Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Heat finally lose, Knicks now streaking

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while trying to figure out what caused these pond circles

Bulls 101, Heat 97: It had to end sometime, and Wednesday was the night Miami finally lost after winning 27 straight, ending the second longest streak of victories in NBA history. We broke it all down here.

Thunder 103, Wizards 80: If you were wondering what John Wall would do for an encore, after pouring in a career-high 47 points the other night against the Grizzlies, the answer might have been just a bit disappointing.

Wall finished with 18 points and 12 assists, but shot just 3-18 from the field as the Thunder made sure that they weren’t going to lose solely because one capable scorer on the opposing team got loose.

Russell Westbrook finished with 21 points in 25 minutes, Kevin Durant finished with 20, and Kevin Martin did what he was supposed to off the bench for OKC with 18 points on 6-9 shooting. The Thunder led by 17 heading into the fourth, and the final period was nothing more than extended garbage time.

Jazz 103, Suns 88: Players don’t tank games, but organizations can, and Phoenix decided to “rest” Goran Dragic, who was coming off of a huge game against Brooklyn on Sunday where he tallied 31 points, nine rebounds, and 12 assists. The loss for Phoenix helped the Jazz stay in the playoff hunt, and should Utah overtake the Lakers for the eighth and final spot in the West, the Suns would be just fine with that, considering that they own the rights to L.A.’s first round draft pick this summer.

Nets 111, Trail Blazers 93: Reggie Evans, despite playing just 17:43 of a possible 24 minutes, outrebounded Portland in the first half. He fell behind the Trail Blazers by only a single rebound to end the third quarter, but by that point, he already had 21 points and 21 rebounds. Evans finished with 26 rebounds (career high) and 22 points (career-high tying). P.J. Carlesimo called Evans’ game “absurd.” The Trail Blazers called it their second straight blowout loss, as their playoff hopes are fading. — Dan Feldman

Bobcats 114, Magic 108: The race for the No. 1 seed in the NBA lottery – in this balanced-at-the-top-draft, a coveted position due the a floor of the fourth pick rather than increased odds at the No. 1 pick – got a little closer with Charlotte’s “lead” slipping to a half game over Orlando.

These late-season games between bad teams aren’t just about lottery odds, though. They’re about developing young talent, and the Magic are doing that with Tobias Harris. Harris had 29 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three blocks and a steal. Only LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Lamar Odom have been younger than the 20-year-old Harris and posted those numbers in a game since at least 1985-86. The Bobcats – with Kemba Walker and Gerald Henderson each scoring 34 points – can also claim their youngsters are progressing. — Dan Feldman

Lakers 120, Timberwolves 117: Only Kobe Bryant played in Minnesota’s last victory over the Lakers – 22 Los Angeles wins in the matchup ago – and remains on either team’s roster. For a split second Wednesday, Bryant looked like he was no longer involved in this overwhelming streak, and it could have cost his team the game. Bryant missed a free throw with the Lakers leading by thee points and 3.4 seconds remaining. Ricky Rubio grabbed the rebound, and darted past Kobe – who was holding up his arm like has posing for the statue the Lakers will eventually build of him in front of the Staples Center – pushing the ball past mid-court and getting off a relatively good look at a long 3-pointer. Kobe can be forgiven, because he recovered in time to contest Rubio’s shot (and maybe foul the Minnesota point guard, though no call was made) and because he scored 31 points on 21 shots.

Dwight Howard had 25 points, 16 rebounds, five blocks and five steals. Since 2003, only DeMarcus Cousins and Ruben Patterson had posted those totals, so, yeah. — Dan Feldman

Pacers 100, Rockets 91: Roy Hibbert was the deciding factor. He scored a season-high 28 points with three assists and three offensive rebounds, but that’s not why he was the deciding factor. The Rockets have the NBA’s seventh-best offensive rating (107), but in Hibbert’s 37 minutes, Houston’s offensive rating dipped to 85. Hibbert finished with 10 defensive rebounds and three blocks.

Lance Stephenson (21 points) nearly breaking even with James Harden (22 points) and needing 10 fewer shots to do so also keyed Indiana’s win. — Dan Feldman

Celtics 93, Cavaliers 92: Boston came from 13 points down with less than seven and a half minutes to play, thanks to nine fourth quarter points from Jeff green, including the game-winning layup just before time expired.

