Cleveland Cavaliers  v Denver Nuggets

Now what for Carmelo Anthony? Denver?

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A trade between Denver and New Jersey for Carmelo Anthony always made sense — for Denver and New Jersey. Anthony never seemed all that interested, the fact he wanted to meet with Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov to be sold on the team does not make him sound like a guy who wanted to go there. Meanwhile the drama dragged on and on and on….

Until Wednesday afternoon, when Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov killed it. He told the Nets management to walk away from the deal, that the costs had of making the deal had become too high.

What this sounds like to me is a face-saving deal:

Anthony never really wanted to go to New Jersey, but Anthony does not like to play the bad guy (as Alan Hahn of Newsday noted). By handling it this way Prokhorov gets to keep some dignity. This way, he’s the one doing the breaking up, not the one getting dumped. He gets to sound like the hard a– Russian rather than the guy who could not win the free agent again (he had enough of that last summer).

So now what? Who is left to chase ‘Melo?

Here is a list of teams where Carmelo Anthony may land:

• The New York Knicks. Knicks fans, come on down, you’re the next contestants on “Is The Price Right for Denver?” As distasteful as it may be for the Nuggets front office, this may be the best deal they can get. Especially if New York is the only place that Anthony will sign an extension.

If Knicks GM Donnie Walsh can trade Anthony Randolph for a 2012 first round pick (as is expected), then the rules allow them to trade their 2011 and 2013 first round picks (even though they did not have a 2010 pick). The package likely would be something like Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, the body and expiring contract of Eddy Curry, and a first-round pick or two.

The Nuggets were right to like a deal that involved Derrick Favors more, but this gets them a couple of quality players, a couple picks and payroll savings next year. That’s not terrible.

• The New Jersey Nets… Prokhorov was bluffing. It doesn’t seem likely, but it a possibility. If Anthony was willing to go to the Nets but the Nuggets kept pushing and overplayed their hand — “You have to take Renaldo Balkman or the deal is off!” — this is the way to call that bluff. Make the Nuggets accept your terms, which is still better than any other offer. And it could happen, in a couple of weeks the Nuggets might call the Nets back and accept lesser terms.

Of course, this theory depends on Anthony actually wanting to go to New Jersey. Wanting it bad enough that this stunt doesn’t frighten him off. Yes, that is possible, but I wouldn’t bet the kids’ college fund on it.

• The Chicago Bulls. They were in the bidding last summer but pulled out. However CAA power broker William Wesley is reportedly headed to Chicago to try and convince them to get back in the game. The Bulls might be willing to talk but they have no incentive to up the offer from the Luol Deng based one the Nuggets already soundly rejected. The Bulls are not about to give up Joakim Noah, especially not now. It would be quite a loss of face for Denver to come crawling back to this deal.

• The Denver Nuggets: They could play hardball. They could dare Carmelo Anthony to not sign the three-year, $65 million extension on the table and take his chances as a free agent under a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Basically, call his bluff. See if he’s willing to lose $10 million or more. Anthony has said he wants to sign an extension and have a deal under this CBA, he’s comfortable in Denver, so maybe he’ll cave.

Not likely. He’s still gong to make at least $50 million on a new deal wherever it is, which should be enough to live on. If he wants out, he wants out. This strategy also carries big risks for Denver — if he does leave as a free agent the Nuggets get nothing in return. They are Cleveland or Toronto. That seems too big a risk, they need to get something back for losing their star.

• The Dallas Mavericks: Mark Cuban has said he wants to get in on the bidding if it comes to “rent-a-Melo.” And by rent-a-Melo we mean Dallas doesn’t care if he signs the extension or not, they would be happy to rent him for the remainder of this season to try and win a title.

