Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Knicks’ streak reaches 13

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wondering what to do with five tons of Nutella

Lakers 104, Hornets 96 ; & Thunder 90, Jazz 80: We combine these two because together they put the Lakers in as the eight seed in the West and in control of their own destiny. Kobe Bryant pulled the Lakers bacon out of the fire — Los Angeles played inconsistent defense all night but Kobe had 23 points in the third. Meanwhile Utah ran into a Thunder team looking to show it can play defense after a rough outing against the Knicks Sunday. They also ran into Russell Westbrook (25 points) and Kevin Durant 21). We broke these games down in more detail.

Knicks 120, Wizards 99: After running their win streak to 12 straight by beating the Thunder in OKC on Sunday, there was virtually no way that the Knicks would stumble at home against the dismal Wizards.

New York led by 15 at the half, and by as many as 31 points in the 4th before it was all said and done.

The win gave the Knicks their first division title since 1994, but the night ended on a bit of a sour note as Kenyon Martin sprained his left ankle with about 10:30 remaining, and with his team up by 25 points. X-rays were negative, but Mike Woodson said afterward that maybe he should have had Martin on the bench given the fact that the game was out of hand.
—Brett Pollakoff

Heat 94, Bucks 83: This could be the 1 vs. 8 matchup we see in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs, but if this game was any indication, the prospects might be even more grim than expected for the Bucks.

The Heat won fairly easily on this night, and did so without both Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, sitting this one out due to injury and illness, respectively. A 13-point third quarter doomed Milwaukee’s chances, and while Brandon Jennings scored a game-high 30 points, no other Bucks player finished in double figures.

Miami got its 61st win of the season, tying a franchise record that will undoubtedly be broken at some point over the team’s final five games.
—Brett Pollakoff

Raptors 101, Bulls 98: Jimmy Butler scored a career-high 28 points, but without Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson and Luol Deng, the Bulls’ defense betrayed them. Though Noah played 21 minutes in Chicago’s previous game, all three missed tonight’s contest, and – against Detroit and Toronto, no less – the Bulls have allowed 114.9 points per 100 possessions in their last two games.
Chicago leads Atlanta by just a half game for the No. 5 seed and a much more favorable matchup with the Nets rather than facing the Pacers. Unless the Bulls get healthy enough to play their trademark defense, their opponent won’t matter much, anyway.
—Dan Feldman

Pacers 99, Cavaliers 94: Cleveland actually led this one by 20 after three quarters, but the Pacers put together a furious rally and outscored the Cavs 35-10 in the fourth to come away with the victory.

A three-pointer from Paul George with 29 seconds remaining put the Pacers up for good. Indiana remains in third place in the East, two and a half games back of the Knicks for second with just four games remaining in the regular season.
—Brett Pollakoff

Grizzlies 94, Bobcats 75: Mike Conley was the only Memphis starter to play more minutes than his season average, and he used the time against the NBA’s worst team to pad his stats. In 36 minutes (season average: 35), Conley had 20 points, seven assists and two steals.
Considering Memphis has won 13 straight home game and Charlotte has lost 13 straight road games, the Grizzlies easily increased their lead for homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs.

Nets 104, Sixers 83: This was a destruction from the very first quarter, and a demoralizing one for a Philadelphia team that was helpless to stop the damage the Nets were doing inside.

Brook Lopez and Reggie Evans were both dominant, and Brooklyn finished with an insane rebounding edge of 64-37 for the game.

With the win, the Nets remain firmly in fourth in the Eastern Conference standings, on track to host either the Bulls or the Hawks in a first round playoff matchup.
—Brett Pollakoff

Rockets 101, Suns 98: You want to talk about the particulars of the game, or would you like instead to just fast forward to the final possession, where Jermaine O’Neal managed to get called for goaltending on James Harden’s three-point shot at the buzzer to give the Rockets the win?

I thought so.
—Brett Pollakoff

Warriors 105, Timberwolves 89: Golden State clinched its first playoff berth since 2006-07 and just the second time since 1993-94. Klay Thompson scored 25 of his 30 points in the game’s first 19 minutes, but he cooled in the second half. Three other Warriors – Stephen Curry (24 points and 10 assists), David Lee (15 points and 12 rebounds) and Harris Barnes (15 points and 10 rebounds) – had double-doubles.
—Dan Feldman

Arizona State leading scoring Remy Martin declares for 2020 NBA Draft

(Photo by Kevin Abele/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
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Arizona State junior Remy Martin has declared for the 2020 NBA Draft:

The six-foot point guard took on more of scoring role in his third season with the Sun Devils than he had in his first two seasons. Martin averaged 19.1 points per game on 43.2% shooting from the field. Martin also dished out 4.1 assists per game, after averaging 5.0 assists as a sophomore.

