LeBron’s triple-double, game-winner in overtime lead Heat to Game 1 win over Pacers

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The Pacers gave the Heat all they wanted in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals, but in the end, the game’s best player — along with some questionable coaching strategy down the stretch — was too much for Indiana to overcome.

LeBron James finished with a triple-double line of 30 points, 10 rebounds, and 10 assists, and hit the game-winning layup as time expired in overtime to give the Heat the 103-102 victory.

For most of the game, the Pacers dictated the tempo, and were able to impose their will defensively. It was a physical contest that was defended well by both teams throughout, and the referees called it tight. There were a combined 25 first half turnovers, with only four total fast break points over the first two periods.

David West carried the load offensively for Indiana in the first half with 18 points, and Hibbert was strong inside with 11. Paul George had only two points at the half, but emerged for a superstar-level performance the rest of the way, finishing the game with 27 points.

Miami began to find its offense a bit in the second half, but could never gain much separation. The Heat’s biggest lead was just five, and the Pacers seemed to be able to answer each time Miami made its push.

In a game that was largely a back-and-forth affair throughout, it was perhaps fitting that the teams traded shots at the buzzer to end the fourth quarter and the overtime session.

At the end of regulation, with the Pacers down three with possession and the seconds ticking away, George first passed up a decent look at a three, before getting the ball back from West and rising up to bury the shot from more than 30 feet out to tie the game and send it to the extra frame.

Once we got to overtime, that’s where some questionable rotation decisions from Pacers’ coach Frank Vogel came into play, and had many second-guessing his choices afterward.

In a decision to matchup with the Heat’s small lineup where they were playing Chris Bosh at the five, Vogel removed rim protector Roy Hibbert with a little more than 10 seconds remaining. James seized the opportunity, and once he got the switch and had George Hill defending, he took off toward the rim past Hill for the layup which was far too easy given the time remaining and the game situation.

With the Heat leading by two, George was fouled on a three-point attempt by Dwyane Wade with 2.2 seconds remaining. There was certainly contact, but it was an iffy call at best that the referees usually let slide. George sank all three free throws, putting his team up one.

On the game’s final possession, Vogel once again took Hibbert out of the lineup. The ball was inbounded to James, and George was out of position defensively, so James drove left right by him and to the rim for the uncontested layup as time expired.

Tough one for the Pacers to lose like that, considering how well they played throughout. They won’t be satisfied with any type of moral victory, obviously, but they can at least be assured that they seem to have plenty of favorable matchups in this series that should allow them to compete closely with Miami as they did in Game 1 — a game that undoubtedly, the Pacers feel like they could have won.

LeBron James, do you owe Cleveland anything? “I don’t owe anybody anything”

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It will be the biggest off-court topic of the NBA season: Will LeBron James stay with the Cavaliers after this season?

Right now, LeBron doesn’t know the answer to that question for sure. I’m sure he has ideas, but he wisely leaves all his options open, then can make a call next summer when the time comes.

When that time does come, does he owe his hometown Cleveland anything? LeBron answered that question in the latest issue of GQ, and he answered with an emphatic no.

“LeBron James owes nobody anything. Nobody,” he said. “When my mother told me I don’t owe her anything, from that point in time, I don’t owe anybody anything. But what I will give to the city of Cleveland is passion, commitment, and inspiration. As long as I put that jersey on, that’s what I represent. That’s why I’m there — to inspire that city. But I don’t owe anybody anything.”

That’s not what Cavs fans may want to hear, but it’s also spot on. LeBron has given this franchise everything he has, he has brought them the first title the team has had in 50 years, and nobody sane can question his passion or how hard he plays.

LeBron could well get to his eighth straight NBA Finals, feel he’s on a team that can push the Warriors, then look at his options — the Lakers and a young core that doesn’t defend well, for example — and think maybe he’s best where he’s at. Perhaps he teams up with another star in Los Angeles or somewhere else. If LeBron called up 28 teams and said “I want to come there” those teams would make whatever moves they needed to for the deal to happen. (I say 28 because the Warriors wouldn’t, and even they’d think about it.)

