Baseline-to-baseline recaps: Knicks win 12th straight, Clippers clinch first division title

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching the two-hour season premiere of Mad Men

Knicks 125, Thunder 120: When the Knicks are knocking down threes they can beat anyone — and they hit 10 threes in the first half as they pulled away. But more impressive was the late 11-2 run to take the game behind Carmelo Anthony, who had 36 points and nine offensive rebounds. He and the Knicks bullied the Thunder and we broke it down in more detail here.

Clippers 109, Lakers 95: The Clips used a killer combination of depth and athleticism to dismantle the Lakers on Sunday, and we broke down their division-title clinching victory in greater detail here.

Pistons 99, Bulls 85: Chicago had beating the Pistons 18 straight times but that streak came to end Sunday night as the Bulls just didn’t have the defensive energy. After the first half the Pistons led 50-46 and that was in part due to Charlie Villanueva coming in off the bench and knocking down a couple of threes (he finished with 13 points). Noah was back but the Bulls transition defense wasn’t good and the Pistons took advantage.

In the third quarter Brandon Knight came out and just started taking Nate Robinson to the hole and smothering him on defense. Knight had a dozen of his 20 for the game in the third and was key to the Pistons snapping the streak.
—Kurt Helin

Celtics 107, Wizards 96: Kevin Garnett returned to the Boston lineup after missing his team’s last eight games, and finished with 12 points and six rebounds in 24 minutes of action. A 14-3 Celtics run over the first half of the third quarter sealed this one for Boston, and the Jordan Crawford revenge effort was uneventful at best, as Crawford finished with just six points, two assists, and two steals in 16 minutes of action off the bench.

Cavaliers 91, Magic 85: It doesn’t do either of these teams any good to come away with a victory at this point in the season, but Cleveland finished strong despite a dismal 3-15 shooting performance from Kyrie Irving, who finished with just nine points and 10 assists in 36 minutes of action.

The Magic, meanwhile, remain competitive to close out the season, even if they seem to know precisely when to fold the effort to secure the loss. A 26 point, 12 rebound performance from Mo Harkless, along with 21 points and 21 rebounds from Nik Vucevic were bright spots for Orlando as they ride out the regular season.

Mavericks 96, Trail Blazers 91: Mavs scored on 12 of first 18 trips down the court, raced out to a 15-3 lead. That lead grew to 26 at one point. Chris Kaman was the first half key with 16 points on 7-of-11 shooting. Dallas was the aggressor, they played loose and looked like they were on their way to a romp. But Dirk Nowitzki was out for the fourth quarter with a minor foot injury, the Mavs scored just 15 points, and a 19-2 run late we had a ballgame. But a Shawn Marion fast break layup (he had 20 points on the night) proved to be the dagger for Dallas.

Once again the beards are in jeopardy — if Dallas can beat the Suns Wednesday in Big D they will be a .500 team and razors will be passed out around the locker room.
—Kurt Helin

Grizzlies 89, Kings 87: This was the kind of win that playoff teams obtain, on the road against an inferior opponent who has packed it in for the remainder of the season. Mike Conley led the way with a game-high 25 points, while Quincy Pondexter posted 17 for the Grizzlies off the bench.

Hornets 95, Suns 92:  The Suns have proven to be able to compete at times with its end-of-season lineup, but against New Orleans on Sunday, a third quarter in which Phoenix was outscored 35-19 doomed its chances. The Suns closed the gap a bit in the fourth, but didn’t ever threaten the game’s final outcome. This was lottery team basketball at its finest, and New Orleans wanted the win more than Phoenix did, plain and simple.

Jazz 97, Warriors 90: A couple weeks ago it looked like the Jazz were going to stumble right out of the playoffs, but the scheduled softened up and they have taken advantage — even over a not soft opponent in Golden State. Utah played like a team desperate (and with the win and the Lakers loss they move half a game ahead of Los Angeles for the eight spot). Golden State played like a team that would live to another day — and they will, they can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Lakers Tuesday.

Utah took control of the game with a 24-3 run in the second quarter. Golden State wouldn’t go away and it took 25 points from Mo Williams including a dagger three late to get them win. Al Jefferson added 19 points and 12 boards; Stephen Curry led the Warriors with 22.
—Kurt Helin

Rockets GM Daryl Morey on Warriors signing DeMarcus Cousins: ‘It’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work’

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DeMarcus Cousins picking the Warriors sent shockwaves through the NBA. You know they were felt in Houston, where Rockets general manager Daryl Morey is admittedly obsessed with beating Golden State.

Morey on The Dan Patrick Show:

I was really curious. Bob is really good at his job, and he likes to take smart gambles like I do. So, I understood the move. But it’s gonna be interesting. Coach Kerr is one of the best, too. So, it’s a little scary. They’ll probably figure out how to make it work, but it’s a little bit hard on paper to figure out how to make it work. But we do that well and so do they, obviously. They’re gonna be a tough out again, obviously. They’re arguably the best team in NBA history. They’re on their path to maybe be able to make that argument.

Cousins isn’t a seamless fit with the Warriors.

They like to run, and Cousins doesn’t always sprint up court – even before his torn Achilles. Their offense is predicated on quick ball movement, and Cousins likes to survey the floor. They have more efficient scoring options in Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, and Cousins is used to being a focal point. They like to switch defensively, and Cousins isn’t as comfortable guarding on the perimeter.

But Cousins is so talented, and the Warriors can afford to be patient as he recovers from his injury. They’re elite already.

