Miami Heat forward LeBron James reacts after he scored against the New York Knicks in the fourth quarter of their NBA basketball game in New York

Heat get 14th straight victory, come back from 16-point deficit to beat Knicks

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The Knicks had beaten the Heat twice already this season, so coming into this one in New York, one would have guessed that Miami would have it dialed in from the very start.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way, as the Heat trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half. But by the time it was over, Miami had earned its 14th straight victory with a 99-93 win, courtesy of yet another dominant performance from LeBron James.

James finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists, but it was Carmelo Anthony who started off hot and helped the Knicks take control early.

Anthony had 17 first quarter points, and scored them on just five shots. He was active and aggressive in getting to the free throw line, but didn’t get the help he needed for the Knicks to gain any separation. His teammates were just 2-11 from the field in the opening period, so the Knicks lead was just a single point when it was finished.

Miami struggled early by turning the ball over and couldn’t really find any flow in its offense. James was active from the start, and finished a couple of monster alley-oop dunks at the rim, but his outside shot wasn’t falling just yet.

The second quarter was a work of perfection by the Knicks, and the way they shared the ball and hit open shots from seemingly everywhere allowed them to blow the game open, if only temporarily. Jason Kidd, fresh off of being removed from the starting lineup for his recent stretch of dismal shooting, came out on fire in the second, hitting his first four attempts from three-point distance to help his team increase the lead.

New York’s ball movement was insane in the second, as it consistently whipped around the perimeter until it landed in the open man’s hands. Thanks to the passing and the clean looks that it created, the Knicks made 14 of their 19 shots in the period, including 5-of-9 from three-point distance, for a blistering shooting mark of 73.7 percent.

It’s possible the Heat simply aren’t a morning team, but they seemed to collectively wake up after halftime.

The sense of urgency on the defensive end of the floor was evident once the third quarter began, and Miami cut the Knicks’ lead down to four a little more than five minutes in. The Knicks briefly ran it back up to 11, capped off by a three-pointer from J.R. Smith, which was one of only two shots he made out of 11 second half attempts. The Heat cut it to four once again by the end of the third, thanks to a three-pointer from Shane Battier that went down just before the buzzer.

The game was tight the rest of the way, and James was the difference. He defended Anthony the majority of the second half, and helped hold him to 3-11 shooting over the final two periods;  after Anthony had gotten loose for 24 points on just eight shots in the first half, he finished with 32.

The back-to-back threes that James knocked down pulled the Heat even at 79 with 10 minutes to play, and his overall effort the rest of the way helped bring it home.

James sealed the victory with a steal and an uncontested one-man fast break that he finished with a powerful slam dunk, before stopping briefly to pose for the New York crowd in attendance.

On the Knicks side, in addition to what Kidd gave them offensively, they got an above average performance out of Amar’e Stoudemire, who was active and converted a couple of big plays inside. Tyson Chandler has seen better games, especially defensively, and Smith’s dismal shooting seemed to come at the worst possible time.

The game was close, however, until LeBron took over — both with his defensive effort on Anthony, as well as with his fourth quarter performance that netted him 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, a steal, and a blocked shot over the game’s final 12 minutes.

Report: Cavaliers trading Kevin Love ‘not even remotely a consideration’

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Kevin Love #0 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Will the Cavaliers trade Kevin Love?

Cleveland’s championship quieted, but didn’t stop, the speculation.

The Cavs’ stance might.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

While there are no shortage of suitors who would take on Love’s contract, sources close to the Cavs say moving him is not even remotely a consideration.

Some parts of the equation haven’t changed since the last trade deadline:

  • Love is a good, and probably now underrated, player who can’t reach his full potential while playing with LeBron James and Kyrie Irving. That’s OK. Most players must sacrifice to fit their team’s needs.
  • Love helps the Cavaliers against most teams. As I said above, he’s really good.
  • The Warriors – the overwhelming championship favorites – present a particularly difficult matchup for Love. The Cavs didn’t quite win the Finals in spite of Love, but his contributions were limited.

But a few things have changed:

  • Cleveland proved it could win a title with Love. There is no longer any doubt.
  • The championship also affects perception. Teams are reluctant to break up their cores coming off a title. It’d be surprising to see Cleveland make a major move until after the 2017 postseason.
  • Specifically, LeBron’s relationship with Love might have improved. Winning cures all ills. After previous reservations, LeBron might feel a stronger connection with Love due to their experiencing a title run together.

So, I buy that the Cavs are firmly against trading Love. The question: Will that stance change once they lose in the playoffs, whether that’s in 2017 or beyond?

