Baseline to Baseline recaps: The Suns giftwrap a slump buster for the Spurs

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What you missed while taking the virtual tour of the Strahov Monastery Library in Prague

The Nuggets beating the Lakers was our game of the day.

Spurs 114, Suns 97: Phoenix was without Steve Nash and the Spurs had everyone healthy and desperately needed a big win to build some confidence. So we found a match. It was the Spurs bench that did the damage — George Hill had 29 and the Spurs bench scored 73 total.

Celtics 101, Piston 90: Shaq and his injury were the story, but we also saw a lot of offense from Kevin Garnett, who had 13 in the third quarter when the Celtics pulled away (he finished with 23). Boston’s offense was clicking and the Pistons defense was, well the 27th ranked Pistons defense (using points per possession). Boston shot 64.1 percent.

Heat 108, Nets 94: This was a dominating performance from the opening tip by the Heat. LeBron James had 15 points in the first quarter, mostly because the Nets don’t have anybody who can come close to defending him. Dwyane Wade had a thigh bruise in the first half but came back in the second half and was moving well.

Knicks 123, Cavaliers 107: This clinched a playoff spot for the Knicks, which despite everything makes this a successful season for the Knicks. They took steps forward. Maybe big ones. New York can score and came out hot (looking rested after a couple of days off) and the Cavs fueled the Knicks with 22 turnovers, which led to an up-tempo game (99 possessions). It’s how the Knicks want to play. New York’s big three combined for 76 points.

Kings 106, Jazz 97: The Kings were in control of this game from the middle of the first quarter on and were up 21 in the second quarter. Tyreke Evans had 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting.

Raptors 102, Magic 98: How the heck do the Toronto Raptors grab 15 offensive rebounds — they got a second chance on nearly 40 percent of their missed shots — against Dwight Howard? This was a terrible display by Orlando. Credit the Raptor trio of Jerryd Bayless, DeMar DeRozan, and Leandro Barbosa for shredding Orlando’s defense to the tune of 61 combined points.

Wizards 97, Bobcats 91: With the Pacers loss (keep reading below) the Bobcats had a real chance to make up some ground in the race for the eighth seed, but instead they gave the Wizards their third road of the season. The good Andray Blatche showed up and had 25 and 17. The Wizards were 3-1 this past week.

Rockets 114, Hawks 109: Not exactly a defensive special as the Hawks shot 53.1 percent and the Rockets 53.7 (but the eFG% was closer because Houston was 3-15 from three). Kevin Martin had 35 on just 19 shots, Chuck Hayes had 19 points and 12 rebounds.

Hornets 108, Pacers 96: The battle of the eight seeds goes to West, which shouldn’t be a shock because even with the improvements in the East this season the West is still deeper with good teams. The Hornets dominated this one and were up 25 (it got close enough in what should have been garbage time that Monty Williams had to send his starters back in to save the win). When Trevor Ariza is knocking down looks (19 points, 13 shots) you know the Hornets are on. The Hornets abused Roy Hibbert on the pick and roll, his defense was terrible.

Trail Blazers 104, Mavericks 96: This may well be a first-round matchup but don’t read anything into this result – fourth game in five days for Dallas and the last game of a six-game road trip. Dallas looked and played tired. Tyson Chandler was out which meant more Brendan Haywood. Portland was in control of this one from the second quarter on an only a 12-0 Dallas run in the final minutes of the game made the final score even look respectable. Jason Kidd was 0-6 and finished with no points and 4 assists (-16 ,too). Good win for Portland, they did what they had to do. But the playoffs will be different.

Celtics’ Kyrie Irving: “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

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The Celtics established themselves as one of the NBA’s elite teams, a contender for the Eastern Conference title, during their 16-game win streak.

However, that hot streak to start the season will matter as much as Thanksgiving leftovers in the back of the refrigerator in April by the time the playoffs roll around. This is a team that still has work to do.

Which is what Kyrie Irving was getting at in this post-loss quote from Friday night, via Israel Gutierrez of ESPN.

“There’s still a lot to accomplish going forward,” Irving said. “It was a nice streak. But it was time to come to an end.”

This team still needs to get better and more consistent. The Celtics had to come from behind in the fourth quarter in eight of the 16 wins, and while the team defense was impressive the offense still can be hit and miss. Al Horford and Kyrie Irving play well off each other, but this is still the 20th ranked offense in the NBA. They are taking more long midrange jumpers than most coaches want, but the bigger challenge is they have not been finishing around the basket.

Titles are not won in November. Irving gets that. Jayson Tatum will hit the rookie wall at some point (they all do) and he needs to prove he can break through. Al Horford is playing maybe the best ball of his career and needs to keep it up. The Celtics need to keep their defensive focus (the fundamentals are there to have a top five defense). I could go on but you get the point, and so does Irving — there is a lot of work for this team to do.

Boston is off to a fantastic start, but it’s just that.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich: I’ve never seen injury like Kawhi Leonard’s

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Gregg Popovich is a basketball lifer.

He’s the NBA’s most experienced active head coach. Before that, he was the Spurs’ general manager. Before that, he was an NBA assistant. Before that, he was a college head coach and assistant. Before that, he was a college player. Before that, he was a youth player.

The San Antonio coach has seen everything.

Except the right quadriceps tendinopathy suffered by Kawhi Leonard, whom Popovich said more than a week would return “sooner rather than later.” Yet, Leonard still hasn’t played this season.

Popovich, via Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

“Never, never,” Popovich said when asked whether he has seen such a condition hampering one of his players. “What’s really strange is that [point guard] Tony [Parker] has the same injury, but even worse. They had to go operate on his quad tendon and put it back together or whatever they did to it. So to have two guys, that’s pretty incredible. I had never seen it before those guys.”

“I keep saying sooner rather than later,” Popovich said jokingly. “It’s kind of like being a politician. It’s all baloney, doesn’t mean anything.”

The 26-year-old Leonard is one of the NBA’s biggest on-court stars. He might be the league’s best defender, and he has built himself into an offensive force. The Spurs (11-7) have fared fine without him so far, but they’ll need him to accomplish their main goals – this year and beyond.

Hopefully, Leonard’s health is better than it sounds here, because Popovich’s answer sure isn’t encouraging.

Tim Hardaway Jr. calls fallen ref safe rather than defend shot (video)

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The Knicks went on a 28-0 run.

They earned the right to showboat late in their win over the Raptors last night.

Tim Hardaway Jr. called a ref, who slipped on the baseline, safe rather than contest Serge Ibaka‘s 3-pointer. Perfection!

Luc Mbah a Moute sets modern record at +57 in Rockets’ win over Nuggets

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Luc Mbah a Moute is a quietly good player.

He’s an effective and versatile defender. Offensively, he shoots 3-pointers well enough to score efficiently and spread the floor. Most of all, the 31-year-old just understands how to play and plays within himself. His teams tend to perform better when he’s on the floor.

That’s an understatement for Wednesday night.

In a 125-95 win, the Rockets outscored the Nuggets by a whopping 57 points in Mbah a Moute’s 26 minutes. That’s the best single-game plus-minus in the Basketball-Reference database, which dates back to the 2000-01 season. It tops Joe Smith’s +52 in a 2001 Timberwolves win over the Bulls, a 53-point game that also produced a +50 for Wally Szczerbiak and +48 for Terrell Brandon.

Mbah a Moute’s traditional stat line was impressive, though not overly so: 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting with four rebounds, four steals and an assist. He played well, contributing to winning in all the small ways he often does, and the Rockets happened to play excellently around him.

Now, Mbah a Moute tops the leaderboard in single-game plus-minus since 2000-01:

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