I also believe Golden State will slow its tempo and play more traditional defense as its core ages. Cousins might fit better with next season’s Warriors than previous iterations of the team.

So, I think Morey is spot on. Golden State general manager Bob Myers was targeting wings for a reason. The Warriors didn’t exactly need another center – especially a slow-paced, ball-dominant, offensive-minded one. But when Cousins fell into their lap, signing him was well worth the relatively low cost.

Rumor: Pelicans will try to trade for wing help, likely around deadline

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The New Orleans Pelicans look like a playoff team (or at least a potential one in the deep West). They have the superstar in Anthony Davis, and he’s part of a well-fitting front line with Nikola Mirotic and Julius Randle. The Pelicans also are strong at the point guard spot with Jrue Holiday starting.

Where New Orleans need help is the wing. They had hoped Solomon Hill could be the man there, but he has not stayed healthy or panned out. E’Twaun Moore filled in for him, but was overmatched covering larger players at the three. Darius Miller can give them minutes but is not the answer. Pelicans GM Dell Demps wanted to make a move this summer, but up against the salary cap they didn’t have to room to chase quality free agents.

So look for them to try and pull off an in-season trade, reports Scott Kushner of the New Orleans Advocate.

History (and several league sources) indicates Demps is waiting for a midseason trade to strike. As teams around the league see their postseason prospects dim, and grow eager to exchange a quality player for expiring salaries or the Pelicans’ always-endangered first round pick, there’s opportunity to shore up their most glaring weakness.

It’s exactly what Demps did to acquire Cousins from Sacramento in 2017 and Mirotic a year later from Chicago. Both are impactful veterans who were added without surrendering foundational players.

Various sources and several reports said the Pelicans were active in trade talks this summer, notably with the tanking Atlanta Hawks for Kent Bazemore. But with so few teams eager to dump quality players before opening tip, hoping to make a playoff run of their own, the cost was too steep.

Demps know the Pelicans are on the clock — Davis has this season and one more on his contract (there is a player option for a third season, but he almost certainly will opt out at that point). The Pelicans can offer him the “super max” contract at that point, and Davis has said he wants to stay and win in New Orleans, but if the team struggles and/or he gets a sense that ownership is not all-in on winning, he could choose to look around as a free agent.

Which means Demps and the Pelicans will do what it takes to win now, and a move at the trade deadline is possible. The Hawks still will listen to offers for Bazemore, and other wings will become available. It’s just something to watch as we head into the season.

 

Paul Pierce: ‘There is no loyalty to a franchise anymore … That’s the generation we live in’

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After Kevin Durant left the Thunder for the Warriors, Paul Pierce criticized players for changing teams to win.

Now, Pierce is providing an assessment of players just changing teams generally.

Brian Robb of Boston Sports Journal:

To be fair, Pierce doesn’t criticize players for not being loyal to franchises. In fact, he brings up that players are exercising their power.

But it’s still hard not to infer at least some disapproval from Pierce.

Why should players be loyal to franchises, though? Top players are assigned to teams through an anti-labor draft, the least successful teams getting the highest priority of selection. Those players are kept on an artificially low wage for five years can’t unilaterally leave the team for five years. If he plays well enough, his original team has a huge financial advantage in keeping him for up to 14 years. In this system, teams exercise far more control than they earn loyalty.

Players have such short careers. They should chase whatever they want. Money, winning, role, location, even steadiness with a franchise – if they choose.

Pierce spent 15 years with the Celtics, but let’s not forget:

Pierce asked the Mavericks to trade for him in 2005 so he could play with Dirk Nowitzkion a team one star away from contending. In 2007, he reportedly told the Celtics to trade him if they didn’t add a second star. Boston, of course, traded for Ray Allen and then convinced Kevin Garnett to waive his no-trade clause. In 2013, Pierce helped engineer a trade to the Nets. He and Garnett joined Deron Williams, Joe Johnson and Brook Lopezin Brooklyn and Pierce said, “We’re all about winning a championship and Brooklyn, we feel, gives us the best opportunity.” After stints with the Nets and Wizards, Pierce signed with the Clippers, which he described as a super team.

Lakers owner Jeanie Buss: ‘I have complete faith in Magic Johnson … I have patience’

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Shortly after she hired Magic Johnson as team president last year, Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said she’d be heartbroken if the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star in 2018, when the game was in Los Angeles. Her urgency was apparent.

Of course, the Lakers didn’t have an All-Star last season. None came close.

But then they signed LeBron James this summer, and Buss has changed her tune.

The Rich Eisen Show:

Buss:

I have complete faith in Magic Johnson in terms of his ability to be a leader, to know how to put together a winner. And I have patience. And I think what he’s done has exceeded my expectations, how quickly they’ve kind of turned around the roster.

Johnson has done a great job running the Lakers. He cleared cap space while maintaining plenty of assets and convinced LeBron to sign.

The degree of difficulty on that is… debatable. Perhaps, LeBron just decided to join the Lakers and didn’t need much convincing.

What’s next for Johnson?

Maybe Rajon Rondo, Lance Stephenson, Michael Beasley and JaVale McGee will fit well with LeBron. Maybe Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Josh Hart are ready to compete deep into the playoffs.

I’m skeptical, which means Johnson’s next steps will be tricky. He has more than earned Buss’ faith, and her patience gives him even more latitude to build as he sees fit.

Still, it’s a bit odd to see a team acquire a 33-year-old superstar then shift into a more-patient approach. LeBron’s prime won’t last forever.

It’s on Johnson to maximize it.