Oklahoma City Thunder v Miami Heat – Game Five

Pat Riley challenges LeBron James, sticks up for Micky Arison

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Pat Riley said he requires a week after a tough season-ending loss before he can speak coherently.

Four days after his Miami Heat lost in the NBA Finals, Riley addressed the media.

“Good morning, everybody,” Riley said. “You want to trend something? I’m pissed. OK? Get it out there.”

Pissed at LeBron James? If you want spin Riley’s comments that way, you easily could – though shouldn’t.

I don’t believe it’s coincidence reports have emerged in the last couple days LeBron wants the Heat to spend more. With an early-termination option giving him leverage, he’s challenging owner Micky Arison and Riley.

And Riley is firing right back.

“This stuff is hard,” Riley said. “And you’ve got to stay together if you got the guts. And you don’t find the first door and run out of it.

“We’ll find out what we’re made of here. It’s not about options. It’s not about free agency.

“There’s just looking around the room now and finding out who;’s going to stand up. This is time that you go home and take care of yourself and look at yourself and what are you going to do to come back and make the team better? Because we have a tremendous opportunity here for long-term success. But don’t think we’re not going to get beat again. So, just get a grip, everybody. That’s my message. That’s my message to the players.

“They’re hearing it right now. I’m sure they’ll hear it. We’ll make sure of it.

“You deal with it by doing what you have to do to make yourself better by taking accountability for yourself and your own actions and not laying it off on something else or somebody else.”

[RELATED: Clippers, Rockets to pursue LeBron if he becomes a free agent?]

Riley stuck up for Arison specifically, noting the owner’s commitment for keeping LeBron, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh in Miami.

“He will do anything to get those guys to come back,” Riley said “There’s been a perception out there that I think has been construed in some way about him not wanting to pay the tax. That’s BS. He’s been paying the tax for three years.”

That last line is true. However, the issue is how much luxury tax Arison is willing to endure.

Though Riley characterized amnestying Mike Miller and trading a draft pick to dump Joel Anthony as moves to better position the Heat for next season – which is fair, because both players were under contract for 2014-15 – they also cut costs. And the timings of the moves leave little doubt that money was a factor.

The Heat could have used Miller on the court this season and then amnestied him this offseason while receiving the same future flexibility. They also could have waited to deal Anthony until this summer, when his contract would have held less remaining money, therefore requiring less of a sweetener to move, and again received the the same future flexibility.

Instead, Miami made both transactions earlier than necessary to reduce 2014-15 payroll. But the earlier, the more savings this season.

So, maybe Riley’s emotions were directed at LeBron. After all, Riley made clear he was addressing the players.

[RELATED: Could LeBron, Carmelo end up together?]

But he also respectfully stuck up for LeBron’s right to exercise his contractually negotiated options. He said he wants to talk more with LeBron, Wade and Bosh and values their input. He emphasized their responsibility is to take best situation financially for themselves and families.

When LeBron left Cleveland, Dan Gilbert’s notorious letter showed a disgusting sense of entitlement. There was none of that from Riley.

“I love LeBron,” Riley said.

I don’t think Riley was challenging LeBron to overcome the Heat’s spending habits. I think he was challenging LeBron – and everyone else – to overcome a crushing Finals defeat.

Riley spent a lot of time on how often Duncan’s Spurs, Shaq’s and Kobe’s Lakers, Jordan’s Bulls, Larry’s Celtics and Magic’s and Kareem’s Lakers lost. It seems Riley can tolerate losing. He just can’t tolerate succumbing to it.

If anyone knows how to motivate and coax superstars, it’s Riley, who described his approach as “you don’t pander and you don’t punish.”

[RELATED: DeSean Jackson continues to troll LeBron James on Instagram]

In 2010, Riley famously flashed his championship rings to impress the big three. The players carried most agency in the super team’s creation, but Riley played a huge part – and he’ll again play a part in keeping it together.

“I don’t think we have to recruit Chris and LeBron and Dwyane again,” Riley said. “Four trips to the Finals and a great organization and two world championships – I’m not dropping championship rings on the table for those guys. They can drop their own.”

And if that’s not enough?

“Whatever it takes to keep them together, we’re ready for it,” Riley said.

At some point, Riley, LeBron and Arison must get on the same page about spending. As far as a will to win, Riley isn’t negotiating.

He’s demanding it.

Could that push LeBron from Miami? I guess it’s possible, but I’m betting Riley knows it won’t.

Report: Khris Middleton could return to Bucks before All-Star break

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 16:  Khris Middleton #22 of the Milwaukee Bucks reacts during their game against the Charlotte Hornets at Time Warner Cable Arena on January 16, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
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The Bucks projected Khris Middleton to miss about 70 games when he tore his hamstring before the season. That extended absence often leads players just to shut down for the year, but Middleton vowed to return in time for the playoffs.

He might get back far sooner than that.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Sources told ESPN.com the Bucks think Middleton, who suffered a hamstring tear just days before the season began, “has a chance” to return to the lineup during a three-game homestand next month before the All-Star ‎break.

Whether Middleton ultimately makes his season debut before or after the All-Star Game, he is expected to be kept on a minutes restriction as he eases way his back from the injury, sources said.

The Bucks have started Tony Snell, who has held his own as an outside shooter. But Middleton will upgrade Milwaukee on Snell’s biggest strength and provide massive defensive improvement. After a strong start, the Bucks have really struggled lately on that end.

Giannis Antetokounmpo has led Milwaukee to a 20-21 record, though the team is better than its won-loss mark indicates. The Bucks will be even better with Middleton, who will rival Jabari Parker as their second-best player and fit seamlessly.

Isaiah Thomas nutmegs Knicks center Marshall Plumlee (video)

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Isaiah Thomas usually saves his best play for the fourth quarter, but the Celtics guard showed out early with this pass between Marshall Plumlee‘s legs to get Kelly Olynyk a layup.

Thomas uncharacteristically just didn’t have enough late. Though he scored 39 points, he shot just 2-for-9 in the final period, as the Knicks pulled away for a 117-106 win.

Kevin Durant misses dunk so hard, ball flies past halfcourt (video)

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Kevin Durant played great in the Warriors’ win over the Thunder last night, but – perhaps fueled by excess emotion – he missed this incredibly emphatic dunk attempt.

Later, Russell Westbrook showed his former teammate how to do it (sparking their apparent conversation):

James Harden outduels Giannis Antetokounmpo as they produce fantastic highlight video

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James Harden and Giannis Antetokounmpo met in a battle of two of the NBA’s best point guards. (Still weird to say.) The final lines:

  • Harden: 38 points, 6 rebounds, 8 assists, 2 blocks
  • Antetokounmpo: 32 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 3 blocks

The winner? Harden and the Rockets, who topped the Bucks, 111-92.

But the real winner? Anyone who gets to watch this highlight video. It just gets better as it goes.