NBA Playoffs: Ron Artest was too strong, too smart for Durant, Thunder

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artest_durant.jpgIn a year, maybe two, teams are not going to be able to do this to Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant. Then he will be stronger; the team will be more experienced. But right now they can, and Ron Artest and the Lakers did.

Los Angeles simply out-muscled, out-hustled and out-thought the best player Oklahoma City has got. With Ron Artest on him, Kevin Durant was just 4 of 18 shooting on the night (7-24 overall). Durant usually still makes some of those well-covered shots, he will as the series goes on, but Scott Brooks and his team need to come up with other actions to get Durant open, or things will not get a lot better.

After rewatching the game and focusing on the Artest/Durant battle, it was clear the Lakers did several things to shut him down.

The first was keeping the game in the half-court. In an uptempo game, the young and athletic Thunder would steamroll the Lakers, and Durant would get easy points filling a lane on the break. His confidence would grow. The Lakers held the game to 87 possessions, six fewer than the Thunder averaged this season  — and about six less than the Lakers, it’s just that LA is better able to adjust their game.

Part two of the plan was what everybody is talking about — Ron Artest.

Artest is a pit bull of a defender. First off, he is relentless, he never quits, never gives up. Second, he is physical and strong, and knows how to use it. The Oklahoma City team — not just Durant but also the team — were not prepared for this.

Artest tried to deny Durant the ball in any spot on the floor he likes. That’s always his modus operandi. And he is too strong for Durant to hold his position on his own. Artest tries to do the same things to players like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony but has less success because they are strong enough to hold him off and get some angles they want. Durant needs more muscle on the frame to do that.

To help Durant out, the Thunder ran some simple plays right out of every NBA playbook — some cross screens, some pindowns — trying to free Durant up on the strong side. Artest just blew those up and was in Durant’s grill the whole time. Two reasons for that. First, Artest has been seeing those since he entered the league. Artest is a smart player, a savvy one. If he knows it’s coming, you’re not going to succeed with it very often. You have to do better than the basics to catch him off guard.

Second, there isn’t a player strong enough on the Thunder to set a pick Artest can’t run through, especially on the screen-and-roll. Much like Durant himself, this is a young and lanky team. That serves them well in transition, not as well in a game of physical half-court sets.

The Lakers bigs also defended the picks well, they showed out on Durant enough until Artest arrived, which was not long. The Lakers were well prepared for this part of the Thunder playbook.

Brooks and his staff have to figure out ways to get Durant free. That may be better putting Durant on the weakside then using quick ball rotation to get him the ball in isolation. They can’t keep running basic sets and keep Durant on the strong side.

They have to do something different. The Thunder need Durant to win in this series, and Artest and his somewhat creepy blond hair are not going away.

Report: DeJuan Blair cited for misdemeanor battery against woman

Washington Wizards center DeJuan Blair sits in the front row seats as the Milwaukee Bucks are introduced before an NBA basketball game Friday, Oct. 30, 2015, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)
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DeJuan Blair played for the Wizards last season before being traded to the Suns, who waived him.

Now, he’s facing legal trouble.

TMZ:

Las Vegas Metro PD has confirmed … officers were called to Drai’s nightclub at The Cromwell hotel around 1 AM Sunday morning to respond to a report of a man who allegedly got physical with a woman.

The alleged victim told police … she was arguing with Blair over the line into the club when he picked her up and tossed her off to the side. The woman was pissed and retaliated by striking him back — before calling for help.

Sources tell us … when cops arrived they checked security video and decided there was enough evidence to issue a citation to Blair for misdemeanor battery.  He was NOT arrested.

However, cops tell TMZ Sports Blair was also issued a “trespassing warning” from the property and told to leave immediately.

The 27-year-old Blair is a free agent. He has played for the Spurs, Mavericks and Wizards in a seven-year NBA career.

Report: Dion Waiters signing one-year, $2.9 million contract with Heat

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Dion Waiters #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder reacts during the first half against the Golden State Warriors in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 J Pat Carter/Getty Images)
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If there’s anyone who won’t fear replacing Dwyane Wade with the Heat, it’s Dion Waiters.

For better or worse.

Jon Krawczynski of the Associated Press:

This is presumably for the $2,898,000 room exception. At that price, it’s hard to argue with taking a chance on the talented 24-year-old. For a brief stretch in the playoffs, Waiters put it all together and looked like the complementary scorer and defender the Thunder desired.

But that was surrounded by more sober assessments of his value.