Report: Blake Griffin’s camp ‘adamant’ he’ll re-sign with Clippers

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 06:  Blake Griffin #32 of the the Los Angeles Clippers drirbbles past Metta World Peace #37 of the the Los Angeles Lakers during a basketball game at Staples Center on April 6, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
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Doc Rivers said he doesn’t plan to break up the Clippers’ core, and that’s up to him.

For one more season.

Chris Paul and Blake Griffin can – very likely will – opt out of their contracts next summer, and J.J. Redick will also be a free agent. Will they stay?

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Sources close to Griffin have been adamant that he is planning to re-sign in L.A. and that he’s not open to going anywhere.

Sources close to the situation say win or lose, Rivers is not open to trade talks on Griffin or Paul and that he’s not worried about either walking away in July.

There are two possibilities:

1. Griffin is truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

2. Griffin is not truly intent on re-signing with the Clippers.

The second could be true if Griffin wants to spend the upcoming season in Los Angeles before evaluating his options. If Griffin states anything less than a firm commitment to stay, Rivers might trade him.

But let’s take Griffin at his reported word. Even if he honestly plans right now to re-sign, a lot can change in a year. The pressure for the Clippers to advance at least to the conference finals is only mounting. If the Clippers fall short, the resulting fallout could affect Griffin’s thinking.

At minimum, this is bad news for the Thunder – who hoped to pair Griffin with Russell Westbrook – and good news for the Clippers. Griffin leaning one direction now means something, even if it’s not definitive.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement makes it prohibitive for Griffin to sign an extension with the Clippers. So, whatever he thinks today about re-signing, he’ll have to play out the season and evaluate July 1.

Report: Timberwolves signing Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III

CHICAGO, IL - MAY 08: John Lucas III #15 of the Chicago Bulls drives against Elton Brand #42 of the Philadelphia 76ers in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NBA Playoffs at the United Center on May 8, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bulls defeated the 76ers 77-69. 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. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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Alert: Kick your Ricky Rubio trade theories into gear.

The Timberwolves, despite saying they’d keep Rubio for now, are acting like they might not. Minnesota is reportedly signing a couple point guards: Toure’ Murry and John Lucas III.

The Timberwolves already have 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries, including three point guards: Rubio, Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones. Keeping Murry or Lucas would require a roster move.

It could be Kevin Garnett retiring, buying out Nikola Pekovic or some smaller trade. But unless that minor deal involves Jones – Dunn, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, isn’t going anywhere – Minnesota would still have enough point guards. Most teams carry three.

The Timberwolves obviously aren’t trading Rubio because they have Murry and Lucas. But Murry or Lucas would help if Minnesota trades Rubio.

Lucas had his best season with Tom Thibodeau’s Bulls, and he can create instant offense in Thibodeau’s grind-it-out scheme. Murry has the length to make an impact defensively.* Most importantly, both play extremely hard – an especially big deal to Thibodeau.

*Murry’s size also allows him to play the wing, which offers him another avenue for sticking. But his frame, special for a point guard, is merely ordinary at shooting guard or small forward.

The Timberwolves still might not be quite ready to trade Rubio. But if Minnesota does deal him to slide Dunn into the starting lineup, Murry or Lucas would provide a decent contingency with Jones in reserve.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: James Harden ‘only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch’

Daryl Morey, James Harden
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Do you struggle with evaluating James Harden?

I know I do.

Harden’s Rockets, projected by some to contend for a championship, struggled to a 41-41 record last season. A fair share of their downfall could be pinned on him.

His defensive disinterest is appalling, and it sets a tone. His leadership is questionable, which matters a great deal for someone so empowered. He relies on tricking referees to draw fouls, frequently hooking his defender to create contact.

But I still put him on my All-NBA team, because his offense was so darned effective.

Elite individual offensive contributions are incredibly valuable. Harden’s defensive shortcomings can be hidden in a better team scheme. His leadership issues would matter less in a better team culture. But you can’t simply create what Harden provides offensively.

Long story short, Harden can be tricky to assess no matter how deeply you dive into his plusses and minuses.

Unless you ask Rockets general manager Daryl Morey.

Morey, via Oliver Maroney of Basketball Insiders:

“He’s only a polarizing figure to people who don’t watch,” Morey told Basketball Insiders. “Players voted him MVP [in 2014-15] for a reason. He’s had a winning team every season of his career, with multiple Conference Finals appearances.”

Morey has long defended Harden. That’s what general managers do for the superstar they acquired in tenure-defining trades.

But Morey also put his money where his mouth is. The Rockets will pay Harden an extra $20 million over the next two seasons just to get him locked up one extra year – and that extra year will cost about a max salary.

For better or worse, the Rockets are all in with Harden.

I think that’s a good plan given the alternatives, but I’m also not so sold on Harden that I find it foolproof.