Report: No fine, suspension for J.R. Smith on flagrant foul against Al Horford

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The Cleveland Cavaliers got lucky with this one.

J.R. Smith shoved an airborne player — at that point, a defenseless player — and sent Al Horford flying into the stanchion. It was a cheap play that could have led to an injury. Smith got a Flagrant 1 penalty for the incident, but no ejection.

Now, no fine or suspension either, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Marcus Smart came charging in to defend his player, as he should, and got a technical for that. Smith got a technical, too.

If this happened during a regular season game and not the conference finals, would the punishment have been different? The league will deny it, but I think it would be. If Horford had been injured on the exact same play, it would have been — the result shouldn’t matter, it was the action itself, but the league would have gone and eye for an eye. The NBA just doesn’t want key players out for the postseason.

Chris Paul expected to return to Suns lineup Wednesday vs. Celtics

Phoenix Suns v Miami Heat
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The Phoenix Suns did more than keep their heads above water for the last month without Chris Paul, they went 9-5 with a +5.9 net rating that was fourth best in the NBA over that stretch.

That doesn’t mean they are better off without him, and on Wednesday night against the Celtics he is planning to make his return, something Monty Williams hinted at and Chris Haynes of TNT/Bleacher Report confirmed.

Paul, 37, had seen his performance slip a little in the 10 games he did play before going out with his heel injury, averaging 9.5 points and 9.4 assists a game but on 36.8% shooting. Rested and healthy, the Suns are hoping to see those numbers rebound closer to what he did in previous years.

CP3 remains one of the best floor generals and high IQ players in the league, and with Devin Booker forms one of the more formidable backcourts in the NBA. While the Suns are 16-8 and sit atop the West, they are not making a deep playoff run and returning to the NBA Finals (as they did two seasons ago) without Paul.

Report: Knicks active in trade talks involving Quickley, Fournier, Reddish, Rose

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Their big summer acquisition Jalen Brunson has been everything the Knicks could have asked for this season. Yet New York sits at 11-13, ninth in the East, with a middle-of-the-pack offense and a bottom-10 defense.

They need an infusion of talent but also to open up space on a crowded roster. Leon Rose and company are working the phones heading up to Dec. 15 (when most players signed this summer become available), reports Fred Katz at The Athletic. The interesting names that pop up: Evan Fournier, Immanuel Quickley, Cam Reddish and Derrick Rose.

They fielded calls on Fournier leading into last winter’s trade deadline and then again over the summer. He has two seasons, including this one, remaining on his contract and hasn’t touched the court in three weeks. But it’s not like they’re desperate to send him out of town. The Knicks have not shown any interest in attaching draft picks to Fournier just to move him, league sources said…

They also have communicated that they are willing to attach Quickley or Reddish to Fournier to make a trade work, league sources said.

The Knicks have discussed with other teams various types of Quickley-related deals. In discussions where the 23-year-old is the standalone piece going out, New York has targeted a future first-round pick, league sources said. The team is overflowing with guys who could justify playing time. Moving on from one of the guards could free up space…

A deal where they send out two players and bring back one or something of that ilk is possible, as well, but as of now, they have made it clear to other teams that their goal is to free up space on a crowded roster.

It’d be a surprise to see Rose traded, other than as salary filler in a bigger deal. Somewhat the same as Reddish — the Knicks had to attack a first-round pick to get Reddish in the door, but he’s never been part of Tom Thibodeau’s plans and they couldn’t get one back for him in a trade now.

There is understandable interest in Quickley, the third-year point guard out of Kentucky averaging 10 points a game, but will a team send New York a quality first-round pick to get him? Is there a playoff-bound team looking for depth at the one willing to give up a first-rounder to get it? A team that does trade for Quickley would have to be committed to him and pay him going forward — Quickely is extension-eligible after this season.

The Knicks have been bold the past couple of deadlines looking to bring in what they thought would be quality rotation players. This season they may be more sellers, looking to create roster space in the future.

NBA adds Maurice Podoloff Trophy for team with best record

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — There’s now another trophy for NBA teams to chase.

