With latest interview, case to remove Donald Sterling grows stronger

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On Monday, the day LeBron James dropped 49 points in a playoff game in New York, the big NBA story was what Donald Sterling said about Magic Johnson, and about how Sterling is 100 percent sure the players still love him (the same players that wore their warm-ups inside out and were ready to boycott a game because of him).

On Sunday, the day of maybe the biggest and most dramatic win in Clipper franchise history, the big NBA story was early leaked comments from Donald’s interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper. After that it was Shelly Sterling sitting down in an interview to try and distance herself from her husband of 58 years and say she would fight to keep control of the team. The team came in third.

Right now the Sterlings are stealing the spotlight from the players, team and league they claim they love. They are making themselves the story. Which is exactly who they always have been, something that was always obvious when the media room at Staples Center became “Club Sterling” before Clippers games, with one or both of the Sterlings holding court with their “friends.” As ESPN’s J.A. Adande said perfectly, the Sterlings don’t love the Clippers, they love owning the Clippers.

This parade of Sterling interviews not ending soon, Shelly is scheduled to be on The Today Show Tuesday peddling her “I’m just the poor, innocent wife” routine (which is far from the truth).

All of this just strengthens the case to remove them.

It certainly seems to have hardened public support against them (at least based on social media responses).

The league’s case is built around the clause in the franchise agreement that Sterling signed saying he would not engage in unethical conduct or take “positions that have a materially adverse effect on the league.”

In plain language — don’t say things that mess with the bottom line. This is all about the money. It’s convenient that the league’s moral outrage can tie into this, but if it was moral outrage alone the league could have acted years ago. Now there is a new commissioner, but also money is involved.

Sterling’s racist rant, whether he intended it to be public or not, messed with the bottom line — sponsors have pulled away from his team, players have threatened a boycott, and here we are in the middle of the playoffs not talking about the playoffs.

Every time one of the Sterlings’ opens their mouth, the case against them gets stronger because they hurt the league.

Donald Sterling may have felt like he was getting in front of his public relations disaster with that Anderson Cooper interview, but there was no sponsor, no player, no fan who watched that and came around to his way of thinking. He came off as sad, confused and a little bitter, not as a sympathetic figure.

Donald Sterling was worse for the NBA bottom line after that interview — especially after he ripped Magic Johnson again. Shelly Sterling faired no better in her interviews.

The league feels it is on solid legal footing to remove them — Sterling signed the franchise agreement with the league. This is kind of akin to an owner of a McDonald’s or Subway violating their franchise agreements — if a store owner does something that embarrasses or damages the Subway brand and the corporation can yank their franchise. While it’s not identical the same basic principle is at work here — Donald Sterling is bad for business and the other owners can kick him out of the club. Shelly Sterling may own half the team but she is not the controlling owner and the league argues that most teams have minority owners that could lose their rights if the controlling owner screwed up. She is bound by the same franchise agreement.

Adam Silver’s statement in the wake of Donald Sterling’s CNN interview was more than an apology to Magic, the last line was a reminder to the other owners what they need to do — “The NBA Board of Governors is continuing with its process to remove Mr. Sterling as expeditiously as possible.” Silver wants him gone as soon as possible.

Because he’s bad for business.

And every time he speaks he makes the case against him that much stronger.

Thunder star Russell Westbrook scores 45, leads 25-point comeback against Jazz

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The Thunder lost three straight games, fell behind by 25 in the second half at home and looked as if they had no interest in returning to Utah.

Then, Russell Westbrook reminded everyone why he’s a superstar.

Westbrook is a singular force who can take over a game and rally his teammates – not a liability who makes everyone around him worse. His confidence and determination in the face of calamity were invaluable tonight. He kept attacking, and as shots started to fall, he and his teammates massively increased their defensive intensity.

The result: A 107-99 Game 5 win over the Jazz that looked highly improbable 21 game minutes before it ended. But Westbrook (who finished with 45 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists) singlehandedly outscored Utah in that final stretch.

The Thunder are hardly out of the woods yet. They still trail 3-2 in the series with Game 6 Friday in Utah. Teams with home-court advantage in a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6 win it just 37% of the time. Those teams win the series just 26% of the time.

But thanks to Westbrook, Paul George (34 points) and plain all-around defensive effort, Oklahoma City still has a shot. At minimum, the Thunder won’t send George into unrestricted free agency with four straight losses.

Not that Oklahoma City erased all concerns.

Rudy Gobert devoured the Thunder’s offense in the paint – at least while he could avoid the foul trouble. Utah was +7 in Gobert’s 30 minutes and -8 in the 18 minutes he sat.

The Thunder made most of their comeback with Carmelo Anthony on the bench. They continued to play well once he returned in the fourth quarter, but by then, the Jazz had lost all rhythm.

