This isn’t Kobe vs. LeBron, it’s Heat break vs. Lakers big men

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Thursday night’s showdown in South Beach is not Kobe Bryant vs. LeBron James.

Not totally. Yes, they are the league’s top two scorers, but LeBron is a game time decision after being sent home sick from shoot around. He’s been fighting a cold for a few days. Either way, you can be sure Kobe is using LeBron as motivation — he uses everything, including the guy who cut his car off on the way to the arena, as motivation — but the outcome will have more to do with how the other eight players on the court step up. And which team has the will to force its style on the other.

It will be hyped as a rivalry, but the Heat and Lakers aren’t even really rivals. There are about 20 teams that think they are the Lakers rivals, and near the same number saying that about the Heat the last few years. But real rivalries are born out of playoff battles. Kobe and LeBron, the Lakers and Heat have never met with anything more than a regular season win on the line.

What Thursday night’s showdown will be is fun. And a measuring stick to a degree, but mostly it will be entertaining. Must-watch television.

There are two two key to this game — Miami’s “big men” versus the long Los Angeles front line; and the Lakers sloppy transition defense against the new up-tempo, chaos theory Heat.

Miami’s goal, even with Dwyane Wade likely sitting out again due to his sprained ankle, is to run. They use pressure defense to create turnovers and misses and then try to get out in transition with LeBron — exactly like what they did in the second half against San Antonio. Miami plays at the second fastest pace in the league (97.6 possessions a game) and has the fourth most efficient offense because of it (105.7 points per 100 possessions). (Stats via Hoopdata.)

The Lakers have been terrible in transition defense this season. If the Heat can push the tempo they can run away with this game in every sense.

How the Lakers can slow this game is in the paint — Chris Bosh and Joel Anthony are no match for Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. It is why the Heat may even play Eddy Curry. If the Lakers pound the ball in the paint to their bigs, force the Heat defense to collapse and make them take the ball out of the basket, Los Angeles can get back and set up its defense. When they are set, the length of Bynum and the Lakers front line can make it hard to get to the rim and turn the Heat into half-court jump shooters. Which is how you beat them (and why a zone defense can be effective).

It really comes down to this battle of style and wills — can the Lakers pound the ball inside, can the Heat get out and run. That is what will decide this game.

Well, that and if Kobe or LeBron just go off. That can always happen.

Report: Lakers unwilling to give up youth in exchange for Trevor Ariza

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The Los Angeles Lakers would like to have Trevor Ariza back in the Forum blue and gold. However, it might not be that easy.

Ariza is due a significant amount of money from the Phoenix Suns this season, and in order to make a trade work the Lakers would need to get rid of some players of their own. Their preferred current roster member would be Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, although several teams are reluctant to take him. Of course, teams want something in return if they are going to help facilitate any deal between the Lakers and the Suns, which has helped put a stop on any movement.

According to a recent report, the Lakers are unwilling to include any of their young core in a trade for a reason. That apparently means Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, Kyle Kuzma, and Brandon Ingram are unavailable in a deal with Ariza as currently constructed.

Via LA Times:

The Lakers have informed teams that have called about trade proposals that they will not give up any of their young core unless it’s for a superstar player, one person said.

The Suns were turned down when they sought to get one of the Lakers’ young players in exchange for Ariza, and Phoenix also rejected a three-team deal that was discussed with the Lakers.

The Lakers and Suns have continued to pursue trade scenarios that make sense for both teams.

Phoenix and Los Angeles are still reportedly trying to get a deal done for Ariza, but nothing is imminent. It does make sense that LA wouldn’t want to give up some of their younger players for an aging Ariza, who would fit well next to LeBron James but whose value has declined as we’ve seen the variance in his play between last season with the Houston Rockets and this year with the Suns.

I would still put my money on Ariza playing as a member of the home team at Staples Center this season. Typically when LeBron wants to add a veteran he likes around him, a deal gets done. For right now, we don’t know what a potential trade might look like, unless someone decides to relent in their asking price.

Phoenix woman roasts Suns owner Robert Sarver at city council meeting, calls him “so tight he squeaks” (VIDEO)

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The Phoenix Suns aren’t going to move. Owner Robert Sarver made a poorly-calculated threat to relocate the team to either Seattle or Las Vegas this week, something that was quickly walked back.

On Wednesday the Phoenix city council decided to postpone a vote on whether to help renovate Talking Stick Resort Arena, where the Suns play. Sarver has been lobbying for the renovations for some time, and wants public funding to do it.

But this is 2018, and people are wary of that sort of thing. The public is less likely to fork over the kind of unfettered public funds that most owners want, and people want a better return for their tax dollar these days.

Greta Rogers, a local area resident, voiced her concerns Wednesday night to the city council about them dealing with and potentially bending to Sarver’s will. Rogers’ comments to the council quickly became the thing of legend, with her calling Sarver “so tight he squeaks when he walks”.

Via Twitter:

That’s the right call in today’s day and age. Owners have far too much sway, and their stewardship of a public trust like a sports team shouldn’t allow them to influence taxpayers in the manner Sarver is attempting. In fact, it should be much the opposite.

Thanks to TV deals, Big 4 sports franchises are basically a license to print money. People don’t even need to show up to the stadium anymore — just look at most MLB parks. Owner-favorable tax deals, at least on the scale most cities hand out, are just bad business at this point.

On Thursday Sarver issued a video via the team Twitter account that didn’t say much of anything, despite the intention. In it, Sarver said he was committed to keeping the Suns in downtown Phoenix, building a new practice facility, and renovating the stadium. He didn’t mention anything about paying for it himself, which you would think he could do with a rumored net worth of $400 million. Or the team could just do it, since it’s a billion-dollar enterprise that can take out loans like any other business. Because, you know, that’s how capital expenditures work.

Sarver’s clumsy attempt to bully money out of the city of Phoenix in a post-SuperSonics NBA was pretty laughable. Hopefully more folks like Greta Rogers keep the council’s feet to the fire.

Ex-Sacramento Kings executive to plead guilty to siphoning $13.4 million from the team

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Court records show a former Sacramento Kings top executive has agreed to plead guilty to siphoning $13.4 million from the team to buy Southern California beachfront properties.

Federal prosecutors in Sacramento, California, on Wednesday filed charges and a plea agreement signed by former chief revenue officer Jeffrey David admitting to forging the team president’s signature to divert sponsorship payments to a bank account he controlled. Court records show the properties have been sold for $14.8 million, and the team is expected to recoup the stolen funds.

David is expected to plead guilty to wire fraud and identity theft in January and faces at least two years in prison, court records show.

David’s lawyer, Mark Reichel, didn’t return a call for comment.

The Sacramento Bee first reported the plea deal Wednesday.

Report: Dirk Nowitzki will make season debut Thursday against Suns

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Dirk Nowitzki is coming back for the Dallas Mavericks.

The veteran forward has been nursing a return from ankle surgery all season long, and has yet to make his debut in 2018-19. Despite not having Nowitzki on the floor, the Mavericks have jumped out to an impressive 15-11 record with Harrison Barnes, Luka Doncic, and DeAndre Jordan leading the way.

The news was announced on social media on Thursday before the Mavericks got set to take on the Phoenix Suns.

Via Twitter:

Of course, sending Nowitzki back onto an NBA floor against Phoenix is perhaps the easiest test he could have as he comes back from an injury. The Suns are god-awful, and Nowitzki will need some time to readjust to playing at full speed (or at least at whatever speed he normally plays at).

The 40-year-old German star should be able to help the Mavericks as a bench contributor this season. Hopefully with Nowitzki on the floor Dallas can solidify their potential playoff berth.