NFL issues could help motivate NBA labor deal

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It’s hard to be optimistic about the NBA labor situation — and I am by nature and optimist — but today there were a few rays of light into the darkness.

It comes from David Stern, talking to the Associated Press, discussing the mess that is the NFL labor situation.

“It seemed that at the end of the bargaining between the NFL and the players, one got the sense that in the last day or two they had closed the gap,” Stern said Thursday. “I don’t know if that’s accurate or not, but that’s what I read. And you wonder as an outsider whether it would have been a good thing to close that gap a few days earlier, a couple of weeks earlier so that you had the opportunity and the plan to do that.”

“Frankly, we’re running out of time,” (NBA Deputy Commissioner and lead negotiator Adam) Silver said. “We have roughly two months and a week to get a deal done before the expiration of this collective bargaining agreement. And I think on that point, Billy Hunter and the union are in full agreement with us that we need to intensify these discussions.”

They are not going to get a deal done by July 1. There is going to be a lockout this summer. And in another parallel to the NFL situation, that does not matter.

All that matters is if a deal is struck in time for the full regular season to go forward on time. That is the real deadline. Hardcore fans will come back; casual fans will not care if games are not missed. The brilliant Henry Abbott at ESPN’s TrueHoop is optimistic on this count.

Having spoken to the central figures at some length in the past few weeks, I’ll predict that precisely zero regular season games will be lost to a lockout next fall…. I say that because:

•The future holds great things for both parties if the league maintains something like its current relationship with fans.

•Both sides recognize the real long- and short-term costs of a lockout.

•And because both sides strike me as pragmatic enough to sign on the dotted line should a reasonable deal be placed before them.

I can’t tell you how much I hope Abbott is right.

But the people I talk to (people tied to owners among them) say there is a hard-core group of owners who are hawks on some key revenue issues, and at the end of the day Stern works for the owners. Those owners want radical changes in the NBA’s financial structure (basically a healthy change in the Basketball Related Income number, where currently 57 percent goes to the players) and don’t think that can happen until players miss paychecks (and players don’t get their first check until Nov. 15). So, games would be missed.

I want to think that cooler heads will prevail. Stern and Hunter are cooler heads. Everyone talks about what is at stake. But know that some of the owners look a lot like the Heat Miser going into this.

But I’m optimistic, so I hold out hope.

Cavaliers cruise past Celtics in Game 3, change complexion of Eastern Conference finals

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The Cavaliers were heavy favorites over the Celtics entering the Eastern Conference finals. LeBron James has dominated the East for years, and Cleveland appeared to hit its stride in a sweep of the Raptors last round. Boston was shorthanded and inexperienced.

Were the Celtics’ two wins to open the series, as impressive as they were, really enough to override everything else we knew about these teams?

The Cavs walloped Boston in Game 3, 116-86, Saturday. Cleveland now has four of the NBA’s last five 30-point playoff wins – two against the Celtics last year, one over Toronto last round and tonight. (The Cavaliers lost the league’s only other 30-point game between, to the Pacers in the first round.)

Boston still leads the series 2-1, and teams up 2-1 in a best-of-seven series have won it 80% of the time.

But the team up 2-1 is usually the one seen as better entering the series. That isn’t the case here, not with LeBron on the other side. And the leading team usually isn’t so woeful on the road, which will remain a major storyline entering Game 4 Monday in Cleveland.

The Celtics bought themselves margin for error, but they blew a lot of it tonight.

It’d be an oversimplification to say the Cavs just played harder, but they did, and it went along way. They chased loose balls, tightened their defense and moved more off the ball offensively. Cleveland jumped to a 20-4 lead, led by double digits the rest of the way and spent most of the game up by at least 20.

LeBron (27 points, 12 assists, two blocks and two steals) dazzled as a passer and locked in as a defender. He received help from several players:

In a low-resistance effort, Boston didn’t goon up the game at all.

The Cavaliers still have plenty of work ahead to reach their fourth straight NBA Finals, but tonight, they showed a path to advancing. Climbing out of their early series deficit now looks far less intimidating.

Luka Doncic named EuroLeague MVP at age 19

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Luka Doncic, the likely top two pick in the upcoming NBA draft, has led his Real Madrid team to the EuroLeague finals at age 19.

Now he has been named the youngest player ever win the EuroLeague MVP.

For those unfamiliar, EuroLeague is the equivalent of the Champions League in soccer — the very best club teams from around the continent face off against each other. On this biggest of European stages, Doncic has been a force. He is a gifted passer with great court vision. He can take his man off the dribble. He can hit threes. And he knows how to be a floor general and run a game. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Doncic said before the start of EuroLeague that he hasn’t decided what he is going to do about coming to the NBA or going back to Real Madrid. Don’t buy it. This is like asking a major college basketball star right before the NCAA Tournament if he is coming back to “State U” next year, they don’t want to say “no” right before the tourney so they give a non-committal answer. Same here. He’s not leaving millions on the table, he’ll be in the NBA next season.

And he’ll bee good.

Playoff losses wearing on LeBron James: ‘I lose sleep’

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Last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers lost one game before reaching the NBA Finals. The season before that, two. The season before that also two. In Miami before that, the last couple of years they went to the Finals the Heat lost three and four games before reaching the Finals.

This year, the Cavaliers have lost five games already and find themselves down 0-2 to the Boston Celtics heading into Game 3 Saturday night in Cleveland.

The losses do weigh on LeBron, as reported by Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“I mean, I lose sleep,” James said after shootaround Saturday morning. “I mean, at the end of the day, when you lose any game in the postseason, [you lose sleep], so it’s never comfort. Playoffs is never comfort. There’s nothing about the playoffs that’s comfortable until you either win it all or you lose and go into the summer.

“So, for me, it’s always [a] day-to-day grind to figure out ways that you can be better.”

Cleveland has a lot to figure out to win the next two games because if they don’t and go down 3-1 in this series, it’s hard to envision how LeBron can drag this roster back to the Finals (what would be his eighth straight trip).

Offensively Cleveland has to get consistent play from guys other than LeBron (and to a lesser extent, Kevin Love) — J.R. Smith has been awful and needs to find a rhythm at home, George Hill needs to make some plays, Kyle Korver needs to get open and knock down some looks, and some help from the bench is needed.

But that’s not even the end of the floor that is the Cavs real problem. Defensively the Cavaliers recognition and communication has been dreadful, and the passing and player movement of the Celtics has carved them up. Cleveland has outscored teams and not defended all that well for a long time now — that’s how they made the Finals a season ago — but it’s not enough now. The offense and LeBron can’t carry them all the way.

We’ll see after Game 3 if LeBron is going to be able to get any sleep Saturday night.

Bulls’ Paul Zipser has surgery to repair broken left foot

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CHICAGO (AP) — Chicago Bulls forward Paul Zipser has had surgery to repair a broken left foot.

The team said Friday the operation was performed in his native Germany. The Bulls gave no timetable for his recovery.

Zipser averaged 4.0 points in 54 appearances before sitting out the final nine games last season.