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

The time Shaq peed in Suns teammate Lou Amundson’s shoes – and worse!

Suns players Lou Amundson and Shaquille O'Neal (Shaq)
Barry Gossage/NBAE via Getty Images
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Gilbert Arenas has earned a reputation as the NBA player who relieved himself in a teammate’s shoe (Wizards forward Andray Blatche’s).

But Arenas’ tactic wasn’t unique.

Shaquille O’Neal got into a prank war with Suns teammate Lou Amundson during the 2008-09 season. It got intense as Phoenix, coached by Alvin Gentry, reached the final game of its season.

ESPN’s Amin Elhassan on “The Dan Le Batard Show With Stugotz” local hour, hosted by Mike Ryan:

Shaq is the big prankster, the big joker. But if you do something against him, there’s no tit for tat. There’s tit for nuclear war.

He goes to Lou’s locker, grabs his sneakers, pees in them.

That’s the start, right? He then goes and let’s just say “messes with” some of Lou’s haircare devices, like his brush and his comb and stuff. Messes with them. Let me put it this way: Messes with them in a way that – I was comfortable telling you he peed in the shoes. I’m not comfortable telling you what he did to the hair stuff. And then this part, I will tell you: He tampers with Lou’s mouth guard.

He tampers with it.

He tampers with it.

Lou shows up at like 8 or whenever he usually shows up. And he’s skittish and nervous. And Suns.com is there like, “What do you think Shaq is going to do?” “I don’t know. I think he’s going to do something, though.”

So, I’ll never forget this. He’s sitting at the locker, and he opens – he starts to reach for the sneakers and then looks at them and says, “Nah, something doesn’t feel right.” Opens the door up, pulls out a fresh pair of sneakers for the last game of the year, right? Again, this is irregular behavior. Usually, you have a couple of sneakers. You break them in for the year, and you switch between two or three or three or four, whatever. So to break out a whole brand new pair … was weird.

Most of the time when you’re an NBA player, you don’t put on the mouth guard immediately. You have it in a case, and you give the case to the trainer. Then, you go out to the bench. Then, when you’re about to come into the game, that’s when you grab your mouthpiece.

There’s no funnier image than Alvin drawing up a play, kneeling down, coaches standing around him. Lou is sitting there, because now he’s in the game. The guys who are in the game are usually seated. Sitting there just staring at the clipboard, like, “OK, coach. I got you.” And everyone else is just staring at Lou. No one’s paying attention.

Puts the mouth guard in. One, two [sounds of disgust], takes the mouth guard out and flings it with tremendous accuracy at the bench. Everyone starts dying. I remember going back and watching the broadcast, “Oh, Suns bench seems to be getting a lot of fun.” They had no idea what’s happening.

What did Shaq do to Amundson’s mouth guard? My imagination is running WILD.

Elhassan also explains why Grant Hill took 25 shots – his most in four years – in that game. Hill needed to score 26 points to average 12 points per game for the season, which would trigger a large bonus in his shoe contract. Hill’s gunning got him 27 points.

It’s a good podcast with other fun anecdotes and worth a listen.

Magic: Mo Bamba out for playoffs, undergoing post-coronavirus evaluation

Magic center Mo Bamba
David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images
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Mo Bamba contracted coronavirus, fell out of shape, recovered, joined the Magic in the bubble then struggled to contribute on the court.

Now, he’s departing the bubble for good.

Magic:

The Magic are huge underdogs in their first-round series against the Bucks. This doesn’t really change the equation. Bamba had already fallen from the rotation, which is now comprised of Nikola Vucevic and Khem Birch at center.

But it raises thorny long-term questions.

Bamba was the No. 6 pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. Though he has underwhelmed so far, the Magic were still hoping he’d grow into a quality NBA player. Bamba at least improved from his rookie season.

His progress has obviously been halted. For how long? Will he face lasting effects?

Everyone is trying to get to the bottom of these difficult questions.

Reported Bulls coaching candidates: Kenny Atkinson, Stephen Silas, Darvin Ham, more

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The Bulls fired Jim Boylen. 76ers assistant Ime Udoka was reportedly frontrunner for the job, but Chicago will conduct a full search.

Who else is in the mix?

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune:

The broad search is expected to include former Nets coach Kenny Atkinson, Nuggets assistant Wes Unseld Jr., Mavericks assistant Stephen Silas, Bucks assistant Darvin Ham and 76ers assistant Ime Udoka, among others, sources said.

