Heat knock Thunder out of rhythm, hang on for close win


If this is going to be the NBA finals again, I am all good with that. In fact, can we start it tomorrow?

The Thunder and Heat gave us all the Christmas Day gift of what felt as close to playoff game as you are going to get in December— it was physical, intense, even Kevin Durant and LeBron James were jawing at each other by the end of this one.

And just like the last three times the Heat and Thunder played in Miami it was the Heat that came away with the win, 103-97.

This win means nothing if these teams meet again in June — there are no statement games in December. But the game did remind us of a few things.

Miami makes things a struggle for the Thunder like seemingly no other team in the NBA can do. If you watched games from Oklahoma City’s recent 12-game winning streak you would see fantastic ball movement, great spacing and guys getting good looks in the flow of the offense. But the Heat take the Thunder out of that flow — Oklahoma City becomes a team that likes too much isolation and doesn’t move off the ball.

The result is when you need a three to tie the game with 14 seconds left you end up with Durant taking a contested step-back three with LeBron in his face. (As for Russell Westbrook being fouled on that next three… I don’t know. The review was inconclusive. But OKC wouldn’t have needed a three if they had defended on what became a Chris Bosh dunk the play before. One foul never loses you a game by itself.)

Miami raced off to a 13-2 start with LeBron James throwing down dunks to get off to a fast start on his way to a huge 29-point, 8 rebound, 9 assist game. He made a statement that if you are going to have a conversation about the MVP and have Carmelo Anthony and Durant in it go ahead, but you better have LeBron in that mix as well.

The Thunder closed that gap with the three by the end of the first quarter and eventually tied it up 39-39. We had a game the rest of the way.

For Miami we had a Mario Chalmers sighting — he had 20 points and shot 4-of-8 from three. Dwyane Wade had 21 points, Chris Bosh 16.

For the Thunder, it was 33 for Durant in the kind of quality game an MVP has on the big stage. But after that things dropped off a little — Westbrook had 21 points but needed 19 shots to get them, Kevin Martin had 15 but hit just 4-of-10 shots.

The real question I have for Scottie Brooks — why so much Kendrick Perkins, particularly late in the game. Perkins has a role on your team against the Lakers or Grizzlies, but against the Heat he seems lost without a position and was exposed by the Heat.

And with all that, it was a six point final score in a game the Thunder had a shot in. They need to play at their peak to beat the Heat and we didn’t see that on Christmas just like we didn’t last June. Like the protagonist in an action movie, the Heat are going to have to play at a new level to beat the Heat in a series. Oklahoma City may have that in them but their margin for error is small. And we saw too many little mistakes.

But it’s close.

It could be different if they meet in the finals. And if that happens, I’m good with it.

Kevin Love on back slide: ‘I don’t know what the hell that was’ (video)

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In the Cavaliers’ win over the Bucks last night and his first game back from injury, Kevin Love fell while shooting then very oddly slid up court on his back.

Rob Perez:

Love, via Chris Fedor of Cleveland.com:

“I don’t know what the hell that was,” Love told a private group of reporters while being shown the video at his locker. “I was just having fun.”

When I saw that, I was having fun, too.

Potential top-three pick, Texas C Mo Bamba, declares for NBA draft

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Slovenian point guard Luca Doncic and Arizona center DeAndre Ayton are considered frontrunners to go 1-2 in the upcoming NBA draft.

No. 3 is more up for grabs – with Duke’s Marvin Bagley III, Texas’ Mo Bamba, Michigan State’s Jaren Jackson Jr., Oklahoma’s Trae Young, Alabama’s Collin Sexton and Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. in the mix.

Bamba is committing to the competition.

Texas release:

University of Texas freshman forward Mohamed Bamba has declared himself eligible for the upcoming 2018 NBA Draft and will not return to school, the University announced Tuesday.

Bamba – 7-foot with a 7-foot-9 wingspan – is an elite rim-protector. He’s also fluid enough to stifle opponents on the perimeter. He brings an awesome defensive package. Considering his size, he rebounds and finishes predictably well.

