Baseline-to-baseline recaps: Heat set franchise record for wins, Lakers remain in playoff position

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while waiting for Microsoft Office to come to your mobile devices

Lakers 113, Trail Blazers 106: Kobe Bryant scored 47 points to out-duel rookie Damian Lillard, who finished with 38. Bryant dragged his team to victory for the second straight night, and we broke it down in greater detail here.

Heat 103, Wizards 98: LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh didn’t play, but Ray Allen stepped up by matching a season-high 23 points, which he last accomplished Nov. 3. Fellow-old-role-player Rashard Lewis also scored a season high, finishing with 17 points. Just in case the absence of three of the game’s top players wasn’t enough, Miami’s style shook up the game. The Heat attempted 41 3-pointers (17 makes) and turned the ball over 22 times. — Dan Feldman

Nuggets 96, Spurs 86: The first quarter of this game was just flat out ugly. Both teams made a few defensive plays, but mostly there were just a lot of missed shots — Denver hit 5-of-23 (21.7 percent) in the first, which had them 8 points back of San Antonio 19-11. Corey Brewer and Wilson Chandler combined 4-13.

However, the Spurs never pulled away, in part because they started off shoting 0-7 from three. To be fair, San Antonio was without Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili. Eventually the Nuggets got hot — Chandler shot 9-of-15 the rest of the way, Brewer 10-of-18 and they finished with 29 and 28 points respectively. The game remained tight until a 23-3 run at the end of the third into the start of the fourth and that was it — playing shorthanded against the deepest team in the league finally caught up to the Spurs and it was the Nuggets bench that led the run.

With the win, Denver moves a full game up on Memphis in the race for the three seed in the West. The loss sends the Spurs into a tie with Oklahoma City for the best record in the West (both are 57-21), but OKC has the tiebreak as they will finish with a better record in conference. — Kurt Helin

Hawks 124, 76ers 101: After losing three straight – including a loss to this same Philadelphia team – Atlanta got easy shots and made them. The Hawks, who shot 59 percent on 2-pointers and 94 percent on free throws, are now tied with the Bulls for the No. 5 seed in the East. The 76ers – who’ve lost their last three games by 19, 21 and now 23 – might be done competing for the season, if not for their next three games being against teams that are similarly ready for this season to end: Washington, Cleveland and Detroit. — Dan Feldman

Magic 113, Bucks 103: The youngsters – Nikola Vucevic (30 points, 20 rebounds, five assists), Tobias Harris (30 points, 19 rebounds, five assists) and John Henson (17 points, 25 rebounds, seven blocks) – had ridiculous all-around games. That’s fine and dandy for the Magic, who are looking for a few positives at the end of a rebuilding season. But the Bucks should be gearing up for a first-round matchup with the Heat, not just showcasing Henson or worrying about seller’s remorse with Harris. That might be difficult, though, considering Brandon Jennings and Larry Sanders left the game with injuries. — Dan Feldman

Pistons 111, Cavaliers 104: If you were to start a team with a player who won’t make the playoffs this season, whom would you take? Two contenders played in this game: Andre Drummond (career-high 29 points and 11 rebounds) and Kyrie Irving (27 points and nine assists). Cleveland intentionally fouled Drummond late, but he made 8-of-14 free throws during that time to help hold off the Cavaliers, who gained valuable lottery positioning with a loss to the team just ahead of them in the standings. — Dan Feldman

Nets 101, Celtics 93: Boston settled for the jump shot and it failed them — Jeff Green was 4-of-17 on the night, Jason Terry 1-7, and the Celtics didn’t get their first free throw until more than three minutes had gone by in the second half. The Boston offense struggles unless role players like Green light it up (he is the bellwether for their offense) and he was off.

Deron Williams was on — he had 29 points and 12 assists. D-Will picked up 10 of those points in the fourth quarter to help stave off some Celtics pushes. Joe Johnsn added 20, Brook Lopez 21 for the Nets. — Kurt Helin

Clippers 111, Timberwolves 95: This is what the Clippers do — they destroy the teams they should beat. Los Angeles also did what coaches love to see in that they closed out quarters well — they went on a 16-6 run to close out the second quarter and a 19-6 one to close out the third and blow the game wide open. The Clippers were balanced with six players in double figures scoring led by Chris Paul and Blake Griffin with 19 points each. And of course, Griffin had a few monster dunks. — Kurt Helin

Kings 121, Hornets 110: There haven’t been a lot of laughers for the Kings this season, but they got one Wednesday night — Sacramento started to pull away with a 14-2 run midway through the first quarter and they led by as many as 30. John Salmons had 22 points, 12 of those in the third quarter to make sure the Kings kept their lead. Jason Thompson and Marcus Thornton each added 20. — Kurt Helin

Suns 102, Mavericks 91: Dallas essentially no-showed for this game, and allowed a Phoenix team that isn’t exactly known for its offense to put up 61 first half points on the Mavs’ home floor. As a result, Dallas was officially eliminated from the playoffs, and will miss the postseason for the fist time since 2000. Not that the hopes were all that high for Dallas entering this one; the team has known since losing to the Lakers in Los Angeles on April 2 that it would take a not-so-small miracle for the team to get in, considering the records of both Utah and L.A. who are firmly ahead of the Mavericks in the standings.

Report: Jimmy Butler won’t ‘coddle’ Markelle Fultz

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Jimmy Butler showed little patience for Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns with the Timberwolves. To Butler, Wiggins didn’t work hard enough and Towns was too soft. Butler wasn’t afraid to admonish his teammates for their shortcomings, either. I believe Butler intended good, lighting fires under Wiggins and Towns that would drive them to greatness with the same intensity he used to rise. But Butler actually just alienated them.

