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.

Teammate spoke to Lonzo Ball about walking away from “fight”

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We see these posturing/shoving matches all the time in the NBA, and they’re pointless. Late in Friday night’s Phoenix win in Los Angeles the Suns called a timeout, then Tyler Ulis and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope got in one a shoving match. As happens, players from both teams raced into the fray to protect their teammate/break it up… except for Lonzo Ball, who looked at it and kept moving along.

I have defended Ball’s actions as mature (he’s right, nothing was going to happen), while others (fans and media) have questioned his leadership for not rushing to stand by teammates, pull guys out of the pile, and having a “band of brothers” attitude.

None of that matters, the only opinions that carry any weight are the ones in the Lakers’ locker room. What did his teammates think? Lakers coach Luke Walton said a teammate did talk to Ball, quote via Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Someone on our team talked with him,” Walton said after the Lakers’ practice Saturday, without disclosing who it was. “It’s all part of the learning process.”

If his teammates were bothered, then there’s an issue. It’s more about perception than anything, again nothing was happening in that “fight,” but perception matters. It’s a small issue, but an issue. With young players this gets discussed, and everyone moves on.

Ball’s passing and energy on the court are things teammates love. As his game matures — and he eventually finishes better around the rim and, hopefully for him, finds his jumper — and he grows as a bigger threat on the court, his teammates will forget this ever happened. As will fans. But when you play for the rabid (and not always rational) fan base of the Lakers, and when your father invites publicity and with it scrutiny, things get blown out of proportion. Welcome to Lonzo’s world.

Marc Gasol kicks away Clint Capela’s shoe, earns technical

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Midway through the first quarter, Clint Capela literally came out of his shoe trying to move up to set a pick for James Harden. Just stepped right out of it. J.R. Smith wasn’t there to untie the laces or anything.

Capela turned around to go get his shoe, and Memphis’ Marc Gasol showed his soccer skills kicking the shoe away. That earned him a technical foul. Gasol could argue he just wanted to get something he could trip over off the court, but Capela was clearly coming back for it at that point. Gasol earned this one.

Capela retied his shoes and went on to have 17 points and 13 boards in Houston’s 105-83 win over shorthanded Memphis.

Stephen Curry scores 35, Warriors rally to beat 76ers 124-116

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 35 points, Kevin Durant had 27 and the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors overcame a 22-point halftime deficit in a 124-116 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

Joel Embiid scored 21 points and Ben Simmons had 23 points and 12 assists for Philadelphia, which led 47-28 after one quarter and 74-52 at the half.

But the Warriors erased that large deficit with a furious rally in the third quarter. Curry’s 3-pointer got them within one point. He then made a pair of free throws to give Golden State a 90-89 lead.

The two-time NBA MVP hit another 3 and Draymond Green blew past a defender for a dunk to make it 99-89 going into the fourth.

A raucous, sellout crowd that chanted “Trust the Process” most of the night went silent while the Warriors put on a shooting clinic in the second half.

Even veteran David West came off the bench and made big shots in the fourth quarter to give the Warriors distance. He finished with 14 points. Klay Thompson had 16.

Embiid was coming off a career-best performance – 46 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks, seven assists – in a 115-109 win at the Los Angeles Lakers on Wednesday.

He seemed on his way to another monster game in the first quarter. Embiid embraced the frenzied fans and slapped hands with a guy sitting courtside after a dunk.

But the Warriors showed why they’re the best by stifling Philadelphia in the second half to improve to 12-4.

The Sixers, who lost 135-114 at Golden State one week ago, fell to 8-7.

Playing his first game since receiving a lucrative contract extension, Robert Covington had 20 points for Philly.

Back home for the first time following a five-game road trip to the West Coast, the Sixers showed no jet lag in the first half.

They jumped ahead 15-4 following a 3-pointer by Embiid. Covington stripped Durant and hit a 3 to make it 37-18, electrifying the crowd.

Durant’s dunk off Green’s alley-oop pass got the Warriors within 70-51 late in the second. But Embiid finished off the half with a dunk that sent the Sixers into the locker room up 74-52.

 

Top-10 college recruit Anfernee Simmons may go straight to NBA

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A couple of years back, Thon Maker decided to play a post-graduate fifth year of prep school ball, not go to a major college, then jump to the NBA. He could because he had graduated a year before and was 19, the Bucks took him in the lottery, and so far it has worked out for everyone.

Now another recruit, Anfernee Simmons, may follow that path. Simmons is spending this year at the IMG Academy, and the combo guard is considered a top-10 recruit in this class.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN broke the story after speaking to Simmons.

“Some people have brought it to my attention,” Simons told ESPN during an interview in Connecticut, where his team was participating in the National Prep Showcase. “As long as the opportunity is there, I will do it.

“I can see myself going to the NBA combine, if I have enough teams to actually invite me or recommend me for the combine and enough teams want to bring me for workouts. I really need to hit the weight room hard and get a little stronger.”

This is a sensible approach — find out where you roughly fall in the draft, then make a decision. Listen to the teams, not friends/family/agents. If you have a first-round guarantee, then go pro.

Givony and others describe the 6’3″ Simmons as talented but still a project for the NBA level, starting with the fact he needs to get stronger (something true of most rookies). Not that it really scares off teams any longer, many are willing to develop and wait on a player with potential (he could spend a chunk of his first season in the G-League). Simmons is fast when he drives, and has a smooth release on his jumper. If he gets stronger and his game matures, a team may take a risk on him.