Pacers get big games from Roy Hibbert and Paul George, take Game 2 from Heat to even the series

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After the way Game 1 between the Heat and the Pacers went down, Game 2 could have gone one of two ways. Either Miami could have received the wake-up call delivered by Indiana and then come out with a dominant and inspired performance, or the Pacers could continue to make life difficult for the defending champs, and be in position once again to steal home court advantage in the final moments.

Indiana proved the latter to be true, and for the second straight game that it was a troublesome matchup for the Heat while battling for all 48 minutes. Behind huge games from Roy Hibbert and Paul George, and thanks to stifling LeBron James defensively in the game’s last couple of possessions, the Pacers took Game 2 97-93 to even the Eastern Conference Finals at a game apiece.

Hibbert is there primarily for defensive purposes, so when he puts in a dominant performance offensively as he did in this one, it’s simply a bonus. The Pacers’ key big man finished with 29 points and 10 rebounds on 10-of 15 shooting, and yes, remained in the game for defensive purposes in the final few possessions.

George didn’t put up quite the numbers that Hibbert did, but he played at an elite level in stretches for the second straight game. He finished with 22 points and six assists, and earned the respect of James near the end of the third quarter, after he threw down a monster of a dunk on Chris Andersen that was followed by a three from James on the other end. LeBron made sure to slap hands with George after the shot, and said to him, “I got you back, young fella.”

James had yet another incredible statistical performance, finishing with 36 points on 14-of-20 from the field, good for a preposterous 70 percent shooting. He added eight rebounds, three assists, and three blocks, but turned the ball over five times. Two of those came very uncharacteristically on some of the game’s most critical final possessions.

The first came with the Heat trailing by two with under 45 seconds remaining, and as LeBron tried to get the pass to Ray Allen on the perimeter, David West had his hand in the passing lane to deflect the ball and come away with the steal. Fortunately for the Heat, the result was nothing more than time off the clock, as the Pacers couldn’t convert on the offensive end.

The next time down, James drove the ball to the right side of the paint with under 13 seconds remaining. Unlike Game 1, George played excellent defense and was able to stay in front of James, and with Hibbert in the game this time and Chris Bosh on the strong side of the floor, Hibbert was able to come and help, forcing LeBron to make a tough pass. He tried to kick it back outside, but West once again got his hand in there to cause the deflection, and George Hill came away with the steal.

As the series shifts to Indiana, the Heat are going to have to get their role players contributing closer to the level we saw from them during the regular season against a Pacers team that brings a balanced attack and a supreme challenge defensively.

Miami can’t afford to get essentially nothing out of Shane Battier and Ray Allen, and may have to find additional minutes for Andersen considering how well he’s been playing on both ends of the floor. Dwyane Wade and Bosh contributed in spurts in Game 2, but one of them is going to need to have a big game on the road in support of LeBron to help the Heat regain the home court advantage in this series.

Report: Markelle Fultz was available in trade packages on draft night

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The Philadelphia 76ers are saying all the right things about Markelle Fultz — they are patient, they believe in his work with his new trainer to rebuild his jump shot, and they see him as part of the future. Plus, his handles look sharp.

That doesn’t mean the Sixers are not willing to trade him in their pursuit of a star player. In fact, he was available on draft night in packages, reports Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Sixers say they aren’t shopping him. However, there was a report that they had internal discussions about packing him with Nos. 10 and 26 picks to move up into the Top 5 in Thursday’s draft. And multiple league sources have said that Fultz was available to be traded.

But it’s hard to get equal value in return for trading someone relearning how to shoot. The Sixers know that. They also know that if things do come together, Fultz will be a special player. He has the potential to become the type of player they would regret trading away.

Outside of a handful of superstars, every player in the NBA is available in a trade, at least in theory. Fultz is no different. The question in his case is what do they see as an upgrade vs. his potential?