Sixers 100, Bucks 92: Milwaukee led this one in the fourth quarter after the Sizers gave back all of an early 18-point lead, before Philadelphia went on an 18-2 run late to regain control and seal the win.

The story for the Bucks was the benching of Brandon Jennings, who played just two minutes in the second half and wasn’t at all happy about it afterward.

“I think that everyone should be held accountable,” he said. “There’s no maxed-out players in this locker room. So don’t try to put me on a pedestal and just give everyone else the freedom to do whatever they want.”

Knicks 108, Grizzlies 101: Guess who now has the longest active winning streak in the NBA? That would be your New York Knicks at six. And this may be the most impressive Knicks win in a while, handling one of the West’s stronger sides from the start. The Grizzlies have the second best defense in the NBA this season (on points per possession) yet the Knicks put up 37 first quarter points behind 13 from Iman Shumpert (he finished with 16) and 11 from Carmelo Anthony (he finished with 22).

Then the J.R. Smith show started — 35 points on 10-of-18 shooting. Smith was attacking, getting to the free throw line and generally being a beast. The Knicks led by as many as 30 but the Grizzlies fought back to make it interesting late. Still, there was Smith with 10 fourth-quarter points to keep things in line. Memphis was led by point guard Mike Conley with 28. — Kurt Helin

Kings 105, Warriors 98: Mark Jackson went out of his way to say how much better his Warriors were than the Lakers after their home win against L.A. on Monday. While that’s unquestionably true, it means little if the next game is followed up with a loss at home to a team that sits near the bottom of the conference standings.

Isaiah Thomas led all scorers with 31 points for Sacramento, and on a night where Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson combined to shoot just 6-31 from the field, that was more than enough.

Spurs 100, Nuggets 99: This game had everything — a Danny Green sighting (19 points in the first half), the good JaVale McGee, plus Tim Duncan and Tony Parker making plays. But it was a Manu Ginobili three (his first of the night, he was off his game) gave the Spurs a five-point lead they would never relinquish.

The Nuggets had the final shot to win it, but they went to Danilo Gallinari, who just doesn’t create his own shot well. So he passes to Andre Miller, who is forced to drive and shoot as time expires, and he just can’t knock down the runner. Duncan is the star of the game with 23 points with 14 rebounds. — Kurt Helin

Hawks 107, Raptors 88: With this win the Hawks secure a playoff berth. They did it with a monster fourth quarter, outscoring Toronto 32-13 in the final frame. Al Horford had 10 points in the fourth and finished with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Jeff Teague finished with 24 points and 13 assists, while Josh Smith added 19 points for Atlanta. Rudy Gay refused to be shut down with a back injury and had 15 points and 12 rebounds, but it’s wasn’t enough. — Kurt Helin

Clippers 105, Hornets 91: The Clippers were launching up threes all night, but when you hit 13-of-29 that’s works pretty well. Combine that with the Clippers grabbing the offensive rebound on 32 percent of their missed shots — thing about it, they got a second shot on nearly one in every three missed shots — and it was too much for the Hornets. Chris Paul had 16 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals, Blake Griffin added 19 points. Eric Gordon returned and had 24 for the Hornets while Anthony Davis added 19 points and nine rebounds — the No. 1 overall pick continues to put up impressive numbers. He’s going to be a big star in this league. — Kurt Helin

Report: Kyrie Irving has ‘ghosted’ Celtics as free agency approaches

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The emerging expectation: Kyrie Irving will sign with the Nets in free agency.

Many thought the Celtics had a chance of changing his mind by trading for Anthony Davis. But Boston didn’t deal for the star center.

There’s little reason to believe Irving will re-sign with the Celtics now.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

The strangest part of the Irving situation right now is that it appears he has essentially ghosted on the Celtics. The people within the organization I have spoken with have made it clear that they have had little, if any, communication with Irving in recent weeks.

Irving is the prize. He’s not interviewing for jobs. Employers are chasing him. By becoming one of the best basketball players in the world, Irving has earned the power to act however he wants in this situation.

The season is over. If Irving wants space, he’s entitled to it.

Maybe it’s because he’s being a jerk. Maybe it’s because telling Boston he wants to leave isn’t an easy message to deliver.

Either way, Irving can proceed as he sees fit. The Celtics will still offer him a max contract if he wants to stay.

This is the same tact he reportedly took on his way out of Cleveland. So, it’s believable he’s behaving this way again.

