UPDATE: The NBA will not suspend Paul George for Game 7

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UPDATE 4:44 pm: The Indiana Pacers will have Paul George for Game 7. That according to Ken Berger at CBSSports.com:

I think this was the right call by the league. It is possible that under some older, stricter interpretations of the rule you could have gone after George (or more strongly Rasual Butler) but I think that misses the spirit of the rule — keep the guys on the bench from escalating things. That didn’t even come close to happening here. No reason to taint a Game 7 for that.

—Kurt Helin

11:27 am: The Pacers and Hawks will play a Game 7 tomorrow. Will Paul George and Rasual Butler play in it?

Let’s start with the relevant rule:

During an altercation, all players not participating in the game must remain in the immediate vicinity of their bench. Violators will be suspended, without pay, for a minimum of one game and fined up to $50,000.

During last night’s Mike Scott-George Hill altercation, George and Butler came onto the court. The last replay here shows it best:

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The four feet in the corner belong to Butler and George. Butler, in the black shoes, goes farthest – partway inside the 3-point arc. George, in the gold shoes, doesn’t go quite as far, but he steps all the way inbounds.

The coach in slacks and black shoes to their right is permitted to leave the bench to break up the fight. The rule applies only to players.

So, what will happen to George and Butler?

NBA president of basketball operations Rod Thorn will decide. His predecessor, Stu Jackson, offered his opinion:

When Jackson suspended Amar’e Stoudemire and Boris Diaw for a 2007 playoff game, he gave a potentially telling explanation:

“A precedent wasn’t necessary here,” Jackson said. “The rule with respect to leaving the bench area during an altercation is very clear.

“Historically, if you break it, you will get suspended, regardless of what the circumstances are.”

That was David Stern’s NBA, and with Adam Silver now in charge and Thorn determining punishment, precedent doesn’t necessarily apply.

Regardless, this is as close a call as I’ve seen. The key question: What defines “the immediate vicinity” of a bench?

During live-ball situations, players routinely wander over the sideline without penalty. Crossing the sideline alone doesn’t cause penalty. It matters only if they interfere with play.

Neither Butler nor George interfered with the fight, but that’s not the standard. The rule is designed to prevent fights from escalating and players leaving “the immediate vicinity of their bench” alone causes a suspension.

As the NBA hoped, the rule worked here. George immediately retreated to the bench after stepping forward, and though Butler went farther and wasn’t quite as quick getting back, he returned without incident, too.

But the NBA also wants to maintain the conditions that currently exist. When players fighting see players on the bench come toward the altercation – even if just a step or two before retreating – that can escalate the incident. The league also surely wants to discourage players from even considering leaving the bench.

The question might become: How relative is “immediate vicinity” to where the fight occurs?

If the fight had spilled closer to the Pacers’ bench, even if George and Butler maintained their exact position just inside the sideline, I think we’d be having an entirely different conversation. I have little doubt both would be suspended in that case.

Last night, multiple Hawks came onto the court during the fight. Look over Frank Vogel’s left shoulder in the background:

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Atlanta’s bench was on the far end of the court, nowhere near the fight. Do the Hawks then have a larger area considered the “immediate vicinity” of their bench?

If the term is not relative to where the fight occurs, Atlanta players should be facing suspension, too.

If “immediate vicinity” is a relative term, and I suspect it is, the NBA faces a tough decision on whether George and Butler left the bench..

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As an aside, I found this section the rule very interesting:

If five or more players leave the bench, the players will serve their suspensions alphabetically, according to the first letters of their last name.

A team must have a minimum of eight players dressed and ready to play in every game.

So, if a team’s next game is big and its star player leaves the bench during a fight, at least four of his teammates who come before him alphabetically should also leave the bench – forcing a one-game delay of the star’s suspension.

Maybe that’s what Rasual Butler was going for here? (Not really.)

It wouldn’t have worked, anyway. George ranks fifth on the team alphabetically, and Chris Copeland was already in the game. So, at most, only three teammates before George could have gotten suspended with him.

Hassan Whiteside frustrated he’s a non-factor for Heat again

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MIAMI (AP) — Hassan Whiteside‘s numbers are down. He’s trying not to be the same way.

Game 3 of the Eastern Conference first-round series was difficult on many levels for Miami’s center. He was in foul trouble throughout, finished with only five points and was largely a nonfactor in his team’s 128-108 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Thursday night.

Whiteside has a total of 11 points in three playoff games this season, after averaging 14 points in the regular season.

“It’s just different, man. I feel like our offense is a lot different,” Whiteside said. “I’m not involved in as many dribble-handoffs as I was and post-ups as I was during the regular season. That’s what Coach wants. Coach wants me to just be in a corner and set picks. I mean, that’s what he wants so I’ve just got to trust it.”

For his part, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said he’s trying to find ways to get Whiteside involved.

“That’s part of my job, is to figure it out,” Spoelstra said.

The Heat trail the series 2-1, with Game 4 on Saturday afternoon. Whiteside finished with only one field-goal attempt in Game 3, an alley-oop lob from Dwyane Wade that got turned into a dunk in the fourth quarter, seconds before Whiteside was taken out of the game for good. He had a bad turnover shortly before the dunk, and Spoelstra sent Kelly Olynyk to the scorer’s table almost immediately after that miscue.

