LeBron says stars that want to win need to sacrifice dollars

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In the summer of 2014, LeBron James can and likely will opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat.

And that has led to a raft of preparations and speculation about what’s next — the Lakers have cleared out enough cap space to offer a max deal that summer (even if they sign Dwight Howard this summer), there is speculation he will want to return to Cleveland to pair with Kyrie Irving, and the list goes on and on.

My bet would be on him turning around and inking a new five-year deal with the Miami Heat — I don’t think he goes anywhere. But that’s not much fun to speculate about.

Wherever he lands, LeBron doesn’t expect to get paid his full value. And he said he’d make sacrifices for the team, he told ESPN’s Bryan Windhorst (go read all his comments).

“I have not had a full max deal yet in my career — that’s a story untold,” James said.

“I don’t get (the credit) for it. That doesn’t matter to me; playing the game is what matters to me. Financially, I’ll sacrifice for the team. It shows for some of the top guys, it isn’t all about money. That’s the genuine side of this, it’s about winning. I understand that.”

Already this year we have seen Oklahoma City and Memphis trade away top players — James Harden and Rudy Gay — because smaller market teams just can’t spend like that.

Even in bigger markets elite guys are going to have to take less than the NBA maximum salary — and that is already well less than they could earn on a true open market. Kobe Bryant will make nearly $30 million next year but what he means to the Lakers in terms of ticket sales, sponsorship deals, television deals and ratings dwarfs that (I’ve heard estimates of triple his salary).

LeBron likely would take less to stay in Miami (as he did with his last contract) and if he moves anywhere he can only be offered less than a max deal fro Miami. Not that any of this really fazes LeBron — he made around $40 million in endorsements last year, according to Forbes Magazine. Winning and stature frankly does more for his earning potential than what he can make off his regular contract.

Under the new and more punishing tax levels of the Collective Bargaining Agreement — the full force of which kick in next year — it’s going to be more expensive for teams that want to collect multiple superstars. The hope of small and medium market owners is this will flatten out the talent pool in the NBA as big-market owners can’t just decide they will pay the tax and hoard talent.

Except, I could swear I remember the owners of the Lakers and Nets doing exactly that this past summer. Even with the new tax looming.

Top players that want to win will find a way to team up — and that’s not bad for the league. The Celtics of the 1960s were a super team. The Lakers and Celtics of the 1980s were super teams. It continues on through Shaq and Kobe to Miami — NBA fans have shown with their eyeballs and dollars that they will watch these teams more than they have supported parity.

The simple fact is that wherever LeBron James plays other players will want to be. We can debate how much longer Dwyane Wade can play at an elite level and if LeBron wants to play with someone other than Chris Bosh, but the fact remains that Miami can lure plenty of talent while LeBron is there. And owner Micky Arison is smart enough to offer LeBron whatever he wants to stay.

It’s just that LeBron might not take it all.

Warriors take 3-0 series lead over Blazers with 119-113 win

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 34 points, Klay Thompson added 24 and the short-handed Golden State Warriors overcame a slow start to take a 3-0 lead in their playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers with a 119-113 victory on Saturday night.

The Blazers led by as many as 17 points in the first half, but couldn’t hold off the Warriors, who can clinch the series with a win Monday night in Game 4 at the Moda Center.

Golden State was without Kevin Durant, who was sitting for a second straight game cause of a left calf strain, and coach Steve Kerr stayed back at the team hotel because of illness.

The Warriors took a 108-100 lead after Andre Iguodala‘s dunk with 4:05 to go.

Noah Vonleh‘s dunk got Portland within four at 110-106 with 1:29 left, but Curry answered with a 3-pointer that all but sealed it, sending fans streaming for the exits.

CJ McCollum led the Blazers with 32 points, while Damian Lillard added 31.

Markieff Morris calls Paul Millsap a “crybaby,” Millsap responds “It definitely got personal now”

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The Atlanta Hawks owned the Washington Wizards from the opening tip Saturday, making it a 2-1 series with an easy win.

It’s a series now — and that includes trash talk.

Paul Millsap had 29 points, pulled down 14 boards, got to the line 11 times, and led the Hawks to the win. He got the calls he wanted this game, but Washington’s Markieff Morris was not exactly down with high praise for Millsap.

