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NBA Playoffs: Thunder barely outgun Nuggets

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In a weekend full of high intensity, close games full of excitement, it was only fitting that the Oklahoma City Thunder and Denver Nuggets provided one last fireworks show. The game was the equivalent of some sort of bizarre video game. You have expected a mythical creature to burst through the floor and battle the players.

The Nuggets lead for the majority of the game, thanks to everything that got them to the fifth seed in the first place: ball movement, crack shooting, even scoring distribution with an attitude of “ruin all before you.” But the consistency from the Thunder was too much. If by consistency you mean Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Durant had the playoff game he was unable to muster against the Lakers last year, scoring 41 points on just 22 shots, while Westbrook had 31 points on 23 shots.

It would be easy to look at the Nuggets and consider their problem down the stretch to have been that lack of a star player. Then you look across the way and see what Carmelo Anthony managed against the Knicks especially on his final possession and maybe that wasn’t the answer. The Nuggets lost, but A. they pushed the Thunder on the road in the opener and B. did so without Aaron Afflalo. The Nuggets have a lot to feel good about going forward, except the biggest question entering the series: who’s going to guard Kevin Durant?

One thing that will be apparent going forward is that Nene is an unstoppable machine-man sent from the future to destroy us all. Nene banged knees with Kendrick Perkins in the third quarter, then came back in and helped spark the run which gave the Nuggets back momentum before the final Thunder push. He finished with 22 points and 8 rebounds, but the impact was greater considering how many people he posterized in the course of the night. That the Nuggets went away from him was mind boggling.

The Thunder have to be concerned with their defense. They eventually out-ran the Nuggets, but Denver shot 51% from the field despite shooting just 25% from 3-point land after starting 3-3. They surrendered a 110 efficiency and only slightly won the four factors battle. They had enough weapons to finish off the Nuggets Sunday but Game 1 proved this is likely to be a long, brutal series, and one that is likely to wind up with a few scuffles along the way. Put simply, these teams don’t like one another.

Some notes:

  • Eric Maynor was huge off the bench for the Thunder, particularly from the perimeter, hitting two spot-up threes. With Raymond Felton struggling across the board, that’s a big swing vote for OKC. Felton did have 8 assists, but he and J.R. Smith combined for 7-19 shooting off the bench. Denver’s strength is its depth. It can’t afford to lose points off the pine.
  • Kenyon Martin took 12 shots for Denver. Yeah, we don’t know either.
  • The Nuggets went away from Gallinari late for reasons which seem to confuse beyond all reason. He was just as unguardable for the Thunder, working both off the cut and from the perimeter. Balanced offense is great, but maybe give the players playing well more opportunities?
  • Durant had 16 at the half and finished with 41. He had 22 of 25 points the Thunder scored between the third and fourth quarter. In a round of Game 1s  full of insane performances from stars, Durant may have topped them all.

Report: Goran Dragic pledged to re-sign with Suns before they traded him

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 10:  Goran Dragic #1 of the Phoenix Suns moves the ball upcourt during the second half of the NBA game against the Houston Rockets at US Airways Center on February 10, 2015 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Rockets defeated the Suns 127-118.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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With trade rumors swirling, Goran Dragic told the Suns in February 2015 that he wouldn’t re-sign the following summer. Dragic said he no longer trusted Phoenix’s front office.

So, the Suns traded him to Miami.

But did they have to?

Then-Phoenix coach Jeff Hornacek apparently got Dragic to change his stance.

Ken Berger of CBSSports.com:

Within days of Hornacek having a heart-to-heart with Dragic and securing a commitment from the Slovenian point guard to re-sign with the Suns as a free agent the following summer, the Suns shipped him to Miami in a three-team trade, a person familiar with the situation told CBS Sports.

This substantially changes how we view that trade. At the time, it seemed the Suns got a tremendous haul for a player they were going to lose anyway. But if they could’ve re-signed him, it changes the equation.

Maybe not enough to say Phoenix erred, though.

