NBA owners, players meet for 16 hours, back at it Wednesday

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NBA owners and players sat across the table from each other for 16 hours on Tuesday, a meeting that bled past 2 a.m. Wednesday. The good news is that after a handful of hours off the two sides will be back at it at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. But reports are saying not a lot of serious progress was made.

Officially we don’t know much was accomplished. After the full day of talks, federal mediator George Cohen asked both sides to refrain from speaking to the media, and both sides abided by that. So there were no press conferences, no comments.

The fact that they are meeting again on Wednesday — a day that NBA Commissioner David Stern had said the two sides would not meet because of the owners Board of Governors’ meeting — is a good sign. It means there had to be enough progress for both sides to return to the negotiating table.

But don’t get too optimistic. Our man A. Sherrod Blakely of CSNNE.com tweeted a source in the room told him there was progress made but a long way to go. Other reports said the progress had been on the little things but not key issues.

There was what both sides had previously described as a “gulf” between them, which meant it was going to take more than a day to bridge that gap.

The league has already cancelled the first two weeks of the season and if these talks stall out more games will be lost.

One sticking point reportedly remains the luxury tax — the owners want a much more steep one that would prevent the kind of spending that the Lakers and Mavericks have done in recent years. The tax on the old system was $1 for every dollar spent over the tax line ($70 million last season). The owners’ proposed tax would start at $1.75 for every dollar over the line and increase by 50¢ every $5 million. For example, the Lakers luxury tax last season of $20 million would have jumped to about $53 million.

The players have resisted that steep a tax, calling it a hard cap by another name.

The other sticking point had been the division of basketball related income. In the old system the players got 57 percent but they had formally offered to come down to 53 percent (and rumors have been they would go another point lower, although big name stars have tried to shoot that down). The last formal offer from the owners was to give the players 47 percent, but reportedly they might go as high as 50 percent.

As each percentage point represents $40 million, even a three percentage point difference is $120 million a year and more than a $1 billion over the life of a proposed deal.

But at least the sides will continue to talk Wednesday, which should provide at least a little hope for hoops fans.

James Harden, Rockets again leave Jazz in the dust

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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After turning the ball over late in the fourth quarter, James Harden meandered near halfcourt as the Jazz pushed for a fastbreak layup. But that put him in perfect position to receive a long inbound pass after Utah scored. Harden caught the ball and whipped it ahead Kenneth Faried, who dunked to give Harden a triple-double-clinching assist.

You’ll have to forgive Harden for not hustling back on defense. He did most of his heavy lifting far earlier.

By late in the first quarter, Harden created 28 points (17 scored, 11 assisted) to the Jazz’s 13 total points. The Rockets never looked back.

Houston crushed Utah 118-98 in Game 2 Wednesday to take a 2-0 series lead. It seems the Jazz – who lost Game 1 by 32 points and a 4-1 second-round series in this matchup last year – have no answer for the Rockets, particularly Harden.

Harden finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He was a game-high +24.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in red. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in blue. This Houston-Utah series is in silver. This Bucks-Pistons series is in cream.

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Teams that outscored their opponents by at least 50 in the first two games have never lost a best-of-season series. The Rockets, +52, might have built an insurmountable advantage.

Especially the way the Jazz guard Harden. They’re trying to overplay him but wind up just giving him lanes into the paint. The talented guard is picking them apart.

Until Utah solves that, secondary matchups won’t matter. Houston is content winning through its superstar.

Bucks wallop Pistons. Again.

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The Pistons fought harder. Luke Kennard moved into the starting lineup and provided a spark. Detroit defended more actively.

But the result was largely the same: A Bucks blowout.

Milwaukee routed Detroit 120-99 in Game 2 Wednesday. Following a 35-point Game 1 victory, the Bucks have outscored the Pistons by 56 points in the series. Every team to outscore its opponent by at least 50 in the first two games of a best-of-seven series has won it.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in green. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in red. This Milwaukee-Detroit series is in cream.

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The Pistons can’t stop Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists). With Kennard (Detroit-high 19 points) starting for defensive specialist Bruce Brown, the Pistons also couldn’t contain Eric Bledsoe (27 points). Khris Middleton (24 points) provided his usual steady production.

Meanwhile, without Blake Griffin, Detroit lacks a difference-making star. Andre Drummond (18 points and 16 rebounds) had nice individual moments but was -32 (another terrible plus-minus for him).

The Pistons are just overwhelmed by the superior Bucks, and it’s hard to see that changing.

Kyrie Irving torches Pacers for 37 points in Celtics win

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In what had been a tight game, the Pacers built a four-point lead over the Celtics with four minutes left in the third quarter. From there:

Irving scored 37 points and dished seven assists, leading Boston to a 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday. The Celtics now lead the first-round series 2-0. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 93% of the time.

The Pacers just can’t muster enough offense – not against this sound Boston defense. Indiana went nearly nine scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter. Even after ending that drought, the Pacers’ final five possessions: miss, miss, miss, turnover, turnover.

This is why the Celtics got Irving. His ability to create shots sets them apart in these slogging playoff games.

Jayson Tatum added 26 points. But Al Horford struggled while playing through illness. Marcus Morris shot 0-for-8. Jaylen Brown didn’t really get going.

This wasn’t the prettiest game for Boston, but because of Irving, it was a win.

LeBron James named one of TIME’s 100 most-influential people

AP Photo/Mark Duncan
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LeBron James couldn’t even influence the Lakers into the playoffs.

But as a businessman and philanthropist, his reach is only growing.

LeBron remains the NBA’s biggest star. He’s still an elite player (when healthy), and his name resonates with casual fans and even non-fans. Add his off-court interests – more accessible to him in Los Angeles – and his importance can’t be denied.

That’s why LeBron made TIME’s 2019 list of 100 most-influential

Warren Buffett wrote about LeBron:

I’ve been impressed with his leadership skills, his sharp mind and his ability to stay grounded. People in LeBron’s position get tugged in different directions and have a lot of chances to make bad decisions. He’s kept his head, and that’s not easy.

There is so much on LeBron’s plate – production, acting, his school, even basketball. His ability to handle it all is incredible.

Having such varied interests might not lend itself to LeBron dominating on the court. But it makes him even more deserving of this list.