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.

Richard Jefferson: LeBron James was sick during Cavaliers-Celtics Game 3

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LeBron James was inexplicably bad in the Cavaliers’ Game 3 loss to the Celtics on Sunday.

Except maybe it was explicable.

Cleveland forward Richard Jefferson, via Fox Sports Ohio

I know he won’t talk about it, so I’ll give my big guy a shout. Deron Williams missed shootaround this morning, because he had like a little bug, just really lethargic, had no energy. And I think that’s what Bron had. And sometimes these little bugs can go around.

When Deron didn’t show up to shootaround, it kind of started clicking in his head. Because for him it was more of like, “I don’t know why I was so lethargic, why I had no energy, I had nothing.” And so, these little things happen. There was no panic.

Look, he was lethargic. They hit a bunch of tough shots. If Marcus Smart doesn’t go 7-for-10 from 3, then we’re not even talking about it.

I don’t know whether LeBron was truly sick or Jefferson is just trying to help a teammate’s reputation. It can be both.

LeBron was better in Game 4, but not quite right.

If he’s dealing with a minor illness, that could clear up by Game 5 tomorrow. It should especially clear up by the Finals, which begin June 1. That’d be great news for the Cavs, who have no chance against the Warriors if LeBron isn’t at full strength.

The uncertainty of why LeBron hit a slump now of all times loomed over Cleveland’s playoff future. But Jefferson provided reason for the Cavaliers to breathe easy.

Michigan’s D.J. Wilson staying in NBA draft

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Michigan bigs D.J. Wilson and Moe Wagner declared for the NBA draft in similar situations – coming off breakout seasons, particularly excelling down the stretch, and sitting on the first-round bubble for the NBA draft. Neither hired an agent, leaving their options open.

But this is where their paths diverge.

Michigan releases:

University of Michigan junior forward D.J. Wilson announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will forgo his final two seasons of eligibility and submit the necessary paperwork to remain as an early entrant into the 2017 NBA Draft.

University of Michigan sophomore forward Moritz Wagner announced today (Wednesday, May 24) he will return to the Wolverine basketball program after removing his name from consideration for the 2017 NBA Draft.

Wilson and Wagner both said they’d stay in the draft only if they’d be first-round picks. I wonder whether Wilson got a first-round promise or is just confident enough he’ll get picked there. The latter wouldn’t be a bad bet. Even if the 22-year-old Wilson slips into the second round, this might be the peak of his draft value.

At times, it’s easy to forget Wilson is a 6-foot-11 big man. He shoots 3-pointers, dribbles and moves like a wing. He also too often shies from contact, which particularly hurts his rebounding.

But he’s a big. Those perimeter skills wouldn’t shine quite as brightly if he were matched up with opposing wings. Wilson has a 7-foot-3 wingspan, and he also protect the rim. However, his shot-blocking relies on a bounciness that’s not as effective when pressed into more physical matchups. He needs some space to launch – but when he has it, it also pays off in quality finishing at the rim.

Wilson has the tools to be a good NBA power forward, but he’s still a work in progress. In other words, he still looks like a borderline first-round pick.

Tyronn Lue imitates LeBron James’ criticism of reporter (video)

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After the Cavaliers Game 3 loss to the Celtics, LeBron James accused reporter Kenny Roda of showing up/asking questions only when Cleveland loses.

Questioned by Roda after the Cavs’ Game 4 win, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue lightheartedly lobbed the same criticism at Roda.

Coaching LeBron can be tricky. Lue must both challenge the greatest player of his generation and handle LeBron’s passive-aggressiveness. Lue can neither let LeBron walk all over him nor bark orders at him.

In this case, it seems Lue is trying to diffuse LeBron’s pettiness before it turns into something bigger. Considering how silly LeBron’s initial comments were, I bet the star is on board.

Tony Bradley becoming North Carolina’s first one-and-done in nearly a decade

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North Carolina hasn’t had a one-and-done player in eight years.

Since Brandan Wright declared for the 2008 NBA draft after his freshman year, the Tar Heels have emphasized player development over multiple years. That practice has yielded two national titles, including this year’s, in that span.

It also limited freshman center Tony Bradley’s playing time this season, as he was stuck behind seniors Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks.

But Bradley shined enough in 15 minutes per game to follow Wright as one-and-done from Chapel Hill.

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

Bradley is a borderline first-round pick, though this late decision when many expected him to return to school indicates he believes he’ll go in the first round. There’s certainly logic in turning pro before scouts pick apart his game over a larger sample.

Bradley is huge – 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan – but he’s not explosive. The hope is someone in the Rudy Gobert mold.

Whomever drafts Bradley will hope his elite offensive rebounding is a harbinger. But why is his defensive rebounding and rim protection so forgettable?

He moves and passes fairly well for his size, but considering he’s so big, those aren’t necessarily skills for him to hang his hat on. If a teammate sets him up, he uses his size to finish well at the rim.

Beyond his size and offensive rebounding, Bradley doesn’t set himself apart one way or the other. Whether that’s good or bad depends how deep in the draft it is.