Pacers win first Conference Finals rematch vs. Heat

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The Pacers wanted their Dec. 10 game vs. the Heat a whole heck of a lot more than Miami did, after falling to the eventual back-to-back champs in the Conference Finals a season ago and being very open with their goals heading into this year’s campaign.

Indiana hasn’t been shy about declaring its desire to finish the season with the top seed heading into the playoffs, and the team similarly made no attempt to disguise their interest in this particular December contest against the Heat, no matter how many games remain in the regular season before the playoff series (plural) that will decide this year’s champion even begin to take place.

Miami’s fast start may have had you believe that things were under control, and that the Pacers were pressing a bit given all they believed was at stake in this early-season-contest. But the third quarter saw Indiana turn things around and gain control, and behind 15 second half points apiece from Paul George and Roy Hibbert, the Pacers improved to 19-3 on the season with a 90-84 victory that continued to propel their belief that they will have what it takes come playoff time to dethrone the defending champs.

If the first quarter was any indication, that may not happen so easily.

Indiana was very vocal before this one in its desire to make a statement by getting this victory, but the Heat players and coaches couldn’t have been less interested in trying to defend the team’s honor in an early-December contest. The on-court action from Miami suggested otherwise, however, at least in the opening frame where LeBron James personally took on the responsibility of guarding George, and shut him down by holding him without a relevant statistic in the game’s first 12 minutes.

George finished scoreless without a rebound or an assist in the opening period, while James opened the game with eight points, five rebounds and two assists in the exact same span.

Indiana came out after halftime and imposed its will for the most part, thanks largely to George and Hibbert as we’ve previously discussed. The reality is that Miami has no answer for what Hibbert brings as currently constructed, which is more than likely the reason the team has brought Greg Oden into the fold, and continues to develop him slowly.

If Oden should be ready to contribute even in the range of 15 minutes per game for Miami in the postseason, that’s a complete game-changer for how these two teams might match up in a seven-game series.

For now, however, Oden is out of the picture, and Hibbert remains the most dominant big man in the Eastern Conference.  Miami cannot match up with him on a single-game basis, but may be able to get above-average performances from LeBron, Wade, and/or Bosh to mitigate Hibbert’s impact over a singular 48 minutes.

Tuesday night in Indiana, the Heat simply weren’t up to that challenge.

Lakers’ recruiting pitch for Paul George leaks

AP Photo/R Brent Smith
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LeBron James doesn’t want elaborate pitches in free agency.

Paul George never said that, though.

So, the Lakers are apparently planning to put some showbiz into their recruitment.

Robin Lundberg of Sports Illustrated, citing a “Hollywood source,” revealed a Lakers pitch for George. The direction:

Less Morgan Freeman/Denzel Washington, and more Jamie Foxx. A bit more edge an attitude to their voice, and a bit less aspirational

The text:

When you were just a kid

In your room
Dreaming from Palmdale

We were dreaming too.

While you dreamt, we built – built for your arrival

And while we dreamt, you built too
Becoming one of the world’s greatest.

Life’s most powerful dream are the one we realize ourselves.

The ones that turn us into legends.
That kid from Palmdale always knew it
Now the world will, too

Who wrote this, noted storyteller Kobe Bryant?

My bigger question: Did or did not the Lakers, who’ve gone to great lengths to make their interest in George known, want this to leak before the official start of free agency?

Report: No divide between Chris Paul and Rockets over contract

AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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That rumor of tension between Chris Paul and the Rockets over his contract?

Sam Amick of USA Today:

As for the recent report from Fox Sports’ Chris Broussard that there are rising tensions between the two sides because Paul wants the full max and isn’t sure if he’ll get it, two people with knowledge of the situation refuted the idea there is any friction between the sides.

Remember, everyone who leaks something has an agenda. But I find this report far more credible than the initial rumor.

Paul’s max projects to be about $205 million over five years. That’s a lot to commit to a 33-year-old, but Paul took a discount to facilitate an opt-in-and-trade to Houston last year. He expects to be made whole.

Until Broussard’s report, all indications were the Rockets would appease him. Barring more information, that should remain the expectation.

Report: LeBron James not planning to sit for elaborate pitch meetings in free agency

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LeBron James held court in Cleveland in 2010, listening to pitch after pitch as teams flew in to recruit the superstar during free agency. That approach became a model, and Kevin Durant followed it in the Hamptons in 2016.

But maybe once is enough.

Durant announced months ago he’d stay with the Warriors. And now LeBron – who could definitely leave Cleveland – is making clear he doesn’t want the hoopla, either.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

sources close to the situation tell ESPN that he has no intention of hearing elaborate pitch meetings from teams.

league sources believe he and his agents Rich Paul and Mark Termini have enough understanding of the stakes and NBA landscape to handle the process without much fanfare.

LeBron is still haunted by The Decision. He’s a great player and philanthropist and does plenty to connect with fans. Yet, people still dislike him purely because of how he changed teams eight years ago.

If I wielded as much power as LeBron, I’d want suitors wining and dining me. He wants to avoid more backlash.

This will probably look similar to 2014 – LeBron’s agents hearing out teams then LeBron meeting with only the most serious options, though the final announcement will likely come via Uninterrupted rather than Sports Illustrated.

The Lakers, Cavaliers, Rockets and 76ers are commonly viewed as the favorites for LeBron. This approach makes it less likely for a longshot to emerge – though, for what it’s worth, we don’t know those four teams are his favorites right now.

Report: Nuggets re-signing Nikola Jokic to five-year max after declining team option

AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The Nuggets are building around Nikola Jokic.

But a second-round pick turning into a franchise player so quickly creates complications. Denver is resolving one by declining Jokic’s team option, which will send him into restricted free agency (as opposed to unrestricted free agency next year) and paying him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This ought to please Jokic. He would have earned just $1,600,520 next season if Denver exercised his team option.

Jokic is one of the best-passing full-time centers ever. He also shoots and rebounds well, though he must improve his defense to become worthy of this contract. At just 23, he’s worth betting on.

That said, I’m surprised the Nuggets didn’t get him on a slight discount. Though they clearly didn’t want to risk him testing unrestricted free agency next year, they gave him a MASSIVE raise (about $24 million) next season when they didn’t have to.

Jokic’s exact max salary won’t be determined until the salary cap and luxury-tax line are set this month. But this clearly puts Denver in cost-cutting mode now.

As constructed, the Nuggets are in line for about $24 million in luxury-tax payments. That’s without considering Will Barton, who’ll be an unrestricted free agent. Expect Denver to look to unload Kenneth Faried, Darrell Arthur, Wilson Chandler and/or Mason Plumlee.

Jokic was always going to be in Denver next season. The Nuggets have now secured him far longer. It will cost them next year – an important season to them – but they also clearly value a future with Jokic.