Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Heat continue streaking, Harden hits the game-winner to beat the Spurs

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching FGCU celebrate their trip to the Sweet 16 a thousand times.

Nets 102, Suns 100: The Nets were without Joe Johnson in this one, but early in the third quarter, when Brooklyn had increased its lead to 16 points, it seemed like it wouldn’t matter.

The Nets lost focus, however, and the Suns got high-energy performances from Goran Dragic, Wesley Johnson, and P.J. Tucker the entire second half, and were able to lead at the end of three and battle throughout the fourth to ensure the game came down to the final possession.

Wes Johnson had a 17-point third quarter that included hitting four straight from three-point distance, and Dragic finished a point shy of his career-high and just one rebound short of a triple-double, with 31 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists. The Suns had more offensive rebounds in the game than they had on the defensive end (25 against 23), which was 10 more than the Nets hauled down from the offensive glass.

But the energy and hustle only went so far. C.J. Watson scored 12 big points off the bench for Brooklyn in the fourth quarter, and Kris Humphries had an interesting night that included three air balls and a missed dunk, yet his 17 points and eight rebounds overall were important contributions to the Nets’ sluggish victory.

Heat 109, Bobcats 77: Dwyane Wade sat this one out to rest a sore knee, but even then — and even when Charlotte raced out to a 19-8 lead — this game never felt in doubt. In part because these kind of comebacks are becoming the norm for Miami, in part because LeBron James was playing (32 points, 10 assists, 8 rebound). We broke this game down in more detail, if you like to read about routs. — Kurt Helin

Rockets 96, Spurs 95: Coming into this game Houston was 1-7 against the top four teams in the West and they wanted to prove they could play with the big boys. For their own psyche heading into the playoffs. Maybe they got that.

The Rockets were running, James Harden was gunning — he finished the game with 29 points on just 16 shots — and the Rockets were up double digits in the fourth quarter. Then Tony Parker happened. He went on a personal 10-0 run and scored 12 Spurs points in a row to lead them to a 93-89 lead with 1:45 remaining. The Spurs looked like they could put it away with a steal and Danny Green heading in for a layup, but Patrick Beverly blocked the shot, Harden got the ball in transition, found Chandler Parsons for a three and it was a new game. Parsons finished with 20.

Parker and Harden traded some free throws. When the Rockets needed a final shot you knew Harden was going to get the look first, and he was able to get to just above the free throw line, try to sell the foul call he wasn’t going to get, then hit the game winning jumper. Tim Duncan had a final chance for San Antonio but missed an elbow jumper.  It’s a good win for Houston, a team that is building confidence right now. — Kurt Helin

Mavericks 113, Jazz 108: Utah is a team that is supposed to be making a playoff push, but with this game they have lost four in a row and 9-of-11. They are now two games back of the Lakers in the loss column and they are toast without a winning streak.

This game was close until near the end of the third quarter, when the Mavericks went on a 20-2 run that spanned the quarters. It looked like Dallas would coast in but Utah made a desperation run late that got the lead all the way down to three. But that’s as close as it got. Mike James had 19 points and led seven Mavericks in double figures. — Kurt Helin

Sixers 117, Kings 103: The outcome was secondary to Kings fans — this was another “Here We Buy Night” where the fans filled the building to show they still support the team (just not so much the old owners). As part of that, they booed Spencer Hawes plenty (the Seattle native and former University of Washington player said he hoped the Kings were moved back to his home town).

The Sixers got some big nights — Jrue Holiday had 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists; Dorell Wright added 22 points; and Lavoy Allen had 20 off the bench. The Kings were much better when DeMarcus Cousins was on the floor, but he struggled with foul trouble and when he sat midway through the third quarter the Sixers pulled away and never looked back. — Kurt Helin

Thunder 103, Trail Blazers 83: Oklahoma City has won eight straight over teams that would miss the playoffs if the season ended today and lost three straight to would-be playoff teams. The Thunder won’t get a chance to prove themselves against the league’s best quite yet – they host Washington on Wednesday and play at Minnesota on Friday – but in the meantime, they’re finding ways to motivate themselves. They went on a 10-2 run after Scott Brooks’ third-quarter technical foul Sunday, and Serge Ibaka (zero points, one block and three fouls in the first half; 16 points, four blocks and zero fouls in the second half) apparently challenged himself to make his halves as polarizing as possible.

