Five things to watch: Thunder-Lakers

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The playoff race is heating up and with the Lakers battling for the division and the third seed and the Thunder haggling with the Spurs over the top seed in the West, Sunday’s game is the rare late season meeting with meaning. The Lakers need to get a win to lock in no-worse than fifth and drop their magic number over the Clippers to just one. The Thunder have to hang on as long as possible and hope the Spurs, facing an easier schedule, pull their starters and actually lose.

Plus, you know, these two have some history. So here are five things to keep an eye on when the Thunder face the Lakers.

1. Have  You Ever Seen The Rain?: The Thunder can score in a torrent, with Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, and James Harden, all capable of putting up 40. The Lakers’ defense has backslid considerably, and have the fourth worst defensive efficiency over the past four games. Ramon Sessions, Metta World Peace, and Kobe Bryant are going to have to do serious work on the perimeter to contain the Thunder trio. Having help defense from Andrew Bynum (when he cares) isn’t enough. It’s going to take perimeter containment because OKC’s top three can all hit the mid-range jumper consistently off the screen. Sessions has to get through screens faster and more forcefully, Bryant has to attack Harden’s dribble to get the ball out of his hands, and MWP has to just hang on and hope KD doesn’t have a good night. He can do damage against Durant regardless, but if he’s hot, he’s hot, and that’s all there is to it.

2. Ain’t That A Kick In The Teeth?: The Thunder can bully you. They’re not a great defensive squad, but a good one, and they tend to sheepdog opponents into bad positions on the floor where they can trap. They bring help immediately and Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka, and Nick Collison are all more than willing to give you a stiff forearm to the back down low. Meanwhile, the Lakers can absolutely brutalize their opponents with MWP, Matt Barnes, Josh McRoberts, and Andrew Bynum. The battle between Perkins and Bynum for low-post supremacy remains a key matchup and whoever can establish their physical superiority is going to have a huge edge. Bynum should win based off of just physics, but if he’s not engaged, Perkins can stonewall him.

3. A Mid-Range Oven: In the first two games, Serge Ibaka was 6-11 from mid-range for 55% shooting from space when Pau Gasol was on the floor. He’s usually a 38% shooter from there. Gasol usually shoots 47 percent in the paint, non-restricted area. Against the Thunder, he shot just 33 percent, despite taking a higher than average percentage of his shots from there. Basically, whoever can take over from mid-range is going ot give their team a sizeable advantage. Gasol needs to hit a few over Ibaka using his height advantage to spook the youngster. Once that happens, Ibaka will go for the pump-fake and Gasol can create higher looks for himself and others. This is a crucial matchup for the Lakers, one they have to win.

4. Awkwardness and You: Derek Fisher is embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Players Association, with the Executive Committee having voted 8-0 for a no-confidence vote against the President Fisher and asking him to resign. Fisher refuses. In the middle of all this, Fisher has to go out and be a leader and calming influence on the Thunder, providing valuable backup point guard minutes. Fisher’s a professional, and it’s unlikely that this off-court matter will affect his on-court play. But it’s something to watch, especially in relation to how his teammates approach him.

5. Fresh Legs: The Lakers have to start thinking about resting key players. They need to get healthy and in good condition for the playoffs. They’re a win and a Clippers loss away from clinching the 3rd seed and the Clippers would need a lot of help to overtake them. If the OKC game gets away in either direction for the Lakers, Mike Brown needs to rest his guys. If they catch the Thunder napping, let the bench mob close out the game. If they get blown out of the building, sit Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, and Andrew Bynum and let the Thunder have their way. Burning them out with a week to go makes little sense. Big picture is always more important.

Jae Crowder leg-locks Robin Lopez (video)

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Late in the Celtics’ Game 5 win over the Bulls last night, Jae Crowder leg-locked Robin Lopez – the same dirty play that caused rancor for Matthew Dellavedova in the 2015 playoffs.

