Oklahoma City Thunder forward Durant reacts after a missed point against the Memphis Grizzlies during overtime of Game 4 in the Western Conference semi-finals of the NBA playoffs in Memphis

Who is more likely to force Game 6: Chicago or Oklahoma City?


There are two teams on the brink of elimination Wednesday night: The Chicago Bulls at the hands of the Miami Heat, and the Oklahoma City Thunder at the hands of the Memphis Grizzlies.

Both the Bulls and Thunder are down 3-1 in their series, lose and they can make tee times for Thursday morning.

Let’s not talk about coming back to win the series. First, because it’s not likely at in either case (these teams are in trouble). Second, because it’s not how teams think — they have to think one game at a time.

So which team is the most likely to force a Game 6, Chicago or OKC?

Yes, we say Oklahoma City, too.

While it’s a 3-1 series Memphis is just +16 for the entire series — no game has been decided by more than six points. It’s been incredibly close. It’s just that in the last three games the Grizzlies have done a better job executing down the stretch — they have made it hard on Kevin Durant and Durant has missed shots down the stretch.

But back home in Oklahoma City Durant may well hit those shots — he is a guy who generally does not wilt at the end of games. What is more is he should get better help from Kevin Martin or Serge Ibaka — role players tend to be more comfortable and make plays at home they do not on the road. The Thunder (and Ibaka in particular) have had to step up and do more in the absence of Russell Westbrook and they haven’t been able to.

But they just have to do a little more, a little better to get the Thunder a win in a close series.

The Bulls have much bigger problems.

A good defensive team like the Heat can take away a team’s first option — but injuries have already done that to Chicago. No Derrick Rose, no Luol Deng and a hobbled Joakim Noah. Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau has had no choice but to go with Nate Robinson to generate offense — and in Chicago’s Game 1 upset it worked, he had 27 points on 8-of-16 shooting.

But the Heat have focused on taking him out of the equation — more defensive pressure, trapping him off pick and rolls, fouling him hard if he goes down the lane — and the result is Robinson shooting 8-of-35 in the last three games.

Thibodeau doesn’t have any other arrows in his quiver to shoot — unless you think a random huge night from Marco Belinelli is coming, the Bulls are in trouble. Serious trouble.

It’s hard to see Chicago getting to a Game 6 at home. Their season ends Wednesday night.

Oklahoma City may well live to play another day.

LeBron James posts photo with Tristan Thompson, sends message to Cavs

2015 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Tristan Thompson is a man without a contract. By not signing the qualifying offer with the Cleveland Cavaliers he put himself in limbo, the rare NBA holdout. Right now his options are to sign the deal on the table (the Cavs still have the five-year, $80 million offer out there), get the Sixers or Blazers to offer him a max contract (which neither team has shown any interest in doing), or hold out and hope the Cavaliers make a better offer. If he holds out for the entire season he becomes a restricted free agent again next summer — exactly like he is right now.

Without signing the qualifying offer and the threat of leaving, Thompson hurt his leverage.

But he has a little leverage. He and his agent Rich Paul had one other card, and it got played Saturday.

Get it done!!!! Straight up. #MissMyBrother @realtristan13

A photo posted by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

LeBron James and Thompson share an agent in Paul. LeBron has largely remained silent through this process but if he wants something in the Cleveland organization, he usually gets it. And he wants Thompson back at practices.

LeBron’s leverage is going to be put to the test. The Cavaliers have let it leak they are not that concerned about LeBron leaving them next summer over this — and they’re right. The damage to LeBron’s brand if he broke the hearts of Cleveland fans again would be crushing, unless he leaves for a very good reason. Overpaying Thompson is not that reason.

However, LeBron’s comment could push the Cavaliers to try to find a compromise.

For the Cavaliers, a lot of how they view all this comes down to their tax bill. The Cavaliers already have $94.9 million in guaranteed salary on the books, putting them $10.2 million over the luxury tax line, at a cost of more than $16.25 million. What this means if (or when) they sign Thompson is his first $10 million in salary would cost them $28.75 million in tax and every dollar above that for the next $5 million costs them $3.75-to-$1. Look at it this way, by my count $14 million this year to Thompson would cost $43.75 million in tax — the total for Thompson at that price is $58 million. While that’s not all on Thompson it’s a lot of cash, and Thompson wants a max deal that starts at more than $16 million a year.

Owner Dan Gilbert is already going to pay the highest tax bill in the NBA this season, but if he balks at those figures it’s hard to blame him.


Hezonja throws down one-handed dunk in preseason debut

Orlando Magic Introduce 2015 NBA Draft Picks
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Mario Hezonja, the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft, has never lacked for confidence. The Croatian guard made his pro debut in the Magic’s preseason game against the Hornets on Saturday and did this:

Between Hezonja, Elfrid Payton, Victor Oladipo and Aaron Gordon, the Magic have a nucleus of young players that has the potential to be a lot of fun. Even if they’re still a few years away from contending, they’re definitely going to be a League Pass favorite this year.