Carmelo Anthony doesn't have to be careful what he wishes for

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Thumbnail image for Anthony_game.jpgAs the rumor mill starts to churn more heavily about the eventual destination of Carmelo Anthony now that it’s accepted he wants out of Denver, there will be conflicting reports. Some will say that the Nuggets don’t care a lick about what Carmelo wants and will trade him to whomever they please. These reports will be sourced out of the Nuggets camp or those close to them. Others will say that the Knicks are still in play or that one of his preferred teams is likely. Those, as you can guess, will come from Melo’s camp. 

It’s a cute game, but has little to do with what will actually occur. What’s interesting is how this will play out and determining who exactly has leverage in this situation. And that’s where the latest tweet from the reliable Sam Amico comes in. 
Amico reports the following concerning prospective partners for the Nuggets:

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Early word around NBA is Nuggets will try to trade Carmelo to 1 of 3 teams: Wolves, Kings, Nets. In other words, careful what you wish for.less than a minute ago via webSam Amico
SamAmicoNBA


It’s very likely that Amico’s on the money here. These are the types of teams that the Nuggets will be targeting as trade partners. They’re loaded with young talent, draft picks, and a handful of expiring contracts. The Nuggets will get what they want for Melo. Who cares what Melo or CAA has to say about it?

Well, for one, the teams that will be trying to trade for him.
The problem with this tactic lies with the original source of this whole shebang, Melo’s extension. As a free agent next summer, the Nuggets were trying to lock down a max extension for Melo.  His reticence to sign that extension was the first sign that maybe Anthony wasn’t quite as happy as he let on.
It’s also that extension that maintains Anthony’s leverage. Because those teams do have what the Nuggets want. And the Nuggets certainly have what those teams want… to a degree. They have access to Carmelo Anthony… for a single season. It’s Anthony’s own control over the subsequent season that will prevent the Nuggets from trading him to whomever they please. 
Any team looking to acquire Anthony will want him in an extend-and-trade that locks him up for further seasons. After all, these teams have already established a core of young players, they’ve done their cap cleaning and draft building. They won’t be giving up players with upside and future picks for a one-year rental of Anthony. Which means the Nuggets need him to sign the extension. And Anthony’s only likely to do that if he assents to where he’s being traded. 
Anthony’s extension and trade flexibility are inter-connected. The Nuggets don’t just have to find a trade partner looking to acquire Melo enough to surrender the pieces they’re looking to get back, they have to find a partner attractive enough to Anthony to convince him to commit to the future. 
We have three actors in this little play. Anthony and his people wants his extension under the current CBA, and to relocate to a new team that fits the lifestyle which he wants to become accustomed (fame, fortune, and championships), as well as maintain their leverage in negotiations not just for Anthony but future clients. His current team needs to get the pieces they want back for Anthony and maintain their leverage in negotiations with players to not be held hostage by their demands. And his new team wants Carmelo Anthony to make them into a contender, for the next three years and beyond. 
The Nets are a prospective partner, because they are relocating to Brooklyn, a market he likely finds attractive. The Kings have two definite stars, but the market isn’t really there for him. The Wolves? Um… Darko’s fun to hang out with? 
But any of these teams have to be able to convince Anthony they have the combination of elements he desires or else they’ll only be renting him.
The Nuggets have leverage, that much is clear from the events of the past week. The best scenario is convincing him to stay in Denver, sign the extension and move forward. But that bridge may have already been crossed, then lit on fire. But to act like Carmelo is subject to the whims of the Nuggets ignores not only the realities created by his extension situation, but the new reality of the empowered player that have shifted the NBA so greatly in the past three months.

LeBron James, Cavaliers hope to even series with Pacers

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — LeBron James has been in this playoff position before, just not in the first round.

With Cleveland down 2-1 to the Indiana Pacers in the first round, James was asked if Game 4 in Indianapolis Sunday was a must win.

“It’s the postseason,” said James, who is 10-0 in his career in first-round playoff series with Cleveland and Miami. “Every game is a must win. You want to come in and play well and win no matter what. No matter if you have home-court advantage or if you’re starting on the road, that’s the mindset you have to have. I felt like (Friday) was a must win. We didn’t win, obviously, but it’s the same mindset on Sunday.”

James, who scored 28 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and delivered eight assists in a 92-90 road loss Friday night, rejected what he felt were reporters’ attempts to ask if the other players needed to do more.

“You guys think I’m going to throw my teammates under the bus? I’m not about that,” James said. “Guys just, we have to be better, including myself. Had six turnovers (Friday). I was horrible in the third quarter, couldn’t make a shot. If I had made some better plays in the third quarter, the lead doesn’t skip.”

The Pacers cut a 17-point halftime deficit to six points in the third quarter and finally took their first lead in the fourth quarter.

“We know we all gotta play better as a collective group, no matter who it is,” James said. “We got production to start the game and in the second half there wasn’t much production. We still had a chance to win. We’ve got to regroup and figure how we can be better in Game 4.”

Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue said the Cavaliers were limited because George Hill‘s back “locked up” in the second half. Hill played only nine minutes in the second half, scoring two of his 13 points. Lue used James and Jordan Clarkson rather than backup point guard Jose Calderon in the fourth quarter. If Hill can’t go Sunday, Lue said he will likely start Calderon.

