Sacramento one vote away from losing the Kings last night, but still in control of their destiny

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If you build it sticky-fingered shooting guards will come.

And if Sacramento doesn’t approve an arena for the Kings quickly then Seattle has no problem playing Kevin Costner.

And let’s not bury the lede here, Seattle almost got their wish Tuesday night as the Sacramento City Council narrowly voted 5-4 to bury a resolution that would have sent the Kings packing for all intents and purposes. But let’s couch that for a second and start from the top.

Seattle mayor Mike McGinn has been working with multimillionaire Christopher Hansen to bring an NBA team back to the Emerald City, and it’s clear Hansen has been in long-term discussions with power brokers in the Seattle area and probably David Stern and the NBA. How far they are along is debatable, but this week at least some in the Seattle media have gone as far as to say that there is a “70/30” chance the Kings play in Seattle next year and that the announcement could come in April.

That sounds like wishful thinking, because there are way more questions in Seattle than there are answers, and Sacramento appears to control its own destiny when it comes to the Kings.

McGinn, who said he has met with Hansen face-to-face just once, has admitted as much in his various media appearances, refusing to give too much hope to Seattleites that the Kings could indeed be coming. “A lot of things have to align for this to work, and I can’t predict whether everything will align or not,” he said, trying to manage expectations of listeners on ESPN 710 in Seattle.

“My expectation, and this isn’t my side of the equation, that’s gotta come from the folks that are looking to own a team – I don’t think they’re moving forward unless they feel they have commitments from the NBA and the NHL, but that’s their business, and I think that’s one of the things that has to align, as well. They’ve gotta make sure that they have a pathway. My understanding is that given the way that these things work, they probably have some type of pathway but I can’t give you any information about what that looks like.”

That pathway is for the Kings arena effort to fall flat on its face. One way to help agitate the process is to leak news of the city’s very real plans to snatch the next available NBA team in the weeks leading up to Sacramento’s critical stretch run.

Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson was unfazed in comments made to the Sacramento Bee’s Ryan Lillis.

“I don’t blame them for trying to build an arena. I just don’t think it’s going to be Sacramento,” said Johnson, in reference to which NBA team could move to Seattle. “We have a laser focus on our business at hand, we’re controlling our own destiny and that’s what we’re focusing on.”

If Seattle cannot cash in on the Kings then the next most viable option would be the league-owned Hornets, as the NBA is closer to contraction than it is to expanding anytime soon.

Sacramento has until March 1 to present a viable funding plan to the Maloof family and the NBA, or it’s widely believed that the league will allow the Maloofs to move the team. Anaheim, like Seattle, has taken a wait-and-see approach and has appeared to be elbowed out by Seattle, and one doesn’t have to think hard to figure out what Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling think about that.

The Maloofs, for their part, have appeared committed to keeping the team in Sacramento and multiple sources have indicated that they have no plans to sell the team. They also said in December that they would be willing to be flexible with the deadline if arena talks were moving in the right direction. Regardless, assuming that anything is set in stone on their end is a fool’s errand right now.

While there have been many rumors to the effect that the Maloofs are struggling financially, nobody truly knows how they’re doing. Their sale of the Palms in June could be seen as both a sign that they freed up money to operate the Kings, or a sign that the ship is sinking. And even if they were to sell the Kings, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that the NBA could continue to work with Sacramento in coordination with another buyer, as the league has spent tremendous time and resources helping the team regain its footing in the California capitol.

Going back to the lede, Kevin Johnson and his Think Big Sacramento coalition are nearing a conclusion to the year-long fight, and they had a critical vote last night that was closer than any arena insiders, including myself, thought it would be.

Councilwoman Sandy Sheedy, the unofficial figurehead of the anti-arena effort on the council, made a motion to bring the Kings arena issue to a vote in June. Her motion would ask the public to vote up-or-down on whether or not the city should turn over its parking assets to a private operator for upward of $200 million to go toward a new arena. This, of course, is a disingenuous position knowing that the NBA’s March 1 deadline would render any June vote useless – and the prevailing belief in and around the city political scene is that she is exacting political revenge upon Johnson. As the story goes, he did not give her a seat in his inner circle after she endorsed his mayoral run. Sheedy has since drawn numerous competitors for her district seat amidst plummeting popularity, and last week announced that she would not seek re-election next cycle.

