Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Refs make Nuggets/Bulls ending interesting

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wishing you were as well traveled as this dog

Heat 105, Celtics 103: This felt like a playoff game — it was chippy, emotional and the crowd was into it. Jeff Green took over for the Celtics with 43 points, giving the team the kind of boost it needed without Kevin Garnett in the lineup. But in the end, the Heat had LeBron James. We broke it all down in some detail. Plus, if you want to see LeBron’s entrant in the “Dunk of the Year” contest we got that, too.

Suns 99, Lakers 76: The Lakers looked like an old team on the second night of a back-to-back playing without their biggest star. The Suns played with some fight and this wasn’t even that close. Our man Brett Pollakoff was in the building and broke it all down.

Nuggets 119, Bulls 118 (OT): The Nuggets have won a dozen in a row, but all anybody is talking about is the controversial ending — and the referees only got it half right in my mind. Tom Thibodeau has a right to be pissed off. Sure, there were 52 minutes of other basketball where Wilson Chandler scored 35 and Nate Robinson scored 34 including a three to send it to overtime. There was a lot of other basketball where the Bulls played with basically a six-man rotation and fought hard. But you don’t want to talk about that, do you? Let’s get to the tip ins that decided the game.

Denver was down one (115-114) with 50 seconds left when Ty Lawson drives the lane and misses the layup, but Kosta Koufos is on the spot to tip it in — except replays clearly showed the ball was sitting on the rim and over the cylinder when it was tipped. I say that should have been offensive goaltending, others say if it is falling off the rim it can be tipped. Bottom line is no call, no review, play went on and the Nuggets got the points. After a Joakim Noah tip in (that was clearly legit) and a Noah block of Chandler, followed by an Andre Iguodala three you had the final score you see above, but the Bulls had one last shot.

Marco Belinelli brought it up the left wing and took a rushed jumper that was short, but Joakim Noah was flying in, tipped the ball in and the United Center went crazy. No call, but Denver did call a timeout, and during that break the officials reviewed the play and called Noah for offensive basket interference, tipping in a ball that was over the cylinder. It was the correct call, it was an illegal tip.

These were both illegal tip ins to my eye, both were over the cylinder. The question is, why was only one reviewed? The refs can’t say they didn’t review Koufos’ because there was not call, because there was no call on Noah’s either. There was just time. It will be interesting to see what the league office says about all this.

Knicks 90, Jazz 83: The Lakers losing in Phoenix didn’t affect their playoff chances at all, thanks to the Jazz continuing to be in a complete free-fall as the season enters its final month. With the Knicks missing Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler, and trotting out a starting lineup featuring Kenyon Martin, Chris Copeland, and Pablo Prigioni, they were still able to win in Utah thanks to the Jazz shooting just 28.9 percent from the field over the final two periods.

Utah typically does significant damage in the paint, but scored a season-low 22 points there in this one. J.R. Smith led all scorers with a game-high 20 points, which lets you know just how much of an offensive exhibition this one was.
—Brett Pollakoff

Grizzlies 92, Timberwolves 77: It’s not very often a team improves dramatically after a big mid-season trade, but with each and every game that goes by, the Grizzlies seem to make more and more sense. Even when it’s a little something — like Tayshaun Prince bringing up the ball and being able to feed the high post easier because of his height — it feels like a revelation for an offense that was so starved for space, especially when they force-fed Rudy Gay in the past.

This was a game where the Grizzlies just sharpened the knives a little bit, essentially. As per usual, Marc Gasol did everything, including a sick no-look alley-oop pass to Tony Allen for a jam. How many 7-footers influence the game the way Gasol does on both ends? Zero. Zilch. Nada. Gasol was excellent with 16 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks.

The Wolves were down 23 points in the third quarter, which is bad obviously, but if you’ve followed the Wolves this year, you knew it could get worse. Ricky Rubio left the game with an apparent groin injury, sapping the Wolves of any shred of visual appeal for the rest of the game. Minnesota finished the game shooting 33 percent as a team, but somehow, it felt worse.
—D.J. Foster

76ers 101, Trail Blazers 100: LaMarcus Aldridge had an All-Star night — 32 points and 14 rebounds — but he had a turnaround jumper he can knock down to win the game at the end and he missed it. That’s a tough loss for Portland but a quality win for the Sixers, who are refusing to completely roll over down the stretch. Jrue Holiday had 27 points, Thaddeus Young ptched in 19 and Spencer Hawes had 18 points and 13 rebounds. It’s still a team game folks — there were six Sixers in double figures, just two Trail Blazers (Aldridge and Damian Lillard with 27).

