Winderman: Nine games the Heat could lose you didn't expect

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Thumbnail image for bosh_wade_james.jpgEven before the NBA released its complete schedule Tuesday, there were plenty of logical assumptions that could have been made about the longshot odds of the revamped Miami Heat matching the 72-10 of the 1995-96 Bulls.

There are, after all, four games apiece against the Celtics and Magic, as well as two against the Lakers, in addition to road tests against several upgraded Eastern Conference opponents.

But the NBA schedule is about more than opponents.

Sometimes the greatest opponent is the schedule itself.

That’s what made Tuesday significant for LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, and for more than letting them know they will be working on both Christmas and New Year’s, but not Thanksgiving or Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

So where are the traps? Where are the games that you might, along the way, wonder how in the heck Pat Riley’s creation slipped?

Here are a few:

Sun. Oct. 31 at New Jersey: Rare are NBA games played on football Sundays. But rare is the NBA team that stands as the secondary tenant to an NHL team. So not only do the Nets have to battle the NFL on the season’s first Sunday, but the game in their new Newark digs is scheduled for 1 p.m., which is never a good thing for the type of stars likely to be embraced across the river the previous night.

Tue. Dec. 1 home vs. Detroit: No, not because of the T-Mac factor. But because of what follows the next night — LeBron’s first visit back to Cleveland. Figure on much of the discussion that week centering on all things Cavalier and Gilbert. James well could find himself spending more time studying escape routes from Quicken Loans Arena than any game plan for the Pistons.

Thu. Dec. 23 at Phoenix: Oh, the Suns well could challenge the Heat with their unique blend of speed. But, like James’ first visit to Cleveland, this is about the game that follows, the Christmas showdown in Los Angeles against Kobe and the Lakers. This is the rare two-game western trip, and the league didn’t send the Heat coast to coast for a mere three days because it was searching for a TNT game against the Suns hours before Christmas Eve.

Jan. 13 in Denver: This could be one of very few games when the Heat actually is cast as an underdog by the odds-makers. Not only is this game at altitude, but it comes on the second night of a back-to-back, after playing the previous night in Los Angeles against the Clippers. Oh, and it’s also the fourth stop of a five-game road trip.

Sat. Jan. 15 in Chicago: This is the final stop on a five-game trip that challenges any sense of geographic logic, one that starts in Milwaukee, continues in Portland, Los Angeles and Denver before returning within miles of where it started. And it’s not as if Wade made many friends in Chicago during free agency.

Fri. Feb. 4 in Charlotte: Another case of schedule positioning. The Heat is in Orlando the previous night for a nationally televised game against the Magic. Larry Brown will be more than willing to pick on Erik Spoelstra’s tired and weary.

Wed. Feb. 16 in Toronto: Chris Bosh’s first visit back north of the border comes at the end of a four-game trip, when the whole customs things sets up as the very type of nuisance Bosh sought to escape.

Fri. March 4 in San Antonio: Not only is the opposition a sufficient challenge, but this comes a night after yet another nationally televised game against the Magic. There might be not greater statement about greatness than beating Orlando at home and then wining in San Antonio the following night.

Wed. April 13 in Toronto: The season finale comes just three days before a potential playoff opener. Considering the Heat’s penultimate game is that Monday in Atlanta, figure on plenty of Spoelstra’s stars suddenly realizing in Atlanta they left their passports home.

The point being that while the Celtics, Magic and Lakers set up as the Heat’s most difficult opponents, it is the schedule, itself, that might set up as the greatest challenge to a date with the record book.

Ira Winderman writes regularly for NBCSports.com and covers the Heat and the NBA for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Did Hornets GM tell Kobe Bryant on draft night, ‘We couldn’t have used you anyway,’ as Bryant claims?

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Kobe Bryant spent 16 days as a Charlotte Hornet.

Long enough to develop resentment for the Hornets.

Charlotte drafted Bryant No. 13 in 1996 to trade him to the Lakers for Vlade Divac. Divac threatened to retire, but eventually relented on joining the Hornets. After the moratorium, Bryant went to Los Angeles, where he had a Hall of Fame career.

He hasn’t let go of draft night, though.

Bryant on the Knuckleheads podcast:

You get drafted, you get on the phone with the GM of the team that drafted you and all this stuff. So, I get on the phone with the Charlotte GM. He just tells me, “Hey, you know what’s going on.” Like, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah.” And you’ve got media in front of you and all that. And he goes, “Well, it’s a good thing we’re trading you, because we couldn’t have used you anyway.” You motherf. OK. OK. Alright. So, that’s what happened on draft night. So, I was already triggered. I was triggered. I was ready to go to the gym. Like f— the media. I don’t want to do any more interviews. I’m trying to – what are you telling me that for? I’m 17. What are you telling? OK. Alright.

