Kurt Helin

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 08:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers catches a pass against Thabo Sefolosha #25 of the Atlanta Hawks in Game Four of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Philips Arena on May 8, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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LeBron James says he is good with Curry as MVP

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We’ve all known since roughly Christmas Stephen Curry was going to win the NBA’s MVP award. By the end, the only question was would it be unanimous. It was.

LeBron James was in the MVP conversation — as he should be every season — and came in third in the voting, but when asked about it he had no problem with Curry getting his back-t0-back awards. Via Joe Varden at the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

“I think he definitely deserved it,” James said. “You look at Steph’s numbers, he averaged 30 (points per game, led the NBA), he led the league in steals (169), he was 90-50-40 (shooting percentages from the foul line, the field, and 3-point), and they (the Warriors) won 73 (games). So, I don’t, do you have any debate over that, really, when it comes to that award?”

No, there isn’t debate.

If you want to find one — as NBC Sports Radio’s Scott Seidenberg did with me in a discussion last night — it’s how you define the word “valuable.” Professional sports leagues love that vague term because it allows voters to go in a lot of directions and that means discussion and debate. LeBron agrees.

“I think sometimes the word ‘valuable’ or best player of the year, you can have different results,” he said. “When you talk about most ‘valuable’ then you can have a different conversation.”

If you define valuable as “this team would take the worst hit if they lost their star” then maybe LeBron ranks a little higher than Curry, although Curry did have a bigger +/- number this season. I would argue under that definition of valuable Chris Paul should win the award. It’s a tough call.

But even under that definition, Curry is a good choice. And this was his award going away this season.

As expected, NBA admits referees missed call on Kawhi Leonard fouling Russell Westbrook

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Here we are again in this series.

Wednesday the NBA admitted that referees blew two calls in the final minute, both going against San Antonio, in what turned out to be a Game 5 Spurs loss that set Oklahoma City up to close out the series Thursday on its home court.

These calls were not the reason the Spurs lost and may not have changed the outcome, but they did rob the Spurs of opportunities. And while that does matter, this report also doesn’t make any difference. Nothing changes.

The most obvious no call came with 8.7 seconds remaining (watch it in the video above): The Thunder are up one and inbounding the ball with 9.3 seconds left, meaning if they couldn’t steal the inbounds pass the Spurs had to immediately foul. Dion Waiters made a clean inbounds pass to Russell Westbrook, who was trailed by Kawhi Leonard and the Spur immediately reached out, put his arms around Westbrook’s hips, and spun him. No foul was called, Westbrook drove and got an and-one foul on LaMarcus Aldridge at the rim (which with the free throw made it a four point Thunder lead, not three, and it was game over).

The NBA admits Leonard did foul Westbrook.

The other call came with 54.7 seconds to go, when the Spurs Danny Green was whistled for a shooting foul on Kevin Durant. The report says that was an incorrect call because of Steven Adams, here is the comment:

Adams (OKC) extends his leg into Green’s (SAS) path, causing him to trip and fall into Durant (OKC)

All this is just salt in the Spurs wounds. It changes nothing. San Antonio now has to win a Game 6 on the road to get to a Game 7 at home, and more than the officials the Spurs need to figure out the improved Thunder defense, and how to deal with the Adams/Enes Kanter front line.

 

Three things to watch in NBA Wednesday: Is this Portland’s final game?

PORTLAND, OR - MAY 9: Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors proclaims "I am back!" after hitting a shot during overtime  of Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals against the Portland Trail Blazers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Moda Center on May 9, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. The Warriors won 132-125. 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 Steve Dykes/Getty Images)
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1) Will the sun set on Portland in the West Wednesday? Draymond Green is right, the Trail Blazers are done. Sorry Blazers fans. You have a fun, scrappy, underappreciated team that had an incredible season, one they can build on going forward. But this one is done. The only question is can they stay alive for one more game. Probably not. Stephen Curry is back, and the Warriors offense just went from good to “holy heart failure Batman” levels. Also, the Warriors will defend better at home, while the Blazers role players have struggled more away from the Moda Center. Closeout games are hard, Damian Lillard has been fantastic (if not always efficient), but the Warriors have been closing out teams for a couple of seasons now and they will do it again tonight.

