Kurt Helin

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

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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.

Charles Barkley asked Dwight Howard why people don’t like him in fascinating interview

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It wasn’t quite as good as the game that preceded it, but Inside the NBA was must-watch television Tuesday night when Dwight Howard sat in Shaquille O’Neal’s chair postgame.

Charles Barkley directly asked Howard why people don’t like him. Howard pointed back to his ugly exit when he awkwardly forced his way out of Orlando.

“I think I was very likable in Orlando, and the way that situation ended, I think people felt as though I’m just this bad guy.”

I think Howard underestimates how much his play with the Lakers — in part due to his back issues that season — and his play in Houston impacted his perception, fair or not.

Howard called out Barkley saying the retired star told Howard he would never be a star in the league, and Magic Johnson told him he’d never make the NBA. Barkley has long been one of Howard’s more public critics.

Barkley also asked him about his “disinterested” play in Houston. Howard threw that back towards James Harden.

“I’m always interested in winning. But as a big, sometimes you want to feel a part of what’s going on. If I could bring the ball up the court, got between the legs, shoot threes and all those things, that would be great. But i have to rely on my teammates in certain aspects to get the ball. Now, there’s been times when I’ve been upset and taking myself out of games and situations, and that’s on me.”

This tied into a discussion of if the big man is extinct in the NBA, and Howard said it’s a matter of getting opportunities.

Howard handled himself well through this. When Barkley asked Howard if he was going to opt out, Howard said: “I don’t know yet.” A couple of minutes later Barkley said what everyone around the league knows, that he’s opting out.

It was gripping television that drew great comments on Twitter, including from Rockets beat writer Jonathan Feigen.

Kings’ GM Vlade Divac on DeMarcus Cousins: “He’s not going to be traded – this year for sure”

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DeMarcus Cousins trade rumors will not die, they are the “time traveler in old photos” stories of the NBA. There have been reports as recently as the last few weeks that the moodiness of Cousins has him potentially on the block.

Well, not if you ask Vlade Divac, the guy who would have to approve such a trade. Which is what long-time guy on the Kings beat in Sacramento Sean Cunningham of ABC 10 reports was done after the Dave Joerger hiring press conference on Tuesday.

This is the smart thing to do. Not that it will stop the rumors. Too many fans from Boston to Los Angeles have dreams of Cousins and will not give them up, no matter how many facts get thrown in their face. Making those Cousins trade rumors supporters the climate change deniers of the NBA.

Even if the Kings were open to trading him as was rumored, Divac would never admit it and give up leverage. The bottom line is that the package that it would take to get the Kings to even consider trading Cousins is going to be insanely high, more than teams would surrender. This is no firesale.

Again, giving Joerger a chance with Cousins and a modified roster is the smart move. Cousins is talented, and Joerger has had success working with both Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph (and Randolph had a reputation as not easy to deal with). The Kings would not get nearly the same value back for Cousins, the best traditional center in the game right now. Try to make this work, put better talent around him and give this one more chance (and if it starts to work, don’t cut the legs out from under Joerger ala Mike Malone).

If it doesn’t work, then revisit things next year.

Whiteside not flying with Heat to Toronto for Game 5

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MIAMI (AP) Hassan Whiteside of the Miami Heat will not accompany his team to Toronto for Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series there on Wednesday night.

The Heat were flying north on Tuesday. Before departing, Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said Whiteside will remain home to continue getting therapy on his injured right knee.

Whiteside did not play in Game 4 of the Heat-Raptors series on Monday. He sprained the medial collateral ligament in the knee while taking an awkward fall in Game 3.

The Heat still plan to list him as day-to-day going forward. Game 6 of the series is Friday in Miami.

Miami and Toronto have split the first four games of the series.