Report: All eyes on Board of Governors meeting in Kings arena dispute

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In a story with many chapters, it’s fitting that the book on the Maloofs’ future in the NBA will be written on April 12-13 at the league’s Board of Governors meetings. After all, it’s where the tide turned for Kings fans last year, as Kevin Johnson came out of nowhere with both the will and the way to buy Sacramento time to get an arena deal done.

And it’s also fitting because a jury of one’s peers can be the most damning of all. It’s at those meetings that we’ll learn if David Stern and the other owners are going to allow their league and its fans to be subjected to reports like the one out of the L.A. Times last Thursday.

In that report, the writer was conveniently given access to letters from the Maloofs’ attorneys and pre-prepared comments from the family’s newly hired “crisis consultant” Eric Rose. Those letters disputed the Maloofs’ responsibility to pay pre-development costs of $3.26 million on the $391 million Entertainment and Sports Complex, or roughly one-fourth of the salary of free agent acquisition/albatross Travis Outlaw.

This, after the city agreed to fork over $256 million and AEG agreed to put in nearly $60 million to build a world-class arena with the Kings’ specific needs at the top of the list.

The most recent letter from Maloof attorney Scott Zolke doubles as a how-to manual on fighting the arena project, writing that the Maloofs are concerned about the project being completed on time while they simultaneously cause a delay by refusing to pay for pre-development costs they had already agreed to conceptually. The Maloofs backed it all up by sending pro-Anaheim brother George on a media blitz telling the world that Kevin Johnson, AEG, David Stern, and everybody that had been diligently working on a deal had it wrong – that nobody had talked about the cost structure of the agreement before barreling out of an Orlando hotel room with tears of joy.

Never mind that George Maloof said himself that the term sheet had been presented to them on February 17, a full 10 days before the handshake agreement took place, and never mind that the Maloofs still want to pay the full $73.5 million they agreed to pay. Never mind that every single source I’ve asked involved with negotiations has said unequivocally that the Maloofs agreed conceptually to the deal.

The reason the Maloofs’ move doesn’t make sense is that it doesn’t make sense. It’s like explaining JaVale McGee – it just is.

However you slice it, these are not the actions of an ownership group that wants to stay in Sacramento, and whether their motives are to get a concession now or down the road, or to jam up the deal so they can force a move down south – it’s time for the NBA to step up and mirror Sacramento’s efforts to clean up its own house.

The good news for Kings fans is that we’re already seeing indications of that happening. When news of the Maloofs backing out of their commitments hit last week, Stern immediately moved in to front $200,000 on the family’s behalf for pre-development costs. That was designed to keep the project moving until the BOG meetings when the matter will be discussed. And if Stern thought at all that the city should be held liable for those funds, he would have never showed a valued owner up over such a nominal dollar amount. Especially for guys who are viewed as having no money, paying $200,000 on their behalf just screams Natty Light (not that there’s anything wrong with that).

The other good news is that nobody in the city’s camp appears to be overly worried about the Maloofs’ most recent power play. The city council voted 7-2 to continue forward with the project, with the understanding that no city funds would be used until the matter is resolved at the BOG meetings. K.J. went on the offensive on Tuesday, calling the Maloofs’ recent actions “disingenuous,” adding:

We’re not going to be a city that sits on its hands. And we’ve gotten this far because we stood up and we’ve taken a stand on what we believe in. So do we need to look at contingency plans? Absolutely. What those are at this point, I’m not ready to share. But as I said, we don’t want to get caught flat footed. We need to make sure we’re protecting our community in all ways and we need to look at all of our options.

You can’t make public statements that say one thing and then privately be doing another. I don’t think that’s in the spirit of what we all thought and where we thought we’d be at this point.

He said much more than that, too, and none of what he said were the words of a man intimidated by the most recent developments. They were the words of a man that knows he has Keyser Soze in his back pocket. And whether Ron Burkle exists or not, the mere mention of his name and the fact that Johnson has an arena deal all-but done has stripped the Maloofs of nearly all the leverage that they once had.

They cannot complain that Sacramento hasn’t done their part, as the city has delivered on all of the promises it made to David Stern last year. According to Johnson, Stern admitted as much in a conversation they had:

In terms of that deadline, I was very clear. I talked to (the) commissioner a couple times this week and I told him that the New York meetings are critical for Sacramento. Because we can’t be in limbo – we can’t keep having the finish line moved on us. We all expected that we had an agreement, we thought we’d all be pushing in the same direction and there’s been countless tactics and antics that are just not becoming (of a) true partnership in my opinion. With that said, the commissioner said to me and insured me that the NBA governing board, the commissioner of the NBA, the relocation committee, the advisory financial committee – they all know what the facts are.

So it sounds like a couple days of reckoning are in the cards. I’ve got Aces Burkle over King Georges.

Draymond Green is texting Joel Embiid advice during playoffs

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In Game 1 of their series, the Philadelphia 76ers — without Joel Embiid — blew the doors off the Miami Heat, winning by 27. It’s the kind of game that can lead a young team to overconfidence.

That’s when Draymond Green texted Joel Embiid some words of advice, reports Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia.

“Draymond texted me after the first game when we blew Miami out,” Embiid recalled Monday. “He basically told me that it’s not going to be the same in Game 2. They came back and they won that game.”

Green was right, but it’s one of the harder things for young players to understand, how much the ground can shift game-to-game in the playoffs. For the first four games especially, matchups and strategies will change night-to-night, and around Game 5 that tends to settle down and become more about execution (and talent).

For the Sixers, everything in their series changed with the return of Joel Embiid. Unhappily wearing a mask, Embiid’s defensive presence in the paint slows the Heat attack and allows things like Philly’s Game 4 comeback win on the road. Now Embiid’s about to make his home playoff debut in Game 5 Tuesday night, with a chance to close out the series.

“The atmosphere was amazing, it was insane,” Embiid said of the home crowd in Games 1 and 2. “After going to Miami, I felt like nothing compared to it. … We’ve been almost perfect [at home] since the beginning of the year. It just shows you how much we need them. Especially myself, I play better in that type of environment. I need the fans to get into it and push me. That makes me elevate my game.”

Beyond the first round, in an East where the expected best teams — Toronto and Cleveland — have looked vulnerable, the door is open.

“A lot of people say that we have a bright future, but I think our time is now,” Embiid said. “We have a pretty good chance. We have a special team, a lot of great guys. I don’t think we need anybody else. We’ve just got to work with what we have, and we have a special team. I feel like we have a pretty good chance to go far.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.