Lopez blocked Crowder’s shot, but the ball went to Al Horford, who attacked the basket. As Lopez tried to rotate to contest another shot, he couldn’t move. Crowder, who’d fallen to the floor, had him in a leg-lock. Lopez freed himself just in time to foul Horford.

Adding insult to avoided injury, Lopez got hit with a technical foul for complaining about the no-call.

I bet the league issues a technical foul on Crowder, too.

PBT Extra: Oklahoma City’s off-season moves have to start with locking up Russell Westbrook

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The narrative for the Oklahoma City Thunder season was summed up in its final game: Russell Westbrook scored 47 points and when he was on the court the Thunder were +12, but he sat 6:08 and the Thunder were -18 in that window. So they lost. There is a lot of work to do to bring in more versatile players and mold this into a team that can play with and around Westbrook.

Before that work can begin, however, the Thunder need to try and lock-up Westbrook with a new contract, something I discuss in this latest PBT Extra. Yes, Westbrook signed an extension last summer, but it only runs through 2018. This summer OKC can — and will — offer him a designated player contract, five years and up to possibly $220 million. It could be as much as $80 million more guaranteed than anyone else can offer. It’s hard to imagine Westbrook wouldn’t sign the deal, but if he doesn’t the dynamic changes for OKC.

If he does, they can get on to the business of getting more solid, versatile players like Taj Gibson back on the roster.

Here’s all 192 players who declared early entry for the NBA draft

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On June 26, 60 people will be drafted into the NBA. It’s the culmination of a dream for them, one we’re not going to spoil by noting most will not stick in the league beyond a few years (many less than that). Well, maybe we did.

However, a lot more than 60 people threw their hat in the ring — 192 this season, to be specific. There are a lot of reasons guys step forward. Some legitimately know they will be drafted and want to take the leap to the NBA. Some of these people have not signed with an agent and are just testing the waters, then will pull out (they have until May 24 to do so and retain college eligibility, international players can wait until June 12). Others have decided college is not for them (or there were coaching changes at their school) and they feel ready to get paid to play hoops, and while they know that is overseas they put their name out there. There are other reasons as well.

Here is the complete list of guys who have declared early for this year’s draft:

From American colleges:

