Sacramento City Council has votes for arena if reachable criteria is met

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The Sacramento Kings and their fans will hold their breath on Tuesday night, as the Sacramento City Council holds the first of at least two critical votes that will determine whether or not the team leaves town.

Let me be the first to tell you that tonight’s vote will pass.  Sources close to the situation report that the council is all but certain to have the votes necessary to move the process forward.

Specifically, the vote will allow the council to finalize proposals with ten competing private parking operators that will provide upwards of $200 million toward the cost of the estimated $387 million Entertainment and Sports Complex.

This will setup a vote on February 28 that will decide the Kings’ future.  It is at this time that the council, in cooperation with mayor Kevin Johnson’s Think Big Sacramento coalition, will vote to approve a term sheet that will signal to the NBA that Sacramento can indeed fund an arena.

I’m also told by sources with knowledge of the situation that as long as a laundry list of criteria is met, the council will have at least the four votes necessary (not counting Johnson’s tie-breaking vote) to approve the term sheet.

This laundry list includes guarantees that the city’s general fund will be replenished by the approximate $9 million annual revenue stream currently provided by city-owned parking operations, a plan for some or all of the city’s employees to be transferred into the new parking company’s operation, a mechanism to cap rate hikes for parking in the future, an option for an agreement shorter than 50 years, and a mechanism to provide kickbacks to the city if parking revenues exceed certain benchmarks.

It is believed that within that framework, the city can meet or exceed their $200 million target.

The last major item on the laundry list is who will be responsible for cost overruns if the $387 million project goes over its budget.  I’m told the city will approach the developer, David Taylor, to potentially provide that guarantee.  While it is unclear whether or not Taylor would shoulder such responsibility, he will likely be given incentive to do so by an offer of development rights near the arena.

Taylor has been working on the arena deal for years and has evaluated the project for Sacramento at a significant cost to himself, and it would be surprising if he told the council that he would not be responsible for cost overruns on a project he evaluated and promoted – particularly if there is further incentive in the form of development rights.

Adding the estimated $200 million or more from parking, an estimated $30 million from local hotels, an estimated $50 million from an arena operator (AEG), and an estimated $80 million from the NBA and the Maloofs — sources tell me that the city is well in the ballpark of securing the financing necessary for the arena.

In other words, the city of Sacramento has both the will and the way to secure a ‘yes’ vote for an arena.

As far as the timing goes, while February 28 is potentially the date for a deciding vote, it is likely that the NBA will allow for an extension on the March 1 deadline so they can properly evaluate Sacramento’s findings.  That announcement could come during All Star weekend.  The NBA and the Maloofs could theoretically act on the city’s proposal quickly and provide their terms in time for a February 28 vote, but sources stress the important part is that the city will have communicated that it is ready to vote on a deal.

From there it is on David Stern and the Maloofs to pull the trigger on the estimated $80 million price tag, which amounts to about $3 million per year in rental payments for 30 years, all paid up front.

As for any talk of selling the team, The Maloofs have been consistent with their message that it’s not an option, and their sale of the Palms can be seen as either a sign that the ship is sinking or a sign that they were moving money for the purposes of an arena.  In the unlikely event they do want to sell, Think Big Sacramento executive director Jeremiah Johnson told Seattle’s King 5 News that the city has “a number of ownership groups willing to keep the Kings in Sacramento.”

It’s not going to come to that.

The Maloofs and/or the NBA could try leverage the city of Anaheim against Sacramento, who recently made improvements on their NBA-ready facility, but after Jerry Buss and Donald Sterling just agreed to revenue sharing with small market clubs it’s less likely that the NBA will place another team in their backyard.

As for Seattle, despite their clear efforts to bring an NBA team back home, they are well behind Sacramento in their pursuit of an arena.  They too would have to approve public funds for a new building, and Stern and the Maloofs will have to weigh the $80 million cost of a sure thing given a ‘yes’ vote, and a nebulous offering in Seattle that is 1-2 years away while Key Arena is a stop-gap solution at best.

With all of the support David Stern and the NBA has given Sacramento in its fight to keep the Kings – from manpower in the front office to people on the ground helping make the arena deal a reality – it just doesn’t make sense for them to pass up a viable option for two that have problems.

This is a complex situation and it is not a done deal, but the once half-court shot turned 3-pointer doesn’t even seem like a free throw at this point – it seems like a layup.  The Party of Five that voted down a public vote that would have sent the Kings packing are interested in a deal that addresses the aforementioned criteria.  That criteria reportedly can be met and still provide the project with the money that it needs to be green-lighted, assuming the private parties each put in amounts that seem reasonable, achievable, and already written in pencil.

Kings fans will probably wait until the shovels hit the dirt before they celebrate.  Let this prediction be the first bottle of Dom Perignon.

The Kings aren’t going anywhere.

Victor Oladipo on his final shot: “It was a goaltend”

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Ultimately, the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report will back up Victor Oladipo — it was a goaltend.

