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.

Kings’ rookie De’Aaron Fox commits California mortal sin, slams In-N-Out

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We Californians take a few things seriously. Surf reports, for one. Winemaking/tasting. Tech toys. Coming up with potential blockbuster movie franchise ideas, getting a star to buy in, then maybe or maybe not worrying about getting a decent script.

Also, In-N-Out Burger. If there is one thing all Californians can agree on, it’s that In-N-Out is the best burger chain in the world. It’s not up for debate.

Apparently Kings’ rookie De'Aaron Fox did not get that memo. He did a Q&A with Rolling Stone’s Seerat Sohi and crossed a sacred line.

“All I gotta say, you can tell everybody that lives in the state of California this: In-N-Out is not good.”

What’s your beef with In-N-Out Burger?
“Their burgers are overrated. They’re OK.”

Even Animal Style?
“Yes. People always say, you haven’t tried this. You haven’t tried that. I’m like, “Yeah, I looked up the secret menu. I’ve tried it all. It’s just not good.”

That’s controversial. What’s the best fast food spot then?
“Honestly, for me, I don’t count Chick-fil-A, because it’s way too good to be considered fast food. So I’m gonna say Wendy’s. Fat Burger in L.A. is better than In-N-Out.”

It’s this simple: Fox is flat-out wrong.

First off, Chick-fil-A is wildly overrated, so we know the taste of the 19-year-old point guard is off. Fat Burger is legit. But Wendy’s? Come on now, that’s just average.

If Fox had tried to argue Five Guys, I would have let it slide — I don’t think they’re as good, but I will admit a California bias. But Wendy’s? You lose the entire argument right there. It’s like saying Pixels was the best movie ever.

In-N-Out is the best. Fox needs to get on board with this.

Bulls’ Nikola Mirotic hospitalized after practice fight with Bobby Portis

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It was going to be a difficult season in Chicago if everything went right — and two days before the first game of the season things have gone horribly wrong.

Bulls’ starting forward Nikola Mirotic got into a shoving match with Bobby Portis, and Portis turned and sucker-punched him, according to multiple reports.

The Bulls have confirmed the fight and have announced Mirotic suffered a concussion and maxillary fractures in his face — the upper jaw and nasal cavity area — which likely will require surgery. He is going to miss weeks of time.

Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had more details.

Mirotic was taken to the hospital Tuesday after their shoving altercation during practice ended with an alleged cheap shot from Portis to Mirotic’s face, league sources told The Vertical. Mirotic is undergoing tests, but is expected to be out for the foreseeable future, league sources said.

Mirotic will miss weeks, according to a source, and you can be sure severe discipline from the team is coming down for Portis.

In the short term, this likely means more run for rookie Lauri Markkanen as well as just re-signed Cristiano Felicio.

LeBron James will play in opener against Celtics

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Did we really expect anything else?

LeBron James was a game-time decision for the season opener in Cleveland against Boston and Kyrie Irving due to a sprained ankle. We expected he would go, but ankles can be tricky and are easy to re-injure once sprained, so the Cavs wanted to be careful.

He’s going to play. Coach Tyronn Lue made it official.

LeBron is the best player on the planet, but he can coast through the regular season at times. What teams try to avoid is giving him extra motivation… say bringing in a guy who left the team last summer on opening night. Expect full force LeBron tonight.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.