Are owners, players closer to a deal than it seems? Maybe.

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David Stern spent a lot of his post-negotiating session Tuesday trying to make a point — that the players walked away from a fair deal, a 50/50 split of “basketball related income.” It felt like spin at the time, in part because it was an informal concept and part just how Stern portrayed it.

Well, it was his spin. But a few reports from inside the bargaining room – particularly by Ken Berger at CBSSports.com — have leaked out and the reality of those informal conversations was that the owners and players made real progress. The two sides may only be a couple percentage points apart, meaning more like $80 million a year than the $240 million in the last formal proposals from either side.

Still, that may well not be enough to save the start of the season. There are a whole lot of hurdles in the way to make a deal a reality.

Here is how Berger describes what was discussed.

The league’s offer, according to three people familiar with it, came in a range of 49-51 — with 49 percent guaranteed and a cap of 51 percent, the sources said….

While the owners were caucusing, a member of the players’ group returned with a counterproposal — approximately 52 percent of BRI for the players with no additional expenses deducted. The players’ counterproposal followed the format presented by the owners — a 51-53 percent band with 51 percent guaranteed and a cap of 53. League officials rejected the offer, the sources said.

So while Hunter and Stern remained publicly entrenched in the economic positions of their most recent formal proposals — with the players asking for 53 percent and the league offering effectively 47, the reality is this: the gap has closed to 2 percentage points of BRI, the difference between the midpoint of the two offers.

For the record, union officials are ticked at Stern for taking a side conversation public.

There is hope there, if you’re feeling optimistic (50-52 percent range seems the middle ground, although how many expenses the owners get to take off the top impacts that number). That said, there are also a whole lot of hurdles between where the sides are late Tuesday night and where they need to be to get to a deal. Likely too many.

The primary one is that no talks are scheduled. David Stern sounded like a man who wanted to talk again and he is waiting until Monday to cancel regular season games in hopes the players union will make one more push, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo. However, union chief Billy Hunter sounded like he was in no rush to meet again saying talks may not resume until next month.

That was in part because of the constituency in the negotiating room. Agents and star players — guys like Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant who were there Tuesday, and LeBron James who was there last week — do not want the union to accept anything less than 53 percent of BRI. The entire rank and file does not feel the same way, but the stars are the hardliners and they likely can pull a majority with them right now.

Which brings us to the next big hurdle — Hunter and Stern both would really have to sell a deal like the one informally discussed. Hunter already has agents talking decertification of the union and sending letters out to clients telling them not to accept a deal they don’t like. The stars can afford to hold out and be hardliners. Hunter would have to convince a majority of players this was a good deal.

Stern has his own hardline owners, smaller market owners and ones who bought in at high prices and want a labor win. This deal would be a major labor win, but would it be enough of one to please most owners? There are some out there that want players to lose paychecks and feel the sting, expecting that to lead to a better deal for owners.

Then there are the system questions — if the players come all the way down to 52 percent of BRI they are going to demand a soft-cap salary system similar to what has been in place. That could be a hard sell with some owners in smaller markets that want to handcuff the spending power of larger markets.

That’s a big mountain still to climb.

But, they can climb it this week or they can pay a lot of lawyers a lot more money for a month or two then climb that exact same mountain later. It’s up to them. All that hangs in the balance is the NBA season and killing the momentum the league has built up in the past couple seasons.

Watch Russell Westbrook drop a triple-double in epic battle with James Harden (VIDEO)

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HOUSTON (AP) Lou Williams scored 31 points off the bench, James Harden finished with 22 points and 12 assists, and the Houston Rockets never trailed while cruising to a 137-125 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday.

Russell Westbrook had 39 points, 11 rebounds and 13 assists for his second straight triple-double and his 36th this season, but Harden led the Rockets to a 25-point lead through three quarters in the matchup between top MVP candidates.

Trevor Ariza and Eric Gordon added 24 points apiece for the Rockets, whose lead was trimmed to eight on a 3-pointer by Westbrook with about 90 seconds left. The Rockets scored four quick points after that to secure the victory.

Harden left late in the game after crashing into the court and appearing to injure his left wrist but said in a TV interview he expected to be OK.

