Nets notch fifth straight win over frustrated LeBron, banged up Heat

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NEW YORK — LeBron James fouled out of a game for just the sixth time in his career on Friday, and with the Heat entering the game in Brooklyn already down three of their starters, losing him for the second overtime session proved to be too much.

Behind big games from Joe Johnson and Shaun Livingston, along with some gritty and physical team defense, the Nets remained undefeated in 2014 by notching their fifth straight victory, a thrilling double-overtime triumph against a depleted Miami team and an admittedly frustrated James.

LeBron seemed irritable from the jump in this one, partly because he would have to do so much to carry his team on the second night of a back-to-back without Dwyane Wade, and partly because of the way the Nets defended him. Brooklyn was allowed to play physically against James, and as often happens to the more aggressive team, the Nets got the benefit of the doubt on many calls that could have gone either way.

“I thought I was a little frustrated in the first half, and I apologized to my teammates at halftime, telling them that my frustration and my body language was all wrong,” James said afterward. “I changed that in the second half, tried to be aggressive and put us in a position to win, but just came up short.”

It was a lackluster effort from the Heat through three quarters, who simply didn’t have the energy level to match what the Nets brought, and have been bringing during this recent stretch of winning basketball. But a play that occurred early in the fourth quarter helped to change that.

The Heat entered the fourth trailing by 12, but had already been chipping away at that deficit in the period’s first three minutes, and cut it to five by the time Mirza Teletovic grabbed LeBron around the neck to stop him on a fast break, right after James used a forearm to remove Andrei Kirilenko from his path to the basket.

LeBron was whistled for the offensive foul, and Teletovic received a flagrant one for his actions.

“He went around the neck, that was my take,” James said. “It’s not a basketball play.”

LeBron also accused Kirilenko of exaggerating contact that occurred on more than one occasion.

“I thought Kirilenko flopped a few times,” he said. “To be honest about it, he flopped a few times and he got the call. The last one that fouled me out, that could’ve been a charge for sure. But he kind of put his hands on me as I drove, and that got him off balance, and he was able to get the call. But Kirilenko definitely flopped on me a couple of times and got the call.”

Livingston was the one who took that last charge on James, but the point remains. And with James forced to watch the entire second overtime from the bench, his team was outscored for all but 16 seconds of the final five minutes, before a meaningless layup from Ray Allen was made to end the scoring for the night.

The Nets are coming together as a team, and the effort and energy they’ve been bringing on the defensive end has been the difference. Paul Pierce said as much afterward, pointing to the way his team defended James on the night as the primary example.

“We did a great job on him,” Pierce said. “The good thing I thought we did today, we attacked him too. You never see LeBron foul out. I can’t even remember. The last time I’ve seen him foul out was in a Boston playoff game actually, and that was like three or four years ago. When you get a player that caliber out of the game who hardly ever fouls out, it’s a tribute to what we’re doing on that end too. We’re attacking him as well as playing good defense on him.”

Pierce wasn’t entirely correct, as James fouled out of a playoff game as recently as last season against the Pacers in the Conference Finals. But his remark shows just how rare the occurrence is.

For Miami, these are the dog days of the regular season, even though we’re not even at the halfway point just yet. The injuries and the schedule caught up with them these past two nights, which ended a rough span of six games in nine days that left the Heat with a record of just 3-3 during that stretch.

The Heat have four days off until their next contest, and the break couldn’t come at a better time as far as James is concerned.

“We’re banged up right now as a team,” he said. “We’re not an excuse team, but right now, we have three starters that didn’t play. Even though we’ve got a lot of depth, it’s hard to make up for three starters being out. So we could all use this break for sure.”

Fans to vote on “Best Dunk,” “Best Assist,” other categories handed out at NBA Awards show

zach lavine
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Fans are going to get their say at the NBA Awards Show, coming June 26 on TNT. Drake will be the host, and we to come up with an under/over on the number of players Drake gives a bro hug to during the ceremony.

That’s the night the NBA will hand out its Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, and every other major postseason award — except for All-NBA Team, which has to come earlier. The media have already cast their votes for these awards.

Where the fans get to come in is the fun awards, categories created just for this event:

• Dunk of the Year
• Best Style
• Block of the Year
• Assist of the Year
• Game Winner of the Year
• Top Performance of the Year

The NBA already narrowed down the list of choices for each category to three, and voting opens tonight. Just go to  www.nba.com/nbaawards and cast your ballot, or on Twitter or Facebook just post the #AwardName and First/Last Name of their winner (for example, #DunkOfTheYear  Larry Nance).

These awards should add some energy — and good highlights — to what has the potential to be a stuffy event. It’s a bunch of NBA players in suits in a ballroom in New York, this is going to feel like a branding event at times. The NBA is hoping the fans can liven it up.

