Pacers' West shoots the basketball defended by Bulls' Boozer during the first quarter of their NBA basketball game in Indianapolis

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Pacers, Bulls get together for shootout

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while building a nuclear fusion reactor in your garage like any normal teenager….

Pacers 111, Bulls 101: If you were expecting a defense struggle between two of the top three defenses in the Association… well, sorry. There wasn’t a lot of defense and fur the Bulls, if they are not defending they are going to struggle because they can’t score with teams. Not even the Pacers. With Joakim Noah out the Bulls had matchup problems and didn’t have the size to defend David West, who finished with 29. Paul George added 23 and hit the dagger for the Pacers while George Hill was hot to start (7-of-7) and had 22 on the night. Marco Belinelli led the Bulls with 24.

Thunder 112, Mavericks 91: This was an old-school beat down. After a tight first 9 minutes or so the Thunder went on a 7-0 run when their bench first entered the game and then it was on. In the second quarter the Thunder went on a 27-8 run right about when Russell Westbrook came back into the contest, he had 11 of his 24 in the second quarter. Eventually the Thunder led by as many as 33 in the second half and it was never close. Kevin Durant had 19 points and 10 rebounds. The only even remote bright spot for Dallas was the return of Dirk Nowitzki, but he shot just 3-of-11 on the night.

Knicks 99, Pistons 85: It turns out Kyle Singler and Rodney Stuckey cannot really guard Carmelo Anthony effectively. Who knew? ‘Melo had 27, the Knicks took charge with an 11-0 run midway through the first quarter and they never looked back as they cruised to their fifth straight win. Amar’e Stoudemire had 20 points and J.R. Smith added 16. Jose Calderon made his Pistons debut and had 15 points, but this wasn’t Detroit’s night.

Heat 99, Bobcats 94: It was LeBron James’ world, everyone else was just living in it — he had 31 points on 13-of-14 shooting and he took every single one of his shots in the paint. He simply bullied his way into the paint all night and Charlotte could not stop him. LeBron added 8 assists and 8 rebounds on a night where he played just about as well as a person could. Chris Bosh added 23.

Charlotte actually led this game by a point inside 8 minutes left, led by Ramon Sessions (18) and Ben Gordon (16) who had good games off the bench. But the Heat went on an 8-0 run to retake the lead for good. And on a night like this you knew LeBron was not going to let the Heat lose.

Wizards 98, Clippers 90: With Chris Paul and Blake Griffin out injured the Clippers lost again, — their seventh loss in nine games. The Clippers fall to 1-3 on their big road trip and are coming back to the pack in the West (where Memphis, Golden State and Denver are). We will see how the team responds to some adversity now.

Wizards got off to 19-6 lead to open the game and held that lead until the third quarter when the Clippers made a 17-2 run to retake the lead. That’s when Martell Webster made his presence felt, scoring 11 of his 21 points in the quarter as the Wizards retook the lead. The Wizards sealed the game with an 11-2 run in the fourth quarter fueled by Clippers turnovers. Nene and Garrett Temple added 15 points a piece. Jamal Crawford led the Clippers with 28.

Sixers 78, Magic 61: What did you expect? The Magic were without Jameer Nelson, J.J. Redick, Arron Afflalo and of course Glen Davis. They probably asked Jacque Vaughn to suit up. The Sixers raced out to a 22-6 lead and while the game was ugly the rest of the way the Sixers never gave up the lead. Spencer Hawes had 21 points and 14 rebounds, while Nick Young added 15 points for Philly.

Trail Blazers 100, Timberwolves 98: If you watched most of this game you wouldn’t recognize the final score — it certainly wasn’t a pretty game but the Trail Blazers were in control of it. Minnesota scored just 38 first half points and was a total mess while LaMarcus Aldridge looked every bit the All-Star with 25 points and grabbed 13 rebounds.

Then came the final minutes, when Minnesota went on a 14-2 run and almost stole the game. They got it down to one point but Aldridge hit a key bucket to make it three with 27 seconds left. Of course, Aldridge missed the free throws that would have iced the game with 6.7 seconds left, giving the Timberwolves one last shot at it. They went to Dante Cunningham, who had the hot hand with 23 points on the night, but he came up just short. And Portland escapes with the win.

Jazz 98, Kings 91 (OT): Apparently Utah wants to show it can host a Super Bowl t0o — they had some lighting issues at the start of the game. Once they got going it looked like Utah would pull away with this in the second quarter but Sacramento closed the first half with a 9-0 run and we had a game. In the overtime Randy Foye had 6 of his 20 points and Paul Millsap 4 of his 14 to secure the win. The Kings could really have used DeMarcus Cousins late in this one but he got ejected just before the half. The real key for Utah in this was the 41 points they got from the bench, led by Alec Burks with 14 and Derrick Favors with 13.