But we’ve also repeatedly seen players smeared on their way out the door. Whether or not it’s accurate, this report will reflect poorly on Irving in many circles. So, in light of recent history, have at least a little skepticism for this depiction of Irving.

2019 NBA Draft Prospect Profile: Ja Morant is the future of the point guard position

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Over the course of the next two weeks, as the 2019 NBA Draft draws closer and closer, we at Pro Basketball Talk will be taking deep dives into some of the best and most intriguing prospects that will be making their way to the NBA.

Today, we are looking at Ja Morant.

Previous draft profiles:

The trajectory that Zion Williamson and Ja Morant have taken to get to the point where they are projected to be the top two picks in the NBA draft could not be more different.

Four years ago, they were playing on the same, small AAU team out of South Carolina. From there, Zion blew up, becoming a viral sensation thanks to his athletic exploits, having his jersey get worn by Drake when he was still a high school junior and spending the majority of his time in the high school ranks as a top-five talent in his recruiting class.

Morant, on the other hand, was more or less a no-name prospect into the summer before his senior year. He eventually became a popular mid-major target, and he even received a scholarship offer from in-state South Carolina. He was hardly unknown, but he was miles away from being someone considered to be a potential franchise-changing talent at the NBA level.

As it stands today, the thing that both Zion and Ja have in common — besides the two most recognizable first names — is an otherworldly level of explosiveness that has both ratcheted up their hype and buried the lede. The reason Williamson is the most exciting prospect to come out of the college ranks since Anthony Davis is because of his ability to play the point and the five, all at the same time. He’s Draymond Green, only if he was injected with NOS from Dominic Toretto.

Morant’s athleticism rivals Williamson’s. Blessed with a 44 inch vertical, Morant’s motto this season was “jump with me if you want to go viral,” and that couldn’t have been more accurate. He spent more time on SportsCenter this season than every Ohio Valley Conference player before him combined, something that was highlighted by this dunk:

And that explosiveness matters, I would never try to say otherwise. Dunking over weakside defenders in the NBA is going to be more difficult than when playing at UT Martin, but being able to elevate the way Morant elevates will help him transition to the next level. His quick-twitch athleticism also manifests in his ability to make plays in the halfcourt, where his ability to change speeds — and to go from a standstill to top speed — is what allows scouts to be able to project Morant as a player that can create offense against set NBA defenses. For a player who did so much of his damage at the college level in transition, that’s a big deal.

Morant’s physical tools makes it very easy to see him as another De'Aaron Fox. They’re both about 6-foot-3 and 170 pounds with a 6-foot-6 wingspan, and Fox just wrapped up his second season in the NBA with averages of 17.3 points, 7.3 assists and 3.8 boards.

But simply focusing on Morant’s athletic ability is to ignore what he does best: Pass.

Because while Morant did average 24.5 points and 5.7 boards while shooting 36 percent from three, perhaps what is most impressive about his sophomore season with the Racers is that he led all of college basketball in assists at 10.0 per game, just like Lonzo Ball led the nation in assists in 2017 and Trae Young did in 2018.

I mention both of those guys for a reason. Morant does not have the same hit-ahead ability in transition that Ball does, but Morant’s vision in the open floor and ability to make long, accurate passes in the open floor is one of the things that he does best. He also thrives in early-offense, where his And-1 Mixtape handle allows him to keep his dribble alive and probe opposing defenses. Because he is such a threat as a scorer, defenses would then collapse, which is when Morant’s ability as a dump-off passer and a lob-thrower comes into effect.

And that’s not even what he does best as a passer, because where he really shines is in the halfcourt and working off of ball-screens. Morant’s basketball IQ is the most underrated part of his game. He knows how defenses are going to defend him. He knows how to use his eyes to move weakside defenders. He knows where the tag is coming from, and whether the shooter in the far side corner or the roll-man will be open. This is where that Trae Young comparison comes into play, because reading defenses is where Young thrived while at Oklahoma.

The best way to describe Morant’s ability as a passer is that he not only knows when and where his teammates are going to come open, but he has the ability to find a way to make the pass that will get them an open shot. Morant is right-handed, but he will, at times, look like a left-handed player because of how often he makes bullet, live-dribble passes with just his left. He makes reads, and passes, that few point guards in the NBA today can make.