In following the commentary made by council members throughout the past few months, only two had made strong statements against using public funds for an arena, and I had handicapped the total vote to be in favor of Kings fans. What we saw last night was the most recent ‘call’ in arena poker, with one anti-arena leaning vote (Kevin McCarty) making his position clear after supporting Sheedy’s resolution, one swing vote (Jay Schenirer) swinging hard to the pro-arena side and voting against a public vote, and one arena cheerleader (Bonnie Pannell) going completely off-script with a vote to support Sheedy’s resolution.  The resolution ultimately failed by a 5-4 vote, so there will be no deal-breaking public vote and the decision to keep the Kings will be made by the council itself in the coming weeks.

Combining the new projected anti-arena votes with the old ones, there are four councilmembers that have acted to send the Kings packing, including Sheedy, Darrell Fong, McCarty, and Pannell. Arena supporters Rob Fong and Angelique Ashby join Steve Cohn and Schenirer as leaning yes votes on the eight-person panel, with mayor Johnson as the tie-breaking ‘yes’ vote.  While I suspect this is a group that votes ‘yes’ to keep the Kings in Sacramento, this situation is much too close to call with just one more defection needed to kill the deal.

They will meet on February 14 to discuss the finalized list of parking lot operators that the city will request final proposals from.  Chances are at some point KJ is going to have to get an extension on the March 1 deadline. With those parking numbers in hand, the last step is for all of the public and private funding sources to get in a room and decide finally, once and for all, what everybody is going to contribute to the estimated $400 million price-tag of the new Entertainment and Sports Complex.

Multiple sources tell me that number is going to be reached, and the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place quickly. Earlier Wednesday James Ham of Cowbell Kingdom reported that Sacramento is going to ask the NBA and the Maloofs for $80 million and his cohort Rob McAllister reported that two executive level sources with the Kings have a “strong belief” that if the “numbers are close” that the league will come up with the balance.

While things are coming into focus, for now there will be speculation, and with last night’s close city council vote the vultures will descend and you’ll find more reports trying to pry the Kings from Sacramento’s nowhere-near-dead hands.

“Stern is one of the guys who the group in Seattle is talking to, and he wants a team (in Seattle), and he’s apparently told them that they can play in Key Arena while an arena is being built,” said Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times, who also made the 70/30 comment tying a Kings-to-Seattle announcement to April.

Stern was more diplomatic when speaking to Brian Smith of the Salt Lake Tribune.

“Obviously, we certainly have been supportive of Mayor [Kevin] Johnson’s efforts with respect to the building and we sure would like to see that happen,” Stern said. “But we cannot guarantee or [assume] it, and we’ll have to deal with the realities as we find them.”

Surely the commissioner could take umbrage to Kelley’s reports that he is knee-deep in talks with Seattle, but I’m betting he lets the Emerald City flex its arms and scare the cow poop out of Kings fans and councilmembers alike.

The irony here is that Sonics fans were exactly where Kings fans were when Clay Bennett moved their team away, and the producer of the acclaimed documentary Sonicsgate: Requiem for a Dream, Jason Reid, was outspoken in supporting Kings fans last April – showing up at a Thunder playoff game ringing cowbells for all the cameras to see. But all is fair in love and sports.  When news broke about Seattle’s interest they tweeted out an old 2010 video that states, “No Team Is Safe,” and at the end shows a Seattle Kings logo. Colin White, web and graphic designer for Sonicsgate said, “It is what it is. We want (their) team.”

So, no, Stern won’t put a blanket on the bidding war at this late hour. If anything he’ll ratchet it up. The only difference here is that Kevin Johnson has the ball in the final seconds, and as long as he gets four council members to agree with him he’ll probably hit the game-winning shot.

Ben Simmons earns triple-double, Sixers own fourth to win Game 4 vs. Heat, take 3-1 lead

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Joel Embiid’s biggest battle in Game 4 was with his mask — he hates that thing. A couple of times Saturday he tried to sneak into the game with it off, only to force Brett Brown to be the parent and threaten to bench him if he didn’t put it on immediately (winning Game 4 is not worth risking permanent eye/vision damage). Embiid was also battling his offensive game at times, still looking a little rusty.

More importantly, Embiid was also battling the Heat in the paint — when he was in the game Miami struggled to get good looks inside, allowing Sixers defenders to more aggressively challenge shooters on the wings.

That — and Ben Simmons’ triple-double — sparked a comeback from 12 late in the third as the Sixers held on to take Game 4 106-102, and that gives Philly a commanding 3-1 series lead heading back to the City of Brotherly Love for Game 5.

Simmons is the first rookie since Magic Johnson in 1980 to post a triple-double in the playoffs, with 17 points, 13 rebounds, and 10 assists.

This was the nail in the coffin of the Heat’s season — if the Sixers turn the ball over 26 times, shoot 7-of-31 from three and still win on the road, the Heat are overmatched.

