Only hope for NBA season is rational negotiations. Which is bad.

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The courts are not going to solve the NBA lockout.

That’s where the process is headed after the union started taking steps to abandon its right to negotiate for the players. Anti-trust lawsuits will follow. Along with plenty of heated rhetoric from both sides.

Yet, only one thing can save part of an NBA season at this point — rational people resuming negotiations, something we have yet to see much of from either side. Still, that is the only hope for fans who want a 2011-12 NBA season.

It could happen; there are plenty of smart people who have predicted these talks would come down to the first week in January and the drop-dead date for a season to take place — just like happened in 1999. And some kind of season would be saved, just like then. It’s just hard to be even that optimistic right now.

League commissioner David Stern is right that the players’ plan to decertify the union, followed by anti-trust lawsuits against the league, is more negotiating tactic than long-term play. It certainly is all about leverage in negotiations, unless you think the players are willing to miss not only this season but the next one (and maybe the one after that) to take its anti-trust efforts all the way through the courts to a ruling (they are not). That’s more than $4 billion in lost player salary not to mention the legal fees. No way the players will push it that far.

This is a grab by the players at temporary leverage in the negotiations. They have felt powerless, backed into a corner with offers they didn’t like and ultimatums from Stern, so they finally reached for the one big weapon they had.

What happens now? Nobody knows. Not really. The goal of the union’s moves today was to throw uncertainty into the system, and it has done that. We know there will be anti-trust lawsuits, we know the sides will sling verbal arrows at each other, but after that this is unpredictable.

Except that again, at some point, the owners and players will have to talk and negotiate a deal.

This decertification process is basically what the NFL union did — however, the narrow rulings in that case don’t give us much of a picture for how the efforts will fare in the NBA. But in the end, the NFL is playing right now because its owners and players hammered out a deal at the negotiating table.

It’s the same for the NBA— this will be a negotiated settlement when all is said and done. The difference is NFL owners and players seemed more willing to compromise to make a deal (particularly the owners who do turn a profit in the NFL).

Right now no talks are scheduled and you can bet it will be weeks (at least) before the sides talk again. If when those talks start the owners stick with Stern’s promise to use a “reset” offer that gives the players less money and to put in a hard salary cap, then those talks were going nowhere.

But if the sides can negotiate from where they left off in their latest talks, they are fully capable of making a deal. They are not that far apart. There are philosophical and systematic issues, but they are solvable.

We just need some rationality. At some point. From somewhere. Anywhere.

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.