Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Jazz win keeps playoff dream alive

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while watching the news out of Boston with horror and yet were reminded of the heroism of both first responders and everyday Americans who did what they could to help….

Jazz 96, Timberwolves 80: Utah needed to win to keep its playoffs hopes alive, so it played with a level of energy (particularly defensively) the Timberwolves ultimately could not match.

This was a game where the Jazz would pull ahead then Minnesota would make a push to close the gap. It happened in the first half, but Utah stretched the lead up to nine at halftime. Then Minnesota started the second half shooting 1-of-10 and the Minny lead got up to 14. Again, the Timberwolves closed the gap, down tow 3 at 61-58. But then center Greg Stiemsma picked up his fourth foul and went to the bench, meaning the smaller and not as good defensively Dante Cunnungham and he could not contain Al Jefferson — Utah’s bug man had 22 on the night and led the charge as the Jazz pulled away.

Utah needs to beat Memphis Wednesday and hope the Rockets beat the Lakers that night for Utah to slip into the eight seed.

Nuggets 112, Bucks 111: Denver pulled out a victory that kept them in control of their own destiny in terms of securing the three seed for the playoffs, which would be monumental for the team with the best home record in the league in any first round matchup.

Ty Lawson hit the game-winner with 9.3 seconds remaining, a pull-up jumper in the lane that was an exceptionally wide open look given the circumstances.

The Bucks put up a fight, however, and Monta Ellis did all he could personally to try to get his team this win. Ellis finished with 38 points, and scored 19 of those in the fourth, including a four-point play on the possession before Lawson’s game-winner briefly gave his team the one-point lead.

Milwaukee is on a huge slide heading into the postseason, having won just three of its last 15 games, while currently riding a nine-game road losing streak.
—Brett Pollakoff

Suns 119, Rockets 112: The Rockets allowed the Suns to score season highs in the first quarter (39) and the first half (67), and also let P.J. Tucker score a career high 21 points in dropping this one in Phoenix, which also likely dropped Houston’s position in the playoff picture.

A loss to the Lakers on Wednesday would give the Rockets the eight seed in the West, based on L.A. owning the tie-breaker should the teams finish with identical records.

Houston would be the seven seed if they beat the Lakers and the Warriors win as expected in Portland, and could still get to sixth with a win and a Warriors loss.

James Harden finished with 16 points on 5-18 shooting, but had only four after his 12-point first quarter. Harden had a collision with Luis Scola that appeared to affect his right knee, which may have been the reason for the decline in production. Kevin McHale said afterward that Harden told him he was fine (which is why he played 34 minutes). Harden left without speaking to reporters.
—Brett Pollakoff

Bulls 102, Magic 84: Joakim Noah and Taj Gibson returned from injury, and though they played just 35 combined minutes, their presence could be very important against the Wizards on Wednesday. Chicago is just a half game back from the No. 5 seed behind the Hawks, who finish the season hosting the Raptors and playing at the Knicks. Carlos Boozer (22 points) and Luol Deng (18 points and eight assists) kept the Bulls within striking distance, but their defensive bigs might need to do a little more in the finale.
— Dan Feldman

Grizzlies 103, Mavericks 97: It was a tale of two halves for Memphis. In the first half they put up only 38 points, in the second half it was 65 and the Grizzlies came back to win (keeping alive their hopes of home court advantage in the first round.

Memphis wins with defense and that’s what they did in the second half — they forced 11 Dallas turnovers and used the easy points in transition to fuel their run. Jerryd Bayless led the way on that charge with 19 for the Grizzlies. It was a great win.

After the game, Dallas coach Rick Carlisle was clearly frustrated with another bad O.J. Mayo performance (1-of-6 shooting, with 4 turnovers) and said to Jeff Caplan of NBA.com about Mayp;s inco, “The good news is there’s only an opportunity for one more.”
—Bret Pollakoff

Thunder 104, Kings 95: While every other team seemed to Oklahoma City wasn’t resting its two big stars — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played. Well, Westbrook played until he got ejected in the second half, but he played.

Durant was his usual self — he scored 29 points on 10-for-16 shooting. Westbrook added 21 and the Thunder pulled away in the second quarter and got the lead as large as 24 before the end of the Kings’ bench outplayed the end of the Thunder bench to get the score down to something respectable when the final gun sounded.