Utah – led by Jae Crowder‘s 27 points – looks deeper. Anthony was still Oklahoma City’s third-leading scorer with just seven points.

And the Thunder haven’t won in Salt Lake City this series.

But they’ll make another trip there. Considering where this game and series looked midway through the third quarter tonight, that’s a heck of an accomplishment.

Another massive third quarter lifts Rockets past Timberwolves into second round

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We saw this movie just a couple of nights before, but Rockets fans love the ending and would gladly pay to see it 12 more times this postseason.

Much like Game 4, the Rockets were down at the half in Game 5 Wednesday after having played disinterested defense and with cold shooting from their stars (James Harden and Chris Paul combined to go 3-of-16 from the floor). Minnesota was up 59-55 and had hope.

Then the third quarter the Rockets flipped the switch. Again.

Harden had 15 points in the third — matching the Timberwolves as a team. Minnesota started to double Harden and take the ball out of his hands (especially late in the shot clock), but he often moved the rock and it led to open threes — the Rockets were 6-of-10 from three in the quarter. Houston won the third 30-15, not as overwhelming as the 50-point quarter the game before but once again enough to comfortably pull away from Minnesota and cruise in for a 122-104 win.

With that, the Rockets win the series 4-1 and now await the winner of the Utah vs. Oklahoma City series.

In that series, the Rockets will need to play with more consistent focus than they brought against the Timberwolves — they can’t just play a couple of good halves in the next series and expect that to be enough. Unlike Minnesota, those teams in the next round will make Houston pay a steep price for a lack of focus.

Houston got a massive night from Clint Capela, who led the Rockets with 26 points and 15 rebounds, running the rim hard in transition and making plays inside while the rest of the Rockets launched threes over the top.

Harden finished with 24 points and 12 assists, and Eric Gordon had 19 off the bench in the win.

Minnesota had 23 points from Karl-Anthony Towns and 17 from an energized Jeff Teague.

For the Timberwolves, a team with elite young talent, this was a glimpse of what it will take to reach the heights they envision. This was a good step — the franchise’s first trip to the playoffs since 2004 is not to be diminished. It matters. But there are higher levels this team can attain. Defensively they have to be better, offensively they need to feed Towns more and play to their strengths better. It’s a work in progress.

Houston just showed them where they want to be.

Hawks, coach Mike Budenholzer agree to part ways

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This was expected.

It was pretty obvious Mike Budenholzer didn’t want to stick around and lose a lot of games with the Atlanta Hawks as they rebuild the next few years, especially after he had been stripped of his GM powers. Budenholzer went well down the road with the Phoenix Suns about their open coaching position before thinking better of it. Since then he has set up a meeting with the Knicks about their coaching vacancy, a job he reportedly wants badly.

At this point there was no need for the Hawks and Budenholzer to continue their sham marriage, so they have agreed to amicably separate, a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and since confirmed by the Hawks.

Budenholzer said this to Wojnarowski of ESPN:

“I am grateful for the five years that I spent as coach of the Atlanta Hawks, and will always cherish the incredible contributions, commitment and accomplishments of the players that I was fortunate enough to work with here,” Budenholzer told ESPN on Wednesday night. “From ownership to management, support staff to the community, I’ll look back with great pride on what we were able to achieve together with the Hawks.”

For Budenholzer, the long-time Spurs assistant and a strong Xs and Os coach, look for him to both push for the Knicks job and be in the running if/when the Milwaukee Bucks job opens up whenever their season ends. In both cases he’s a fit — those are teams that need a culture and system reset, and Budenholzer proved he can bring that to Atlanta (that was a good team before they let Al Horford and Paul Millsap walk for nothing).

With Atlanta, they likely will turn to a top assistant coach who will get a chance to develop young players on that team (and not cost Atlanta as much as an established coach). Stephen Silas of the Hornets is a rumored name, but there are others.

LeBron James overrules controversial finish with game-winning 3-pointer (video)

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LeBron James‘ turnover with the game tied late looked like a bad call. LeBron’s block of Victor Oladipo on the ensuing possession looked like a goaltend.

Did the Cavaliers get robbed of a crucial possession? Did the Pacers get robbed of two go-ahead points?

LeBron nullified those questions with a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to give Cleveland a 98-95 win and a 3-2 series lead. The game-winner capped a great game by LeBron (44 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists) and moves the Cavs to the verge of advancing.

When a team with home-court advantage can close out a best-of-seven series with a road Game 6, it has 52% of the time. It has won the series 92% of the time.

The odds are even better with LeBron. LeBron has won 11 straight closeout games, nine of them on the road. He’ll have another opportunity Friday with Game 6 in Indiana.