Maloofs move significantly to meet Sac’s proposal, Kings fans provide political cover for arena deal to get done

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In the end, it was about a city and its team, and the will to fight for what was theirs.

Kevin Johnson did the heavy lifting and the heavy hitters moved the ball forward, but it was the Sacramento Kings fans that gave the local politicians the will and the way to see the Kings arena deal to fruition.

The Maloofs and Johnson emerged from Monday’s arena talks with tears in their eyes and an arena deal ready to go. In speaking with sources on the Sacramento negotiating team this morning, even they did not know that an arena deal was coming back with city manager John Shirey on the flight home.

Moreover, other sources involved with negotiations indicated that the Maloofs moved over $20-$30 million on their position coming into today’s meeting, with Sam Amick reporting that the inclusion of a Maloof-paid ticket surcharge provided the mechanism.

While the symbolic celebration is yet to come (hold onto your hats Sacramento), this marks the end of a year-long journey that saw the Kings all-but leave town. I attended the potential final game in Sacramento against the hated Lakers, and watched as grown men cried and thousands refused to leave the stadium. I listened as some of the media in attendance snickered at the audacity of fans to believe they could keep their team.

Nobody, and I repeat nobody, had the Kings staying in Sacramento.

And because of those resolute fans, everybody from the mayor to the city council, the media and the team, and the ultimately the NBA – were forced to believe that a deal could be done.

They chanted at games and made fliers, they made movies, they attended city council meetings, and they used Twitter like they owned it. There was a group called #HereWeStay that started the social media fire, a local radio host named Carmichael Dave with an affinity for Braveheart moments, and a group called #Fans that delivered human PowerPoint presentations at city council meetings.

And there were many more. They were extremely organized, and they numbered in thousands. And for all the heavy hitters that drove the process, they wouldn’t have gotten past first base if the local media and pols didn’t have the political cover those fans provided. Everywhere you turned, it was #HereWeThis and #HereWeThat, supplemented by the education-driven #FANS group that hammered home the message that the arena was #BiggerThanBasketball.

Indeed, the arena is going to revitalize an area of Sacramento that desperately needs help, boosting the local economy while providing jobs and increased property tax revenue for years to come. It’s the shot in the arm the region needs to get back on its feet, and for once, Kings fans get the win that has eluded them for so long.

There are more steps to go as the term sheet will now be brought home by Shirey and the city council will look it over the next few days. As I reported for ProBasketballTalk last week, as long as a set of achievable criteria is met, they will have at least the five votes necessary to approve a parking plan that will solidify the city’s contribution. The fact is, however, that the city of Sacramento doesn’t walk out of that meeting with a deal not knowing if they have the votes to get it done.

The council will vote on March 6 to approve the term sheet and from there only insignificant procedural votes will remain on the to-do list. The Maloofs will ultimately pay in the ballpark of $70 to $77 million toward the cost of the $387-400 million Entertainment and Sports Complex, which is set to open in 2015. It’s my prediction that we’ll learn about an All Star game landing in Sacto in 2016.

The rest of the details will be fleshed out as the parties return to Sacramento and cross the Ts and dot the Is.

For now though, none of that matters. Kings fans have been on pins and needles for well over a year – and they finally get to take a day off. Even those of us in the media covering the story on a daily basis, we’ll take a breath and just enjoy a good story that ended well. And if you own a bar in the Sacramento area tonight, it’s probably a good time to make some purple beer.

Congratulations Kings fans, the Dom Perignon is in the mail.

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

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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.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.