NBA Playoffs: Thunder to taste playoff experience, do the Lakers have too much of it?

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durant.jpgThe Lakers and the Thunder are a lot alike in some ways. Think about it this way:

Dominant superstar? Check. Second offensive option who is a borderline All-Star? Check. Long, lanky versatile forward? Check. Guys who can come in off the bench and change the game? Check.

But off the court these franchises are totally different. Night and day. The Los Angeles Lakers have 15 NBA championship banners hanging at one end of Staples Center. They won the title last year. Their coach has a ring for every finger. On both hands. They ooze experience to the point of boredom with everything before the playoffs (which could cost them).

The Oklahoma City Thunder are so excited to have made the playoffs the franchise is throwing a parade before the first game. A parade before the ball is thrown up in one playoff game.

All that gets to the real question at the heart of this series: Does the Lakers experience overcome their banged up bodies and sloppy play coming in? Can Oklahoma City have fun and not flinch under a new level of pressure? The stats will tell you this one is very close. But as Portland learned last year, the playoffs are a different kind and level of basketball. Does Oklahoma City have to learn how to win at this level, or can they walk out Sunday and say, “why not now?”

Of course, there are some fun matchups, starting with the ones at the top of the marquee.

There is Kevin Durant, the NBA’s newest superstar, a 6’10” guy with point guard skills, who can hit the three or drive he lane. Stopping him (or guys like him) is why the Lakers got Ron Artest, everyone’s favorite physical defender, blonde (today) and loose cannon. Artest will try to be physical with Durant, and if the refs allow him to be like Phil Jackson he wants he stands a chance of making Durant less efficient.

On the other end, Kobe Bryant is going to face Thabo Sefolosha, who has had success in this matchup — in the team’s last meeting that he held Kobe to 11 points and Kobe actually admitted Sefolosha bothered him. The Thunder are a good defensive team, too, and Sefolosha will get help.


The two key matchups, however, will be elsewhere. UCLA alumni Russell
Westbrook returns to LA to piss off his former fans. We all know the
Lakers have struggled to stop quick point guards for a couple seasons,
and there are few quicker than Westbrook. Here’s a little stat to tell
you how important Westbrook is — when the Thunder blew out the Lakers
last month, Westbrook was 10 of 13 shooting; but in the Lakers three
wins in this series this season, he shot 39 percent.

Derek Fisher is going to need help — and that’s where a healthy Andrew
Bynum comes a key. Westbrook is great in finishing at the rim, but if
Bynum can force him to shoot before that, well, Westbrook takes some of
the ugliest 8-foot shots in the NBA.

The Lakers advantage is Pau Gasol, who has beasted lately  — shooting 65
percent and scoring 26 points per game in the Lakers last five (before
the Clipper game Wednesday). The 7’0″ Gasol will be guarded by the 6’9″
Jeff Green, who is a quality player but cannot bother Gasol when he gets
the ball. The Lakers all to often inexplicably go away from Gasol, if
they do it here they play into the Thunder’s hands.

There is James Harden sparking the Thunder off the bench, versus the
Lamar Odom spark. There is Green trying to pull the Laker bigs away from
the basket. There are a lot of Xs and Os to watch.

Still, the question is how much does experience matter? The Lakers do
not tighten up under pressure; they tend to thrive in it. They don’t
always win but they seem to revel in it. They have won a title because
of it. Look at what Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak told Mike Trudell of
Lakers.com in their series preview:

“At the end of the day, we’re not talking about an inexperienced roster
or coaching staff, he said. “This team, based on what they’ve
accomplished and not just recently deserves the chance to go into the
playoffs and make any adjustments that they feel necessary. We all know
that no matter what happened 10 days ago or three weeks ago, everybody
will be evaluated based on how the season ends.”

The Thunder run their sets but often seem of short-arm shots in the last
five minutes of a game. When the defensive pressure steps up, they seem
to get tight, and with Harden on the bench (in favor of Thabo’s
defense) they rely heavily on Durant to do everything. With more on the
line then their core has ever faced, how will the Thunder execute?
Carefree, like a team with nothing to lose? Or do they get tight?

Much of the nation, pretty tired of Kobe and the Lakers, will be pulling
for the upstarts. Oklahoma City will have America’s hearts. If they can
keep their heads, they have the talent to hang.

But would you really bet against the Lakers here? Neither would I.

Gordon Hayward scores 30 points as Jazz beat Wizards 102-92

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WASHINGTON (AP) Gordon Hayward scored 30 points, Rudy Gobert added 15 points and 20 rebounds, and the Utah Jazz beat the Washington Wizards 102-92 on Sunday for their third straight victory.

Northwest Division-leading Utah led by as many as 24 points before Washington got within six with just over 2 minutes left. Hayward hit a pair of jumpers to seal the win.

George Hill added 21 points for Utah.

Washington, the Southeast Division leader, has lost two in a row for the first time since early January. John Wall led the Wizards with 23 points and 11 assists. Bradley Beal, who was scoreless in the first half, added 22 points.

Utah converted 23 of 32 free throws, while Washington made 10 of 13. The Jazz outrebounded the Wizards 52-27.

Utah led 49-39 at halftime and opened a 62-43 lead with 6:48 left in the third quarter on Derrick Favors‘ dunk off a feed from Gobert, necessitating Wizards coach Scott Brooks’ second timeout of the quarter.

Consecutive 3-pointers by Hill soon increased the lead to 24.

Bojan Bogdanovic‘s 33-footer capped a 14-3 Wizards run to end the quarter and Utah’s lead was 73-60 to start the fourth.

