LeBron’s post-ups the latest problem for the Pacers to try and solve

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The Miami Heat got whatever they want offensively in Game 3 against the Pacers, racing out to put 70 points on the board by halftime in what would end up being an easy 18-point victory that reasserted the team’s dominance.

LeBron James was especially effective early, and got things going in the first half by attacking Indiana’s defense in the post and the paint to score 18 of his team-high 22 points in the game’s first 24 minutes.

Most impressive was the fact that on three of his first seven made shots, as well as on the final one he made in the game with almost 11 minutes still remaining in the fourth quarter, James backed down his defender and scored easily over him in post-up situations.

These weren’t simply cases of James establishing position on the low block, followed by a teammate dumping it in for him to make a power move to the basket. On each of his four possessions where he scored on post-ups, James received the ball and faced up maybe 17 feet away before backing down his defender (Paul George in all four cases) and scoring inside.

Even more impressive, James turned baseline and finished with his left hand off the glass on three of his four post-up scores. That means that rim protector Roy Hibbert had no chance to come over and help from the weak side; it was George by himself on an island, where James is essentially unstoppable.

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra wouldn’t say that James attacking in the post was a specific part of his team’s game plan, but he did mention how LeBron forcing the action helped set the overall tone for his team.

“It wasn’t something we saw against a very good defender,” Spoelstra said. “It was something we wanted to get to, just to help settle us and get into a more aggressive attack. Because Paul George and that defense is a very good ‑‑ he’s a very good defender and he can do it in a lot of different ways. But we wanted to be a little more aggressive, a little more committed to getting into the paint and seeing what would happen. And LeBron was very committed and focused to not settle. That aggressiveness set the tone.”

Hibbert knows that by the time James gets to the low block in a one-on-one situation, it’s too late for the defense. He wants to see the activity much earlier on in order to prevent James from getting to that spot.

“You know, he was in the post putting in a lot of work,” Hibbert said. “I think we have to do a better job of helping Paul out. LeBron can’t get five or six dribbles to get a post move. We have to make adjustments. He’s obviously a low‑post threat, but we have to make adjustments.”

The adjustments to make would be to double James when he gets the ball before he makes his move to the post, but that would go against everything the Pacers have done defensively all season long. Indiana is a team built on containing and helping once guys get into the paint, not leaving guys wide open and putting their defense in a scramble situation just to take away one particular player’s strength. But they can bring a second defender to pressure the ball once James puts it on the floor, as opposed to the way they simply watched him go to work in this one.

“I saw I had a one‑on‑one matchup,” James said, in explaining how he was able to score so easily on these plays. “They didn’t come down in the post all game, so I just tried to take advantage of it. My teammates gave me space. I just tried to sit in the post, not get the ball in the wing as much tonight. Tried to anchor myself down on the block and go to work. I was able to do that.”

The good news for the Pacers is that James only scored on these post-ups four times, and on one of those, he got into the paint for a layup while Hibbert was on the bench. This wasn’t a case of LeBron going off for 40 points on the same play over and over again, but it was a reminder of yet another way James can beat you if he’s allowed to go to work against a single defender, and it’s one more cause for concern for Indiana to deal with now that the Heat have reclaimed control of the series.

Lakers coach Luke Walton: Rajon Rondo will start over Lonzo Ball to start year

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LaVar Ball said the Lakers are Lonzo Ball‘s team, not LeBron James‘.

Turns out, Lonzo isn’t even the Lakers’ starting point guard.

Dave McMenamin of ESPN on Lakers Talk:

Luke Walton told me today that Rajon Rondo will be the Lakers’ starting point guard to start the year.

It’s unclear whether “to start the year” means to begin training camp or the regular season. Lonzo is not yet ready to fully participate in practice after offseason surgery, so this could be as benign as Rondo working with the starters for now.

Or it could be Walton already making a call for the regular season.

The Lakers signed Rondo to push and teach Lonzo. Those messages would come across more strongly if Rondo starts.

But I’d also be surprised if there’s not a more open competition in training camp. Lonzo deserves a chance to earn the job.

Whatever Walton exactly means, the coach has latitude to run the team as he sees fit.

Report: Kyle Lowry dodging calls and texts from Raptors president Masai Ujiri and coach Nick Nurse

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DeMar DeRozan hasn’t hidden his disdain for Raptors president Masai Ujiri trading him.

How does Kyle Lowry, a close friend of DeRozan still left in Toronto, feel?

Lowry dodged DeRozan questions while at USA Basketball’s minicamp in July. At media day yesterday, Lowry repeatedly gave an iteration of the same answer about his relationship with the Raptors: He’s there to do his job and try to win, just as always.

Josh Lewenberg of TSN:

per league sources, Lowry had also been dodging calls and texts from team officials, including president Masai Ujiri and new head coach Nick Nurse, who Lowry said he only spoke with briefly right after Nurse was promoted in June.

This obviously isn’t the healthiest arrangement. Teams function best with open communication.

But the team president and point guard needn’t talk regularly, especially now. Lowry is locked up for two more seasons. The status quo is fairly locked in for the season.

Lowry and Nurse not speaking would be a pressing issue, but training camp just opened. It’s too soon to assess how Lowry will respond to Nurse.

