NBA Finals, Lakers Suns Game 6: When the going got tough, Kobe got going

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Bryant_airplane.jpgWhen asked “Kobe or LeBron?” my answer the last year has been “LeBron for the first 42 minutes of the game, Kobe for the last six.”

Saturday night is exactly why.

Kobe is the best closer in the NBA. Kobe is better at making tough shots than anyone in the NBA. Kobe thrives in pressure better than anyone in the NBA.

That was all on display in Game 6. After the Suns made a dramatic run to cut the deficit to three — Sasha Vujacic will be riding home with the luggage on the Lakers flight — Kobe Bryant took over. Nine points in the final two minutes. He sealed it. He was the closer. He is the reason the Lakers won 111-103.

“What can you say about Kobe?” Suns coach Alvin Gentry said. “There’s an intense game going on and you almost have to laugh at what he does. I thought we played good defense on him and he just hit tough shot after tough shot.”

The Suns did play great defense. But Kobe made the two signature shots of this series.

The first came at the two-minute mark in the fourth and the Lakers up just three. Los Angeles isolated Kobe on the right wing and the Suns came with the hard double of Grant Hill and Channing Frye. Kobe spun with a quick step right but it didn’t create much room so Kobe just elevated with two men in his face and hit the 21-foot jumper.

Then with 35 seconds left, and the Lakers up just five, Kobe had the ball up high on the right side against Hill and took two hard dribbles right, got no real space but elevated anyway and drained a 23-foot jumper (with his foot on the line).

Then the fading away Kobe patted Gentry on the behind playfully, smiled, and did an airplane run down the court.

A plane that flew the Lakers to the NBA Finals for three straight years.

There wasn’t anything the Suns could do, there is no shame in how they played. This is what Kobe does. He is a cold-blooded assassin. He thrives when it is all on the line. This is why the Lakers are champions. Kobe is why they have a chance to be again.

“He is the best player in basketball. I don’t even think it’s close,” Gentry said.

Not in the final couple minutes it’s not.

Report: Jimmy Butler-Timberwolves meeting moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles

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Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau are meeting today, not necessarily for Butler to express his desire to leave the Timberwolves – but maybe!

This is a huge meeting with big ramifications for Minnesota and even across the league. Every detail is subject to inspection until we know more.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Butler, like many NBA players, spends his summers near Los Angeles. The meeting being held there could be for numerous potential reasons.

But it feels significant Thibodeau is coming to Butler’s turf rather than the other way around.

Without better options, Heat settle for sentimentality

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Dwyane Wade took discounts from the Heat for years, seemingly expecting a larger windfall down the road.

It won’t come.

But Wade and Miami will enjoy one last dance together.

Wade is re-signing with the Heat on a one-year minimum contract he said would be for his final season, concluding a nostalgic summer in Miami. The Heat also re-signed local legend Udonis Haslem to another one-year minimum deal.

I wouldn’t expect much from either player on the court. If anything, Wade might prove destructive if the the 36-year-old uses his cachet to assume a larger role than he should handle. Haslem has barely played the last couple years, and that probably won’t change.

Still, there’s something to be said for proper sendoffs. Considering the high standards Wade and Haslem helped set for the franchise by winning three championships, this was unlikely to be a banner year in Miami, anyway. There’s value in honoring Wade and Haslem one more time.

Mostly, the Heat acted like a solid, stuck team this summer – because that’s what they are. That probably contributed to them not rewarding Wade for his prior sacrifice.

Yet, Miami eclipsed the luxury-tax line to sign Wayne Ellington, a helpful cog, to a one-year, $6.27 million deal. The tax isn’t assessed until the final day of the regular season, so there’s still plenty of time for the Heat to dodge it. In fact, I predict they will. But by at least temporarily exceeding the tax line, Miami gave itself its best chance of maintaining its level of play.

The Heat sure didn’t upgrade, though. They made no draft picks and didn’t touch their mid-level exception. Their only outside addition to receive a guaranteed salary was Derrick Jones Jr., who signed a minimum contract with a second year unguaranteed. The 21-year-old athlete is a worthwhile flier, but he sure isn’t a difference maker.

Neither are Wade and Haslem anymore – outside of our fond memories of the pair, and that counts for something. Just not enough to change Miami’s trajectory.

Offseason grade: C

Report: Jimmy Butler ‘isn’t dead set’ on demanding trade from Timberwolves

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Jimmy Butler says he’ll meet with the Timberwolves today – not yesterday, as initially reported.

The far bigger issue: What will happen in the meeting?

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

I’m told, though, that while Butler has serious questions about the direction of the franchise, he’s still willing to hear Minnesota out, and isn’t dead set on demanding a trade elsewhere.

Butler probably wouldn’t demand a trade. That gets players fined. Paul George laid out a far more likely roadmap last offseason: Butler could inform Minnesota he won’t re-sign next offseason. Left to their own devices, the Timberwolves would probably trade him.

But would it get to even that point? That’s the big question looming over the day. If Butler hasn’t yet made up his mind, that would give Tom Thibodeau a chance to convey a plan.

Of course, this isn’t entirely up to Butler, either. If Minnesota must choose between Butler and Karl-Anthony Townswho reportedly won’t sign his rookie-scale extension until the Butler situation is handled – Butler could get dealt regardless of what he wants.

So much could come to a head today, but apparently there isn’t an inevitable outcome. Is Butler leaning a certain way, though? “Isn’t dead set” on demanding a trade isn’t exactly a huge vote of confidence.

Marcus Smart posts heartfelt tribute to mother, who died Sunday

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Marcus Smart delivered one of my favorite quotes after the Celtics beat the Rockets last season:

Smart — when asked if he prides himself in being “a pain in the ass” — chuckled.

“I guess you could say that,” Smart said. “My mom might say that. But nah, I play defense with passion, and defense wins games, and that was proven tonight.”

A deep love is the subtext behind that quip. Smart put it on display again – unfortunately after the death of Camellia Smart, who had been battling cancer.

Smart:

Smart plays with such heart, passion and toughness. If his mother were his role model, he honors her every time he takes the court.