Report: Rockets planning all-out push for LeBron James

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Bill Simmons’ quasi-reported the Rockets would pursue LeBron James if he terminates his contract with the Heat.

Now, LeBron joining Dwight Howard and James Harden in Houston is gaining momentum – and credibility?

Howard Beck of Bleacher Report:

League sources say that Houston is preparing to make an all-out push to land James when free agency opens on July 1, assuming James opts out, as expected. If the Rockets miss out on James, they will turn their full attention to Carmelo Anthony. Chris Bosh is also on the radar.

There are rumblings that James will start weighing his options this weekend. One rival executive pegged his chances of leaving Miami at 40 percent.

Beck lists a four-point plan he says would give Houston about $19 million in cap room

  • Trade Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin – who are each owed nearly $15 million in actual salary next season – without returning salary
  • Trade Donatas Motiejunas and Isaiah Canaan without returning salary
  • Waive a few players with non-guaranteed deals
  • Decline team option Chandler Parsons and re-sign him as a restricted free agent after LeBron signs

The Rockets say they can deal Asik and Lin without taking back salary, so we’ll take their word on that for now.

Motiejunas and Canaan are good enough and cheap enough that someone would probably take them if offered.

As far as the non-guaranteed deals, Beck is presumably referring to Omri Casspi, Robert Covington and Troy Daniels (who actually has a team option, which requires a decision by June 30, meaning Houston would have to drop him before ever legally speaking to LeBron). Patrick Beverley also has a non-guaranteed contract, but Beck names him a starter alongside LeBron in this scenario, so he obviously wouldn’t get waived.

Declining Parsons’ team option would actually increase the amount he counts against the cap, and he could always get impatient and sign an offer sheet elsewhere before Houston signs LeBron. But apparently that’s the plan, so I’m just rolling with the report.

Do all that, and the Rockets would be $17,265,007 below the projected salary cap – not the $19 million Beck says.

Signing into the cap space Beck’s plan would actually create would cost LeBron more than $14 million over four years relative to what he could get in a max deal with any team outside Miami. It would also be $45 million less than he could get on a five-year max deal by re-signing with the Heat.

By comparison, LeBron gave up less than $14 million below his max deal when signing with the Heat in 2010 – and loss was spread over six years rather than four.

Back then, he organized a sign-and-trade to get a higher salary, but it doesn’t work that way anymore. Whether or not the Rockets land LeBron in a sign-and-trade or an outright signing, they can offer him the same salary.

LeBron might take a pay cut to join Houston, but let’s not pretend it’s a trivial reduction.

The Rockets could create more cap room by convincing Francisco Garcia to opt out or trade him if he doesn’t (Beck doesn’t mention him). They could also waive or trade Beverly and/or Terrence Jones, another player Beck names as holding role in Houston.

Picking up Parsons’ team option would also add cap room, but good luck walking back the offer to give Parsons a raise this year rather than next year. In the name of LeBron, it’s probably worth upsetting Parsons, but that’s just one of many complications.

Mainly, LeBron probably wants to stay with the Heat.

But at the same time, he and the Rockets can use each other.

LeBron can show interest in Houston to persuade Micky Arison to spend more. The Rockets can parlay LeBron’s intrigue into a perception Houston is a desirable markets for superstars. Howard and Harden help, but LeBron carries more weight than anyone.

Heck, the Rockets don’t even need LeBron to actually show interest. Reports like Beck’s already help establish their credibility.

As for Bosh and Melo, are they just supposed to wait while LeBron talks to Houston?

Bosh faces the same salary situation as LeBron. Plus, if LeBron rejects the Rockets to re-sign in Miami, Bosh very likely follows him back.

And I’ll say it until I’m red in the face, unless the cap comes in higher than projected, the Rockets could trim their roster to just Howard and Harden and still couldn’t offer Melo a max contract. That’s not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it’s a roadblock.

There are a lot of roadblock in this whole plan.

Daryl Morey has big ambitions, which is good for the Rockets. But we need to acknowledge this one is pretty unlikely to come to fruition.

LeBron James is a force nature, scores 46, wills Cavaliers to win forcing Game 7

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What more can be said about the brilliance of LeBron James?

We can point to his 46 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists Friday night in a win-or-go-fishing elimination game. We can point to how he lifted the team up when Kevin Love went down after a blow to the head (more on that later). We could talk about how this is his seventh 40+ point game of the playoffs, the last guy to do that since Michael Jordan in 1989 (when Jordan was 25 and had yet to win a title).

Or, we can just show you his back-to-back dagger threes in the fourth quarter over Jayson Tatum.

That is art on a basketball court.

LeBron got a little help Friday night at home, and with that the Cavaliers won Game 6 109-99, forcing a Game 7 back in Boston on Sunday night.

“It feels good just to play for another game, and like I’ve always said ‘Game 7’ is the best two words in sports,” LeBron said. “And for us to be on the road in a hostile environment where we have had no success up to this point, we should relish the opportunity and have fun with it.”

LeBron was nothing short of brilliant (remember 10-12 years ago people were trying to say he was afraid of the big moment, damn that sounds silly now). He is historically brilliant in Game 7s, but he can’t do it alone.

