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.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.

Suns GM: ‘Overwhelming likelihood’ team keeps No. 1 pick

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It takes a rare kind of courage, an extraordinary level of organizational backing, and a special kind of draft to do what Danny Ainge did a year ago trading the No. 1 pick. While a consensus had formed around Markelle Fultz as the best player in the draft, Ainge was a Jayson Tatum guy. Doubts about the top pick are common, but that alone is far from enough to trade that pick away — most GMs don’t have the job security to know if they miss on moving the pick and sliding down they will not be let go. Ainge had that, and he had his confidence in his scouting, so he made the move to trade the No. 1 pick to Philadelphia. (While it looks good now for Ainge, it’s too early to judge how that pick plays out — Fultz has barely played, we don’t know what extra pick the Celtics will get out of this, it takes time to fully judge these kinds of moves.)

This year is different. DeAndre Ayton is more of a clear No. 1, a guy with franchise changing potential. Plus Suns’ GM Ryan McDonough may not be standing on the kind of bedrock that allows for the trade of a No. 1 pick.

Recently McDonough said he’d listen to trade offers for the pick. That’s very different from trading it, as Scott Bordow of the Arizona Republic had the GM saying Friday.

Because they should do their due diligence, the Suns will look at Luka Doncic (who does have a relationship with new coach Igor Kokoskov) and Marvin Bagley III, among others. Rumors may leak, spun by agents or other teams. However, at the end of the day, good luck finding anyone around the league who thinks Phoenix will not take Ayton — who attended college in Arizona — to be the inside to Devin Booker‘s outside. It’s the smart play.

Kokoskov and the Suns have a lot of work to do to build a foundation for success with this franchise. However, that almost never starts by trading away the top pick in the draft.

Rumor: Paul George’s agent telling people client will re-sign with Thunder

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That rumor Paul George will leave the Thunder?

How about the exact opposite?

Dean Blevins of News 9:

Allegedly, apparently, Paul George plans to stay with the Thunder. I know. It’s not what people believe. But in separate conversations, I’m told P.G.’s agent has told people associated with the NBA that P.G. believes the injury loss of Andre Roberson was huge and he’s staying. Disclaimer, though: Believing everything that agents allegedly say can be dangerous to your health.

This, by Blevins’ own admission, isn’t the staunchest reporting. Nonetheless, I appreciate him sharing and contextualizing it. We can evaluate it for what it’s worth.

George is known to share his plans – though the previous example was him planning to sign with the Lakers. And he might have really believed it at the time, when he was still with the Pacers.

But throughout the season, George seemingly went out of his way to profess his affection for Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and the Thunder. That only raised expectations in Oklahoma City of George staying, and if he leaves after doing that, he’d be inviting even more backlash. I think he’s smart enough to understand that, which is why I thought he made those especially strong pro-Thunder comments only after deciding he’d likely stay.

On the other hand, even if my assessment was correct, conditions change. The Jazz brutally exposed Oklahoma City’s flaws, and if George re-signs and Anthony opts in, the Thunder will have minimal cap flexibility to upgrade the roster. In fact, they might take a step back with the supporting cast to keep the luxury-tax bill manageable. George could see free agency as his chance to escape that mess.

Roberson was a huge loss, and if George is focused on that, that would bode well for Oklahoma City. Though Roberson was just a role player, he was pivotal to the Thunder’s defense. And his teammates had learned how to play around his offensive shortcomings. Oklahoma City didn’t have any good replacements for him on the roster. Roberson getting healthy is the clearest way for the Thunder to improve next season.

Of course, that’s predicated on George returning, too. Will he?

One last note of caution: People often believe what they want to hear. It’s easy to see someone in Oklahoma City hearing George bemoan the loss of Roberson and elevate that to George planning to re-sign, even George wasn’t going that far.