The league announced Tuesday that the team with the best regular season record will now receive The Maurice Podoloff Trophy, named for the first commissioner of the NBA.

And that name strongly suggests that another trophy tweak is coming – since until last season, the league’s MVP trophy was named for Podoloff. Denver’s Nikola Jokic received the Podoloff Trophy when he won his first MVP award in 2021; when he won MVP again last season, he also received a crystal ball amid a leaguewide redesign of many trophies.

The new Podoloff Trophy has a crystal ball cut into 82 panels – a nod to the 82-game regular season – and sits atop a pedestal that combines the structures of the Eastern Conference posts and Western Conference rings.

The league also unveiled several more redesigned trophies Tuesday. The Joe Dumars Trophy for sportsmanship, The Red Auerbach Trophy for coach of the year, The Twyman-Stokes Trophy for the league’s best teammate and the NBA Executive of the Year Trophy all have new looks. Each features an embedment inside a 15-inch crystal net structure.

“Winning the first NBA Sportsmanship Award and being the trophy’s namesake are among the greatest honors of my career,” said Dumars, who is now an NBA Executive Vice President and the league’s head of basketball operations. “The reimagined trophies represent the enduring legacy of past recipients and are a fitting way to honor those who will continue to raise the standard of excellence in our game.”

Last season, the league changed the look of the NBA’s championship trophy, The Larry O’Brien, with the golden ball atop it now tilting in a different direction than the previous version and with a rounded base instead of the square one that the trophy had for decades.

It also made design changes for many other awards, including the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP trophy along with the Eastern Conference and Western Conference championship trophies – naming them for Bob Cousy and Oscar Robertson, respectively. The league also added two new prizes last season, the Larry Bird Trophy for East finals MVP and the Magic Johnson Trophy for West finals MVP.

All the trophies handed out at All-Star weekend, including the Kobe Bryant MVP award, were also redesigned last season. The league also began issuing divisional championship trophies, naming them for Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton (Atlantic Division), Wayne Embry (Central), Earl Lloyd (Southeast), Willis Reed (Southwest), Sam Jones (Northwest) and Chuck Cooper (Pacific).

Three things to know: Can someone explain the Miami Heat?

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Three Things is NBC’s five-days-a-week wrap-up of the night before in the NBA. Check out NBCSports.com every weekday morning to catch up on what you missed the night before plus the rumors, drama, and dunks that make the NBA must-watch.

1) Can someone explain the Miami Heat?

Friday night, Jimmy Butler returned to the Heat lineup and was a force down the stretch, Bam Adebayo played like an All-NBA big man and the Heat picked up a don’t-forget-about-us win over the best team in basketball, the Boston Celtics.

Two nights later, with Butler still in the lineup, the Heat fell to a Grizzlies team without Ja Morant or three other starters. The listless loss felt like a low point in the season.

Until Tuesday. That’s when Jimmy Butler got a scheduled rest day and the Heat fell apart in the second half and lost 116-96 to a struggling Pistons team without Cade Cunningham. The Heat defense, one of their strengths on the season, was a mess on Tuesday as they could not contain the ball. More importantly, as has happened too often this season, the Heat simply got outworked.

Typically around 20 games into the season, you have a sense of a team and what it can be. Not the Heat. They are 11-14 and sit 11th in the East, outside even the play-in. They tease with flashes that remind you they came within a made Butler 3 of going to the Finals a season ago, but on more nights they come nowhere near that potential.

Offensively, this team is bottom 10 in the league, and it showed against Detroit. The only true shot creators on the roster are Butler and Tyler Herro — if one of them isn’t on the floor Miami barely scores a point per possession. Against Detroit, if it wasn’t a Herro/Adebayo action, the play seemed to go nowhere.

Last season, when the team was shorthanded for a night, the reserves stepped up the energy — Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin stepped up and made plays. This season, when the stars are out that same energy is not there.

Injuries are part of the issue — Kyle Lowry is their iron man, having played in every game (a sentence I never thought I would type). Herro has missed eight games, Butler 10, and reserves such as Duncan Robinson and Vincent have spent time on the shelf. Victor Oladipo made his debut on Tuesday. Eric Spoelstra constantly has to juggle his rotation, nothing feels settled.