For much of the game, Miami did not look overmatched in the least and this looked like a game they could win.

Miami brought the defense in this game, and they did it by getting physical and using their length to force turnovers — through three quarters the Sixers had turned the ball over on 28.2 percent of their possessions, more than one in four trips down the court. Miami also did a better job contesting threes in this game, and the Sixers struggled from there all game (22.6 percent from deep).

The physicality led to a chippy game.

These two teams don’t like each other. 😅

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Miami led by a dozen late in the third, but Philadelphia closed the third on a run and carried over to the fourth, a 14-0 run that put the Heat in front as they found their defense. Ersan Ilyasova was key in that stretch with a driving and-one and the next time down the court a three, two plays that changed the momentum of the game.

All series long, the Sixers have been the better team down the stretch — which is unexpected for a young team taking on a more veteran squad. Now that we’re four games in, this is a thing.

In Game 4, the Sixers kept running “horns” sets and the Heat seemed to have no answers. Then late with the game on the line Miami had a couple of terrible defensive breakdowns, one allowing Simmons a clear path to the basket without help rotations that led to a dunk, and the other was Hassan Whiteside not going out to challenge J.J. Redick in the corner and letting him have a clean look (Redick’s foot was on the line so the expected three was a two, but still).

Meanwhile, Joel Embiid owned the paint on defense. When he sat for a little fourth quarter rest, Brett Brown went to the “Ben Simmons and shooters” lineup that was so effective through the final eight games of the season for them when Embiid was out, and that worked. The Sixers kept executing and getting the shots they wanted, the Heat kept hoping Dwyane Wade would bail them out again. He couldn’t, despite a strong 25 point game.

Redick had 24 for the Sixers, while Embiid had 14 points and 12 rebounds. Goran Dragic had 20 points for Miami, and James Johnson added 15.

Tempers flare in chippy Game 4 between Heat, Sixers

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Miami is a physical defensive team, and in Game 4 at home Saturday they cranked that up. The Heat also are a handsy team they clutch, grab, hold, and get away with what they can (that isn’t new to this playoff series).

The Sixers are getting weary of it, and in a game with plenty of double technicals thanks to the referees trying to keep control. The game bubbled over a little midway through the second quarter when Robert Covington made sure Goran Dragic didn’t get off a shot after a foul.

These two teams don’t like each other. 😅

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Ben Simmons also leaned into Wade on a screen and pancaked him. But drew a foul.

😅

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Miami had the lead after three, but the Sixers have owned the games late this series. It’s going to go down to the wire.

Advantage Utah? Jazz’s Derrick Favors “100 percent” back

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — When Derrick Favors can find ways to impose his will, good things happen for the Utah Jazz.

Favors has been quietly, albeit effectively, getting it done against the Oklahoma City Thunder, playing in the shadows of Utah rookie of the year candidate Donovan Mitchell and Jazz center Rudy Gobert.

But a healthy Favors is making an impact.

The Jazz have returned to Utah with the series tied 1-1, thanks in no small part to Favors. He tallied career playoff highs of 20 points and 16 rebounds in Utah’s 102-95 road win on Wednesday.

Jazz coach Quin Snyder will start Favors at power forward alongside Gobert beginning with Game 3 on Saturday. But he will also utilize him as a backup center to spell Gobert. Favors has done his part to make playing alongside Gobert work by extending his shooting range to improve offensive spacing. He has also made himself an effective roller.

“He’s always been a good pick-and-roll player, regardless of `position,”‘ Snyder said. “We’ve never really thought of him as one position or the other. We’ve thought of him as a basketball player and tried to have him understand his strengths and then play to his strengths.”

Indeed. In the first two playoff games against the Thunder, Favors is averaging 13.5 points on 52 percent shooting and 10.5 rebounds.

It is exactly the type of impact Favors envisioned making when fighting to reclaim his body from knee and back injuries that afflicted him for the better part of two seasons.

“I’m back to being 100 percent,” Favors said. “Back healthy. Back moving the way I know I can move and playing the way I know I can play. It’s a big advantage for us.”

There’s no question having Favors at full strength has improved Utah’s ability to counter a Thunder team featuring the potent trio of Russell Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Paul George. The veteran forward/center offers versatility on both ends of the court honed through playing multiple positions as circumstances dictate.

Crashing the boards definitely tops the list when checking off Favors’ strengths. He ranks second on the Jazz roster in rebounding behind Gobert with 7.2 rebounds per game.