Atkinson is the only former head coach on that list. Like Tyronn Lue for win-now teams, Atkinson is the top available coach for rebuilding teams. (If fired by the 76ers, Brett Brown could supplant Atkinson.) Atkinson had a strong record of player development before Brooklyn shifted priorities.

The Bulls – with Zach LaVine, Coby White, Lauri Markkanen, Wendell Carter Jr. and a high first-round pick in the 2020 NBA Draft – could use someone like him.

But Atkinson could have options, and Chicago might not be the most desirable opening.

Udoka, Silas, Ham and Unseld are all rising assistants who have earned head-coaching consideration. Interviews should help determine whether they’re ready for that step.

PBT NBA All-Bubble Awards

Trail Blazers star Damian Lillard and Rockets star James Harden
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
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The NBA will announce seeding-game awards tomorrow.

But the play-in is already set. Other playoff matchups are already set. The final seeding games today are just glorified scrimmages.

So, why wait to name the top performers in the bubble?

Here are our picks using the same format as the league – a Most Valuable Player, two five-player teams (no positions) and a coach:

Bubble MVP

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)

Kurt Helin: It isn’t simply that Damian Lillard led the bubble in scoring at 37.6 points per game. It wasn’t how he got those points, with ridiculously deep threes and driving layups. It was when he did it that makes him bubble MVP: When the Trail Blazers had a rough outing (as did Lillard) and looked like they might fade from postseason contention, he came back next game and dropped 61. Then 51 the game after that. Then 42 in the final bubble game with the playoffs on the line. Lillard was the ultimate leader and willed his team to the play-in series, and that’s what makes him MVP of the seeding games.
Dan Feldman: James Harden was more consistently good and even sometimes great. But nobody hit higher levels than Lillard, who stepped up in the biggest moments to lead Portland into the play-in with the eighth-place advantage. Lillard set an emotional tone for a team constantly vulnerable of falling from the playoff race, and he delivered on the court with brilliant offense. He wasn’t perfect, but he went to great lengths to ensure the Trail Blazers met their goal. That’s the bubble MVP.

All-Bubble teams

First team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers) Damian Lillard (Trail Blazers)
Devin Booker (Suns) James Harden (Rockets)
T.J. Warren (Pacers) Devin Booker (Suns)
Luka Doncic (Mavericks) T.J. Warren (Pacers)
James Harden (Rockets) Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks)

Second team

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Jayson Tatum (Celtics) Luka Doncic (Mavericks)
Giannis Antetokounmpo (Bucks) Michael Porter Jr. (Nuggets)
Kawhi Leonard (Clippers) Kawhi Leonard (Clippers)
DeMar DeRozan (Spurs) Paul George (Clippers)
Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks) Kristaps Porzingis (Mavericks)

Kurt Helin: It was difficult leaving Antetokounmpo off the first team, he played brilliantly but his team was in cruise control (plus he took himself out of the last game by headbutting Moe Wagner). A few players such as Fred VanVleet and Michael Porter Jr. also almost made the cut.

Dan Feldman: Lillard, Harden, Booker and Warren were first-team locks. Antetokounmpo was absolutely dominant when he wanted to be, which was limited with the Bucks locking up the No. 1 seed early. Derrick White, DeMar DeRozan, Chris Paul, Gary Trent Jr. and Fred VanVleet were among the contenders for the final second-team spots.

Coach of the Bubble

Kurt Helin Dan Feldman
Monty William (Suns) Monty William (Suns)

Kurt Helin: Every young team talked about it heading into the restart (and developing teams not invited to the restart begged for the same opportunity): Using the bubble games as a chance for a young core to grow and take a step forward. Except teams like Sacramento and New Orleans didn’t do that. Phoenix, behind Monty Williams did — they became the story of the bubble at 8-0. Devin Booker exploded and got himself in MVP talk, Deandre Ayton played brilliantly, and the Suns came from six-games back of Memphis to almost make the playoffs. Williams set the Suns up to be a playoff team in the West next season.

Dan Feldman: Phoenix went 8-0! That alone is pretty darned impressive, and the context reflects even more favorably on Williams. The Suns entered the bubble with the lowest playoff odds among the continuing 22 teams. Needing to make up 2.5 games and – more significantly – jump four (!) teams, Phoenix could have easily arrived unmotivated and ripe for distraction. Instead, Williams had the Suns playing fearlessly, cohesively and joyously. Williams even leaned heavily on his young players rather than his veterans, taking excellent advantage of a player-development opportunity and positioning Phoenix to ascend next season.