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NBA Playoffs: OKC takes Game 2 in Dallas

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Can one play, early in the first quarter of Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, change a series? The Oklahoma City Thunder certainly hope so.

After falling behind by double digits early, Kevin Durant seemed to have had enough. With his Thunder looking sluggish and trailing by nine points with just over a minute left in the first quarter, Durant drove into the lane and elevated until he was eye-level with the rim, and threw down an aggressive slam over Brendan Haywood that seemed to awaken his team. From then on, OKC was able to match every move that Dallas made, and eventually was able to pull away for a 106-100 win on Thursday to even the series at a game apiece.

Dirk Nowitzki finished with 29 points, five rebounds, and five assists, but wasn’t anywhere near as dominant as he was during his 48-point performance in Game 1. The Thunder largely fronted Nowitzki defensively, and brought baseline double-team help to force the ball out of his hands.

On the Thunder’s side, Durant was big in total, but James Harden had his highest scoring game of the postseason, pouring in 23 points on just nine shots in over 32 minutes of action. But something that will most certainly be talked about before Game 3 is the fact that starting point guard Russell Westbrook was on the bench as this one came to its conclusion.

“Sticking with Eric (Maynor) over Russell, I thought Eric did a good job,” Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said, in a press conference streamed live on NBA.com. “Russell is an incredible player, he’s our starting point guard, but we weren’t getting a lot of things done. And his time was to come out, and I stayed with Eric.”

Westbrook was more than fine in this one, and finished with 18 points and four assists. But the group with Maynor was playing at a higher and more cohesive level late, so it’s not surprising that Brooks would stick with the bench squad that was getting it done.

Lest you think that Nowitzki simply didn’t have it in this one the way he did in Game 1, think again. He played all 12 minutes of the final quarter, and scored 16 of his team’s 24 points in that frame. But the rest of the team went just 2 of 12 in the fourth, while the Thunder, led by Harden, shot almost 65 percent to close this one out.

The lack of defense from Dallas is nothing new — as dominant as Nowitzki was in Game 1, OKC was within reasonable reach in the final minutes, and let’s not forget, Durant finished that game with 40. If the Mavs are to take command of this series, it will be as a result of their supreme execution on the offensive end of the floor.

With the series tied heading into Game 3, there are a few things to watch. Can Nowitzki once again dominate as he did in Game 1? Can the Thunder figure out the proper lineup to use late, as they did in Game 2? And most importantly, can OKC perform with its All-Star starting point guard possibly questioning his ability?

As they say, this is why we watch.

Report: Doc Rivers says Clippers not interested in moving Blake Griffin

Blake Griffin, Jason Smith
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NBA general managers are vultures — if they see an opportunity to buy low on a player, they circle and hope to pick off a meal.

You can be sure Clippers’ GM Doc Rivers phone was full of those calls starting soon after the word leaked of Blake Griffin required surgery on his hand after punching a team employee. The vultures have called with lowball offers, and even when shot down some teams have made sure word of their call leaked out in a “look how hard we are working to get you a star” kind of way. It’s good for PR.

The Clippers are not looking to trade Blake Griffin. Right now, at least.

From Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times.

Bolch expanded upon that in an article.

The Clippers have fielded calls involving various trade proposals but remain reluctant to part with a cornerstone of their franchise and a player who, at age 26, was having possibly his best season before he was sidelined by a quadriceps injury the day after Christmas and subsequently a broken hand sustained in a scuffle with assistant equipment manager Matias Testi.

Right now the vultures are circling, and lowball offers are all the Clippers will get — they couldn’t come close to getting value back. This season the Clippers will get Griffin healthy and hope they can make a deep playoff run.

If the Clippers are bounced in the first or second round this spring, they have some soul searching to do — can the core of Griffin, Chris Paul, and DeAndre Jordan beat the Golden State Warriors? If they feel the answer is no, then they must consider changes. And if they were to shake up the core, Griffin may be the most movable piece — plus the Clippers have shown they can play well without him.

However, the Clippers may try to upgrade the pieces around that core and make one more run at the Warriors, then consider breaking things up in 2017 if it doesn’t work out. It’s hard to put together a core as good as the Clippers have right now, and breaking it up comes with great risk. They are not just going to leap blindly off that cliff.

The bottom line is, any Griffin trade rumors you hear up until Draft night, and likely beyond that, are more teams trying to look good to their fan bases than valid trade talks.

Robert Horry says Stephen Curry better offensively than peak Kobe Bryant

Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant, right, greets Golden State Warriors' Stephen Curry (30) prior to an NBA basketball game Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Stephen Curry has a long road ahead to walk away from the game with the resume and legacy that Kobe Bryant will leave with come April.

