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

Rumor: Kawhi Leonard directly told Gregg Popovich he wanted to leave Spurs

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Kawhi Leonard and Spurs coach Gregg Popovich met in San Diego yesterday.

How did the discussion go? Reports have been mixed about even the nature of the meeting, let alone a resolution from either side.

But here’s an update with a reportedly direct conclusion.

Stephen A. Smith on ESPN:

From what my sources told me, Kawhi Leonard met with Gregg Popovich face-to-face, looked him dead in his face and told him “I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be in San Antonio any longer.”

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers, last week. There was some hope Popovich could mend the relationship, but that seems to running thin. There is so much bitterness between both sides.

The next question: What do the Spurs do about it?

Do they keep trying to ease tension with the 26-year-old superstar? Do they trade him? If so, when? Before or during the draft?

No matter what Leonard told Popovich yesterday, San Antonio has big decisions to make and soon. Leonard firmly stating a desire to leave would be clarifying, but it’d hardly make this situation easy to handle.

Brendan Haywood: Former Hornets teammates ‘sick and tired’ of Dwight Howard’s act

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It has become an annual tradition – Dwight Howard getting traded then his former teammates celebrating his exit.

It happened with the Hawks last year. Now, it’s happening with the Hornets, who sent Howard to the Nets.

Brendan Haywood, via Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

Now retired, Haywood played with current Hornets Kemba Walker and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist his final season. He also knows many other players throughout the league.

Howard went to Charlotte and declared himself team leader – despite the presence of Walker, the franchise player. Howard’s immaturity and ego have rubbed teammates and coaches the wrong way for years.

But at least this is progress. Howard’s time with the Magic, Lakers and Rockets devolved into interpersonal strife well before he left those teams.

Rumor: Knicks will take Villanova’s Mikal Bridges at No. 9

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Most mock drafts have the Philadelphia 76ers taking Mikal Bridges at No. 10, keeping the Villanova star in Philly.

But what if he’s not on the board?

Marc Berman of the New York Post reports the Knicks are going to take Bridges at No. 9.

Sources have indicated Bridges still is the favorite to be the Knicks’ selection at nine Thursday — even if Michael Porter Jr. falls. The Knicks are starting to get cold feet on the uber-talented Porter after his latest mishap last week, when he incurred hip spasms before his on-again, off-again, on-again public workout in Chicago….

In the big picture, president Steve Mills and (new GM Scott) Perry need to land a central building block that will contribute next season to show Kristaps Porzingis, a restricted free agent in 2019, there’s a future, and also to entice a 2019 free agent. Point guard Kyrie Irving is squarely on the Knicks’ radar.

While Kentucky freshman forward Kevin Knox opened the Knicks’ eyes with a surprising workout and has gotten consideration late in the process, Bridges is the best bet. Perry said recently adding “a solid rotational player” at nine is as important as shooting for an All-Star.

It’s unlikely Porter is on the board at No. 9. The Cavaliers like him a lot and will take him if he falls to No. 8, the Bulls could grab his one spot earlier, and there are teams farther down the draft board looking to trade up and snag Porter.

Bridges projects to be just what Mills may want — a solid rotational player, and one who can step in soon and contribute.

But the Knicks need talent, and Knox out of Kentucky has the higher ceiling thanks to elite athleticism (he has climbed a lot of teams’ draft boards during workouts). He can play some three or be a small ball four, and if he shows consistency with his jumper, he has the athleticism to be part of a team’s core.

 

Knox may have the higher ceiling, but the Knicks need not to miss, and Bridges is that.

Ayton, Young, Porter and more: PBT’s in-depth draft prospect breakdowns

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In the days before the draft, there’s more smoke clouding the picture around the NBA draft than there is at a Snoop Dogg concert.

What you need to cut through all that is someone who knows these players, has seen them multiple times over the years, spoken to them, knows their game.

That’s where Rob Dauster comes in. The lead writer at NBC’s CollegeBasketballTalk, he has seen these players while they were in high school, spoken to them, followed their college careers — and he broke down their games for us at NBC. It’s what you need to know about the top guys in the draft.

Check these stories out:

DEANDRE AYTON

He has the size. He has the length. He has the athleticism, explosiveness, fluidity, and mobility. He can space the floor and, in theory, both protect the rim and handle his own if forced to guard on the perimeter. In theory, Ayton is the total package and an ideal five for the modern NBA.

Whether or not he will live up to his considerable potential is a different story.

MARVIN BAGLEY III

Offensively, he’s everything that you want from a small-ball five. He can dominate in the paint, he can space the floor and he is aggressive and productive on the glass. He was a walking double-double in college and it’s not hard to project him being the same in the NBA.

The problem is that he is not a five on the defensive end of the floor.

JAREN JACKSON JR.

He will fit seamlessly into the modern NBA given the combination of skills that he has while the other four players projected to go in the top five this year have more question marks….

He’s 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He shot 39.6 percent from three after shooting 43.8 percent from three on the EYBL circuit in 2016. He averaged 3.0 blocks despite playing just under 22 minutes a night as a freshman. He is as switchable as any big man in this class defensively because of his ability to move his feet. 

MO BAMBA

A 7-foot-0.5 center with a 7-foot-10 wingspan — which will be the longest in the NBA as soon as he steps onto an NBA court — Bamba’s ability as a game-changing defensive presence is at the core of what makes him such an appealing prospect. He finished with freshman season with a block rate of 13.2, averaging 4.9 blocks per 40 minutes and anchoring a Texas defense that finished the year ranked 12th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric…

There are questions about his strength and his toughness and his love for the game. Does he play because he’s addicted to the game, or is it simply because he was blessed with the physical gifts that will makes NBA teams salivate and invest millions and millions of dollars into him in the hopes that he pays dividends as the NBA’s preeminent defensive anchor?

MICHAEL PORTER JR.

He is a tantalizing talent that can do things athletically and as a shooter that 6-foot-11 people are not supposed to be able to do… He was good enough at Hoop Summit and on the all-star circuit that there were people that were projecting him as the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft as recently as November.

But all of that changed in the course of the last seven months. It starts with the back injury… And that’s before you get into the questions about his position and his makeup.

Porter has a ceiling as high as anyone in this draft, but when the floor is as low as his is, it makes him a scary — and risky — player to take.

TRAE YOUNG

He became the first player in Division I history to lead the nation in scoring and assists, but he did it as a player that doesn’t like to play defense on a team that couldn’t figure out how to win late in the year.

Is he the second-coming of Steph Curry?

Or is he Jimmer Fredette?