Baseline-to-baseline recaps: Knicks wrap up two seed in the East, Lakers stay in playoff hunt with win over Spurs

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while planning for your digital afterlife

Heat 105, Bulls 93: The outcome of this game was no surprise, but the fact that the Bulls put up a fight after falling behind big in the second quarter showed why they’ll be a tough out in the postseason. We broke this one down in greater detail here.

Mavericks 107, Hornets 89: Dirk Nowitzki got to break out the razor. Same with O.J. Mayo, Chris Kaman and the rest of the Mavericks who were growing .500 beards and got to shave them when the Mavericks finally reached the threshold with this win. Well, Kaman may keep his because he is Chris Kaman.

Dallas led this one almost from the start behind 21 from Shawn Marion and 19 from Nowitzki. With one of his second quarter jump shots, Nowitzki became only the 17th player in NBA history to reach 25,000 points in his career. — Kurt Helin

Lakers 91, Spurs 86: It wasn’t pretty — the winning team shot 36.5 percent — but the Lakers played with a playoff desperation and the Spurs floated through the game and the result was a Lakers win. One Los Angeles needed — its magic number to make the playoffs is one (Utah has to beat Minnesota and Memphis on the road to force the Lakers to beat Houston on Wednesday).

The Lakers got an aggressive Dwight Howard early that demanded the ball in the post and finished with 26 points and 17 boards. They had other guys like Steve Blake (23 points) step up as well. We broke it all down in more detail here. — Kurt Helin

Rockets 121, Kings 100: We are now a step closer to the Denver/Houston first-round series I am pulling for (because not everybody should play slow-it-down, grind-it-out basketball in the postseason). Houston is now in the six seed spot, tied with Golden State but the Rockets have the tiebreaker. They control their own destiny with two games to play (beat the Suns and Lakers, both on the road, and they are the six seed). And they want the six seed — Denver is not easy but it’s no San Antonio.

Houston won this game going away, a 14-0 run late in the second (Kings didn’t score the final three minutes of the half) put them in control and the second half was a laugher.  — Kurt Helin

76ers 91, Cavaliers 77: Kyrie Irving scored a career-low four points, but as poorly as he played, he wasn’t that far behind Dorell Wright, who scored a game-high 15 points. Both teams – already eliminated from the playoff race – combined to shoot 40 percent from the field and 63 percent from the free-throw line. — Dan Feldman

Nuggets 118, Trail Blazers 109: Kenneth Faried left the game with an ankle injury, casting a dark light on Denver’s franchise-record 55th win. On the bright side, Andre Iguodala had an awesome game – 28 points, nine assists, seven rebounds, three steals and three blocks – and Evan Fournier comfortably bested his career high with 24 points. The Nuggets now have a full game lead for the No. 3 seed, which would mean avoiding the Clippers and Grizzlies in the first round.

Damian Lillard had 30 points and six assists, which should help seal his Rookie of the Year win, especially if voters overlook his eight turnovers. — Dan Feldman

Knicks 90, Pacers 80: Carmelo Anthony scored “just” 25 points – his fewest in eight games – but that was still enough for New York to secure the No. 2 seed and homecourt advantage through the second round. If seeds hold in the first round, the Knicks would then play the Pacers, who are now assured of the No. 3 seed.

The Knicks have won 14 of 15, and with a season-high 26 turnovers, the Pacers have lost four of five. — Dan Feldman

Raptors 93, Nets 87: Despite 30 points and seven assists from Deron Williams, Joe Johnson helped Brooklyn secure the No. 4 seed with his 4-of-16 shooting. The Nets will host either the Hawks or Bulls in a first-round series.

DeMar DeRozan (36) and Rudy Gay (26) each scored more than 20 points in the same game for the seventh time. — Dan Feldman

LeBron James, Anthony Davis combine for 49 points, Lakers beat Knicks

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NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James scored 19 of his 21 points early, cutting into Kobe Bryant’s shrinking lead over him for the No. 3 scoring spot in NBA history, and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the New York Knicks 100-92 on Wednesday night.

Anthony Davis led the Lakers with 28 points in his second game back after a five-game absence, after the Western Conference leaders were handed their worst loss of the season Monday in his return.

James’ quiet second half left him with 33,599 points, 44 back of Bryant.

That keeps James in good shape to catch the former Lakers star Saturday at Philadelphia, where the five-time NBA champion was born. Los Angeles has a game in between Thursday in Brooklyn.

Davis scored eight points in the final 3:45 and finished 13 of 13 from the free throw line. He played 30 minutes after going only 23 in his return from a bruised gluteus maximus on Monday in Boston, where the Lakers were routed 139-107.

Marcus Morris scored 20 points and Damyean Dotson had 17 for the Knicks, who put up a much better effort after losing by 30 two weeks ago in Los Angeles. But they just couldn’t come up with timely shots to really threaten the Lakers in the fourth quarter.