But his offense his otherwise raw. He attempts a fair number of jumpers, including 3-pointers, which suggests a capability. But he shoots poorly on those attempts and has displayed minimal court vision as a passer.

He’ll also turn 20 in May, making him the oldest of the top 2018 draft prospects. Mamba will carry some physical advantages to the NBA, but how much was he dominating college opponents because he’s more physically advanced?

Bamba carries risk, but an NBA team will almost certainly bet on him sooner than later in the draft.

Former Mavericks marketing manager: Mark Cuban oversaw business side, still doesn’t get it

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Sports Illustrated detailed a predatory environment – including sexual harassment and domestic violence – in the Mavericks’ business office.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban denied much interaction with the business side, expressed outrage this occurred and vowed to fix the problems.

Melissa Weishaupt, whom Sports Illustrated cited anonymously in its initial article, says Cuban hasn’t responded appropriately.

Weishaupt in Sports Illustrated:

I’m using my name because I’m still not sure the Mavericks get it. Since the story broke, owner Mark Cuban has repeatedly claimed he oversaw only the basketball side of that franchise, not the business side.

Sorry. It doesn’t work that way. You own 100% of the team, Mark. The buck stops with you. When I worked on the Mavs’ business side, all marketing, promotional and broadcasting decisions went through you. Nothing was decided without your approval.

I am using my name because I am convinced that Cuban still doesn’t recognize the culture he’s helped create or the plight of the women who still work for him. From where I sit, Mark’s response was to rush in like some white knight in a T-shirt and jeans and yell, Don’t worry, ladies of the Mavs, I will help you with paid counseling and a hotline you can call!

Now you want to help? We are not fragile flowers. We don’t long for counseling. (As for that hotline: I’ve spoken with a dozen current and former team employees; we have no idea what this is or how to find it.) We want equitable pay. We need to be treated with respect. When deserved, we ought to be given the same promotions as our male counterparts.

This problematic culture exists throughout the world. It would hardly be a shock if it still exists within the Mavericks, even after a spotlight was shined on them. In fact, there are indications it does.

If Cuban is sincere in his desire to provide better conditions for the women working for him, he should listen to people like Weishaupt. He can defend himself if he disagrees with her claims, but he also shouldn’t act as if he automatically knows all the solutions to these problems.

Report: Pistons interested in hiring Chauncey Billups to work with Arn Tellem in front office

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Update: Vince Ellis of the Detroit Free Press:

Of course, this doesn’t preclude the Pistons from eventually hiring Billups. They could claim they weren’t interested while Van Gundy held the presidency then became interested in Billups later.

But such a sharp statement seems unlikely if the Pistons planned to go that route. They’d probably leave the door open wider than this.


Pistons owner Tom Gores made it sound as if president-coach Stan Van Gundy would lose his front-office title.

The rumored replacement? Former agent Arn Tellem, who’s an executive on the Pistons’ business side.

Tellem could also have new help – like Chauncey Billups.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

That would certainly turn heads in Detroit, where Billups is still beloved after playing for the Pistons and leading them to the 2004 championship. His reputation remains sterling there, because he was traded before the major downturn of that era.

For a team struggling to fill its new arena, Billups could make a splash (just like the Blake Griffin trade was designed to).

But if Billups and Tellem aren’t ready to build a winning team, the good feelings would be short-lived. Detroit-area fans have proven they support good teams and not otherwise.

To Billups’ credit, he has worked to position himself for a front-office job. He was a very smart player and good communicator, and he has always eyed an executive, rather than coaching, role. The Cavaliers nearly hired him last year. He and Tellem might be up for the task.

It’s a substantial one. The Pistons’ roster is expensive for the next couple years, and Detroit is down a first-round pick from the Griffin trade. The top two players, Griffin and Drummond, don’t fit seamlessly.

The Pistons could easily make the playoffs next season, especially if Reggie Jackson is healthier than this year. But greater success will be hard to come by no matter who takes over.