Heat get 14th straight victory, come back from 16-point deficit to beat Knicks

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The Knicks had beaten the Heat twice already this season, so coming into this one in New York, one would have guessed that Miami would have it dialed in from the very start.

It didn’t exactly turn out that way, as the Heat trailed by as many as 16 points in the first half. But by the time it was over, Miami had earned its 14th straight victory with a 99-93 win, courtesy of yet another dominant performance from LeBron James.

James finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and seven assists, but it was Carmelo Anthony who started off hot and helped the Knicks take control early.

Anthony had 17 first quarter points, and scored them on just five shots. He was active and aggressive in getting to the free throw line, but didn’t get the help he needed for the Knicks to gain any separation. His teammates were just 2-11 from the field in the opening period, so the Knicks lead was just a single point when it was finished.

Miami struggled early by turning the ball over and couldn’t really find any flow in its offense. James was active from the start, and finished a couple of monster alley-oop dunks at the rim, but his outside shot wasn’t falling just yet.

The second quarter was a work of perfection by the Knicks, and the way they shared the ball and hit open shots from seemingly everywhere allowed them to blow the game open, if only temporarily. Jason Kidd, fresh off of being removed from the starting lineup for his recent stretch of dismal shooting, came out on fire in the second, hitting his first four attempts from three-point distance to help his team increase the lead.

New York’s ball movement was insane in the second, as it consistently whipped around the perimeter until it landed in the open man’s hands. Thanks to the passing and the clean looks that it created, the Knicks made 14 of their 19 shots in the period, including 5-of-9 from three-point distance, for a blistering shooting mark of 73.7 percent.

It’s possible the Heat simply aren’t a morning team, but they seemed to collectively wake up after halftime.

The sense of urgency on the defensive end of the floor was evident once the third quarter began, and Miami cut the Knicks’ lead down to four a little more than five minutes in. The Knicks briefly ran it back up to 11, capped off by a three-pointer from J.R. Smith, which was one of only two shots he made out of 11 second half attempts. The Heat cut it to four once again by the end of the third, thanks to a three-pointer from Shane Battier that went down just before the buzzer.

The game was tight the rest of the way, and James was the difference. He defended Anthony the majority of the second half, and helped hold him to 3-11 shooting over the final two periods;  after Anthony had gotten loose for 24 points on just eight shots in the first half, he finished with 32.

The back-to-back threes that James knocked down pulled the Heat even at 79 with 10 minutes to play, and his overall effort the rest of the way helped bring it home.

James sealed the victory with a steal and an uncontested one-man fast break that he finished with a powerful slam dunk, before stopping briefly to pose for the New York crowd in attendance.

On the Knicks side, in addition to what Kidd gave them offensively, they got an above average performance out of Amar’e Stoudemire, who was active and converted a couple of big plays inside. Tyson Chandler has seen better games, especially defensively, and Smith’s dismal shooting seemed to come at the worst possible time.

The game was close, however, until LeBron took over — both with his defensive effort on Anthony, as well as with his fourth quarter performance that netted him 12 points, five rebounds, three assists, a steal, and a blocked shot over the game’s final 12 minutes.

Report: Clippers “have a better than not chance of getting” Kawhi Leonard next summer

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This line of thinking has gone from a quiet buzz around league circles to a rumor to the point where the game’s top news breaker — Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN — is reporting it as 50/50 or better:

Kawhi Leonard could be coming to the Clippers next summer as a free agent.

Here is what Wojnarowski said on a podcast with Zach Lowe:

“What the Clippers are doing right now is very below the radar. What they’ve done to put themselves in position. They didn’t gut themselves and they’re not tanking. They’re putting a competitive team on the floor. I think, right now, with Kawhi Leonard, they have a better than not chance of getting him. We know things will change. He could love Toronto…

“The Clippers are in great position with him. They have two max slots. They will be heard from again, I think, in these Jimmy Butler trade talks.”

The Clippers name came up in the Butler trade talks early, but Minnesota (read: Tom Thibodeau) reportedly asked for Tobias Harris and the Clippers shot that down cold. The talks have gained no traction after that, according to sources. The Clippers like Harris (who is a free agent this July and wants to get paid) and ideally want to keep him, but there will be serious roster overhaul in Los Angeles this summer and what happens to Harris will depend on a lot of other variables. Leonard included.

What Wojnarowski is reporting here is along the lines of what a lot of people around the league are talking about. This isn’t out of left field.

I can hear Lakers fans now: He is coming to us. (Knicks fans may be thinking that too, unless they are busy dreaming about Kevin Durant.) But there are a couple of reasons the Clippers make sense over those other markets.

First is the shadow of LeBron James. Not everybody wants to play in it. If Leonard — or, more accurately, the people around Leonard — want to build his brand and have him become the center of a marketing machine, being in that shadow could be seen as stunting his growth.

Them there is just fit with an organization. By his nature, Leonard does not seek out the brightest lights, he is not on social media, he does not dream of being part of the celebrity culture, and Leonard does not like a lot of drama in and around the locker room. All of those things come with signing a Lakers’ contract, and the same thing with the Knicks. While the Clippers are in Los Angeles and players there can seek out all those distractions if they want, the Clipper brand isn’t doesn’t bring the same intensity of spotlight that the Lakers with LeBron would.