But is he already a bigger threat on offense than Kobe ever was?

Former NBA player, Kobe teammate, and Lakers studio guy Robert Horry said yes, while on SiriusXM NBA Radio with host Justin Termine. Here is his quote (hat tip Hoopshype):

“Kobe in his prime really wasn’t that great of a three-point shooter. He was a drive, get-to-the-hole, dunk-on-you type of guy. Steph can drive and float you. He can shoot it from half court. You have to guard him at all times.”

Peak Kobe on offense (the 2006-07 season, I would say) averaged 31.6 points and 5.4 assists per game, with a true shooting percentage of 58 percent and a usage rate of 33.6. This season Curry is averaging 29.8 points and 6.4

This season Curry is averaging 29.8 points and 6.4 assists, with a true shooting percentage of 68.2 percent and a usage rate of 32.3.

There are a lot of difficulties in comparing the apples and oranges of those seasons, but we can safely say that because of the three ball Curry is a more efficient scorer than Kobe ever was. He is certainly more dangerous that way. I agree that Curry creates more problems on offense because of how his shooting stretches the defense, plus he can drive the lane.

Kobe, at his peak, was a better defender than Curry. (Curry is better than some critics want to give him credit for, he led the NBA in steals last season, but he does it more within a team system where he is solid, he is not the lock-down wing defender Bryant was back in the day.)

I hate comparing all-time greats and saying X is better than Y, because the game evolves and situations are different. Kobe will walk away from the game this summer one of the all-time greats, no question. We’re a long way from knowing Curry’s final legacy, but it will be as probably the greatest shooter and one of the greatest offensive forces the game has known. A guy built for today’s NBA rules and style.

Maybe we could just try to enjoy both and not compare.

Snowed-out Jazz/Wizards game rescheduled for Feb. 18

Bradley Beal, John Wall
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We haven’t seen a back-to-back-to-back in the NBA since the lockout season, when the league tried to cram 66 games in after Christmas.

The Washington Wizards have one now.

The Utah at Washington game originally scheduled for Jan. 23, which was snowed out because of a major storm hitting the Eastern seaboard, has been rescheduled for Thursday, Feb. 18 at 7 p.m. Eastern at Verizon Center.

That makes the Wizards’ schedule:

Feb. 18: vs. Utah
Feb. 19: vs. Detroit
Feb. 20: at Miami

The Jazz have a back-to-back as well, facing Boston on the 19th.

Mike Conley does not crush Knicks free agent dreams, says everything on table

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley (11) gestures after making a 3-point basket in the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Brandon Dill)
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When you talk about the most underrated players in the NBA, especially with the casual fan, Mike Conley is at the top of the list. The Grizzlies’ point guard has played at an All-Star level for a few seasons now but hasn’t gotten the recognition, in part because it’s Memphis and in part because the West is stacked with quality point guards.

The New York Knicks desperately need an upgrade at the point.

Which has led to the latest fantasy of seemingly every Knick fan (and talking head in the city) — the free agent Conley coming to New York this summer. When asked about it Friday before the Grizzlies and Knicks squared off, Conley didn’t kill the rumors (which in New York is like throwing gasoline on them). Here are his quotes, via Ian Begley of ESPN.

“I think everything will be on the table when that time comes,” Conley said Friday morning after the Grizzlies’ shootaround at Madison Square Garden. “I haven’t committed to anything…

“They’ve got talent, obviously,” he said. “I think [Kristaps] Porzingis surprised a lot of people. He’s going to be very, very good in this league. He already is pretty good. But he’s going to grow each year, and they already have one of the best small forward in Melo [Carmelo Anthony]. They’ve got a young team, so they’ve got a lot of room to improve.”

The smart money is on Conley staying in Memphis, the only NBA team he has ever played for. Conley was very active last summer in recruiting Marc Gasol to remain in Memphis, and has said it would be very difficult to leave him. Plus the Grizzlies can offer more money — one more guaranteed year plus larger raises.

The Knicks will need to lose some salary before July 1 just to offer Conley a max, which likely starts around $24 million (depends on the final salary cap number). What the Knicks can offer is a larger stage for his brand and the chance to bring that brand out of the shade of Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Conley — who is averaging 14.6 points and 6.1 assists per game, is shooting 35 percent from three, is good on the pick-and-roll, plus is one of the best defensive point guards in the game — will have plenty of other suitors as well. He’s one of the best players on the free agent market this summer.