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 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.

Pelican’s Anthony Davis forced to leave game, has bruised knee

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It looked a lot worse than it turned out to be.

Late in the third quarter of Friday night’s Clippers win over the Pelicans, Los Angeles’ Josh Smith blocked a shot at the rim that came out to the top of the key to Chris Paul, and he started to race up court in transition with Anthony Davis next to him. At that point, CP3 veered into Davis to draw the contact and get the foul, but in the process injured Davis. Watch the replay in the video above, CP3 initiates the contact.

Watching Davis try to leave the floor was scary. It looked bad.

Fortunately, it turned out just to be a bruise.

Davis did not return, but he shouldn’t miss much time with a bruise.

As for the play, there has been plenty of Twitter talk about if it was dirty. I wouldn’t say that, I do not think there was any intent to injure.

I would say the play was reckless, the kind of thing more likely to lead to injury. What’s more, that should be called an offensive foul every time — CP3 initiates that contact. He veers into Davis to get the call, and that’s an offensive foul.

Fortunately for all of us, the ultimate result was nothing serious.

Watch James Harden score 50 as Rockets beat winless 76ers 116-114

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HOUSTON (AP) — James Harden had 50 points, nine rebounds and eight assists, and the Houston Rockets beat the winless Philadelphia 76ers 116-114 on Friday night.

Harden was 14 for 28 from the field and 16 for 20 at the line in his third career game with 50 or more points. He is averaging 36.2 points in his last five games.

Philadelphia moved one loss away from matching the New Jersey Nets’ NBA-worst mark of 18 losses to open a season. The Sixers have dropped 27 in a row dating to last season for the longest losing streak in major U.S. professional sports history, passing the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1976 to ’77. The previous record was also matched by the 76ers in 2013-14.

Robert Covington had 28 points for Philadelphia, which made a franchise-record 16 3-pointers in 35 attempts. One day removed from a Boston nightclub altercation, rookie Jahlil Okafor had 11 points and six rebounds.

Facing an 11-point deficit to start the fourth quarter, the 76ers opened the period on a 24-8 run to take a five-point lead.

Down by two with less than 3 seconds remaining, Covington intentionally missed a free throw that was rebounded by Dwight Howard to secure the Houston win.

Harden led the Rockets to one of their best shooting performances of the season, helping Houston win for just the second time in its last nine games.

The Rockets shot 52 percent from the field, including an 11-for-20 night from beyond the arc. Howard added 14 points and 13 rebounds.

Philadelphia scored 100 points for the first time in nearly three weeks and just the fourth time all season. Isaiah Canaan had 23 points, and Jerami Grant scored 18.


76ers:C Nerlens Noel was a late scratch with right knee soreness. … SG Nik Stauskas returned from a one-game absence after suffering a knee contusion in Monday’s loss to Minnesota. … Canaan got his fifth start of the season over regular starter T.J. McConnell.

Rockets: Houston improved to 68-68 all-time against Philadelphia. … The Rockets had a season-high 35 third-quarter points. . PG Patrick Beverley received a technical foul in the second quarter after throwing an elbow near the face of Phil Pressey.



Report: Jahlil Okafor had gun pulled on him in another altercation in October

2015 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot

Apparently Sixers’ star rookie Jahlil Okafor‘s altercation outside a nightclub in Boston earlier this week — one for which he apologized, and there will be no law enforcement action — was not his only altercation since training camp opened.

Okafor had a gun pulled on him back in October, according to a report by John Finger at

The 19-year-old Sixers’ rookie was outside an Old City nightclub after 2 a.m. on October 4 when he and another person began arguing with two men sitting in a parked car near the corner of 2nd and Walnut Streets, according to a witness. The verbal disagreement escalated and a witness said he saw Okafor try to punch the driver through the open driver’s side window. During the altercation, the driver and passenger exited the car and the passenger pointed a gun in the direction of Okafor and his associate, per the witness.

U.S. Park Rangers — who patrol nearby Independence Hall — arrived on the scene during the altercation, according to separate reports filed by the U.S. Park Rangers and the Philadelphia Police Department and obtained by The man who exited the passenger side of the car fled on foot and appeared to toss his gun, per multiple witnesses. According to the police report, the driver got into a black Camaro with red stripes and sped off. The car was not stopped….

A law enforcement source told that a gun magazine was recovered near the scene and submitted for fingerprint analysis. The law enforcement source said the investigation is ongoing. It is unclear what happened to Okafor or his associate after the incident or if they were interviewed by U.S. Park Rangers or PPD.

The Sixers told Finger that they were aware of the investigation but would not comment further.

Add this to the incident in Boston and it makes you wonder about the situations Okafor keeps finding himself in. That said, we’re talking about a 19-year-old, and if you’ve ever been that age you know it is not always when you make your best decisions. Okafor is just going to have to grow up more quickly — and under a brighter spotlight — than the rest of us.


Raptors center Bismack Biyombo: Cavaliers believe we’re tougher than them

Lebron James, Bismack Biyombo
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LeBron James and James Jones called a players-only meeting after the Cavaliers’ loss to the Raptors on Wednesday.

This is why.

Toronto center Bismack Biyombo, via Chris Haynes of

“The most important thing is that we played tough,” Bismack told “Cleveland is a good team, but when they come in here, they feel like we are the tough ones and that’s what we want to accomplish as the definition of the Toronto Raptors.”

Those are harsh words from Biyombo. It’s one thing to say you believe your team is tougher than the opponent. It’s another to say you can tell the opponent believes your team is tougher.

Privately, though, I bet LeBron appreciates this comment.

The Cavaliers are not soft, but their goal is nothing short of a championship. They need to get tougher if they’re going to beat the Warriors, whom LeBron said look hungrier than Cleveland. So, LeBron has already begun challenging his teammates. He wants them to believe they have far to go, because that will pay off in the long run.

Biyombo’s answer furthers the Cavs toward that goal.

Plus, if the Cavaliers and Raptors meet in the playoffs, it’ll make it much easier for Cleveland to find motivation. But Toronto is a tough team. That series would be no walkover unless the Cavs use this criticism constructively.