Ultimately, what Kawhi Leonard said about how the Raptors can appeal to him also applies to Lowry – win. If Toronto wins this season, Lowry will likely get over his issues with the DeRozan trade.

A half-dozen players with especially intriguing contract-year seasons ahead

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After increasing 7%, 11%, 34% and 5% the previous four years, the NBA’s salary cap increased just 3% this year. Plus, teams were already overstocked with highly paid players signed during the 2016 – and, to an extent, 2015 – cap booms.

That meant many players signed one-year deals this offseason, allowing them to hit the market again next summer, when the cap is projected to rise 7% and many players signed in 2015 and 2016 come off the books.

The result is a deep 2019 free-agent class.

Some potential 2019 free agents, like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving, are assured max-contract offers. Even Kawhi Leonard, who missed nearly all of last season due to injury, is practically guaranteed of max offers.

But there are many more players with their future compensation in flux. Here are six players with a ton on the line next season:

DeMarcus Cousins

Cousins shocked the league by taking the Warriors’ taxpayer mid-level exception. It’s probably a one-year rental. The highest starting salary Golden State can offer him next summer through Non-Bird Rights is $6,404,400. This year will give him a chance to get healthy, show he can contribute positively to winning and expand his versatility. Cousins isn’t the perfect fit with the Warriors, and some teams are still scared off by his attitude. But, if all goes well this season, Cousins won’t be able to claim no offers next summer.

Isaiah Thomas

Thomas learned the hard way Brinks trucks typically carry an amount near his $2,029,463 minimum salary – not the nine-digit max contract he hoped for. That dream has probably passed, but Thomas can still land a lucrative contract next summer if he thrives with the Nuggets this season. First, that means getting healthy, as his hip injury still lingers. Then, the 5-foot-9 point guard must show he can still get separation and lift to get buckets. And it’d help if he meshes better with his teammates and coaches. It’s amazing how big of a hit Thomas’ value has taken in the last year, but he has proven his determination before. Will he do it again?

D'Angelo Russell

Russell entered last season as a potential franchise player for the Nets. Then, he got outplayed by Spencer Dinwiddie. Russell missed 34 games due to injury and stagnated in his growth while on the court. The shine is off the former No. 2 pick. But Russell is still just 22 and talented, and point guards tend to develop later. He could earn a huge payday, though it’ll require a major breakthrough. He and Brooklyn can technically sign an extension by Oct. 15, but that seems unlikely – especially with Dinwiddie, another pending 2019 free agent, also in the mix. Most likely, Russell becomes a restricted free agent next summer.

Tobias Harris

Harris reportedly rejected a four-year, $80 million extension from the Clippers this summer. That’s a lot of money to turn down, but the upside is there. Harris could be the Clippers’ focal point this season, especially in the starting lineup (which probably won’t include Lou Williams). Harris is just 26 and has the all-around skills and work ethic to cash in. The Clippers are aiming higher, so Harris might have to leave L.A. to get paid.

Trey Burke

The No. 9 pick in 2013, Burke gradually fell out of favor with the Jazz. He got a change of scenery with the Wizards and struggled even more in Washington than he had in Utah. Burke seemingly blamed everyone but himself. He fell out of the league until the Knicks called him up in the middle of last season. Burke flourished in New York, showing the offensive command everyone expected when he declared for the draft out of Michigan. Burke must fend off Frank Ntilikina and Emmanuel Mudiay – more recent and higher picks – at point guard, and the Knicks’ reported top target in 2019 free agency is point Kyrie Irving. But if Burke maintains his play with New York over a full season, he’ll have lucrative options somewhere.

Marcus Morris

Morris signed a four-year, $20 million extension with the Suns in 2014, taking a discount to play with his twin brother, Markieff Morris. Then, Phoenix traded Marcus to the Pistons. Marcus vowed never to let personal relationships get in the away of business again. Now with the Celtics, he’ll have his chance to maximize his earnings next summer. Marcus is a hard-nosed and skilled combo forward in a league where his versatility is increasingly valued. He’ll try to prove his worth on a stacked Boston team that has too many strong pieces to allow any individual to fully fly.

Report: Kings trying to get involved in Jimmy Butler trade by taking bad contracts

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The Timberwolves are reportedly seeking, among other things, “salary-cap relief” in a Jimmy Butler trade. But Butler is on a de facto expiring contract, and Minnesota is already below the luxury-tax line this season. There isn’t significant relief to be gained by dealing just him.

So, that likely means unloading Gorgui Dieng, who’s due $48,687,640 over the next three years, including $15,170,787 this season.

That’s a toxic contract that will be difficult to move. Some potential Butler trade partners don’t have viable expiring contracts to trade for Dieng, and some potential Butler trade partners will flat refuse.

Enter the Kings.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

In recent days, Sacramento has been aggressive in courting Minnesota and several of Butler’s trade suitors — offering to use its space as a landing spot for bloated contracts.

The Kings have about $11 million in cap space (not counting Jamel Artis‘ unguaranteed deal). They also have a few ill-fitting veterans on expiring contracts that could facilitate a trade: Zach Randolph ($11,692,308), Iman Shumpert ($11,011,234) and Kosta Koufos ($8,739,500).

In return for taking bad contracts, Sacramento will seek draft picks and young players. This is the exact type of trade the rebuilding Kings should make. They just must hope Minnesota’s best offer involves them.