Shaqquan Aaron, USC, 6-7, Sophomore
Jaylen Adams, St. Bonaventure, 6-2, Junior
Edrice Adebayo, Kentucky, 6-10, Freshman
Deng Adel, Louisville, 6-7, Sophomore
Jashaun Agosto, LIU, 5-11, Freshman
Bashir Ahmed, St. John’s, 6-7, Junior
Rawle Alkins, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Jarrett Allen, Texas, 6-11, Freshman
Mark Alstork, Wright State, 6-5, Junior
Ike Anigbogu, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
OG Anunoby, Indiana, 6-8, Sophomore
Dwayne Bacon, Florida State, 6-7, Sophomore
Lonzo Ball, UCLA, 6-6, Freshman
Jaylen Barford, Arkansas, 6-3, Junior
Jordan Bell, Oregon, 6-9, Junior
Trae Bell-Haynes, Vermont, 6-2, Junior
Joel Berry II, North Carolina, 6-0, Junior
James Blackmon Jr., Indiana, 6-4, Junior
Antonio Blakeney, LSU, 6-4, Sophomore
Trevon Bluiett, Xavier, 6-6, Junior
Bennie Boatwright, USC, 6-10, Sophomore
Jacobi Boykins, Louisiana Tech, 6-6, Junior
Tony Bradley, North Carolina, 6-10, Freshman
Isaiah Briscoe, Kentucky, 6-2, Sophomore
Dillon Brooks, Oregon, 6-7, Junior
Thomas Bryant, Indiana, 6-10, Sophomore
Rodney Bullock, Providence, 6-8, Junior
Jevon Carter, West Virginia, 6-2, Junior
Clandell Cetoute, Thiel College (PA), 6-8, Junior
Joseph Chartouny, Fordham, 6-3, Sophomore
Donte’ Clark, Massachusetts, 6-4, Junior
Chris Clemons, Campbell, 5-9, Sophomore
David Collette, Utah, 6-10, Junior
John Collins, Wake Forest, 6-10, Sophomore
Zach Collins, Gonzaga, 7-1, Freshman
Chance Comanche, Arizona, 6-11, Sophomore
Angel Delgado, Seton Hall, 6-10, Junior
Hamidou Diallo, Kentucky, 6-6, Freshman
Tyler Dorsey, Oregon, 6-4, Sophomore
PJ Dozier, South Carolina, 6-6, Sophomore
Vince Edwards, Purdue, 6-8, Junior
John Egbunu, Florida, 6-11, Junior
Jon Elmore, Marshall, 6-3, Junior
Obi Enechionyia, Temple, 6-10, Junior
Drew Eubanks, Oregon State, 6-10, Sophomore
Jawun Evans, Oklahoma State, 6-1, Sophomore
Tacko Fall, Central Florida, 7-6, Sophomore
Tony Farmer, Lee College (TX), 6-7, Sophomore
De’Aaron Fox, Kentucky, 6-4, Freshman
Markelle Fultz, Washington, 6-4, Freshman
Harry Giles, Duke, 6-10, Freshman
Brandon Goodwin, FGCU, 6-2, Junior
Donte Grantham, Clemson, 6-8, Junior
Isaac Haas, Purdue, 7-2, Junior
Aaron Holiday, UCLA, 6-1, Sophomore
Isaac Humphries, Kentucky, 7-1, Sophomore
Chandler Hutchison, Boise State, 6-7, Junior
Jonathan Isaac, Florida State, 6-10, Freshman
Frank Jackson, Duke, 6-3, Freshman
Josh Jackson, Kansas, 6-8, Freshman
Justin Jackson, Maryland, 6-7, Freshman
Justin Jackson, North Carolina, 6-8, Junior
Alize Johnson, Missouri State, 6-9, Junior
B.J. Johnson, La Salle, 6-7, Junior
Darin Johnson, CSU-Northridge, 6-5, Junior
Jaylen Johnson, Louisville, 6-9, Junior
Robert Johnson, Indiana, 6-3, Junior
Andrew Jones, Texas, 6-4, Freshman
Kerem Kanter, Green Bay, 6-10, Junior
Ted Kapita, North Carolina State, 6-8, Freshman
Marcus Keene, Central Michigan, 5-9, Junior
Luke Kennard, Duke, 6-6, Sophomore
Braxton Key, Alabama, 6-8, Freshman
George King, Colorado, 6-6, Junior
Kyle Kuzma, Utah, 6-9, Junior
Khadeem Lattin, Oklahoma, 6-9, Junior
TJ Leaf, UCLA, 6-10, Freshman
William Lee, UAB, 6-9, Junior
Zach Lofton, Texas Southern, 6-3, Junior
Tyler Lydon, Syracuse, 6-9, Sophomore
Daryl Macon, Arkansas, 6-3, Junior
Marin Maric, Northern Illinois, 6-11, Junior
Lauri Markkanen, Arizona, 7-1, Freshman
Yante Maten, Georgia, 6-8, Junior
Markis McDuffie, Wichita State, 6-8, Sophomore
MiKyle McIntosh, Illinois State, 6-7, Junior
Eric Mika, BYU, 6-10, Sophomore
Donovan Mitchell, Louisville, 6-3, Sophomore
Malik Monk, Kentucky, 6-3, Freshman
Matthew Morgan, Cornell, 6-3, Sophomore
Shaquille Morris, Wichita State, 6-8, Junior
Johnathan Motley, Baylor, 6-10, Junior
Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas, 6-8, Junior
Divine Myles, Stetson, 5-11, Junior
Derick Newton, Stetson, 6-6, Sophomore
Austin Nichols, Virginia, 6-8, Junior
Semi Ojeleye, SMU, 6-7, Junior
Cameron Oliver, Nevada, 6-8, Sophomore
Randy Onwuasor, Southern Utah, 6-3, Junior
Justin Patton, Creighton, 7-1, Freshman
L.J. Peak, Georgetown, 6-5, Junior
Theo Pinson, North Carolina, 6-6, Junior
Ivan Rabb, California, 6-11, Sophomore
Xavier Rathan-Mayes, Florida State, 6-4, Junior
Devin Robinson, Florida, 6-8, Junior
Josh Robinson, Austin Peay, 6-2, Junior
Martavius Robinson, Lewis & Clark CC (Illinois), 6-10, Sophomore
Maverick Rowan, North Carolina State, 6-7, Sophomore
Corey Sanders, Rutgers, 6-2, Sophomore
Victor Sanders, Idaho, 6-5, Junior
Jaaron Simmons, Ohio, 6-1, Junior
Kobi Simmons, Arizona, 6-5, Freshman
Fred Sims Jr., Chicago State, 6-4, Sophomore
Dennis Smith Jr., North Carolina State, 6-3, Freshman
Zach Smith, Texas Tech, 6-8, Junior
Kamau Stokes, Kansas State, 6-0, Sophomore
Edmond Sumner, Xavier, 6-6, Sophomore
Caleb Swanigan, Purdue, 6-9, Sophomore
Jayson Tatum, Duke, 6-8, Freshman
Matt Taylor, New Mexico State, 6-4, Junior
James Thompson IV, Eastern Michigan, 6-10, Sophomore
Stephen Thompson Jr., Oregon State, 6-4, Sophomore
Trevor Thompson, Ohio State, 7-1, Junior
Melo Trimble, Maryland, 6-3, Junior
Craig Victor II, LSU, 6-9, Junior
Moritz Wagner, Michigan, 6-11, Sophomore
Tevonn Walker, Valparaiso, 6-2, Junior
Antone Warren, Antelope Valley CC (CA), 6-10, Sophomore
Thomas Welsh, UCLA, 7-1, Junior
Thomas Wilder, Western Michigan, 6-3, Junior
Cecil Williams, Central Michigan, 6-6, Junior
Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga, 6-9, Junior
Kam Williams, Ohio State, 6-2, Junior
Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga, 6-3, Junior
Christian Wilson, Texas-San Antonio, 6-2, Junior
D.J. Wilson, Michigan, 6-10, Junior
Omer Yurtseven, North Carolina State, 7-1, Freshman