Mavericks 127, Hawks 113: The Hawks have their issues; that much has been documented. But the Mavericks, now that they have a healthy Dirk Nowitzki and are beginning to build some confidence behind playing with some consistent lineups, have been putting together wins and are within reach of a long-shot entry into the postseason.

Dallas scored its season high in points, and was led in scoring by Darren Collison off the bench who finished with 24 points on 10-14 shooting. The Hawks failed to defend all night long, as the Mavs finished the game shooting 57.3 percent from the field, including almost 60 percent (13-22) from three-point distance.

The Mavericks are very quietly just three games behind the Lakers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West with 15 games left to play.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pacers 111, Cavaliers 90: Indiana took control of this game with an 11-0 run in the second quarter (the quarter where Gerald Green put up 13), pulled away in the second half and cruised to an easy win. Green finished with 20 points and Tyler Hansbrough added 18 points and 11 rebounds. The highlight you are going to see out of this game — and the suspension coming down — will be for Marreese Speights, who grabbed Paul George around the neck and threw him to the floor. He got a flagrant 2 and was ejected for it. As he should have been.

Nets 119, Pistons 82: Deron Williams had 14 of his 31 points in the first quarter, sparked a 10-0 Nets run and they never looked back from there. Brook Lopez had 18 points and Andray Blatche chipped in 15. The Nets looked pretty good mostly the Pistons continue to look terrible, particularly on defense.

Warriors 93, Hornets 72: After beating the Rockets in Houston the night before, there was no way the Warriors were going to kill that momentum by stubbing their toe against the Hornets. Stephen Curry scored 30 points on 10-19 shooting, but more importantly for the long-term prospects of this team is the fact that Andrew Bogut turned in a stellar defensive effort inside for the second straight night.

Golden State shot 50 percent from the field for the game, including 52.6 percent from three-point distance. That, along with holding the Hornets to just 11 fourth quarter points was more than enough to pull away for the victory.
—Brett Pollakoff

Bobcats 119, Wizards 114: Defense? We don’t need no stinkin’ defense. Not a lot of it to be found in this game. Charlotte was down five inside three minutes to play but went on a 12-0 run to secure the win. Gerald Henderson had 27 to lead the Bobcats, John Wall had 25 for Washington. If the Wizards want to point the finger at something, how about the 14 free throws they gave the Bobcats in the fourth and 33 for the game. Can’t do that and win against a teams that knock the freebies down.

New York congressman insults Knicks, James Dolan funds opponent

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Things are changing with the Knicks. Leon Rose is in the front office, Tom Thibodeau is the coach, and together they are talking about developing players and having a plan moving forward. It’s a reason for hope…

Then there’s James Dolan.

Max Rose, a Democratic congressman from Staten Island, echoed the voice for a lot of Knicks fans when he said: “I’m a Knicks fan to the day I die, but Dolan’s gotta sell. Right now, this is an absolute disgrace.”

We have seen how Dolan reacts to fans saying he should sell the team. In the case of Rose, he is fundraising for the Republican running against him. It would be easy to say “Dolan is a big President Donald Trump supporter and donates to GOP causes all the time” and this isn’t personal, except Dolan sent out an email to help raise funds for Republican candidate Nicole Malliotakis and the New York Post got a hold of it.

“Max Rose thinks he can make our team and my ownership his political platform,” Dolan wrote in a personal email to friends last week that was obtained by The Post. “I need to let him know that we will not stand for this. The best way to do this is to help his opponent. He is in a tight race for the US Congress in Staten Island. … Please join me in helping Nicole defeat Max Rose for Congress.

“It will help send a strong message to all NY politicians that the Knicks will not be their political ticket to reelection.

That’s personal. Dolan isn’t just asking other people to donate.

