The waiting game has paid off for OKC

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Many, many moons ago, Oklahoma City stole away a basketball team. But a couple of moons before that, they borrowed one for awhile. The New Orleans Hornets, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, needed a temporary home and a temporary fan base. So they went local, traveled to the nearby (relatively) OKC, and set up shop.

No one would have blamed the citizens of Oklahoma for showing lukewarm support for a team just looking to crash for the night. There was never an illusion of anything permanent, and OKC had every reason to enjoy the NBA distraction while it lasted, but without making much of a clamor. But not only did Oklahomans show up in droves, but they were loud. They were an absolutely tremendous fan base, so much so that they couldn’t be pegged as a rental based on the energy in the arena and the decibel level emanating outward.

That city and that market wanted and needed an NBA team. At first they wanted the Hornets, the only NBA franchise Oklahoma has ever known, to use OKC as a permanent home. But it wasn’t meant to be, and the city that had just lost everything to a hurricane wasn’t about to lose a primary source of escapism and hope as well.

When the Hornets returned to New Orleans, it wasn’t necessarily a bright day for the NBA fans in Oklahoma City. They lost their team, even if it was only lended to them temporarily. It didn’t mean that the support was anything less than authentic, or that the bond between the city and the Hornets was anything less than genuine. OKC had the taste for professional basketball, and so Clay Bennett, team owner and businessman, did for Oklahoma what any person would do for a city that had their team “stolen” away.

He “stole” another team for them.

And that stolen team, the then-Sonics, now-Thunder, is that much better. It’s that much more fitting for the city and that much more promising for the future. From Mike Baldwin of the Oklahoman:

Two years ago, the Hornets’ first season removed from the Ford Center, they won 56 games, earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference and weren’t eliminated until Game 7 of the second round of the playoffs. Meanwhile, the Sonics finished a franchise-worst 20-62 in what proved to be a lame duck year in Seattle before moving that summer to Oklahoma City.

Two years later, the Thunder is viewed as the NBA’s on-the-rise team, a lock to make the playoffs and on pace to win 50 games. In contrast, the Hornets are one game below .500 with almost no chance of making the playoffs, their future in question because owner George Shinn continues to slash payroll.

The people of Oklahoma may have begged for the Hornets to stay, but it’s indisputable that they’ve found themslves a better deal and a better fit in the Thunder. Chris Paul is Chris Paul (and I suppose he always will be), but the Hornets have gone into a tailspin. Darren Collison and Marcus Thornton have renewed their hope, but what looked like a team on the cusp of contending then looks like little more than a fringe playoff contender now.

The Thunder are different. They’re better. They’re shooting up the Western Conference standings at an absurdly early juncture, when common sense says that such a young team should endure a slower and steadier progression. The Thunder’s rise has been anything but slow and steady, and their meteoric ascent has helped to wipe the memory, however fond, of the Hornets from OKC’s basketball consciousness.

Cavaliers’ defense foundation for blowout win

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers gestures in the second half against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Cleveland blitzed Toronto from the opening tip.

Literally.

Cleveland cranked up their defensive pressure by getting back to aggressively blitzing Raptors’ guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan every time they came off a pick. Or they would chase DeRozan over the top of the pick and trail him, never letting him get comfortable to pull up from the midrange. Whatever the defensive scheme, the Cavaliers were physical with Lowry and DeRozan — the pair was 4-of-14 shooting in the first half.

From the start, the Cavaliers defense dictated the flow of the game and set the tone for a 38-point blowout win.

It is that defense they will need to close out this series on the road Friday night.

“We understood that coming back from Game 3 and Game 4 we just didn’t play our defense the right way,” LeBron James said after the game. “We didn’t play how we should have played, and they took advantage of every moment. We had to get back to our staple; we had to get back to what we wanted to do defensively in order for us to play a complete game. That’s the most satisfying thing, the way we defended, holding these guys to 39 percent shooting.”

Defense triggered the offensive runs by the Cavaliers in the first half — Cleveland had eight steals and scored 20 points off turnovers before halftime. Playing with a renewed energy, the Cavs did a fantastic job fighting over screens and disrupting plays, and they closed out on shooters at the arc. It was their best defensive game of the series. It was the polar opposite of how they played in Toronto.

“I think our intensity picked up, our aggressiveness picked up, we were very physical to start the game and it just kind of led to us getting out in transition, us getting steals and getting easy baskets,” Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue said.

“They were locked in, from the start to the finish,” according to Raptors coach Dwane Casey.”The force that they play with is different here and we didn’t meet it.”

Back home and with their backs against the wall, you can expect a very different, very desperate Raptors team. Lowry and DeRozan will shoot better.

But if the Cavaliers pack their defense and take it north of the border this time, they should close out the series.

LeBron James was dunking all over the Raptors (VIDEO)

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With their defense creating turnovers to get breaks — and the Raptors’ defense just breaking down — the Cavaliers put on a dunking exhibition against Toronto Wednesday.

LeBron James led the way, with 23 points and plenty of dunks. Here is another.

To change things up, here is an and-1.

Cavaliers retake series lead at home with rout of Raptors

CLEVELAND, OH - MAY 25:  LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket in the second quarter against the Toronto Raptors in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Quicken Loans Arena on May 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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The Eastern Conference Finals have been all about the comforts of home. Through five games between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Toronto Raptors, the home team has come out on top convincingly every time. Wednesday’s Game 5 was no different, with the Cavs destroying the Raptors, 116-78 to take a 3-2 series lead.

After a pair of awful games in Toronto, Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving stepped up at home to score 25 and 23 points, respectively, to go along with 23 from LeBron James. The big production from their stars was enough to keep the Raptors at bay — the only other Cavs player to score in double figures was Richard Jefferson, who had 11 points, but it didn’t matter.

On the other side, after coming up huge at home in Games 3 and 4, Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan combined to shoot 7-for-20 from the field Wednesday, and nobody else did much to pick up the slack. After not trailing by 30 at a half at any point this season, Toronto trailed by 31 at halftime, and the lead ballooned to 100-60 at the end of the third quarter. From the beginning, this game was one-sided.

The Cavs can close out the series on the road on Friday, ensuring James’ sixth straight trip to the Finals. But the Raptors have been a different team at home during this series, and in a do-or-die situation they should come out with more fight. It’s hard to imagine things going much worse than they did Wednesday.

Report: Joakim Noah having “positive dialogue” with Bulls about future

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah dunks the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons, Friday, Dec. 18, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
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And the spin keeps on happening.

First came the report that Joakim Noah was telling teammates he was out of Chicago. Followed by Noah’s agent — the person charged with keeping Noah’s options open — saying that was not true.

Now comes team management — the people who said they want to keep Noah with the Bulls — saying the sides are still talking, and they want him to stay. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN:

Veteran Bulls center Joakim Noah, his representatives and the Chicago front office continue to have a “positive dialogue” about a new contract amid a report that Noah has been telling teammates he’s ready to leave the franchise, a league source told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

Those close to Noah, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, are still hopeful that he will be able to work out an agreement to stay in Chicago long term.

I’m going to let you in on a real insider bit of knowledge on what team Noah will play for next season:

Whatever team pays him the most money.

I know, it’s crazy, but sometimes people make a decision about where to work based on pay. Right now, everything is posturing. Come July 1, money will go on the table, and then Noah will know just how badly the Bulls want to keep him vs. other teams wanting to bring him in. Once the money is out there, if things are roughly even, then minutes and role on the team, lifestyle, weather and all the rest come into play.

But Puffy had it right — it’s all about the Benjamins.