Mario Chalmers says he’s cleared to play

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers moves the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, in Washington. Chalmers was ejected in the first half. The Wizards won 100-91. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
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Mario Chalmers was thriving with the Grizzlies after a midseason trade from the Heat when a torn Achilles ended his season.

Not the way Chalmers wanted to enter free agency.

Still unsigned, he says he’s progressing.

Chalmers:

Can he go 100%, though? If not, when?

A few teams could use another point guard. If Chalmers shows his health, he belongs in someone’s rotation. But that might require taking a low-paying deal and working his way up from the third point guard spot – or even just onto the regular-season roster.

Report: John Wall ‘rankled’ by James Harden’s high-paying Rockets contract

WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 29: John Wall #2 of the Washington Wizards is defended by James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets in the second half at Verizon Center on March 29, 2015 in Washington, DC. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Bradley Beal isn’t the only player bothering John Wall.

James Harden – who’s earning a lot of money from the Rockets and adidas – is drawing the ire of the Wizards point guard.

Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer:

One league source familiar with Wall’s state of mind simply put it this way: “Wall’s got jealousy issues. He’s always upset with someone who makes more money than him.”

A front office executive tells The Ringer that Wall was “rankled” after Harden signed a four-year, $118 million extension with the Rockets.

O’Connor also pointed out this line from Nick DePaula of Yahoo Sports on Wall rejected adidas’ offer:

“He wanted Harden money,” a source told The Vertical.

I wonder how Wall feels about Beal’s max contract, which pays much more than Wall’s deal. Wall didn’t like Reggie Jackson, another lesser player, earning the same amount as him.

The union rejecting cap smoothing in light of the new national TV contracts has certainly adversely affected Wall, who locked in long-term just before the salary cap explosion became known. As other players sign huge contracts, he’s stuck on his old-money deal.

Washington could’ve renegotiated and extended Wall’s contract, but it would have been more complicated than Harden’s arrangement. Wall has three years remaining to what was previously two for Harden. How much extra money would the Wizards have paid Wall over the next three years just to get him committed for one more year? Instead, they signed Ian Mahinmi, Andrew Nicholson and Jason Smith.

I’m also unsure Wall would’ve accepted an extension. He doesn’t seem overly happy in Washington, and a raise via renegotiation was coming only if Wall provided something in return – an additional year of team control added to his contract.

And don’t lose track of this: Harden is better than Wall.

I don’t mind Wall monitoring other players’ contracts. That jealousy or whatever you want to call it has driven Wall to become a star NBA player. Whatever motivation works.

But demanding Harden’s deal is unrealistic. The Wizards also ought to be mindful of how Beal’s new contract affects chemistry, but that’s their problem.

Wall’s issue – as a player, not endorser – is primarily theoretical. He’s tied to his current contract, and lesser players will earn more than him due simply to timing. He must find a way to make peace with that.

51Q: Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 25:  Gordon Hayward #20 of the Utah Jazz celebrates his three point during a timeout with Derrick Favors #15 and the bench at Staples Center on November 25, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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Today is day two of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. Between now and the start of the NBA season we will tackle 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. We will delve into one almost every day between now and the start of the season (we’re taking some weekends off). Today:

Is there any reason the Jazz won’t be really good?

The Utah Jazz barely missed the playoffs last season, but virtually no team in the middle tier of the league is as universally adored for their direction. They’re well-coached by Quin Snyder, have a roster that makes sense together and made sensible moves this summer to get better. Barring injuries, they should be a lock to make the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 season.

In the non-Warriors category, it’s hard to argue that very many teams had better offseasons than the Jazz when it comes to filling holes on their roster without giving up any core pieces. Utah’s weakest position last season was point guard — with Dante Exum out for the year rehabbing a torn ACL, things got so bad that a midseason trade for career backup Shelvin Mack was considered a major upgrade. This summer, they flipped a lottery pick they didn’t really want to Atlanta in a three-team deal that got them George Hill, as solid a starting-caliber point guard as would realistically be available for them. Hill’s playmaking and outside shooting immediately improve Utah’s offense and gives Snyder a rock-solid veteran to take pressure off Exum coming back from missing a full year of action. Even if the Jazz view Exum as their long-term answer at point guard, it’s going to take him a full year to get back up to speed, and having Hill means he has to do less right away.