International prospects:

Ege Arar, Galatasaray (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Laurynas Beliauskas, Neptunas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Terrence Bieshaar, Joventut (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Simon Birgander, Clavijo (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Laurynas Birutis, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Luka Bozic, Zagreb (Croatia), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Vlatko Cancar, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Leo Cizmic, Sevilla (Spain), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Wesley Alves da Silva, Paulistano (Brazil), 6-7, 1996 DOB
George de Paula, Paulistano (Brazil), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Berkan Durmaz, Tofas (Turkey), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Martynas Echodas, Siauliai (Lithuania), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Cyrille Eliezer-Vanerot, Levallois (France), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Aquiles Ferreira, Pinheiros (Brazil), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Diego Flaccadori, Trento (Italy), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Tolga Gecim, Banvit (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Yoan Granvorka, Nancy (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Egemen Guven, Karsiyaka (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Isaiah Hartenstein, Zalgiris (Lithuania), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Karlis Helmanis, RTU Riga (Latvia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Aleksa Ilic, Buducnost (Montenegro), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Jonathan Jeanne, Nancy (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Alpha Kaba, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Verners Kohs, GBA Sparta (Czech Republic), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Antonios Koniaris, PAOK (Greece), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Arnoldas Kulboka, Baunach (Germany), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Rodions Kurucs, Barcelona (Spain), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Axel Louissaint, Lugano (Switzerland), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Michail Lountzis, Panathinaikos (Greece), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Gytis Masiulis, Zalgiris (Lithuania), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Lovro Mazalin, Zadar (Croatia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Regimantas Miniotas, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Kostja Mushidi, Mega Leks (Serbia), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Margiris Normantas, Lietuvos Rytas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Frank Ntilikina, Strasbourg (France), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Elie Okobo, Pau Orthez (France), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Viny Okouo, Unicaja (Spain), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Ayberk Olmaz, Istanbul BSB (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Lucas Pereira, Pinheiros (Brazil), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Martynas Sajus, Starogard (Poland), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Borisa Simanic, Crvena Zvezda (Serbia), 6-7, 1998 DOB
Nik Slavica, Cibona (Croatia), 6-7, 1997 DOB
Berk Ugurlu, Fenerbahce (Turkey), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Kristupas Zemaitis, Vytautas (Lithuania), 6-7, 1996 DOB
Zou Yuchen, Bayi Fubang (China), 6-7, 1996 DOB