A $50,000 check from MSG Sports was cut Tuesday to “The Governing Majority Fund,” a PAC run by former Reps. John Faso and Jeff Denham, Dolan confirmed. The PAC’s mission is to help Republicans take back the House.

Rose represents New York’s 11th District, a solid Republican district until the 2018 midterms when it became one of 30 districts nationally that flipped blue. The GOP is trying to turn a number of those back, including Rose’s district.

Whatever you think of Rose’s politics (he’s a former Army Ranger, which helped him in a more conservative district), what he said about wanting Dolan to sell the franchise is what many Knicks fans are thinking. Dolan just doesn’t like to hear it. Maybe Rose and Thibodeau can turn the Knicks around — they certainly deserve a chance — but the team has struggled since Dolan became the owner and that’s not a coincidence.

Whatever Rose and Knicks fans want, it’s also highly unlikely Dolan sells the team, there are no rumblings about that around the league (and he certainly has had chances).

Former Pelicans GM Dell Demps shifts to become Jazz assistant coach

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While teams have moved away from anyone in a dual coach/GM role, some people bounce between coach and the front office around the NBA: Steve Kerr was once the Suns’ GM before being the Warriors coach; Sean Marks was on the bench in San Antonio before moving to their front office and eventually the head guy in Brooklyn.

Now Dell Demps is making that move. The former general manager for the New Orleans Pelicans, who was let go a year ago, will be an assistant coach on Quin Synder’s staff in Utah. Demps was the GM of the Spurs G-League team years back and hired Snyder to coach it.

“I was fortunate to work with Dell to begin my career as a head coach in professional basketball and I know he will delve into his role on the bench,” Snyder said in a statement. “He has an incredible work ethic and commitment to his craft. His vast experience both as a player and in front office roles brings a unique perspective that will be invaluable to our team. We’re excited to welcome him to the Jazz.”

“I am absolutely thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with Coach Snyder again,” Demps said. “I have always had tremendous respect for Quin and the Jazz organization. I look forward to joining this talented coaching staff and working with our players. My wife Anita and I couldn’t be more excited to make the move to Utah and become a part of a tremendous community.”

Demps was not the only hire by Snyder, who is also bringing former NBA player Keyon Dooling. He played for 13 years in the league and then has worked with the National Basketball Players Association in various roles — most recently as a wellness counselor and mental health advocate — in recent years. Dooling played for two years at Missouri in college, a team coached by Snyder.

“Keyon is a fantastic addition for us on multiple levels and someone I’ve always had tremendous respect for since our time at Missouri where we formed a close bond that has continued throughout the years,” said Snyder. “He’s a natural leader who was a captain on multiple teams in the league and I have no doubt that the way he approached the game as a player will translate to the work he puts in with our roster on the court.”

New Kings’ GM doesn’t change fact De’Aaron Fox expects max contract extension

De'Aaron Fox sprained ankle
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New Sacramento Kings general manager Monte McNair is just getting the photos of his family framed and settling into his office, but he’s made one critical decision already: Luke Walton will be back as Sacramento’s coach. McNair also decided he wants to see the Kings return to more of the up-tempo style of a couple of seasons ago (before Walton arrived). Looming after that is the 2020 NBA Draft, where the Kings have the No. 12 pick.

When free agency comes, the question becomes: Will the Sacramento Kings offer De'Aaron Fox a max contract extension?

The young point guard expects one, reports James Ham of NBC Sports Bay Area.

League sources have confirmed to NBC Sports California that the Kings, under previous management, already had a discussion with Fox’s representation on an extension.

Depending on where the NBA’s final salary cap numbers come in, Fox is eligible for a five-year max money contract worth between $150-180 million. Don’t expect a discounted rate. He will ask for and likely get whatever the maximum is allowed under the collective bargaining agreement.

If the salary cap were to remain flat for two years (possible, but not probable), a five-year max extension to Fox’s rookie contract is $158 million. The number will likely be higher than that, and if Fox makes a huge leap and becomes an All-NBA player, it jumps up to nearly $190 million (not likely to happen, but not impossible).

Fox averaged 21.1 points and 6.8 assists per game last season, but fully healthy he stepped up his play in the bubble averaging 26.2 points a game on 50.4% shooting and dishing out 7.3 assists a game. He was by far the Kings’ best player.

