NBA owners pass lottery reform, new rules on resting players

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NBA Commissioner Adam Silver got what he wanted.

How much good it will do, and what will the unintended consequences will be, will hang over this like a cloud. But Silver got the PR wins he wanted.

Wednesday the NBA’s Board of Governors — made up of the 30 team owners — passed new rules on resting of healthy players, particularly for nationally televised games, plus passed NBA Draft Lottery reform that starts in 2019. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has been a strident proponent of both legislative agendas, pushing owners and team executives on his belief that passage was important for elements of the league’s economy, competitive balance and public perception…

In the new resting legislation, Silver will have the discretionary ability to fine teams for resting players in several instances, including sitting multiple players outside of unusual circumstances in a single game, and healthy players in nationally televised ESPN, ABC and TNT games…

The NBA needed a three-fourths majority to pass draft lottery reform, which is designed to discourage teams from tanking to pursue the best possible odds to select highest in the draft order.

The vote on lottery reform was 28-1-1, with Oklahoma City voting no and Dallas abstaining, according to Wojnarowski.

Let’s talk resting first — this is about perceptions and public relations. It’s a bad look for the league when they tout a Golden State vs. San Antonio Saturday night game and Steve Kerr sits Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant (the Spurs were without Kawhi Leonard in that game due to injury). Every study shows that rested players (meaning at least one day off between games, but the more the better) both perform better and are less likely to get injured, and it makes sense if the Cavaliers want LeBron James at his peak in May and June they give him nights off in January to keep him fresh. To the NBA’s credit, it started the season a couple of weeks earlier this season and reduced the number of back-to-backs, mostly eliminated four-games-in-five-nights, and now makes sure teams get rest before nationally televised games.

But make no mistake, guys will still get nights off. Coaches will just not do it on the highest profile nights, nor will they rest multiple stars on the same night (at least until the final couple weeks of the season, when all bets should be off). Also, coaches will go to the old trick of saying a guy is injured if they want to rest him (by a month into the season every player has enough bumps and bruises to say he needs a night off if they want).

Lottery reform is more complicated. That’s not a surprise to the league office, which has said this is just one step in what could be a much longer process.

This move creates the perception that teams don’t benefit as much tanking, which is true only if a team is going for the worst record in the league. However, these new rules don’t change the underlying issue: For 25 NBA teams, the only way they can land and keep a superstar (at least for eight years or so to start their career) is through the draft, and the best way to do that is to get a high draft pick. What this does do is take away some incentive to be ultra-terrible to get the best odds, but teams will still aim for the bottom three if they are in that kind of rebuild.

The three worst teams each will have a 14 percent chance at the No. 1 pick, and the odds go down from there (but not as steeply as they did before). Here is a handy chart — via Wojnarowski and ESPN — that explains the new lottery odds.

So if you have the worst record in the NBA, rather than most likely having the No. 2 or 3 pick, your “expected pick” is the three or four. Is that really going to keep teams from tanking? Kristaps Porzingis went fourth. Teams may not go as deep a dive, but they will go, and it will still be a topic.

More importantly, it just moves the tanking line. Last season, the 42-win Pacers got the 7 seed in the East and thumped by the Cavaliers in the first round. However, if they were five games worse, they would have been the 12th seed going into the lottery, with a 7 percent chance at a top-five pick. You can bet some owners/GMs will look at that calculus and say they are willing to forgo the $5 million to $8 million in gate revenue from a couple playoff games to have a shot at a high pick (some owners will want the cash). More importantly for the league, you can bet some segments of the fanbase will call for it.

What this vote does gives the league is a PR win — “we have taken steps to reduce player rest and tanking,” issues Silver was sick of talking about at his press conferences and in interviews. There is some good stuff here — the spaced out schedule is needed — but whether either proposal gets at the real issues (like too long a regular season) is still up for debate.

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.