NBA Playoffs: Tonight is OKC and Durant's time to shine

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Thumbnail image for Durant_game3.jpgThe Thunder are outmatched. Make no mistake about it. They’re in over their heads, a young team of athletic defenders facing arguably the most talented juggernaut in the league. They don’t have the depth inside to dominate the Lakers, though their block efforts in Game 2 helped. They don’t have the star power to draw calls like the whisper fouls Kobe Bryant got off his and-ones, nor the power to avoid such calls like the one whistled on their star player when a 7 foot Spaniard, known for his acting chops was felled as if he was struck by a hammer. They are out-manned, out-starred, and though they have the Coach of the Year, likely outwitted by the 10-ring-fingered man across the scorer’s table.

And none of that matters.

Because tonight, the Oklahoma City Thunder can announce to the world that they are a major league sports town, and that their star is as worthy as anyone’s.

Kevin Durant shook off the stab-him-if-you-have-to defense of Ron Artest in Game 1 to finish with an incomplete, but still impressive performance in Game 2. While Artest was still able to body, beleaguer, and bother Durant quite a bit, the young man they call Durantula still got his, seeming to get better and more confident as the game went along, and came within a hair of knocking down the shot to win it, under the bright lights and taco-chanting masses of Staples.

All year the Thunder have impressed with how even-handed they’ve been. They don’t get up or down; they seem to possess a wisdom far beyond their handful of years in the league. But in front of a crowd that’s welcomed them, a small town community that they’ve made their home in and which the team has been very honest about genuinely loving, you can expect the emotions to run high. Oklahoma City fans are new to the sport, still finding their way, still learning about the salary cap and superstar calls and the rest. But the one thing I can tell you as Midwest native is that these people will be there, and they will be loud. There will be no getting to the arena late because of traffic, no gawking at starlets who couldn’t tell a fast break from fast food, no excitement over the Jack-In-The-Box. They’ll be out for blood. And the roars for their star, Kevin Durant, will be deafening.

Durant has an opportunity to make a statement tonight, to everyone who thought he was an inefficient scorer, that his offensive prowess was a detriment to the club, who doesn’t think he’s on the level with Bryant, LeBron, Wade, and the rest, despite the fact that he led the National Basketball Association in scoring this season. He can put himself onto another level, rise up, fire, and let the world know that the Thunder are not a part of the future, they are a part of the present, and they are to be feared.

Which isn’t to say they’ll win, of course. It would take a nearly flawless combination of the emotion, execution, level-headed communication on defense, and probably a stroke of good fortune for the Thunder to pull out a win tonight. The Lakers simply have too much length. Too much power, too much Kobe, as inefficient as he may be right now. But the Thunder have exposed cracks in Camelot’s facade. Fisher can’t stay in front of Westbrook. Durant is figuring out Artest like a Rubix cube, and Artest’s due for an outburst. Serge I-BLOCK-A Ibaka has become a force inside, sending the Lakers back from whence they came. And Jeff Green won’t be quieted for four games.

The Lakers know a jugular stab tonight ends the series. There will be a game four in function but not in spirit if they should quiet the “commoner” crowd  in OKC. But this Laker team also has a rare penchant for failing when things are going their way, for lacking the focus to close teams out, and to routinely get shoved around if the opponent shows enough fire.

There may be Thunder in the sky  tonight, but there will be fire in the stands.

Key Matchup: Ron Artest v. Kevin Durant
The Thunder did a much better job in Game Two of freeing up Durant, sending him off screens for catch and shoot opportunities and Durant simply out-willed Artest, though Artest always had an arm up. Going to the high elbow post could be especially good for Durant, keeping the ball away from Artest’s swiping arms. For his part, Crazy Pills needs to maintain the same ball-denial-or-die-trying approach he’s worked in this series, side fronting Durant on the wing, where he usually receives his passes. He needs to avoid getting caught up in a confrontation, because I’d bet one of the Thunder are going to level him on a screen tonight.

