NBA Playoffs: Oklahoma City plays like veterans and the Lakers fold under pressure, just like we expected

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Westbrook_Dunk.jpgEveryone expected this to be a series of close games, of exciting finishes. In the end, it would be the team with the calm demeanor, the team that played like they seen pressure like this a thousand times and knew how to handle it that was going to win.

Oklahoma City, of course.

Thursday — in a rockin’ loud building that had the volume of a 1984 Van Halen concert at key points — it was the young Oklahoma Thunder that executed their game plan. It was their star Kevin Durant that out dueled Kobe Bryant. It was the Thunder role players that made plays.

This time it was the Thunder with the win, 101-96. The Lakers still lead the series 2-1 but Oklahoma City can tie it up on Saturday.

It was the first NBA playoff game ever for Oklahoma City and the fans were ready — everyone in the crowd put on the Smurf-blue shirts and screamed like Jamie Lee Curtis in a slasher film. It was a refreshing bit of passion, a contrast to the seemingly jaded Lakers fans. But early on the Lakers just ignored it and played like they are the defending champions. Los Angeles opened the game on a 10-0 run fueled by Thunder missed shots, which stunned the Smurfs crowd and quieted the Ford Center. The Lakers started out hitting their first seven shots, including previously cold Derek Fisher and Ron Artest. They started out playing with the poise defending NBA champions.

But these Thunder are relentless. They fought back to stay in the game, to stay close. They made runs throughout the game, turning a couple Lakers misses or turnovers into fast points and getting within four, only to have the Lakers brush it aside by pounding the ball inside to their great advantage in the paint. Suddenly the lead would be 10 again.

And so it went. Then the Thunder made a 10-1 run to close out the third quarter — a Russell Westbrook dunk, a James Harden three, a Durant three — and trailed by only one. As it had been in game two — as it was expected to be all series — it was now about the team that could execute under pressure. And most expected that to be the Lakers, what with the banners ad the rings and the coach and Kobe and Fisher.

Not Thursday night. This was Oklahoma City’s big night.

Durant flat out beat Bryant. The Thunder switched Durant on to defending him and Kobe went 2 for 10 and settled for jump shots with the long arm of Durant in his face (Kobe was 1 of 9 on jumpers in the quarter). When the Lakers won a close game at home on Tuesday he was 4 of 7 in the fourth, and those 7 shots were closer (more at the elbow, fewer beyond the three point line. Durant changed that, and at the same time got hot on offense and poured in 12 fourth-quarter points.

As a team the Thunder pressured and the Lakers gladly settled. That’s how the Lakers ended up taking 31 threes (making 10).  In the fourth, Los Angeles went 5 for 15 on shots from 15 feet or more out. Meanwhile Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol had just four shots total. The Lakers went away from their advantage inside to shoot jumpers. Ones they missed.

It was Oklahoma City’s night.

The Thunder are growing right before our eyes. You can see a smart young team soaking in the lessons of the playoffs, and Thursday night applying them. That’s what makes game four interesting. The Thunder and their fans will swarm like piranha sensing blood in the water. They will be able to taste a tied series. But these Lakers play better when challenged. They have the experience if they choose to call on it. Phil Jackson knows how to make adjustments and get the team to feed the big men inside. Kobe Bryant isn’t going to go 2 for 10 in the clutch twice. Is he?

Maybe, with the long arm of Durant in his face.What we have now is a real playoff series.

Report: Multiple executives expect Knicks to keep Kurt Rambis

New York Knicks head coach Kurt Rambis calls out a play from the bench during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Philadelphia 76ers, Friday, April 8, 2016, in Philadelphia. The Knicks won 109-102. (AP Photo/Michael Perez)
AP Photo/Michael Perez
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Phil Jackson reportedly pushed for the Knicks to give Kurt Rambis a multi-year contract. Jackson isn’t searching for another coach right now.

You do the math.

Stefan Bondy of the New York Daily News:

Multiple executives around the league expect Rambis to get the job.

The usual question applies: Do these executives know something we don’t, or are they just reading the same writing on the wall? They’re positioned to glean inside information, but that isn’t necessarily required here. All the public circumstantial evidence points to Rambis.

This is another signal the Knicks will make Rambis their permanent head coach, but it was already looking that way.

Goran Dragic’s teeth went through his lip last night (video)

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Goran Dragic has a habit of losing teeth, but not usually through his lip.

Cringe.

Report: Jeremy Lin indicates he’ll opt out, says he wants to re-sign with Hornets

Charlotte Hornets guard Jeremy Lin reacts after scoring against the New York Knicks during the second half of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016, in Charlotte, N.C. Charlotte won  97-84. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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Jeremy Lin said the Hornets “came out of nowhere” to sign him last summer.

His salary shows it.

With the market for Lin depressed following a dismal season with the Lakers, Charlotte snagged Lin for just the bi-annual exception. At least Lin – who bounced back with a solid year – got a player option for next season, when he’s due to make just $2,235,255.

Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Lin indicated he plans to opt out of his contract

Lin, who can opt out of next season on his contract, says he’d very much like to re-sign with the franchise this summer.

“I would love to,” Lin said Monday. “I don’t like moving every year, I don’t like packing and unpacking boxes. So we’ll see. But I’m definitely interested in coming back.”