Kawhi Leonard would be an upgrade, unquestionably. Fultz could be part of a package to land Leonard in a trade (Fultz, Robert Covington, the Miami 2021 first rounder, and probably more picks would be a starting point). Once the Spurs get serious about a potential Leonard trade (they are not there yet) how enticing that offer might be comes down to what they think of Fultz and his potential.

The Sixers are not shy about their desire to land an established All-Star to pair with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. If they don’t get Leonard, they will be looking at the next All-Star who becomes available, and Fultz could be part of those deals, too.

Fultz is not playing in Summer League for the Sixers, but if he comes back this fall trusting his jumper and starting to look like the player who was drafted No. 1 that trade value goes way up (and the Sixers may be less inclined to move him).  It may be then before the Sixers can get a respectable return on any Fultz trade.

Report: Indiana to retain Bojan Bogdanovic, he could start again next season

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Bojan Bogdanovic is the kind of floor spacing shooter the Pacers need next to the attacking Victor Oladipo. He started 80 games for the team, scored 14.3 points per game and shot 40.2 percent from three.

Bogdanovic is due $10.5 million next season, but the Pacers can buy him out before next Friday (June 29) for $1.5 million.

They’re not going to do that, the Pacers are going to retain Bogdanovic, reports Ben Gibson at the Pacers site 8points9seconds.com.

The Indiana Pacers currently plan to retain Bojan Bogdanovic — whose contract is only partially guaranteed for next season — and would be comfortable going into next season with him as a starter, according to a source familiar with the Pacers offseason plans.

There’s no surprise here, it was expected. Bogdanovic provides genuine value to the team — they need him on the court as a shooter, he averaged the second most threes per game on the squad. And, as an expiring contract, he could be used in any potential trades for another star.

The Pacers also have a decision to make on Darren Collison, who is owed $10 million next season but has a $2 million buyout by July 1. They will probably keep him around.

Al Jefferson is owed $10 million next season but can be bought out for $4 million before next January 10. Expect the Pacers to exercise that option and buy him out well before that date.

Carmelo Anthony sends message to haters: ‘Take A Step Back… And Enjoy Life’

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When the expected became official and Carmelo Anthony opted to take the $27.8 million contractually owed him next season, there were groans from the Thunder faithful.

It was Anthony’s right — and everyone knew he was going to take the cash (we all would have done the same) — but his value on the court has shrunk and that’s what eats at the OKC faithful. Anthony’s response on Instagram was, essentially, “relax, it’s just basketball.”

It will be interesting to see if Anthony is back with the Thunder next season, or if he gets bought out. If he does return, how do they better fit him in the offense?

Anthony’s defense has long been a concern, but his offense used to be efficient enough, and his ability to create shots important enough, that teams lived with the defense. However, his efficiency has slid in recent years and, as we saw in the playoffs in April, it’s not enough anymore. The Thunder played better with other lineups. To which Anthony responded he has to get back to his old style of play more.

It’s going to be a wild summer in OKC. Whatever happens.

Suns to sign French point guard Elie Okobo to first-round style contract

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The Suns have an impressive young core four: Devin Booker at the two, Mikal Bridges at the three, Josh Jackson at the four, and Deandre Ayton at center.

The hole: Who will be the point guard?

The Suns like Elie Okobo of France a lot. They drafted him 31st overall, the top pick of the second round, but they will give him a first-round style contract with two guaranteed seasons and two team options after that, reports Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Suns hinted they were going to do this, and it’s a smart move at a fair price if they can develop Okobo (even as a backup).

Okobo has potential. Last season, at the highest level of the athletic French league he averaged 13.2 points on 57 percent shooting (38 percent from three) plus 4.4 assists per game. Okobo is an NBA level athlete who has all the tools to be a good NBA point guard — and he already knows how to score (he had 44 points in a playoff game this season). He’s going to have to round out his game and adapt to the NBA style, but the Suns think they have something.

And they are betting they have with a nice sized contract.