Oklahoma City Thunder Center Kendrick Perkins (5) And Denver Nuggets Center Nene (31) From Brazil Go Toe To Toe

NBA Playoff Preview: Oklahoma City vs. Denver

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SEASON RECORDS
Thunder: 55-27 (No. 4 seed)
Nuggets 50-32 (No. 5 seed)

SEASON SERIES
Oklahoma City 3-1, including sweeping two games in April when the Nuggets were playing well and were everyone’s new second favorite team.

KEY INJURIES
Thunder: No significant injuries.
Nuggets: Ty Lawson sprained his ankle in the season finale Wednesday and it has been described as “throbbing” but he is expected to go and maybe start Game 1; Arron Afflalo has a lingering hamstring injury and while he is expected back for the series when remains unknown; both Nene and Danilo Gallinari are expected to play through minor injuries in this series.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKING (points per 100 possessions)
Thunder: Off. 108.6 (4th in NBA); 104 (13th in NBA)
Nuggets: Off. 109.5 (1st in NBA); 104.8 (16th in NBA)

THREE KEY THUNDER

Kevin Durant: He is the leading scorer in the league and he will be the focus of the Thunder offense — and Denver doesn’t have a real good way to stop him. He dropped 32 and 21 on them in the two April meetings (Durant was very efficient in the first game, not efficient in the second but it didn’t matter). In a series where the Oklahoma City Thunder defense may make it hard on the Nuggets to score, the points that Durant does put up may be the difference.

Russell Westbrook: We know just how good he is, but he has to start taking the next step because he is the key to how far the Thunder go this playoffs. If he plays within the system, the Thunder will win this series and likely more. If he starts trying to do too much himself, taking on the defense and not setting up teammates, playing selfishly and then turning the ball over, Denver will be right there. Westbrook can be a force of nature, but as the point guard he still has to share the wealth.

James Harden: Since the trade that sent Jeff Green out — for Kendrick Perkins in a very good move for the Thunder — Harden has picked up the scoring slack. He is averaging 15.8 per game since the All-Star break, and he does it with this cool old-man-at-the-Y game. He hits his shots, defends, always seems to be in the right spot making the right play. Not flashy, just damn good.

THREE KEY NUGGETS

Ty Lawson: The Nuggets need him healthy — he played well against the Thunder this season, nearly 16 points per game on 57 percent shooting. He’s quick, can penetrate and break things down. Easy points are hard to come by against the Kendrick Perkins Thunder, they need all the shooters they can get.

Danilo Gallinari: He is matched up on Kevin Durant. He has got to get a hand in his face when he shoots and make Durant do a lot of work on defense. Contest and just try to wear him down. The Nuggets are going to need points from the Italian star to hang with the Thunder.

George Karl: During the regular season, he got his team to play defense, share the ball and play with a real chip on their shoulder. That kind of team ball won them a lot of games and made them a fun team to watch. They became the plucky underdogs everyone wants to root for. But now he’s got to find a way to slow down a young, energetic team with much more firepower than he has at his disposal.

OUTLOOK

The real key to this series in the Thunder defense — they shut the Nuggets down in two recent meetings. In those games Denver shot 42 percent and in both games had an offensive rating of under 100 (points per 100 possessions). If Denver does not find a way to get some points — ideally some easy buckets — this series could be a lot shorter than people think.

Ty Lawson has to come up big, Nene needs to get Kendrick Perkins into foul trouble and keep Russell Westbrook from doing whatever he wants in the lane. Kevin Durant has to be forced to work for his shots and find them contested. Denver has to play as well as it can.

Problem is what we saw in the two recent games between these teams — OKC plays well as a team too, and they have Durant and Westbrook. Better players, more firepower.

PREDICTION

There will be no easy games for the Thunder, Denver will make them work for it. But in the end, Oklahoma City is just the better team.

Thunder in 6.

Gregg Popovich: Sidney Lowe, Wizards got off easy

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 26: Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs argues a call against the Washington Wizards at Verizon Center on November 26, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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 Rob Carr/Getty Images)
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Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe went onto the court and, according to Knicks guard Courtney Lee, verbally imitated a player.

The NBA fined Lowe $5,000 and Washington $15,000 and warned everyone more fines would follow for coaches displaying similar behavior.

Spurs coach Gregg Popovich doesn’t believe the league went far enough.

Popovich, via Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News:

“It’s unsportsmanlike, it’s childish, it’s inappropriate,” Popovich said. “There’s no place for it.”

“I think they got off easy,” Popovich said.

“What if that shot costs a playoff game because somebody does that?” Popovich continued. “Maybe that affects a coach being fired. Maybe a franchise winning a series. So if you think about it, maybe it’s worth it for 5 or 10 thousand to go do that.”

For the league to send a sterner warning about such antics, Popovich suggested steeper fines of $250,00 for the team and $50,000 to $75,000 for an offending coach.

“Everybody would sit their ass down,” Popovich said.