Washington trailed by 16 when Wall hit a 3 and Beal followed with five quick points to make it 93-85 with 3:11 remaining. Bogdanovic’s two free throws cut the deficit to six at the 2:01 mark, but Hayward sandwiched a 3-pointer and a long 2 around a Washington turnover to stall the rally.

The Jazz shot 50 percent from the field and hit 13 of 18 free throws in the first half to build a 10-point lead.

The margin could have been bigger but Utah turned the ball over 14 times, leading to 15 Washington points. The Wizards shot 36.7 percent (18 of 49) and made their only free throw attempt.

After scoring 40 points in his previous game, Beal went to the bench with 5:08 left in the first half with three fouls and no points.

TIP-INS:

Jazz: Gobert was fined $25,000 for making physical contact with an official in the third quarter of Utah’s 109-95 victory over the Milwaukee Bucks on Friday. . Rodney Hood, who had three points Friday night in his return after missing seven games with a bone contusion in his knee, had nine points in the first quarter. . It was Utah’s first win in Washington since Nov. 17, 2012.

Wizards: The 39 points were the team’s lowest first-half total of the season. . Washington had reached 100 points in 23 straight games. . It was Wall’s 37th double-double of the season. . Bogdanovic, in his second game with Washington, scored 15 points. . Washington last lost two in a row on Jan. 2-3 in back-to-back road games at Houston and Dallas.

UP NEXT

Jazz: Travel to Oklahoma City on Tuesday for the finale of a three-game road trip.

Wizards: Host the Warriors on Tuesday night.

Kawhi Leonard scores 25, leads Spurs to 119-98 rout of Lakers

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MAY 2: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the San Antonio Spurs reacts after a defensive stop against the Oklahoma City Thunder during game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals for the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 2, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Kawhi Leonard scored 25 points and the San Antonio Spurs routed the Lakers 119-98 on Sunday in Los Angeles’ first home game since Magic Johnson took over the franchise’s basketball operations.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points for the Spurs, who have won four straight and nine of 11.

Pau Gasol added 15 points against his former team, and the Southwest Division leaders had little trouble with the Lakers, who have lost four straight and 15 of 19.

Five days after owner Jeanie Buss put Johnson in charge of basketball operations, the Lakers’ dismal season still hasn’t changed much, although new Lakers acquisitions Corey Brewer and Tyler Ennis got limited playing time.

Rookie Brandon Ingram scored a season-high 22 points as the Lakers fell to 19-41, ensuring their fourth consecutive non-winning season.

One more defeat will clinch the Lakers’ longest stretch of losing seasons since 1961, the former Minneapolis Lakers’ first year on the West Coast.

Jordan Clarkson scored 19 points and D'Angelo Russell had 18 for the Lakers, who have lost their first two games since Buss dismissed general manager Mitch Kupchak and her brother, Jim.

Johnson made no pregame speech to the Staples Center fans who have watched the worst four years in franchise history. Jeanie Buss watched the game from her usual spot in the second row, while Kupchak’s normal seats were empty.

SPURRED ON

The Spurs have won eight straight over the Lakers, surpassing their 2004-06 run for their longest winning streak in the series between these longtime Western Conference rivals. San Antonio also has beaten the Lakers seven straight times at Staples Center.

Leonard, who grew up 60 miles east of Staples Center in Moreno Valley, scored 19 points in the first half while the Spurs streaked to a 21-point lead.

AFTER LOU

In the Lakers’ first home game since trading leading scorer Lou Williams to Houston for a draft pick, Clarkson excelled off the bench in Williams’ usual spot as the second unit’s offensive fuel. Brewer scored five points in his first home game, while Ennis played eight minutes and hit a late 3-pointer in his Lakers debut.

TIP-INS

Spurs: Gasol played 20 minutes in his second game back from a 15-game absence with a broken left hand. Gasol, who won two NBA titles in Los Angeles, got a warm ovation from Lakers fans. … USC product Dewayne Dedmon had 11 points and nine rebounds. The Spurs’ unlikely starting big man is another product of LA’s far-flung suburbs, growing up in Lancaster.

Lakers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar received a standing ovation at halftime when the Lakers honored him for his social activism. … The game was just the Lakers’ second home game in February and their third home game in five weeks. After playing eight of their previous 10 on the road, they began a four-game homestand.

UP NEXT

Spurs: Host Pacers on Wednesday.

Lakers: Host Hornets on Tuesday.

Giannis Antetokounmpo scores 28, Bucks beat Suns 100-96

Giannis Antetokounmpo
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MILWAUKEE (AP) Giannis Antetokounmpo scored 28 points, Tony Snell made a clinching 3-pointer from the corner in the closing seconds and the Milwaukee Bucks held off the Phoenix Suns, 100-96 on Sunday.

Michael Beasley added 17 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 15 as the Bucks swept the two-game season series with the Suns. Greg Monroe finished with 14 points and Snell had 13.

TJ Warren led the Suns with 23 points. Alan Williams scored a career-high 17 points and tied his season high with 15 rebounds, while Devin Booker added 15 points and Eric Bledsoe had 11.

Clinging to a one-point lead, the Bucks came out of timeout with Monroe inbounding the ball to Antetokounmpo. He dribbled the clock down before passing to Brogdon, who whipped the ball to Snell in the corner. Snell hit a 3 with a defender flying at him.

Watch Pistons C Andre Drummond blow a fancy breakaway dunk (VIDEO)

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Andre Drummond had a breakaway on Sunday against the Boston Celtics. Fans in Detroit should have been in for a treat from their franchise center — a former NBA Dunk Contest participant — but instead they got something worth of Shaqtin’ A Fool.

Unfortunately for Drummond, the result of the one man fastbreak was a blown dunk, a ball that went sky high, and a sheepish look from the Pistons center.

Bummer.