That passing is what makes all the difference, and as much as his athleticism or ability as a scorer, it’s the reason why he can be viewed as a player with the potential to be a franchise-changing point guard in the same stratosphere as the likes of Russell Westbrook and John Wall.

Now, Morant does have some flaws, and they are quite notable and relevant.

For starters, he is of a slight build, which is less than ideal. He is not going to be able to bounce off of contact in the NBA the same way he did in the OVC, and in a league where switchability is a priority at the highest-level, he is going to be targeted. Opposing coaches are going to target him by trying to force switches the same way that Nick Nurse did with Steph Curry in the finals. That is going to be an issue if he can’t add some weight and strength, particularly because he has not been a consistently great defender to date. Some of that can be attributed to the load that he was asked to carry offensively, and there is reason to believe that Morant’s athleticism, anticipation and quick hands will translate to being an above-average defender in the NBA.

Morant can also be a bit sloppy. He averaged more than five turnovers per game, and while some of that is strictly a result of workload and defensive attention, he also had a habit of trying to force passes that weren’t there.

But the biggest question mark, and what is going to determine his ceiling more than just about anything else, will be how well his jumper comes along. Morant shot 36.3 percent from three this past season, but that number drops to just 33.6 percent if his 7-for-8 shooting from three in the NCAA tournament is factored out.

Put another way, as good as Morant was this past season, there is still plenty of room for him to grow moving forward.

And in a league where ball-dominant lead guards that thrive in ball-screens is the norm, Morant is a player with quite a bit of value in the long-term.

Damon Jones says Lakers are in play for Kawhi Leonard

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I had heard from multiple sources going back to Summer League last year that the Lakers were not an option for Kawhi Leonard. He’s a guy who does not like a lot of drama and chaos around him, he just wants to play basketball, and being with LeBron James on the Lakers is to live in the spotlight with drama your constant companion.

Did the Anthony Davis trade change his thinking? Damon Jones, the former NBA player and assistant coach, said yes it did on ESPN’s Get Up show. He said a source that would know told him the Lakers are now in play.

Two thoughts here:

First, nobody knows what Kawhi Leonard is thinking. We can all play the “read the tea leafs” game — at the Raptors’ championship parade some fans started a “one more year” chant and Leonard’s close advisor Uncle Dennis (as he is commonly known) had one finger up and was chanting along, read what you want into that — but none of us really know which way Leonard leans. The “people close to Leonard” have sent mixed signals from the start, some have different agendas, and they are not Leonard. Stay in Toronto, come to the Clippers or Lakers? We don’t know.

Second, getting Leonard to the Lakers requires a semi-complicated salary cap move. After the Davis trade the Lakers have between $23 million and $27 million in salary cap space (depending on how much of Davis’ trade kicker he is going to take, if any) but that is not enough to sign Leonard to a max contract. And he’s not taking a discount. Los Angeles could create the room by delaying the Davis trade for a month. Follow along: Currently, the Davis trade can’t be executed until July 6. However, if the Lakers draft whoever the Pelicans want with the No. 4 pick, sign him, then wait a month and include that player and his salary in the trade (the CBA says a draft pick cannot be traded for 30 days after he signs his contract) then the Lakers could have $32.5 million in cap space, enough to sign Leonard (or Kemba Walker, or Jimmy Butler, or Kyrie Irving, or any free agent with 7-9 years of service and earning a max deal).

Except, the Pelicans want to get the trade done and, I was told, don’t have to agree to this delay. Would the Lakers have to throw in another second round pick or something to make this work? Maybe.

That all assumes Leonard wants to come to the Lakers. And nobody really knows that for sure.

Whatever happens, the board man gonna get paid.

 

 

Rumor: Patrick Beverley may meet with five teams before Clippers

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The Los Angeles Clippers want to bring Patrick Beverley back next season, his spark was at the heart of why this team made the playoffs and impressed with their potential.

First, however, the Clippers are going big game hunting for the likes of Kawhi Leonard and/or Kevin Durant (even with the Achilles injury). Beverley isn’t just going to sit around and wait for them, reports longtime NBA reporter Sean Deveney Tweeted.

The Bulls need a point guard and Beverley — a Chicago native — has said he is interested.

The Lakers also are reportedly big game hunting, but Beverley is the kind of guard they could use around LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Phoenix and other teams have been mentioned.

Beverley is going to have options, but he loved his time with the Clippers last season, and that means something.