NBA owners, players undersell progress because it is fragile

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Last time there was optimism about an NBA labor deal, David Stern was standing in the back of the union press conference joking with Billy Hunter, and the words “striking distance” were thrown around. Then it all blew up.

Wednesday night — really, Thursday morning — after 12 hours of talks that again led to optimism, both sides downplayed it. Stern was saying people should not read “optimism or pessimism” into anything and the players were talking about how much work was to be done.

It may blow up again, or this time the two sides may push through. But the attitude suggests the sides have learned the fragility of what they have and are trying hard to make it work. A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com had a good quote along these lines.

“Remember, they have to go back and sell this to their people,” one source said. “No matter what they agree on, those people, the owners and the players, are the ones who will decide if there’s a deal or not. They’re not going to be happy, or show signs of being happy, until this deal is done.”

If one side hypes what happens, saying it made big gains, that would make it more likely the other side’s constituency would try to shoot the deal down. So hype was nowhere to be found Thursday morning.

We don’t know what progress was made in the meeting. The players went into this negotiating session giving up more revenue — down to the 50/50 deal the owners wanted — but expecting some give on system issues in return. The owners are not giving it all up. Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo tweeted that progress was made on three of the five key system issues.

However, all those issues are interlocked with the revenue split tied in — pull on one loose thread and the whole thing comes apart. It’s fragile. It needs to be treated that way.

But maybe the best sign that there is real progress is anecdotal. Like this little exchange overheard by Henry Abbott of TrueHoop.

As he left the news conference early Thursday morning, after 12 hours of bargaining, Stern stopped in the crowded hallway to converse with union economist Kevin Murphy, who says he is trying to arrange his schedule to be here for the next session to start at noon.

Stern encouraged Murphy to show up, saying, “It will be a good day to be here.”

Don’t read much into that. But that doesn’t sound like a guy who think things will go badly Thursday. Just don’t expect Stern to sell the positives.

Grizzlies beat slumping Pacers, who fall into tie for final playoff spot

AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Conley matched his career high with seven 3-pointers on his way to 36 points, helping the Memphis Grizzlies rout the Indiana Pacers 110-97 on Wednesday night.

Vince Carter had 21 points and eight rebounds, and Zach Randolph finished with 17 points as Memphis snapped a four-game losing streak. Conley went 13 for 21 from the field.

Paul George led the Pacers with 22 points, Aaron Brooks, who provided an early spark from outside the arc, had 18 points, and Thaddeus Young finished with 16.

Indiana lost for the fourth time in five games.

Memphis played without All-Star center Marc Gasol, who missed his third straight game with a left foot strain. But Conley helped the Grizzlies get off the fast start, and Pacers were never able to catch up.

Memphis led by as many as 22 in the second quarter and carried a 72-53 advantage into the break. Conley scored 22 points in the first half, and the Grizzlies went 10 for 17 from beyond the arc in the first two periods.

Brooks made four 3-pointers and scored 14 in the first half for Indiana.

The Grizzlies led 96-79 after three, and the sliding Pacers never threatened in the fourth.

Indiana (37-38) dropped into a tie with Miami for the last spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Both are two games behind Milwaukee and Atlanta.

The Heat, Bucks and Hawks all won Wednesday night.

TIP-INS

Pacers: Brooks made a 3-pointer in the first quarter to reach 800 for his career. … Indiana dropped to 0-8 in road games on the second night of a back-to-back.

Grizzlies: JaMychal Green was out with left shoulder soreness. That caused Memphis to use its 22nd different starting lineup this season. … Memphis scored 38 points in the first quarter, matching its highest point total for any quarter this season. … Memphis has made at least 10 3-pointers in 36 games. … In the third quarter, Carter passed Ray Allen (24,505) for 22nd in NBA history for career points scored. … Reserve guard Andrew Harrison left in the third quarter with a right ankle injury.

PACERS HOMECOMINGS

Pacers forward Thaddeus Young played high school basketball in Memphis and still lives there. Pacers guard Monta Ellis has a home in the Eads community east of Memphis.

HOME STRETCH

Memphis (41-34), which sits seventh in the Western Conference playoff race, has a beneficial schedule down the stretch. Of its seven remaining games, five are at home, and five are against teams with losing records.

UP NEXT

Pacers: Visit Toronto on Friday.

Grizzlies: Host the Dallas Mavericks on Friday.

Three Mavericks teammates restrain Devin Harris, who still gets ejected (video)

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Dallas guard Devin Harris was ejected from Wednesday night’s 121-118 loss to New Orleans after angrily protesting calls made by official Ben Taylor.

Harris was assessed two quick technical fouls by Taylor, the first after Harris protested Taylor’s decision to whistle him for a personal foul when he collided with Pelicans’ guard Jordan Crawford.

The impact with Crawford sent Harris crashing to the court, marking the second time in the period that Harris had gone down hard. The first time, no foul was called when a collision with Pelicans’ guard E'Twaun Moore left Harris flat on his back.

When Harris was assessed the first technical, he went into a tirade and had to be restrained by teammates as he advanced toward Taylor. That triggered his ejection.

Bucks’ Malcolm Brogdon beats shot clock, Celtics with dagger (video)

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Who should win Rookie of the Year?

Joel Embiid has been, by far, the best rookie while on the court, but a season-ending injury will limit him to just 31 games. Malcolm Brogdon has been next best over the full course of the season. Dario Saric is making a heck of a finishing kick, and with a couple weeks left, he can still catch Brogdon.

But Brogdon got his own late signature moment in the Bucks’ 103-100 win over the Celtics tonight.

With the Bucks up one in the final seconds and the shot clock nearing expiration, Brogdon hit an off-balance jumper with 3.9 seconds left to produce the final margin.

Milwaukee’s win drops Boston (48-27) to second in the Eastern Conference, behind only the Cavaliers (47-26). The Bucks (39-36) keep pace with the Hawks in a tie for fifth.

Russell Westbrook scores most points ever in triple-double, 57

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Russell Westbrook led a double-digit comeback in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Been there done, that.

Westbrook hit a defining buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Been there done, that.

Westbrook posted a historic triple-double. Been there, done that.

All three in one game?

That’s a new level for Westbrook, who lifted the Thunder to a 114-106 win over the Magic tonight while posting an incredible stat line: 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

James Harden scored 53 in a triple-double just this season, and Westbrook has already one-upped that record.

This MVP race is one for the ages.