NBA Playoffs: What the Thunder need to do to win in Los Angeles

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Durant_game3.jpgWith the Lakers stumbling a bit coming into the playoffs and the Thunder being anything but a typical eight-seed, many people believed that the Lakers-Thunder series would be a lot more competitive than #1-#8 matchups usually are. 
In game 1, things didn’t work out that way; the Thunder looked completely outmatched on both ends of the floor by the Lakers. The Lakers used Bynum and Gasol to punish the Thunder on the blocks. They made timely shots whenever Oklahoma tried to get within striking distance. The Lakers completely shut down the Thunder in the half-court, holding Durant to a 7-24 shooting night. Even though they only shot 41% from the field, the Lakers looked too big, too strong, and too talented for the Thunder to deal with on Sunday afternoon. 
What can the Thunder do to prevent a repeat performance on Tuesday night? Here are some adjustments that could help the Thunder steal a game on the road:
1. Get Kevin Durant Going

This is absolutely imperative for the Thunder. Durant is the Thunder’s franchise player, the league’s leading scorer, and Oklahoma City’s only consistent offensive weapon in the half-court. If Durant continues to shoot 29% from the field, the Thunder simply do not have enough firepower to score points against the Lakers. 
Durant seems extremely hesitant to take the ball at Ron Artest. He almost never drove on Artest when the Thunder played the Lakers in the regular season, and he didn’t take it to the rack against Artest in game one. Artest is a great man-to-man defender, but Durant is letting Artest take him out of his game and cause him to settle for jumpers. Durant is a good shooter, and he’ll make more of his jumpers on Tuesday night than he did on Sunday, but he’s got to get some points at the rim and trips to the free throw line. 
The Thunder also have to do a better job getting Durant some better catches. The baseline screens, pin-downs, and staggered screens the Thunder have used to try and get Durant free haven’t been getting him good looks. The Thunder need to try and use their other players moving with the ball to free up Durant on the weak side instead of continuing to give it to him on the strong side. 
2. Make an Effort To Push The Ball

Russell Westbrook did most of his damage in transition on Sunday and shot 10-16 from the field. The rest of the Thunder shot 19-56 from the field. The Thunder out-scored the Lakers 14-2 in fast-break points; if you take each team’s fast-break points away, the Lakers outscored Oklahoma City 85-65. Getting out in transition is always easier said than done, but the Thunder need to do their best to make it a full-court game. 
3. Do Everything They Can To Stop Bynum and Gasol

The Thunder played great perimeter defense against the Lakers on Sunday. In fact, Lakers not named Bynum or Gasol combined to shoot only 19-54 from the field while attempting a combined total of 14 free throws. The Thunder don’t have the size to play Bynum or Gasol straight-up, but they need to do whatever they can to front them, bring aggressive double-teams, and make the Laker perimeter players work for their points or try to win with outside shooting. The Lakers aren’t a good three-point shooting team, and more long rebounds mean more Westbrook in transition.
There’s always the chance Kobe could go off, but that can happen regardless of what kind of defense you play. The Thunder can’t allow Bynum and Gasol to run a Mikan drill if they want to have a chance. 
4. Get Some Production from their two-guard spot

In 37 minutes of play, Sefolosha and Harden combined for two points on 0-7 shooting from the field on Sunday. That’s not good. Sefolosha is in there for his defense, but he needs to make a few wide-open shots from time to time. Harden is a much better offensive player, but Kobe licked his chops and went right at Harden every time he saw him on Sunday. I’m not sure how long the Thunder can get away with keeping him on the floor for. 
5. Use the Bench to their advantage

The Lakers bench has been notoriously weak this season. The Thunder bring Nick Collison, Eric Manor, Serge Ibaka, and James Harden off their bench. On paper, the Thunder’s second unit should be able to get the Thunder some points, but the Lakers were actually +1 in the seven minutes Kobe sat on Sunday. If the Lakers play the Thunder even while Kobe sits, that’s a major win for them.
Well, that’s my list of adjustments. Oklahoma City definitely has their work cut out for them for the remainder of the series, but they’re 48 good minutes away from stealing a game at Staples and having all the momentum in the series. 

Russell Westbrook stands behind Kevin Durant, mimics him during interview (video)

Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook, right, gestures after scoring as forward Kevin Durant stands by during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 8, 2016, in Los Angeles. The Thunder won 117-113. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Choose your spin.