All of those reasons — plus one extra guaranteed year at north of $40 million — could keep Leonard in Toronto if the team does well this season. However, if next July he’s looking to move on, the Clippers really could be his new home.

Paul George: I would have signed with Lakers if Pacers didn’t trade me to Thunder

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Paul George didn’t request a trade from the Pacers. He merely informed them he’d leave in free agency and told people he’d sign with the Lakers, leaving it up to Indiana what to do about it.

The Pacers traded him to Oklahoma City, where George found a long-term home. He re-signed with the Thunder this summer.

Marc J. Spears of ESPN:

Paul George revealed to ESPN’s The Undefeated that he “would have been in a Lakers uniform” if he had never been traded from the Indiana Pacers. But after the Pacers dealt the five-time All-Star to the Oklahoma City Thunder instead last year, he fell in love with his new team and playing with Russell Westbrook before eventually agreeing to a four-year, $137 million contract extension this past offseason.

“It was 50-50 on deciding whether I wanted to come back home or if it was smarter to be in the situation I am in now,” George told The Undefeated. “But it wasn’t overstated. I wanted to play in L.A. That is where I wanted to go. Had that trade never went down, had I played one more year in Indy, I would have been in a Lakers uniform.”

Even while with the Thunder, George spoke openly about the appeal of Los Angeles. Despite not meeting with the Lakers in free agency, he still called them tempting. He’s mostly just confirming what we already believed.

Remember, the Lakers could have traded for George last year. Instead, they banked on getting him without surrendering assets, and that gambit failed. Importantly, they still lured LeBron James, but they’re still searching for a second star.

This ought to reopen questions about whether the Lakers erred by not trading for Kawhi Leonard. Leonard reportedly has interest in Los Angeles (though maybe more in the Clippers), but the Lakers watched the Spurs trade him to the Raptors. Will Leonard similarly fall for Toronto and spurn his hometown team?

It’d be a mistake to assume Leonard will follow the path of George, who’s a completely different person. But it’d also be a mistake not to evaluate the precedent set by George and learn from it.

Pistons play recording of Aretha Franklin’s national anthem while spotlighting open microphone at center court (video)

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Pistons legend Isiah Thomas eulogized Aretha Franklin – a proud Detroit native – last summer and concluded with a message to the deceased singer:

I want you to know, I love you. The world loves you. And most importantly, Aretha, Detroit loves you.

Detroit showed its love for Aretha before the Pistons’ opener yesterday. Thomas again spoke kindly of her then asked for a moment of silence. The arena went dark and quiet.

Then, a spotlight shined on an unattended microphone at center court as a recording of Aretha’s national anthem played. While this video shows the powerful rendition of the song, by focusing on the images of Aretha shown on the scoreboard, it doesn’t even capture the full feeling of the moment.

Seeing that open spotlighted microphone throughout the entire anthem was hauntingly beautiful and a great tribute to the Queen of Soul.

NBA’s minor league to offer $125,000 salaries to not-yet-draft-eligible 18-year-olds

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The NBA will lower its age limit to 18, effectively ending the one-and-done era.

Eventually.

In the meantime, the best option for most top players leaving high school is college basketball. But while the NBA takes its time changing a rule (that it never should have implemented in the first place), the NBA’s minor league will offer an alternative route.

G League release:

The NBA G League today announced a Select Contract as part of a comprehensive professional path that will be available, beginning with the 2019-20 season, to elite prospects who are eligible to play in the NBA G League but not yet eligible for the NBA.  The contracts, which will include robust programmatic opportunities for development, are for elite players who are at least 18 years old and will pay $125,000 for the five-month season.

NBA G League Select Contracts are designed for year-round professional growth and will include opportunities for basketball development, life skills mentorship and academic scholarship.  These offerings are slated to include basketball workouts during the summer months through existing NBA infrastructure like NBA Summer League and NBA Academies, year-round education programs designed to increase players’ ability to personally and professionally manage their careers, and a scholarship program for athletes who want to pursue higher education after their playing days.  Additionally, the NBA G League will further enhance player experience through existing partner relationships and NBA player development programming.

The $125,000 salary is nice and a sizeable jump from the standard minor-league salary, which these players were already eligible to receive. Select Contract players can also sign endorsements and receive loans from agents while remaining eligible to play, unlike in the NCAA.

But it’s not as if college basketball players aren’t compensated. Though their compensation is limited by the NCAA cartel, players still get tuition, room and board and cost-of-living expenses. And of course many get under-the-table money, too. The value of that compensation – particularly the tuition – varies by person.

Access to NBA infrastructure could swing some players, but that also comes with risk. Older professionals could expose younger, even more talented, players. Experience and physical advancement matter.

So does the stage. Top college-basketball players are nationally recognized stars who appear regular on television and are revered on campus. Minor-league players are relatively anonymous and play in mid-sized cities away from much fanfare.

There’s still plenty to sort out, and the details could affect how many players enter this new program out of high school. But it’s nice they have another option.

It’d be far better if they could just declare for the NBA draft if they feel they’re ready.