Winderman: When bad teams tank, good teams get rest

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This is where the lockout grinder of a schedule has delivered us. Picking and choosing. With opponents. And with players.

Wednesday night, when the Miami Heat host a very awful Toronto Raptors team, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh will be given the night off as part of coach Erik Spoelstra’s late-season “maintenance” program. No particular need to even define injuries at this stage.

Similarly, when the Chicago Bulls play at the historically bad Charlotte Bobcats, don’t expect to see Derrick Rose or Luol Deng.

To a degree, this may be nothing more than a case of rosters-by-TNT, with the cable network televising Thursday’s Heat-Bulls game.

And, yes, that is a game that still has meaning. Should the Heat win out (a possibility with a post-Bulls schedule that includes the Wizards twice, as well as the Rockets and Celtics) then one more Bulls loss (perhaps April 25 in the Pacers’ home finale) still could give the Heat the No. 1 seed in the East.

Stars on hiatus, of course, is nothing new in these closing weeks. Just ask Lakers assistant coach Kobe Bryant.

But part of it also is how awful the bottom of the league stands. This is not a case of tanking this season, this is epic tanking, tanking that practically deserves league intervention.

If the Raptors, Bobcats and other bottom-feeders weren’t so indifferent at this stage, then teams still with seeding at stake might actually have to play the players fans come out to see.

The solution would seem simple enough: David Stern should start swiping ping-pong balls, taking back some of those lottery combinations from teams that simply have quit on his sport.

That, of course, won’t be the case.

So instead we get games like Wednesday’s Bulls-Bobcats and Heat-Raptors, opening acts in advance of Thursday’s Heat-Bulls that are like an accordion player coming out to warm up the crowd for Springsteen.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. You can follow him on Twitter at @IraHeatBeat.

Underdog Cavs insist they have plenty of bite for Finals

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INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) — They are defending champions and decided underdogs.

The Cleveland Cavaliers, however, say they aren’t using any snubs to get ready for the NBA Finals.

Set for a third straight championship matchup against Golden State, the Cavs are ignoring the Las Vegas odds makers and others who don’t think they have a shot at beating Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant & Co.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue doesn’t feel his team needs the underdog label for inspiration, saying being in the NBA Finals is “enough motivation alone.”

Kevin Love was reminded that Warriors forward Draymond Green said earlier this season that he wants to “destroy and annihilate” the Cavs in the Finals. Says Love said: “He wanted us, and he has us starting next Thursday.”

 

Check out Kawhi Leonard’s highlights from this past season (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook and James Harden were putting up the bigger numbers, they were drawing more attention. And while MVP is a regular season award, nobody has boosted their MVP credentials more in the postseason than Kawhi Leonard.

He had a really impressive regular season, too. Since we’re on a long break between games, enjoy the highlights of Leonard’s season. He may enter next season as the MVP favorite.

Kevin Love on Cavaliers: “I don’t feel like we’re underdogs”

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Kevin Love and Las Vegas bookmakers do not see things the same way.

In Vegas, the Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the title — bet $100 on them to win and you get back $41.7 (or less). Cleveland is a heavy underdog.

Love sees a confident team that is the defending NBA champions, as he told Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“The whole underdog thing is funny to me, because, yeah, at the end of the day we are defending our title,” Love said Saturday after the Cavs’ first practice in preparation for the Warriors since clinching a spot in the Finals. “We’re trying to repeat, which is so hard to do. I think we will use it as fuel, we will use it as motivation, but the idea of playing into it? It’s tough for me to say that is the case. I don’t feel like we’re underdogs. We match up well with them, and I think they’d say the same about us.”

What else was he going to say?

More than any other team in the league, the Cavaliers are built to give Golden State trouble. The Cavaliers can exploit mismatches, be physical on defense, and they have LeBron James, Love and Kyrie Irving. Three NBA stars.

Is that enough against four NBA stars is the question.

Mike Brown still waiting on Tyronn Lue to pay up overdue bet

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Mike Brown is ready for Tyronn Lue to pay up on a nearly two-decade-old bet. Yep, Lue owes him $100 and Brown plans to accept it at long last – perhaps even during the NBA Finals when they see each other.

All this time Brown never wanted the money he earned by beating Lue in a shooting contest when the Cavaliers coach was an NBA newcomer, yet Golden State’s acting coach – who spent two stints leading Cleveland – joked how Lue can surely afford it these days.

“I’m glad he finally admitted that he owes me money because for many years he wouldn’t admit that he owed me money. He does owe me $100 and since he got his new deal hopefully he can afford to pay me now,” Brown said Saturday post-practice. “I asked him many time for it but he’s denied it. He’s denied that the game ever took place.”

Lue insists he has tried to pay up – time and time again, to no avail.

“Mike, I owe him $100 from when I was a rookie. That’s all I ever know about Mike,” Lue said Saturday. “I tried to pay him and he wouldn’t take the money so he says I always owe him. He’s always been a great guy.”

The 40-year-old Lue was rewarded with a contract extension after the Cavs’ championship run last June for the city’s first major sports title in 52 years. Cleveland overcame a 3-1 Finals deficit to the Warriors, and now the teams are preparing to face off for a third straight year.

“I think what it has to do with, it has to do with the fact he’s got a nice, long, fat contract with the Cavs and he realizes that he can finally afford to pay me the money that he owes me for the shooting game back in 2000 or whenever it was,” Brown said with a grin.

Brown acknowledged he cannot recall any other details such as how many shots each man made, saying: “I don’t even remember, that was back when I was in shape and a good shooter. He’d kill me now”

“Yeah, he was with the Spurs and I was with the Lakers and we had a little shooting contest and I lost,” Lue said. “He wouldn’t take the money so from now on 19 years in a row always says, `You owe me $100.’ He won’t take the money. Always been close to Mike and I like Mike a lot, respect him a lot.”