From Comcast SportsNetNEW YORK (AP) -- Commissioner David Stern said his "gut" tells him there will be no NBA basketball on Christmas without a labor agreement by Tuesday. That day, when owners and players are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator, is a "really big deal," he added. Owners will then open two days of board meetings Wednesday, and without an agreement to bring them, Stern believes further cancellations are coming. "Right now, Tuesday, Tuesday, Tuesday, just before my owners come into town, having brought in the labor relations committee and Billy (Hunter) having brought in his executive committee, it's time to make the deal," Stern said Thursday. "If we don't make it on Tuesday, my gut -- this is not in my official capacity of canceling games -- but my gut is that we won't be playing on Christmas Day." Stern canceled the first two weeks of the regular season on Monday when the sides couldn't reach a deal before a deadline he had set. Christmas is traditionally the first big day of the NBA season. This year's three-game schedule features the NBA finals rematch between the Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat. The sides will need to act quickly to save it. The talks have stalled over the structure of the salary cap system and the division of revenues between owners and players. They will meet Tuesday with George Cohen, the same mediator who tried to resolve the NFL's labor dispute months before it eventually ended. Asked if Cohen had the ability to move the sides toward a deal, Stern said: "I'm hoping he does because I think that if we don't make a deal by the time my owners meetings come in Wednesday and Thursday, after we've met with the mediator on Monday and then met with each other on Tuesday, then I despair. "Because we will have lost two weeks for sure on our way to losing more games, offers will get worse, possibly on both sides, and the deal's going to slip away from us, as may the season," he added. "So this is the time to make a deal." In a separate interview with NBA TV, Stern said he thought one was in reach Monday. The sides met for more than 12 hours over two days before talks broke down, and he says despite frequent meetings lately that "we aren't making any progress." "How many times does it pay to keep meeting, and to have the same things thrown back at you?" Stern said. "We're ready to sit down and make a deal. I don't believe that the union is. Hopefully by Tuesday, aided by the mediator, they'll be ready to make a deal. Certainly, I'll bring my owners ready to make a deal." Hunter is meeting with players on Friday in Los Angeles. The union has balked at owners' proposal to replace their hard salary cap plan by making the luxury tax much more punitive. Players believe it would become such a deterrent to spending that it would essentially work as a hard cap. The sides also have to decide how to divide up about 4 billion in annual revenues. Players were guaranteed 57 percent of basketball-related income in the previous collective bargaining agreement and have proposed lowering it to 53 percent. Owners are seeking the same 53-47 split in their favor. The parties have discussed a 50-50 split, which the players rejected. In the radio interview, Stern repeated a claim he made Monday that the original discussion of an even split was initiated by the players. They also are still clashing over the length of the agreement, with players not wanting to go beyond six years and owners seeking a 10-year deal but offering the players an opt-out after seven. Player contract lengths, luxury tax payments and the use of spending exceptions are among the other big items remaining. "We haven't even addressed many of the issues," Stern said. So there is a lot left -- and now perhaps just a few days to save basketball in this calendar year. "Deal Tuesday, or we potentially spiral into situations where the worsening offers on both sides make it even harder for the parties to make a deal," Stern said. The NBA TV interview aired Thursday at 10 p.m. EDT.
Though it wasn't the romp it appeared it would be early, the Bulls ground the Timberwolves out down the stretch, winning 117-110. Observations:
More trouble out of halves
The Bulls played their game to a tee for most of the early going. Or the Timberwolves were really bad. At times, it was difficult to tell.
Regardless, Minnesota committed 12 turnovers in the first half, off which the Bulls scored 15 points, and allowed the Bulls a 38-16 advantage on points in the paint at the break. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points on 8-for-10 shooting (3-for-3 from deep), but none of his teammates had much juice.
Still, an, at one time, 19-point first half lead shrank to seven when Zach LaVine was whistled for a ticky tack 3-shot foul on Shabazz Napier at the second quarter buzzer.
Towns was then forced out of the game after picking up his fourth personal (a shooting foul on LaVine) with 8:55 left in the third quarter. After LaVine’s ensuing free throws, the Bulls led 64-56, and it appeared would have a chance to reassert themselves.
The Wolves — even sans Towns — had different plans. Over approximately the next three game minutes, the visitors staged a 13-4 run to seize their first lead since the first quarter. Going into the fourth, the Bulls led, but only 81-79.
Teamwork made the dream work
The Bulls got contributions all around in this one. Luke Kornet poured in 15 and Cristiano Felicio (!) logged a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds (seven offensive) — neither offered a ton of resistance against Towns, but Felicio ran the floor hard and drew some good-natured cheers from the UC crowd with his six points early in the fourth. Chandler Hutchison played big minutes again and swiped three steals, and Coby White chipped in 12 impactful points.
It was an especially encouraging outing for Lauri Markkanen. He began assertive, notching 10 first-half points and four rebounds, while moving downhill better than he has in a long while. Then, in the fourth, he canned a handful of big shots when the Bulls needed them. He finished with 21 on 14 shots (still probably not enough, but won’t harp tonight). That consistency from the first and the second half hasn’t been there, and is a nice development.
The Bulls closed with a sequence of seldom-used lineups, heavily featuring an uber-small unit of Tomas Satoransky, Coby White, Kris Dunn (14 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals), Zach LaVine and Lauri Markkanen. Boylen has tried out a couple different combinations down the stretch recently with options limited.
And of course, LaVine grabbed the reins late. Even on a night that wasn’t his finest (8-for-18 shooting), he finished with 25 points. Five of those were in the last minute-and-a-half, which pushed the Bulls over the top for good. The Bulls are now 4-2 when he and Markkanen both score over 20 points.
No answer for Towns
Another skilled, bruising big roughed up the Bulls. Even without playing much of the third quarter (he ended the night with 31 minutes), Towns finished with 40 points on 16-for-24 shooting, 16 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. Whatever he wanted, he pretty much got.
What pushed the Wolves so close to a monumental comeback, though, was his teammates waking up. Andrew Wiggins answered an ugly three-point, 1-for-4 shooting, four-turnover first half with 22 in the second. Napier’s energy was also key to sparking their aforementioned third quarter run.
But the shooting shut off late. The Wolves entered the fourth 41.9% from deep, but hit only 2 of 13 long-balls in the fourth. The Bulls ground them down, shooting 37 free throws and outrebounding them 50-43, and ended up with a much-needed (albeit much-too-close) victory.
We’ll stay right here in Chicago for a struggling Kings squad this Friday.
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David Schuster, Mark Carman and Mark Potash join Laurence Holmes from the United Center.
0:00 - What is wrong with Lauri Markkanen? The guys discuss how he can find his shot again and what current NBA star he should be playing like?
8:40 - Zach LaVine is on fire of late. Has he done enough to be selected for next month's All-Star Game?
10:40 - Zion Williamson finally makes his NBA debut tonight. What should we expect from the No. 1 overall pick for the rest of the season?
13:00 - Eli Manning announces his retirement from the NFL. So what is his legacy? Will he eventually end up in Canton?
18:00 - Patrick Mahomes has led the Chiefs to the Super Bowl. Could he eventually become the greatest QB ever?
20:00 - The guys react to Joel Quenneville's return to the United Center and the crowd's reaction to the three-time Cup-winning head coach.
Listen to the full episode in the embedded player below:
Sports Talk Live Podcast