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Three things we learned Thursday: Knicks, Bulls battle for NBA title of “most off-court drama”

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Here’s what you missed around the NBA on Thursday, while you were out fighting fires while wearing a jet pack.

1) Which team has more drama right now, Bulls or Knicks?
Before the season we asked, “Which team will be better, the Bulls or the Knicks?”

Midway through the season, maybe that question should have been “Which team will have the most off-the-court drama at midseason?”

Usually, the Knicks would run away with this. Phil Jackson has — rightly and finally — decided he needs to build this team around Kristaps Porzingis, and that KP and Carmelo Anthony are on different career paths. So Jackson has started his mind games to get Anthony to waive his no-trade clause and be happy going out of town. Except Anthony isn’t going to take a deal to go to Orlando or Phoenix, he wants to play with his banana boat buddies on a contender. Which basically means the Cavaliers and the Clippers (the Celtics have been mentioned as well). Except the Cavaliers are not interested in a Kevin Love for ‘Melo swap because they are not stupid. That leaves the Clippers, who would have the exact same reaction if Jackson came looking for Blake Griffin. However, a trade involving Jamal Crawford, Austin Rivers, and J.J. Redick might interest Doc Rivers. Here’s where this gets interesting: If Redick is part of the deal I don’t think the Clippers get better — people underestimate how important his shooting and spacing is to that team. His 3&D game fits better with Chris Paul‘s drives, DeAndre Jordan‘s rim runs, and Blake Griffin overall. Lose Redick and Crawford and I think the Clippers get worse. If the Clippers could figure out a way to add Anthony to their core four then — if healthy, always the caveat with this team — they might make things interesting for the Spurs and Warriors. The questions are, would Doc Rivers really trade his son, and does Phil Jackson want Anthony out of town so bad he’d settle for a Crawford/Rivers/pieces to make the salaries workd?

And despite all that, the Bulls may lead the drama train. After blowing a 10-point lead in the final three minutes to lose to the Hawks Wednesday night, Dwyane Wade and Jimmy Butler went off on a rant, saying that too many players on the team didn’t care about winning enough. They were looking at you, Nikola Mirotic and Michael Carter-Williams. But then on Thursday, Rajon Rondo fired back defending the young players.

My vets would never go to the media. They would come to the team. My vets didn't pick and choose when they wanted to bring it. They brought it every time they stepped in the gym whether it was practice or a game. They didn't take days off. My vets didn't care about their numbers. My vets played for the team. When we lost, they wouldn't blame us. They took responsibility and got in the gym. They showed the young guys what it meant to work. Even in Boston when we had the best record in the league, if we lost a game, you could hear a pin drop on the bus. They showed us the seriousness of the game. My vets didn't have an influence on the coaching staff. They couldn't change the plan because it didn't work for them. I played under one of the greatest coaches, and he held everyone accountable. It takes 1-15 to win. When you isolate everyone, you can't win consistently. I may be a lot of things, but I'm not a bad teammate. My goal is to pass what I learned along. The young guys work. They show up. They don't deserve blame. If anything is questionable, it's the leadership.

A post shared by Rajon Rondo (@rajonrondo) on

Rondo likely is not all wrong here (at least if you talk to people around the team), but how he delivered it will ensure he is gone soon enough (if not moved by the trade deadline, look for a buy out right after). He was already on his way out of the rotation because guys such as Jerian Grant were playing better and Rondo is a shell of his pre-injury self, this just made it official. Wade and Butler ultimately win this war because they are the better players and Butler is the franchise’s best player and future. But this is going to make Friday’s shootaround interesting. The chemistry and fit of this team on and off the court is a mess, and as with all things Bulls the problems point right back to the front office. But they are likely not going anywhere, as Sean Highkin of The Athletic told us in a recent PBT Podcast. Which ultimately will mean the Bulls will keep on being the Bulls.

2) The All-Star Game reserves were announced, and Joel Embiid leads your list of snubs. The coaches have voted (they pick this group), and here are your All-Star Game bench players for 2017’s game in New Orleans in a couple of weeks.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
Guard: Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City)
Guard: Klay Thompson (Golden State)
Frontcourt: DeMarcus Cousins (Sacramento)
Frontcourt: Draymond Green (Golden State)
Frontcourt: Marc Gasol (Memphis)
Wild Card: DeAndre Jordan (Los Angeles Clippers)
Wild Card: Gordon Hayward (Utah)

EASTERN CONFERENCE
Guard: Isaiah Thomas (Boston)
Guard: John Wall (Washington)
Frontcourt: Paul George (Indiana)
Frontcourt: Paul Millsap (Atlanta)
Frontcourt: Kevin Love (Cleveland)
Wild Card: Kyle Lowry (Toronto)
Wild Card: Kemba Walker (Charlotte)

The biggest snub has to be Joel Embiid. The fans voted him in as a starter, and even the people not voting for him have to admit he’d be fun in this setting. However, as I wrote the other day, you have to remember who was casting the ballots: Coaches. What do coaches value? Guys who play every day, guys who have improved over their careers, and guys with high hoops IQ and subtlety to their games. That’s Millsap, it’s not Embiid. But Embiid still had a great sense of humor about it.