The scary part for the Kings was Tyreke Evans having to leave the game after a fall in the first quarter. He did not return and the team described his injury as a strained quad muscle.

With the win Oklahoma City got its 60th win of the season and secured the No. 1 seed in the West. The Thunder have home court advantage up to the finals.

Warrriors 116, Spurs 106: San Antonio rested all its big names (Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Kawhi Leonard, Boris Diaw) and yet their reserves hung around with Golden State. San Antonio got 18 first-half points from Gary Neal, another 10 from Patty Mills, and they just hung around. That was, until the fourth quarter when Stephen Curry started doing Stephen Curry-like things — he scored 11 in the quarter and sparked a 19-0 Warriors run that gave them a comfortable winning margin. Curry finished with 35 points on the night.

Heat 96, Cavaliers 95: Everyone makes a big deal whenever LeBron James returns to Ohio, even when he’s sitting out, as he did last night. But what about Norris Cole, who’s from Dayton and attended Cleveland State? In his return to Cleveland, Cole nearly broke LeBron’s run of five straight Heat triple-doubles. Cole finished with 16 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists, but he compensated for the missing assist with a game-clinching block of Kyrie Irving on the game’s final possession.
— Dan Feldman

Bobcats 106, Knicks 95: Chris Copeland (47 minutes), James White (43 minutes), Pablo Prigioni (42 minutes) and Steve Novak (41 minutes) each received career-high playing time. Even Rasheed Wallace came back to play four minutes. The Bobcats didn’t take the game as a joke, and Gerald Henderson (27 points on 16 shots) and Kemba Walker (23 points, 13 assists and one turnover) have Charlotte one game from avoiding the league’s worst record.
— Dan Feldman

Nets 106, Wizards 101: With nothing to play for in terms of playoff seeding, Brooklyn sat four of its five starters and gave Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Brook Lopez, Reggie Evans, and Keith Bogans all the night off.

The Nets found a way to win anyway, thanks to 20 points apiece from Kris Humphries and Andray Blatche, and seeing seven players in total score in double figures.

Brooklyn trailed by as many as 17 points in the first half, and had to rally from an eight-point deficit with just under 10 minutes to play to get the win, behind 11 fourth quarter points from Tyshawn Taylor and eight in the final period from Mirza Teletovic — both of whom would be household names if they got meaningful minutes against this dreadful Wizards team on a regular basis.
—Brett Pollakoff

Pistons 109, 76ers 101: Doug Collins reportedly told the 76ers he’s on his way out. Lawrence Frank might be gone, too. In a game with so much pending upheaval, once constant remained: Greg Monroe (27 points, 16 rebounds and four assists) owning Philadelphia this season.
— Dan Feldman

Report: Jonathan Kuminga, top prospect for 2021 NBA Draft, to earn $500K in NBA minor league

Jonathan Kuminga
Jonathan Kuminga
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Jonathan Kuminga didn’t crack our list of the top 50 players in five years last summer, but he drew consideration and rated as the top prospect in the 2021 high school class.

Now, he’s fast-tracking his ascent – turning pro by signing with the NBA’s minor league and positioning himself for the 2021 NBA Draft.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Kuminga will join Jalen Green, Isaiah Todd and Daishen Nix in this professional-pathway program.

We’ll see how well this setup, run by Brian Shaw, prepares young players for the NBA. But the money is nice. Kuminga ($500,000), Green ($500,000), Todd ($250,000) and Nix ($300,000) have approximate salaries that wouldn’t be allowed by the NCAA cartel system.

Hopefully, the competition forces college basketball to treat its players more fairly.

Washington Mystics: We planned all along to pay Elena Delle Donne

Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne
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Washington Mystics star Elena Delle Donne – per a panel of doctors chosen by the WNBA and its union – doesn’t face elevated risk of severe symptoms if she contracts coronavirus. That meant the Mystics wouldn’t have to pay her if she sits out this season. Delle Donne has publicly argued her Lyme disease should have medically excused her from the WNBA season, allowing her to collect her full salary.

Like many people amid the pandemic, Delle Donne faced a hard decision: Work and risk exposure to coronavirus or miss out on money and stay safer.

The Mystics have solved her dilemma – agreeing to pay her while she remains away from the team.