“I want to get more minutes out there,” Whiteside said. “I’m going to keep trusting Coach’s decision-making. Even with the fouls I still could have been out there. I wouldn’t have fouled out.”

Whiteside played only 13 minutes – five minutes in the first quarter that ended with his second foul, 2 1/2 minutes in second that ended with foul No. 3, 3 1/2 minutes in the third that led to foul No. 4, then two minutes in the fourth where he had two turnovers.

Meanwhile, 76ers center Joel Embiid scored 23 points in his return after a 10-game absence to recover from surgery to repair a broken left orbital bone.

“They run enough plays for him that he’s going to get his numbers,” Whiteside said. “I don’t really get caught up in that. He lives a big-man’s dream. He gets the ball, he gets the post-ups, he posts up every other play and they pretty much run a lot of stuff through him and Ben Simmons.”

Whiteside’s inference was clear: He’d love to get that many touches.

He was asked how he can contribute in this series, and paused before answering.

“I’m trying to figure that out right now,” Whiteside said. “I’m trying to figure it out. I guess I’ve got to crash, try to score off offensive rebounds maybe, keep running the floor and try to get alley-oops. But other than that, it’s a lot different than the regular season. It’s a lot different.”

Report: Stan Van Gundy to meet with Pistons’ owner next week

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After a disappointing 39-43 season that has the Pistons sitting at home watching the playoffs — even after trading for Blake Griffin mid-season, — the sense around the league is that coach and GM Stan Van Gundy is going to lose one if not both of those titles. He’s expected to no longer be the team’s president of basketball operations, whether he stays on to coach the team is another question.

The meeting where Van Gundy’s fate is decided will come next week, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at ESPN.

Detroit Pistons owner Tom Gores and coach and president of basketball operations Stan Van Gundy have set a meeting for next week to discuss Van Gundy’s future with the franchise, league sources told ESPN.

The two had initially planned to sit down late this week, but the meeting was pushed back, leaving the Pistons organization to await word on how, if at all, the franchise’s structure could be altered.

Feuling the speculation on Van Gundy’s status is the fact that former super agent Arn Tellem works for the Pistons on the business side. He was brought in to help transition the franchise to the new building where it plays in downtown Detroit, but with that done the sense is Gores will give him a different job, running the basketball side.

If he loses his GM title, would Van Gundy stay on as coach?

Whoever sigs in the big chair has his work cut out for him. With that Griffin trade, the Pistons are basically capped out. Making changes to the current roster will not be easy.

Report: Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer no longer considering Suns job

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There’s been a lot of talk as the coaching carousel ramps up, long before the NBA season is even over. Now, we know one coach won’t be heading to the Phoenix Suns: Atlanta Hawks coach Mike Budenholzer.

Budenholzer was reportedly among one of the candidates for the Suns job, but according to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowksi the Hawks coach has decided not to pursue the position after being given the opportunity to do so.

The Suns coaching search still includes current interim coach Jay Triano and former Memphis Grizzlies head man David Fizdale.

Via ESPN:

Budenholzer met with Suns general manager Ryan McDonough and owner Robert Sarver early this week, but there was never traction on reaching a contract agreement as the week wore on, league sources said.

As the Suns kept interviewing candidates — including David Fizdale and interim coach Jay Triano — Budenholzer informed the Suns on Thursday that he would no longer be a candidate for the job, sources said.

Phoenix fired Earl Watson just three games into the season. Budenholzer had a hefty resume to consider — he won 60 games in Atlanta in 2014-15, heading to the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Suns need someone to guide their young star in Devin Booker. Who they choose will influence the direction of their franchise for longer than the next coach may even be around.

Warriors beat Spurs in glum Game 3

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The Spurs were playing with heavy hearts following the death of Gregg Popovich’s wife, Erin. Kevin Durant and Shaun Livingston appeared to injure their left ankles on back-to-back plays late.

Everyone seemed ready for the Warriors’ 110-97 Game 3 win Thursday to end well before it did.

Soon enough, the first-round series will. Golden State is up 3-0, and all 127 teams to win the first three games of a best-of-seven series won it – most of them via sweep. Game 4 is Saturday in San Antonio.

There’s hope neither Durant’s nor Livingston’s injury is serious. Durant walked off on his own, though gingerly. Livingston shot his free throws before exiting.

Durant (26 points) and Klay Thompson (19 points) have carried the Warriors’ offense with Stephen Curry sidelined by his own injury. If Durant isn’t at full strength for Game 4, Golden State could really struggle to score.

But it still might not matter, as the Spurs are overmatched against the Warriors’ dialed-in defense. Draymond Green (10 points, seven assists, six rebounds, four blocks and two steals) led tonight’s effort.

After two losses in Oakland to start the series, returning to San Antonio didn’t do much for the Spurs, who were 33-8 at home and 14-27 on the road this season – the NBA’s largest home-road disparity in a half decade. It’s just had to see San Antonio – whether Popovich returns or Ettore Messina remains acting coach – finding enough sources of offense.