LeBron’s return to Cleveland Tuesday sparks more crazy “return in 2014” speculation

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If you don’t think some Cavaliers fans are a little bit over the top about the slim possibility of LeBron James returning to Cleveland in 2014, you didn’t see the shirt of the guy who ran on the court in the fourth quarter Wednesday night of the Heat’s dramatic win in Cleveland. The fool disrupted the game before he was hauled off in handcuffs, all while wearing a T-shirt saying:

“LeBron 2014 Come Back.”

After the game LeBron told reporters the guy said he missed him and asked him to come back.

Let’s put aside the fact that running on the court mid-game may not be the best way to convince a player your idea is a good one, this guy is a tip of a Cleveland iceberg. There is a real sense there — and in some other circles around the NBA — that this could happen.

LeBron didn’t quell that speculation Wednesday at shootaround when he refused to discuss it altogether. Here’s the quote, via Brian Windhorst at ESPN.

“My only focus now is to win another championship, I can’t worry about speculation or rumors,” James said recently when the subject was raised. “What we’re doing on the floor right now is what it’s all about. We’re playing good ball right now. We’re trying to win a championship.”

If you know anything about how over-zealous fans think, you know that not talking about it means you are tacitly confirming everything they are thinking.

Does a game like Wednesday then give the Cleveland fans more hope? In their minds you bet it does. Sure, LeBron got booed a little, but he saw that the Cavs have a good core of hard working players, right? He realizes he can win here, right?

No. Not to throw cold water on the shooter on the grassy knoll theory, but no. The reality is the Miami Heat remain far and away the leaders in the 2014 LeBron sweepstakes. Everyone else is grasping at straws.

It’s not hard to draw up the LeBron returns to Cleveland scenarios. Even regular Miami Heat beat writers like our friend Ira Winderman writing for NBC will help you connect the dots — LeBron can opt out in 2014, the Cavaliers have 2014 cap space, LeBron said he would consider coming back one day, his new agent/manager is based in Cleveland and LeBron spoke highly of Kyrie Irving at All-Star weekend.

All that can’t be a coincidence, right? It’s not like every coach and player in the NBA speaks highly of Kyrie Irving… oh, wait, yes they do. It’s not like LeBron’s new agent is both from Cleveland and has another client there (Tristan Thompson), so he would likely locate there anyway. It’s not like a bunch of teams have 2014 cap space, including the Lakers. It’s not like… oh, you get the idea.

LeBron is almost certainly going to opt out in 2014 — he will want the security of a longer five-year deal (and he can get more money, if he so chooses). Money is not a big factor — Lebron is a max player, he can get that or take less if he chooses, and he can get it anywhere (plus he makes far more off the court in endorsements anyway).

What he will do is make a decision based on his legacy and winning titles (which go hand-in-hand). The win streak they are on will be part of that Heat legacy.

So would jumping ship to another team, leaving another fan base angry, really help him with that legacy? While you can make a case it will be hard with the salary cap for Miami to surround LeBron with the same talent he has enjoyed so far. Of course, those same rules apply to other teams as well. Plus, convincing guys to come to South Beach for less money and to win rings is not all that hard.

Most importantly, do you really think LeBron is leaving his buddy Dwyane Wade, especially if they win another title or two here in the next couple years? With LeBron’s newfound maturity may be a sense of loyalty. To his friends, to the organization that got him rings.

But we are jumping the gun here. LeBron has to decide what to do by June 30, 2014, what to do. He doesn’t fully know what he will do then (things can change). Although next season he’s going to have to address this in a more concrete way than “I’m not going to talk about it.” Otherwise the distraction will be too big.

Bigger than crazy guys running on the court. But that’s where we are now.

Jazz shut off Thunder in feisty Game 4 win

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Jae Crowder threw an ejection-drawing elbow, and teammate Donovan Mitchell couldn’t contain his grin as he pulled Crowder from the scuffle.

Steven Adams took the elbow in the face, and he didn’t even flinch.

Both the Jazz and Thunder showed their competitiveness in Utah’s chippy 113-96 Game 4 win Monday. The difference: The Jazz delivered the blow. Oklahoma City took it.

Utah has won three straight to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series. Teams without home-court advantage up 3-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 89% of the time. Still, those leading teams lose Game 5 on the road 74% of the time. Game 5 of this series is Wednesday in Oklahoma City.

In other words: The Jazz have seized control of the series. They probably won’t close it out in Game 5 – though the way they’re playing, the certainly could.

Mitchell scored 33 points tonight, the first 30-point playoff game by a rookie since Brandon Jennings in 2010 (34 points). Mitchell has already scored 110 points this postseason, the most by a rookie since Harrison Barnes in 2013 (193 points). With Utah increasingly likely to advance, Mitchell has a chance to catch Dwyane Wade (234 points in 2004).

“He’s playing amazing,” Ricky Rubio said of Mitchell. “He doesn’t seem a rookie at all.”

Rubio, the star of Game 3, happily deferred to Mitchell tonight. Russell Westbrook‘s guarantee to shut down Rubio meant little, as Rubio set the tone as a passer. His eight assists don’t do him justice, as he made key passes that led to fouls drawn and other advantage situations for his teammates.

“We play as a team,” Rubio said.

Westbrook, on the other hand, looked out of control. He committed four first-half fouls, and though calls were questions, he also committed five turnovers and shot just 7-for-18. The question isn’t whether Westbrook was reckless. He was. The only debate is just how reckless.

Westbrook’s fervor hardly stood out. In addition to Crowder’s ejection, the game featured six other technical fouls – on Paul George, Quin Snyder, Steven Adams, Joe Ingles, Rudy Gobert and Raymond Felton. And there was even more trash-talking and physicality than whistled.

There just wasn’t nearly enough sustained production from the Thunder.

George (32 points on 9-of-21 shooting with six turnovers) had moments but was far too sloppy. Oklahoma City’s big three shot dreadfully from beyond the arc – Carmelo Anthony (0-for-6), Westbrook (0-for-3) and George (2-for-9).

Utah led by double digits the final 23 minutes. Joe Ingles made as many 3-pointers (5-for-11) as the Thunder combined (5-for-26).

Ingles is an excellent shooter, but the Jazz’s offense hummed and got him open looks. His outside shots are a bellwether – of a Utah team cruising.

Mitt Romney taunts Russell Westbrook after fourth foul

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It’s been a glorious night for Utah Jazz fans.

In Game 4 the Jazz have taken care of the big three of the Thunder in what has been a very physical, chippy game (Jae Crowder even got ejected). Between their team going on big runs and the physical play of the game, the Utah crowd — one already with a reputation for verbal hostility toward opponents — has savored every second of it.

That includes former Massachusetts Governor, presidential candidate, and current Utah Senate candidate Mitt Romney, who reminded Russell Westbrook exactly how many fouls he picked up.

Twitter – which has its own reputation for verbal hostility — was not kind to Romney after this. Of course, he earned it with that outfit.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.