“This is the most fun I’ve had in my six years” in the NBA, Lin said. “Being around a great group of guys and a coaching staff that really cares. I’ve learned so much about the game of basketball, particularly at the defensive end.”

The Hornets face a summer of tough choices after relying on so many players with expiring contracts.

Let’s say Charlotte renounces Troy Daniels, Jorge Gutierrez and Tyler Hansbrough and waives Aaron Harrison, whose salary is unguaranteed. The Hornets might not drop those low-cost players, but if it makes the difference between retaining a rotation player or not, they probably would. So, for these purposes, they’re out.

Counting cap holds for Nicolas Batum and Courtney Lee, Charlotte would project to have just more than $12 million in cap space. The Hornets could spend that money then exceed the cap to re-sign Batum and Lee, whose 2016-17 are likely to top their cap holds ($19,687,961 for Batum, $10,782,500 for Lee).

But that leaves just about $12 million to re-sign Lin, Marvin Williams and Al Jefferson.

Charlotte has Lin’s Non-Bird Rights (technically a form of Bird Rights), but because his cap would match the match the Non-Bird Exception ($2,682,306), that doesn’t matter here. It also doesn’t matter because Lin will command far more than that. So, cap space will be needed to re-sign him.

Ditto Williams and effectively Jefferson. The Hornets could pay Williams $12.25 million next season with the Early Bird Exception, but that likely won’t be enough to keep him. Charlotte has Jefferson’s full Bird Rights, but his 2016-17 salary is likely to fall short of his cap hold ($20,250,000). So, re-signing him or renouncing him creates more room than keeping his hold on the books.

With the salary cap projected to reach $92 million, giving most teams max cap space, $12 million might allow the Hornets to keep one of Lin, Williams or Jefferson. Maybe. Lin and Williams could probably get more elsewhere, and Jefferson would have an outside chance.

Now, Charlotte would clear more room if Batum and/or Lee walk. But the Hornets have called Batum their top priority, and he sounds like he wants to re-sign. Lee has also proven valuable, and I’d be surprised if there’s not also a major effort to retain him.

Charlotte could clear extra room by trading Spencer Hawes ($6,348,759) and/or Jeremy Lamb ($6,511,628), two players whose salaries will look decent in the new cap environment. But that still might not open enough space to keep two of Lin/Williams/Jefferson if Batum and Lee stay.

Williams, a starter, would probably be the top priority. But he could also probably draw the largest offers elsewhere, so he might price himself out of the Hornets’ range.

Lin holds more value than Jefferson, even as Kemba Walker‘s backup. Jefferson has ceded the starting center spot to Cody Zeller, and Jefferson’s low-post style might not fit Charlotte anymore.

But Lin might have also priced himself out of the Hornets’ range. It’s a thin free-agent class at point guard, and teams that strike out on Mike Conley (and maybe Rajon Rondo) could extend a huge offer to Lin.

He clearly likes it in Charlotte. The question might become: How much of a discount would he take to stay?

Byron Scott says he wants to coach again, should have played his veterans even more

Los Angeles Lakers head coach Byron Scott watches the action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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Deposed Lakers’ coach Byron Scott did a media tour on Thursday — radio interviews up and down the dial, plus speaking to some members of the Los Angeles media.

It was a tour d’ force of all the things that had Lakers’ fans shaking their heads all season long. Take this quote given to Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News.

“If I knew this was coming, I would have played Lou [Williams], Brandon [Bass] and guys like that a whole lot more,” Scott said, referring to his veterans in an interview with this newspaper. “They gave me the best chance to win.”

He didn’t know his job was in danger? That would make one.

Scott was asked to do two contradictory things as Lakers coach: Put Kobe Bryant in the spotlight his final couple seasons while also developing the Lakers’ young talent. That was never going to lead to many wins — and Lakers’ brass understood that.

However, if your team is one of the two worst defensive teams in the league in consecutive years, that’s also not all about the roster. That’s about not getting buy-in from the players and effort to play whatever system he put in place. These Lakers teams didn’t hustle for Scott.

Scott admitted he was old school, but told Rich Eisen on the Rich Eisen Show (hat tip Eye on Basketball) that so is Gregg Popovich, and he’s doing just fine. Which shows a lack of understanding of the nuance with which Popovich works. Unlike the coach with a touch for praise at the right time in San Antonio, Scott’s old-school, tough-love ways turned off the young Lakers — it wasn’t just having them come off the bench, it was what was seen by the young players as a lack of communication as to why. A lack of coaching them up.

But Scott took credit on ESPN’s “The Jump” for the improved play and development of D'Angelo Russell and Julius Randle last season. He said he needed to rein in Russell’s ego and get him to be professional, and he said his plan “worked.” Whether Russell’s development happened because of or in spite of Scott depends on who you ask, but the young potential star’s relationship with his coach was not good. That’s one thing Luke Walton was brought in to change.

Scott said multiple times over the course of the day he wants to coach again. His last two jobs — Cleveland post LeBron and with the Lakers — were about developing young talent and none of those five teams finished better than 12 games under .500. I’d say that would damage future job prospects, but this is the NBA so who knows. He may get another chance in a few years.