Oklahoma City didn’t extend Waiters’ contract before the season and yanked his qualifying offer last week. This must be a disappointing outcome for Waiters, but at least he can hit the market again in a year.

Erik Spoelstra and the Heat have a reputation for boosting the stock of wayward talented players. Just look at Hassan Whiteside, who became the first player in NBA history to go from a minimum salary one season to the max the next.

Waiters must play with more purpose on both ends of the floor. Too often, it appears he’s just drifting until his next opportunity to jack up a shot — which he does frequently and inefficiently.

Joining Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook for a season reduced Waiters absurdly high usage, but he’s still a gunner. One benefit of Wade leaving — easing the tension between point guard Goran Dragic and a ball-dominant shooting guard — has been reduced.

At least Miami can turn to Tyler Johnson and Josh Richardson in the backcourt if Waiters sees this as an opportunity to hunt his own shot without abandon once again.

Waiters has ability as a shooter and ball-handler. He’s strong enough to defend well. There is upside for the Heat here and little downside.

But there’s a reason Waiters had to settle for the room exception even as he’s entering his athletic prime.

Report: Celtics-76ers trade talks on Jahlil Okafor have grown ‘stale’

DALLAS, TX - FEBRUARY 21:  Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers takes a shot against Zaza Pachulia #27 of the Dallas Mavericks in the first half at American Airlines Center on February 21, 2016 in Dallas, 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 Martinez/Getty Images)
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The Celtics were reportedly interested in Jahlil Okafor, but they aren’t willing to give up much.

You know where that leads.

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

It’s possible the Celtics and Philadelphia could revisit talks for Jahlil Okafor, but, according to sources, those talks appear to have grown “stale.”

The 76ers still want to trade Okafor or Nerlens Noel, but Philadelphia also doesn’t want to sell low. With Al Horford, Amir Johnson, Kelly Olynyk and Tyler Zeller already at center, it’s unlikely Boston surrenders enough to tempt the 76ers.

Sure, the Celtics could use a young interior scorer like Okafor. But he’d be more of a luxury than a need — which influences Boston’s offer.

It’s hard to envision what would freshen these trade talks, which means Philadelphia probably needs to find a new trade partner.

Report: Trail Blazers signing C.J. McCollum to four-year max contract extension

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 11:  C.J. McCollum #3 of the Portland Trail Blazers dribbles the ball against the Golden State Warriors during Game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs on May 11, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Four years ago, C.J. McCollum was playing at Lehigh.

Two years ago, he was barely in the Trail Blazers’ rotation.

Now, McCollum — the reigning Most Improved Player — is set to receive a huge payday.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

McCollum will earn $3,219,579 next season in the final year of his rookie-scale contract. His extension will kick in for the 2017-18 season.

The Trail Blazers could offer McCollum just a four-year extension, because they already made Damian Lillard their designated player with a five-year extension. They could have re-signed McCollum to a five-year deal as a restricted free agent next summer, but they chose this route.

If this is a true max contract, Portland also runs the risk of a new Collective Bargaining Agreement significantly changing McCollum’s max. In max extensions, the salaries are slotted once the cap is set the following offseason. It’s also possible the extension is written now with set salaries based on the projected max, protecting the Trail Blazers in the event of an unexpected max leap. (If McCollum’s salary is set to a number higher than where the max winds up, the salary is amended downward to the max.)

Portland also cuts into its 2017 flexibility, because McCollum will immediately count against the cap at his 2017-18 salary (projected to be about $24 million) rather than what would’ve been his cap hold ($8,048,948). If the Trail Blazers waited, they could have used that $16 million or so difference in cap space then re-signed McCollum with Bird Rights.

So, why go to all this trouble?

Portland locks up a talented 24-year-old through his prime.

The NBA is short on high-end shooting guards, and McCollum was likely to receive considerable interest as a free agent. He could’ve leveraged that into a shorter offer sheet, allowing him to hit unrestricted free agency — meaning potentially an even bigger payout and/or departure — sooner.

McCollum also complements Lillard well. They share playmaking responsibilities in the backcourt, rarely leaving the Trail Blazers without either player on the court. McCollum’s 3-point shooting also makes him a threat when playing with Lillard.

Not long ago, Lillard noted Portland was already playing without an All-Star when so much attention was paid to the Clippers losing Chris Paul and Blake Griffin. But All-Star berths are far from the only one to measure stature.

Now, the Trail Blazers have two players paid like stars, and they’ll depend on Lillard and McCollum to lead the team into the foreseeable future.