The Trail Blazers were plagued by the same issue that has done them in all season – their lack of a bench. The starters played too much (36 minutes per starter), and the reserves did too little (a combined 21 points and two rebounds among six players). — Dan Feldman

Hawks 104, Bucks 99: Milwaukee is now two games behind No. 7 seed Boston with 13 games left and running out of time to escape the No. 8 seed and a first-round matchup with the Heat. That’s because the Bucks allowed a game-ending 7-0 run by the Hawks, who are hanging onto the No. 5 seed.

Al Horford (24 points, seven rebounds, six assists and two steals) and Josh Smith (23 points, nine rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks) scored crucial points during the deciding run, but Anthony Tolliver made a key contribution by offensively rebounding a teammate’s missed free throw – a play Tolliver called before it happened. — Dan Feldman

Bulls 104, Timberwolves 97: With Derrick Rose and now Joakim Noah out, Chicago showed off its long-possessed and under-appreciated supporting cast. Credit Tom Thibodeau for putting players like Nate Robinson (22 points and 10 assists), Jimmy Butler (20 points, nine assists and three steals) and Nazr Mohammed (10 rebounds in 22 minutes) in positions to succeed. And it wasn’t just Mohammed cleaning the glass. Chicago nearly had as many offensive rebounds (20) as the Timberwolves had defensive rebounds (26), and the Bulls smoked Minnesota on the other end, 32-6.

Derrick Williams (28 points) was a bright spot for the Timberwolves, looking less like the player who had a combined 24 points on 9-of-30 shooting in his last three games and more like the guy who averaged 19 points per game in his previous dozen. — Dan Feldman

Kyrie Irving reportedly re-aggravates right shoulder, to see specialist

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Kyrie Irving missed 26 games this season with shoulder bursitis, but rather than have surgery he got a cortisone shot eight weeks ago and was able to return to the court for nine games. Eventually, a knee issue sidelined him.

Now he has re-aggravated that shoulder and, once again, will see a specialist, Nets coach Kenny Atkinson told the media on Tuesday.

There are no details on how the re-aggravation happened. Irving had been trying to avoid surgery, but that could be back on the table. The Nets may take a few weeks to make their decision on a next step.

Atkinson may not go there but the rest of us can — it would be a surprise to see Irving back this season. At this point, the smart play is to let Spencer Dinwiddie run the offense the rest of the way, play hard and see what happens in the playoffs, then return next season with a healthy Irving and Kevin Durant.

Irving has played in just 20 games this season, but without him the Nets are still the seven seed in the East at 25-28.

 

Coach John Beilein reportedly to leave Cavaliers, walk away from remaining contract

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The Cavaliers brought in Michigan coach John Beilein to install his motion offense, to develop young players, and to build a culture that could win big in Cleveland.

None of that happened. The Cavaliers are 14-40, they have the worst net rating in the league and are bottom seven in both offense and defense, their young talent — players such as Collin Sexton and Darius Garland — are not developing, and the Cavs’ players have clashed with Beilein and each other, and the team abandoned Beilein’s motion offense less than a month into the season. It’s been rough.

Now he’s going to walk away, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.

The Cavaliers return to practice Wednesday and it is likely J.B. Bickerstaff — a former NBA head coach in Houston and Memphis, and the lead assistant on Beilein’s staff — will take over as head coach. Whether that is for just the remainder of this season, or beyond, remains to be seen.

Bickerstaff would be the fourth Cavaliers coach in less than two seasons since LeBron James left the organization.

Beilein struggled to adapt to the NBA coaching style — the lack of practices, the losing, the fact that good NBA players have more organizational power than the coach, and that he couldn’t treat those players the way he did his college players. He was unable to relate to players, and his relationship with them became an issue when he reportedly said they were “no longer playing like thugs” during a film session. Those NBA players were not giving a college coach the benefit of the doubt, he had to prove himself to them. He didn’t. At age 67, Beilein wasn’t able to adapt to the NBA game.

He was in the first year of a five-year contract worth more than $4 million a season (the last year of that was a team option). Beilein is unhappy enough to leave that money on the table to walk away. He could return to college coaching as soon as next season if he wanted, there would be a long line of universities interested.

Hiring Beilein is a big miss for GM Koby Altman (the first GM owner Dan Gilbert gave a second contract to; Gilbert pushed good GMs like David Griffen out the door). The revolving door of coaches is not the sign of a strong and stable organization. The Cavaliers need to develop a culture and they need a new coach who can deliver that.

