This year Thunder closing out close wins, up 2-0 on Mavericks

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Last season in the Western Conference Finals, the Mavericks and Thunder played each other close, but when it came time to execute under pressure at the end it was Dallas making the plays. Dirk Nowitzki was a legendary player who could not seem to miss.

This year the torch has been passed.

For the second game in a row it came down to the final minute and for the second game in a row the Thunder made the pays. This time it wasn’t Kevin Durant with a fortunate bounce on a last second shot, it was Nowitzki and Jason Terry missing late three pointers, Oklahoma City hitting its free throws and holding on on for a 102-99 win.

The Thunder are now up 2-0 and Dallas goes home for what is a virtual must win — they are not winning four in a row. They need to hold serve on their home court.

Mavericks fans can easily say that they are just a couple bounces away from being up 2-0 in this series. They are right, which is why they should have hope.

But the Thunder have won two games with Kevin Durant shooting a combined 15-40 — he is going to find his groove. Although tip your cap to Shawn Marion who has played well on defense.

Russell Westbrook has had to be the man for the Thunder — for those of you who say he needs to be more of a traditional point guard, these games show why OKC needs him to be a scorer. He had 29 in this one. The Thunder also have James Harden, who just makes smart plays late — he had 6 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists in the fourth quarter alone.

For Dallas, it’s just the little things. And some lucky bounces. Dallas shot 33 percent in the fourth quarter of this game, if they can knock down just a few more shots they win it. The kind of shots that fell for them last year. Meanwhile Derek Fisher is scoring 11 for the Thunder.

This series is getting chippy and physical, like we expect of playoff basketball. Nowitzki and Kendrick Perkins pushed and had words after Serge Ibaka had taken an elbow to he face.

While Dallas is in a tight spot down 2-0 it doesn’t feel hopeless — they are not getting dominated. They could easily take the next two and make this a best out of three. The Thunder win either one of the next two and they will be in total command. But to do that they are going to have to play a better — improve their ball movement, get Durant going, play better defense.

The Mavericks are the defending champions, they will not go quietly.

Spurs’ LaMarcus Aldridge nails three from one knee during warmups (VIDEO)

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Take that Stephen Curry.

Gregg Popovich would pull him so fast he’d look like a fidget spinner if he tried this in a game, but during warmups before Game 4 Monday night LaMarcus Aldridge knocked down a deep three from one knee.

If Aldridge is taking a lot of threes that’s not a good sign for the Spurs, but we’ll see if he can have a big night and keep the Spurs alive in this series.

Stephen Curry drains shots from near half court during warmups like they’re layups

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Stephen Curry‘s pregame warmups draw people into the arena early, it’s a show in and of itself.

Before Game 4 Monday night, Curry was taking a couple shots from the center-court logo. And draining them. Like layups. Because he can.

We’ll see if he can put on that kind of show when the game tips off.

Gregg Popovich makes it official: No Kawhi Leonard for Game 4

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This was expected. It still sucks to hear.

Kawhi Leonard is out for Game 4 vs. the Warriors Monday night.

Leonard has sprained his left ankle in Game 5 against the Rockets and sat out Game 6 of that series (a San Antonio win), then returned for Game 1 against the Warriors. He re-injured his ankle twice in that game — once stepping on David Lee‘s foot, once when Zaza Pachulia slid under him on a jumper and took away his landing space. Leonard left that game with his team up 23 points, but the Warriors rallied back to win Game 1 and have controlled the series ever since. Leonard has not returned to the series.

San Antonio will play with pride on Monday night, but it may not be enough. You can bet the Warriors were reminded all day about taking their foot off the gas after what happened with Cleveland Sunday.

Report: Orlando hires Toronto GM Jeff Weltman to be president of basketball operations

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In Toronto, Masai Ujiri is the head of basketball operations and the guy with the hammer on deals. Jeff Weltman was his right-hand man and team GM.

Make that was his right-hand man, Weltman has been hired by the Orlando Magic to run its basketball operations, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Orlando Magic have hired Toronto Raptors general manager Jeff Weltman as the franchise’s president of basketball operations, league sources told The Vertical.

Weltman met with Orlando CEO Alex Martins and ownership on Monday, finalizing a five-year deal, league sources said.

Orlando officials had been intrigued with Cleveland GM David Griffin, but moved steadily toward Weltman as they became further engaged with his candidacy in recent weeks, league sources said. Weltman has been deeply involved in every aspect of the Raptors’ front office under president Masai Ujiri as Toronto became a perennial Eastern Conference contender.

Making a move now is smart in this sense: The Magic have the No. 5 pick in this draft and would want the guy making the big picture decisions about this roster on board to make this selection.

That roster already has some quality pieces — Aaron Gordon, Evan Fournier, Nikola Vucevic, maybe Elfrid Payton — but has underachieved. There were questions about the culture and a lack of accountability, and that blame ultimately fell on GM Rob Hennigan and he was let go. Frank Vogel is locked in as

Frank Vogel is locked in as coach, so how well Weltman and Vogel work together — and share a vision — will be key.

Weltman is well-respected around the league. He spent five seasons as an assistant GM in Milwaukee, and has been with the Raptors since 2013 as that team has risen up the Eastern Conference standings and had its best run in franchise history. He also has worked with the Clippers and in Denver. He’s been one of those guys expected to get a chance in the big chair for a few years now.

He’s got it, and it’s an interesting challenge in Orlando.