This is why Kevin Durant is leaving the Thunder. Russell Westbrook doesn’t respect him.

or

This is why Kevin Durant is re-signing with the Thunder. He and Russell Westbrook have so much fun together.

Report: Magic open to talking Tobias Harris trade, looking to add experience

Memphis Grizzlies guard Tony Allen (9) grabs the uniform of Orlando Magic forward Tobias Harris (12) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 25, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
AP Photo/Brandon Dill
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Tobias Harris signed a four-year, $64 million contract with the Magic just last summer.

Now, just 50 games later…

Marc Stein of ESPN:

I’m skeptical this is significant. Teams discuss trades for many players for a variety of reasons. That doesn’t mean the player is likely to be dealt.

Orlando in particular has a roster of players who cause significant debate about their value. It’s helpful to know what other teams think of Harris, and soliciting trade offers is a good method to learn his worth.

It’s more intriguing the Magic are looking to add experience. They should probably go the opposite route, but they’ve tried (and failed) for years to accelerate their rebuild. At 22-28 – four games and three teams from playoff position – now is not the time to seek shortcuts. Spend the rest of the season developing young players – and probably securing a higher draft pick in the process.

One of Harris’ best traits is his youth. He’s just 23. See what other teams would offer for him, sure. But, in all likelihood, it’s better to let him grow into the veteran Orlando needs rather than trading him for one when the rest of the team isn’t ready to win, anyway.

My guess is that’s what Orlando will do. Remember, always consider who has incentive to leak this information anonymously and what they’d be positioned to know.

PBT Power Rankings: If you’re firing a coach mid-season, you’re not highly ranked

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Stability at the top of the rankings this week, as the top eight teams remained in exactly the same spots as last week. Further down you see the Jazz climbing the rankings, the Knicks falling (although probably not as much as they should have considering Derek Fisher getting canned), and the Suns taking over the bottom slot after dropping seven straight.

source: 1. Warriors (46-4, last week No. 1). In the past three weeks, the Warriors have beaten the next three teams in this rankings (OKC gave them the hardest time). Curry’s magical touch couldn’t extend to the Carolina Panthers, but everything else is rolling for this team. So what is everyone in the Bay Area talking about with Golden State? Kevin Durant, of course. It’s always what’s next. Try to enjoy the ride, people.

source: 2. Spurs (43-8, LW 2). San Antonio has gone 5-2 with Tim Duncan out, and they have done that thanks to their offense clicking behind LaMarcus Aldridge, plus solid bench play (as always). However, in those seven games their defense has been middle of the pack, you know Gregg Popovich has noticed.

source: 3. Thunder (38-14 LW 3). I don’t care what Kevin Durant said, the Saturday loss to the Warriors was a moral victory, one that OKC can take positives away from. The Thunder came back on the Warriors and gave them problems the Spurs and Cavaliers couldn’t. Russell Westbrook is averaging near a triple-double in his last 10 games — 23.4 points, 11.7 assists, and 9.3 rebounds a game.

source: 4. Cavaliers (36-14, LW 4). Tyronn Lue has been the Cavs coach for nine games, but he’s not getting to implement all the changes he wants. In those nine games the Cavaliers are basically playing at the same pace (half-a-possession slower per game), their offense has been better but their defense has been 5.4 points per 100 possessions worse. He was never going to solve all the issues mid-season, but he’s got some practices around the All-Star break to work on what he wants the team to do.

source: 5. Raptors (34-16, LW 5). Dwayne Casey so loves his bench rotation that when starter James Johnson went down rookie Norman Powell was made the starter. It worked, even though the Raptors’ win streak died in Denver. Toronto could try to make a bold move to pick up a four at the trade deadline, Ryan Wolstat told PBT in the recent Raptors-focused podcast.

source: 6. Clippers (34-17, LW 6). No, the Clippers are not trading Blake Griffin at the deadline, stop asking. That said, the Clippers have gone 17-4 without him (after a quality win in Miami Sunday) with a smaller lineup that spreads the floor more, creating space for the Chris Paul/DeAndre Jordan pick-and-roll, and that has to have Doc Rivers thinking about moves this summer.