Now, Butler joins the 76ers, who have another former No. 1 pick not meeting expectations – Markelle Fultz. Butler already praised Fultz’s work ethic and noted how much he respects that.

But how will Butler actually treat Fultz?

Undisputed:

If this is someone who knows how Butler treated Towns and Wiggins and is just assuming how Butler will treat Fultz, this is worthless. Anyone who knows even a little about Butler could make that guess.

But if this is someone who spoke to Butler about Fultz specifically, this would carry massive significance.

Fultz is unique. He shot well in college then had his form completely fall apart before his rookie year. He doesn’t need tough love. He needs someone to help him assess the underlying trauma beneath his problems. He needs to be built up and develop confidence.

That wasn’t at all Butler’s approach with other teammates. Maybe Butler will adjust to Fultz’s atypical circumstances. I hope he does.

But the possibility of Butler worsening Fultz’s issues can’t be overlooked.

Scouts’ take: Jimmy Butler will help Philadelphia most at end of games

Associated Press
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Jimmy Butler will be in the starting lineup for the Sixers Wednesday night in Orlando.

Butler is an elite two-way player, a top 10 NBA talent. Where will his game help the Sixers most? Defense is the first thing that comes to mind: Having Butler and Ben Simmons assigned to the two-best perimeter players of the opposition, with Joel Embiid backing them up, has the potential to be lock-down. Philadelphia already has a top-10 defense this season and this trade could make them exponentially better.

But scouts Brian Windhorst of ESPN spoke with had another interesting opinion: Butler helps Philly at the end of games because he wants the ball.

The 76ers have struggled to score late in close games at times, a function of their primary ball handler, Ben Simmons, being a suspect shooter. They were out-executed by the Boston Celtics in crunch time during the playoffs last season. Joel Embiid is off to a fantastic start to the season, but he’s shooting just 35 percent in clutch time this season because it can be hard for the big man to create a shot when the defense is set up to deny him.

Butler leads the NBA in fourth-quarter scoring this season and has a long history of shot-making in winning time.

“He brings something to Philly that they just don’t have, which is an experienced playmaker who can demand the ball and demand attention. That probably will make it easier on the rest of their guys,” one scout said. “JJ Redick can do that a bit, but he can’t create like Jimmy. It’s one of the rarest things in the NBA. From that standpoint, they hit a home run in this deal. There just aren’t many players like that available.”

That theory likely will not be put to the test by the Magic on Wednesday night.

It makes sense on paper, though. Embiid is not going to create his own shot without a play design to help out (and he’d be doubled quickly in the post), and with Simmons the defense is going to lay back and cut off driving lanes. Butler changes the late game dynamic.

It’s going to be interesting to watch this new big three in Philly meld, and to see if they’re willing to make the sacrifices needed to fulfill the potential of this roster.

Minnesota owner: “I think we saw Jimmy had an agenda and we had to work around that”

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Coach and team president Tom Thibodeau rightfully deserves a lot of the blame for how the Jimmy Butler situation played out — and dragged out — in Minnesota. Thibs believed he could win with this core, as they had done the season before, and that winning would cure a lot of ills. Instead, the Timberwolves are 4-9 to start the season.

However, Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor has to take some of the blame here, too. He didn’t come in and force Thibodeau to make a decision — when he could have had a better deal (in my opinion) with Miami for Josh Richardson, the Heat’s 2019 No. 1 pick and Dion Waiters as cap filler — but dragged it out and had to settle with the Sixers. After another few weeks of drama.

Taylor sat down with Chris Hine of the Star-Tribune to talk about how it all went down.

“It just appeared that they weren’t working together as a team or as a unit the way that they should’ve. I can’t exactly answer why,” Taylor said. “The only thing that was different that we had was Jimmy’s position of leaving the team. Maybe that was affecting guys more than they even knew themselves.”

Taylor was non-committal on Thibodeau’s status, saying he would be evaluated as things went along. Around the league, few believe Thibodeau will keep his job long after this season ends.

In the deep West, that 4-9 start is going to make getting into the playoffs difficult. One thing to watch for the rest of this season: with Butler gone does Karl-Anthony Towns get back to playing like an All-NBA player and take control of this team? They heed him to.

Jimmy Butler in starting lineup, Markelle Fultz out Wednesday for Philadelphia

Associated Press
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Already the presence of Jimmy Butler is shaking up the Sixers rotations.

The starting lineup for Philadelphia in Orlando Wednesday night was confirmed by coach Brett Brown at shootaround: Ben Simmons, J.J. Redick, Jimmy Butler, Wilson Chandler, Joel Embiid.

The change bumps Markelle Fultz out of the starting lineup for the first time this season. And that’s a good thing. He’s looked better — or, at least, less bad — for stretches the ball in his hands creating off the pick-and-roll, but when starting with Simmons and Embiid he had to work off the ball a lot more. Leading a second unit is just a better fit for him, and he can attack downhill getting to the rim. It’s a fit as much as anything is a fit with Fultz right now.

The new starting five should be lock-down defensively (especially with the soft first game against Orlando, the third worst offense in the NBA this season). With two strong on-ball perimeter defenders in Simmons and Butler, with Embiid backing them up protecting the rim, the Sixers should be able to slow down any team’s wing/guard production (and in a playoff series that defense can be a matchup nightmare for opponents).

Offensively, the Sixers really need Chandler to step up and knock down threes and space the floor, because the Sixers do not have enough shooting. They also lack depth. General manager Elton Brand has some work to do to round out this roster, and he knows it.

There is a real excitement in the air around the Sixers now. And there should be.