NBA Playoffs: The Grizzlies win Game 1

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The legend of the 2011 Memphis Grizzlies continues to grow. Days after shocking the Spurs at home in Game 1 of the first round, the 8-seeded Grizzlies started their conference semifinal series off on a high note by taking it to the Oklahoma City Thunder, winning by a final score of 114-101.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook may be the two best offensive players in this series on paper, but it was Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph who ended up stealing the show on Sunday afternoon. Memphis’ towering big men absolutely dominated the Thunder inside; Randolph was deadly around the basket and from the baseline on his way to 34 points and 10 rebounds, and Marc Gasol managed to score 20 points on only 11 shots thanks to some hard-nosed baskets inside and a handful of jumpers from the top of the key. The Kendrick Perkins trade was supposed to keep Oklahoma City’s interior defense from getting abused like it was on Sunday, but nobody told the Grizzlies. Memphis outscored the Thunder 52-38 in the painted area, and managed to pull down 17 offensive rebounds as well.

On defense, the Grizzlies weren’t really able to slow down Kevin Durant (who is?), but they did manage to turn Russell Westbrook into a volume shooter. Westbrook finished the game with 29 points and 6 assists, but he needed 23 shots and 12 free throws to get his points, and committed seven turnovers over the course of the game. Westbrook’s shaky jump shot actually wasn’t the main reason for his struggles on Sunday — he was 4-8 on shots from outside the paint, but just 5-15 on forays to the basket.

That kind of shooting performance from Westbrook actually isn’t that shocking –During his rookie season, Westbrook was a terrible finisher at the rim, and last year he made barely over half of his shots from inside the immediate basket area. Westbrook seemed to have turned things around this season, and made 60% of his shots at the rim during the regular season, but the Grizzlies were able to get Westbrook’s old demons to re-emerge. With Westbrook playing a high-usage, low-efficiency game, the rest of the Thunder weren’t able to step up offensively. Serge Ibaka was the only other Thunder player to score in double digits, and key 6th man James Harden only managed to put in five points off the bench.

The Thunder have the talent and chemistry to recover from this, but they now find themselves in a 0-1 hole thanks to their two Achilles heels: poor interior defense and Westbrook’s tendency to dominate the ball and waste possessions. Perkins was brought in to solve the former problem, and Westbrook’s maturation has made the latter somewhat less of an issue, but both problems were clearly evident in Game 1. If Oklahoma City can slow down Memphis’ twin towers and get Westbrook running the offense more smoothly, they should be able to get back on track in a hurry. If they can’t, the Grizzlies’ improbable playoff run may not be ending anytime soon.

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Lonzo Ball makes expected official, declares for NBA Draft

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There was no hesitation. None was expected.

After UCLA was eliminated from the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet 16 by Kentucky, the Bruin’s Lonzo Ball — who is expected to be a top-three pick — declared for the NBA draft this June.

Ball is expected to go second or third in the upcoming NBA draft. Speaking with people around the league Washington’s Markelle Fultz is a clear No. 1, but after that if the Lakers — the team with the second-worst record in the league — have the No. 2 pick they are expected to snap up Ball. Depending on how the lottery shakes out the top of the draft, Ball could fall a little — there are teams that like Josh Jackson — but not much.

Ball is a 6’6″ point guard who averaged 14.7 points, 7.6 assists and 6.1 rebounds a game for UCLA last season. He has fantastic passing vision, impressive shooting range (although he can take some questionable shots), and a great sense of floor spacing and how to run an offense, particularly in transition. However, his weaknesses were exposed in his final game some as De’Aaron Fox of Kentucky completely outplayed Ball. Defensive pressure took Ball (and the Bruins) out of rhythm, forced them to play in the half court (where Ball is not as strong), and it’s one of the things Ball is going to have to adapt to at the next level where everyone is more athletic. Also, he’s going to need to get more consistent defensively.

The potential for Ball to be special is there, which is why he will go high in the draft.

And no, the rantings of his father will not change that. Teams see the father as a distraction that can be handled, they aren’t going to let him get in the way of drafting talent.

Watch highlights of Shaquille O’Neal’s statue unveiling outside Staples Center

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Kobe Bryant said “Thank you. I learned so much from you as a player.”

Jerry West said he loved him like a son.

Jeanie Buss said “No one celebrates a championship like you, but please no more asking Mark Madsen to dance.”

The Lakers unveiled a new statue for Shaquille O’Neal Friday night, one flying high over a Staples Center entrance, and the stars were on hand for the event. Phil Jackson was there making Snoop Dogg jokes. Shaq and Kobe were sharing laughs. It was a big night for a big man with a big personality. And a big heart.

Check out the highlights above.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah to be suspended 20 games for violating league drug policy

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Joakim Noah hasn’t set foot on an NBA court since Feb. 4, and his season was all but ended when he had knee surgery at the end of February. Last summer, Phil Jackson took a $72 million gamble on an aging Noah that has not worked at all, and left New York with an anchor of a contract for three more seasons after this one.

Tomorrow it will be official Noah is done for this season, but not because of the Knicks or his injury.

During his recovery, Noah violated the NBA’s drug policy and will pay for a 20-game suspension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski at The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Noah tested positive for an over-the-counter supplement that is prohibited under the outgoing Collective Bargaining Agreement, league sources said.

Noah, 32, is expected to serve 10 games of the suspension to finish out the 2016-17 regular season and 10 games to start the 2017-18 season, league sources said.

The National Basketball Players Association’s investigation concluded that Noah hadn’t “knowingly or willingly” violated the policy and cooperated fully with the league’s probe, league sources said.

According to reports, this is not a substance banned in the new CBA that kicks in July 1, but was covered in the previous CBA. Over-the-counter supplements could be something put in his regular workout recovery drinks that he was unaware of, although we are unsure of the details.

Traditionally, the player has to be healthy enough to play before the league starts the suspension. Noah has been out for more than a month, but if a league doctor says he is healthy enough to play the then the clock on the suspension can start. The 10 games this season is no big deal for the Knicks, he wasn’t going to play anyway, but the 10 at the start of next season could sting (depending on how they plan to use him).

 

 

Devin Booker drops 70 points for Suns in loss to Celtics (VIDEO)

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Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker is just 20 years old. He’s a League Pass favorite, and indeed he should be a favorite in Phoenix for years to come. On Friday, Booker dropped 70 points — yes, 70 — in a loss to the Boston Celtics.

Booker’s 70 points is the best outing of the season. It also made him the youngest player to ever reach 70 points.

His final stat line, as you might imagine, was ridiculous. Booker shot 21-of-40 from the field, going 4-of-11 on 3-pointers and a whopping 24-of-26 from the free-throw line. The Suns phenom also grabbed eight rebounds to go with six assists.

Despite the loss to Boston, 130-120, it’s still an incredible milestone for Phoenix and for Booker. There’s a bright spot out there for the Suns.