Hill had an MRI on Saturday, but the results weren’t back. He is listed as questionable for Game 4 with back spasms. Hill was hurt during Game 1 when Trevor Booker set a back screen and felt stiffness before Game 2, but played 20 minutes.

For the Pacers, Bojan Bogdanovic was the difference maker, scoring 15 of his team-high 30 points in the fourth quarter. Bogdanovic struggled shooting the first two games of the series.

Bogdanovic, who made 7 of 9 3-pointers, kept his focus after two quick fouls in the first quarter and had to leave briefly in the fourth when he picked up his fifth foul. The seven 3-pointers tied a franchise playoff record, also held by Reggie Miller twice, Chuck Person and Paul George.

“I thought it was going to be another poor performance from myself, but in the second half I started hitting shots and started feeling (much) better and I think a did a great job (Friday night),” the Croatian forward said.

Bogdanovic said he was most pleased with his defense against James.

“Everybody thought before this season that I cannot play defense,” he said. “I don’t say that I am playing great defense, but I am working hard at trying to make it tough for each offensive player that I am guarding.”

Bogdanovic said he tries to push James so he catches the ball far from the basket.

“Against those type of players you just try to stay aggressive on them,” Bogdanovic said.

Pacers coach Nate McMillan was impressed with his ability to produce both ways.

“You’re taking a pounding if you’re on the defensive end of the floor if you’re guarding LeBron,” McMillan said. “But offensively he found some energy. He got some good looks and he knocked them down.”

The Pacers came back to win eight times during the regular season after being down 15 or more points.

“We’ve been resilient,” guard Victor Oladipo said. “We made an adjustment in the second half and it helped us. But it’s only one game; I’m looking forward to Sunday.”

Rumor: Portland coach Terry Stotts could lose job after being swept out of playoffs

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Regular season: Terry Stotts was mentioned as a Coach of the Year candidate after leading the Portland Trail Blazers to 49 wins and the three seed in the West, led by a top 10 defense.

Playoffs: Portland was swept out of the postseason in the first round by Anthony Davis.

The latter part of that is going to lead to some real soul searching and changes coming to the Trail Blazers. That could include Stotts losing his job, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

There is plenty of blame to go around for Portland’s quick exit from the postseason, Stein is right that it’s not all on Stott’s shoulders.

However, this is the third time in four years Portland is out in the first round, and it leads to the question “what is it about their style that makes them so defendable and beatable in the playoffs?” This is a little like Toronto in recent years, where despite a lot of talent they were predictable and therefore defendable in the postseason. How much of that falls on Stotts?

After a period of reflection in Portland, there are going to be changes in the wake of this sweep. Stotts’ job will be part of that discussion, no matter how good a job he did.

That said, if Stotts were to be let go he would hand on his feet very quickly.

After Ricky Rubio’s triple-double, Russell Westbrook promises to “shut that s*** off”

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Ricky Rubio outplayed Russell Westbrook Saturday night in Utah and now the Jazz are up 2-1 in that series.

Rubio did his damage from the midrange — he was 5-of-5 between the key and the arc — on his way to 26 points, to go with 11 rebounds and 10 assists. All series the Thunder have dared Rubio to shoot and to beat them, Saturday he did. It was a stark contrast to Westbrook’s 14 points on 17 shots Saturday with eight turnovers.

When asked about Rubio’s big night postgame, Westbrook was looking ahead to Game 4 and using a little NSFW language (hat tip to Ben Golliver of SI, who loves him some playoff podium video).

There you have it, a personal guarantee.

Rubio struggled some in Game 1, taking 18 shots and mostly the ones the Thunder wanted him to. However, after that he has been better at getting to his spots and taking the shots in rhythm, and it’s worked — he’s averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 8 assists per game this series. OKC has been focused on making life difficult for rookie Donovan Mitchell (with limited success) and it’s freed up Rubio to make plays.

More than just slowing the Spanish point guard, Westbrook and the Thunder need to figure out how to get their offense back on track against a Jazz defense that was best in the NBA once Gobert got healthy last season. Oklahoma City lost Game 2 when their big three — Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony — went 0-of-15 in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, OKC averaged 100 points per 100 possessions (well below their season average of 110.2) and Westbrook shot 29.4 percent. Do that again in Game 4 and it will not matter what Rubio shoots, what matters is the Thunder could be looking at a 3-1 deficit. The Thunder need to even this series before it heads back to Oklahoma City.

Gregg Popovich will not coach Game 4 following death of his wife, Erin

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San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will not be on the sidelines again for Game 4 Sunday following the death of his wife, Erin, to a lengthy illness.

Ettore Messina will again coach the Spurs.

Popovich also missed Game 3. His San Antonio Spurs are down 3-0 to the Golden State Warriors in the first-round matchup. None of that matters compared to the loss of a woman he loved and was married to for four decades.

Erin Popovich’s passing has cast a pall over the series, especially with Warriors coach Steve Kerr being very close to the Popovichs dating back to his playing days with the Spurs.

The reaction and sadness about Erin’s passing has reached well beyond this series.

Our thoughts are with the Popovich family in this difficult time.