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.

Lonzo Ball: I’m better than Markelle Fultz

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Who should go No. 1 in the 2017 NBA draft?

A pair of Pac-12 freshmen point guards, Washington’s Markelle Fultz and UCLA’s Lonzo Ball, lead the discussion.

Fultz looks like the leading contender, but Ball doesn’t buy into the conventional wisdom.

Ball, via ESPN:

“Markelle’s a great player, but I feel I’m better than him,” said Ball, who led the Bruins to a pair of blowout victories over Fultz’s Huskies this season.

“I think I can lead a team better than him,” Ball added. “Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

This will get spun into a discussion of Lonzo’s father, LaVar Ball. But, without digging deeply, D'Angelo Russell, Shabazz Muhammad and Enes Kanter each claimed to be the best player in their respective drafts. Look further, and there are many more examples.

Reaching Lonzo Ball’s level usually comes with supreme confidence. This is normal — not a cause for concern about the influence of his boastful dad.

And for what’s it’s worth, I’d favor Ball over Fultz right now, though there’s still more information to gather in the draft process.

Steve Kerr on Mike D’Antoni as Coach of the Year, “He’s earned it.”

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There are some strong candidates for NBA Coach of the Year this season. Brad Stevens has built up Boston over the past couple seasons, and they are now the top seed in the East. The Wizards are having their best season in a long time, and the players there credit new coach Scott Brooks. Quin Snyder has done a fantastic job building a culture and strong team in Utah. Eric Spoelstra didn’t allow the Heat to let go of the rope in the East when they were 11-30, and now they are on the cusp of making the playoffs. Gregg Popovich needs to be in the running every year because he is the best coach in the game.

However, Houston’s Mike D’Antoni is probably going to win the award. Golden State’s Steve Kerr – who won the award last year — is good with that, here is his quote via ESPN from after the Warriors beat the Rockets Tuesday night.

“I think the fit with the roster and Mike’s philosophy has been perfect,” Kerr said Tuesday night. “What he’s so good at is really giving his players confidence and belief. They’re obviously having an amazing year. My guess is that he’ll get the trophy. He’s earned it.”

Rockets GM Daryl Morey deserves a lot of credit for how good Houston has been. Unlike the front offices in New York and Los Angeles, when Morey brought D’Antoni in he went out and got role players who fit with the coach’s style of play. If you’re hiring D’Antoni, you’re doing it to play up tempo and take threes, and he needs the right roster to win that way. Morey gave him that.

Still, D’Antoni is the frontrunner for reasons beyond he’s the coach of the team that most exceeded expectations this season. He truly trusted James Harden in the point guard role and helped the beard elevate his game to MVP levels. He got the role players to buy in. He also has the Rockets playing decent — middle of the NBA pack — defense, which is better than many people expected (at times this season the Rockets have played actual good defense, they just don’t sustain it).

Kerr is right, D’Antoni deserves it.

 

 

Lamar Odom regrets affairs, says cocaine helped end career

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Lamar Odom says he’s “a walking miracle” after being found unconscious with cocaine in his system in a Nevada brothel in 2015.

Odom tells US Weekly he hid his cocaine use from ex-wife Khloe Kardashian for a while, but she found out about two years before their 2013 split. He also says that he regrets “having multiple affairs with different women” while married to Kardashian.

Kardashian filed for divorce in 2013 but delayed it after the incident at the brothel. He says Kardashian helped him regain his memory following the episode. Their divorce was finalized in December.

Odom blames cocaine for helping end his NBA career. He says “drugs killed my drive to want to train and be in shape.”

Odom says he’s sober now after finishing a rehab stint in January.

Here is some of the interview, however warning the language is not safe for work.

Warriors say Kevin Durant doing non-contact drills, could return before end of season

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Kevin Durant has been working out on the court before the last couple of Warriors road games, and people watching have taken note — he was moving well, shooting, and generally looking healthy for a guy coming off a grade 2 MCL sprain and a bone bruise.

Reports were out that Durant was on target to return before the end of the season.

Wednesday the Warriors confirmed that.

Teams are vague, realistically what is that timeline?

Durant likely would be on a minutes restriction for those game, but just getting to shake the rust off and work on his conditioning in a real game would help Golden State heading into the playoffs.

Not that they need much help, having won eight in a row. The Warriors have a 2.5 game lead over the Spurs for the top seed in the Western Conference heading into the game between the two Wednesday night.