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Monday’s probably it for the 2011-2012 NBA season

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This isn’t scare-journalism. I’m not being sensationalist, over-dramatic, or jumping to conclusions. I have ducked and dodged this scenario for as long as possible, believing there was always another chance, always another bargaining session, always another scenario that could happen to avoid it. But I can’t get around it any longer. They’ve broken me, and I’ve come to the conclusion based on everything in the past two days that it is inescapable.

The 2011-2012 NBA season is really, actually going to be cancelled. You may be saying “I knew this for months!” or something similarly cynical, but no one knew. They were talking. Not as early as they should have, but they were talking. No one knew how it would end. But here we are. We’re not going to have a season.

I’ll let that sink in for a minute, for all of us, before I continue.

The players’ union is set to pursue decertification after rejecting the league’s latest offer. I’m not going to rehash the issues or break down the MLE. I’m not going to point out how the players are just seeing what’s directly in front of them instead of the whole board and how, regardless of their consideration of threat, the offer must get worse from here on out to recoup the owners’ losses. I’m not going to rail on the owners for their continued program of bullying, intransigence, obtuseness and outright disdain for the lives, jobs, and joy of millions of people.

Let’s instead start here:

What I know for sure: David Stern didnt arbitrarily arrive at 72-game offer. To have a season, Im told, Stern insists on at least 70 games. League VERY unhappy w/50-game sked in ’99. Sources say Stern has conveyed to union deal must come soon so 2011-12 game count can start w/a 70-game season.

via Twitter / @ESPNSteinLine: What I know for sure: Davi ….

You may be one that responds with “Of course the league is leaking such thing to the media! He wants to put pressure on them to take the deal!” And that’s fine. That’s what this has come to. It’s down to whether you believe the league is bluffing or not. The players either think Stern’s bluffing, or don’t care. But to step back and look at it, it’s hard to believe the league has come this far down the path of playing “chicken” with any intention of swerving. This whole thing has been lead by forces which are irrational. They’re squabbling over a sign-and-trade for tax teams which has been used three times in ten years, for crying out loud. They’re arguing over table scraps, after they’ve taken half of the players’ food to begin with.

And for the players, there’s no one to say “step back and see the whole board.” The union’s entire plan has been predicated on living day-to-day, moment-to-moment, game-to-game. They’re taking it one game at a time, and it’s killing them.

“How about this deal?”

“No, we don’t like that. Rejected.”

“How about his deal?”

“No, we don’t like that. Rejected.”

“OK, this is our last offer before things get monumentally worse for everyone because we can’t control the forces on our side.”

“No, we don’t like that. Rejected.”

There’s no sense of what comes after they reject this, because the players are reacting emotionally to what’s right in front of their faces. The people who usually are looking out for them long-term? Those are the agents, who are looking at this long term, they’re just looking at it long-term for all players and all agents, ever, not for this group. Based on an infinite time-table, nuking the entire thing and risking everything on a decertification and lawsuit ploy that according to experts has a snowball’s chance in hell of working, and even less of a chance of being sustainable through the appeals process for the players who won’t have the funds to fight this thing to the need, that ploy is still preferable to the agents that swallowing this deal. Fighting is better than not-fighting and coming back in seven years. For the players, they don’t see that. They just see a group of owners who don’t care about their injuries, their wives and kids, their livelihoods, their game, and have bullied, pushed, prodded, and insulted them for two years. They’re reacting emotionally.

“You want a fight? Fine. Let’s fight.”

No one’s thinking rationally, no one’s thinking clear-headed, no one’s thinking big picture. It’s the Cold War, only without the economic and geographic realities to keep the two sides separated. The owners think the players will buckle, the players think the owners are bluffing. Each side’s going to die in this, everyone’s going to lose.

Except hockey. Hockey should make out pretty well.

In July I thought it would be settled by early November. In October I thought maybe Christmas. Now I can’t see it. The optimists are out of hope. Hope is stupid. The only thing being driven here is power and money and ego, and there’s nothing to derail the train. The only way to prove to the other side that they’re not afraid to kill the season is for both sides to kill the season.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe cooler heads will prevail at the players’ meeting Monday. Maybe the threat of decert will magically scare an organization almost entirely lead by lawyers into continuing negotiations on their offer. Maybe … maybe… maybe…

I’m out of maybes. The league’s out of maybes. The players are out of maybes. All that’s left is the press of a button, a mushroom cloud, and a nuclear winter for professional basketball. I’m not even angry anymore. I’m out of energy to be livid at the owners, frustrated with the players, disappointed in leadership. I’m just sorry for every parking lot attendant, concession worker, six-year old fan who would have seen his or her first game, every lifelong fan with season tickets, every writer looking forward to doing what they do best, every player whose career gets irreparably damaged, every community who gets a chunk of their economy removed, every blog writer and every fan, everywhere.

It all ends Monday.

 

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.