But this team isn’t playing every night with the fire we have come to expect from the Heat. Last season (and traditionally every year), even when the stars had to sit the Heat were a tough out because of the intensity and execution with which they played. Not this season. That Heat culture has not shown through the same way.

It’s also too early to write this team off (and they could make a move at the deadline to boost the rotation). Despite the slow start they are just 2.5 games back of the Hawks and the No. 4 seed, there is time to make a run, but games like the loss to the Pistons Tuesday make one wonder if this version of the Heat has that in them.

2) Donovan Mitchell drops 43, outshines LeBron in Cleveland

There’s a little extra shine on the game any time LeBron James returns to Cleveland. The spotlight is a little brighter.

Donovan Mitchell stole that spotlight on Tuesday.

Mitchell dropped a season-high 43 points and continued to look like one of the best moves of the offseason, sparking the Cavaliers to a 116-102 win over the Lakers.

The big concern from Los Angeles’ end was Anthony Davis left the game in the first quarter due to “flu-like symptoms” and did not return. His status for the team against the Raptors Wednesday night is unknown.

Jarrett Allen returned from injury for the Cavaliers and with Davis out he ate, scoring 24. But it was the Mitchell show in the second half, when he scored 29.

3) Progress toward new CBA reportedly slowed down

It’s long been the conventional wisdom that the owners and players are both making too much money to risk killing the goose that lays the golden eggs — they would find common ground on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. Things were going too well for them to risk any labor trouble (and how that would play publicly).

But that may underestimate billionaires’ greed — an internal fight among owners might screw it up.

New CBA talks have reportedly slowed largely because some owners are pushing for an “Upper Spending Limit” — a hard cap by any other name. Marc Stein was among the first to report on this months ago and added yesterday in his newsletter things have gotten serious enough that the sides may need to extend the Dec. 15 opt-out date for the CBA to give them more time to negotiate.

Here’s the issue in a nutshell:

• Some owners want to rein in the spending of other newer, richer owners. Since the punitive luxury tax isn’t doing the job, those owners want a hard cap (possibly to replace, or at least alter, the current tax system).

• There are a minority of owners are willing to shrug off the tax. For example, Steve Ballmer’s Clippers are poised to pay $191.9 million in payroll this season, plus $144.7 million in luxury tax, for a rough total of $336.6 million in salary and tax. The Warriors are likely closer to $360 million this season in salary and tax, and the Nets will be in the same ballpark. For comparison, the Clippers will pay more in tax alone than 11 teams will spend on total payroll, (20 NBA teams will pay around $150 million in payroll or less).

• There is zero chance the players union will approve a CBA with anything resembling a hard cap. The owners know this.

• The owners’ squabbles are part of a larger fight going on across the sporting world, not just domestically but internationally. To use soccer as an example during the World Cup, the oil-rich country of Qatar owns French powerhouse Paris Saint-Germain FC and has paid for a front line of Messi, Neymar, and Kylian Mbappe. They crush domestic competition most seasons because they can outspend them. The Saudi Arabia sovereign wealth fund has bought Newcastle United in the English Premier League and their spending — not just on players but staff and facilities — has turned Newcastle into a Champions League looking team in a year. And the list goes on and on in soccer.

• Earlier this year, the NBA approved a rule change that would allow a sovereign wealth fund — the arms of these oil-rich countries, or other nations — to buy up to 20% of an NBA team. That has not happened yet, but the door is open.

• As wealthier owners — including hedge fund managers and the like — jump into the NBA, some of the older owners feel squeezed by this new group’s willingness to spend. That older group is pushing back to rein in those new owners who (they feel) disrupt the system with their spending.

• This dispute among the owners has suddenly put the dreaded idea of a lockout back on the table. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. This is not a player thing, this is all Adam Silver and the owners, and they need to get their house in order, not risk the league’s standing over their internal issues.

TOP HIGHLIGHT OF THE NIGHT: Kenny shoves Shaq into the Christmas Tree. That is never not funny.