When Favors is active on the glass, it can change the direction of a game for Utah. In Game 2 against Oklahoma City, he grabbed eight offensive rebounds through the first 2 1/2 quarters. By contrast, the Thunder totaled six offensive boards as a team in the same stretch.

“His length and his strength allow him to get his hands on balls,” Snyder said. “He’s got such good hands that even when he keeps the ball alive, usually something good happens.”

Favors’ willingness to go full throttle around the basket has turned him into a reliable complimentary player on offense. He rolls to the basket with consistency and, more often than not, it pays off for him.

It has turned Favors into a legitimate offensive presence again. He averaged 9.5 points on 48.7 percent shooting while limited to 50 games a year ago. This season, Favors is scoring 12.3 points per game while shooting 56.3 percent from the floor.

“Other teams and other opponents, they look and see I’m 6-foot-10 and think I’m a 5 man or whatever, so they try to take advantage of it,” Favors said. “It just feels good to be able to go out there and move the way that I know that I can move and be able to play the way I know that I can play and teams can’t take advantage of it.”

Favors is focused on staying aggressive as the series with the Thunder shifts to Utah. He is having fun playing basketball again and wants to make sure Oklahoma City continues to feel his presence on both ends of the court.

His teammates certainly do and they understand what a difference it can potentially make as the Jazz battle to keep going in the postseason.

“He’s been like that all year,” Mitchell said, “but he’s definitely turned it up with what he can do.”

 

Heat have work cut out vs. surging Sixers

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MIAMI (AP) — Philadelphia 76ers reserve guard Justin Anderson scored six points on Thursday, but he played a major role nonetheless in a 128-108 playoff win over the Miami Heat.

It was Anderson who worked on the psyche of teammate Joel Embiid, the 76ers’ All-Star center who returned after missing 10 straight games because of a concussion and left-eye injury.

“Justin was hyping me up on the bench, telling me I’m one of the best players in the league and that I have to take over,” said Embiid, who wore a mask during the game. “I liked that.”

Embiid, with that added boost of confidence, produced 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in 30 minutes. He missed his first five shots from the floor and then made five of his next six, including three 3-pointers.

In addition, Embiid made 10 of 15 free throws, wrapping up his highly successful NBA playoff debut.

On Saturday afternoon, the teams will meet again at AmericanAirlines Arena in a first-round series the Heat trails 2-1.

Certainly, the Heat will try to corral Embiid, but Miami gave its own star center, Hassan Whiteside, just 13 minutes on Thursday, in part because of foul trouble.

Whiteside produced just five points, two rebounds and one block. He made his only shots from the field, but his four fouls helped to keep him off the court.

“I want to get more minutes,” said Whiteside, who led the NBA with 3.7 blocks in 2015-2016 and with 14.1 rebounds last season. “Even with the fouls, I could’ve been out there. I would not have fouled out.”

This season, Whiteside is averaging 14.0 points, 11.4 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. But, on average, his minutes per game are down seven minutes from last season and even more in the playoffs.

Whiteside said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra “wants me to just be in a corner and set picks.”

Spoelstra, meanwhile, said “it’s part of my job to figure out how he can get to his strengths and make an impact on defense and rebounding.”

Aside from the two centers, the other big story line in this series revolves around the 76ers, a young team that won 18 of its past 19 games. After years of horrendous records amid a major teardown and rebuild effort, the 76ers have looked like the best team in the league during the past month.

They didn’t just beat the Heat on Thursday — they ran them over, making 18 of 34 3-pointers (52.9 percent). They also shot 50.6 percent overall and were plus-eight on rebounds and plus-14 on paint points.

Ben Simmons, the 76ers’ star point guard, nearly had a triple-double with 19 points, a game-high 12 rebounds and seven assists.

JJ Redick, one of the top shooters in the league, scored just 10 points, but 76ers teammates Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli each scored 21 points and each hit four 3-pointers to help the offense flow.

Miami was led by 23 points and eight assists from point guard Goran Dragic. Heat reserve forward Justise Winslow scored a season-high 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. But Miami’s top three shooting guards — Tyler Johnson, Dwyane Wade and Wayne Ellington — combined for just 21 points.

The game’s biggest factor was Embiid, who had been listed as unlikely to play until Thursday afternoon, when he was cleared by doctors.

Embiid had a 7-0 run in the fourth quarter, which continued a trend. In Philadelphia’s two wins in this series, they have outscored the Heat by 31 and 21 points, respectively.

Anderson said Embiid has been a team player throughout.

“One of the things (Embiid) told me during (Thursday’s) game was to tell Coach that he didn’t want any plays run for him,” Anderson said. “He just wanted to play within the scheme.”