2) Is Bismack Biyombo the answer to the Heat’s small ball lineup?
Miami found a small ball lineup that works for them, the lineup of Goran Dragic, Dwyane Wade, Joe Johnson, Justice Winslow, and Luol Deng — that lineup was +14, shot better than 50 percent, and was out there for the entire successful overtime for the Heat in Game 4. The Raptors will see a lot of it in Game 5, how do they counter it?

A lot of Biyombo. The Raptors three best lineups last game all had the big center at the heart of it, protecting the rim and slowing down the penetration of Dragic, Wade and the rest of the Heat. The Raptors can afford to play him against the Heat’s preferred small ball lineup because they can put Biyombo on Winslow, which allows Biyombo to stay near the basket (the Raptors will let the rookie shoot open jumpers all night long). This is still a series of lineup experimentation since both big men are out, but the Raptors need to find a successful experiment tonight.

3) Kyle Lowry must show up again with another big game. After a 33 point Game 3 effort which gave Raptors fans hope, the All-Star point guard was 2-of-11 shooting overall and 0-of-6 from three in Game 4. The Raptors need production from the guard spots. I’ve pretty much given up on DeMar DeRozan turning it around and having a good playoff game, but Lowry has shown he has these kinds of games in him still. With the Raptors season now in the balance, they need the All-Star, confident Lowry from the first half of the regular season, the one who could knock down threes and fearlessly drove the lane. The guy who racked up points and assists. This is something we’ve said from the series preview and heading into Game 5 it remains at the heart of this series — Toronto needs Lowry to be the best player on the court to win. Can he find that groove again?

Re-watch controversial end to Thunder win over Spurs

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This one play is not why the San Antonio Spurs lost Game 5 on their home court. They lost because they gave up a 13-3 run to end the game. They lost because Oklahoma City is playing much better defense this series than expected and the Spurs offense isn’t handling it well. They lost because they did not solve the Steven Adams/Enes Kanter frontcourt lineup. And the list goes on from there.

But…

Kawhi Leonard clearly fouled Russell Westbrook after the inbounds pass with 9.3 seconds to go, and not getting that call took away the Spurs chance to tie the game in the final seconds. It robbed them of an opportunity. That’s not to say they would have converted on that chance, but they never got it fairly.

The referees had to know the Spurs were looking to foul, and Leonard wrapped his arms around Westbrook’s waist and spun him. Westbrook is so strong he played right through that, then got to the rim for the and-1 foul on LaMarcus Aldridge, but Westbrook was fouled long before the shot. (Westbrook got lucky there, he should have dribbled out, taken more time off the clock and forced a foul, not tried to score — the Thunder needed to kill time. If he doesn’t get the and-1 call there he just would have given the Spurs more time and been down three.)

The usually reserved, not-wanting-another-fine Popovich said postgame it was clearly a foul, as did all the Spurs players asked. Because it was.

That’s the second time this series the referees have swallowed their whistles late in games missing blatant fouls. The two-minute report will reflect that, but what the report says is moot because it doesn’t change anything. I get that officials want the players to decide the game, but when there is an obvious foul in the final seconds — and this was an obvious foul — it has to be called.

Jimmy Butler to represent Chicago Bulls at NBA Draft Lottery

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 20:  Jimmy Butler attends Bonobos Michigan Avenue Launch Party at Bonobos Guideshop on April 20, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Daniel Boczarski/Getty Images for Bonobos)
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Next Tuesday night, the ping-pong balls will be bouncing for the NBA Draft Lottery, and Jimmy Butler will be right in the middle of it.

That’s who Chicago is sending to represent the team on the dais, reports C.J. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune. I don’t know that this will squelch the Butler trade rumors, not after GM Gar Forman said that everything must be on the table this summer (even though the team has since brushed off teams that have called about a trade), but it can be read as some sign of commitment.

The Bulls have the longest odds in the lottery, a 0.005 percent chance of landing the top pick. They have a 0.018 chance of jumping into the top three. The guy representing the team on the stage has no control over any of this anyway. Meaning Butler is there as window dressing.

Still it is a sign that at an event about building teams for the future the Bulls want Butler as their face.