With the score tied 95-95 and just six seconds left in the game Wednesday night, Oladipo attacked LeBron James in isolation, and like so many before him thought he was past LeBron only to have a chase down block from behind end his bid — except video replays shows Oladipo laid the ball off the backboard a fraction of a second before LeBron blocked it. That makes it a goaltend, a defender cannot block a shot that has already touched the backboard. Check out the slow-mo video.

The officials didn’t call it that way on the court, and the play is only eligible for video review if a goaltend is called (to be fair to the officials, that was an incredibly close play that is very difficult to call in real time). From there, LeBron went on to hit the dramatic game-winning three that gave Cleveland the win and a 3-2 series lead.

After the game, Oladipo and his teammates were pissed about the no-call.

“I got a step on him,” Oladipo said via the Associated Press. “I felt like I even got grabbed on the way to the rim, tried to shoot a layup, it hit the backboard, then he blocked it. It was a goaltend. It’s hard to even speak on it. It just sucks, honestly. It really sucks. Even though we fought our way back, we tied the game up, that layup was huge.

“Give him credit where credit is due. The three was big-time. Definitely huge. But who’s to say they even run that play? We don’t know what happens. It’s unfortunate. It really sucks that they missed that.”

LeBron didn’t see it that way.

“Of course I didn’t think it was a goaltend. I try to make plays like that all the time and I mean he made a heck of a move, got me leaning right and he went left and I just tried to use my recovery speed and get back up there and make a play on the ball. And I was able to make a play.”

We’ll see what the Last Two Minute Report says, but to my eyes that was a goaltend, it clearly comes off the backboard.

That call is also not why Indiana lost. If Pacers’ fans want to place blame, Oladipo going 2-of-15 on the night was a bigger issue. Or Darren Collison having an off night and going 1-of-5 from the floor. Or maybe it’s just the fact that LeBron James is the best player in the game and can drop 44 on the Pacers — including the three that may well have made the goaltend moot anyway — and Indiana can’t stop it. One call late does not by itself decide a 48-minute game.

But it was a goaltend.

Giannis Antetokounmpo puts it on himself to be more aggressive in Bucks-Celtics Game 6

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Giannis Antetokounmpo was criticized after Game 5 of Milwaukee’s Eastern Conference series against Boston for not doing more, particularly on the offensive end.

The harshest critic: Antetokounmpo, himself.

He took only 10 field-goal attempts, his third-lowest total of the entire season. Antetokounmpo still had a brilliant stat line, finishing only one assist shy of a triple-double, but the Bucks lost 92-87 and now go back to Milwaukee trailing the first-round matchup 3-2.

Game 6 of the Celtics-Bucks series is the lone matchup on the Thursday night NBA schedule.

“Game 6, I’ve got to come out and be more aggressive,” Antetokounmpo said. “It’s on me. I had open shots, but they weren’t my shots so I didn’t feel comfortable taking them. … I’ve got to be more aggressive, make more plays because definitely, my teammates need me.”

It’s not like he was choosing to not be involved.

The Celtics got Marcus Smart back for Game 5, and Boston is much better defensively when he’s on the floor. Open looks seem to happen far more infrequently when Smart is out there, and the Bucks must solve that riddle or else their season is about to end.

Smart wasn’t the only defensive hero for Boston in Game 5. The Celtics put Semi Ojeleye on Antetokounmpko, and it worked as well as Boston could have hoped.

“Giannis is a heck of a player,” Celtics coach Brad Stevens said. “You’re not going to be perfect against him. You’re not going to hold him down by any means. He makes plays for other people, he’s very unselfish … but we just felt like we needed a little bit more ball pressure overall, and so that was the decision to go smaller.”

If Antetokounmpko doesn’t come up bigger Thursday, it’ll be Boston going to the second round.

Here’s some of what to know going into Game 6:

CELTICS AT BUCKS

Boston leads 3-2. Game 6, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

NEED TO KNOW: Since 2002, there have been 29 NBA teams with at least one postseason series win to their credit. The lone exception: The Bucks. It’s been 17 years since the Bucks advanced to the second round, and the Celtics are on the cusp of adding another year to Milwaukee’s wait. So far in the series, Milwaukee has outscored Boston 520-519 – which would indicate that it’s been a super-close matchup. That’s not the reality. There have been wild ebbs and flows, with one team leading by 16 points at some point in each of the last four games.

KEEP AN EYE ON: Free throws. Boston is 99 for 130 in the series from the line, while Milwaukee is 68 for 100. The Bucks have been called for 30 more fouls in the series, 124-94 – which works out to six more per game.

PRESSURE IS ON: Clearly, the Bucks. They’re facing elimination, of course, so there’s the pressure. Antetokounmpko was on the Milwaukee team that won two elimination games against Chicago in 2015 (before the Bucks eventually lost that series in six games). And he also remembers the sting of last season, when the Bucks went home for Game 6 trailing Toronto 3-2 and wound up letting a pair of late leads slip in what became a season-ending loss.

INJURY UPDATE: Getting Smart back was a rare bit of good news for Boston in this injury-marred season, one where the Celtics have been without Gordon Hayward since opening night and ultimately lost Kyrie Irving for the playoffs. Smart hadn’t played in about six weeks after tearing a ligament in his right thumb, but was a clear difference-maker for the Celtics in Game 5.

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.