Report: Nets leave ‘Melo meeting “not confident,” but Knicks have own issues

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The Carmelo Anthony trade saga is nearing its end — finally — but like a soap opera’s final episodes the drama just seems to ramp up for the event. Here is where we stand Sunday morning.

Anthony and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov broke break and had a shot of, um, water at a Los Angeles area restaurant early Saturday night.

The result should not thrill Nets fans, tweeted Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo:

After Carmelo Anthony sit-down with New Jersey ownership, “The Nets didn’t come away very confident,” a source briefed on meeting tells Y!

That would seem to put the Knicks in a position of strength….

But they are doing their best to shoot themselves in the foot — including maybe driving team president Donnie Walsh away — according to Ken Berger at CBSSports.

The Knicks’ willingness to part with three starting players — Wilson Chandler, Danilo Gallinari and Raymond Felton — plus Eddy Curry’s expiring contract and a first-round pick from another team, marked a significant departure from the patient strategy employed by team president Donnie Walsh. And sources told CBSSports.com Saturday that the involvement of (Knicks owner James) Dolan, leaning on the advice of former team president Isiah Thomas, could call into question Walsh’s willingness to remain with the team beyond this season.

Wojnarowski backs up the idea that Thomas and Dolan are the ones pushing this trade in this form.

This is Dolan’s show now — he met with Anthony, he and Thomas are calling the shots. This trade, if it goes forward as constructed, is vintage Thomas-era Knicks. If Anthony will not sign with the Nets, the Knicks are bidding against themselves, so there is no reason to part with three starters. What is more, this deal combined with Amar’e Stoudemire’s and a likely much lower salary cap in a new CBA, will make it very difficult or even impossible to sign a third star like Chris Paul or Deron Williams to go with these two. Melo and Amar’e will be your guys. And you’ll need good role players — like the ones you are trading away — to go around them to make this work at all. This move hamstrings the team for years to come against the cap. It is vintage Thomas.

If Anthony is not going to go to the Nets, the Knick can afford to be patient and lowball the Nuggets, forcing them to take less for fear of getting nothing. Walsh was letting the situation come to him. Dolan and Thomas showed the patience and nuance of a five-year-old. Or a sports talk radio caller.

Berger adds that the Nuggets do have their “nuclear option.” They could tell Anthony they will not trade him to the Knicks under any circumstances, he has to agree to a sign and trade with the Nets or stay with the Nuggets. It’s risky for Denver — he could stay, opt out of his deal, become a free agent and sign with the Knicks next summer as a free agent (the scenario that frankly would be best for the Knicks). The Nuggets risk becoming the Cavaliers. But for Anthony to do so would be to give up tens of millions of dollars — we don’t know what a max contract will look like in a new CBA, but you can bet it will be lower than the current one. Less than the three years, $65 million extension on the table.

Does Anthony want to go to the Knicks bad enough to risk giving up tens of millions in guaranteed money? Will Dolan make sure the trade happens now for the Knicks? Will Anthony wake up Sunday morning and think the Nets don’t look so bad?

All of this and more are coming in the final episodes of the ‘Melodrama.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.