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David Stern releases statement apologizing to fans for Spurs resting healthy stars against Heat

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When Gregg Popovich decided to rest Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili for Thursday night’s nationally televised game in Miami against the world champion Heat, it may have been disappointing, but it certainly wasn’t a surprise.

Popovich has done this for years, resting perfectly healthy players for no reason other than he feels it’s best for his team over the course of an 82-game season.

Exactly how much the rest of one November game will help his aging team in the postseason over five months from now remains to be seen, but there are currently no rules against dong so, so Popovich and the Spurs organization are well within their rights.

David Stern, however, didn’t seem to be as rational when delivering his statement on the matter, which was shown in a graphic on TNT prior to tip-off during the pregame show, and later sent out by the league in an official release.

“I apologize to all NBA fans,” the statement from Stern said. “This was an unacceptable decision by the San Antonio Spurs and substantial sanctions will be forthcoming.”

Good for the league for putting its foot down on this issue. It’s completely ridiculous for fans to buy a ticket for one product, only to be bait-and-switched for no good reason at the last minute.

The fact that Spurs-Heat is a matchup between two of the league’s best teams and is being televised nationally on TNT also factors into the equation. The league’s broadcast partners pay a fortune for the right to televise the best teams playing one another, and having a coach willfully mess with one of these matchups is just bad for the league, pure and simple.

If resting San Antonio’s aging stars at the end of a road trip was Popovich’s main priority, he could have given them the night off on Wednesday against a dreadful Orlando Magic team that they very well might have beaten anyway. Then, the league, the fans, and TNT would have gotten their marquee matchup, and the Spurs players would have gotten their rest. In that scenario, everyone wins.

Instead, we have this controversy brewing where the league is trying to tell a coach how to manage his players, without any precedent, and without any rules in place that state it’s against policy to do what Popovich and the Spurs decided to.

To be clear, I’m firmly on the side of Stern and the league on this issue. I just don’t see how anything can be done about it now in terms of a fine or other sanctions being handed down, since there was nothing specifically in place prohibiting the Spurs actions.

If nothing else, this issue is now firmly on the league’s radar, and will likely be addressed with some sort of guidelines for teams to follow in future seasons, with penalties attached for non-compliance.

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers:

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.