David West’s mid-range jumpers carry Pacers into conference-finals matchup with Miami Heat

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Bradley Beal snatched the ball right from Roy Hibbert’s hands.

The Wizards guard dribbled to the other end and buried a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter, giving Washington its first lead since Thursday’s opening minutes. It looked like the type of sequence that defines a series.

On the next possession, David West made a mid-range jumper.

The Pacers looked weak, leaving Game 6 available for the taking, but the listless Wizards couldn’t seize it. Thanks to West scoring 29 points, Indiana led for all but 29 seconds of the final 44 minutes and finished off Washington, 93-80, in the six-game series.

The Pacers move onto their second straight Eastern Conference Finals, where they’ll face the Miami Heat in a postseason series for the third straight year.

“We’ve been talking about this series all year,” West said. “We’ve had a different path than they’ve had, but we’re here.”

Different is right.

The Heat needed nine games to win eight. The Pacers took 13 – and it weren’t for the Wizards’ lethargy, this series could have been headed toward a Game 7.

Indiana surprisingly easily built a 16-point lead early in the third quarter (on, you guessed it, a West mid-range jumper). For a long time, the Wizards didn’t show up, but they finally woke up.

John Wall got more aggressive, and that made everyone, especially Marcin Gortat, more effective.

There was just too much lousiness to overcome. Trevor Ariza (1-for-5 shooting, –24) looked particularly disjointed, and Washington’s bench shot just 4-for-15.

There was also too much West, who solidified Indiana’s offense on a night his teammates rarely looked in rhythm.

“I told them, ‘If you get in trouble, just find me at the top,’” said West, who took twice as many shots as his next closest teammate (Lance Stephenson, 13 shots for 17 points) and scored his most points in a playoff game in six years. “’I’m going to bring us home tonight.’”

Home will be much more welcoming for the Pacers than it was for Washington.

The Wizards won their most playoff games in 35 years, but it’s also still been that long since they won a home playoff game beyond the first round. Washington, which lost all three of its home games this series, was at least rewarded with an ovation in the final minute after receiving boos in Game 3.

Only time will tell whether this was a breakthrough season for a young and growing team or a subpar team taking advantage of a historically bad conference.

The Wizards seem likely to return a similar roster after surpassing their major goals, though the possibility of big turnover exists. Gortat, Ariza and coach Randy Wittman become free agents this summer.

For the Pacers, steadiness rules – even if they look incredibly unsteady in the process.  In fits and backward stumbles and forward steps, they keep trudging closer to their goal. The end is in sight, and Indiana was specifically designed to beat their next opponent.

Like a David West mid-range jumper, the Pacers aren’t a model of flashiness, but they’re working well enough. For now, at least.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.

Allen Iverson breaks down MVP race (he’d give it to Westbrook)

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The polls are closed, and the voting is already in on the NBA Most Valuable Player race, however, we’re all going to have to wait until June 26 to find out the result. So the debate rages on, with playoff performances shaping the narrative.

Why not ask a former MVP and Hall of Famer?

Allen Iverson told Bleacher Report he would pick Westbrook for MVP. Then he broke down the candidates.

I just think (Westbrook’s) headed to doing something that we never thought would happen again [in averaging a triple-double throughout a season]…

[Kawhi Leonard]’s the best two-way player in the league, plays the game the right way. Well, if you play with Pop [Gregg Popovich], then you’re going to play the game the right way anyways. But he does everything on the floor to help his team win. Right there in the MVP race. In any other season, I think him or James [Harden]—LeBron [James], you could give it to him every year.

But this year, it’s just one of those years for Westbrook, and we should cherish it and love it for what it is, because we never thought this would happen again, just like we never thought nobody will score 100 points like Wilt [Chamberlain] again.

It’s one of them years like you’re supposed to give that to him hands down with the great season those guys are having. I mean, Isaiah [Thomas] has been playing the way he’s been playing. [Kevin] Durant’s been playing the way he’s been playing. A lot of guys are having MVP seasons, but this guy’s just having a special season.

The MVP debate isn’t over because there isn’t one right answer — Westbrook, James Harden, and Kawhi Leonard all have a legitimate case. One is not vastly superior to the other, and LeBron James should be in the discussion as well (but the late fade by the Cavs hurt him). That said, a lot of former players seem to side with Iverson in the Westbrook camp.

You should read the entire interview, Iverson talks about his crossover and if Isaiah Thomas should be called for it (you have to know how AI answered that), the evolution of the game, and much more.

It’s a great read. Regardless of who you think should be MVP.

Pat Riley: Friend talked me out of going Dan Gilbert when LeBron James left

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When LeBron James left Cleveland, Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert released his infamous letter.

When LeBron left Miami, Heat president Pat Riley issued a classy statement.

The difference was nearly not as stark following Riley’s final meeting with LeBron in 2014 in Las Vegas.

Wright Thompson of ESPN:

Riley told his lieutenant, Andy Elisburg, to get the two championship trophies LeBron had won and pack them in their hard-shell carrying cases. Elisburg also brought charts and an easel for a presentation about the free agents the Heat would pursue. The day of the meeting, a hotel bellhop followed them with a luggage cart carrying the presentation and the two trophies. Riley brought wine from a Napa vineyard named Promise. It was the same label Maverick Carter had presented Riley with when they did the deal four years earlier. Riley respects Carter, and when he walked into the suite and saw James with agent Rich Paul and friend Randy Mims but no Maverick, part of him knew the meeting wasn’t sincere. He told Elisburg to keep the trophies and easel in the hall. James and his associates were watching a World Cup game, which they kept glancing at during the presentation. At one point, Riley asked if they’d mute the TV.

Riley flew home worried and got a text telling him to be ready for a call. About 15 minutes later, his phone rang and Paul was on the other end. The agent handed the phone to LeBron, who started by saying, “I want to thank you for four years …”

“I was silent,” Riley says. “I didn’t say anything. My mind began to just go. And it was over. I was very angry when LeBron left. It was personal for me. It just was. I had a very good friend who talked me off the ledge and kept me from going out there and saying something like Dan Gilbert. I’m glad I didn’t do it.”

The most shocking element of Gilbert’s letter wasn’t that he wrote it. People say dumb things, especially in the heat of the moment. But it was surprising nobody stopped Gilbert from publishing it. Of course, he runs the franchise. But nobody felt empowered to tell him it was a bad idea?

Riley was obviously fortunate to get that message and wise to heed it. But even he has let his disdain for LeBron leaving slip out a couple times.