Regardless of circumstances, it’s notable that Popovich sided with the NBA against a fellow coach – especially over an incident that didn’t directly involve the Spurs. Most coaches, even those who share Popovich’s opinion, would stay out of it. Popovich and Lowe are both represented by the same union, which ostensibly tries to protect coaches’ paychecks. It’s one thing to criticize the highly unpopular president. It’s another to lash out at someone with whom you have a shared financial partnership.

Beyond that, Popovich is right. Coaches encroaching onto the court should be eliminated. Popovich’s claim of it being unsportsmanlike rings a little hollow, considering his own behavior. But coaches toeing the sideline to distract players detracts from the quality of the game and is unsafe. There are plenty of reasons to loath the behavior beyond it offending sensibilities.

That said, Popovich has the wrong plan to eliminate it. His proposed fines would be overly punitive to lower-paid assistant coaches – and still worth the tradeoff in certain situations.

The better solution: Call technical fouls, which the league acknowledged should’ve happened with Lowe. That eliminates all cost-benefit analysis and punishes teams directly within the game if they cross that line.

Steve Kerr, Doc Rivers clown President Donald Trump’s press, secretary Sean Spicer

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr calls out instructions during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Orlando Magic in Orlando, Fla., Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017. (AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
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President Donald Trump’s press, secretary Sean Spicer, lied about about the number of people viewing Trump’s inauguration. Spicer’s “alternative facts” have turned him into a laughingstock – and a couple NBA coaches are participating in mocking him.

Clippers coach Doc Rivers got Spicer on Saturday. Dan Woike of The Orange County Register:

Talking to a group of roughly a dozen reporters, Rivers joked it was OK to inflate the attendance figures. “The largest media crowd in NBA history came to see me today, and I really appreciate it,” he said with a laugh.

Then, Warriors coach Steve Kerr took his turn. Kerr was introduced as “former Orlando Magic star” before Golden State’s game in Orlando yesterday. He scored 122 points in 47 games with the Magic.

Kerr:

Sean Spicer will be talking about my Magic career any second now. Yeah, 14,000 points, greatest player in Magic history.

Gottem.

Lakers’ 49-point loss to lowly Mavericks the NBA’s worst defeat in decades

Los Angeles Lakers guard Louis Williams (23) sits on the the bench during a timeout as the Lakers play the Dallas Mavericks during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 22, 2017, in Dallas. The Mavericks won 122-73. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)
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Lakers coach Luke Walton called the Lakers’ 122-73 loss to the Mavericks yesterday “embarrassing for us as a team, for us as an organization.”

Um, yeah.

At 49 points, it was the most lopsided loss in franchise history. Moreover, it came to 15-29 Dallas, the NBA’s fourth worst team.

The league hadn’t seen a loss that big to a team that bad in 24 years.

Here’s every game ever decided by at least 45 points, plotted by scoring difference and the victor’s full-season win percentage (or to date for the Mavericks and Warriors, who beat the Trail Blazers by 45 earlier this season). The Lakers’ loss yesterday is marked in purple:

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Here are more details of similar games, which appear in the black box:

Game Difference Winner’s record
March 18, 1972: Portland Trail Blazers 133, New York Knicks 86 47 18-64 (.220)
February 20, 1976: Chicago Bulls 130, Portland Trail Blazers 74 56 24-58 (.293)
January 2, 1993: Sacramento Kings 154, Philadelphia 76ers 98 56 25-57 (.305)
December 29, 1992: Sacramento Kings 139, Dallas Mavericks 81 58 25-57 (.305)
January 22, 2017: Dallas Mavericks 122, Los Angeles Lakers 73 49 15-29 (.341)
February 1, 1983: Chicago Bulls 129, Houston Rockets 76 53 28-54 (.341)
February 27, 1992: Charlotte Hornets 136, Philadelphia 76ers 84 52 31-51 (.378)

The Lakers’ loss isn’t the worst in NBA history. Four teams have lost to worse teams by bigger margins, and a couple lost by more to barely worse teams.

But, barring a Dallas turnaround, the league hasn’t seen a loss like this in quite some time.

NBA: DeMarcus Cousins got away with (more important) travel before incorrect foul of Dwyane Wade

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The NBA acknowledged the attention-grabbing officiating error late in the Bulls’ win over the Kings on Saturday: DeMarcus Cousins shouldn’t have been called for fouling Dwyane Wade, who hit the go-ahead free throw with 14 seconds left.

But before Sacramento claims the referees cost it a win, the Last Two Minute Report reveals a more significant missed call that favored the Kings.

Cousins should have been called for travelling with 56.3 left as he drove for a basket, according to the league:

Cousins (SAC) moves his pivot foot. The official is looking for any illegal contact and does not pick up the pivot foot.

The non-call directly allowed Cousins to score two points. Wade made only one free throw.

The officiating errors in the final two minutes helped the Kings more than the Bulls.

(Sacramento center Kosta Koufos also got away with a shooting foul on Jimmy Butler with 37.8 seconds left, according to the league, but Robin Lopez tipped in Butler’s miss, anyway. The Bulls weren’t shorted any points on that possession.)