Chris Paul would have been an All-Star except for his injury. The biggest snubs in the West were Damian Lillard (Portland), Rudy Gobert (Utah), Mike Conley (Memphis), C.J. McCollum (Portland), and LaMarcus Aldridge (San Antonio). Besides Embiid, the biggest snubs in the East were mostly bigs to make way for six guards: Kristaps Porzingis (New York), Andre Drummond (Detroit), Dwight Howard (Atlanta), and Hassan Whiteside (Miami).

3) Russell Westbrook drops 45 in win, but Thunder suffer big loss because Enes Kanter hates chairs. Apparently.

Russell Westbrook was doing Russell Westbrook things on Thursday night, dropping 45 on the Mavericks and getting OKC the 109-95 win over Dallas.

But that wasn’t the big news out of this game. During it, a frustrated Enes Kanter punched a padded chair, but in doing so fractured his forearm.

He will be out 6-8 weeks. This is a blow, Kanter was mentioned in Sixth Man of the Year awards talks midseason because the Thunder are 5.5 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he is on the court. Over his last 10 games, he’s averaged 17.2 points a night on 57.4 percent shooting. The Thunder don’t have anyone nearly as good to replace him, but look for more Steven Adams, as well as Joffrey Lauvergne to get some run.

One other side note: The Thunder are currently on pace to win 49 games, if this injury knocks that down to 46 wins on the season, could it cost Russell Westbrook the MVP award because the Thunder didn’t get to or near 50 wins (while James Harden‘s Rockets will be pushing 60 wins)? Way, way too early to say, just throwing it out there.

Jayson Tatum throws down epic dunk on LeBron James (VIDEO)

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The Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers held a barnburner of a Game 7 on Sunday, with Boston’s Jayson Tatum going head-to-head with LeBron James.

For his part, LeBron was everything we expected in a Game 7. The King played spectacularly, willing his Cavaliers squad to yet another NBA Finals appearance as Cleveland edged Boston.

But before things were sealed, and the game decided, Tatum got off a raucous dunk right in James’ eye that made many wonder if the torch was on the cusp of being passed.

The play came with 6:45 left in the fourth quarter with Tatum driving down the lane and LeBron moving over to help recover on defense. It would have been easy to anticipate another big LeBron playoff block, but Tatum continued his surprising season by dunking all over The King.

Via Twitter:

Cleveland won the game, 87-79, but Tatum’s dunk on the big stage is just one of many reasons why the Celtics are going to be a complete hassle next year when they’re back to being fully healthy.

LeBron James is the greatest player of all-time

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He’s done it again. LeBron James, the King in the East, played 48 minutes en route to his eighth straight NBA Finals appearance after beating the Boston Celtics in Game 7 at TD Garden on Sunday, 87-79.

Bow down to the greatest player of all-time.

Much has been made of LeBron’s place in history as his legacy has began to galvanize toward the end of his career. The conversation has raged on about LeBron vs. Michael Jordan, or Wilt Chamberlain, or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Preference varies greatly between fans, while some still pick the centrist route and say there’s no simple way to compare across eras. There’s been mathematical attempts to rank the two, and even MJ’s old teammates have said LeBron is a more complete player.

On Sunday, James bounced yet another Eastern Conference Finals opponent, carrying his teammates on his shoulders and playing without All-Star Kevin Love. There was never a doubt for many watching Sunday’s matchup in Massachusetts. Before the final buzzer, LeBron had won 23 straight Eastern Conference playoff series. His determination was absolute, and the cards were always stacked against Boston even given their postseason record at home.

You could sort of just see it coming.

James was the motivating force in the first half for Cleveland, scoring 17 points while no other teammates tallied in double digits. The Cavaliers shot an abysmal 12 percent from beyond the arc, and the Celtics looked like they would be able to control the rest of the game as the crowd at home motivated them forward.

But Cleveland came roaring back in the second half, continuing to put on a defensive show, the kind we would not have expected of them during the regular season. Without Love, the Cavs had to make do with Jeff Green, who turned in a surprising performance. Green scored 19 points, shot 50 percent from the field, and grabbed eight rebounds.