source: 7. Celtics (30-22, LW 7). They got a quality win over Cleveland Friday, they are now on a three-game win streak and have won 12-of-15. The Celtics are doing it with lock-down defense and a balanced offense, and it’s good they have a representative in Toronto for the All-Star Game in Isaiah Thomas.

source: 8. Grizzlies (30-21, LW 8). They seem fairly locked in as the five seed in the West, but a notch below the top four and maybe even some of the other playoff teams in the West (they lost to Dallas last weekend). Don’t be shocked if they again try to get an upgrade at the wing spot at the deadline, but the market isn’t loaded with guys they can get without giving up a lot in return.

source: 9. Hawks (30-23, LW 11). They had won three in a row before a sloppy loss to Orlando on Sunday (one they can seek revenge for Monday night in the second game of the home-and-home series). Jeff Teague’s name has come up in a lot of trade rumors, but if the Hawks want to re-sign Al Hereford this summer — and they do — what kind of message does trading the veteran point guard send?

source: 10. Heat (29-23, LW 10). Tough stretch of games for the Heat but they played good defense and picked up wins over Dallas and Charlotte. Only one game this week (San Antonio) so even with his All-Star duties Dwyane Wade’s knees should get some rest.

source: 11. Pacers (27-24, LW 12). They continue to be up-and-down, but the overtime loss to Cleveland showed just how dangerous this team can be on the right night, not just because of All-Star Paul George but also guys like Myles Turner and C.J. Miles stepping up.

source: 12. Jazz (25-25, LW 15). Winners of six in a row and it’s thanks to the return of Rudy Gobert and the lock-down Jazz defense we have remembered from the second half of last season. The Jazz are healthy and they are 12-6 in games Gobert and Derrick Favors start. Utah has moved into the eight seed in the West and I think it’s more likely they move up past Houston and maybe Dallas than it is Portland or Sacramento catches them.

source: 13. Pistons (27-25, LW 13). Detroit is not in a secure playoff spot, with Charlotte playing well and just 1.5 games behind them for the final slot in the East. To be fair, Detroit is also just 2.5 games back of hosting a first-round playoff series — the East is still tight. If Detroit wants to climb that ladder they have to start playing better, more consistent defense.

source: 14. Bulls (27-23, LW 9). Jimmy Butler is out for a little bit, but considering how the injury looked at the time a sprained knee is not that bad. Mike Dunleavy is back. The Bulls are 5-10 in their last 15 games, mostly due to the fact their defense, which was solid early in the season, has been unimpressive with Joakim Noah out.

source: 15. Mavericks (29-25, LW 14). They picked up a win over Memphis Saturday, which is important because Dallas would like to catch the Grizzlies for the five seed and avoid Oklahoma City or San Antonio in the first round. (Not that the Clippers would be easy.) The most interesting new thing in Dallas may be Dirk Nowitzki’s haircut.

source: 16. Trail Blazers (25-27, LW 16). As they needed to do, Portland took advantage of a soft stretch of the schedule to climb back in the playoff race in the West, they are currently one game back of Utah for the final playoff slot in the conference. However, now they need to keep getting wins against tougher opponents, such as at Memphis and home to Houston this week. (Portland did beat Houston last week.)

source: 17. Rockets (27-26, LW 18). Houston is 1.5 games from the nine seed and sliding out of the playoffs, and they are heading into a tough stretch of the schedule. This week they are at the Warriors then at the Trail Blazers. Then James Harden heads to Toronto for the All-Star Game. The remainder of the team could use the rest.

source: 18. Hornets (25-26, LW 20). They have played better of late and are now back in the hunt for a playoff spot in the East. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s return has helped their defense, which has keyed this run of solid play. However, if they are going to make the dance, wins against teams such as Chicago and Indiana this week are what they need.

source: 19. Wizards (22-27, LW 17). John Wall continues to be brilliant (he had 41 against the Warriors) but after that there is not much to like — the Wizards get little defense and inconsistent play from the rest of the roster. If they are going to make a run into the playoffs, that needs to start with a win streak out of the All-Star break.

source: 20. Nuggets (21-31, LW 24). Quality wins against Toronto and Chicago last week show Mike Malone’s efforts to build a culture are taking root. Nikola Jokic has been brilliant during this run, including dropping 27 and 14 on Toronto. Don’t be shocked if Denver is a seller at the trade deadline.

