizards 90, Sixers 87: How about that John Wall — he had six points in the final 1:37 of this game and that was enough to get the Wizards a win. Washington had led most of the second half until an 11-0 Sixers run gave them the lead, setting up Wall’s heroics. Down three late Wall hit a jumper, then on the next possession drew a foul and got to the line, hitting both. Washington was up one and Wall blocked an Evan Turner shot. Then on the next possession Wall iced it with a 20 footer. As everyone has said about Wall, if he gets a steady outside shot.

Kings 119, Bobcats 83: Wow, the Bobcats are bad. Yes, give the Kings some credit for exorcizing the demons of a 1-4 road trip thanks to John Salmons and his 22 points, plus Jason Thompson finished with 18 points and 14 rebounds. But mostly, the Bobcats are bad.

J.J. Redick says he hopes to play four more years in NBA

Pelicans guard J.J. Redick
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This past season in New Orleans, J.J. Redick averaged 15.3 points and shot 45.3% from three, played solid defense, and stayed healthy enough to get into 60 games. At age 36, he didn’t show signs of slowing down.

How much longer can he keep that up? Redick told Mark Medina of the USA Today he hopes to play four more years.

“I realized this year I want to keep playing as long as possible. My goal is to play four more years. Year 18. That’s my goal. I’ll play to 39. Then my offseason, I’ll turn 40 and then I can walk away at that point. That’s my goal. We’ll see. The body has to hold up. But we’ll see.”

Redick is meticulous and intense with his conditioning, with his routine to take care of his body, although as we all age sometimes that is not enough. Father time wins every race. Redick, however, is in a good spot to hold him off for a few more years.

His skills as a shooter and floor spacer undoubtedly will be in demand, plus he is the kind of player GMs want in the locker room of a younger team like New Orleans. Redick had to put in a ton of work to transform his body and his game to go from collegiate star at Duke to his current role in the NBA. He’s professional about preparation and taking care of himself — exactly the kind role model for young players that GMs want.

Which will get him paid for another four years, if he wants it.

Heat says they need faster start in Game 4 against Celtics

Heat Celtics
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The formula that the Miami Heat had backed themselves into using throughout this postseason wasn’t exactly ideal.

They were losing almost every first quarter, and winning almost every game anyway.

It’s not a sustainable plan, and the Boston Celtics finally showed that in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals when they pulled off a wire-to-wire win over Miami, not letting the Heat put together their typical comeback. Game 4 of the East title series — with Miami still leading 2-1 — is Wednesday, and the Heat are insisting that there will be more urgency at the beginning.

“I think we’ve just got to start off better,” Heat forward Jimmy Butler said. “I don’t think we started off anywhere near where we’re capable of. I think we dig ourselves a hole and try to fight back out of it. I think going into this next one, it’s up to the starting five to come out with a great start.”

Before Game 3, Miami was 8-0 in the playoffs when trailing after the first quarter — after going 10-16 when put in that position during the regular season. In the 36 minutes of first-period action against the Celtics, the Heat have led roughly one-sixth of the time.

Butler is 1 for 6 in 29 first-quarter minutes in the series. Duncan Robinson and Goran Dragic are a combined 10 for 19; the rest of the Heat in first quarters against the Celtics are 11 for 46. Boston has won the first quarters by a combined score of 88-68, shooting 54% to Miami’s 32%.

“Certainly, it would help to be able to get off to a good start,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But you have to play good basketball more consistently when you get to this point in the conference finals against a quality opponent.”

Another wild stat is this: Boston has outscored Miami 50-18 from 2-point range in first quarters so far in the series. And yet, somehow, the Celtics still need a win on Wednesday to even up matters — or fall into the dreaded 3-1 series hole.

“Obviously, you know that when a team lost its last one, you’re going to get a great shot,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “But you expect a great shot every time. We’re going to have to play our best game in Game 4, and then after Game 4 is over, we’re going to have to play better than that in Game 5. That’s kind of the way it works.”

The teams have had three full days off since Game 3, a quirk in the schedule to allow the Western Conference finals matchup between the Los Angeles Lakers and Denver Nuggets to catch up; the Lakers and Nuggets were to play the third game in their series Tuesday night.

Not that this one needs explaining, but Miami’s chances go up considerably in this series if the Heat find a way to win Game 4. The Heat are 11-0 in series where they lead 3-1, and 9-9 in series where it’s tied 2-2 after four games. The Celtics haven’t successfully overcome a 3-1 deficit since the 1981 East finals.

