5 Things to Watch: Heat-Thunder, a potential Finals preview worth playing

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Best in the East vs. best in the West.

Nope, that’s not right.

The two clearly best teams in the league.

Well, no, not really with how open the West is.

OK, how about just:

A more-probable-than-on-average chance that these two teams will meet in the Finals. There. Sufficiently hedged.

The Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder meet Sunday night in a clash of the titans. It’s probably the biggest game of the Thunder’s season, considering the Lakers’ slip back when the Thunder played them earlier this season. It’s the first of two Sunday games against the best in the East, with Chicago on tap next weekend, though it’s not known if Derrick Rose will be back for that game. But all the stars will be in the rotation tonight, and here’s a look at five things to watch as the Heat face the Thunder in OKC.

1. James Harden, the perfect problem for both sides. 

As our own Rob Mahoney points out at Bleacher Report, the Thunder face a problem of offense/defense with Harden. They are an infinitely better team offensively with Harden on the floor and a phenomenally better defensive team with Thabo Sefolosha on the floor instead. Can Harden check LeBron James or Dwyane Wade? His lateral quickness is limited against good perimeter penetration, let alone James and Wade. Even putting him against Mario Chalmers is problematic because of how Chalmers spaces the floor and can slip out for open threes. But Harden’s playmaking ability can make the Heat’s defense overreact, and if that happens the system breaks down. Harden needs to command the offense and make an impact in the passing lanes for OKC.

2. No role players needed

The over/under in this game is 201.5. Over/under on point scored by LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh, James Harden, Kevin Durant, and Russell Westbrook should be 160. They just don’t get much support, nor need it. If Serge Ibaka, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Thabo, any role player steps up, that’s going to swing the balance of this game. The stars can almost cancel out one another. It’s the role players that may dictate the win.

3. Overturned

The Thunder have the worst turnover ratio in the league, spitting the ball up 15 percent of the time, and turning their opponent over the seventh least. The Heat are a monster in transition, a Flying Death Machine. The Thunder cannot spit the ball up against this team. Possessions are going to be precious and while both teams can play at a fast pace, each side is so good, you need to not give up easy buckets.

4. Does Oklahoma allow block parties?

Serge Ibaka and Kenrick Perkins have a huge advantage down low, even without offensive talent to be spoken of. Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem are not great offensive finishers at this point, and Perkins and Ibaka are monsters at challenging. Anthony and Haslem need to convert some buckets to get the Thunder help defenders to back off. If Ibaka and Perkins can freelance, they can attack the Heat at the rim and get them to the line where they’re not great. Nick Collison and Cole Nazr Mohammed can help.

5. Bosh space

Of course the big problem for Ibaka and Perkins is trying to guard in space, and the best player on the Heat in face-up mid-range is Chris Bosh. He’s able to raise up and knock down shot face-up and also on the pick and pop. If Lebron, Wade, or Chalmers use the pick and roll to draw that coverage from Ibaka who too often freaks out going for a block, Bosh can slice them up. Bosh has been phenomenal this season, an underrated part of the Heat’s season, and this is a game where he could have a monster day without doing the things he struggles at down low. He can kill the Thunder softly if they don’t adjust. Expect a lot of Collison on him if Ibaka struggles.

Reports: Rockets try to confront Clippers, police dispatched to locker room

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The Los Angeles Clippers got the better of the Houston Rockets on Monday night at Staples Center, 113-102, but the battle between Chris Paul and his former team had apparently just begun.

According to multiple reports, members of the Rockets took to the Clippers locker room after the game to confront Austin Rivers and then Blake Griffin.

ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski says that according to his sources, James Harden, Trevor Ariza, and Gerald Green entered the Clippers locker room looking for Austin Rivers, who was on the sideline due to an injury. LAPD were then dispatched to the scene — not just ordinary Staples Center security — and that’s somehow not the end of this story.

In true Scooby Doo fashion, Woj reports that the Rockets then sent Clint Capela to the front door of the Clippers locker room while Chris Paul went to a secret back door to the Clippers’ area as he looked to go after Blake Griffin.

Once again, I cannot stress that I am not making this story up.

Via Twitter:

Some of this may stem from the general tension between the two teams. Paul was traded to Houston in June for Patrick Beverley, Montrezl Harrell, and Sam Dekker among others after spending six seasons with Los Angeles.

There’s also the fact that Mike D’Antoni and Griffin got into it during the game, yapping at each other after Griffin made contact with the Houston coach on the sideline.

Griffin appeared to be pointing at D’Antoni for being out of the box on the sideline, making purposeful contact with him and resulting in double technical fouls.

