NBA Playoffs: Thunder play well, but Spurs win while still seeming unstoppable

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The San Antonio Spurs have now played an even ten games in the NBA Playoffs and, amazingly, have won every one of them. The wins haven’t all been dominant — Tuesday night’s 120-111 victory ended up being one of their more difficult challenges this season — but it’s been astounding to watch the old, formerly boring ball players simply click on all cylinders for majority of the past few months.

While we all marvel at what the Spurs have been able to do en route to staying undefeated for 48 consecutive days, the most impressive thing is that the Spurs haven’t been playing any sort of “hero” ball … they’re just playing basketball the way it was meant to be played and, surprise(!), it works. Gregg Popovich has found out a way to put a fine-tuned machine out on the court, allowing the basketball purists among us 48 awesome minutes of watching wings cut to the bucket, guards move the ball around, slashers slash, passers pass and the big men doing what big men have been taught to do since the first time they picked up a basketball and their coach realized they were bigger than anyone else.

The Spurs are winning simply by playing fundamentally-sound basketball, really, so it shouldn’t be any sort of surprise that Mr. Fundamental himself — the ageless Tim Duncan — helped San Antonio earn a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals following Tuesday night’s victory. Duncan wasn’t the most efficient player from the floor as the Thunder got a bit more physical with him than he would have liked, but his double-double while chasing down loose balls and picking up four big blocks were key for the Spurs as Oklahoma City employed the “Hack-A-Player” defense on backup Tiago Splitter (oh, and in case anyone missed it, he also did this to Serge Ibaka).

Most frustrating for the Thunder, though, is likely the fact that San Antonio was able to find another answer on the offensive end. Manu Ginobili was the star in Game 1, but Argentina’s favorite sixth man was bottled up early on Tuesday night and never really found his rhythm … at least not until hitting what might have been a dagger three-pointer late in the fourth quarter. No worries for the Spurs, though — Tony Parker simply decided to show once again why he belongs in the conversation as one of the top point guards in the league by accumulating 32 points, seven assists and turning the ball over a mere two times — all while hitting 15 of his 20 shot attempts in part of a near-perfect performance. The scariest part is that Thursday night’s Game 3 will likely end up belonging to someone entirely different if the Thunder are able to figure out  how to stop both of the Spurs perimeter playmakers (here’s hoping for Gary Neal and Matt Bonner three-pointers early and often).

If the fact that San Antonio continues to find contributors on the other end no matter what the Thunder do on defense — Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green combined for 25 points — it probably isn’t making Oklahoma City happy on offense that the Spurs are also quite adept at keeping them from getting into any sort of rhythm. Tuesday night’s game got grimy in the second half when a plethora of free-throws were shot and, even though the Thunder shot more from the charity stripe, it kept them trailing as they were unable to get into a rhythm and barely picked up even a modicum of momentum before San Antonio eventually elicited an answer for each run.

The worst part about Tuesday night’s game might have been that Oklahoma City’s stars all ended up having excellent games. Kevin Durant scored 31 points on 17 shots (though he was limited quite a bit in the fourth quarter), James Harden came off the bench to hit 10 of his 13 shot attempts and free-throw attempts to score an even 30 points while Russell Westbrook scored 27 points and dished eight assists and nary a turnover. Typically when one team’s top three players are able to score 88 points against an opponent that hadn’t given up triple-digit points in their previous nine outings, it’ll lead to a victory. That surprisingly wasn’t the case on Tuesday night, however, because San Antonio held the remaining six Thunder players to a total of just 23 points despite attempting 35 shots.

It’ll be interesting to see what the Thunder decide to change for Game 3 considering they did almost all they can be expected to do on Tuesday night before falling into a two-game deficit in the seven-game series. If they’re unable to win when their top three players combing for nearly 30 points apiece while shutting down the star from their series-opening loss, can there really be much hope left in the Oklahoma City locker room?

Miami, Cleveland and Oklahoma City players all lobbying for Dwyane Wade

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MIAMI (AP) Teams cannot officially start pursuing Dwyane Wade yet, because that would be tampering.

The same rules don’t apply to players.

So on Monday, even though Wade’s agreed-upon buyout deal with the Chicago Bulls has not yet become official, plenty of his NBA colleagues – particularly those in Cleveland, Oklahoma City and his former home in Miami – started lobbying the 12-time All-Star in earnest about where they think he should be playing this season.

“If I was to talk to that guy that would happen to possibly be like a brother to me, hypothetically, I would say I would love to have you in Miami,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, Wade’s teammate in Miami for 13 seasons. “I would love to finish my career with you. I would love to have you help me mold this young group of promising young men that have the chance to take the Heat culture to the next level.”

Wade isn’t expected to clear waivers until 5 p.m. Wednesday. He and the Bulls reached an agreement Sunday on the buyout, a person with direct knowledge told The Associated Press. Wade was due to make about $24 million this season in Chicago, and he told AP that he intended to take a couple of days to talk with players and teams about his options.

“My decision is a pure basketball decision and I’ll make the one that fits me best at this point in my career, and with what I feel I have to offer a team that needs what I have to offer,” Wade said in the AP interview.