Arizona State’s leading scoring may just be testing the waters, as he’s expected to go undrafted. NBA scouts have concerns over Martin’s size at the NBA level. One concern is his ability to hold up defensively, as NBA point guards are trending bigger and bigger in recent years.

As a smaller guard, Martin was one of the players who could have benefited from the traditional pre-draft process. With in-person workouts on hold, and potentially cancelled entirely, players have limited opportunities to improve their draft stock. Teams may be drafting off previous in-person scouting and off of tape.

NBA players reportedly to take part in televised NBA 2K tournament Friday

Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for NBA 2K
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If we can’t watch NBA players on the court, at least we can watch them control their digital selves and teammates in a live basketball tournament.

ESPN plans to broadcast an NBA 2K tournament with only NBA players at the controllers, a story broken by Chris Haynes at Yahoo Sports. The hope is to have it air Friday, with the players competing from their homes around the country.

The NBA is planning a players-only NBA 2K tournament that will feature the league’s sharpest video gamers and it will be broadcast on ESPN, league sources told Yahoo Sports…

Players competing against their peers in the comfort of their own homes could offer a distraction for fans who are missing the game and a little competition.

Esports are incredibly popular and growing as a spectator sport, both in person and on Twitch and other platforms. With there being a pent-up demand for sports programming, this seems a smart attempt to draw eyeballs. Even people who are non-esports viewers could tune in just to check it out, because it’s that or rewatching Tiger King.

You can bet that if it works, we will see a lot more of it in the future.

(Inside baseball note: I would love to see the emails/texts flying around ESPN about Yahoo breaking a story about what is coming in their network.)

 

Shaquille O’Neal: I had no idea what was happening with Joe Exotic of Tiger King

(Diane Bondareff/AP Images for Papa John's International, Inc.)
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On a recent episode of “The Big Podcast with Shaq” former NBA superstar Shaquille O’Neal said that “he had no idea” what was happening at the zoo run by Joe Exotic. Joe Exotic was recently made famous through the popular Netflix documentary “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness”.

Footage of O’Neal appeared in the first episode of the show and was shown taking photographs with the animals.

The documentary also showed a cut of O’Neal on TNT saying “Shoutout to Exotic Joe. I got two more tigers.”

On his podcast, O’Neal explained:

“So we go in there, and it’s a beautiful place, and the character that was there was Exotic Joe. We’re there and I dropped some donations for the tigers’ foods and all that. We take pictures with (the) tigers. We went back a couple times. Then we go back another time and we found out that he’s involved with all the stuff, and then, actually, I stopped going.”

Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as Joe Exotic, was sentenced to 22 years in prison after being found guilty of 19 different charges. Those charges included murder-for-hire plot, illegally selling endangered species and other animal-related offenses.

O’Neal clarified that he never bought any animals, but often donates to charities that help animals. He also made it clear that he’s not friends with Joe Exotic, nor anyone involved in the trade of endangered species.

“I don’t harm tigers,” O’Neal said. “I love tigers. I love white tigers. Do I put donations to these zoos to help these tigers out? I do it all the time. Do I own tigers personally at my house? No. But I love tigers. Listen, people are going to make their own opinions, but, again, I was just a visitor. I met this guy — not my friend. Don’t know him. Never had any business dealings with him, and I had no idea any of that stuff was going on.”

Report: Brooklyn Nets looking to hire a blue-chip head coach

(Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images)
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When the Brooklyn Nets and Kenny Atkinson parted ways in early-March, the team installed Jacque Vaughn as the interim head coach.

According to ESPN’s Brian Windhorst that’s a short-term appointment. On his podcast “Brian Windhorst and The Hoop Collective”, the reporter said the Nets are looking to hire a coach with a track record of NBA success.

“One of the things that has been expressed sort of the grapevine, that’s the way I’m going to say it to protect myself from the aggregators, is that Durant and Irving would like a blue-chip coach. I don’t know what this says about the way they thought about Atkinson, but they want a big-name coach.”

Names linked to the Brooklyn opening are Tom Thibodeau, Mark Jackson, and both Jeff and Stan Van Gundy.

Atkinson leaving Brooklyn was a surprise, considering he had led the Nets back to the playoffs in 2019. That success came after a three-year rebuild. That process was kicked off when general manager Sean Marks hired Atkinson to lead the on-court development. Under Marks and Atkinson, the Nets developed several players who had been given up on by other teams.

Brooklyn was 28-34 when Atkinson was let go. The Nets had gone 2-0 under Vaughn before the NBA suspended play in mid-March.