Pierce avoids suspension, but James Jones gets a flagrant

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So the NBA has watched the tape (well, digital recording) of Game 1 of the physical Boston/Miami series and has made a few changes.

The biggest news is that Paul Pierce will not get a suspension, reports Ira Winderman of the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Which is the only just move because he never should have been ejected in the first place, but it’s a little hard to take that back now.

The league rescinded James Jones technical foul with 7:59 in the fourth quarter, but he was given a Flagrant 1 foul by the league for his hard foul on Paul Pierce at that time.

Jermaine O’Neal’s flagrant foul from the third quarter was downgraded to a regular foul.

What does all that mean? Not much unless guys keep racking up enough flagrant and technical fouls to get a suspension down the line in the playoffs. It does not change the outcome of the game.

Miami came out and established itself as the more physical team in Game 1. If that trend continues they can start to be concerned about how those flagrants add up in the next round, because they will be moving on.

Report: Rockets’ primary trade target is Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope

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While they have won four in a row and looked improved recently, the Houston Rockets have turned it around from “wow, they suck” to “they should make the playoffs.” Except, that was never the goal, the Rockets were up at halftime of Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Warriors last May and they want to take the next step. Even the new and improved Houston team of the last couple of weeks is not on that level.

So GM Daryl Morey is actively working the trade market right now, something a lot of us are hearing and has been reported everywhere. Adding wing depth is the goal (shockingly, the Carmelo Anthony signing didn’t work out).

The top target? Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, reports Marc Stein of The New York Times in his weekly newsletter.

Houston has expressed exploratory interest in Cleveland’s J.R. Smith, who has been sent home by the Cavaliers as they try to find a new home for him via trade. But the Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is said to be the Rockets’ top target in their search for help on the wing, with Smith somewhere further down the list.

Caldwell-Pope can veto any trade as what is known as a One-Year Bird, having signed a one-year contract in July with the same team that employed him last season. All indications are that Caldwell-Pope would agree to a trade that lands him in Houston if the Rockets can indeed construct one.

Constructing one is absolutely the problem. Caldwell-Pope is making $12 million this season and the Lakers are not just taking back Brandon Knight, who is owed a fully-guaranteed $15.6 million next season. After that, the rest of the guys the Rockets would give up make $3.7 million (Nene) or less. Which means bringing in a third team, which always makes things far more complicated.

On top of that the Pelicans are incredibly active and looking for wing help (KCP for Solomon Hill and a second rounder?) and so is Philadelphia. If the Lakers trade Caldwell-Pope they will have options, and the Rockets may not be the best one.

Caldwell-Pope had a rough start to the season but has played better of late, averaging 12.2 points per game and shooting 37 percent from three in his last five games.

Remember that Caldwell-Pope has the same agent as LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers are going to make sure that if they trade him, it will be to a place he wants to be.

That said, when Morey wants something, or someone, he goes at it full speed. Keep an eye on this.

Fan runs on court after Laker loss, LeBron stops to take selfie with her

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Even if you can afford the expensive seats that get you close, run on the court after an NBA game and usually security shuts you down. Fast. Try to get to a player and someone — team security, arena security, a police officer — will not-so-politely move you out of the way. (Unless you are Drake, then do whatever you want.)

Even if security is off their game, players ignore everyone on the court, looking to get to the locker room.

Except for LeBron James on Wednesday night in Brooklyn. He stopped for a selfie.

Classy move LeBron. He was clearly frustrated at the end of the Lakers’ loss to Brooklyn, but he made time for the fan.

You can see the security guard start to reach for the phone, then he took his cue from LeBron, stepped back, and let that woman get her new Instagram post/wallpaper/Christmas card/all of the above and more photo.

Three Things to Know: D’Angelo Russell serves his revenge cold hearted against Lakers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) D’Angelo Russell serves his revenge cold-hearted against Lakers. Do you remember what Magic Johnson said after the Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell to the Brooklyn Nets?

“We want to thank him for what he did for us. But what I needed was a leader.”

Russell remembers. And Tuesday night against the Lakers he played with all the swagger Magic and the Lakers thought he lacked (and we haven’t seen all that consistently in Brooklyn). Russell was every bit a leader. And a scorer. And an assist man. Russell had 22 points, 13 dimes and the Nets got the win, 115-110.

There are two takeaways from this game.

First, the Nets are scrappy and have some talent — they have won six in a row for a reason (with wins over the Raptors, Sixers, and Lakers in there). The streak has revived the question “could the Nets make the playoffs?” They are just 1.5 games out of the eight seed out East. The Nets have done that with an elite offense (117.6 points per 100 possessions in the streak, third best in the NBA) covering up for a still bottom 10 defense. More than that, the Nets are a walking life lesson: Grit and effort will beat out unmotivated talent. Brooklyn is beating teams that look better than them on paper because they want it more and execute better — and that speaks to what coach Kenny Atkinson has built. It speaks to the right culture, one that will thrive as the talent increases.

