You can bet the Lakers won't hang balloons in the rafters like they did in 1969

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1969_celtics.jpgSee if this sounds familiar:

The Lakers are the glamour team, the team with the huge stars in the prime of their career. The Lakers have steamrolled the West on their way to the finals and were the betting favorites. The Celtics have some name players too, but they were injured and generally considered too old by the pundits. They had finished fourth in the East, then surprised everyone in the playoffs. It all came down to one game for the NBA title — a Game 7 in Los Angeles.

Sound like 2010? Try 1969.

The year men first walked on the moon. The year of Woodstock — the real, first Woodstock with Jimi Hendrix, not some 90s ripoff that would let Sheryl Crow play. The year the Beatles played their last public concert. When long hair and anti-war protests were the rage. When gas was 35¢ a gallon.  Even then it was still Lakers and Celtics.

The Lakers had three of the game’s all-time greats on the roster: Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain Elgin Baylor. The Celtics had stars like Bill Russell — who was the player coach — and Sam Jones, but they were both injured.

It had been one great finals just to get to a Game 7. West went off for 53 in Game 1, John Havlicek answered with 43 in Game 2. The whole series had been like that, punches and counter punches.

It all came down to a Game 7 at the Fabulous Forum. No home team had ever lost a Game 7 in NBA finals history, which meant Lakers owner Jack Kent Cooke was feeling cocky. He thousands of balloons put in the rafters to fall when the game was over, and he had choreographed what the band would play.

What he did was motivate the Celtics, who were angered by the balloons. (Not as angry as West, who was livid.) In his great book “Jerry West: The Live and Legend of a Basketball Icon,” Roland Lazenby has this quote from Bill Russell on the game:

I was the coach and I said to my players, “It may be a better show to watch them take those balloons down one at a time.”

Boston came out hot, hitting 8 of their first 10 shots. The Lakers got it close, even tied it in the third quarter, but on this night they had no answer for Jones. West had tweaked hamstring and while he could still shoot — he had 42 points — but Jones was hot and had 24 of his own.

So was Russell, who was attacking Chamberlain and got him in foul trouble. Wilt had five fouls then tweaked his knee with 5:45 left in the game. Chamberlain asked out to rest it. With three minutes left, Chamberlain leans down to coach Butch van Breda Kolff and asked to go back in. Coach says, “We’re doing well enough without you” and leaves him on the bench. Really smart.

It’s a one-point game with little more than a minute left. Jerry West knocked a ball loose but it bounces to Don Nelson — yes, that Don Nelson — who is standing near the free throw line and he throws up a rushed shot from the free throw line that hits the rim, bounces straight up to about the top of the backboard then falls right back through the basket.

That ended up being the winning shot.

The Celtics celebrated winning a title on the Lakers home floor. It was the Celtics 11th title in 13 years. It was also the last one for that dynasty. Jerry West was named MVP in a losing cause.

We’ll see if history repeats itself Thursday.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.

NBA GM: Warriors ‘leaders in the clubhouse’ for Kevin Durant

Oklahoma City Thunder Kevin Durant, left, drives the ball against Golden State Warriors' Draymond Green (23) and Andre Iguodala (9) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Thursday, Dec. 18, 2014, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
AP Photo/Ben Margot
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Kevin Durant to the Warriors is having a moment, but even the most recent and most credible report linking the Thunder star to Golden State contained an important caveat:

Make no mistake: Durant isn’t close to gone in Oklahoma City – no decision, no leaning, sources said

Nobody has credibly reported Durant is leaning toward leaving the Thunder. The issue at hand is where Durant would go IF he leaves Oklahoma City.

Except one NBA general manager has gone a step further.

Vincent Goodwill of CSN Chicago:

General managers know a lot of things we don’t, but like anyone, they can also be prone to repeating gossip and hearsay. Does this general manager have inside info, or is he just participating the echo chamber? Impossible to say, but the possibility of the former raises the level of intrigue.

Of course, the Warriors can’t be the leaders in the clubhouse, because they’re not in the clubhouse. Free agency doesn’t begin until July. Nobody has made their final pitch, not even the Thunder.

It’s fun to make bold predictions now, and this general manager has a chance of looking genius. But sometimes the desire for that designation causes people to get ahead of themselves.

Report: Clippers quickly rebuffed interest after Nuggets called about Blake Griffin

Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin (32) gets tied up near the basket by Denver Nuggets forward J.J. Hickson (7) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, April 13, 2015, in Los Angeles. The Clippers won 110-103. (Michael Goulding/The Orange County Register via AP)   MAGS OUT; LOS ANGELES TIMES OUT
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Here was my gut feel on a report that the Clippers had talked to the Nuggets about trading Blake Griffin to Denver:

1. Nuggets calling Clippers about Griffin

2. Clippers saying they’re not interested

3. Nuggets leaking the fact that Griffin trade talks happened with the Clippers – technically true! – to excite their fan base and potential free agents considering whether or not to take Denver seriously

Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

https://twitter.com/DanWoikeSports/status/695691007053070336

Woike is the more reliable source of information here. I believe that’s all this was.

The Clippers probably shouldn’t sell low on Griffin now. But if the Nuggets made a truly reasonable offer based on Griffin’s peak value – and I doubt they did – it also wouldn’t hurt to consider it.

LeBron James wants to leave Hack-a-Shaq rules as they are

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) drives on Detroit Pistons center Andre Drummond (0) in the second half of an NBA basketball game in Auburn Hills, Mich., Tuesday, Jan. 27, 2015.  (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)
AP Photo/Paul Sancya
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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said he increasingly believes the league should change its Hack-a-Shaq rules this offseason.

LeBron James – who has the commissioner’s ear on a number of issues – disagreed.

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t really see a problem with it,” James said at shootaround Friday in preparation for the Celtics. “At the end of the day, it’s a strategy of the game and whatever it takes to win. If that’s a part of the game, and you have a guy that is a bad free-throw shooter and you put him on the line, that’s a part of strategy.”

“That’s no different from a guy that can’t shoot well from the outside and you try to make him shoot bad from outside, or if a guy is turnover-prone and you put pressure on him. It’s all part of strategy. It’s no different,” he said.

There is a difference – a big one.

Hacking someone takes no basketball skill.

I could intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan or Andre Drummond. I could not keep a bad NBA outside shooter from getting into the paint. I could not force a turnover-prone NBA player into coughing up the ball.

There’s nothing wrong with exploiting an opponent’s weakness, but with the exception of hacking, that takes ability of your own.

Hacking is an outlier strategy, and as a result, it deserves special treatment in the rulebook.