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

Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday will play reduced minutes rest of season

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The Anthony Davis Saga with the New Orleans Pelicans has been one of the oddest, most missed managed trade request in recent NBA history. And that’s including whatever happened with Kawhi Leonard last season with the San Antonio Spurs.

Davis made himself one of the focal points of NBA All-Star Weekend in Charlotte after leaving at halftime of the final Pelicans game before the break. Davis has issued several statements since then, including a bit of a meltdown at Saturday practice availability in North Carolina.

Of course it’s just a matter of time before Davis plays for another team, but we will have to wait until summer for that to happen. In the meantime, both sides are at sort of an impasse with Davis clearly not wanting to play in New Orleans anymore. The Pelicans, naturally, don’t want their asset to become injured and therefore reduced in value.

But Davis is going to play, and according to the team and interim general manager Danny Ferry, both Davis and Jrue Holiday‘s minutes will be reduced from here on out.

Via Twitter:

This makes sense sort of no matter what. New Orleans is no longer a playoff bubble team, and so a reduction in minutes for their top stars this season makes sense anyway.

Hopefully we don’t have to hear much about this moving forward. If we can get through the rest of the year without dealing with more weird Anthony Davis talk, I think we will be better for it.

Meanwhile, let the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks try to gather up their best offers to snake him away from the Los Angeles Lakers. No doubt something crazy will happen this summer with Davis just given how it’s already gone so far.

Paul George says he talked to Nike about his shoes after Zion Williamson injury (VIDEO)

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The basketball community lost its collective mind on Wednesday night when Duke Blue Devils star Zion Williamson was injured after blowing out a pair of Nike basketball shoes in a rivalry game against the University of North Carolina.

Williamson’s injury was such that shares of Nike actually fell come Thursday. Meanwhile, the debate about whether Williamson should continue to play for free in the NCAA raged on all day.

Of course Williamson was wearing Paul George‘s signature shoe when he experienced the blowout, which apparently prompted the Oklahoma City Thunder star to contact Nike about it.

Via Twitter:

George’s shoes are very popular across basketball, and he told reporters that this had never happened to his knowledge.

I do wonder if players will be more reticent to wear one of the more popular shoes in the NBA. Then again, Williamson is a freak of nature in of himself so it’s not likely that the forces created by his power would be exerted by a normal player in the league.

Zion Williamson’s sprained knee became bad day for Nike

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When presumptive No. 1 pick Zion Williamson went to the ground, his knee twisting, early in Duke’s game against North Carolina Wednesday night, the basketball world collectively gasped.

Former President Barack Obama was there and quickly recognized the problem:

It did, unquestionably. The  6-foot-7, 284 pound Williamson was wearing the  PG 2.5 PEs (the Paul George signature line of Nikes), and when he made a hard cut the shoe gave out and Williamson went to the ground in a heap. The television cameras closed in on the busted Nike.

That’s not good press.

Fortunately, Williams suffered only a mild, Grade 1 knee sprain, and is day-to-day.

Nike released a statement to multiple media outlets that said, “We are obviously concerned and want to wish Zion a speedy recovery. The quality and performance of our products are of utmost importance. While this is an isolated occurrence, we are working to identify the issue.”

Nike stock dropped one percent on Thursday, although that level of fluctuation is not serious.

Bottom line, if this remains an isolated incident, Nike’s reputation — and position as the dominant force in basketball shoes — is not in danger. Fans and players will forgive one random incident. Have it happen again to a high-profile player and… Nike doesn’t want to find out.

 

Marcus Smart on today’s NBA: “Everything’s become real cute… Everybody’s scared to get hit”

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“I think it’s wonderful what we’re seeing in the league right now, some of the rules changes we’ve made in the last few years that really focus on skill-based playing. I’d like to think that young people around the world are able to look at this game and say, I can be as great as my desire to dedicate myself to this game, especially when it comes to shooting and ball handling. I get it, you can’t dream about being seven feet tall, but you can dream about having ball-handling skills like Steph Curry.”

That was NBA Commissioner Adam Silver All-Star weekend in Charlotte, and television ratings and overall interest in the league back him up — NBA ratings have been largely rising for years, both on the local and national level. Fans seem to gravitate towards fast-paced, entertaining teams and games.

But not everybody loves it. Charles Barkley can lead the “get off my lawn crowd.” However, there is a role for throwback players in the game. Guys who would have thrived in the 1990s, or the 1960s. Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of those guys — he told Mirin Fader of Bleacher Report he wishes there was more physicality in the league.

“Back in the ’60s, ’70s, my mindset and the way I play would be perfect. They play like that every game,” Smart says…

“That’s just what it is! Exactly!” he says, a smile breaking through. “I think we kind of lost that in today’s game. Everything’s become real cute. Everybody’s scared to go to the rim. Everybody’s scared to get hit. Everybody’s scared to touch.

“I thrive on the contact. Contact is in my nature.”

The NBA has always had to strike a balance between physicality and allowing skill to flourish. Right now the pendulum has swung well over to the skill side, and some fans romantically recall 1990s basketball when the pendulum was on the other side. They think of Michael Jordan or Allen Iverson and remember the era fondly through the haze of time. Of course, what that time obscured were the slogs of games with scoring in the 80s and maybe 90s, they forget how hard it could be to watch Mike Fratello’s Cavaliers clutch and grab their way to a slow, tedious, and coach-controlled four quarters. The 90s were not filled with the beautiful game.

But in any era, a guy like Smart has real value because he’s a good basketball player. Plain and simple. Just one who would like to be allowed to be a little more physical.