If this does end up being the NBA finals matchup, we are all in for a lot of fun. These teams are starting to develop a real dislike of each other.
Miami and Oklahoma City got together for an intense, physical, playoff-style game Wednesday were LeBron James make his MVP case and the Heat got a measure of revenge on Oklahoma City with a 98-93 win. They split their season series, each winning at home (OKC rolled the Heat two weeks ago).
It was a game where each team picked up some flagrants (including Russell Westbrook on LeBron and Kendrick Perkins on Dwyane Wade). There was some trash talking. There were messages both ways. You could feel a little playoff
Be careful about reading much into regular season statements — the Lakers dominated the Mavericks and the Bulls owned the Heat last regular season. But what we can say is that both of these teams are better on their home court and a finals series between them could be penciled in for seven games. Seven hard games.
One of the best part of Heat/Thunder games is that LeBron and Kevin Durant go head-to-head a lot.
After a sub-par performance in OKC (and lackluster play for a couple of weeks) LeBron came out with the kind of game that had him the clear frontrunner for the MVP back at the All-Star break. He dropped 34 points by starting out nailing threes then going into the post and bullying his way to the rim. All the time he was recognizing the play and hitting the open man — he finished with 10 assists. (A few of those were to Shane Battier — James Harden sagged off him a lot and the veteran made the Thunder pay.)
At the other end he was charged with stopping Kevin Durant — and nobody stops Kevin Durant. KD had 30 points on 21 shots but struggled from three (2-7) including missing a rushed deep three with 15 seconds remaining in the game that could have tied it. Westbrook added 28 but was just 9-26 shooting on the night.
The MVP race comes down to this — LeBron James has had the better statistical season, but voters (media members) are drawn to stories and narrative and as Durant is the great young player on the fun young team he has an advantage. Just like Derrick Rose did last year. This game put LeBron back in the mind of a lot of voters.
These are two teams with great athletes that like to play up-tempo — and you could feel the playoff series hatred starting to build a little. Both sides will say it’s one game and forgotten now, but they’ll remember just fine if both of them are playing in June.
The Lakers must drop two players before the regular season. The four primary candidates:
- Nick Young, the only one of the four with a guaranteed salary. There was talk of waiving him anyway, but he has seemingly played his way onto the team in the preseason.
- Yi Jianlian, who has the highest salary of the group. His partially guaranteed, incentive-laden contract makes him an intriguing trade chip.
- Thomas Robinson, the youngest of the bunch. The 25-year-old might be the best center in a few years of anyone on the Lakers’ roster.
- Metta World Peace, the oldest player on the team. He turns 37 next month and hasn’t been productive in years.
The Lakers face one tough choice. Waiving World Peace should be the easy one – and it seems they know it.
Marc Stein and Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:
The odds are against Metta World Peace making the Los Angeles Lakers’ Opening Night roster, but the Lakers have interest in keeping the veteran forward around as an assistant coach if they can’t make room for him as an active player, according to league sources.
If the Lakers want to keep World Peace to mentor young players, assistant coach is the right role for him. It’s not worth wasting a roster spot on someone who’s no longer NBA caliber.
World Peace wants to keep playing, and he could lobby other teams. I’d be surprised if he gets another NBA contract, but I was also surprised the Lakers signed him the last two years.
More likely, World Peace must decide between being a Lakers assistant and playing overseas again.
The Heat and Kings reportedly discussed a trade that would send Goran Dragic to Sacramento for Rudy Gay and Darren Collison.
Could such a deal happen?
Miami is clearly sending out word from its end: No.
Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:
Dragic on Erik Spoelstra, via Ira Winderman of the South Florida SunSentinel:
“He just said those rumors, they’re not true.”
Reminder: Mario Chalmers said the Heat told him they would keep him shortly before they traded him.
Teams get the most from players when they’re happy, and job security pleases most people. So, teams often assure players they won’t be traded. If a team violates that trust by dealing a player anyway… that’s no longer the team’s problem. The player is fuming elsewhere.
I don’t know whether the Heat will trade Dragic this season. Their assurances and signals mean something, but only so much.
I do know Dragic is on the wrong side of 30 and has a long-term contract that makes little sense on a rebuilding team.
The Cavaliers should be fine at point guard in games that matter.
Kyrie Irving is an excellent starter. When Irving rests, LeBron James – in addition to his minutes at forward – can serve as primary ball-handler with an extra wing on the floor.
But Cleveland wants to limit LeBron’s and Irving’s playing time to preserve them for another long playoff run, which means finding a more traditional backup point guard for the regular season.
The Cavs have Kay Felder, but the transition from the Horizon League to the NBA is a difficult one for anyone, let alone a 5-foot-9 rookie who was drafted No. 54 overall. Mo Williams is somewhere between injured and retired. They might like to add Mario Chalmers, but he’s not healthy enough yet.
Another option: Trade.
Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com:
The Cavaliers are pursuing a trade to acquire a backup point guard and are hoping to make a deal before the season starts Tuesday, sources told cleveland.com.
The Cavs are in advanced discussions with at least one club, according to a source, and could make one or multiple trades to fill the one, glaring need on a team otherwise built to defend its 2016 championship.
Whom are the Cavaliers targeting? Your guess is as good as mine.
Whom could they trade? That’s much easier to predict, but far from certain. Shumpert could be the odd man out, especially since J.R. Smith re-signed. Cleveland will probably drop one of Jordan McRae, Dahntay Jones or John Holland before the regular season, but I doubt any of those three would return much. The Cavs also have multiple trade exceptions and draft picks, though they have already dealt some picks.
This situation was predictable as soon as the Cavaliers let Matthew Dellavedova leave for Milwaukee. Did they not see it coming, or do they have an ace up their sleeve at the last minute?
Anthony Davis missed a chunk of the preseason after spraining his ankle in a game against the Rockets during the league’s tour of China. He was considered questionable to return for opening night.
He came back faster than that, in time for New Orleans’ final preseason game Thursday night — and he looked good doing it. Very good.
Davis had 33 points, 13 rebounds and four assists’ in the Pelicans’ 114-111 overtime loss to Orlando. He was red hot from the start as he scored 16 points in nine minutes of the first quarter.
This is a good sign for the Pelicans, who are going to need Davis (and rookie Buddy Hield) to carry the scoring for the team to start the season as they are without Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans for an extended period.