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.

Brook Lopez ducks LeBron, then airballs two free throws (VIDEO)

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Los Angeles Lakers big man Brook Lopez is a good free-throw shooter. He is shooting 79.7% the year in 2017, and indeed is a 79.4% FT shooter for his career.

You wouldn’t know that given the sequence that happened on Thursday night as the Lakers took on the Cleveland Cavaliers in Ohio.

Lopez’s confidence seemed to be shaken when in the first half LeBron James was driving down the middle of the floor and came in for a dunk. Lopez was standing underneath the basket, and graciously stepped out of the way despite being the tallest player on the floor and the most likely candidate to challenge LeBron at the rim.

Via Twitter:

Just 40 seconds later, Lopez went to the line and missed too straight free throws via airball.

Via Twitter:

The sequence was topped off around 12 seconds later when Lopez racked up a goaltending violation.

It was a tough outing for all of the Lakers as Cleveland got the better of them, 121-112.

Kevin Garnett on Timberwolves ownership: “They suck”

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Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves are at odds. That should come as no surprise.

Garnett has publicly said that he would like to buy out Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor as opposed to partnering with him in someway for the team. For his part, Taylor has said that Garnett has failed to reach out after the team said they wanted to retire his number.

Then there’s the whole issue that Garnett has with how the team handled Flip Saunders’ death.

It’s a back-and-forth situation, and Garnett isn’t afraid to speak his mind as he did recently with vice sports. Speaking with Michael Pina, Garnett had some very choice words when he was describing the front office and ownership of the Timberwolves.

Via Vice Sports:

I’m more with individuals versus the teams. I’ve gotta admit that. I’ve gotta say that Embiid, Karl-Anthony Towns, Jokic, Porzingis, Damian Lillard, Curry, Durant, I’m enjoying the young bucks, watching young Ingram get better and watching little L. Ball figure it out, you know what I’m saying? I’m checking it all out. I like individuals, not so much on the organizations. Obviously I’m gonna be with Minnesota and the players. Not so much upstairs. I don’t really deal with Minnesota’s upstairs. They suck. But Boston, all day. You know I’m a C ‘till I die. I always root for Brooklyn. But other than that I don’t really get into too many of the upstairs. I’m more watching the guys and watching their progression.

How much do you want to see Kevin Garnett as owner of the Timberwolves? It would be great when he comes into the office at 6 AM every day dressed in a full suit already with a full bead of sweat on.

Kristaps Porzingis leaves game with sore left knee

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Everyone please hold your collective groans until the end.

On Thursday night, New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis had to leave with an apparent left knee injury on a non-contact play against the Brooklyn Nets.

The play happened early in the third quarter when was guarding Brooklyn’s Rondae Hollis-Jefferson. After the play, Porzingis came up wincing on his left knee and immediately asked out of the game.

Via Twitter:

As a publication, the team had only released for that Porzingis would not return to the game against the Nets. For Porzingis’ part, it looks like he is feeling OK for now, although he has yet to be examined for a definitive prognosis. Non-contact injuries seem to give us pause given injuries to players like Derrick Rose, but there’s no reason to panic just yet. He did walk off by his own, so that’s heartening.

Let’s hope Porzingis returns to the floor after a bit of ice and some rest.

NBA “City” jerseys appear to leak via NBA 2K18, and they’re real ugly (PHOTOS)

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We’ve seen NBA jerseys leak accidentally in the past, and the new Nike uniforms haven’t been a well-kept secret.

The new jersey sponsor announced plans for four kits for each team, with the final one supposedly coming late in the year or early in 2018. Now, it seems we have our answer for what Nike’s “City” jerseys will look like for many clubs.

According to the guys over at SportsLogos.net, the popular video game franchise NBA 2K accidentally leaked many of the city jerseys for the teams. There is a huge group of photos for these jerseys, and many of them are absolutely terrible.

Here’s a smattering of some of the worst offenders (although “smattering” is a loose term considering there are a lot to choose from):

The Magic one is an iPhone background, Utah’s is ORANGE, Oklahoma City’s looks like an abbreviation for a regional auto parts store … it just goes on and on like this.

Out of the ones leaked thus far, I see only two universally good ones (although the staggered numbers on the New Orleans ones gives me pause):

What is happening in the NBA with these uniforms?