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Erik Spoelstra once tried to follow unwritten rules of garbage time, and Hassan Whiteside got hurt


MIAMI (AP) — The NBA has seen plenty of Garbage Time drama lately.

Often, Garbage Time – the final minutes of a blowout – is either forgettable, unwatchable or both. But it’s been noteworthy lately, with Phoenix extending a loss at Boston last month with fouls and time-outs so Devin Booker could score 70 points, JaVale McGee‘s late 3-point try earlier this week with Golden State drubbing the Wizards and Lance Stephenson‘s late layup in a Pacers blowout of the Raptors.


Shots aren’t always the issue. Miami’s Erik Spoelstra learned that during his first season as Heat coach, and the memory of what occurred on Dec. 26, 2008, has stayed with him.

The Heat were beating Chicago 90-77 with 31 seconds remaining. Spoelstra called a 20-second time-out just to get starters Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers and Udonis Haslem out of the game. And on the other bench, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro, assistant coach Del Harris and some Chicago players were more than a little annoyed.

Spoelstra thought about calling time in a similar situation earlier this season to get center Hassan Whiteside out of the game. He didn’t, and seconds later Whiteside cut his right hand on a freak play and needed 13 stitches.

“Damned if you do, damned if you don’t,” Spoelstra said.

The latest episode came Tuesday, with Stephenson making an uncontested layup with 4 seconds left in Indiana’s 108-90 win over Toronto instead of running out the clock. The Raptors, predictably, were not happy and got in Stephenson’s face to let him know. Some on-court arguing ensued.

“Bush league,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said.

“Tasteless, classless,” added Toronto’s P.J. Tucker.

Countered Stephenson, who apologized: “I didn’t mean no harm.”

Intent can be in the eye of the beholder.

Just ask Brooks, the Wizards coach knows all about the etiquette of Garbage Time. He will not use that term, for a very simple reason.

“I was in there a lot,” Brooks said.

Brooks, a reserve for all but seven games in his 10-year playing career, got an unwanted refresher course of sorts in Garbage Time when McGee jacked up a 3-pointer in the final seconds of a game that the Warriors were leading the Wizards by 22 points.

McGee took a shove to the chest from an annoyed Brandon Jennings, who felt it wasn’t in accordance with what’s proper in Garbage Time.

“Kind of disrespectful,” Jennings said of McGee’s shot.

If Garbage Time had an official set of rules, atop the list would be something about not disrespecting opponents. These days, not everyone is adhering.

“If you’re ahead in the game, there is no reason to shoot the ball,” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “We just sort of hold the ball. No use angering people or trying to show somebody up. … You should do whatever is sportsmanlike and courteous. No reason not to.”


Cleveland veteran forward Richard Jefferson was among many players who said everyone knows there’s a code for how to handle Garbage Time. And he’s been on both sides of that code.

There was a game in 2006 against Houston when Jason Kidd, now the Milwaukee coach, was one assist shy of a triple-double in the final moments of a decided game. New Jersey was up by 10, and the shot clock was off.

Jefferson volunteered to help Kidd out. He made a 3-pointer with 3 seconds left. Assist No. 10 was delivered, triple double wrapped.

“We’re just kind of standing around and he tosses it to me and I shot it and it goes in and the Houston Rockets were” angry, Jefferson said. “And J. Kidd was like, `Don’t worry, I’ll take the heat for it’ and walked off. It was a low-blow move, but I’ll tell you what, if my point guard asked me to do that, I’ll do it again.”

Heat point guard Goran Dragic has no problem with that.

He was taught to play the game the same way, start to finish.

“Back in Europe, there are different rules,” said Dragic, a native of Slovenia. “If there’s time on the clock, we play, we shoot it. In the States, there’s a different culture.”

The Warriors offered the Wizards apologies for McGee’s 3-point try, with coach Steve Kerr reaching out to Brooks by text. The Suns took a decidedly different tact after Booker’s 70-point outburst, which some players found a bit distasteful.

“So what? Do something about it,” Suns coach Earl Watson said that night in Boston. “Simple as that.”

