Owners, players to meet together with mediator Tuesday

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Tuesday is the latest key day in a long line of key days that has led us down a path where two weeks of the NBA season have been lost and more are threatened.

Tuesday NBA owners and players will sit down with the respected George Cohen — director of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service — who will try to help bridge the remaining gap and get the two sides to make a deal that could save the majority of the NBA season. He cannot force the two sides to agree a deal, but sometimes a neutral third party can get the two sides to listen, to see things in a different light. He can help build a consensus.

But he can only help them reach that consensus if both sides really want to reach a deal.

By all accounts the two sides are not that far apart — just a handful of percentage points (six on formal offers, three on informal) on how to split basketball related income (although each percentage point does represent about $40 million, so it’s a lot of money). There also remains a divide on the system issues, specifically how stiff a luxury tax there should be and length of contracts. There is a lot of work yet to do.

The damage and risks are mounting for both sides. The longer the lockout drags on, the more money lost, eating away at whatever dollars they think they are gaining through taking a hardline stand in negotiations. The longer this drags out the more damage the two sides do with fans.

Contrary to what the owners and players think, there will be no winners in this negotiation. Not with games missed. Sure, the owners will come out with a lot more money in their pockets than they did before this lockout started (something true even if they took the players offer of 47 percent of BRI). But the damage of perception has already started and is only going to get worse. Casual fans see millionaires and billionaires fighting over how to divide up $4 billion of the fans’ money during the worst recession in America in generations and they are disgusted. As they should be. While the negotiations have their own internal logic, from the outside the entire process comes off a stupid.

Union president Derek Fisher seemed to acknowledge that, as quoted at the Land O’ Lakers blog at ESPNLosAngeles.com.

“But relatively speaking, we know where the NBA, where this business, the game of basketball, those opportunities that have been afforded to us that other people can’t necessarily relate to, so we get that part of it. So that’s not why we’re not trying in any way, really, to look for sympathy or empathy from our fans in that regard. We don’t need them or want them to feel sorry for us because we’ll make less money because we’ve given up more percentage. That’s not what this is about.”

The bigger issue for the owners and players is not a lack of empathy for their cause, it’s that feeling of disgust fans have with the process turning to apathy. That will happen more and more as this process drags out. Fans will move on and be slow to return. Maybe Cohen can get that through the thick skulls on both sides.

We’ll see. Because the “at least they are still talking” optimism has worn out. Even with a mediator in the room.

Robin Lopez helpfully stopped to tie Jae Crowder’s shoe (VIDEO)

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Why did Robin Lopez tie Jae Crowder‘s shoe during Sunday’s Game 4 between the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls? We may never know. Perhaps he was just helping the Celtics forward after he tossed him to the ground? Or maybe he’s just doing weird Robin Lopez things?

In any case, Lopez helpfully stopped to tie Crowder’s shoe after it came off during a battle down low early in the third quarter at United Center.

Here’s how it went down.

Via Twitter:

I still have no idea.

Noticeably frustrated, Russell Westbrook gets prickly with reporter after loss to Rockets (VIDEO)

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The Oklahoma City Thunder and Houston Rockets played an ugly game down the stretch on Sunday. The Rockets employed a hack-a-Andre Roberson strategy, while the Thunder played sloppy and often poorly with Russell Westbrook out of the game.

The latter was the subject in question when Oklahoman reporter Berry Tramel spoke with Westbrook and Steven Adams at a postgame press conference following the Game 4 loss, 113-109.

Tramel’s question — whether the Rockets got a boost when Westbrook was off the floor — was directed at Adams, but the Thunder MVP candidate couldn’t let it go.

Snapping at Tramel, Westbrook told him not to split them up.

Via Twitter:

Tramel’s question is legitimate, and one of the overarching themes of this series thus far. Westbrook’s response is pretty far off the mark, but it did tell the story of how he’s feeling going away from Chesapeake Arena down 3-1.

Game 5 is on Tuesday in Houston.

Kevin Love throws full court pass to LeBron James for sweet and-1 bucket (VIDEO)

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Kevin Love and LeBron James were locked in an epic battle with the Indiana Pacers during the first half of Sunday’s Game 4 playoff matchup. Part of that matchup included yet another long, full court pass between the Cleveland Cavaliers duo.

Love, as you might guess, was the passer and LeBron was again the receiver.

The play came in the final minute of the second quarter, with Love nabbing a rebound from the right block and LeBron jetting down the floor.

Love’s pass was perfectly placed, and Paul George just didn’t have the strength to keep him from getting the and-1.

Cleveland completed the series sweep on Indiana with the win, 106-102.

Nene’s 28 lead Rockets past Thunder for 3-1 series lead

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Nene scored 28 points on perfect shooting from the field, and the Houston Rockets beat the Oklahoma City Thunder 113-109 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round playoff series.

Nene made all 12 of his shots and had 10 rebounds. He helped the Rockets overcome an off night by James Harden, who finished with 16 points on 5-for-16 shooting.

Eric Gordon and Lou Williams each scored 18 points for the Rockets. Trevor Ariza had 14.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Houston.

Oklahoma City star Russell Westbrook had a triple-double by halftime and finished with 35 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. The Thunder said Westbrook joined Wilt Chamberlain as the only players to claim three consecutive playoff triple-doubles.

Steven Adams scored 18 points and Victor Oladipo added 15 for the Thunder.

Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at the break. He grabbed the 10th rebound in the final second of the second quarter, and the Thunder led 58-54 at intermission. Meanwhile, Harden made just 2 of 9 shots and scored just six points in the first half.

The Thunder opened the second half with a 10-2 run, but Houston closed to 77-73 at the end of the third quarter.

Adams made the first of two free throws with 21.7 seconds remaining to cut Oklahoma City’s deficit to four. He rebounded his missed second free throw and found Westbrook for a 3-pointer that cut Houston’s lead to one point. But the Thunder lost track of Nene on the other end, and he converted a three-point play. Gordon’s two free throws with 6.2 seconds made it a four-point game.

TIP-INS

Rockets: G Patrick Beverley was fined $25,000 by the NBA for confronting a fan after Game 3. The league announced the fine about two hours before Game 4 tipped off.

Thunder: Westbrook had just one turnover in the first half. … Adams went 6 for 6 from the field in the first half. … Westbrook missed all six of his shots in the third quarter.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.