Heat, Knicks may be big winners in last minute deal changes

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Part of the motivation for the hardline owners during the NBA lockout was to never let what happened with LeBron James going to Miami to ever happen again. To never let what Carmelo Anthony did to the Nuggets ever happen again (they lost the ‘Melo part of the fight). Small market owners didn’t like players banding together to go to a better market and win together and they couldn’t stop it.

Except, in the system concessions made in the last 48 hours the Heat and Knicks may be the biggest winners.

The way the rules are set up those two teams are in good position to bring in mid-level players and some depth to put around their stars that could put them over the top.

Brian Windhorst broke down the Heat case at ESPN.

The biggest move was owners allowing teams that are not more than $4 million over the luxury tax line to use the full mid-level exception of $5 million, according to multiple reports. That $4 million window makes a world of difference for the Heat and should allow them to:

• Use the entire $5 million mid-level exception in free agency without having to use the amnesty clause on Mike Miller to waive him and get his contract off the books.

• Use the entire mid-level exception on a free agent and still be able re-sign restricted free agent Mario Chalmers and rookie point guard Norris Cole.

Mike Miller could still be let go by the Heat, but if they think he could contribute they no longer have to get rid of him to clear the way for others. It will depend on his recovery from thumb and knee injuries. But they have $67 million on the books and options now.

The Knicks have $7 million less on the books for next season than the Heat, meaning they can bring in a mid-level player to go around Anthony and Amare Stoudemire plus use a second exception to get a guy. They can use the $14.2 million deal of Chauncey Billups (in its last year) as the base for an offer to try and get Chris Paul or Dwight Howard and if it works they still might be able to get a mid-level player again next season.

Even teams like the Lakers and Mavericks — teams with owners willing to spend and in a “win now” mode due to a core that only has a few more years in their championship window — also may benefit in the short term. It will cost them more in tax, but they can go get a mid-level exception guy, the kind of role players they need around their stars.

Over time, the goal of this labor deal will be to flatten out the payroll disparity in the league — teams have to spend up to $49 million next season and $90 million payroll will be almost impossible due to the tax structure. (One should not confuse that with parity or competitive balance, the owners like to tell you those things go hand-in-hand but they do not.)

But in the short term two teams who need good role players to go around their stars may have been the biggest winners in the last 48 hours.

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.

Thunder convert missed FT to 3-pointer, refs miss James Harden push as Rockets win Game 4

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As if the end of the Cleveland Cavaliers and Indiana Pacers Game 4 wasn’t wild enough, the finish to the matchup between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder was just as odd.

The final quarter of Sunday’s game was laden with poor play and heavy fouling, including a ploy by Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni to put Thunder forward Andre Roberson at the line as part of a hacking strategy.

But the final minute was what really caught everyone’s eye, as the Thunder converted a purposely-missed free-throw attempt by Steven Adams into a Russell Westbrook 3-pointer with just 21 seconds left.

Via Twitter:

The Thunder then broke down on the inbounds play a few seconds later, allowing Nene — who had a great game, scoring 28 points off the bench on 12-of-12 shooting to go along with 10 rebounds — to score an and-1 at the other end of the floor.

Oklahoma City then scored again on a tip.

That’s when it got REAL weird.

Houston inbounded the ball to James Harden, who got away with a gigantic, and frankly hilarious push off on Alex Abrines. OKC nearly stole the ball, but instead were called for a foul.

Via Twitter:

This game was wild, weird, terrible, and both sides have something to gripe about when it came to fouls.

Houston beat OKC, 113-109, and take a 3-1 lead back to Texas.

Russell Westbrook clinches triple-double in first half vs. Rockets

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder guard Russell Westbrook achieved a triple-double in the first half of Sunday’s playoff game against the Houston Rockets.

Westbrook had 17 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists at halftime. He grabbed the 10th rebound in the final second of the second quarter. The Thunder led 58-54 at the break.

According to the Thunder, Westbrook became the second player to claim three consecutive triple-doubles in the playoffs. Wilt Chamberlain had three straight in 1967.

Westbrook entered the game averaging a triple-double in the series. He just set the record for triple-doubles in a regular season with 42.

Houston leads the series 2-1.

LeBron James helps Cavaliers hold off Pacers, earn sweep into 2nd round

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) LeBron James made a 3-pointer with 68 seconds left Sunday and the Cleveland Cavaliers hung on for a 106-102 series-clinching victory at Indiana.

James finished with 33 points and 10 rebounds as he became the first player under the current playoff format to win 21 straight first-round games. He also set a league record with his 10th career playoff sweep.

It sure wasn’t easy. After taking a 96-83 lead with 9:29 to go, the Cavs found themselves in a 102-100 deficit with 1:31 left.

But James answered with the go-ahead 3-pointer and Cleveland sealed the win on James’ free throw with 1 second left.

Lance Stephenson scored 22 points and Paul George added 15 but missed a 3-pointer that could have forced overtime in the closing seconds. It’s the first time the Pacers have lost a series 4-0 in their NBA history.

Kyrie Irving added 28 points for the Cavs, who await the winner of the Bucks-Raptors series.

Indiana got back into the game with a 7-0 spurt early in the in the fourth, then methodically continued chipping away at the lead until Thaddeus Young tied the score at 100 with a short jumper and broke the tie on a tip-in with 1:31 left.

But James, whose teams were 51-0 when starting the fourth quarter with double-digit leads in the postseason, made sure the perfect record remained intact.

Cleveland has won seven straight playoff games overall and 11 straight in the first round since James returned to his hometown team.

It was another milestone day for James, who moved past Michael Cooper, Magic Johnson and James Worthy on the league’s list of consecutive first-round wins, and past Tim Duncan for most career sweeps, according to Elias Sports Bureau.

James also went 13 off 25 from the field, tying Kobe Bryant for fourth on the career playoff list for field goals. Each have 2,014 baskets.

Indiana has lost five straight postseason games and six of its last eight.

TIP-INS

Cavaliers: Will make their 11th appearance in the conference semifinals. … Cleveland has swept all eight series in which it has taken a 3-0 lead. … Tristan Thompson grabbed 11 rebounds Sunday, giving him double digits in all four games. … Deron Williams scored 14 points and Kevin Love had 16 rebounds.

Pacers: George finished with a series-low point total Sunday and was 3 of 9 on 3s after entering the game with a league-high 15 3s in the playoffs. … Teague scored 15 points and was the catalyst in the final spurt, including blocking one of James’ shots. He can become a free agent this summer. …Myles Turner had 20 points and nine rebounds, while Young had 13 points and 10 rebounds.

UP NEXT

Cleveland gets some extra rest before finding out who it will play in the second round. Indiana embarks on a crucial offseason that could dictate the franchise’s future.

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