LeBron James has “zero comment” on L.A. County Sheriff, speaks on violence

LeBron violence
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been no stranger to outlandish acts and putting himself in headlines since taking office. Most recently, he and his department were sued by Vanessa Bryant over photos from the site of the plane crash that took Kobe’s life.

Last week, the controversial Villanueva decided to drag the most popular athlete in Los Angeles into his headlines, challenging LeBron James to double the reward for the person who shot two Sheriff deputies who were sitting in their car. It was a clear dig at LeBron’s stances against police violence around the nation, and Vanessa Bryant had slammed Villanueva for it on social media.

LeBron, after the Lakers’ loss to Denver Sunday night, refused to play Villanueva’s game, saying he has “zero comment” on the Sherrif. However, LeBron did speak on police violence.

“I’ve never in my 35 years ever condoned violence. Never have,” LeBron said. “But I also know what’s right is right, and what’s wrong is wrong… I’ve seen a lot of counts firsthand of a lot of Black people being racially profiled because of our color. And I’ve seen it throughout my whole life.

“And I’m not saying that all cops are bad because, I actually, throughout high school and things of that nature, and I’m around them all the time, and they’re not all bad. But when you see the videos that’s going on and you can see all over the — not only my hometown but all over America — you continue to see the acts of violence toward my kind, I can’t do nothing but to speak about it and see the common denominator.

“But not one time have I ever said, ‘Let’s act violent toward cops.’ I just said that what’s going on in our community is not OK, and we fear for that, and we fear for our lives. It’s something that we go on every single day as a Black man and a Black woman and a Black kid, a Black girl. We fear. We fear that moment when we’re pulled over…

“But I do not condone violence toward anyone — police, Black people, white people, anyone of color, anyone not of color — because that’s not going to ever make this world or America what we want it to be.”

LeBron’s too smart to be dragged into Villanueva’s game, which is more about the Sherrif trying to distract from issues around himself.

LeBron has put his money where his mouth is on social justice issues, forming an organization to work to register minority voters and work against voter suppression nationwide.

Attacking Jamal Murray sparks Nuggets, who hold off Lakers for Game 3 win

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Down 0-2 to a LeBron James team, the Denver Nuggets’ backs were against the wall.

The Los Angeles Lakers learned — like the Jazz and Clippers before them — that the Nuggets have a couple more gears when their season is threatened.

Jamal Murray attacked from the opening tip, set the tone for Denver, then when the Lakers made it interesting late, stuck the dagger in the Los Angeles.

“I didn’t have any doubt we were going to show up tonight,” Nuggets coach Mike Malone said postgame. “The reason I didn’t have any doubt is we won six straight elimination games…

“For some reason, this team loves the bubble.”

Denver pulled away from the Lakers in the second quarter and held on at the end to take a 114-106 win in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals.

The Lakers still lead the series 2-1, with Game 4 Thursday night.

Murray was the best player on the floor in Game 3, scoring 28 points, dishing 12 assists, grabbing eight rebounds, and forcing the Lakers’ defense to adjust to him.

“When you look at these three series we’ve played so far, he’s starting to get the respect from the other teams, and they’re game-planning, they’re blitzing him, they’re double-teaming.”

Both Denver and the Lakers came out attacking the paint early: The teams combined for 56 first-quarter points, and they scored 34 of them in the paint (60.7%)

In the second quarter, however, the Lakers started settling for jumpers while the Nuggets kept attacking. Denver went on a 15-2 run to start the quarter — with Nikola Jokic on the bench — and Denver went on to dominate the next two quarters, leading by as many as 20.

The Nuggets got a big night from Jerami Grant, who had career playoff hight 26 points. Jokic added 22 plus 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the Lakers could not get jump shots to fall. Los Angeles was 6-of-26 from three (23.1%), and worse, they scored 12 points on 24 spot-up shot attempts (stat via Synergy Sports).

LeBron James did his part — a triple-double of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 assists — and Anthony Davis added 27, but the Lakers defensive energy, and with that transition buckets, were not there.

Until the fourth quarter.

The Lakers got much more physical and aggressive defensively, and the Lakers went on a 19-2 run, which included six straight Nuggets turnovers at one point. The Lakers went to a zone defense that flummoxed Denver.

Eventually, Murray and Jokic righted the ship. Denver stretched the lead back out and got the win. After the game, the Lakers to a man said they needed to bring that fourth-quarter energy all game on Thursday.

One thing talked about after the game was Murray’s elbow to LeBron.

“I don’t think it was blatant. I don’t know his mindset, but I don’t think he did it on purpose,” LeBron said postgame.

The other thing talked about postgame — now we have a series.