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.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.