Pacers win first Conference Finals rematch vs. Heat

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The Pacers wanted their Dec. 10 game vs. the Heat a whole heck of a lot more than Miami did, after falling to the eventual back-to-back champs in the Conference Finals a season ago and being very open with their goals heading into this year’s campaign.

Indiana hasn’t been shy about declaring its desire to finish the season with the top seed heading into the playoffs, and the team similarly made no attempt to disguise their interest in this particular December contest against the Heat, no matter how many games remain in the regular season before the playoff series (plural) that will decide this year’s champion even begin to take place.

Miami’s fast start may have had you believe that things were under control, and that the Pacers were pressing a bit given all they believed was at stake in this early-season-contest. But the third quarter saw Indiana turn things around and gain control, and behind 15 second half points apiece from Paul George and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers improved to 19-3 on the season with a 90-84 victory that continued to propel their belief that they will have what it takes come playoff time to dethrone the defending champs.

If the first quarter was any indication, that may not happen so easily.

Indiana was very vocal before this one in its desire to make a statement by getting this victory, but the Heat players and coaches couldn’t have been less interested in trying to defend the team’s honor in an early-December contest. The on-court action from Miami suggested otherwise, however, at least in the opening frame where LeBron James personally took on the responsibility of guarding George, and shut him down by holding him without a relevant statistic in the game’s first 12 minutes.

George finished scoreless without a rebound or an assist in the opening period, while James opened the game with eight points, five rebounds and two assists in the exact same span.

Indiana came out after halftime and imposed its will for the most part, thanks largely to George and Hibbert as we’ve previously discussed. The reality is that Miami has no answer for what Hibbert brings as currently constructed, which is more than likely the reason the team has brought Greg Oden into the fold, and continues to develop him slowly.

If Oden should be ready to contribute even in the range of 15 minutes per game for Miami in the postseason, that’s a complete game-changer for how these two teams might match up in a seven-game series.

For now, however, Oden is out of the picture, and Hibbert remains the most dominant big man in the Eastern Conference.  Miami cannot match up with him on a single-game basis, but may be able to get above-average performances from LeBron, Wade, and/or Bosh to mitigate Hibbert’s impact over a singular 48 minutes.

Tuesday night in Indiana, the Heat simply weren’t up to that challenge.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.

Isaiah Thomas makes it clear he wants to stay in Boston

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It’s been a long time since there was so much discussion about whether a team needs to trade or just let go of an All-NBA and All-Star player at his peak who is clear and away a fan favorite.

Yet that’s where the Boston Celtics and Isaiah Thomas find themselves. After landing the No. 1 pick in this year’s draft — where they will almost certainly take point guard Markelle Fultz — and with the Celtics looking a full couple steps behind the Cavaliers in the playoffs, the question about whether Thomas is part of the future in Boston has come up. He is a free agent in 2018 and are the Celtics willing to pay the big money it will take to keep him?

Know this, Thomas wants to remain a Celtic and win a Celtic. You can listen to his full comments above, but Gary Washburn of the Boston Globe has the money quote:

Outside of chasing Gordon Hayward, this summer the Celtics are going to focus on getter some frontcourt help, someone to help with rebounding and rim protection. They will look to get better, but Danny Ainge isn’t going to push all his chips into the middle of the table to make a gambit on immediate massive improvement. He will remain patient, building this team so that in three years and five years they will be a force in the East.

And the Thomas discussion likely gets put on hold for a year (unless there is a change of course and contract extension talks come up, but that’s only if Boston misses on Hayward and any other big targets).