Bulls push back but can’t stop Heat stars… Cole and Bosh? Yup. Heat get win.

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You knew the Chicago Bulls were going to be ready to fight… Nazr Mohammed may have taken that too literally and was ejected for shoving LeBron James to the ground. Still, this is what you expected from the Bulls.

You also know LeBron James is going to get his if he wants them. And in a game where it felt like he coasted for about 45 minutes he still had 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists on Friday night. After a slow start he hit a deep three and got a fantastic and-1 late in the game.

But to win in the playoffs you need your second, your third options to step up, and that’s why the Heat have… Norris Cole?

It worked for one game. Cole had 18 points and hit 3-of-3 from three, plus played some solid defense. Chris Bosh had 20 points and 19 rebounds.

LeBron, Bosh and Cole made the Heat the steadier team down the stretch and helped lift the Heat to a 104-94 win in Game 3. That gives the Heat a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 Monday in Chicago.

Despite all their efforts the Bulls just can’t slow the Heat offense — Miami had 120.6 points per 100 possessions, which is 20 points higher than the Bulls allowed on average in the regular season. Miami shot 60 percent in Game 2 and 50 percent in Game 3.

A large part of that was that the Heat attacked and with that got to the foul line 30 times, hitting 26. That’s a lot of free points. (The Bulls had 25 attempts but hit just 17.)

From the start this game had plenty of intensity, and once again that boiled over into a few technical fouls — Joakim Noah got one for shoving Chris Anderson off the top of Nate Robinson after a foul that knocked both to the ground.

But the one everybody will be talking about came in the middle of the second quarter.

LeBron was bringing the ball up in a transition and Nazr Mohammed decided to wrap LeBron up and foul him 40 feet from the basket (it was a “Euro foul” to stop the fast break, the Bulls have done that a number of times this series). LeBron pushes him off and gets a technical instantly from Joey Crawford for it. Then Mohammed comes back with the unnecessary retaliation — a two-hand shove to LeBron’s chest and knocks him down. Mohammed got the flagrant 2 ejection.

The crowd loved it. They were fired up. But the Bulls lost the guy that spells Noah and they could lose him for another game if there is a suspension coming from the league office. And if you don’t think that mattered watch the more tired Noah not be quite quick and energetic enough to make plays during the Heat’s late run.

Chicago got offensive balance with all five starters in double figures, led by Carlos Boozer’s 21.

This game was back and forth most of the way — it was 85-83 Heat with 4:00 left — but the Heat executed better down the stretch.

Cole had a driving lay-up and later a key three.  Bosh was sinking free throws, blocking a Marco Belinelli shot, and hitting a driving layup off a cut. LeBron hit a deep pull-up three, then hit an and-1 where the Bulls played it perfectly with Jimmy Butler pushing LeBron to help, the help was there and it didn’t matter. Because LeBron does that. Combine that with the made free throws and it was too much.

This is what we expected from the series — the Bulls would scrap and put up a fight but it would just not be enough.

But you know the Bulls will show up ready to go hard again in Game 4

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.

Report: Nets to buy out Dwight Howard

AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets all grew tired of Dwight Howard.

The Nets did it in record time.

After acquiring Howard in a trade from Charlotte yesterday, Brooklyn is moving toward shedding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

In the trade, the Nets dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s $16.72 million salary for 2019-20. Now, they could get a reduction on Howard’s $23,819,725 expiring contract. Brooklyn is doing a great job of unloading bad money.

Next year, the Nets will have their own first-round pick for the first time in six years. Though he has declined considerably from his Hall of Fame peak, Howard can still play some. Brooklyn didn’t need him interfering with its tanking and culture.

Instead, the Nets can focus on developing Jarrett Allen and losing enough to secure the best draft position possible.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Howard surrenders and where he goes. Again, he can still play. But the league is moving away from traditional centers, and he’s high maintenance.

Report: Cavaliers not planning to trade Kevin Love, no matter what LeBron James does

AP Photo/Michael Dwyer
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The Cavaliers spent considerable time bemoaning a Kevin Love trade last summer falling through.

Will they deal him this offseason?

The No. 8 pick and Love are Cleveland’s best assets for upgrading their roster around LeBron James. If LeBron leaves, moving Love could jumpstart a rebuild.

But apparently the Cavs are now projecting attachment to Love, either way.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN:

The Cavaliers are not actively shopping All-Star forward Kevin Love heading into Thursday’s NBA draft, multiple sources told ESPN on Wednesday. Furthermore, regardless of what decision LeBron James makes about his future in Cleveland, the Cavs have interest in keeping Love next season, sources said.

File this under what else are they supposed to say? Even if the Cavaliers want to trade Love, insisting they won’t maximizes his trade value, forcing other teams to offer enough to pry him away.

But I also believe this accurately reflects the Cavs’ plans.

They just seem so determined to compete if LeBron leaves, and Love is their only other star. Love proved himself worthy of being the best player on a good team with the Timberwolves. (They were playoff quality when he played. They just completely fell apart whenever he sat.) In Cleveland, Love has fluctuated in his ability to bend his game around LeBron. If LeBron leaves, that’d no longer be a problem.

But Love will turn 30 before the season. He has declined out of his athletic peak, and I’d bet against him ever nearing his Minnesota levels again. And the other Cavs stink. It’s hard to see a LeBron-less Cavaliers team, even with Love, competing for the playoffs.

If LeBron stays, keeping Love makes some sense. With his $24,119,025 salary for next season and $25,595,700 player option for the following year, he probably doesn’t hold elite trade value. He doesn’t match up well with the Warriors, but good players who do come at a major cost.

Report: Lakers call meeting to warn employees about tampering

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
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Magic Johnson got the Lakers fined for tampering while still holding a ceremonial title. Once he actually took over the front office, he really got to work tampering. He got warned for blinking at Paul George on national television. Then – due to general manager Rob Pelinka’s communication with George’s agent and Johnson’s previous warning – the Lakers received one of the largest fines in NBA history. Johnson himself got the Lakers fined for praising Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The league investigated and cleared assistant coach Brian Shaw for tampering with George.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has said the Lakers’ previous transgressions have put them under tighter scrutiny.

The Lakers just want this to end.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

Lakers co-owner and governor Jeanie Buss called the meeting, which was led by president of basketball operations Magic Johnson.

Sources said Johnson and Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka spoke to a large group of team employees, warning them about tampering.

Other employees received written notices on the matter that referenced possible termination as punishment for anyone who does not adhere to NBA rules.

Tampering often takes much more benign forms than a president or general manager recruiting a star player before free agency. It could be an offhand comment by a coach, an overzealous ticket pitch or a speculative article on the team website.

If Johnson’s and Pelinka’s tampering increases the Lakers’ odds of landing a star, that’s just the cost of doing business. If a lower-level staffer tampers, that’s an avoidable mistake.

Really, it’s comical this meeting is even newsworthy, and that’s a product of the Lakers’ previous violations.

But, as they pursue stars, they don’t want to chance the league imposing any additional restrictions.

So, the Lakers, in some ways are right back where they started.