In spite of it all, Indiana may have home court throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Which is huge — at home in recent weeks they have beaten the Miami Heat and now Oklahoma City Thunder, but they are a 20-20 team on the road. If they still have dreams of the NBA Finals they needed a Game 7 vs. Miami at home. Now they get that with a win Wednesday vs. Orlando (or a Miami loss in its final two games).
Indiana has that chance because of a hard-fought 102-97 win over the Thunder Sunday.
Most important, they looked better on offense and more like their old selves. Like the version of themselves that was a title contender.
David West was overpowering inside and had 21 points on 11 shots. Paul George had 20 points and hit a key three over Kevin Durant late (plus he hit one when the game was tied). Lance Stephenson had 17 points on 7-of-10 shooting and was knocking down shots and mugging for the camera. C.J. Watson — who had missed considerable time during the Pacers’ slump due to hamstring and elbow issues — was back adding scoring punch off the bench and putting up 20 points. As a team the Pacers shot 52.8 percent.
That shooting let the Pacers get away with turning the ball over of 24.2 percent of their possessions. That kind of sloppy play will get them in trouble most days.
The Pacers defense also was in good form and held one of the best offenses in the NBA to 42.9 percent shooting and 4.2 points per 100 below their season average.
The first half of the game was at a tempo the Thunder should have liked, but they never really got it going.
One key reason they missed their threes — 7-of-28 as a team. Kevin Durant was 2-of-11 from deep, Russell Westbrook 3-of-10. Durant finished with 37 points, Westbrook had 21 points on 23 shots.
One win will not change the Pacers slump around, but it has to start somewhere. This win — and home court through the Eastern Conference — is a good start.
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.
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.
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.