It’s unclear how many teams have reached out to Wade’s representatives. Wade said he hopes to make a decision quickly.

Wade helped recruit LeBron James to Miami in 2010, and James is now hoping to do the same by getting his close friend to Cleveland.

“I would love to have D-Wade a part of this team,” said James, Wade’s teammates on Miami’s title teams in 2012 and 2013. “I think he brings another championship pedigree, championship DNA. He brings another player to the team who can get guys involved, can make plays and also has a great basketball mind.”

James said he will talk to Wade about what to do next.

“But it’s not up to me,” James said. “It’s up to D-Wade if he can clear waivers and then it’s up to our front office. But I hope we can bring him here. I would love to have him.”

Wade worked out with James this summer – that’s not uncommon, they vacation together, dine together and talk all the time anyway. Wade also spent some time this offseason in the gym with Paul George, now with the Oklahoma City Thunder.

George said he would be hitting Wade up on Snapchat and Twitter to do his campaigning. And now the Thunder have longtime Wade friend Carmelo Anthony, after Oklahoma City’s trade with the New York Knicks was finalized Monday.

“Come on, D,” Anthony said. “You know where you belong.”

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra, like Heat President Pat Riley last week, raved about Wade on Monday – but, wary of tampering, didn’t come anywhere near close to openly lobbying for a reunion.

Heat point guard Goran Dragic had a very simple message.

“This is D-Wade’s home,” Dragic said. “We’ll see how he’s going to choose. But hopefully, he comes back.”

AP Sports Writers Cliff Brunt and Tom Withers contributed to this report.

More AP basketball: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Watch Carmelo Anthony laugh when asked whether he would come off the bench

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Carmelo Anthony is now a member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, but it’s not immediately clear what position he will play.

Anthony joins a team with an established, All-Star level small forward in Paul George. That means that head coach Billy Donovan will have to be creative with his lineups especially as they will likely need to start Anthony.

Of course, Anthony has been a monster at power forward in the past and many would argue that it is his natural position in today’s NBA. Anthony played the majority of his minutes between 2012 and 2014 at the 4 spot with the New York Kniks, and indeed those were some of his most productive years both in terms of offensive rating and VORP.

Anthony has also played at the power forward position in order to play with Team USA in prior contests with the national squad.

However, when asked whether Anthony would play in the 4 spot or would prefer to come off the bench, Anthony had a good laugh.

Via Twitter:

Seriously though Carmelo should play the 4.

Russell Westbrook calls Oklahoma City “the place where I want to be”

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Thunder guard Russell Westbrook has yet to sign an extension, but the reigning league MVP says Oklahoma City is where he wants to be and he is “happy” about the offseason additions of superstars Carmelo Anthony and Paul George.

Westbrook complimented Thunder management for making the deals.

The unsigned deal has tempered some of the excitement building around the team. He has until Oct. 16 to ink a contract that would be worth more than $200 million. Westbrook says he hasn’t signed because of the birth of his son and a busy travel schedule.

Westbrook’s former teammate Enes Kanter, who was sent to New York as part of the deal that brought Anthony to Oklahoma City, also says he expects Westbrook to sign the deal.

More AP NBA: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Paul George says OKC feels like “Somewhere I can call home for years”

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All we have heard about all summer is that Paul George is definitely going to the Los Angeles Lakers. Heck, we’ve heard about it earlier than that.

That’s what forced the Indiana Pacers to make the trade to send George to the Oklahoma City Thunder where he is now teammate of both Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony.

But NBA Media Day was on Monday, and with it brought not only first interviews of new players but the platitudes that fans want to hear as well.

Speaking to reporters in Oklahoma City, George said that he thought the Thunder had done much that they had needed to do to show him they were a place that he could stay.

Via USA Today:

“Honestly, I’m happy,” he said. “The only thing I wanted out of Indiana was a chance to win my whole career there…That’s really what I want out of this, out of the league. I’m not looking for money. I’m not looking for stats. I want to win, and (to) be able to win at a high level.

“It’s Year One, and (the Thunder have) proven – and I haven’t even gone through a season yet – and they’ve already proven everything on my check list (that) I can check off. That’s what feels good. That’s what makes me feel like, ‘Hey, this can be a landing spot for me, and somewhere I can call home for years.’”

George also told USA Today that winning was above anything else, including joining his hometown team in the Lakers. We’ve heard this from players before, so take it with a grain of salt, but it does appear that the Thunder have a shot of keeping the former Pacers star if George is to be believed.

Of course, Oklahoma City still has some work to do in terms of winning games. There are some serious doubts about the roster they have now with three high usage players that will struggle to find a way to share the ball efficiently.

The Western Conference got a lot tougher this offseason, and both Anthony and George were a part of that. But the other teams have stiffened and appear to have better roster fit at the moment. Thats before we even get to the 2017 NBA Finals champion Golden State Warriors.

LeBron James says that he is going to be finishing his career in Cleveland. George says that the Thunder have a real shot at keeping him. We will have to play out this season to see if either of those things come true.