In the face of a strengthening Cavaliers attack, the Celtics seems to retreat. Boston’s final offensive possessions in the fourth quarter were hectic, slow, and unsuccessful. While the Cavaliers tried their hardest during the final eight minutes to get Al Horford switched on to LeBron in isolation sets, the Celtics surprisingly mirrored the same offensive tactics. Instead of playing their regular offense, or running plays to get shooters free, or trying to attack the paint against James (who was in foul trouble) Boston resorted to trying to exploit any mismatches found through Cleveland’s switches.

The result was four field goals inside the 3-point line for LeBron in the fourth quarter, as much as the entire Celtics roster combined.

The play of the game came with 1:04 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cavaliers leading by nine. LeBron was out on the break, with Marcus Morris trailing behind him. Morris went to foul LeBron, making no obvious attempts on the ball as he grabbed onto the Cavaliers star’s shoulders. Even with all of his might, Morris couldn’t stop James from scoring while drawing the foul. It was indicative of the entire fourth quarter for the Celtics, who scraped, clutched and grabbed as much as they could but did not have an answer for LeBron.

So here we are, with LeBron having won another Game 7 out in the Eastern Conference as he heads to another Finals. He probably won’t match Jordan’s championship mark. But Jordan didn’t match Russell’s. Or Horry’s. Or Havlichek’s, either.

Instead, we have to rely on what we see in front of our eyes combined with their dominance, weighted for context. Sunday night’s performance should help push LeBron over Jordan, if he wasn’t there already. James is a more complete player, which has always been apparent, and now he’s survived every challenge that’s been thrown at him. Declaring James the best player of all-time did not come because of Sunday’s game. It’s been years in the making, throughout the entirety of his 15-year career. The win over Boston was just an indication of his place in history.

LeBron has gone nuclear with 40+ point performances. He was part of the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history against the Golden State Warriors. He beat the Indiana Pacers all by himself, in the playoffs, just this very season. James has had a career season at age 33, playing 48 minutes in the 100th game of the 2017-18 season. LeBron has willed his way to yet another NBA Finals, with perhaps his worst team since the 2007 squad that was swept by the San Antonio Spurs. To add further insult to injury, LeBron pushed this team past a very good team in the Celtics, on the road, and without Love.

James is the greatest American sports story of our generation, and he’s the best player the NBA has ever seen. If you disagree, that’s OK. But after Sunday night, you’d be hard-pressed to convince me otherwise.

Watch Victor Oladipo drive the pace car at the Indianapolis 500 (VIDEO)

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Victor Oladipo is Indiana’s favorite son after the Indiana Pacers guard blasted through the competition during the 2017-18 NBA season.

Oladipo averaged 23.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.3 assists, and led the league with 2.4 steals per game. Oladipo’s 3-point shooting improved year-over-year, and his VORP skyrocketed in his new leadership role. Many feel the Pacers won the Paul George trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder thanks to Oladipo.

Thanks in part to his stellar play, Oladipo was invited to drive the pace car at the start of the 2018 Indianapolis 500. Turns out he was pretty good at it.

Via Twitter:

Oladipo is apparently going to be honored with the steering wheel from the pace car he drove. No doubt taking part in a classic local sporting event like the Indy 500 will help ingrain Oladipo into the sports fabric in Indianapolis even further.

Steve Kerr on Chris Paul: ‘More than anything, I feel bad for Chris’

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Houston Rockets guard Chris Paul didn’t play in Game 6 on Saturday night. The Rockets failed to eliminate the Golden State Warriors, who forced a Game 7 with a 115-86 win in Oakland.

Paul’s status for Game 7 is still unclear, although things aren’t looking good. Paul’s hamstring injury will be hard to heal in such a short amount of time, even with round the clock treatment and the power of will the veteran point guard brings to the table.

The Point God has a tendency to get hurt at just the wrong time. Paul famously broke his hand in April of 2016, and along with Blake Griffin‘s quad injury, allowed the Portland Trail Blazers to get the better of the Los Angeles Clippers in the playoffs that year. Paul also missed two games against the Rockets in the playoffs with a sore hamstring in 2015, a series the Clippers and Paul lost in seven games.

The NBA is not blind to Paul’s bad luck, either. Opposing head coach Steve Kerr commented on it to reporters, outlining not only what he thought they might do rotationally but his feelings about Paul’s injury history.

Via ESPN:

“More than anything, I feel bad for Chris,” Kerr said before the Warriors’ 115-86 rout of the Rockets at Oracle Arena. “The guy’s a phenomenal player and competitor and pretty much willed his team the last two games. He’s just been haunted by these types of injuries in his career, and it’s a shame. I hate when anybody gets hurt.”

Kerr mentioned that he knew the reality of the situation is that by the end of the season, not everyone is going to be healthy. No doubt it’s a good thing for Kerr and the Warriors that Paul will likely miss Game 7. It’s unfortunate for a veteran like Paul, whose stellar career is dogged by unfair narratives of playoff failures.

Maybe Houston can try again next year when they have LeBron James?