Yet the overarching tension between the two teams was already palpable. Paul reportedly took umbrage to how Rivers was treated by his father, coach, and (at the time) GM Doc Rivers.

Then, late in the fourth quarter — after Griffin had already gotten into it with D’Antoni — some jawing from Austin Rivers led to an on-court discussion between Ariza and Griffin.

That prompted officials to eject both Griffin and Ariza with just a minute to go:

Austin Rivers said that the tension between Paul and Griffin was the thing that led to CP3 looking for a trade to Texas, just as a bit of backstory, so the bad blood and he-said, she-said is long-running.

No word yet on the details confirming how far anybody got, although it seems reasonable to expect Adam Silver and the league office should come down with some suspensions for folks. Malice in the Palace was perhaps the greatest modern disgrace for the NBA, and the league tries to keep even the whiff of violence away from their games.

It feels like there’s no way anyone here can get off light in an era where guys are getting suspended from both playoff games and preseason games for taking a teensy little step off the bench during disputes.

Meanwhile, the guys on the set of Inside the NBA had an absolute BLAST with the details (as did of Twitter, to be honest).

The Rockets and the Clippers play again next on Wednesday Feb. 28 in LA.

Check out the Chris Paul tribute video from the Clippers

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Chris Paul returned to Staples Center Monday night wearing the red of the Houston Rockets.

There was a mix of cheers and boos when CP3 was introduced against the Clippers, the team he helped make relevant and string together the best run in franchise history (even if it didn’t attain the lofty goals we had expected). He pushed his way out of town last summer, but Paul still goes down as one of the two greatest Clippers ever (he was a better player than Blake Griffin, but Griffin helped turn that franchise culture around before CP3 arrived, and Griffin is still doing work there).

The Clippers put together this tribute video.

Well done Clippers.

LeBron James does it all, still not enough for Cavaliers to beat Warriors

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers got to the Finals thanks to LeBron James leading an elite Cavaliers offense that covered up a defense which was second worst in the NBA after the All-Star break and improved to middle of the pack during the playoffs when they dialed in. That was not near good enough against the Warriors in the Finals.

New season, but we are watching the same movie.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Cleveland LeBron was nothing short of brilliant — 32 points on 18 shots, eight rebounds, six assists and four blocks. Through three quarters the Cavaliers got into the paint, hit their floaters and midrange shots, and knocked down 52.1 percent of their shots total — but they were down two because their defense was a disaster.

Isaiah Thomas tied the game 93-93 early in the fourth, but then Cleveland started a streak of missing eight shots in a row and hitting 1-of-14 (credit the Warriors playing better defense for some of that), and the Warriors just kept on scoring. And scoring.

The result was a 118-108 Warriors win to sweep the season series from the Cavaliers.

Kevin Durant had 32 points, Stephen Curry 23 and hit 4-of-8 from three.

With the trade deadline weeks away, this loss left the Cavaliers with big questions to answer:

Do they make a bold move to try to give themselves a better shot against the Warriors in the Finals? (And give themselves a cushion against Boston and Toronto.)

Is there an available player that can actually close that gap?

If they find the player, do the Cavaliers have the players and picks to get a deal done? Would they throw in the Brooklyn Nets first-round pick?

Cleveland must consider it all because this game made it clear again there is now a gap between the two teams that met in the NBA Finals the past three years.

The Cavaliers again started out hot, hitting eight of their first 10 shots. Cleveland shot 58.3 percent in the first quarter and LeBron was 6-of-8 — but they led just 37-35 because the Cavaliers could not get stops. Cleveland’s transition defense was a mess all night, and in the first quarter one-third of the Warriors points came in transition opportunities, where they were very efficient.

There were positives for Cleveland. Dwyane Wade provided a boost off the bench with eight first-half points on 4-of-7 shooting, making energy plays like the steal and alley-oop to Jeff Green just before the half.

The Cavaliers were up 64-57 at the break as they shot 61.1 percent from the midrange. But it always felt like it was not sustainable.

Cleveland had shooting issues with guys not named LeBron. IT and Wade combined to shoot 12-of-33, and as a team the Cavs shot 6-of-26 from three. You can say those number should improve, and you’d be right, but we’re back to a great offense trying to cover up a weak defense.

That’s not going to cut it in the Finals. It may not be enough to cut it before the Finals, but the Warriors are showing they are in another class right now.

Kevin Durant with angry dunk, LeBron James steps out of way

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There are times when challenging a dunk is the thing to do.

For LeBron James, this was one of those times.

Kevin Durant and Draymond Green were on a 2-1 break with LeBron back, but KD was not looking to pass, he wanted to finish.

He did. With authority.