Lakers-Thunder Western Conference Semifinals Preview: No longer a feel good story

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Two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the first-round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. It was supposed to be a nice learning experience for a team on the rise, a quick lesson from the reigning champs as to how the playoffs work. Instead, the world was introduced to the intensity of the Oklahoma City crowd, and the Lakers generally looked inept in their efforts to dominate the less experienced team. The Lakers went on to win the title, because that’s kind of their thing. Struggle when they don’t have to actually try, then kill everything in front of them once they get going. The league took notice, though, and it was the big step forward for the Thunder into the spotlight.

My, how things have changed.

Now the Thunder enter Monday night as the prohibitive favorite, having handled the Lakers in all but their last meeting, an overtime home win for the Lakers that featured Metta World Peace taking out the Thunder’s third best player. The student has become the master, so to speak. But can they win out over the more experienced team, with Kobe Bryant and a huge size advantage?

Five things to note as the series kick off.

1. If You Want Blood,  You Got It: This thing is no longer a friendly little-brother thing. It’s a full-blown rivalry. The Thunder have taken it to the Lakers, and James Harden was actually talking trash to Kobe Bryant in a Thunder win earlier this season. You know, the one before Metta World Peace “accidentally” elbowed him in the side of the head giving him a concussion. Kendrick Perkins has had an issue with Andrew Bynum for years dating back to his Boston days. Serge Ibaka goes at Pau Gasol, and Kevin Durant hates being guarded by MWP. The Lakers will always think they rule the roost and the Thunder just knocked off the Mavericks who tossed them last year. They have something to prove. This is going to be a rough series with emotions running high in the madhouse that is Chesapeake Energy Arena

2. On Guard: Anyone else notice that Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers? Because Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers. The Lakers have lacked a good perimeter defender for point guards for years. Ramon Sessions has not helped the situation. Russell Westbrook is the same model as Lawson, fast and explosive, only maybe faster, definitely more explosive, and a better overall scorer. In the 2010 series, Kobe Bryant switched onto Westbrook and did the lion’s share on him. The problem with that is that James Harden has stepped up and become the playmaker that OKC needs as a third option. If Bryant handles Westbrook, they’re just letting Harden loose. Switch MWP onto Harden to defend him without elbowing him, and there’s that problem of Kevin Durant. Someone’s going to get loose for OKC. It’s just a matter of the Lakers picking their poison.

3. Big And Bad And Lazy All Over: Kendrick Perkins does really well against huge athletic centers. But Andrew Bynum’s size is still going to win out most times… if he exerts himself. Bynum could have ended the Nuggets series in five games had he tried. He chose not to, and the series went to seven. How much effort will he give in this series? Likewise, Serge Ibaka is going to have a hard time with Pau Gasol who can shoot over him from mid-range which is where Ibaka struggles. If Gasol is engaged, which again, flip a coin, the Lakers have so much length they can punish the Thunder inside. If not, the game becomes about transition and perimeter and that’s where the Thunder live.

4. Unlikely Heroes: The playoffs have been rife with unlikely heroes. Among these was Steve Blake, hitting five threes in Game 7 vs. Denver. Can the Lakers get great shooting from Blake and MWP over the course of a series despite all evidence to the contrary outside of Game 7? Can Daequan Cook or Thabo Sefolosha makes plays? What about Jordan Hill? No, seriously, what about Jordan Hill? This series is likely to be close and whoever gets a step up from the unlikely guys may come out on top.

5. The Finest Hour: Kobe Bryant was magnificent in Game 6 in a lost cause. In Game 7, he played in the flow of the offense and encouraged his teammates to do their job. Kevin Durant struggled early on vs. the Mavericks before breaking loose. This series is about two evenly matched teams with history and talented rosters. But it’s about Kobe vs. Durant. The Thunder don’t have a defender like MWP to stick on Bryant, but Durant is the best scorer in the series. Either Bryant is going to add to his already insane legend, or Durant’s going to make the biggest statement of his.

PBT Extra: Better communication needed between NBA players, referees

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NBA players are frustrated. They feel the calls from NBA officials are inconsistent, but if they try to talk to an official about it they are pushed aside or handed a technical.

NBA referees feel that players seem to complain about every call and that there has been a decline in civility — players are more aggressive now toward them.

In this PBT Extra, I discuss how there needs to be a better level of communication between the two sides. There is always going to be tension between players and refs, it’s the nature of the roles. But both sides can handle this a whole lot better than they have.

Warriors beat Bulls 119-112 for 14th straight road win

Associated Press
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CHICAGO (AP) — When the Splash Brothers are making their shots, even Kevin Durant is content with a supporting role.

