Which teams could crash the Thunder/Heat finals next year?

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These finals didn’t feel like a one-time thing.

One year from now the Miami Heat and Oklahoma City Thunder could well be back on the NBA’s biggest stage. This is a budding rivalry. Between LeBron James and Kevin Durant. Between the flashy East Coast city and the solid Midwestern city. Miami’s stars are in their primes (and likely will draw some quality veteran free agents willing to chase a ring). The Thunder core is still all just 23 and they are getting better every time they step on the court.

A full on rivalry like this would be good for the league, and if this finals was any indication, good for us fans.

But what teams are waiting in the wings to crash this party?

A rematch may be the logical pick but it is far from a lock. There are teams on the cusp of this dance, maybe more free agency — and the Dwight Howard trade we all expect — changes the landscape this summer.

Which teams could spoil David Stern’s plans for a rematch?

The Chicago Bulls. We all expected an epic Eastern Conference finals between the Bulls and Heat, only to watch that get torn up along with Derrick Rose’s ACL. But Rose likely comes back the middle of next season and will have his legs under him when the playoffs come around. The Bulls defend like beasts, they have good athletes, they are intense like their coach Tom Thibodeau, they have had the best record in the East two. They pose a serious challenge to the Heat.

The San Antonio Spurs. They have evolved into an offensive force led by Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Turns out Tim Duncan has a few miles left on the legs after all. They need to find some athletic, younger role players to go with the guys they already have, guys that fit the system, they could put together another run. Remember this team has had the best record in the West the last couple years, they blew through the first couple rounds of the playoffs this year looking dominant and they could be back.

The Los Angeles Clippers. This is the other up-and-coming team in the West, a team on the same learning curve as the Thunder just a few steps behind. But they have the best point guard in the game, they have a wildly athletic front line led by Blake Griffin, and they have some depth. If they can land a good two guard and upgrade their role players this summer, and if Vinny Del Negro is capable of leading them, the Clippers could be the second best team in the West. Or, Donald Sterling could screw the whole thing up.

The Indiana Pacers. They were the third best team in the East, they have a young core with Roy Hibbert, Danny Granger and Darren Collison who should be better next year. And they have cap space — a lot of cap space. If this team can lure or trade for one more elite player (someone like a Deron Williams) they would become contenders in the East.

Teams that if they make some big/key moves in the offseason and everything breaks their way could be in this conversation, too: Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Dallas Mavericks, New York Knicks, Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers.

Sixers’ Joel Embiid officially has knee surgery, expected to be back on court in summer

Associated Press
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“The… follow-up MRI of Joel Embiid‘s left knee appears to reveal… the previously identified meniscus tear appears more pronounced in this most recent scan.”

When Philadelphia’s chief medical director Dr. Jonathan Glashow said that in a statement announcing Joel Embiid was being shut down for the season, the chance of knee surgery to clean up that meniscus was possible. Friday it became a reality, the team announced.

CSNPhilly.com had the details.

The team expects Embiid to resume basketball activities during this summer, according to Sixers director of performance research and development Dr. David T. Martin. Embiid will begin his rehab in Los Angeles with specialists and Sixers medical and training staff members.

“The overall status of Joel’s lateral meniscus and his cartilage is very good,” surgeon Dr. Neal S. ElAttrache, M.D., who performed the surgery, said in a statement. “Today’s procedure focused on removing a small portion of the meniscus that was responsible for his symptoms.

“The recovery program that has been established targets Joel transitioning back to full weight-bearing in approximately two weeks, at which point a conservative approach to his rehabilitation will be introduced.”

After Embiid missed two seasons with foot issues, there is a tendency to lump everything together and call him injury prone. This, however, was a minor surgery with a relatively short recovery period, even as the Sixers bring him along slowly. There is reason for concern, but this shouldn’t be an issue by next training camp.

Embiid averaged 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game despite a minutes restriction all season. He was incredibly efficient in getting his numbers — he had an All-Star level PER of 24.2 — and when he was on the court the Sixers outscored their opponents by 3 points per 100 possessions. He’s still likely a top three finisher in Rookie of the Year balloting despite playing in just 31 games.

Devin Booker demolishes youthful scoring records

AP Photo/Tony Dejak
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When a 20-year-old LeBron James scored 56 points in a game, he called it, “probably the best game of my life.”

Devin Booker just topped him with 70 points in a game at age 20.

LeBron has obviously gone onto bigger and better things since dropping 56 in a loss to the Raptors during his second year, but that game was a harbinger. Booker – whom LeBron singled out before the season as an under-the-radar rising star – could be on a similar track.

Or Booker could be following Brandon Jennings, who scored 55 in his seventh game, also at age 20.

The future is bright – and unknown – for the second-year Suns guard.

What’s clear: His accomplishment last night is unmatched, and nobody else has come close. Here are the highest-scoring games in NBA history by someone under age 21:

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This is the result of Phoenix going so young and Booker playing so well. Not every team would provide such an opportunity, but Booker seized it.

Not only is he the youngest player ever to score 70 points in a game, he’s the youngest to score 60 in a game.

Somebody ought to buy him a drink to celebrate – in October, once it’s legal.

Union: Joakim Noah would not have been suspended under next CBA

Elsa/Getty Images
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Selective Androgen Receptor Modulator LGD-4033 was not banned by the current Collective Bargaining Agreement when it was enacted.

The next CBA will offer a new challenge policy for failed drug tests.

Perhaps Joakim Noah, whom the NBA suspended 20 games, just tested positively at the wrong time.

SARM LGD-4033 (Ligandrol) was added to the banned list after the current CBA was signed in 2011. The drug is also banned by the next CBA, which will take effect July 1.

But the next CBA would also allow Noah an opportunity to contest his suspension – which his union says he would have done successfully..

National Basketball Players Association:

“After a thorough investigation, the National Basketball Players Association believes that Joakim Noah did not intentionally or knowingly violate any policy of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).  Under the recently negotiated CBA effective July 1, a player’s unintentional ingestion of a prohibited substance would be taken into consideration, and we believe the conduct here would not result in discipline.  Unfortunately, the current CBA does not permit such consideration.”

“Joakim was completely forthcoming and cooperative throughout the investigation and we believe that this isolated occurrence was a regrettable mistake.  Joakim has offered his deepest apologies for this infraction, and neither he nor the NBPA will pursue an appeal.”

Unlike the current CBA, the new CBA allows a player to challenge a suspension if he “did not know or suspect, and could not reasonably have known or suspected, even with the exercise of considerable caution and diligence, that he was taking, ingesting, applying, or otherwise using” the drug. He must also establish how the drug entered his system.

That’s obviously a high burden. The CBA even defines it as an “unusual circumstance.”

Could Noah have presented such convincing evidence? Maybe, but it’s far easier to make that claim in a statement than actually convince an arbitrator.

Stephen Curry with touchdown pass to Andre Iguodala, who finishes with reverse lay-up (VIDEO)

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The 49ers may want to give Stephen Curry a call, because I’m not sure Brian Hoyer can throw that pass.

Curry showed a soft touch on a touchdown pass over a defender to the streaking Andre Iguodala, who had to finish with the reverse layup, a little no-look flip. It was vintage Warriors, a little playground in transition.

The Warriors beat the Kings 114-100 behind 27 from Curry. With the win the Warriors are 2.5 games up on the Spurs for the best record in the West, but Golden State has a tough road back-to-back this week in Houston than San Antonio. Get at least a split there and the Warriors will be tough to catch.