 

Pistons reach buyout with Reggie Jackson, he’s headed to Clippers

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Reggie Jackson came to Detroit to be the outside to Andre Drummond‘s inside. That never panned out, in part due to a rash of injuries to Jackson that kept a lot over a couple of those seasons.

Drummond has been traded to Cleveland, and with that it was time for the Pistons to move on from Jackson as well. That has happened, the Pistons and Jackson have agreed to a buyout.

Once Jackson clears waivers, he is headed to the Clippers reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Jackson has only played in 14 games this season due to injury but has averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 assists a game when he has played, plus is shooting 37.8 percent from three. Jackson is making $18 million this season, the final year of a five-year, $80 million contract he inked back in 2015. He is a free agent this summer.

Why the Clippers? They are contenders, and Jackson is friends with Paul George.

The Clippers get two things out of this. First, they get a third point guard who can spell Patrick Beverley 10-12 minutes a night down the stretch (and fill in if Beverley suffers an injury). Second, the Clippers keep a playmaking guard away from the Lakers.

Detroit saves a little money and takes another step to clear the roster for a rebuild. They have Derrick Rose and Brandon Knight at the point guard spot, don’t be surprised if they call up a few guys from the G-League to see if they can find a longer-term option.

Adam Silver acknowledges ratings drop as NBA tries to connect young viewers to broadcasts

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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One of the NBA’s great strengths is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

One of the NBA’s great challenges is its core audience is younger than the other major American sports.

That means a lot of NBA fans are cord cutters — or, never had a cord to begin with — and don’t consume their entertainment the way their parents and grandparents did. Much the way we do a poor job measuring the economy by doing it the same way we did a century ago, using traditional Neilson rating measures is a poor way to judge the number of eyeballs on a game. Viewership is evolving.

But make no mistake, traditional ratings are down for the NBA, both nationally and at the regional level. Nationwide ratings are down by 12 percent, including 13 percent on TNT and 16 percent on ABC. On the regional level, the Sports Business Journal reports ratings are down by 13 percent. That is due to some big drops in certain markets (the Bay Area, for example), while the NBA says that ratings are up in 13 of the 28 markets that have reliable Neilson numbers (28 cities because Toronto and Denver are not included, the latter of which has a coverage/cable dispute that has much of the greater Denver region unable to view games at home).

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver owned the drop during All-Star weekend. He added that while the league could blame injuries to players that would be draws  — Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with the Warriors, Zion Williamson with the Pelicans, Kevin Durant in Brooklyn, etc. — the bigger issue is connecting those younger viewers to NBA broadcasts.

“It’s well-known that on one hand we’re celebrated by some because we have such a young fan base, but that young fan base is disconnecting from pay television in record numbers, and by disconnecting, not just simply not subscribing to cable or so-called cutting the cord, they’re not watching traditional paid television the way they used to,” Silver said during his All-Star weekend press conference. “They’re watching over-the-top streaming services. They’re watching screens, but it’s not essentially pay TV.

“So the good news for the league is that, when we look at all other data points, particularly what we see in social media, what we see in terms of distribution of highlights and general chatter around our games, we’ve never been more popular. But we haven’t found a way to connect those young fans to our broadcast through whatever platform they’re going to be delivered.

“Again, I think it’s a very solvable problem. Our two primary media partners, Disney and AT&T, are both very engaged in these issues…

“So it’s not an issue unique to the NBA. We may be affected by it a little bit more compared to some properties because we have such a young fan base, but I’m super confident over time we’ll work through it because there remains enormous interest in our players and our game.”

Silver also showed at the NBA’s tech summit where he thinks the broadcast of NBA games is headed, trying to bring the courtside experience into the home (with an assist from Bill Murray).

Silver isn’t alone in thinking this way. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, for one, said basically the same thing recently.

A well-respected media consultant recently told Forbes magazine he doesn’t think this ratings downturn is going to hurt the league in 2025 when it’s time to negotiate a new broadcast deal.

“This season’s NBA ratings story is silly. It is a small sample size. This is a year-round league with year-round stories,” says sports media consultant Lee Berke of LHB Sports. “The next NBA media agreements will be a substantially evolved set of deals because of streaming. There will be an increasing range of media companies that want the NBA for the U.S. and worldwide.”

The current $2.7 billion per year NBA deal with ESPN and TNT runs through the 2024-25 season, and Berke expects the next deal to roughly double in value.

That’s the vision Adam Silver sees. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to connect those young viewers to the content. Then to stop measuring viewership the way our grandparents did.