The Hornets’ general manager was Bob Bass. He died last year, so he can’t tell his side of this story.

However, in previous tellings, Bryant said Charlotte coach Dave Cowens delivered that message. Cowens denied it.

Did Bryant forget whether he talked to the general manager or coach? Forget which position Cowens held? That’d be perfectly understandable decades later.

Or maybe both Bass and Cowens were on the call. Perhaps, Bryant initially thought Cowens said it and more recently learned it was Bass. That could explain Cowens’ denial.

But…

Stephen A. Smith of The Inquirer at the time:

On Wednesday, the Hornets took Bryant with the 13th pick of the NBA draft. Within minutes, there was talk of Bryant’s going to L.A. Dave Cowens, the Hornets’ new coach, was among those who raised the possibility, dismissing Bryant as “a kid” who would have a hard time playing for Charlotte.

That was a reasonable expectation. Bryant was just a teenager. Charlotte had veteran wings like Glen Rice and Dell Curry.

But Bryant was that special. He quickly became a contributor with the Lakers then developed into an all-time great.

In part because he fanned his competitive fire with perceived slights like this one.

Bryant is right: Who would say that to a 17-year-old? It just sounds cruel. Of course, Bryant would want to avenge being treated that way.

Here’s my guess: Someone from Charlotte – either Cowens or Bass – tried to comfort Bryant in a chaotic situation by saying the trade would work out for the best because the Hornets wouldn’t have played him much. It was supposed to be nice. Bryant took it as an insult.

But that’s just a guess. It was a private conversation many years ago. We’ll probably never know exactly what was said, let alone what was intended.

Report: Rockets signing Thabo Sefolosha

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The Rockets’ minicamp has produced a signing – Thabo Sefolosha.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

This is surely for the minimum. It’s unclear how much is guaranteed.

Houston has just 10 players with guaranteed salaries, including Nene’s dud of a deal. So, there’s room for Sefolosha to make the regular-season roster.

Sefolosha should fit well in Houston. He’s a smart, versatile defender and can knock down corner 3s. James Harden and Russell Westbrook will allow Sefolosha to concentrate on his strengths in a limited role. The biggest question is how much the 35-year-old Sefolosha has left in the tank.

NBA to better define traveling rule, increase enforcement, explain rule to players, fans

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Gather and two steps.

That is how the NBA has defined the traveling rule for many years now. A player can take a step if he is in the process of “gathering” a dribble or pass, then has two steps. Players such as James Harden have stretched that to the limit, frustrating opponents and non-Rockets fans, but it’s legal.

Now the NBA is looking to better define that “gather” step, then crackdown on enforcement of the rule. With that will come an education program for everyone from players to fans. All of this was approved at the NBA’s Board of Governors’ meeting in New York on Friday.

“One of the most misunderstood rules in our game is how traveling is interpreted and appropriately called,” Byron Spruell, NBA President, League Operations, said in a statement. “Revising the language of certain areas of the rule is part of our three-pronged approach to address the uncertainty around traveling.  This approach also includes an enforcement plan to make traveling a point of emphasis for our officiating staff, along with an aggressive education plan to increase understanding of the rule by players, coaches, media and fans.”

That “aggressive education plan” should be interesting.

At the meeting, the owners also made gamblers everywhere happy by saying that starting lineups now need to be submitted by coaches 30 minutes prior to the start of the game. In past years that had been only 10 minutes (and road teams complained that was not evenly enforced between home and road teams all the time).

This is a good bit of transparency by the league, as have been some of the recent changes in requirements of announcing injuries. But make no mistake, this rule change is all about gambling.

Under new anti-tampering rules, Adam Silver empowered to suspend execs, take away picks, void contracts

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LeBron James publicly courted Anthony Davis. Many free agents seemingly struck deals before free agency even began. Kawhi Leonard‘s uncle/advisor reportedly sought prohibited extra benefits from teams.

The NBA finally reached its breaking point on tampering and circumvention.

After late apprehension, the league will enact stricter enforcement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

I’m not surprised this passed unanimously. NBA commissioner Adam Silver wanted this to happen and wasn’t going to have owners vote unless he knew it’d pass. At that point, any protest-voting owners would just put themselves at odds with the commissioner. Not worth it.

We’ll see how long this crackdown lasts. I think that anonymous general manager represents many. If nobody is tampering, it’s fine not to tamper. But if some teams tamper, nobody wants to be at a disadvantage.

This could slowly creep back toward the old status quo. But if there’s a clear violator early, Silver will have an opportunity to send a message. We’ll see whether he takes it.

This should be less about which communication is or isn’t allowed. It’s about fairness.

That’s why it’s important the NBA has rules it will enforce and only rules it will enforce. That hasn’t been the case. If it is now, this will be a success.