Dragic was clearly wavering in his thinking. He later said he regretted his harsh comments about the front office. Just because he told Hornacek he’d re-sign doesn’t mean he was bound to re-sign

And Phoenix got solid return – a top-seven protected 2017 first-rounder that becomes unprotected in 2018 and an unprotected 2021 first-rounder. Picks with so few protections rarely move anymore. The Heat look solid right now, but they’re fairly old. That far into the future, anything can happen – giving those picks great upside.

So, maybe the Suns still made the right move. But maybe just keeping Dragic was more on the table than we previously realized.

Toronto security guard stops DeMar DeRozan: Do you work here?

TORONTO, ON - MAY 23:  DeMar DeRozan #10 of the Toronto Raptors speaks to media with his daughter Diar DeRozan after defeating the Cleveland Cavaliers in game four of the Eastern Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on May 23, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 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 Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
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Kyle Lowry popularized the late-night workout in these playoffs, but he’s not the only one to practice until the wee hours.

Raptors teammate DeMar DeRozan shot until about 1 a.m. Monday, according to Chris Haynes of Cleveland.com, preceding Toronto’s Game 4 win over the Cavaliers.

But the funniest part came when DeRozan arrived at the arena earlier.

Haynes:

Upon entry into the bowl area, a female security guard spotted him and stopped him. She asked what he was doing there and even went as far to ask if he worked at the arena.

DeRozan just chuckled and kept walking down the 100-level steps and onto the court where his backcourt teammate Kyle Lowry was waiting. The security guard called for backup, assuming a possible trespasser was on the scene.

Once help arrived and saw who was on the court, he said to his colleague, “That’s our two best players.” He was not quite accurate. On Monday night, those two were the two best players on the court.

“That was the first time that ever happened,” DeRozan said of the incident. “I just laughed about it. You know me. I wasn’t tripping. You can call the whole security team in here and obviously somebody is going to know, but she was just doing her job.”

Jeremy Lin ought to feel better now.

Report: Trail Blazers receive permission to interview Stephen Silas

CHICAGO, IL - JANUARY 21: Assistant coach Stephen Silas of the Charlotte Bobcats (L) works on a computer with Cory Higgins #11 before a game against the Chicago Bulls at the United Center on January 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. 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 Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This is putting the “carousel” in coaching carousel.

Hornets assistant Stephen Silas (a Rockets head-coaching candidate) and Trail Blazers assistant Nate Tibbetts (a Grizzlies head-coaching candidate) are also both interviewing to become the Warriors’ lead assistant. If Tibbetts gets the job, Portland would have a vacancy, so…

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Portland also was granted permission Sunday to talk to Silas about being its top assistant, league sources said.

Working for Steve Kerr in Golden State – which propelled Alvin Gentry to Pelicans head coach last year and Luke Walton to Lakers head coach this year – is probably preferable. But Silas’ star is rising, regardless. He’s a highly regarded assistant coach.

Terry Stotts, contract extension in hand, could add Silas without fearing being undermined. That’s the value of giving head coaches security. Hiring good assistants becomes more tenable.

Why would Silas leave another good coach, Steve Clifford in Charlotte, for the Trail Blazers? I don’t know for certain, but in these situations, there’s usually one place to start: money. Portland’s willingness to spend could pay off.

Coaching carousel report: Nate McMillan targets Bill Bayno in Indiana; Dave Joerger to keep Nancy Lieberman with Kings

12 Dec 1998:  Head coach Bill Bayno of the UNLV Rebels looks on during the game against the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavillion in Westwood, California. UCLA defeated UNLV 72-67. Mandatory Credit: Aubrey Washington  /Allsport
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While a couple of the big chairs have yet to be filled — Houston still hasn’t settled on a coach, neither has Memphis — the assistant coaching spots around the league are starting to fill up.

Marc Stein of ESPN dropped some nuggets about the bench of Nate McMillan in Indiana and Dave Joerger in Sacramento:

Bayno, the former UNLV head coach, had not been in the NBA this season but had been with Dwane Casey in Toronto the two seasons before that, and before that had been an assistant with Minnesota and Portland.

Corliss Willamson had been popular with players in Sacramento, as had Nancy Lieberman — but she also had a big fan on owner Vivek Ranadive. She is one of only two full-time female assistant coaches in the NBA (along with Becky Hammond in San Antonio).