LeBron James-Paul George matchup reaches awesome levels in Game 2

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As the final seconds of the third quarter wound down, Paul George dribbled at the top and sized up LeBron James, arguably the NBA’s best wing defender. Without the benefit of LeBron overplaying him or the absence of a rim protector, George drove left past LeBron and ferociously dunked over Chris Andersen as a foul was called on the pile of feathers that remained where Birdman previously existed.

After George made the free throw with 5.1 seconds remaining, LeBron took the inbound, pushed up court and leaned in for a 29-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.

George headed toward his bench as everyone watching delighted in an awesome end to the quarter, but LeBron called him back for a quick high five near midcourt. It was an incredible moment that could rank just below Isiah Thomas’ and Magic Johnson’s pregame kiss in NBA lore – if George takes takes the steps to be remembered as a star.

The high five, it should be noted, occurred closer to LeBron’s bench.

George is the breakout star of the 2013 conference finals,  but LeBron is the star of everything, and this matchup is still unfolding on LeBron’s terms. Though the Pacers won Game 2, 97-93, LeBron (36 points on 14-of-20 shooting, eight rebounds, three assists and three steals) outplayed George (22 points on 9-of-16 shooting, six assists and two rebounds).

But the Pacers don’t need George to win this matchup, and if they did, they’d be in a world of trouble. Indiana needs George to hold his own, and so far, he’s doing that, which is truly incredible.

At times, George played neck and necked with the NBA’s greatest player, someone who’s playing as well as anyone has ever played this game.

In Game 1, LeBron (30 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three blocks) again bested George (27 points, five assists and four rebounds), but like tonight, George didn’t let LeBron dominate the matchup.

Any overtime game, as Miami’s Game 1 victory was, offers infinite opportunities for the losing team to regret a mistake. George turned the ball over a team-high six times in that game, and any one of those could have made the difference.

George got his turnovers under control tonight (just two in 39 minutes), but LeBron went the other direction. He had five turnovers tonight, including two passes stolen in the final 42 seconds with Miami down two points.

George didn’t steal either, and he didn’t do much to force either. But on both plays, he stuck close with LeBron and applied at least a little pressure.

Report: Jimmy Butler-Timberwolves meeting moved from Minneapolis to Los Angeles

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Jimmy Butler and Tom Thibodeau are meeting today, not necessarily for Butler to express his desire to leave the Timberwolves – but maybe!

This is a huge meeting with big ramifications for Minnesota and even across the league. Every detail is subject to inspection until we know more.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Butler, like many NBA players, spends his summers near Los Angeles. The meeting being held there could be for numerous potential reasons.

But it feels significant Thibodeau is coming to Butler’s turf rather than the other way around.

Without better options, Heat settle for sentimentality

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Dwyane Wade took discounts from the Heat for years, seemingly expecting a larger windfall down the road.

It won’t come.

But Wade and Miami will enjoy one last dance together.

Wade is re-signing with the Heat on a one-year minimum contract he said would be for his final season, concluding a nostalgic summer in Miami. The Heat also re-signed local legend Udonis Haslem to another one-year minimum deal.

I wouldn’t expect much from either player on the court. If anything, Wade might prove destructive if the the 36-year-old uses his cachet to assume a larger role than he should handle. Haslem has barely played the last couple years, and that probably won’t change.

Still, there’s something to be said for proper sendoffs. Considering the high standards Wade and Haslem helped set for the franchise by winning three championships, this was unlikely to be a banner year in Miami, anyway. There’s value in honoring Wade and Haslem one more time.

Mostly, the Heat acted like a solid, stuck team this summer – because that’s what they are. That probably contributed to them not rewarding Wade for his prior sacrifice.

Yet, Miami eclipsed the luxury-tax line to sign Wayne Ellington, a helpful cog, to a one-year, $6.27 million deal. The tax isn’t assessed until the final day of the regular season, so there’s still plenty of time for the Heat to dodge it. In fact, I predict they will. But by at least temporarily exceeding the tax line, Miami gave itself its best chance of maintaining its level of play.

The Heat sure didn’t upgrade, though. They made no draft picks and didn’t touch their mid-level exception. Their only outside addition to receive a guaranteed salary was Derrick Jones Jr., who signed a minimum contract with a second year unguaranteed. The 21-year-old athlete is a worthwhile flier, but he sure isn’t a difference maker.

Neither are Wade and Haslem anymore – outside of our fond memories of the pair, and that counts for something. Just not enough to change Miami’s trajectory.

Offseason grade: C

Report: Jimmy Butler ‘isn’t dead set’ on demanding trade from Timberwolves

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Jimmy Butler says he’ll meet with the Timberwolves today – not yesterday, as initially reported.

The far bigger issue: What will happen in the meeting?

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

I’m told, though, that while Butler has serious questions about the direction of the franchise, he’s still willing to hear Minnesota out, and isn’t dead set on demanding a trade elsewhere.

Butler probably wouldn’t demand a trade. That gets players fined. Paul George laid out a far more likely roadmap last offseason: Butler could inform Minnesota he won’t re-sign next offseason. Left to their own devices, the Timberwolves would probably trade him.

But would it get to even that point? That’s the big question looming over the day. If Butler hasn’t yet made up his mind, that would give Tom Thibodeau a chance to convey a plan.

Of course, this isn’t entirely up to Butler, either. If Minnesota must choose between Butler and Karl-Anthony Townswho reportedly won’t sign his rookie-scale extension until the Butler situation is handled – Butler could get dealt regardless of what he wants.

So much could come to a head today, but apparently there isn’t an inevitable outcome. Is Butler leaning a certain way, though? “Isn’t dead set” on demanding a trade isn’t exactly a huge vote of confidence.

Marcus Smart posts heartfelt tribute to mother, who died Sunday

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Marcus Smart delivered one of my favorite quotes after the Celtics beat the Rockets last season:

Smart — when asked if he prides himself in being “a pain in the ass” — chuckled.

“I guess you could say that,” Smart said. “My mom might say that. But nah, I play defense with passion, and defense wins games, and that was proven tonight.”

A deep love is the subtext behind that quip. Smart put it on display again – unfortunately after the death of Camellia Smart, who had been battling cancer.

Smart:

Smart plays with such heart, passion and toughness. If his mother were his role model, he honors her every time he takes the court.