The second takeaway? The Lakers need JaVale McGee. Which is a weird thing to type, especially considering Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo both missed the game as well. But the reality is the Lakers are thin up front — remember the start of the season when JaVale looked like a defensive force and the Lakers fell apart when he had to sit, meaning Kyle Kuzma or LeBron James had to play center? Then Los Angeles picked up Tyson Chandler and suddenly the Laker defense looked top 10 in the league. McGee has missed the last two games, Laker losses to Washington and Brooklyn, with flu-like symptoms. That moved Chandler into the starting lineup, but when he sits the Lakers are thin again. The Lakers may be 18-13 but they are built on thin margins — LeBron needs to play like an MVP and the Laker depth has to be good enough to support him to win. LeBron had 36 in this game, but in the 6:48 he sat in this game the Lakers were -9 and lost. The depth was not there.

Plus, Jarrett Allen did this to LeBron and became the hero of NBA Twitter for a night.

In the end, Russell made sure he got his revenge, sinking the dagger over Kyle Kuzma — the guy taken with the pick the Lakers received when they sent Russell East.

That’s cold. Just the way Russell wanted to serve it up.

2) Larry Nance Jr. tips in the game-winner and Cleveland stops Indiana’s win streak. The Indiana Pacers had won 7 in a row and came into Tuesday night as hot as any team in the NBA. The Cleveland Cavaliers were scuffling without Kevin Love, Jordan Clarkson and Tristan Thompson.

So what happens? The Pacers seemed to be looking ahead to a showdown with the Raptors Wednesday and came out lifeless. The ball movement and offensive spark that was at the heart of the win streak came to a screeching halt — Indiana shot 39.8 overall and a dreadful 18.2 percent from three. Victor Oladipo, Darren Collison, Cory Joseph, and Tyreke Evans combined to shoot 9-of-36 on the night.

That let the Cavaliers hang around, and then this happened — Larry Nance tipping in the game winner.

Cleveland hasn’t had a lot to celebrate this season, so they did.

If you’re one of the Pacers fans complaining that in wrestling for position to get off the game-winning tip that Nance fouled Oladipo… come on. First, you’re never going to get that call in that situation, the refs are going to let them play. Also, THAT’S NOT WHY THE PACERS LOST. Go rewatch the first 47 minutes of the game. Or, just go re-read the second paragraph of No. 2 of our three things to know. That’s why the Pacers lost.

At least they shouldn’t be tired against Toronto on Wednesday.

3) Denver has won four in a row, leads the West, and Nikola Jokic is getting MVP mentions. What a world. In a West where the Warriors have gotten healthy, it is Denver that is still sitting atop the West and riding a four-game win streak — over Memphis, Oklahoma City, Toronto, and now Dallas — despite a rash of injuries robbing them of their depth.

After Tuesday night’s win over Dallas, Denver has won four in a row and is 21-9 on the season. How? At the heart of the matter is the big man playing at an All-NBA level who is getting some fringe MVP buzz — Nikola Jokic. He had 32.

Denver is legit people. In a West where we have no idea which team will come out of the pack and take on the Warriors next May in the conference finals, Denver has a real shot at it. They have the star player in Jokic, a good supporting cast, the fourth best defense and the seventh best offense in the league. It will come down to health and matchups in the West in the end, but Denver has as good a shot as anyone to dance with the Warriors in May.

Report: Bucks will do everything they can to keep Khris Middleton

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Milwaukee Bucks star Khris Middleton has been the subject of much discussion around the NBA, both as a potential trade target and as a free agent signing in the summer of 2019. Middleton is a crucial part of a Milwaukee lineup that needs his presence on the wing, and externally there appears to be some pressure on the Bucks to win this season with some uncertainty surrounding Middleton return next year.

Middleton has a player option for next season, and Eric Bledsoe is also in need of a new deal. However, thanks to the contracts of Giannis Antetokounmpo, George Hill, and Tony Snell, it’s going to take some fancy to financial footwork for Milwaukee to keep both of their star guards.

Still, the smart thing for the Bucks to do would be to re-sign Middleton if they can and keep this core together. Milwaukee should want to avoid a backslide into the years prior, where mediocre talent surrounded a rising Antetokounmpo.

According to a new report from Yahoo Sports, at least one Bucks official says they are going to try to do everything they can to keep Middleton in Wisconsin.

Via Yahoo:

The Bucks feel Middleton can fill that role and should he opt out to hit free agency, a Bucks official told Yahoo Sports: “We’re gonna do everything we can to keep him.”

That quote doesn’t necessarily mean that Milwaukee is going to stretch past a financial limit they set for themselves to sign Middleton. “Everything they can” might be going up to a certain limit and trying to convince Middleton to take the deal in order to build something in Milwaukee.

Middleton will have plenty of suitors, and many expect teams like the Los Angeles Lakers will come calling with big offers this summer. For now the Bucks remain one of the best teams in the NBA and have the second best record in the Eastern Conference, and Middleton is a crucial reason why.