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

3 Comments

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: Lakers seeking second round pick for Nick Young

Los Angeles Lakers' Nick Young (0) celebrates after making a three-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, in New York. The Lakers won 121-107. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
Leave a comment

The buzz among Lakers fans on trade deadline day are the rumors about the Lakers going after Paul George. Those rumors place brand new team president Magic Johnson in an interesting spot because one of the first things he said upon being hired was that the team’s young core of players – Brandon Ingram, D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson — were “untouchable.” Yet, to get George out of Indiana would take two or three of them plus picks and other players (and that may not be enough considering how reluctant Larry Bird is to move George at all).

A more realistic trade: Moving Nick Young for a second-round pick. Which the Lakers are trying to do, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Young has been solid for the Lakers this season averaging 13.8 points per game, shooting 41.3 percent from three, and having a PER of 15.1 — plus he has at least tried on defense at times. This may be the most efficient season of his career. He also has an affordable $5.7 million player option for next season.

A second round pick for him is fair. The question is, does anyone want to pay it?

Report: Knicks give impression they’d just give away Derrick Rose

New York Knicks' Derrick Rose reacts to an officials call during the second half of the NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 in New York. The Hawks defeated the Knicks 108-107. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
Leave a comment

Derrick Rose said he hoped going AWOL for a game wouldn’t prevent the Knicks from re-signing him.

But it seems they’re ready to move on before the trade deadline.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The sense I’ve gotten from talking to other teams who’ve talked to New York is they feel like the Knicks would almost give away Derrick Rose right now.

Rose is earning $21,323,252 this season. No team has enough cap room to absorb his salary. The more cap space a team has, the less that team must send out to acquire Rose. But the NBA’s salary-matching rules make it difficult for many teams to trade for Rose. It’s just too hard to aggregate that much salary without including a player more valuable than Rose or someone on a long-term contract who’d be a dealbreaker for New York.

At least Rose is on an expiring contract. If they can’t dump him now, the Knicks can always let him walk in the offseason.

That expiring deal also limits potential trade partners. Why trade for Rose if you can just sign him in this summer? Because you value what he’ll provide the rest of this season. Rose is limited, but he still scores effectively on drives.

He has been linked to the Timberwolves, which makes sense given his familiarity with Tom Thibodeau from the Bulls and Minnesota’s stubborn insistence on aiming for the playoffs this year. But Ricky Rubio is more valuable than Rose, and the Timberwolves also have Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones at point guard.

There’s no simple fit for him, which could keep him in New York for another few months.

If Rose’s value has sunk this low, he’s in for a rude awakening in free agency.

 

Three players most likely to be moved on Trade Deadline day

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 1: Jahlil Okafor #8 of the Philadelphia 76ers looks on in the game against the Los Angeles Lakers on December 1, 2015 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
2 Comments

There will be trades today. Unexpected moves.

Probably not the big names fans are hoping to see. The offers for Carmelo Anthony have been so poor that as much as Phil Jackson wants to move ‘Melo he can’t take those. Indiana isn’t eager to trade Paul George, same with Chicago and Jimmy Butler, and it’s going to take a very unlikely Godfather offer to get those deals done (such as Boston parting with one of their Brooklyn picks). Andre Drummond likely remains a Piston.

Sorry to be Debbie Downer on the big trades.

But here are three guys likely to be moved.

1) Jahlil Okafor, Philadephia 76ers. He’s been in more rumors than Khloe Kardashian the past few months. The latest rumors have the Chicago Bulls making a push to land him, but demanding the Sixers take Nikola Mirotic back in the deal. The Bulls don’t need Mirotic — a stretch four shooing 29 percent from three this season — with the emergence of Cristiano Felicio. Okafor would give Chicago more scoring inside. However, why exactly do the Sixers want Mirotic when they have Dario Saric? The Bulls are going to have to throw more in that deal.

Other teams have expressed interest in Okafor, including Indiana. The Sixers need to move people around up front, the only question is price. Because there is a glut of centers on the market — Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, to name a few — the price has been driven down. There’s more supply than demand. Bryan Colangelo may decide to wait until this summer, but he’d prefer to just get this done.

2) P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns. He’s a physical, tough defender who can get you buckets on the other end, a lot of teams could use him. The Clippers had interest and offered a couple of second round picks, but the Suns wanted a first-rounder. The Knicks also had interest at one point, but they don’t have a first-rounder they can move until basically the second coming. Still, Tucker is on the market and I expect some veteran team will come in and try to scoop him up.

3) Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings. After owner Vivek Ranadive finally changed his mind, the Kings moved quickly to trade DeMarcus Cousins and put the team on a new path. A rebuilding path. One that doesn’t have a lot of roster spots for older players. That includes Darren Collison. He’s a solid point guard averaging 13.7 points per game this season, shooting 42 percent from three, and he knows how to run an offense. There’s a lot of teams that could use him, and the Kings can listen to multiple offers than take the best one. But there’s no reason to keep him around the rest of the season.

 

Report: Unless they trade for Jimmy Butler or Paul George, Celtics likely to keep main assets

4 Comments

The Celtics have been linked in trade talks to the Bulls’ Jimmy Butler and Pacers’ Paul George, but that requires the other team to deal with Boston. Indications are neither Chicago nor Indiana is particularly amenable.

So, time for the Celtics to pick another star to target?

Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald:

With less than 24 hours until the NBA’s 3 p.m. trade deadline today, the Celtics were said to be still holding out hope that internal discussions within the Bulls and Pacers would lead to one or both making their best player available.

But short of that, the view from around the league is that the Celts are becoming more and more enamored with the idea of keeping their main assets and using the first-round draft pick they have coming from Brooklyn in June via a swap of positions. (They also have the Nets’ 2018 first-rounder unencumbered.)

Sources continued to say that, while there remains a chance things could change as the deadline draws nearer, Chicago and Indiana are more likely to retain Jimmy Butler and Paul George, respectively. Those All-Star talents have been the Celtics’ two main targets

This could just be the Celtics playing hardball — either through leaks to the media or through conversations with other teams that have trickled out. But Bulpett is well-connected, especially in Boston. This is more likely than most reports of this nature to be accurate, but it’s always difficult to break through the smokescreens this time of year.

The Nets’ upcoming first-rounder is extremely valuable, as they’ll likely finish with the NBA’s worst record. The Celtics could do far worse than keeping that pick.

But Boston’s top players — Isaiah Thomas (28) and Al Horford (30) — are already at ages where they can’t necessarily wait for a 2017 pick, even someone as talented as Markelle Fultz or Lonzo Ball, to develop. It makes sense to cash in chips now.

Still, the Celtics’ deep pool of assets mean the window isn’t closing yet. There should be no desperation to make a win now trade.

If Boston keeps its main assets — mainly the Nets picks — past the trade deadline, we’ll just revisit all this again in the summer.