Such is life for the Golden State Warriors.

Klay Thompson scored 38 points, Stephen Curry added 30 and the Warriors beat the Chicago Bulls 119-112 on Wednesday night for their franchise record-tying 14th straight road win.

“It was an old-school Splash Brother game,” coach Steve Kerr said.

The “Splash Brothers” nickname for Thompson and Curry has faded in prominence since Durant joined the duo before last season, but the sharpshooting guards can still put on a show. Thompson was 7 for 13 from 3-point range and Curry was 6 for 11 from behind the arc; no other player made a 3 for the Warriors.

“When they got it going like that, you just play your role and know your place, man,” Durant said.

Durant had 19 points, eight rebounds and seven assists as Golden State moved into a tie for the third-longest road winning streak in a season in NBA history. The Los Angeles Lakers hold the record with 16 straight road wins during the 1971-72 season.

Next up for the NBA-leading Warriors (37-9) is a prime-time showdown with Houston on Saturday in the finale of a five-game trip.

“It’s going to be a very tough game Saturday, probably the toughest of the trip,” Thompson said, “and if we could go undefeated on this road trip that would be incredible.”

Nikola Mirotic scored 24 points for Chicago, which dropped to 14-8 since its 3-20 start. Robin Lopez scored 12 of his 16 points in the first half, and Kris Dunn also had 16.

“We played three quarters of really good basketball, but you take one off against a team like this, you’re not going to win,” coach Fred Hoiberg said.

The Warriors played without Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala due to injuries, and Jordan Bell sprained his left ankle when he challenged Lopez’s dunk on the Bulls’ first possession. Bell stayed down for a while and then was helped to his feet. He tried to put pressure on his leg and grimaced before he opted for a wheelchair ride off the court.

The 23-year-old Bell was selected by the Bulls in the second round of the June draft and then dealt to the Warriors for financial considerations. X-rays were negative, but he was using crutches and a walking boot after the win and will have an MRI on Thursday.

“It was definitely way worse than a normal sprain,” Bell said. “Like I said, I thought I broke it.”

Thompson and Curry led the way as Golden State outscored Chicago 32-12 in the third quarter to open a 95-78 lead. Curry made a tiebreaking 3-pointer with 9:23 left in the period, sparking a 19-0 run for the Warriors.

The Bulls made a late charge, closing to 112-107 on Dunn’s fast-break dunk with 2:55 left. Dunn landed awkwardly on the play and his face slammed into the floor. He was being evaluated for a possible concussion after the loss.

The NBA champion Warriors responded with Thompson’s driving layup and a three-point play for Durant. Thompson also made two foul shots with 17.4 seconds left to help Golden State secure the win.

 

PBT Extra: Fan votes from twitter on MVP, other awards

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We reached the middle of the NBA season, which is a good time to consider where things stand for the end-of-season awards such as MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Coach of the Year. We have made our picks and even broken them down in a podcast.

Now it was time to ask you who you thought should win awards.

I put it out there on Twitter in some polls, and I cover your responses in this PBT Extra. I’m with you on Brad Stevens for Coach of the Year, although I think it’s close. Did you choose LeBron James or James Harden for MVP? Watch and find out.

Michael Carter-Williams and Tim Frazier ejected for altercation, leading to hilarious Dwight Howard free throws (video)

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Jason Smith pushed down Michael Carter-Williams while going for a rebound. Carter-Williams pulled Smith to the floor. Tim Frazier flew in heated.

It was more than a typical NBA altercation – Carter-Williams clenched his fist, though never swung – but it wasn’t quite a fight. It was just reserves getting feisty late in a blowout, the Hornets’ 133-109 win over the Wizards on Wednesday. Carter-Williams and Frazier were given double technical fouls and ejected.

One catch: Smith was called for personally fouling Carter-Williams, who was due free throws. With Carter-Williams unavailable, Washington could pick his replacement at the line.

Wizards coach Scott Brooks chose Dwight Howard, a poor free-throw shooter who’d been resting the entire fourth quarter and surely figured his night was over. Maybe it was only about Howard’s team-worst 53% shooting from the line, but it’s also possible Brooks was trying to make an opponent uncomfortable.

The Charlotte crowd went wild, and Howard only added to the fervor.

He sunk both free throws – padding his stats (18 points, 15 rebounds, two blocks and two steals) – and blew Brooks a kiss. Howard might appreciate the extra points Brooks afforded him, but they’ll likely come at a cost. Howard celebrated with the Sam Cassell/big-balls dance, which usually draws a fine from the NBA.