Here are the categories, with the hashtags for voting:

#DunkOfTheYear
• Los Angeles Lakers’ Larry Nance, Jr. vs. Brooklyn

• Minnesota’s Zach LaVine vs. Phoenix

• Oklahoma City’s Victor Oladipo vs. Atlanta

#BestStyle
• Cleveland’s Iman Shumpert
• Chicago’s Dwyane Wade
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook

#BlockOfTheYear
• San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard vs. Houston
• New York’s Kristaps Porzingis vs. Brooklyn
• Miami’s Hassan Whiteside vs. Toronto

#GameWinnerOfTheYear
• Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving vs. Golden State
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook vs. Denver
• Phoenix’s Tyler Ulis vs. Boston

#TopPerformanceOfTheYear
• Phoenix’s Devin Booker 70-point game vs. Boston
• Houston’s James Harden nets 53-16-17 triple double vs. New York
• Golden State’s Klay Thompson scores 60 in three quarters vs. Indiana
• Oklahoma City’s Russell Westbrook with most points in a triple-double, 57-13-11, vs. Orlando

#AssistOfTheYear
• Golden State’s Draymond Green to Stephen Curry to Kevin Durant
• Denver’s Nikola Jokic with no-look pass
• LA Clippers’ Chris Paul with wraparound pass

Report: USC’s Elijah Stewart intended to declare for NBA draft, forgot

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Declaring for the NBA draft is like declaring bankruptcy: You can’t just bellow it and expect it to take effect. You actually have to fill out the paperwork.

That’s why USC’s Elijah Stewart wasn’t among the 192 early entrants to the 2017 NBA draft.

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Stewart:

Givony’s report will do little but embarrass Stewart. It’s unlikely Stewart would’ve been drafted, and he likely would have withdrawn to return to USC for his senior season. Perhaps, he would’ve gotten helpful feedback from the NBA before that point, but that’s minimal.

The real problem, though, isn’t Stewart’s inattentiveness, to whatever extent is exists. It’s that the NCAA won’t allow players to maintain eligibility while having an agent.

If Stewart had proper representation, there’d be no questioning whether he intended to declare for the draft. His agent would’ve handled it, one way or the other.

If the NCAA were truly about educating players, it’d allow them to have guidance from experienced professional agents. Agents don’t have to conflict with amateurism (not that amateurism is a worthy goal, anyway).

But teaching players is not the NCAA’s true goal. The NCAA prioritizes keeping its cartel in tact and money flowing to coaches and administrators.

Agents might steer players from that corrupt system entirely or at least help them leverage their immense power to gain better compensation than a wage-fixed scholarship.

This incident should spark discussion about the unseemly lengths the NCAA goes to to protect its money-makers from its revenue-generators. Instead, it’s much easier to make Stewart a punchline.

Kevin Durant gets a hoot out of meme with Draymond Green

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You’ve seen the Draymond GreenKevin Durant meme, right?

Here’s the video with my favorite caption:

In the latest episode of “Still KD,” Durant watches the meme, reads other captions and calls it “hilarious.”

Russell Westbrook: ‘Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be’

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The Thunder want to sign Russell Westbrook to a contract extension that projects to be worth about $207 million over five years.

But does he want to sign it?

Westbrook, via Royce Young of ESPN:

“That’s something, like I said, I haven’t thought about anything, obviously,” Westbrook said. “Everybody knows that I like Oklahoma City and I love being here and I love everybody here. But I haven’t even thought about that. Obviously, Oklahoma City is a place that I want to be.”

Westbrook noted that his wife is expecting their first child in May, and that’s where his focus is right now. Asked whether there’s a timetable on his decision about a potential extension, Westbrook lightheartedly jabbed back.

“No. What did I just say? Like you don’t care about my baby?” he said. “You must not. You didn’t hear that part, huh?”

Though it was painted as Westbrook showing his loyalty to the Thunder in stark contrast to the departed Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s renegotiation-and-extension last summer was also his way of receiving the highest-possible salary.

This is a different case.*

*So, it seems. It’s unclear whether the new Collective Bargaining Agreement will allow Oklahoma City to renegotiate Westbrook’s 2017-18 salary up to the designated-veteran-player rate, but I’m presuming not.

Westbrook will have 10 years of experience when an extension would kick in. A typical advantage of a designated-veteran-player contract is allowing a player with eight or nine years experience, who’s typically limited to a starting salary of 30% of the salary cap, to receive a starting salary of 35% of the salary cap. But Westbrook will be eligible for 35% of the salary by then simply due to his years of service.

In other words, an extension signed this summer would pay Westbrook the exact same amount he could receive as a free agent in 2018.

So, would Westbrook sign that extension? It’d guarantee him a huge salary and protect him in the event of injury or decline. But Westbrook is so good, he’s extremely likely to get the max in 2018-19 no matter what. With only minimal risk, maybe he’d rather maintain flexibility.

Westbrook appeared to embrace leading the team, and he truly seems happy in Oklahoma City in a way I didn’t expect when he signed last summer. His image is so tied to loyalty to the Thunder, it’d be tough to spin an exit.

But Oklahoma City is relatively locked into a roster that will have a hard time winning multiple playoff series. Westbrook wants to win.

I don’t know whether he’ll accept an extension this summer rather than delaying a year, but if he won’t ink a deal this year, that should be a concerning indicator to the Thunder about their chances of re-signing him in 2018.