Houston jumped out to a 9-0 lead and was up by at least 20 for most of the game. It was a stark change from the first three games between these teams this season, which were decided by a combined seven points.

Williams made 11 of 15 shots, going 7 of 8 on 3-pointers. He didn’t miss a shot until his layup was blocked by Jerami Grant early in the fourth quarter.

Houston won its fourth straight overall and has won nine of their past 12 games against the Thunder.

The Rockets shot 71 percent in the first half, and Harden made a layup before grabbing a rebound and hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to extend Houston’s lead to 113-88 entering the fourth quarter.

The Thunder chipped away with a 12-4 run midway through the fourth quarter to get within 126-114 with 4 minutes left. Williams hit a 3-pointer after that to slow down the Thunder the team’s late run.

The Rockets had a 16-point lead in the third quarter before they used a 13-4 run to make it 108-83 with about 90 seconds left in the quarter. Williams had two 3-pointers in that stretch and a highlight came when Houston stripped the ball from Westbrook and Harden dished to Ariza, who finished with another 3. The run wrapped up with an alley-oop dunk from Harden to Clint Capela, but Capela received a technical on the play for hanging on the rim.

Mike D’Antoni received a technical seconds later for arguing that call.

Houston had built a 79-59 lead by halftime thanks in part to nearly perfect 3-point shooting by Trevor Ariza and Williams. Ariza made four of five attempts and had 16 points at the break, and Williams was a perfect 6 for 6 overall, with four 3-pointers to pile up 18 points in the first two quarters.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Victor Oladipo finished with 15 points. … Steven Adams and Alex Abrines scored 11 points apiece.

Rockets: Houston’s 79 points were the most the team has scored in a half this season. … Sunday was the 12th time this season where the Rockets had 100 points before the fourth quarter. … Williams had at least 20 points off the bench for the 29th time this season.

ANDERSON’S HEALTH

Houston’s Ryan Anderson will miss about two weeks after spraining his right ankle on Friday night against the Pelicans. D’Antoni hopes Anderson will recover in time to play the last couple of regular-season games and be at full strength for the start of the playoffs.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Visit Dallas on Monday.

Rockets: Host Golden State on Tuesday.

Watch every one of Jimmy Butler’s career-high 14 assists in win over Bucks (VIDEO)

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Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler seems to be thriving without backcourt teammate Dwyane Wade. On Sunday in a win against the Milwaukee Bucks, Butler dished out a career-high 14 assists to go along with 20 points, six rebounds, and three steals.

Butler, 27, helped Chicago to a 109-94 win over the Bucks. He looked good doing it, dropping dimes off of both the pick-and-roll and while coming off screens.

The NBA put together a handy little video to be able to check out all of Butler’s assists.

Clippers blow 18-point lead, lose in final 2 seconds on putback to Kings (VIDEO)

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The Los Angeles Clippers had a rough go of things against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday. Up by 18 with more than five minutes to go, LA blew their lead and were left to watch as the Kings sealed the game late.

The final possession for Sacramento came on a missed corner 3-pointer by Clippers guard Jamal Crawford. The Kings got the outlet pass out on the rebound, but Ben McLemore took it to the rack and missed. That’s when Willie Cauley-Stein stepped in, cleaned up the board, and put the game-winning shot home with less than two seconds left.

Los Angeles lost in spectacular fashion, and became the only team this season to lose given their game situation.

Here’s a compilation the NBA put together of Sacramento’s epic comeback:

Meanwhile, Chris Paul called it the worst regular season loss of his career.

The Clippers peaked too soon. Like, the first 20 games of the season too soon.

Russell Westbrook throws incredible halfcourt bounce pass vs. Rockets (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook had yet another triple-double on Sunday. The Oklahoma City Thunder star notched 13 assists in the loss to the Houston Rockets, 137-125, and one of them came on a nifty pass to teammate Victor Oladipo.

The play happened with the Thunder on the fastbreak early in the third quarter. Westbrook was moving from left-to-right across the middle of the floor with the ball while Oladipo streaked down the right wing.

With the Rockets defense collapsing, Westbrook reached halfcourt and fired a bounce pass that sliced through the opposition.

Oladipo finished with the clean dunk.

Still not sure it beats this one, but I think we’ll have to compare once the season comes to a close.