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Report: No punishment from league for J.R. Smith after he had words with Dion Waiters

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Friday night, with just more than a minute left in the Heat’s blowout win over the Cavaliers, Miami’s Rodney McGruder threw down a putback dunk over the Channing Frye, then appeared to give Frye a little push/slap on the back. Cleveland’s J.R. Smith was sitting on the bench (he’s still recovering from a broken thumb) and he started barking at the McGruder. Soon other Heat players defended their guy, specifically Dion Waiters. It was all just a lot of talk. Players and staff of the teams stepped in and ended it before it grew into anything more.

It was really nothing, and that’s how the league is treating it, reports Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

J.R. Smith will not face any disciplinary action from the NBA for his role in an argument with several Heat players at the conclusion of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 120-92 loss to Miami on Saturday, a league source told ESPN.

Furthermore, there will not be any fine levied by the team against Smith, a Cavs source told ESPN.

That’s the right call by the league. Players jawed, cooler heads prevailed, everyone walked away. Nothing to see here, move along.

Alvin Gentry heaps the highest of praise — an MJ comparison — on Kawhi Leonard

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If the vote took place today, Kawhi Leonard would likely finish third in the NBA MVP voting, behind Russell Westbrook and James Harden (in some order).

Maybe that changes in a week. Monday night the Spurs take on the Rockets and Harden, Thursday night it’s Westbrook and the Thunder. A couple of big games and…

Don’t expect Leonard to promote himself. Don’t expect Gregg Popovich to try to bring more attention to his team. There is not going to be a traditional campaign out of San Antonio to get Leonard the award.

But other coaches are doing it for him. Here is what Alvin Gentry said, via the San Antonio Express-News.

“You don’t want to say Michael Jordan,” New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry said, “but it is that type of situation where you have a really, really good offensive player and a tremendous defensive player.

“He definitely has to be heavily in the conversation for MVP.”

Leonard’s campaign hinges on that two-way status. Make no mistake, he’s developed into an elite offensive player averaging 26.1 points and six boards a game, shooting 37.9 percent from three, and he’s now the focal point of the Spurs offense. However, he’s never going to put up Harden/Westbrook numbers — the difference is Leonard is a much better defender than either of them. That’s the pitch. That and the Spurs have a better record than the Rockets or the Thunder.

That may not be enough to get him the award this season, but he is in the conversation. As he has earned the right to be.

Larry Bird on Magic Johnson taking over Lakers: “He’s got a lot to learn”

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There is an extensive list of NBA owners who have come in having had wild success in their chosen field and think that everything they learned can apply to basketball, only to find out professional sports is a very different beast. Certainly, there are some structures of how to create a corporate culture that can apply to a new setting (see the success of the Golden State Warriors’ owners on that front). But more often than not owners that think they know it all hurt their teams for years before they admit they need to do things differently.

The learning curve for players jumping into the front office is similar — they often have no idea how much they don’t know. It’s not just on-court skills, it’s the salary cap and CBA complexities, plus so much more. It’s the central question around Magic Johnson running Lakers’ basketball operations — does he know what he doesn’t know? Will he lean on the smart people already in that front office, or will he be dictatorial?

Larry Bird has made that transition from star player to team president, now running the Pacers, and done it as well as any former player. What did his path teach him about the road his former rival Magic is now on? Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times asked Bird just that.

“He’s got a lot to learn,” Bird said. “But he took the challenge and I’m sure he’s ready for it. There’s just so much to learn about it….

“You can put a team together, what you think’s gonna be a pretty solid team on paper, and then when they get out there they don’t mesh well,” Bird said. “I’m sort of going through that this year. We thought we had a decent team that we thought could compete for the fourth or fifth seed. We haven’t played as well as I thought we would all year. That’s the growing pains. That’s the frustration about it.”

