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.

Wizards’ owner Ted Leonsis: “My prediction is John Wall will sign his extension”

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John Wall is one of the handful of NBA players who qualifies for the new designated veteran “super max” contract extension — and the Wizards want to give it to him. A four-year, $170 million extension of his current deal is on the table (it would kick in after the two years, $37 million on his current contract).

Wall has yet to sign it. He said at the time it was offered he wanted to talk about it with his family and see what the Wizards did this offseason. He’s not unhappy, he just wants to be sure before he locks himself in with Washington through his prime.

Washington owner Ted Leonsis told Candace Buckner of the Washington Post he thinks Wall will sign.

Maybe, but there’s not a lot of motivation for Wall to sign right now. Wall can bet on himself that he will make the All-NBA team again next year — there’s a deep class of guards but if he stays healthy he stands a good chance — at which time he’s still eligible for a designated veteran “super max” contract extension that would be five-years, roughly $200 million (and would kick in after the one year on his current deal).

That delay would also keep pressure on the Wizards to find ways to improve the roster. Washington is largely capped out and didn’t make any major moves this summer other than re-signing Otto Porter to a max extension (they matched a Brooklyn offer sheet). Washington is good, likely the third or fourth best team in the East, but a notch below Cleveland and Boston right now. Wall wants to push them to get another star and help Washington move up into contender status — he pushed for the Wizards to chase Paul George and have him replace Porter (a deal that was never going to happen, but you can see what Wall is thinking about being one star player short).

Ultimately, I think Leonsis is right, Wall will sign. It’s just a matter of when. Does he take this deal now, or wait until next summer and do it?

Chicago billboard calls for Bulls to fire Gar Forman, John Paxson

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Gar Forman split Executive of the Year with Pat Riley the same year Riley lured LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to the Heat.

Forman’s stock has fallen quite a bit since.

The Bulls general manager – who works with executive vice President of basketball operations John Paxson in a duo (once affectionately) called GarPax – is facing increased scrutiny. The latest: A Chicago billboard organized by Bulls fans and paid for by GoFundMe donators.

GarPax’s recent missteps have been troubling. The breakup with Tom Thibodeau was messy and felt personal, especially with Fred Hoiberg succeeding him. First-round picks – Denzel Valentine, Bobby Portis, Doug McDermott and Marquis Teague – have yielded little dividend. The Jimmy Butler trade was almost unbelievably lousy, even after the Three Alphas plan with Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo fell flat.

But it’s also worth taking a step back. The Bulls have won 59% of their games, made the playoffs seven of eight years and never had a losing season under Forman. This somewhat feels like Chicago fans having unrealistic expectations.

The most important question owners should ask when weighing whether to retain management: Who will best guide the team forward? Prior results should matter only to inform that question.

Based on overall body of work GarPax has a case for staying on the job. The tandem built a 62-win conference finalist around Derrick Rose then saw his injuries sabotage the run. But GarPax has also trended the wrong direction, failing too often (and too often predictably) since Rose declined.

Would the Bulls hire someone who will do better than Forman and Paxson if they fired those two? Maybe, and it’s a discussion worth having. But the answer isn’t as simple as I suspect the people behind this billboard would believe.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks on Otto Porter: ‘He’s a max person in my mind’

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Otto Porter is a quiet, complementary piece to the Wizards’ talented young core. He is also now Washington’s highest-paid player.

At least temporarily.

Guards John Wall and Bradley Beal garner most of the attention as Washington has made it to the second round of the NBA playoffs three of the last four seasons. But for now, Porter makes the most money after the Wizards matched a four-year, $106.5 million max-contract offer sheet the forward signed with the Brooklyn Nets.

There might be questions if the 24-year-old Porter is worth that money. But the Wizards believe he is a good fit alongside Wall, 26, a four-time All-Star, and Beal, 24, one of the league’s top shooting guards.

“You just use that as motivation just like John and Brad did,” Porter said at a news conference Wednesday. “They set the bar high. I’m going to set my bar, high, too.”

Porter entered this offseason as a restricted free agent, and when agent David Falk couldn’t agree to terms with Washington on July 1, he chose to shop his client’s services. The Sacramento Kings showed interest, but the Nets were the most serious and made a run at Porter.

“They felt like they wanted to test the market to see if there was something more out there, and they did,” Wizards president Ernie Grunfeld said. “But it wasn’t a big decision because all along we said we wanted to keep our young core together.”

It probably won’t be long before Wall surpasses Porter as the Wizards highest-paid player. Wall was named third-team All-NBA this past season, and the point guard is eligible to sign a $160 million, four-year super max contract any time before the 2017-18 season begins. Wall will not become an unrestricted free agent until 2019.

Re-signing Porter was a top priority for Washington this summer. The No. 3 pick in the 2013 draft out of Georgetown, Porter had a breakthrough season. He ranked fourth in field goal percentage among small forwards (51.6 percent) and fifth among all NBA players in 3-point percentage (43.4 percent).

Porter’s ability to fit seamlessly with Wall and Beal without needing the ball in his hands is a huge plus, too, according to Grunfeld. At 6-foot-8, Porter’s length also plays a significant role in the Wizards’ defensive concepts. His skillset was so valuable to Washington the Wizards surpassed the NBA’s luxury-tax threshold by matching the offer sheet.

“I never look at Otto and judge him by the stat sheet,” Wizards coach Scott Brooks said. “He does so many little things that the stats don’t show. He dives on the floor for a loose ball, he sets screens. He makes the extra pass to the corner, offensive rebounds.

“You can never have enough high-character guys that are committed to each and that’s what he is,” Brooks said. “He’s a max person in my mind.”

Utah Jazz sign forward Royce O’Neale, first season reportedly guaranteed

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) The Utah Jazz signed forward Royce O’Neale on Wednesday.

Sportando:

Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune:

O’Neale gives Utah 16 players on non-two-way contracts, one more than the regular-season limit. Raul Neto is on unguaranteed contract, but he’s a potential rotation player.

A 6-foot-6, 215-pound wing, O’Neale played for Gran Canaria in Spain last season and averaged 8.3 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.1 assists. O’Neale was a member of the New Orleans Pelicans’ Las Vegas Summer League team last week and averaged 4.6 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists.

The 24-year-old was undrafted out of Baylor in 2015. He adds wing depth to a Jazz team adjusting to life without Gordon Hayward after he signed with the Boston Celtics in free agency.

The Jazz won 51 games last season and reached the playoffs for the first time since 2012. They were swept by the Golden State Warriors after beating the Los Angeles Clippers in the first round.