The key line here: “”He just did more for his team. He’s a crybaby. Get all the calls and you a crybaby.”

Millsap was asked about that comment in his postgame presser — and the best part may be Dennis Schroeder’s reaction.

“It definitely got personal now, yes. I mean, I don’t care. So what? He can take his loss and go back to the hotel and be ready for the next game.”

These two have already had a beef this series.

Game 4 in this series just got a lot more interesting.

Marc Gasol game-winner tops Kawhi Leonard’s brilliance, evens Spurs/Grizzlies series 2-2

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Best. Game. Of. The. Playoffs.

So far at least.

Kawhi Leonard scored 16 consecutive points for the Spurs down the stretch of regulation to force overtime, then in OT hit a corner three with 7.2 seconds left to tie the game at 108-108. Leonard finished the game with a career playoff high of 43 points.

It wasn’t enough. Because in those final seconds Marc Gasol did this.

The 110-108 Memphis win ties the series at 2-2 as it heads back to San Antonio for Game 5. I might not want to sit next to Gregg Popovich on the flight home.

While Gasol hit the big shot, he never gets the chance if Mike Conley isn’t every kind of amazing through the clutch parts of this game. Conley finished with 35 points, and that includes a floater in the lane that forced OT (although Leonard got a pretty good look to end it in regulation and just missed). I’m surprised the Spurs switched on the pseudo pick on this play.

The Spurs struggled to get stops down the stretch, mostly because they had David Lee and Tony Parker both on the floor and Memphis did a good job getting switches onto those defenders. Spurs starting center and best defensive big Dewayne Dedmon missed the game due to an illness, and that ended up mattering.

Hawks take control early, romp past Wizards 116-98

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ATLANTA (AP) — Paul Millsap scored 29 points, Dennis Schroder had 27 and the Atlanta Hawks delivered an early knockout blow against Washington, cruising to a 116-98 victory Saturday that sliced the Wizards’ lead to 2-1 in the opening-round playoff series.

After two tight losses in Washington exposed some bad blood between the teams, Atlanta returned home and built a 25-point lead by late in the first quarter.

The Hawks were never seriously challenged by the Wizards, who were essentially a one-man team. John Wall kept up his dazzling play in the series, scoring 29 points, but the point guard got no help from his teammates.

The other Washington starters combined to score 30 points on 14-of-45 shooting.

Millsap also had 14 rebounds, while rookie Taurean Prince chipped in with 16 points.

Game 4 is Monday night in Atlanta.

The Hawks came out intent on moving the ball, getting open looks and cutting down on the turnovers that plagued them in the first two contests.

Talk about following the game plan.

Atlanta pushed out to a double-digit lead before the game was 3 minutes old and stretched the margin to 38-13 with just under a minute to go in the opening quarter on Schroder’s 3-pointer.

Wall did everything he could to spark the Wizards. He posed along the baseline after a thunderous dunk, which might have had more effect if the Wizards weren’t losing by 23 at the time. He also darted through the lane against a collapsing defense to bank in an improbable shot, drawing gasps from the Atlanta crowd.

Wall made all but one shot and scored 21 points in the first half, but the Wizards trailed 64-46 heading to the locker room. The other four Washington starters had just 18 points.

Beal, in particular, had a miserable night after averaging 26.5 points in the first two games. He was held to 12 points on 6-of-20 shooting, missing all six of his attempts beyond the arc.

TIP INS

Wizards: Wall is averaging 31 points per game in the series. … F Otto Porter Jr. left in the third quarter with a strained neck and didn’t return. … After a video review, Jason Smith was called for a flagrant foul against Millsap late in the third quarter.

Hawks: C Dwight Howard remains a non-factor in Atlanta’s offense. He scored five points and took just four shots, giving him a mere 15 attempts over the first three games. He did have 11 rebounds. … Schroder had some issues at the free-throw line, making only half of his eight attempts. Millsap did, too, going 5 of 9. … Atlanta had a double-digit lead for the final 44:24 of the game. … Prince picked up a technical foul for taunting the Wizards after an alley-oop dunk in the closing minutes. … The Hawks had just 11 turnovers.