Mavericks' Nowitzki celebrates near Thunder's Westbrook during NBA Western Conference Final playoff in Oklahoma City

NBA Playoffs: Thunder have fight in them, is that enough?


Do not question the toughness of the Oklahoma City Thunder. Don’t question their heart.

No doubt the collapse at the end of Game 4 Monday was ugly, but it was not about toughness. You don’t reach the Western Conference Finals with all your key players 22 or younger without being tough. Without heart.

You can reach that stage without learning how to execute under real pressure. You can reach that stage without having the right balance of scorers and defenders around your young stars.

So as we head into what could be a decisive Game 5 Wednesday night, with Dallas up 3-1 over Oklahoma City and looking to close out the series, you should expect the Thunder to come out and play with real passion. To show some toughness. If Dallas thinks it can coast to a win, they will find themselves in trouble.

But that’s not Dallas’ style. They are the better team and they are executing what they want to do at the highest of levels. They have the best player in the playoffs in Dirk Nowitzki. This should be their game.

Dallas certainly will want to jump on the Thunder early and kill their spirit. The Thunder were understandably crushed after giving up a 15-point lead in the final five minutes of Game 4 Monday, the Mavs want to get into their heads. If Dallas does get up early this could be a runaway. But look for the Thunder to make the Mavericks work for it.

The Thunder’s problem is execution — Dallas is doing it better than anyone right now while the Thunder get sloppy under pressure. Kevin Durant has to find a way to get enough space from Jason Kidd and Shawn Marion to get the ball where he wants it. Early in Game 4 he was getting the ball in the post and doing damage, but when the game was on the line he was pushed out by half court. Russell Westbrook has to create better for others and create at all under pressure. James Harden has to stay in the game, they need him as a third scoring option.

Dallas? Look for a lot of Dirk hitting shots nobody can defend. Look for Jason Terry to have a big game. Look for their role players to step up, feeling comfortable at home. Basically, Dallas is going to do what they have done all playoffs — Dirk is going to get his and somebody else is going to step up. They are going to defend and make it hard. They will play like veterans.

Expect the Thunder to put up a fight, but the Thunder are still learning hard lessons. Still growing. Still evolving. Dallas has done all that work already. Dallas will almost certainly win and close this series out. But don’t think the Thunder are not tough.

Dwyane Wade serious as mentor, teaching Justise Winslow post moves

Third day of Miami Heat camp 10/1/2015
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Dwyane Wade has earned his status as an elder statesman, the E.F. Hutton kind of veteran who speaks and everybody listens.

Rookie Justise Winslow is listening.

Winslow (who should have gone higher in this draft) is a perfect fit for the Heat and he’s going to be part of their rotation off the bench from the start of the season (along with Josh McRoberts and Amare Stoudemire). Wade has already fully stepped into the mentor role with Winslow working with him on post moves, reports Jason Lieser at the Palm Beach Post.

“As his career develops, hopefully he’s able to do multiple things on the floor, but right now there’s gonna be certain things (Erik Spoelstra) wants him to do, and some of those things I’m good at,” Wade said. “I’m just passing down knowledge to someone who I think could be good at things that I have strengths at. It’s gonna take a while, but if he figures it out at 21, he’s ahead of the curve. I figured it out at like 27.

“All of us are where we’re at because someone before us helped us. They helped by letting us sit there and watch film with them or having conversations with them. If he’s a student of it and he really wants to know, I’m a pretty decent teacher in certain areas.”

This is what you want out of a veteran leader and some of the young teams out there have done an excellent job adding this kind of mentor — Kevin Garnett in Minnesota may be the best example. Someone who can pass on his wisdom and show the team’s young players how to be a professional and win in the NBA.

It’s a little different for Winslow, he and the Heat are more in a win-now mode, but he should be able to contribute to that.

NBA All-Star, champion Bill Bridges dies at age 76

ATLANTA - 1968:  Bill Bridges#10 of the Atlanta Hawks poses for a portrait circa 1968 in Atlanta, Georgia. 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.  Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 1968 NBAE (Photo by NBA Photo Library/NBAE via Getty Images)

Bill Bridges, a star as a Kansas Jayhawk who went on to have a 12-year NBA career that included being part of the 1975 Golden State Warriors championship team, has passed away, according to the University of Kansas.

Bridges was an undersized power forward at 6’6″ but he was a beast on the boards who averaged 11.9 rebounds a game for his career and more than 13 a game for six straight years at the peak of his career. That 11.9 per game average is still 27th all-time in NBA history.

A New Mexico native, Bridges was a three-time All-Star (all as a member of the Hawks), two-time All-NBA Defensive team, and was part of the 1975 Warriors title team. Besides the Hawks (St. Louis and Atlanta) and Warriors, Bridges played for the Sixers and Lakers.

Our thoughts are with his family and friends.