source: 21. Pelicans (18-32, LW 19). Losers of four in a row, and Ryan Anderson’s shooting slump is not helping his trade value (I still expect he gets moved before the deadline, some team will come in with a quality offer). Tough game against the Jazz this week, but I love to see Favors and Gobert matched up against Anthony Davis.

source: 22. Bucks (20-32, LW 23). They lost to Sacramento without DeMarcus Cousins, a sign of how poorly things are going for them right now. They will have representation in Toronto, with Khris Middleton in the three point contest (he’s shooting 41 percent from beyond the arc this season). I don’t buy the Jabari Parker trade rumors, they are not giving up on him.

source: 23. Magic (22-28, LW 25). They have been entertaining to watch this week, with a close loss to Oklahoma City then the dramatic win against Atlanta Sunday. Rumor is they are testing the trade waters for Tobias Harris and others, looking to add some veterans — and more consistent talent — to the roster.

source: 24. Knicks (23-31, LW 21). Derek Fisher is out and Kurt Rambis is in, and if you think that will turn the team around this season you should put the bong down and back away (Rambis used to play Ryan Gomes more minutes than Kevin Love). You can pick apart Fisher’s growth as a coach, and the team’s development, but it’s hard to see how this improves things mid-season. You know the dirt is coming on this. Phil Jackson wants Luke Walton, who is staying with the Warriors through the playoffs, but I think they should give Tom Thibodeau a long look.

source: 25. Kings (21-30, LW 22). The Kings have lost six of seven, falling back since being the eight seed in the West. In those seven games Sacramento is getting beat by 6.1 points per 100 possessions, mostly because their defense is giving up 110.4 points per 100 possessions (fifth worst in the NBA in that time). George Karl outlasted Derek Fisher, but maybe not by much.

source: 26. Timberwolves (16-36,LW 26). Karl-Anthony Towns continues to play well, averaging 21.6 points (on 59.9 percent shooting) and 12.7 rebounds a night in his last 10 games. The Timberwolves offense is tearing teams up recently, but they are not getting consistent stops so wins remain elusive.

source: 27. 76ers (8-43, LW 28). They beat the Nets on Saturday, which was most impressive because they did it without injured guard Ish Smith. They have something inside with Jahlil Okafor and Nerlens Noel (even if they platoon them a bit), the focus this summer needs to be adding talent out on the perimeter.

source: 28. Nets (13-39, LW 27). While they have a lot of assets who would make sense to consider trading, the fact the Nets don’t have a GM in place 10 days before the trade deadline suggests their moves will come in the summer, not February. The Nets defense let them down again Saturday against the Sixers.

source: 29. Lakers (11-42, LW 30). They won two games last week and gave the Spurs a scare in San Antonio (where the Spurs have yet to lose this season). All of which has some Lakers fans worried about their draft positioning (if their pick is not top three it goes to Philly). Kobe Bryant is averaging 24.6 points per game in his last five games, but on 39.6 percent shooting.

source: 30. Suns (14-38, LW 29). Losers of seven in a row, and their roster is about to get shaken up at the trade deadline. As if injuries didn’t already do that. Since Eric Bledsoe went down the Suns have been a mess in clutch time of the few games they do keep close.

Report: Tom Thibodeau, Brian Shaw want Knicks’ job

Tom Thibodeau
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh
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The Knicks are reportedly interested in hiring Luke Walton or Brian Shaw.

At least one of them is interested.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Derek Fisher just got fired this morning. A source close to Brian Shaw has no chill.

But he’s not the only one swarming.

Ian O’Connor of ESPN:

Shaw probably has an easier time getting the job thanks to his relationship with Phil Jackson, but Thibodeau is the better coach. For all his shortcomings, Thibodeau is an elite tactician, and he’s not woefully inadequate at communicating with his players. Plus, Jackson could potentially help Thibodeau find better balance with the drive that helps him succeed as a coach but also grates over time.

Thibodeau makes sense on paper – if Jackson is willing to go out of his comfort zone, which I find unlikely.

Shaw has the potential to do better in another stint as a head coach. I’d just want to see real evidence he has learned better communication skills before I’d even consider him. His passion for the job wouldn’t move the needle.

And if all else fails, Dennis Rodman: