Miami Heat v Oklahoma City Thunder

Thunder roll on Miami as Heat roll over

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The Oklahoma City Thunder beat the Miami Heat 103-87 Sunday night behind Kevin Durant’s 29 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. It was an MVP performance by Durant and a statement game for the Thunder. For the Heat, it was yet another in a long series of headache-inducing performances in which the Heat faced the biggest game of their season, a potential Finals preview, and played listless, without energy, and basically uninspired basketball.

The Heat are polarizing, and a huge story, but I don’t want to short OKC, so we’re going to split this. Let’s start with the Thunder.

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We told you in the pre-game things to watch which of the two teams got scoring inside and which of the two teams had turnoverissues. OKC has the worst turnover rate in the league, and tonight was +5 in that category, turning over Miami 21 (!) times. That meant run-outs for James Harden, Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant. If you give the best offensive team in the league an open court and man advantage, that’s going to work out badly for you. The way they created them was interesting, though. They didn’t overplay the passing lanes. Instead, they waited for entry passes inside, then swarmed whoever the post or pinch man was, attacking their handle and aiming for a jump ball, forcing a desperation kickout and then attacked the passing lane. In doing so they managed to create havoc without gambling out of position on the perimeter.

But the real story of the game was hidden behind Durant’s brilliance. A huge part of stopping OKC is making them a three-headed monster. You can survive Harden, Westbrook, and Durant, and in reality, Durant had a great game, Harden an OK game (19 points but 7 turnovers and some truly terrible defense at times) and Westbrook a poorer than normal game (13 points on 16 shots and 4 turnovers). But Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins combined for 35 points and 16 rebounds and if that happens, you are done, my friend. You can pack it in.

They got those points off of smart passing. Off of mid-range jumpers. Of of supreme effort. At one point, Serge Ibaka dove out of bounds to save the ball, then recovered, grabbed the pass and nailed a 16-footer. That’s an exceptionally difficult play and the kind of focus that OKC had all night. They had the Heat’s number at both ends. They played superb defense, attacking and frustrating the Heat with help defense. It was the kind of performance that OKC needed to provide with the defensive question marks they have as a team and it provided the statement they needed.

Harden in reality didn’t have an “OK” game, he had a simultaneously great and relatively questionable game. Overall you have to give him a solid B for the performance, but the matchup, should the two teams meet in the Finals, would be one to watch. But when you let OKC turn you over, when you let them get that kind of production from their bigs, when you let them beat you to every loose ball and make every hustle play, you’re going to be in trouble.

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And that’s what Miami found. Trouble all over.

It was yet another big game in which Miami looked shellshocked. They started out well enough but once OKC started landing haymakers, they faded into the background. Miami had one of those games that reminds you of the Finals, a reminder that there are nights when they simply evaporate from the court and are overrun. There are games when teams don’t have it, that happens in the league all the time. But the fact that it always seems to happen against contenders is a serious problem. Miami no has lackluster efforts against the Lakers, Bulls (without Derrick Rose) and Thunder. The Heat can claim that these losses don’t matter, but that kind of confidence requires championship pedigree. Otherwise how can we be sure they won’t have the same kind of meltdown they had in the Finals? I’m no advocate for the “Count the Rings!” approach, but it’s not totally fine for Miami to keep no-showing opportunities for them to make a statement.

Getting murdered inside is especially worrisome. The common refrain has been that the Heat don’t need improvements in their roster at center, because Joel Anthony is surprisingly good and their athleticism covers the rest. But giving up 35 points to two players who, despite what their coach will tell you, are not legitimate offensive weapons when adequately defended, is not going to get it cut. They wound up against one team with a great center last year in the playoffs.

They lost to that team.

Sunday night can be passed off as just another game all they want. But it wasn’t to OKC and they played like it. Durant played like an MVP, the Thunder role players stepped up, and the Heat literally threw away their chances at the game.

Championship teams get to play the “we’ll be fine, we’ve been fine before.” As usual, Miami’s playing that card without having it.

WNBA rescinds fines regarding protest shirts

FILE - In this Wednesday, July 13, 2016 file photo, members of the New York Liberty basketball team await the start of a game against the Atlanta Dream in New York. The WNBA is withdrawing its fines for teams and players that showed support of citizens and police involved in recent shootings by wearing black warmup shirts before and during games. WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a statement Saturday, July 23, the league was rescinding penalties given to the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and their players for wearing the shirts–which was a uniform violation. The players started wearing them to show solidarity after shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
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LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and a number of Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets players wore “I can’t breathe” T-shirts in warmups after the death of Eric Garner in New York. LeBron and his then Heat teammates wore hoodies for a photo shoot after the Travon Martin shooting. NBA players have made other protest fashion statements, with no repercussions from the league.

But when WNBA players wore black warmup shirts in support of Black Lives Matter and other anti-violence protests, the WNBA came down with fines for the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury ($5,000) and players involved ($500) for uniform violations. That led to a lot of backlash — including among WNBA players. Some refused to answer basketball questions with the media after recent games.

Saturday, the WNBA rescinded the fines. As they should have.

The women’s players’ union supported the move, via a statement from the director of operations Terri Jackson.

“We are pleased that the WNBA has made the decision to rescind the fines the league handed down to the players on the Fever, Liberty, and Mercury. We look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with the league to ensure that the players’ desire to express themselves will continue to be supported.”

I want a league — for men or women — where player’s individuality and statements can be made — I don’t want the NBA to be the button-down, cookie cutter NFL. Let the players be themselves. And if players want to weigh in on the biggest social issue of our time, they should. Without fear of repercussion.

Good on the WNBA for coming around to that.

Meyers Leonard says he hopes to be ready by start of Blazers’ season

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 8: Meyers Leonard #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers takes credit for a foul call during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on December 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Meyers Leonard could be poised for a big season in Portland. His minutes jumped last season because he provided spacing. With Portland adding Evan Turner on the wing to go with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, any big who can stretch the floor is going to get run, and Leonard has turned himself into a stretch four.

Leonard just hopes he can show what he can do at the start of the season — he’s still recovering from shoulder surgery. Here is what he told the Associated Press.

“My hope is to be ready right around the start of the season,” he said. “It’s a progression, first introducing rebounding, grabbing stuff overhead, then one-on-one, three-on-three, extending to the full court. We’ll see. You just never know.”

Leonard had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in April (they could have used him in the playoffs), and the timeline then was to have him back around the start of the season. Before he was shut down, he proved enough to get a four-year, $41 million contract extension with the Trail Blazers this summer.

The Trail Blazers will start Al-Farouq Aminu at the four, and Moe Harkless can certainly play there too (I’m far less sold on the future of Noah Vonleh). Leonard wants to get back before someone starts to steal any of his minutes.

Pelicans sign Jones for 1 year, Frazier for 2 years

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 21:  Terrence Jones #6 of the Houston Rockets reacts to a play as Cody Zeller #40 of the Charlotte Hornets looks on during their game at Toyota Center on December 21, 2015 in Houston, Texas. 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.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) The New Orleans Pelicans say they have signed free-agent forward Terrence Jones and re-signed guard Tim Frazier.

A person familiar with the negotiations says Jones, a four-year veteran, signed a one-year deal Friday for the NBA minimum of about $1.14 million, while Frazier has signed a two-year deal worth about $4.1 million. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Pelicans have not released contract terms.

The 6-foot-9 Jones, who was Anthony Davis‘ teammates on Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team, has spent his first four NBA seasons with Houston, posting career averages of 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Frazier played in 16 games for New Orleans late last season, averaging 13.1 points, 7.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 29.3 minutes per game.

Deron Williams says he is recovering well from sports hernia, will be ready to go at camp

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 01:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks during the first half at American Airlines Center on March 1, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.   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.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Deron Williams will be back with the Dallas Mavericks next season — and be ready to go by the start of the season.

He’d like to say he’d be back for the next few seasons, but coming off a Sports Hernia injury his options were a little limited. However, his recovery is going well he told NBC Dallas in an interview from American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe (which you can watch this weekend on NBC).

“Feeling really good. It’s healing pretty well, I’m doing a lot of work on and off the court. I haven’t got the full-go clearance yet, but that’s coming soon. I’ll be ready to go definitely by the time training camp rolls around.

“I’m running, I’m jumping a little bit. I’m just not going crazy. I kind of have to wait for August 1 for that, to go see the doc and get the go ahead. But it’s not much restriction right now.”

Williams averaged 14.1 points and 5.8 assists per game for the Mavericks last season and was solid at 32. His efficiency slipped a little (to be expected as he is on the wrong side of 30 and has plenty of miles) but he played well for Dallas.

Dallas signed him to a one-year, $10 million deal. Williams was hoping for a little more security.

“I was happy to come back. Would have liked a little longer deal but I’m back for one year and hopefully can build on last year and improve. I think there’s room for a lot of improvement. Hopefully I can stay healthy. I think that’s the biggest key but I’m excited about this year and this team.”

The one-year deal is more about Dallas than Williams — they could see a significant shift in plans when Dirk Nowitzki steps away (he inked a two-year deal but the second year is only $5 million guaranteed, so he could be in his final run if he wants).

Dallas added Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut from the Warriors to a starting five that also includes Nowitzki, Williams, and Wesley Matthews. If they can stay healthy — no little thing with that group — it’s a quality starting five that coach Rick Carlisle is going to love.