George Hill, the second best shot creator on the team, had 20 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jeff Green had 14 off the bench, and Larry Nance Jr. had a timely 10 points and 7 rebounds.

Nance’s play was crucial because Kevin Love went down 5 minutes into the game after banging heads with Jayson Tatum while setting a screen.

Love’s was being checked for a concussion and his status for Game 7 is not known. (If he does have a concussion, it’s unlikely he clears the league protocol in time to play in two days.)

Despite LeBron and all of it, the Celtics had their chances in this one.

Boston got off to a fast start because Jaylen Brown had 15 first-quarter points and the Celtics shot 61 percent as a team, none of which seemed sustainable but it got them out to a 25-20 lead after one. Then the Cavaliers came on in the second with a 20-4 run behind LeBron, and once they had the lead the Cavaliers never let it go.

Boston will look back on not grabbing rebounds — Cleveland grabbed the offensive rebound on 36.6 percent of their missed shots, a very high percentage — and the fact the Celtics missed nine free throws and think things could have been different.

Boston is going home, where they are 10-0 these playoffs and for some reason inexplicable even to Brad Stevens, they play much better. The Celtics have a great defense, smart players, and a real chance.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have LeBron James. That may be enough.

“We have one more game to be able to compete for a championship, what more can you ask for?” LeBron said.

Kevin Love being evaluated for concussion, out for second half

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It happened just five minutes into the game — Cleveland’s Kevin Love and Boston’s Jayson Tatum banged heads.

Love was in the midpost and part of his job was to set a screen for George Hill, who was racing out to the arc. In doing so, Love and Tatum banged heads and it wasn’t pretty.

Love spent a few minutes on the ground, went straight to the locker room, and has not returned to the game.

Tatum did not leave the game.

There still is no official word on if Love has a concussion. If he does, he will go into the league’s mandated concussion protocol — which means to be cleared he has to be symptom free through a series of physical tests — and it would be a challenge for him to be back for a Game 7, if there is one.

And their likely will be one. After struggling in the rest of the first quarter without Love, the Cavaliers have gotten solid performances out of Hill, Jeff Green, and of course, LeBron James has been brilliant. The Cavaliers have a comfortable 15-point lead late in the third quarter.

NBA Finals schedule drops, Game 1 Thursday, May 31

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We don’t know where the NBA Finals will be played, but we know when.

Next Thursday the eyes of the NBA world could be focused on Oakland or Houston, and the following Wednesday that may shift to Boston or Cleveland. All four of those teams still have a chance to make the NBA Finals.

What we know is the dates for the games. Here is the schedule:

Game 1, Thursday, May 31, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 2, Sunday, June 3, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 3, Wednesday, June 6, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 4, Friday, June 8, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 5, Monday, June 11, at 9 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Game 6, Thursday, June 14, at 9 p.m. ET: Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors at Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers

Game 7, Sunday, June 17, at 8 p.m. ET: Boston Celtics/Cleveland Cavaliers at Houston Rockets/Golden State Warriors

Games 5, 6, and 7 are if necessary. All games will be broadcast on ABC.

There were no surprises here. The date of the start of the NBA Finals has been set since before the season started (it always is, to help broadcast partners and international media plan). The game pattern follows the same as last year, when the NBA changed it to make sure there was at least one day off in addition to travel days when the venue switches cities.

James Harden on shooting struggles: ‘Who cares?’

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A couple of years ago, could anyone have imagined James Harden not only saying he’s willing to give up scoring to do the little things to win but then actually doing it?

That’s exactly what Harden has done through five games against Golden State, and it’s why his Houston team is up 3-2.

Harden has struggled with his shot the past two games: He has shot 16-of-47 overall the past two games (34 percent) but also 3-of-23 from three. Yet he has done a good job setting up others. In Game 5, in particular, he did a better job getting into the middle of the paint, opening up passing lanes when the defense collapsed on him. He’s also worked hard on the defensive end, played Stephen Curry reasonably well, and been a solid team defender.

With his team one game from the Finals, he’s not concerned about his shot.

“Who cares?” Harden said to reporters after the game. “I’m just missing shots. But we’re winning, and I’m trying to compete on the defensive end and do other things to help my team win. But if we’ve got a guy like Eric Gordon making shots and being aggressive, who cares?”

A lot of players give that idea lip service, but in recent games Harden has backed it up.

“It’s just the shots [are] not falling, and a lot of it has to do with how hard everybody is playing,” Rockets’ coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Probably his legs aren’t the freshest things in the world. But he’s invaluable to the defense and offense.”

The Rockets are going to need more scoring from Harden to close this series out — Chris Paul is out for Game 6 with a strained hamstring, and it’s unlikely he plays if there is a Game 7. Eric Gordon will get the start and has lit it up the past couple of games (he led the Rockets with 24 points in Game 5), but more scoring and shot creation will fall on the Harden’s shoulders.

If the Rockets are going to close this series out, Harden is going to have to look every bit the presumptive MVP. The little things are great, but Houston needs him to get buckets now.