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

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.

 

Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.

 

76ers coach Brett Brown: Markelle Fultz didn’t mean to insult Philadelphia coaches

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After getting traded from the 76ers to the Magic, Markelle Fultz said, “It just excites me really to know that I have coaches that’s going to push you to be better and not just going to tell you what you want to hear.”

I don’t know whether Fultz intended that to sound like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown. But it sounded like a shot at Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.

Keith Pompey of The Inquirer:

Brown said Fultz “didn’t mean that.”He said the two have spoken back and forth.

“He’s a good kid,” he said. “He’s a good young man, and, truly, we wish him well.”

I’d prefer to hear that directly from Fultz. But I doubt he’ll do any more interviews this season until he plays again – and who knows when that will be?

Still, it can be difficult for a player to compliment his new team without sounding like he’s admonishing his old team. There was always a good chance that’s all that happened with Fultz. Brown’s explanation makes that even more likely.

Report: NBA formally submits proposal to lower draft age to 18, end one-and-done

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It’s coincidental this happened the day after Duke star and likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson sprained a knee in a much-hyped, nationally televised game. This is been in the works for a while and is now becoming realty:

The NBA formally submitted a proposal to the National Basketball Players Association (the players’ union) to lower the draft age from 19 to 18. Meaning players could be drafted to the league straight out of high school. While that will not come until likely 2022, the formal proposal starts the project, reports Jeff Zillgitt of the USA Today.

The NBA has submitted to the National Basketball Players Association a formal proposal that will lower the draft-eligible age to 18 from 19, a person with knowledge of the proposal told USA TODAY Sports…

The league and union have had informal discussions about lowering the age limit, and NBA commissioner Adam Silver is on record saying the current 19-year-old age limit is not working for the league or college basketball.

This is the first step in formal negotiations to lower the age limit by the 2022 draft. The issue is collectively bargained between the NBA and NBPA, and both sides need to agree to any rule change.

There have been sticking points during those informal discussions between the sides. Specifically, the league wants to require that agents provide every team with full medical reports on players, and the league wants players to be forced to participate in some level of the NBA Draft Combine. As of now, agents often withhold medical info from teams they don’t want to draft their players (that doesn’t always work) and elite players often do little more than get measured at the combine. It’s a fight over information and the sides will need to find a compromise.

Silver had told reporters over the summer that the NCAA’s own report from Condoleezza Rice’s Commission On College Basketball called for an end to one-and-dones, and that has motivated him to end the practice. However, to give teams ample time to gear up scouting and get development programs in place, nothing will happen before the 2022 draft.

This has been a long time coming, the one-and-done rule is a compromise neither the NBA or colleges liked much, and it has made players resentful. What exactly the process will look like on the other side remains to be seen, but it should be better than the mess we see right now.