There’s no perfect answer.

Sometimes, in Garbage Time, the only plays that get noticed are the questionable ones.

“Play the right way,” Memphis coach David Fizdale said. “If you’re always coaching guys to do that, you can always look at yourself in the mirror and get the respect of your opponents.”

AP Sports Writers Stephen Whyno in Washington, Michael Marot in Indianapolis, Tom Withers in Cleveland and Associated Press Writer Raul Dominguez in San Antonio contributed to this report.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

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It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.

Report: Optimism remains for Kawhi Leonard returning this season

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly planned to return for last Thursday’s Spurs-Pelicans game – but didn’t.

A couple games later, and Leonard remains out. Will he actually play again this season?

Michael C. Wright of ESPN:

Leonard resumed working out in San Antonio on Feb. 27 and is feeling “much better,” according to the source. Eleven games remain in the regular season, but there remains optimism he will return this season, the source said.

Sources told ESPN that Leonard’s target date to return from the quadriceps tendinopathy that has kept him out for all but nine games this season has always been “mid-March.”

It’s March 21. We’re nearing the end of what anyone would consider mid-March.

A month ago, Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said time was running out for Leonard to return and acclimate to the lineup. But Popovich has sounded more open lately to Leonard – whose own doctors must still clear him – returning whenever the forward is ready.

San Antonio (41-31, tied for fifth in the West) has probably done enough without Leonard to make the playoffs. The Spurs have a 3.0-game buffer over the Nuggets and 3.5-game buffer over the Clippers for playoff position.

But San Antonio would become far more dangerous in the playoffs – a threat to any team, including the Rockets and Warriors – if Leonard returns to full strength.

First, he must just get back on the court at all, and maybe that’ll happen sooner than later. The way this injury has gone, though, it’s hard to believe anything until we see it.

LeBron James on NBA play-in tournament: “No, no, no. That’s wack.”

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It’s a long way off, but there has been some discussion in the league office — and some momentum built up in some corners — for a play-in tournament for the NBA playoffs. While multiple variations of how this would work are in play, it involves some combination of teams seeded seven to 10 in a few single-elimination (or home-and-home) games to see who gets into the 16-team playoffs. The goal is to keep more teams — and more fan bases — engaged in the playoff chase longer.

LeBron James is not a fan. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“No, no, no,” James said Wednesday. “That’s wack. That’s wack. Why? You got to earn your spot to be in the postseason. No consolation for finishing last. That’s corny. That’s corny. That’s wack. To play for what? What are they playing for?”

So, how do you really feel?

“[Make the playoffs by winning the tournament], even if my record is better than yours? Nah, that’s wack,” James said.

As fans, we love drama and unpredictability — it’s what we love about March Madness, the upsets that ruin our bracket — and a play-in tournament would bring some to the often predictable NBA table.

However, LeBron has a point. Using the Western Conference and the current standings as an example, how excited are fans and the front offices of the Jazz and Nuggets going to be about an extra game or two for the right to get smacked down by Houston in the first round? Or for the Timberwolves to maybe be out after a game where they lose to the Clippers in a play-in, rather than getting to take on Golden State? Will this really sell well?

The only way this gets backing of most players and the union is if it could help shorten the season — if television and other revenue from these games allowed the 82 game season to drop to 72 (or whatever) and keep the money the same, then players would listen. However, that much money seems unlikely.

Maybe a mid-season NBA Tournament held in one city could generate the needed revenue to shorten the season. Maybe. But that seems more likely than a play-in.

Kyle Korver to miss Wednesday vs. Toronto after death of his brother

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I can’t imagine what this is like.

Cavaliers’ sharpshooter Kyle Korver will not be with the Cavaliers for an interesting showdown with Toronto on Wednesday night due to the death of his younger brother, Kirk. Korver has been given a leave of absence from the team.

Kirk Korver, 27, played four years of college ball at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

There are four Korver brothers, all of whom played college basketball or at a higher level. Kirk was the youngest of them, he reportedly fell seriously ill about a week ago.

Our thoughts are with the entire Korver family.

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