Mystics general manager/coach Mike Thibault, via Tyler Byrum of NBC Sports Washington:

“She is being paid and is continuing to rehab from her offseason back surgery. If at some point later in the season, we are all comfortable – I mean all comfortable – enough with both her physical progress and the safety of joining the team in Florida, then we will make those arrangements. If we don’t feel that she will continue to do the workouts in D.C., and get herself ready for the following season.”

“We can do anything we want,” Thibault said. “We have intended to [pay her] from the start. She’s a major part of our team and she’s making every effort to do the rehab that she needs to do.”

“I have told her that there is not going to be pressure put on her to hurry back, I don’t want — I’m in this and she’s in this for the long haul,” Thibault said.

If the Mystics truly planned all along to pay Delle Donne, her public-relations campaign the last couple days seems excessive.

But it’s also possible the public pressure she raised contributed to this decision.

As reigning WNBA MVP, Delle Donne had leverage that other players don’t. That’s why I’m surprised this was up to the Mystics. Other WNBA teams don’t want to face increasing pressure to pay any players who want to sit out. That’s why the panel of doctors existed in the first place.

Perhaps, Delle Donne’s back injury gave Washington a workaround. That’s a reasonable excuse for Delle Donne not reporting while still getting paid. Is the WNBA really going to investigate the Mystics’ assessment of their own player’s physical health when the player agrees?

This is a good outcome for Delle Donne. She made herself so valuable to her employer that it’ll pay her not to work. That’s a heck of an accomplishment by her.

We’ll see how much, if any, of a precedent it sets.

Sacramento’s De’Aaron Fox out at least 7-10 days with sprained ankle

De'Aaron Fox sprained ankle
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For a Sacramento team with playoff dreams, this is a punch to the gut: De'Aaron Fox is going to be sidelined until around the start of seeding games — 7-10 days at least — with a sprained ankle.

The Kings’ announced that their point guard sprained his left ankle in practice Wednesday. While he will be re-evaluated in 7-10 days, he could be out longer. This is the same ankle Fox sprained in November that caused him to miss 17 games.

The Kings’ first game is 16 days away against San Antonio.

Fox, arguably the fastest player in the league with the ball in his hands, averaged 20.4 points, and 6.8 assists this season, playing at a near All-star level once he came back from the sprained ankle. Fox is the engine of the Sacramento offense, it is 5.2 points per 100 possessions worse when he is off the court.

Sacramento comes into the restart in a virtual tie with Portland and New Orleans for the ninth seed in the West, 3.5 games back of Memphis. However, the Kings have not been able to get their stars on the court together: Harrison Barnes and Alex Len and remain in Sacramento, quarantining after testing positive for the coronavirus. Richaun Holmes is in quarantine on his Walt Disney World hotel room after leaving the confines of the NBA bubble to pick up a food delivery.

All of which combine to make it an even longer shot the Kings end their 14-year playoff drought this season. The sprained ankle for De’Aaron Fox, if it slows him at all, would be a serious blow to those chances.

 

Spurs: Trey Lyles out rest of season (appendectomy)

Spurs forward Trey Lyles
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The Spurs lost their top big in LaMarcus Aldridge.

Now, they’ll lose Trey Lyles, who often started at power forward next to Aldridge and also played behind Aldridge at center.

Spurs release:

Spurs forward Trey Lyles underwent an appendectomy earlier today in Orlando, Fla.

Lyles will miss the remainder of the 2019-20 season.

San Antonio’s last seeding game is scheduled for Aug. 13 – nearly a month away. Theoretically, Lyles could have tried to return by then.

The NBA dodges a complication with the Spurs ruling him out for the rest of the season.

Lyles left the NBA’s campus for his surgery. (Disney World is in Lake Buena Vista. He underwent surgery in Orlando.) That means he faced exposure in Florida, where coronavirus cases are surging. It would have been tricky bringing him back into the bubble safely while not punishing him for requiring medical attention.

The NBA will probably face this conundrum with someone else later. But the league avoids that situation for now.

San Antonio’s problems are more pressing.

Jakob Poeltl is now the Spurs’ top center, but he fits poorly with DeMar DeRozan because they’re both non-shooters from 3-point range. Rudy Gay should see plenty of time at power forward.

Behind them, options – newly signed Tyler Zeller, Drew Eubanks, Chimezie Metu and Luka Samanic – are uninspiring.

Gregg Popovich truly must muster some magic for San Antonio to extend its record playoff streak.