Denver could get an up-and-coming young player like Rodrigue Beaubois and save money on the expiring deal of Caron Butler (who is already out for the year with knee surgery). Dallas would also have to send picks and other players. It’s really not as good as what the Knicks can offer, but if you want to spite the Knicks and Melo…

• The Rockets: They have wanted to step in as part of the rent-a-Melo portion of the bidding as well (giving them the chance to woo him for the long term). The Rockets have Yao Ming’s expiring contract, a lot of good role players — Kevin Martin, Shane Battier and others — and have a pick or two to send. But right now they are well out of the playoffs and bringing in Anthony means they likely only move up the seven seed at best, to face a team like the Lakers or Mavericks in the first round. Is that worth what would be given up?

Kevin Love shut down at the rim by Bismack Biyombo (VIDEO)

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Once again, Bismack Biyombo was a force in the paint that the Raptors leaned on heavily during their Game 4 win against the Cavaliers.

His biggest play of the night was this clean block of Kevin Love at the rim. Love passed to LeBron James in the post, caught his defender napping and cut the rim, got the pass back from James and… denied.

Biyombo also got LeBron James at the rim but was called for a foul much to the dismay of Biyombo, Raptors fans, and the ESPN broadcast crew (it was the right call — watch Biyombo leap across the lane, he is anything but vertical, he contacts LeBron’s body, that’s a foul).  Either way it’s worth watching.

NBA VP explains decision not to suspend Draymond Green; says very different play than Dahntay Jones

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 22:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors drives against Steven Adams #12 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in the second quarter in game three of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 22, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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All day long NBA Twitter — and the Warriors, and the Thunder — waited for the shoe to drop on a decision about suspending Draymond Green for a kick to the “groin” of the Cavaliers’ Steven Adams.

Everyone just waited. And waited. And waited.

It took that long because the league wanted to be thorough — watching the film, looking at similar incidents (and the punishments there), talking to the players and the referees, and thinking it through. It was a decision with a huge impact on the series (Golden State was not winning Game 4 without Green).

So why did NBA executive vice president of basketball operations Kiki VanDeWeghe decide not to suspend Green, rather upping the foul to a flagrant 2 and taking on a $25,000 fine?VanDeWeghe talked in some detail to Sam Amick of the USA Today in a piece you should read right now. This is just a highlight.

We have professional investigators that conduct the investigation. They talk to the players, they talk to all the referees, including the replay officials, and they all come back and report to me. I obviously discuss it internally, and especially with referee operations, get their perspective. But at the end of the day … every play is different and that’s the problem. You take into account everything. You take into account t what the referees have said. They obviously went with a Flagrant One last night, and you take into account the comparables. The problem with comparables is they never tell the whole story.

One comparable a lot of people supporting the suspension brought up was the one-game suspension for Cleveland Dahntay Jones just a day before (for a punch to the groin of Bismack Biyombo. Except VanDeWeghe says it was not comparable.

But just to talk about the Dahntay Jones situation, I think that was basically a completely different play. That, you had somebody (who was) tussling for a rebound, and Jones brings back his hand his hand is open. And as he brings his hand back forward and makes contact with Bismack’s (Biyombo) groin area, the fist is closed. And so you have contact with a closed fist, so to me that’s a very different scenario and, to me, a different fact pattern, so it’s very different from what we’re talking about with Draymond, that I viewed as a flail that is becoming, you know, pretty common amongst our players in trying to sell calls. Draymond does it a fair amount, Westbrook does it a fair amount, and a number of other players. Unfortunately, in this particular one, Draymond’s leg connected in the same Adams groin area, the same area, as the Jones one, but everything else about the call, or the play, was really different.

That is what the Warriors tried to sell, and the league came to find — Green was fouled but in trying to sell that call a little he accidentally kicked Adams where men least like to be kicked.

None of this is going to change anyone’s mind — if you’re convinced Green’s kick was intentional, and he should have been suspended, there is no evidence that will get you to think otherwise. This is just context, it helps everyone understand the process and the decision. More information is a good thing.

Raptors race out to lead, hang on to beat Cavaliers 105-99, even series 2-2

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23: Kyle Lowry #7 of the Toronto Raptors handles the ball in the fourth quarter against LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Now this is some adversity.

