NBA Playoffs, Thunder Lakers Game 4: That's what you call an old fashioned beat down

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Thumbnail image for Durant_dunk.jpgThis is exactly the kind of game you expect when the top seed Oklahoma City team gets those young, eighth seed Lakers on their home court. The better team wins big, runs them out of the building from the first tip. Just an old fashioned, no mercy beatdown.

Wait, what? The Lakers were the top seed? Really, because they didn’t look like it. The Thunder won 110-89 and the series now shifts back to LA tied 2-2. And with the Thunder having all the momentum.

It’s not that the Lakers didn’t have a plan — early in the game both Ron Artest and Kobe Bryant passed up wide-open threes to drive the paint. The Lakers worked very hard to get the ball inside to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum early — 13 of the first 16 Lakers shots came in the paint. They are bigger and they were going to exploit it.

But those were heavily contested shots. The Thunder are long and can afford to pack the paint when the Lakers are shooting just 18.2 percent from three (as they did this game). Remember the Lakers were 10 of 31 from three the game before. As it was for much of this season, there is no reason to fear the Lakers outside shooters. The Thunder are showing them no respect.

Kobe, meanwhile, looks human. He looks banged up. He tried to be the facilitator, not taking his first shot until nearly three minutes into the second quarter. He said afterward he was managing the game, trying to get others involved. Bottom line is that he had just 10 shots and 12 points on the night. Kobe Bryant did not — maybe could not — take over.

The Thunder also knew what they wanted to do to  — run. And they did. Off turnovers (although there weren’t many of those), off missed shots (there were plenty of those) and even off made shots. Russell Westbrook led the way. Oklahoma City knows that in the open court, the Lakers are no match for their athleticism, so they ran every last chance they got.

Oklahoma City had 24 fast break points to the Lakers two. The Thunder controlled the pace and the Lakers couldn’t do anything to stop it.

All that running led to fouls — the Thunder were 42 of 48 from the free throw line. The Lakers got there 28 times, but only hit 17 (60 percent).

Some Lakers fans will look at that free throw disparity talk about the refs, but the Thunder got to the line because they were the aggressor. They earned their trips to the line by attacking.

Can the Thunder run all over the Lakers again in game 5? Yes.  But look for the Lakers to do things that will slow the pace, like make a couple shots. They will have a plan. But executing that plan is something else entirely.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.