James shot 8 of 10 in 17 minutes of the first half, but the Knicks held the rest of the Lakers relatively in check and the game was tied at 48 at halftime.

The Lakers led by six after three quarters, then opened the fourth with Dwight Howard‘s dunk, a 3-pointer by Rajon Rondo and a basket by Kyle Kuzma to extend it to 83-70.

New York hung around and was within six again late but the Lakers prevailed despite only two baskets, both by Davis, in the final four minutes.

 

Zion Williamson’s first NBA basket a putback

AP Photo/Gerald Herbert
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In his first NBA action, Zion Williamson looked like what he is: A rookie trying to find his way.

At least Willaimson didn’t force the issue and tried to blend in, making smart basketball plays, which led to a first-half bucket and assist in his 8:11 minutes of action.

Zion’s first bucket in the NBA came in the second quarter of his debut game, a putback off a Nickeil Alexander-Walker miss.

In his first quarter run, Zion looked to be unselfish with the ball and made the right basketball play a  few times, passing out of soft doubles and picking up an assist to Brandon Ingram cutting down the lane (but Zion was 0-of-1 shooting).

It was a good start if a bit tentative, something to be expected of a guy who missed 44 games and is now trying to come into the rotation midseason.

As he grows more comfortable, New Orleans needs Zion to attack the rim. The Pelicans have shot creators and shooters — Jrue Holiday, Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, J.J. Redick — and a rim-running, attacking threat that forces defenses to collapse a little will make things easier for the Pelicans’ perimeter players.

San Antonio was sharp in the first half and led by double-digits for much it. That came in part because New Orleans started 0-of-9 from three (despite some clean looks). San Antonio led 60-51 at the half. If the Pelicans are going to make a playoff push, this is the kind of game they need (at home against another team in the mix for one of the final playoff spots in the West).

NBA games still not on China’s state run television

Yanshan Zhang/Getty Images
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In the wake of the backlash from China after Rockets GM Daryl Morey Tweeted out support for the protestors in Hong Kong — the kind of political statement the NBA takes in stride domestically but found it stirred a hornets’ nest in this case — Chinese state television stopped showing NBA games.

That is still the case today, according to Nets’ owner Joeseph Tsai.

Tsai — one of the co-founders of the Alibaba Group, which runs the Chinese equivalent of Amazon — is a billionaire with his feet in both the United States and China. He spoke to Bloomberg News recently about where things stand now in the NBA/China relationship (hat tip Nets Daily).

Tsai is eager to see NBA games back on [state run] CCTV. Although [streaming service] Tencent has begun showing them again, the state-owned broadcaster has yet to budge. A person familiar with the matter says the league is optimistic the network will relent, beginning with the All-Star Game on Feb. 16—there’s no ready replacement, after all, for LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

“Once you are on the air,” Tsai says, “everything will come back.”

For now.

The NBA, like any American group doing business in China, is caught up in geopolitical forces well beyond its control, from trade wars to protests in Hong Kong. Morey’s Tweet touched on what Tsai called a “third rail of Chinese politics” but he spoke of the Hong Kong protestors as separatists when they would argue they simply want what was promised them in the agreement that transferred control of the city from Brittish to Chinese rule. (And that last sentence itself is a gross oversimplification of a complicated situation.)

NBA games likely will end up back on Chinese television soon (although it will be longer for Rockets’ games), and the business of the NBA in China will continue. Both sides want to make money (and in China, keep a younger generation happy with a sport they have grown to love). However, the underlying issues that caused the last flare-up are not going away — things may be just simmering on the back burner, but the flames are not turned off.

When things do flare up again, Tsai will end up fight back in the middle of it.

Cavaliers: Ante Zizic out indefinitely with vestibular condition

Ante Zizic
Bart Young/NBAE via Getty Images
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Kyrie Irving left the Celtics for the Nets after two seasons. The Cavaliers flipped Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder their first season in Cleveland.

The last player remaining with his team from that monumental-looking Cavs-Celtics trade, Ante Zizic might not be long for Cleveland, either.

In fact, it’s unclear whether he’ll play again for the Cavs.

Cavaliers release:

Center Ante Zizic, who has missed the team’s last five games after being diagnosed with a vestibular condition, will be OUT indefinitely. After experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness, it was determined by the Cavaliers medical team that Zizic requires a period of vestibular rehabilitation to evaluate those symptoms further. His return to basketball activities will be updated as appropriate.

“Indefinitely” always sounds scary. That’s especially so with an uncommon basketball medical update.

If the Cavaliers unload veterans like Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love before the trade deadline, Zizic could be in line for more playing time down the stretch. He could use a showcase entering unrestricted free agency this summer.

Hopefully, he’s healthy enough to be up for it.