After winning 10 straight games to open the playoffs, the Cavaliers struggled in Game 3 in Toronto last Saturday, but that felt almost like a setback rather than a change of direction in the series. At least it did until Game 4 tipped off.

Toronto again came out with fantastic energy again on defense, scrambling and contesting everything. The Cavaliers were not attacking (well, except LeBron James) and were kicking out for threes — and missing. As a team, Cleveland was 3-of-22 from three in the first half. Meanwhile, Kyle Lowry was hot on the other end, both hitting long threes and setting up teammates. Lowry was 8-of-11 shooting in the first half, 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and had three assists as well.

Raptors led 57-41 at the half. They needed every point of that down the stretch.

Cleveland started the second half on an 11-0 run and came back behind Kyrie Irving (15 second half points), LeBron, and a more focused defense. With six minutes to go in the game Cleveland even took the lead. It felt like this was when the Cavaliers would assert themselves as the best team in the East.

Except the Raptors out hustled and out executed the Cavaliers down the stretch. Bismack Biyombo was grabbing key rebounds inside (Patrick Patterson had a huge offensive rebound as well), and Lowry and DeRozan remained hot — the guards combined for 21 points on 8-of-11 shooting in the fourth quarter — not taking threes (0-of-1) but attacking and getting to the basket an the line.

The result was a 105-99 Toronto win that evens the Eastern Conference Finals at 2-2 heading back to Cleveland Wednesday for Game 5.

“I thought we come back, had control of the game, was up three points, then we made some defensive mistakes you can’t do down the stretch, and they cost us — each time we made a mistake they made us pay,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said postgame.

This was another game where Toronto played with great defensive energy and the Cavaliers responded by settling — they took 41 threes in Game 3 (hitting 13), Monday they were 13-of-42. J.R. Smith was 3-of-11, Kevin Love 2-of-7 (and sat out the fourth quarter with a potential injury, he was limping). The guys that kept the Cavaliers in it in the fourth (besides LeBron, who was fantastic again) were Richard Jefferson and Channing Frye, who combined 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting. But it was not enough.

“We’ve got to be more well balanced,” LeBron said on a night he finished with 29 points on 11-of-16 shooting. “We started the game, we had some great looks, but when they’re not going you’ve got to be able to switch it up and get into the paint and do what you can do. I was able to get into the paint a little bit, Kyrie as well, but we just haven’t shot the ball from the three point line.”

Offensively, the Raptors were carried by Lowry and DeRozan, which was the case all season. Lowry had 35 points on 20 shots and looked every bit the All-Star version of himself.

“He’s made shots,” Lue said. “He’s being aggressive. He’s making shots. Tonight he made some early baskets that gave him some confidence, I thought, in the first quarter, and he carried it throughout the game.”

DeRozan had 32 points on 23 shots and was getting to the spots on the floor he liked. Once in Toronto both Biyombo and Patterson have done a good job of switching up their screen angles on the pick-and-roll, and the Cavaliers get flummoxed by this.

“We’ve got to find a way to be more consistent,” Lowry said. “(He and DeRozan) need to find a way to be consistent throughout a whole series.”

Then again there was Biyombo, the free agent to be making the case he should get paid big this summer. He finished with 14 boards — including a number of key ones late — and three blocks. His presence inside has the Cavaliers hesitant to attack the paint.

This sets up a lot of interesting questions heading into Game 5 Wednesday.

Can Toronto play with the same energy on the road? Can Cleveland adjust to the Toronto defense and get back to attacking the paint? Will Lowry stay hot? Will Love regain his stroke?

The bottom line is this is a series now — best of three. And the Cavaliers are no lock to advance.

Watch Kyle Lowry’s red-hot shooting second quarter

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Kyle Lowry found his shot back home in Toronto.

After a rough first couple games (actually a rough couple rounds to start the playoffs), Lowry has gotten hot back home, and that seemed to peak in the second quarter when he shot 6-of-7 overall and 3-of-4 from three. He had 15 points, 20 in the quarter, and the Raptors were up 16 at the half.