Thunder show even on off night they are good, beat Grizzlies

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Elite teams win on their off days.

This was certainly an off day for the Thunder. Russell Westbrook went 0-13, missing shots he usually drains blindfolded. He got frustrated and that led to words with Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Durant, to the point Durant and Westbrook had to be separated.

And in the end, the Thunder still won, 98-95. They beat a good team that plays them tough. It’s the kind of thing contenders do, winning on off nights. They did it thanks to Kevin Durant’s 32, including key shots down the stretch.

Early on both defenses were tight — Memphis started 0-11 from the field. This is why the Thunder went out and traded for Kendrick Perkins at the deadline last year, to match up with Memphis and Los Angeles and other teams with size in the paint. Perkins protects the rim with the best of them. So after one quarter Memphis shot just 19 percent, but was still in it because Oklahoma City was only at 31.6 percent (in part because Kevin Durant started 1-7 shooting).

Even at the half Durant and Westbrook were a combined 3-14 shooting, but the Thunder were up five. It was that kind of night.

The game ended up being the kind of dogfight we saw in the playoffs between these teams. Mike Conley goes down with a sprained ankle but Jeremy Pargo steps in and plays solid ball. Kevin Durant was being Kevin Durant, but the Grizzlies had 19 offensive rebounds and stayed close. Very close at the end.

Grizzlies cut their deficit to two on a Rudy Gay leaner with 58 seconds left (a good play by Pargo who pushed the pace, got into the lane and kicked out to Gay who had the undersized Westbrook running at him). Memphis had a chance if they could get a stop.

Next trip down the Grizzlies left Rudy Gay one-on-one with Durant — Gay plays good defense but Durant gets to his spot by the elbow and hits and impossible to stop 18-foot fadeaway to put the Thunder up by four. It was interesting defense by Memphis, going with the one-on-one approach. At that point, don’t you run a hard double and do whatever it takes to get the ball out of the hands of the best scorer in the game?

Memphis had time to get a two-for-one (35 seconds) but good defense by OKC left no clean three-point shots for anyone but Pargo and he was reluctant to shoot (he was trying to find O.J. Mayo). The two-for-one disappeared but Gay found a nice path to the rim for a finger roll — only to have Serge Ibaka come from the weak side and send the block into the first row. Mayo missed a wild three and after that it seemed over — until a steal on the inbound led to a Gay dunk with five seconds left to cut it to 94-92.

But from there the Thunder hit their free throws — as they do — and even a dramatic three from Zach Randolph could not get Memphis the win.

For the Grizzlies, it was a well played game, especially with Conley. What’s more, Zach Randolph and Rudy Gay are starting to figure out how to play off each other. There is starting to be a flow, a picking of spots by both players. When that balance arrives, the Grizzlies will be that much better.

But Kevin Durant plays for the Thunder. And some nights you win because you have the best player on the floor. This was one of those for the OKC.

Jamal Crawford says Lonzo Ball should not change his shot

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Lonzo Ball‘s shot has become a running gag around the NBA. During pregame warmups this season it looked like LeBron James and Joel Embiid mocked/tried to imitate it. TNT’s Inside the NBA was asking if it was worse than Charles Barkley’s golf swing, and the crew on that show mocks it all the time.

Ball is shooting 30.3 percent overall this season, and 23 percent from three. He’s shooting just 42.1 percent in the restricted area (it’s not just his jumper that is off). He’s shooting 37.5 percent on pull-up jumpers. He’s shooting 22.5 percent on shots when there is nobody within six feet of him (stats via NBA.com).

Is it time to tear down Ball’s awkward release and rework his jumper? Jamal Crawford, a guy who knows something about getting buckets in the NBA, said no, speaking on CBS Sports’ Flagrant 2 Podcast.

“No, I wouldn’t (change his shot). He’s done it his whole life. Even if he struggled, I’m sure he’s struggled, but when he makes 10 in a row you won’t change it then so I’d just keep it consistent.”

Crawford also said he sees a real star in Ball.