When the trade deadline was approaching last month and rumors of Paul George being available swept through the league, Magic called up Bird and the two legendary on-court rivals talked. The deal never came close to materializing (with the Lakers or anyone, not at the deadline) and Bird said most of the conversation was about their families and other off-court things. It had to be an interesting talk nonetheless.

“I wasn’t motivated to move Paul George at the deadline,” Bird said. “I can’t remember if it was even brought up or not. I don’t think it was. It’s all fake news anyway. You know that. Somebody’s gonna start it and [it] just was a snowball effect. [The phone call] was not about Paul George.”

It’s far too early to judge Magic the executive, but he could do a lot worse than buying Bird a nice steak dinner in Las Vegas during Summer League and picking his brain. Bird gets it. Magic may, but for now he’s still a rookie learning on the job.

Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler, Kemba Walker highlight NBA’s March Madness campaign

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Come March, the eyes of the basketball world (well, at least in North America) turns to March Madness and the NCAA Tournament.

The NBA is trying to connect with those fans via its new “The Dance Never Ends” campaign. Which is pretty good. You can see former Wake Forest star Chris Paul‘s above. Then there is Jimmy Butler of Marquett:

Kemba Walker of UConn

And Gordon Hayward of Butler.

Three Things we learned Sunday: Warriors break out of “slump,” or just beat Knicks

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A key thing to life going the way you want and hope is to be prepared. Know what you’re doing, be prepared for the moments you have to go off script. For example, if you’re going to steal a car, know how to drive a stick shift. (Not that we recommend stealing a car, don’t do it.) If you need to be prepared for today by knowing a little more about the NBA and what happened Sunday, we’ve got you covered.

1) In Madison Square Garden things were quiet. Too quiet? If you want to know what people are talking about around the NBA, it was the quiet of Madison Square Garden for the first half Sunday against the Warriors. Knicks game operations were turned off for the first half — no music played (even during timeouts), no sound clips, no dance teams or T-shirt giveaways. Nothing. Just the sounds of hoops. No “every body clap your hands” to be heard.

The reaction? Mixed. Draymond Green for one hated it (although if you watch the video he was being at least semi-facetious). Here is a sampling of the reaction to the move on Twitter.

Whether this comes back for other games or not, know the Knicks will still be the Knicks.

2) As for the game at Madison Square Garden, Stephen Curry makes some noise and out of shooting slump. Warriors win. If the Warriors are going to hold off the Spurs and maintain their No. 1 seed, they are going to need MVP level Stephen Curry to show up for the team’s final 20 games. Then put him in a lot of pick-and-rolls so he can do damage.

Cold-brewed Curry played in the quiet first half at MSG Sunday, scoring 12 points on 4-for-13 shooting. Then in the third quarter, he found his stroke, scoring 15 points on 6-for-8 shooting (3-of-4 from three), and with that the Warriors pulled away for a victory (ending a two-game losing streak that had been overblown). Curry finished with 31 points, Klay Thompson had 29, and while not exactly a dominant performance, after losing two in a row picking up a road win is all that mattered.

The Warriors now head to Atlanta for the second night of a road back-to-back that would have been tough even with Kevin Durant.

3) Sunday was “Day of the Game Winners”: Rudy Gobert, Glenn Robinson III, Tyler Ulis all knock them down. You want game winning shots? We got ’em.

Utah’s Rudy Gobert forced OT hitting a driving layup off a pick-and-roll with Gordon Hayward in regulation, then in OT he tapped in the game winner.

Paul Goerge had a monster game against the Hawks with 34 points, so not surprisingly when he drove the ball looking to force OT Sunday the Atlanta defense collapsed on him, so George whipped the pass to Aaron Brooks, who found Glenn Robinson III wide open in the corner and… splash.

Usually, it’s Boston’s “little man” Isaiah Thomas who comes up big in the fourth — and he certainly made some plays — but it was the Suns’ undersized point guard Tyler Ulis who knocked down the game winner in Phoenix.