In the bubble, the Kings seemed to lack an identity. What kind of team did they want to be? McNair has come in and decided that — this is going to be an uptempo, transition team. Fox would be at the heart of that plan.

McNair said at his introductory press conference he sees Fox as a cornerstone piece.

“De’Aaron is an incredible young talent,” McNair said. “I’ve loved to see what he’s done and what he’s improved on over the years and he’s got a very bright future ahead of him.”

If this team is going to get back to running more, Fox is as good a ball-handler and decision-maker in transition as the league has. The Kings need to pay to keep him happy, then get players to go around him that fit that style. Expect McNair to spend the next season evaluating and shifting the roster around to fit that style. The problem is the pressure of the playoffs — the Kings haven’t been in 14 years, one short of tying the Donald Sterling Clippers for the longest drought in league history. There is pressure from ownership to make the playoffs and start winning sooner rather than later. It will be a tough balancing act for McNair. Welcome to sitting in the big chair.

Deciding to pay Fox may be the easiest of his decisions.

 

LeBron James one win away from history: 10th NBA Finals apperance

Lakers star LeBron James
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LeBron James can reach a 10th NBA Finals, done by only three greats of the game.

Anthony Davis is on the verge of his first.

The final step for the Los Angeles Lakers shapes up as the toughest.

They have to knock out the Denver Nuggets, who have been on the brink of dismissal from the bubble six times and every time refused to go.

“You can never be comfortable around this team,” Davis said. “They have been in this situation twice. We’ve been in the situation twice. But both teams are familiar with these situations, but this team is not going to go away.”

Game 5 is Saturday. The Lakers have ended both their series thus far in five games.

But the Nuggets were also down 3-1 against both Utah and the Los Angeles Clippers, fell far behind in Game 5, and then battled back to not only win the game but eventually the series.

No team had ever erased two 3-1 deficits in one postseason and now the Nuggets need to do it a third time. It’s a predicament they could have avoided, if they’d gotten one more defensive stop in Game 2 or given up a few less second-chance points in Game 4.

“These are all close games we’re playing,” guard Jamal Murray said. “Going to keep battling it out.”

Murray was sensational again in Game 4, though James slowed him enough down the stretch after taking on the defensive assignment to help the Lakers pull out a 114-108 victory.

One more win, and James ties NBA career scoring leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for third on the career list with 10 NBA Finals appearances. Only Hall of Famers Bill Russell (12) and Sam Jones (11) of the Boston Celtics have gone to more.

It would be James’ first with the Lakers after five appearances in Cleveland and four in Miami, and the Lakers’ first trip to the finals since winning the last of their 16 championships in 2010.

James and Davis have been the unquestioned catalysts of this run, and they’re good strong support from some playoff-tested veterans. Dwight Howard had 12 points and 11 rebounds Thursday in his first start of this postseason, helping send Los Angeles to its overwhelming 25-6 advantage in second-chance points.

Rajon Rondo contributed 11 points and moved into eighth place on the career list with seven more assists.

“In the postseason, every possession is so important,” James said. “When you can have guys that have been in the moments and can understand and also be able to make adjustments on the fly, and know that you can count on them down the stretch, it just makes the team and you individually feel so much more confident in the outcome.”

The younger Nuggets don’t have those type of veterans, but they have the experience of this historic postseason run that could have ended on Aug. 25, the night of Game 5 against Utah. A month later, they are still at Disney World, still trying to prove that hope is not lost until four games are.

“I think people out there probably think this is exactly where we want them. It’s not. We would much rather be up 3-1, but it is what it is. We put ourselves in this position,” Denver coach Michael Malone said.

“Our team has shown tremendous resiliency and grit in getting out of these before. I have no doubt that tomorrow night we’ll bring that same fight to the game and hopefully we can keep this series alive.”

If they do, Game 6 would be Monday night. If not, the Lakers will be preparing to face Miami, in its first appearance since James left in 2014, or the Celtics, their greatest rival they could tie with a 17th NBA title.

The Lakers won’t think about any of that until the Nuggets are finally gone.

“Like I said last game, we’ve got to put them away,” Davis said. “They are going to continue to fight, no matter what the score is, no matter what the situation is. We just have to make sure we counter everything they do.”