The Jazz’ other major upgrade came with the signing of seven-time All-Star Joe Johnson to a two-year, $22 million deal. Johnson isn’t a first or second option on offense anymore at this point in his career, but as a veteran scorer off the bench, he can still be effective and should be a great fit in the offense. Taking on Boris Diaw‘s contract could prove savvy, too, if he’s as engaged as he was in San Antonio.

Beyond the roster upgrades, the driving force of all the Jazz optimism this summer is how well all of their young pieces fit together, and the potential for improvement from all of them. Nobody knows what Exum will be, but even if Utah gets nothing out of him, they have an enviable core just entering its prime. Rudy Gobert is one of the most lethal rim protectors in the league at 24 years old. Derrick Favors has developed into an excellent all-around power forward. Gordon Hayward and Rodney Hood provide a potent scoring combo on the perimeter, and if Alec Burks is healthy, he can help there too.

The Jazz are also the beneficiaries of the shifting balance of power in the Western Conference. The Thunder lost Kevin Durant and while they’re probably still a playoff team, they’re far from a lock. The Blazers spent a lot of money but didn’t necessarily get better, and may have overachieved last season. The Timberwolves, despite having arguably the brightest future in the league, are still probably a couple years away. The Rockets and Grizzlies are still total question marks, and the Pelicans haven’t been able to construct a solid group around Anthony Davis. Meanwhile, the Jazz are sitting there with the least downside of any of these bubble teams, not a lot of rotation question marks and play in a division without a clear-cut favorite.

Nobody thinks the Jazz are going to be title contenders, but looking up and down the west hierarchy, there isn’t a team that the Warriors or the Spurs should want to face less in the playoffs. And this year, they have the depth to get there.

Ryan McDonough: Suns plan to be ‘major players’ in 2017 free agency

Ryan McDonough
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The Suns have swung big in free agency the previous couple years, chasing LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony in 2014 and LaMarcus Aldridge in 2015.

But 2016 appeared to be the year Phoenix really eyed.

The Suns structured the contracts of multiple players – including Brandon Knight, Tyson Chandler, Markieff Morris and Marcus Morris – to have salaries that dipped this summer. Time that flexibility correctly, and it can really pay off.

Phoenix big prize? Jared Dudley.

Dudley is a nice player, but he’s hardly the star the Suns seek. So, they’ll try again next year.

Phoenix general manager Ryan McDonough, via Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

That’s been one of our frustrations this summer. We were kind of on the sideline for some of the marquee free agents. But as you know, Woj, it wasn’t the deepest free agent class.

Potentially, it’s a very strong free agent class next year. And one of the things we’ve done with our contracts is we’ve lined them up to have max cap space next year without really touching the core of our roster.

I think and I hope at this time next year, we’re major players in free agency. Because as you mentioned, the Phoenix Suns are a destination franchise.

The 2017 free agent class won’t be as strong as hoped.

LeBron James locked in for multiple years with the Cavaliers. Russell Westbrook signed a contract extension with the Thunder. Kevin Durant indicated he’ll re-sign with the Warriors. So has Stephen Curry. Blake Griffin is reportedly “adamant” about re-signing with the Clippers.

Teams will almost certainly match any offer for the top restricted free agents – Giannis Antetokounmpo, Rudy Gobert, Steven Adams and Nerlens Noel – if they don’t extend their contracts first.

That still leaves several quality unrestricted free agents – including Chris Paul, Kyle Lowry, Gordon Hayward and Paul Millsap – but Paul and Lowry are point guards. Phoenix already has Eric Bledsoe and Brandon Knight, and Devin Booker looks like the shooting guard of the future. So, forget simply sliding Bledsoe or Knight to off guard. It’d take a major shakeup for Paul or Lowry to make sense with the Suns.

Still, McDonough’s approach is logical. If he can keep kicking the can down the road, perpetually selling that his plan is a year from taking it hold, it’ll make it easier for him to retain his prestigious job.

But if he has to make his 2017 free agency plan work rather than deferring to 2018, it could be difficult.

The Suns project to have about $17 million in cap space (under a system that could change significantly with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement). Renouncing restricted free agent Alex Len could clear about $12 million more, and just $500,000 of Leandro Barbosa‘s $4 million salary is guaranteed. Trading Tyson Chandler, Bledsoe and/or Knight could open even more space. Losing Len isn’t ideal, but for the right free agent, the upgrade would be worthwhile.

The bigger issue is winning. Phoenix has struggled to lure top free agents, because the team has missed the playoffs six straight years. That’s unlikely, though not impossible, to change this year. If the probabilities hold, what does McDonough sell then?

He always has the option of using cap space to facilitate uneven trades, a route he previously broached. Depending on the deal, that could encroach on 2017 cap space.

But if his plan holds, the Suns will keep their books relatively clear until next summer.