I’d say that the torch in the West has been passed, but that’s not what it felt like.
It felt like James Harden and the Oklahoma City Thunder grabbed the torch and ran off with it.
Harden scored seven in a row — and had 15 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter — to spark the Thunder as they came from 13 points back in the fourth quarter to sweep the defending champions Mavericks out of the playoffs, winning Game 4 103-97.
Harden is the guy the Thunder want to have the ball late in games because he makes plays — Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook fall into hero ball when given the ball late, Harden looks to make plays. Oh, he can score, but he will just as likely set up others. He sparks the Thunder. He sparked this comeback.
If you’re just noticing that now, you seeing what other GMs have been noticing for a couple years — there are a lot of teams that covet him. Doesn’t matter, the Thunder are not letting him go.
For Dallas, this outcome was really decided last summer when Mark Cuban decided not bring Tyson Chandler, J.J. Barea, DeShawn Stevenson and Caron Butler back — he rolled the dice on this season to set up the room to offer a max deal to Deron Williams this summer. They had hoped Lamar Odom could fill in that gap, but he couldn’t. That lack of depth showed during the comeback — Dirk Nowitizki had 34 but he did not have enough help anymore. The Mavs put up a fight, but they no longer had the horses.
But it was not all Dallas — Oklahoma City has grown as a team and were far the best side in this series. They have grown and evolved at both ends of the floor, and sent a message with this sweep that they are the team to beat in the West. They have the best scorer in the league — Durant had 24 points and 11 rebounds in this one. They have Westbrook’s speed and scoring. They have Kendrick Perkins and Serge Ibaka in the paint.
And they have Harden coming off the bench. Dallas couldn’t match him. And they are gone because of it.
The Miami Heat took until the final moments on Tuesday night to beat the Detroit Pistons, but it was worth it. With just a handful of games left to play, the Heat need to stave off the Chicago Bulls for the final spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race. Thanks to a tip at the buzzer by Hassan Whiteside, they’re one step closer to achieving that goal.
The play came with just seconds left in the fourth quarter. James Johnson missed a shot with six seconds to go, and the Heat grabbed the rebound. Goran Dragic then tried his hand, but he couldn’t get it to go, either.
That’s when Whiteside came back with a tip at the buzzer that ended the game.
Miami now sits at 36-38, a game above the Bulls for the No. 8 seed.
Whiteside, meanwhile, is never going to wash that hand again:
Former Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant was a pretty consistent player in the NBA. Save for his final injury-laden seasons and the lockout year of 2011-12, Bryant played in no fewer than 65 regular season games in a single season.
Coaches also had no reason or want to ask Bryant — a notorious worker — to sit out in order to rest. That wasn’t really on the menu, and Bryant knew that.
Speaking to ESPN’s First Take, Bryant said no coach really asked him to ever take a rest, “I’ve never been approached by a coach and asked to rest.”
Bryant remarked that he took queues from Michael Jordan during tough stretches of the season — back-to-backs or four games in five night scenarios — where he could switch his game up, floating from perimeter to post, in order to save energy during those matchups.
Bryant also said during the same interview that he understands the complexity of the modern game, and that players like LeBron James deserve to take a rest if they’ve earned it.
“LeBron has done so much for the game. He’s earned the opportunity to take a rest,” said Bryant.
The debate on this subject will continue, it seems.
New York Knicks big man Kristaps Porzingis is the future of the franchise, so any time he’s upended and nearly lands on his noggin it’s a cause for concern. To say the least.
That’s what happened on Monday night, as Porzingis got turned upside down during a play near the basket during a game against the Detroit Pistons.
Porzingis was OK on the play, and Detroit big man Andre Drummond did his best to help catch him so nothing too scary happened.
Still, Knicks president Phil Jackson had a pretty hilarious reaction to the whole thing. I guess that’s what happens when you watch your basketball life flash before your eyes.
Porzingis was unhurt and played a full 37 minutes. New York beat Detroit, 109-95.
Chicago Bulls star Jimmy Butler is a smart dude. He’s spent years of offseason work turning himself into a max-level player, and that shows he knows not only how to work but how to attack the game of basketball.
He’s also smart enough to know he shouldn’t go poking the bear when it comes to two future Hall of Fame players in LeBron James and Kevin Durant.
When asked whether the Cleveland Cavaliers star or the Golden State Warriors scorer was the toughest matchup in the NBA, Butler made sure he wasn’t adding any kind of blackboard material to rile up either player.
The best way to defend LeBron or Durant: don’t make them angry.
Smart move, Jimmy.