Carmelo Anthony tackles LeBron, but story is Heat’s bounce-back win over Knicks (VIDEO)

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NEW YORK — Late in the third quarter of the Heat’s 15-point win over the Knicks on Saturday, the game was not yet out of hand, and with Miami leading by single digits, Carmelo Anthony wasn’t about to let LeBron James get to the basket for an easy two points in transition.

Anthony wrapped up James and then let him go, causing the reigning MVP to go tumbling to the floor. The ruling was a personal foul as it should have been, with no flagrant called and no hard feelings between the two superstars when all was said and done.

It was a small moment in a greater performance from the Heat, who put together a solid effort on both ends of the floor, but especially defensively in bouncing back from a blowout home loss to the Thunder three days earlier, and beating a Knicks team that had won four straight.

The story was the Heat, not the battle between Anthony and James. And LeBron wanted to make sure we were aware of that when speaking to reporters afterward.

“It’s not the first time I’ve been tackled,” he said. “I don’t know. It shouldn’t be a personal foul, because it’s not a basketball play. But at the same time, he sees me with a full head of steam, he’s just trying to wrap me up. I don’t think he intended for me to hit the ground.”

When pressed on the issue and asked whether or not it should have been a flagrant, James didn’t have any interest in assigning additional significance to one interesting but ultimately meaningless play.

“I’m not going to be caught up in that and try to make that the story of the game,” he said. “The way we played tonight was the story of the game. The way we came out with aggressiveness on both ends of the floor, the way we shared the ball offensively — that’s the story of the game, not that one foul.”

James was magnificent in finishing with 30 points, eight rebounds and seven assists, but his activeness on the defensive end in grabbing six steals is what truly made life miserable for the Knicks.

The performance was particularly impressive considering the way the Heat lost to Oklahoma City in their previous outing, and Erik Spoelstra noted how James set the tone for his teammates in the days that followed such a demoralizing loss.

“I think this performance started two days ago,’ Spoelstra said. “After the OKC game, typically we would have had a day off. We all came in to own the film, but before practice he was in for an hour and a half in the weight room and then on the court for about 45 minutes drilling, sweating, letting everybody know that [the loss] wasn’t acceptable. And then a full team practice yesterday where he was much like he was tonight. His actions were speaking louder than his words, and I was really pleased to see that go from the practice court on to the game.”

This is the time of the season where the Heat typically would begin to flip the switch, and start the process of regaining focus for another postseason run. The victory over the Knicks could be a starting point, and while the one small moment between two of the game’s biggest stars is of interest, it wasn’t something either of them lingered on for very long — and both were all smiles when discussing it long after the game was finished.

Rumor: Raptors trying to trade up in draft for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The Raptors have major problems in the playoffs annually.

Is a coaching change enough to fix them?

Toronto already fired Dwane Casey and promoted assistant Nick Nurse after a highly successful regular season. Perhaps, major roster turnover could follow.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander projects to be a late lottery pick. The Raptors have no selections in this draft. So, acquiring one high enough to pick the Kentucky point guard would take plenty.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan are stars. Toronto’s bench is stocked with solid young players. O.G. Anunoby is very promising.

So, the Raptors have pieces to move. The only question how much they’d package for a draft pick.

Toronto already has Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright at point guard. But Lowry is 32, and VanVleet will be a restricted free agent this summer. If they really believe in Gilgeous-Alexander, the Raptors should try to get him.

All that said, this is the time of year rumors – both credible and not – fly. So, it’s worth remaining skeptical while still considering the validity of what reputable reporters like Stein convey.

Luka Doncic, Donte DiVincenzo, Jerome Robinson among NBA draft invitees

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Of course DeAndre Ayton will attend Thursday’s NBA draft. The Suns will likely draft him No. 1 overall.

But what about more marginal first-round prospects?

The NBA’s draft invite list is an important tool in judging their stock. The league wants to avoid players sitting in agony until their names are called. So, the NBA works to invite only the prospects most likely to get picked high in the draft.

The full list of invited players (which the league notes is subject to change):

Luka Doncic will go high in the draft, and though how high is still uncertain, his inclusion on this list says nothing about his stock. It just speaks to whether we’ll see him Thursday night. His attendance will depend at least on when Real Madrid’s season ends, though the NBA is apparently confident enough to list him.

Jerome Robinson has climbed draft boards since the season ended. He must be impressing in workouts and interviews.

Donte DiVincenzo is a bit of a surprise selection, as he’s not widely viewed as a first-round lock. Perhaps, the league is looking to capitalize on his popularity stemming from a breakout NCAA tournament championship game.

This will only reinforce the idea Chandler Hutchinson received a promise. Otherwise, he’s a surprise invitee.

Among the top players not attending: Kevin Huerter (Maryland), Jacob Evans (Cincinnati), Troy Brown (Oregon) and Josh Okogie (Georgia Tech). Though they could go higher than players listed here, that says something about Huerter’s Evans’, Browns’ and Okogie’s stock, too.

Report: Rudy Gay opting out of Spurs contract

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants to leave the Spurs, but he’s at their whims.

This doesn’t mean Rudy Gay will depart San Antonio, but he’s taking control of his future.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Gay’s option-year salary was $8,826,300.

I doubt Gay, who turns 32 this summer, will draw such a high starting salary on his next contract – though I certainly wouldn’t rule it out. He could likely get a multi-year deal with a higher total value.

Or he could chase a ring elsewhere.

Remember, Gay gave up money to leave the Kings last summer. No matter how much the Leonard situation should make us rethink the Spurs’ culture, San Antonio probably isn’t “basketball hell.” Still, the Spurs clearly don’t look as appealing as they once did, and Gay has shown how much he values team quality.

Gay is coming off a nice season, and San Antonio might try to re-sign him. Danny Green has a $10 million player option for next season, which will swing whether the Spurs have the flexibility for a bigger move this summer.

Report: LeBron James’ camp likes Collin Sexton

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In 2014, LeBron James tweeted his fondness for Connecticut point guard Shabazz Napier. The Heat traded up to get Napier in the draft, but LeBron left for the Cavaliers that summer, anyway.

Could history repeat itself, this time in Cleveland?

LeBron has already talked up Oklahoma point guard Trae Young, but maybe LeBron and his camp want the Cavs to take a different point guard – Alabama’s Collin Sexton – with the No. 8 pick.

Joe Vardon of Cleveland.com, via Jordan Zirm of ESPN Cleveland:

The Cavaliers should take the best prospect available. Worrying about what LeBron might want makes a mistake only more likely.

LeBron might stay in Cleveland, but as 2014 showed, it won’t be because of a draft pick. If he stays, it very well could be by opting into the final year of his contract. His player-option salary ($35,607,968) is slightly higher than his projected max salary as a free agent (about $35.35 million). If LeBron opts in, the best chance of keeping him long-term is building a better team around him.

That means taking the best prospect at No. 8 or trading the pick for someone who can help LeBron win now. If the top prospect is Sexton, that’s fine. But the Cavs are fare more likely to appease LeBron by getting the pick right in the long run rather than choosing the prospect he wants now.