LeBron James, Miami Heat make their case at Thunder’s expense

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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.

Rumor: Add Denver Nuggets to list of teams talking to Bulls about Jimmy Butler

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The Denver Nuggets are starting to build something. Mike Malone has brought a needed new culture to the locker room, they have found a franchise cornerstone in Nikola Jokic and running the offense through him, and they have quality young pieces around him such as Gary Harris and Jamal Murray. The Nuggets just missed the playoffs last year, and they — and hopefully their defense — are poised to take a step forward next season.

Jimmy Butler would fit in well with that.

Denver is part of the long list of teams that have reached out to the Bulls about the star wing, reports Jeff Goodman of ESPN.

Denver has spoken to the Bulls about Jimmy Butler, source told ESPN. Would include multiple young players, not Nikola Jokic, and picks.

Jokic is about as close to untradable as it gets in the NBA.

Would a pick or two with Harris, Emanual Mudiay, and a veteran that can help now such as Wilson Chandler get the job done? Maybe not, the Bulls have been asking a lot for Butler which is why deals have withered. However, Denver has the assets to make this potentially work so the conversation should move forward.

Smart money is on Butler in a Bulls uniform to start next season, but the rumors are not going to stop.

Report: Cavaliers, Spurs have discussed Danny Green trade

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While the majority of teams in the NBA are thinking more about trying to contend in 2020 and beyond — when LeBron James has, in theory, faded in the East, and maybe the Warriors have slowed or broken apart a little — there are a handful of teams that should be targeting a run at the top of the mountain next season.

San Antonio and Cleveland are two of those teams.

Which is why the Spurs and Cavaliers are talking about a potential Danny Green trade, reports Brian Windhorst of ESPN.

On the surface, you can see how this works for both sides. Green fills an obvious need for shooters and wing defenders for the Cavaliers. Since none of the Cavaliers’ role players would be an upgrade in return, for the Spurs this is more likely about clearing cap space to make a run at Chris Paul or another elite free agent.

Most likely this deal does not go through. The Spurs are going to want something specific in return, and the Cavaliers have limited options considering their roster. But it’s something worth watching.

Reports: Utah Jazz talking about Patrick Beverley trade, active in trying to move up in draft

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The buzz around the league has been for a while that momentum has Gordon Hayward leaving Utah this summer as a free agent. That’s not set in stone, however, and the Jazz are not going quietly into that good night.

They are being very active in the run-up to Thursday night, and a team known for not allowing leaks has seen some things get out about how hard they are pushing. For example, with it likely George Hill is gone as a free agent this summer, they are looking at Patrick Beverley to replace him, reports Tony Jones of the Salt Lake Tribune.

That is not the only activity going on, the Jazz want to move up in the draft to land some shooting, reports Jody Genessy of the Deseret News.

Utah is not an organization that is going to do anything rash, they are not going to overpay. If they end up making their multiple picks at the end of the first round, they will bring them into one of the best player development programs in the league and see what happens.

However, if they can do something that shows Hayward they will do what it takes, they will. Genessy says the Jazz are “pretty comfortable” that Hayward will return. Much of the rest of the league sees it differently, but only one person knows for sure and his mind is not made up on the issue.

All the Jazz can do is remind him how committed they are to him, and draft night moves could help that.

Report: Timberwolves active in trying to land Paul George or Jimmy Butler

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Minnesota is one of the NBA’s best positioned up-and-coming teams. They have a franchise cornerstone in Karl-Anthony Towns, a quality No. 2 in Andrew Wiggins, maybe like Zach LaVine can blossom into an All-Star, and players such as Gorgui Dieng and Nemanja Bjelica could be part of the picture. Maybe Ricky Rubio, too, although he’s further along his career arc. A lot of people look at this team and think around 2020, when the Warriors fade (or break apart), the Timberwolves can step up to elite.

Tom Thibodeau is apparently not willing to be that patient — he’s looking to get in the Paul George/Jimmy Butler talks, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of the Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Thibodeau helped develop Butler in Chicago and they have a great relationship, he certainly makes the Timberwolves better next season. Same with George, although he’s a rental who almost certainly bolts after the coming season

My question to the Timberwolves: Why?

What was wrong with the building trajectory they are on? I get it, they haven’t been to the playoffs since 2004, a ton of money was just sunk into upgrades at the Target Center, and the owner is not getting younger. Those are all non-basketball reasons to screw up what the basketball side is doing right. It’s the mistake of poor franchises to let that happen.

I also get Thibodeau wants a veteran voice to help lead this young core and help show them how to win. That doesn’t need to be an elite player that comes at a high price, however.

Could the Timberwolves use a point guard of the future, more depth on the wings and better defenders all around? You bet. But they don’t need to rush the development program either. If Minnesota can land Butler only giving up Rubio and a protected future first or something, sure, but the Bulls continue to ask a very high price for a deal.

Outside of personal feelings, why would the Timberwolves do that?