“Star. Absolutely a star. I love watching him play. He plays the right way. He doesn’t play for stats. He’ll give the ball up early when he could easily hold it to get an assist. He’s making the right play if it was a hockey assist he’d get 20 a game cause he’s always passing up early. He seems like a great teammate. If you look at all his interviews…he’s always well spoken he’s always about the team.”

Luke Walton has the Lakers players taking and making 100 threes at each practice, and he continues to encourage Ball to shoot his way out of this slump. Magic Johnson has said the Lakers would not change Ball’s jumper during the season.

But if Ball does not find a rhythm and is under 40 percent for the season on jumpers, come next summer the Lakers have some decisions to make. And tearing down and rebuilding Ball’s shot is a long process that will take more than one summer of hard work.

PBT Podcast: Celtics win over Warriors, all things Boston with A. Sherrod Blakely

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The Boston Celtics are for real.

In case you had any doubts, they ran their streak to 14 wins in a row by coming from 17 down – twice — to beat the Golden State Warriors. The Celtics have the best defense in the NBA, and it threw the Warriors off their game, something few teams have been able to do over the past few years.

Kurt Helin welcomes in A. Sherrod Blakely of NBC Sports Boston to talk about what this win means to the Celtics, why their defense is so good, how Kyrie Irving is fitting in, how young stars such as Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum are rising up, and what is the deal with Marcus Smart. Also, there is a lot of Brad Stevens love.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Grizzlies’ Mike Conley out at least two weeks with sore heel, Achilles

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Injuries are already starting to shape the playoff chase in the West — Rudy Gobert is out for at least a month in Utah, and the Clippers have lost six in a row as they battle injuries to three starters.

Now add the Memphis Grizzlies to the mix.

Mike Conley, the point guard who, along with Marc Gasol, is crucial to Memphis’ success, will be out at least two weeks to rest a sore left heel and Achilles, the team announced Friday. He could be out longer, Conley has had issues with this Achilles before, the team will want to be cautious, and by far the best treatment is rest.

Conley averages 17.1 points per game, is a great floor general running the offense, and is a quality defender at the point.

Memphis is 7-7 on the season and tied with Oklahoma City for the final playoff slot in the West, but the Grizzlies have dropped six of their last eight. What’s more, they are entering a gauntlet part of the schedule without Conley: Their next game is against Houston, then Portland, and in the next 10 they have the Nuggets, Cavaliers, Timberwolves, and Spurs (twice). The danger is they fall far enough back from the playoff chase they struggle to catch up again.

Expect to see a lot more Tyreke Evans, who has been strong as a sixth man but now will have much more asked of him. Also, more playmaking duties will fall to Gasol, working out of the elbow, and both Chandler Parsons and Mario Chalmers will get the ball in their hands. The question is what do they do with it.

Stephen Curry, was Warriors/Celtics a Finals preview? “Very, very likely, right?”

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The Golden State Warriors remain the prohibitive favorite to win the NBA title.

Thursday night, the Boston Celtics earned some validation that they belong in the conversation. Using a stymieing defense that threw off the vaunted Warriors offense, Boston came from 17 down in the third quarter to beat the Warriors.

With the Cavaliers stumbling out of the gate, does this make the Warriors/Celtics game a Finals preview? Stephen Curry (who was 3-of-14 shooting with four turnovers on the night) said yes, as you can see in the NBC Sports Bay Area video above.

“Very, very likely, right?” Curry said. “They’re playing the best right now in the East. Obviously, they need to beat Cleveland, who’s done it three years in a row. We’ll see, but I heard the weather’s great here in June.”

The weather in Boston is great for a short window in the spring, then the humidity kicks in. But that’s not the point.

I came into this season thinking the Celtics were a year away still, and when Gordon Hayward went down it strengthened that belief. But this team is a contender now — they are far better defensively than expected, and young players Jaylen Brown (22 points against the Warriors) and Jayson Tatum have stepped up more than expected. Kyrie Irving and Al Horford have developed a fast chemistry. And Brad Stephens is proving he is in the very upper echelon of NBA coaches.

It’s not even Thanksgiving, talk of the NBA Finals is premature. Curry is right, the Celtics still have to go through LeBron James and his Cavaliers to reach the Finals, which will not be easy.

Still, June basketball in Boston seems like a real possibility again.