LeBron has the leverage, and he is always a guy who keeps his options open. He will be asked about his future in every road stop, he will dodge the questions, and we’ll try to read the tea leaves, but as of right now LeBron doesn’t know for sure what LeBron will do next summer. Neither do we.

Report: Final season of LaMarcus Aldridge’s contract extension just $7 million guaranteed

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Spurs big LaMarcus Aldridge, who will earn $21,461,010 this season, agreed to exercise his $22,347,015 player option for 2018-19 in conjunction with signing a two-year, $50 million contract extension.

As usual, the devil is in the details.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Guaranteeing Aldridge just $7 million in 2020-21, when he’ll be 35, is obviously to San Antonio’s advantage relative to fully guaranteeing his extension. But it sets up an uneasy choice for the Spurs. Their three options for Aldridge will be:

  • Pay him $24 million in 2020-21 to play for them
  • Pay him $7 million in 2020-21 not to play for them
  • Pay him $2,333,333 in each 2020-21, 2021-22 and 2022-23 not to play for them

There’s a solid chance that none of those are appealing.

Some speculated San Antonio extended Aldridge to facilitate a trade, removing uncertainty stemming from Aldridge’s player option. Though the Spurs now can’t trade him before the deadline, they could move him in the offseason.

But that 15% trade kicker is a significant inhibitor. His salary is already lofty for his age. An increase would only dissuade teams.

The simplest explanation is probably correct: The Spurs value the stability of their core, no matter how old it is, over flexibility.

Thunder give P.J. Dozier No. 35, Kevin Durant’s old number

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The Thunder signed P.J. Dozier, who went undrafted out of South Carolina, to a seemingly innocuous two-way contract.

Then, they let him pick No. 35 – previously worn by Kevin Durant.

Erik Horne of The Oklahoman:

Honoring Reggie Lewis seems like a valid reason for Dozier, who probably didn’t want to get swept into what has become a minor controversy.

Personally, I don’t mind a player wearing any unretired number. Even numbers that will clearly be retired can be fair game until the jersey goes into the rafters. This is a non-issue to me.

But people care about this stuff. Many see it as a sign of disrespect to Durant, who left Oklahoma City on bad terms when signing with the Warriors. The Thunder lose deniability about not caring, considering they told Dion Waiters he couldn’t wear No. 13, which was previously worn by James Harden.

Will Oklahoma City eventually retire Durant’s No. 35? He spent a fantastic eight years there (and another season with the Seattle SuperSonics before they moved). Time will ease the bitterness of his exit. It’s certainly possible he’s honored that way.

In the meantime, let Dozier wear No. 35 in peace. It should have nothing to do with Durant.

Cornrowed Joel Embiid calls minute limit f—ing BS

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76ers center Joel Embiid made clear yesterday he disliked the minute restriction placed on him, which Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said would keep Embiid below 20 minutes per game.

Today, sporting a new hairstyle, Embiid upped the rhetoric.

Embiid, via Jessica Camerato of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

“That’s f—ing BS,” he said after practice Tuesday. “I wish I was playing more minutes. I think I’m ready for more than I don’t know whatever number they have.”

“I think the concept of minute restrictions is kind of complicated,” Embiid said. “I don’t think there should ever be minute restrictions. I think it should always be about how my body feels and how it’s reacting.”

“They know that I’m frustrated, but once again you’ve got to trust the doctors,” Embiid said. “They care about me. It’s all about the long-term view.”

“Like I always say,” he said, “you’ve got to trust the process.”

We’ve been here before – an injury-prone Philadelphia center rocking cornrows (at least Embiid went all the way with them) and Embiid lashing out at his minute limit.

Embiid is incredibly competitive, and he can’t just turn it off. It’s an attribute that contributes to his on-court excellence.

Embiid appears to have just enough trust-the-process perspective here, but Brown will also likely have his hands full keeping Embiid from getting too frustrated throughout the season.

At least Embiid has his contract extension and isn’t restless to get on the court and earn his big payday.