Key Matchup 2: Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar v. Russell Westbrook and Eric Maynor
Why isn’t Derek Fisher listed here? Because Derek Fisher has a better chance of chasing down a unicorn and riding it to “MyPullUpJumpersAreStillAGoodIdeaLand” than keeping Westbrook in front of him. But what the Lakers have done is let Westbrook get his while the team focuses on keeping Green and Durant semi-cool, then putting in the more athletic Farm and Brown for an up-tempo counter on Westbrook late. Eric Maynor could be a huge swing factor tonight, as his ability to get to the rim for floaters could mean more rest for Westbrook heading into crunch time and allow him to counter Phil Jackson’s point guard rope-a-dope.

Cavs waive veteran Dahntay Jones, but he could return to Cleveland

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16: Dahntay Jones #30 of the Cleveland Cavaliers drives to the basket against Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors in the first half in Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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On the last day of the regular season, the Cavaliers signed veteran wing Dahntay Jones. He played 15 games for them in the playoffs, including six games in the Finals. On Saturday, the Cavs announced that they waived him to stop his salary from becoming guaranteed, but ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reports that there’s a chance he could be back in Cleveland.

Jones isn’t much more than an end-of-the-bench guy at this point, but if Cavs GM David Griffin wants to keep the group that won the 2016 title together, there’s no harm in bringing Jones back as a veteran locker-room presence.

Report: Carlos Boozer reaches deal to play in China

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 07:  Carlos Boozer #5 and Dwight Buycks #20 of the Los Angeles Lakers react to a laker foul during the game against the Los Angeles Clippers at Staples Center on April 7, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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For the first time since 2002, Carlos Boozer was without an NBA home last season. Following his 2014-15 campaign with the Lakers, he was not signed by a team last season, despite having interest from the Bucks and others. Now, he’s going to continue his playing career in China, according to international basketball reporter David Pick:

Boozer is 34 and at this point in his career, probably wouldn’t command much more than a minimum deal in the NBA, or any promise of extended playing time. In China, he can earn more money and have a more prominent role on a team. This is a win-win for him.

Judge refuses to dismiss sex suit against Derrick Rose

MIAMI, FLORIDA - APRIL 07:  Derrick Rose #1 of the Chicago Bulls looks on during a game against the Miami Heat  at American Airlines Arena on April 7, 2016 in Miami, Florida.  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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) A federal judge has refused to dismiss a lawsuit alleging New York Knicks player Derrick Rose and two friends drugged and gang-raped a woman.

On Wednesday, federal Judge Michael W. Fitzgerald said a jury must decide whether to believe Rose’s contention that the woman, a former lover, consented to group sex at her home in 2013.

The case could now go to trial in October, when Knicks training camp gets underway.

Messages left for Rose’s agent, B.J. Armstrong, were not immediately returned Saturday.

According to court records, the woman had been drinking at Rose’s Beverly Hills, California, home, and a friend helped her return home, where she vomited and fell asleep.

The woman’s $21.5 million sexual battery lawsuit contends that Rose and the other two defendants entered her apartment the next morning and raped her.

The woman believes that an unknown drug was slipped into her drink at Rose’s home, and she “did not do any pregnancy tests or a rape kit because she was terribly ashamed and embarrassed,” according to her lawsuit.

Rose has denied the allegations, and his lawyer has labeled the lawsuit an extortion attempt.

Defense court filings contend that the woman consented to the sex acts, invited the men to her apartment and buzzed them in through security.

In denying Rose’s request to toss out the lawsuit, the judge said Rose’s version of events “could well convince a reasonable jury,” but there was substantial disagreement over the facts and a jury also could conclude the opposite.

Rose, 27, was the NBA’s 2011 MVP with the Chicago Bulls, but he has struggled with knee injuries and was traded to the Knicks in June.

Warriors add Willie Green as assistant coach

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It’s a good thing to be on the Golden State coaching staff — Alvin Gentry rode it to the head coaching spot in New Orleans, Luke Walton to his “dream job” with the Lakers, and quickly having “Warriors” on your resume is getting recognition like having “Spurs” on it around the NBA.

So good for Willie Green, the former NBA sharpshooter who will now be coaching a few other pretty good shooters in Golden State. Shams Charania of The Vertical on Yahoo Sports broke the story.

Green is a 12-year NBA veteran, who is getting his first NBA coaching job.

NBA veteran coach Mike Brown will be in the chair next to Steve Kerr next season in Golden State. Kerr keeps having to replenish his staff as they are getting better jobs elsewhere after having been around the Warriors’ organization.