Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City Thunder

This year, can an underdog win the NBA title?

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Bill James, the legendary baseball statistician, has said the problem with the NBA is the best team almost always wins.

In baseball, the summer-long 162-game season gives you the best teams in each division, but the best-of-seven playoff series involves a lot of luck and favors hot pitchers and bullpens. In the NFL the playoffs are single elimination, favoring the hottest team not always the best team. Same with the NCAA college basketball tournament.

But the NBA, with its best of seven, heavily favors the heavily favorite. Put simply, at the start of the NBA season you can name the five teams most likely to win an NBA title and 9 times out of 10 your champion comes from that group.

Which makes this season’s NBA playoffs interesting. Sure, we may still wind up with Lakers vs. Celtics in the finals, but this year there will be upsets and new faces.

Could an underdog actually hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy at the end of the season?

Well, define underdog. Do you mean a team that is an underdog in its first-round playoff matchup? Then no. Look, maybe the Knicks get by the Celtics, or the Trail Blazers knock off the Mavericks, but do you really think New York or Portland are making a run all the way to the NBA finals? I like LaMarcus Aldridge and Gerald Wallace as much as the next guy, but Portland would have to get past the Lakers and the Spurs just to reach the finals. The Knicks would still have the Heat and Bulls just to get to the finals. So, no, that’s not really happening.

But, could someone we didn’t expect at the start of the year win the title?

The Chicago Bulls fit that bill. And if defense wins championships then they have a real chance because nobody defends like them, taking away what other teams are comfortable with, closing out on shooters. They get enough offense from Derrick Rose, at least they did during the regular season. That will be the test, when teams start trapping Rose and daring anyone else to beat them who will step up. The Bulls will still execute better than anyone on defense, but will their offense be up to the task.

Out west, the Oklahoma City Thunder fit the bill. There were everybody’s darling when they were running up and down the court and pushing the Lakers to six games last year. Now they are more mature and they added Kendrick Perkins to address a need in the paint. They are on the verge of a breakthrough, and they should get past Denver in the first round.

They likely face San Antonio in the second round, and that will be their big test — the Thunder are the more athletic team, but have they matured in how to use that athleticism enough overcome the calm, efficient execution of the Spurs. Will Kevin Durant be a playoff assassin, will Russell Westbrook use his quickness within the system. Spurs coach Gregg Popovich was worried they could and said last week that his team would be challenged trying to run up and down the court with the Thunder.

If the Thunder defend, if they get Durant and Westbrook going, they can beat anyone. They can beat the Spurs, they can beat the Lakers. They are contenders.

Still, maybe not this year. But in a couple of years, expect to see a Thunder vs. Bulls finals. But by then they will be the favorites.

Kevin Durant gets fouled by Stephen Curry, officials whistle Joe Johnson instead (VIDEO)

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The Golden State Warriors are so talented, perhaps the officials are predisposed to blowing whistles in their favor. At least, that’s the only explanation you could give to a Utah Jazz fan after seeing what happened between Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Utah’s Joe Johnson on Thursday night.

As Durant came off a curl on the far side of the court, he used a screen set by Curry on Johnson.

With the ball in his hands, Durant rose to fire but found himself locked in arms with another player. Durant’s shot attempt helplessly bounced away as he shot, and officials whistled Johnson on the play.

Of course, a closer look reveals that the player Durant’s arms were tangled up with was … Curry.

Yes, Curry had arm locked what he thought was Johnson on the screen but was instead his teammate and MVP candidate.

It didn’t matter, as referees awarded Durant the free throws, of which he only made 1 of 2.

Perhaps that’s some solace?

Golden State beat Utah, 106-99.

DeMarcus Cousins trolls Joakim Noah on shooting form (VIDEO)

noah cousins
AP
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New York Knicks C Joakim Noah has an awkward jumper and free throw technique, there’s no denying that. His two-handed, horizontal approach to shooting a basketball is ripe for criticism.

DeMarcus Cousins thinks so, at least.

During a game between the Sacramento Kings and the Knicks, Cousins decided to give Noah a little tongue-in-cheek trolling about his form.

Via Twitter:

Looks about right.

LeBron James, Cavaliers Rick-roll intro video for ’80s night

Cleveland Cavaliers' LeBron James (23) shoots over Miami Heat's Rodney McGruder (17) in the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 9, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
Associated Press
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The 1980s were back in Cleveland Friday night. Well, not completely, Bernie Kosar wasn’t leading the Browns to contention (although man, could they use him now).

No, the ’80s were back in the form of the throwback orange Cavaliers uniforms. And to complete the theme, the Cavaliers players dressed up and Rick-rolled the intro video — they did the complete “classic” Rick Astley hit “Never Gonna Give You Up.” And it was awesome.

The Cavaliers won the game 114-84 over the Heat behind 28 from Kevin Love, but that was secondary to the intro video.

Best dunk from Friday night? Houston’s Sam Dekker. Yes, Dekker. (VIDEO)

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Second-year forward Sam Dekker is finding a comfort zone in the Mike D’Antoni offense in Houston. Healthy this season, he is coming off the bench for 18 minutes a night, and his game where he is quick and can also hit the three is fitting perfectly with Houston’s system, leading him to 6.7 points a game.

Also, he can run the floor. And finish.

As Enes Kanter found out when he hustled, got back in transition defense, and wasn’t going to stop Dekker from getting to the rim.

That’s a quality dunk.

The Rockets went on to win the game 102-99, despite Russell Westbrook‘s seventh-straight triple-double.