Celtics fluster Bulls with floor spacing and dirty play, take 3-2 series lead

AP Photo/Charles Krupa
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The Bulls couldn’t break free. The Celtics look ready to break out.

Boston beat Chicago 108-97 in Game 5 Wednesday, winning its third straight to take a 3-2 lead in the first-round series. The Celtics pulled away with a 13-0 fourth-quarter run, which was boosted by two Bulls technical fouls – the second on Robin Lopez, who was rightfully aggrieved by an uncalled Jae Crowder leg-lock.

That’ll generate more talk about Boston being dirty, especially in the midst of a chippy series. But at least nobody will be discussing the Celtics being a historically weak No. 1 seed, which drowned everything after Chicago won the series’ first two games in Boston. The Warriors and Cavaliers are the only other teams to win three straight games this postseason, the type of elite company the Celtics would like to join.

Close the series in Game 6 on Friday, and Boston silences the most extreme criticism of its present.

“We’ve got to finish it,” said Isaiah Thomas, who scored 11 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter. “We know Game 6 is going to be a big game, and they’re going to fight for their lives. But we’ve got to go in there and finish it.”

The Celtics became just the third team in the last four years to win three straight after dropping the first two games of a series. The Trail Blazers (vs. Clippers) and Hornets (vs. Heat) did it in last year’s first round. Portland advanced. Charlotte didn’t.

Overall, here’s how teams up 3-2 and facing a road Game 6 in a 2-2-1-1-1 series have fared:

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The Celtics’ odds of advancing might be even higher than that. Their 11-point win tonight felt like it could have been much more lopsided.

Boston shot just 9-for-40 on 3-pointers (23%), but many of those were good looks and the high volume of attempts bodes well. They were a product of a high-functioning offense, and in the long run, more of those will fall. Only a few franchises – Warriors, Cavaliers, Hawks, Mavericks, Pacers – have ever attempted so many 3s in a playoff game, though nobody had ever shot so inefficiently on so many attempts.

The Celtics more than compensated for their cold outside shooting everywhere else. They shot 29-for-48 on 2-pointers (60%) and and 23-for-23 on free throws (100%), getting high-percentage looks and drawing fouls thanks to their floor spacing.

The Bulls, on the other hand, wasted a throwback game from Dwyane Wade (26 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists). Avery Bradley (24 points on 11-of-19 shooting) tightly defended Jimmy Butler (14 points on 6-of-15 shooting), and that matchup won’t any easier for Butler.

Maybe Butler will answer the call, but Chicago is running out of advantages. Boston even had higher offensive- and defensive-rebounding percentages than Chicago. And Thomas didn’t carry anything, even the Celtics to victory.

Boston again looks like the complete team it had been for much of the season.