What has to happen Friday for NBA to have labor peace

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We are close. Very close.

By Monday we could be talking about what the Heat/Lakers/Celtics need to do in free agency, not luxury tax details. There are real signs of hope. David Stern watched the NBA players’ union press conference Thursday from the back row of the room, and both he and union head Billy Hunter were laughing and saying to each other “tomorrow.”

So what has to happen? What has to be covered Friday for there to be a handshake and a deal?

Here are three key hurdles.

• Basketball related income (BRI). This is the elephant in the room — how you divide up the league’s revenue. How you split up the money. It has not been discussed the last two days and Hunter said it will be the first thing discussed Friday morning. Pray it is a long meeting, because if it is a short it means they discussed BRI and remain so far apart they walked away from the table.

BRI is the league revenue, all the money that flows into the league from ticket sales and national television contracts, as well as part of the money from luxury suites, local television and radio, even parking and concessions. In the old deal, the players got 57 percent (of what is left after the owners take a cut off the top for expenses).

Last we left off, the players came down to 52.5 percent, the owners were at 50 percent. That’s looks close but it is still about $100 million a season. If neither side will budge off their line then the talks are dead again. But if the owners gave in on some system issues — for example softening the luxury tax and keeping Bird rights (so teams can go over the cap to resign free agents) — would the players come down closer to 50 percent? Will the owners come up a little? Can they agree to a band that slides up and down depending on revenue? They are close, there are ways to make this happen.

But how to split up the money is what this whole thing is about in the end. It’s not going to be easy.

• Exceptions for luxury tax teams. One thing the owners want in the new agreement is a way to rein in big spending teams, to level the playing field (or so they think). One is a new luxury tax that increases the more teams spend, one that would escalate fines the more years teams are paying the tax.

The remaining stumbling block here is what are the exceptions to the tax, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo.

Before tackling the revenue split, the biggest hurdle left to solving the system issues appears to be with the use of midlevel and bi-annual exceptions for tax-paying teams.

While details were still unclear how a punitive luxury tax system would work for teams exceeding the salary cap, one league source involved in the talks told Y! Sports on Thursday night: “The tax is not the issue. The exceptions are where the fight is.”

• The hardliners not messing things up. This is what has happened when deals have been close before — Kevin Garnett comes in and stares down the owners and says the players will not go below 53 percent of BRI; or owners like Dan Gilbert and Paul Allen push for more from the players and don’t give any more. Even keeping the union’s attack-dog lawyer Jeffrey Kessler out of the room the last few days seems to have mattered (he is in Russia on other business). Keeping those guys at arm’s length until there is a handshake matters — you can sell this deal once it is in place, but those guys could mess it up before we get to that point.

There are other little things to be covered — for example the draft age limit has not been a topic yet — but those are relatively minor and not deal breakers. The three above are the reasons we would not see a deal in the next 72 hours or so.

And if we don’t see a deal then, it may be a long, cold winter without NBA hoops.

Isaiah Thomas scores 33, Celtics beat Bulls 104-95 to tie series

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CHICAGO (AP) Isaiah Thomas scored 33 points, and the Boston Celtics beat the Chicago Bulls 104-95 on Sunday to tie their first-round playoff series at 2-all.

Boston blew a 20-point lead, but Thomas keyed a third-quarter run that put the Celtics back on top after Chicago briefly went ahead.

Gerald Green made four 3-pointers on his way to 18 points, helping the top-seeded Celtics return the favor in Chicago after dropping the first two games at home. Al Horford added 15 points and 12 rebounds.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Boston.

Jimmy Butler carried the Bulls with 33 points and nine assists. Nikola Mirotic and seldom-used Isaiah Canaan each scored 13 points, but Dwyane Wade finished with just 11.

Canaan made his first appearance since April 10, with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg searching for help at point guard with Rajon Rondo missing his second straight game because of a broken right thumb.

The Celtics led by 20 in the second quarter and were still up 10 in the third when Chicago scored 12 straight. The Bulls went ahead 65-63 on Robin Lopez‘s hook shot with 4:35 left in the quarter.

Thomas answered with back-to-back layups and scored 10 points in a 12-0 run that gave the Celtics a 75-65 lead, and they withstood a push by the Bulls early in the fourth.

With Thomas and Green each scoring 16 in the first half, the Celtics carried a 57-46 lead into the break.

Butler led the Bulls with 17 in the half. But the offense struggled in a big way with Rondo unavailable. Jerian Grant started and went to the bench after about five ineffective minutes. Michael Carter-Williams then picked up two quick fouls, forcing the Bulls to go with Canaan in the first quarter.

The Celtics, meanwhile, led 41-21 early in the second quarter. But things started to turn after Canaan stole the ball from Marcus Smart and scored on a layup.

Smart feigned throwing the ball at Butler. The two came nose to nose, resulting in technical fouls for both players, and the Bulls started to shoot their way back into it.

Mirotic hit a pair of 3-pointers and scored eight in the quarter. Bobby Portis cut it to 52-42 with his basket late in the half, and Butler hit two free throws with 22.6 seconds left to make it 57-46.

RONDO FINED

The NBA fined Rondo for attempting to trip Boston Celtics forward Jae Crowder from the bench in Game 3. Crowder jawed at the Bulls’ bench after hitting a jumper and Rondo extended his leg as Crowder walked by.

TIP-INS

Celtics: Thomas was just 1 of 9 on 3-pointers but made 12 of 13 free throws.

Bulls: Butler made 19 of 23 foul shots after failing to get to the line in Game 3. … Canaan was inactive for the first three games.

LeBron James swats Thaddeus Young on yet another chasedown block (VIDEO)

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LeBron James is The King, but he’s also the king of chasedown blocks in the NBA. During Sunday’s Game 4 matchup with the Indiana Pacers, the Cleveland Cavaliers star dropped the hammer yet again on an unsuspecting opponent.

The victim this time was Pacers forward Thaddeus Young, who was out on a 2-on-2 break with LeBron trailing.

To be honest, Young should have known better than to try this.

Via Twitter:

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

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.