Russell Westbrook, Matt Barnes

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.

Watch Kawhi Leonard sink game winner to lift Spurs past Wizards

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Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: the Spurs ramped up their defense and execution in the third quarter, with their bench sparking a run that gave them the lead, then they held on and got the game-winning shot from their star on a clever play.

LaMarcus Aldridge set the screen that freed up Manu Ginobili to be the playmaker, then set another that got Kawhi Leonard a clean look at the game winner. Aldridge had 19 points on the night, but it’s those things that do not show up in the box score that gets the Spurs wins.

Plus, they just make shots under pressure.

Steve Kerr admits trying pot to deal with back pain, says leagues should treat it like alcohol

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are some inevitable changes to the American culture as the younger generation takes over from the old, things the march of time and demographics will change in spite of the beliefs and  frustration of older generations.

The legalization of marijuana use is one of them. The question is not if, but when?

Marijuana use in California was legalized in the November election, but it had been legal for medicinal use for years (under certain guidelines, such as a doctor’s prescription).

Steve Kerr has been living in California for years — he was based out of San Diego while working for TNT as an analyst, now as the Warriors’ coach he obviously lives in the Bay Area. He’s also been dealing with chronic back pain, which has required surgeries — that’s why he missed the first half of last season.

In a podcast with Monte Poole of CSNBayArea.com, Kerr admitted he tried marijuana to deal with his chronic back pain.

“I guess maybe I could even get in some trouble for this, I’ve actually tried it twice during the last year-and-a-half when I’ve been going through this chronic pain that I’ve been dealing with, and (I did) a lot of research, a lot of advice from people, and I don’t know if I would have failed a (league) drug test, if I’m subject to a drug test, or any laws from the NBA. But I tried it and it didn’t help at all, but it’s worth it because I’m searching for answers on pain. But I’ve tried pain killers and drugs of other kinds and those have been worse.”

Kerr also said he hopes the NBA and other professional sports leagues come around to treating marijuana as they do alcohol.

“I’m not a pot person… I tried it a few times and it didn’t agree with me at all. I’m not the expert on this. But I do know this: if you’re an NFL player, and you have a lot of pain, I don’t think there’s any question that pot is better for your body than Vicodin. And yet, athletes everywhere are prescribed Vicodin like it’s vitamin C, like it’s no big deal. There’s this perception in our country that over-the-counter drugs are fine but pot is bad. I think that’s changing, you’re seeing a change in these laws.. including California. But I would just hope that sports leagues are able to look past the perception. I’m sure the NFL is worried their fans are going to say “all the players are pot heads…” but I would hope the league comes to its senses rather than see these guys get hooked on pain killers.”

Kerr shouldn’t worry. The times, they are a changin’.

Report: Nets sign Donatas Motiejunas to four-year $37 million offer, Rockets have three days to match

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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The Houston Rockets’ hand has been forced.

They had reportedly offered Donatas Motiejunas $7 million a year in a short-term deal, but pulled the offer after he didn’t sign before the date that would make him eligible to be traded this season.  Since then, the Nets — a team trying to rebuild but stripped of picks and assets — considered making a gamble on him.

Friday they did.

On paper, Motiejunas is a good fit with the Mike D’Antoni Rockets. Two seasons ago he shot 36.8 percent from three, and it is easy to see where in the transition scrambles that the Rockets’ offense creates he could run to the arc or post up smaller defenders inside early in the clock. He could be a nice reserve big in Houston.

Which is why they likely match. But now the clock is ticking.

Report: No additional fine, punishment for Draymond Green after kicking flagrant

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Draymond Green picked up a flagrant foul after flailing his legs – this time catching James Harden in the face — and once again it’s become the topic of the day in the NBA.

If you didn’t see it (video above), Kevin Durant missed a three and Green made a good hustle play to get the offensive board and go back up, where he was fouled by James Harden. The foul threw Green off-balance and, as he does, he flailed his legs up, and his right leg caught Harden in the face. The replay center reviewed the play and called the original common foul on Harden, but a Flagrant 1 on Green for the kick. It mattered because it was overtime of a close game and that both evened out the free throws and gave Houston the ball again.

However, the league didn’t see this as the kind of intentional, malicious foul that gets extra attention, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

That outcome seems about right to me. This was not the Steven Adams situation. Green went up, was fouled by Harden which did disrupt his balance, and he threw his leg up. Whether he did that intentionally, just instinctively looking to draw a foul, or if it was simply a move to keep his balance is irrelevant — he got his foot up high enough to hit James Harden in the face, that’s a flagrant foul. It wasn’t severe enough to warrant a suspension or fine in my opinion, but players are responsible for their bodies on the court and if you kick a guy in the face that comes with consequences. Like a high boot in soccer, there is no room for debate here.

Is Green being watched for this more than other players? Duh. Of course he is, this is seven incidents I can think of without bothering to go to Google. Yes, other players do it too, but Green has the reputation. And the league is cracking down on it. Hence the flagrant.