As we all expected, Thunder needed Nick Collison to win

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Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Nick Collison….

Like the old Sesame Street game and song, “One of these things is not like the others.”

Collison may look out of place among those elite scorers, he averaged 21 minutes a game off the bench for the Thunder this past season. The classic veteran role players. But he fits in with the best of the Thunder on Sunday — not because he suddenly can shoot, but because his active defense on Zach Randolph was a key to the Thunder advancing to the conference finals. Where a bigger task may be awaiting him.

Single-game +/- stats can be deceptive, but the fact Collison was a +26 — the Thunder outscored the Grizzlies by 26 points in the 33 minutes he was on the floor — is pretty indicative of what he did.

“He just has a knack for making winning plays every time down court,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Collison. “It doesn’t matter if it’s offense or defense, he just comes up with big offensive rebounds, he comes up with great stops — he had a charge tonight and I think he had a block or two (three actually).

“His rebounding and his toughness on Zach, who is one of the best low-post scorers in the game and he is relentless, and Nick challenged him possession by possession. And that is what he’s about.”

Defensively Collison bodied up tight on Randolph — Serge Ibaka tried to do that as well but Collison is stronger and not as easily moved off his spot. Collison had three first half blocks on Randolph and that was part of the key that took the Grizzlies main offensive weapon out of the game. By the fourth quarter the Grizzlies had stopped looking for Randolph.

Collison also had 12 rebounds, four on offense. Again, he was physical and able to push his way into the spaces he wanted. Collison also finished with 8 points, all of his shots coming right at the rim. You don’t see him trying to do too much, Collison stays within himself.

In the next series, Collison — the longest tenured member of the Thunder — Collison is one of only two players currently on the roster who made the move from Seattle (Durant is the other) — is going to be asked to defend Dirk Nowitzki for stretches. To push Dirk off his spots, to contest, to just make like difficult.

And if he can do that — as much as anyone slows Dirk — the Thunder’s best postseason run since the move may reach new heights.

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.