Thunder power forward Nick Collison strips the ball away from San Antonio Spurs center Tim Duncan

Thunder-Spurs Game 3: The best defense is… well, a good defense for OKC

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You have to fight the Spurs with defense.

OK, I get that sounds remarkably stupid in its obviousness. Please try and hear me out. In Games 1 and 2, Scott Brooks, for reason beyond understanding, chose to go with offensive lineups. Particularly in the fourth quarter of both losses, he went with lineups featuring Russell Westbrook, James Harden, and Derek Fisher. The focus on trying to score with San Antonio was a critical mistake, and one he wouldn’t replicate in Game 3, and it resulted in not needing fourth quarter lineups at all as the Thunder blew out the Spurs 102-82.

It was a critical adjustment for Brooks, who went to extended minutes for Thabo Sefolosha, using him to switch onto Tony Parker to contain the All-Star point guard. The Spurs starters scored just .77 points per possession Thursday night, and the more the Spurs’ offense unraveled, the more the Thunder got out and ran for scores, which allowed their defense to reset.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

The Thunder decided to pick another poison Thursday night, instead of letting Tony Parker loose, they packed the paint to prevent perimeter penetration, surrendering fifteen shots to Tim Duncan. But on a night where Duncan became the all-time playoff leader in blocked shots, the future Hall-of-Famer only hit five for eleven points. With Manu Ginobili and Parker held to just 17 shots total, the Thunder let the supporting cast try and shot their way back into it. They could not.

It’s a considerable adjustment and reflects a development that began in Game 1. The Thunder defended well until the fourth quarter of Game 1, where the Spurs shot a blistering 75 percent effective field goal percentage. In Game 3, their game-long eFG% was just 46.7.

The Spurs won’t be affected by the loss much, even if they know that it wasn’t just an off shooting night but a legitimate counter punch from their Conference Final foe. They’ll have time to make adjustments before Game 4. But the inherent advantages that OKC has in terms of length and athleticism are not easily solved. All this sets up a monster Game 4, with the series on the line. A Spurs counter-attack ends the series, effectively, while a Thunder win resets everything. The big question will be if the Spurs’ offense can get that edge back in front of a hostile crowd. This is the first time they’ve really faced a team with confidence on the road, and a team that can defend.

Because the Spurs aren’t doing it this series. After holding both the Clippers and Jazz to less than one point per possession, the Spurs are now surrendering 108.6 points per 100 possessions in this series. It’s a tiny sample size, but it’s a trend that’s held. Their defense is not good enough to win this series. Their offense is. Which means that it’s the Thunder who have the control here. The Spurs are not going to defend OKC. If OKC can’t keep up this defensive efficiency, they’re going to lose. If they can, they will. It’s in their hands. Granted, the Spurs can counter-adjust offensively, but two things have stabilized. The Thunder can score, the Spurs can’t stop them. It’s all on the Spurs’ offense vs. Thunder D. Last year, this exact situation played out in the conference finals with another team from Texas.

The Thunder tried to outscore the Mavericks last year. Game 3 seems to indicate that they’ve figured out that’s not the approach to take.

In an all-offense series, it’s become about defense.

LeBron, can someone average a triple-double? “Westbrook can do it”

LAS VEGAS, NV - AUGUST 12:  LeBron James #27 (L) and Russell Westbrook #31 of the 2015 USA Basketball Men's National Team attend a practice session at the Mendenhall Center on August 12, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Through 22 games, Russell Westbrook is averaging 31 points, 11.3 assists, and 10.9 rebounds a night — the first guy to average a triple-double this deep into a season since Oscar Robertson did it for a full campaign in 1963. Westbrook has had a triple-double in six straight games.

The only question is: Can Westbrook keep this up? Can he average a triple-double for a season?

He’s got a backer in LeBron James. Here is what LeBron said at shootaround on Wednesday, as the Cavaliers were in New York to take on the Knicks, you can see his comments via ESPN.

“Westbrook can do it. He’s capable of doing it. He’s showing it. He’s like the Energizer Bunny, man. He just doesn’t get tired. He doesn’t get tired, and when you have that passion for the game, too, as well, it’s very doable. The game has definitely changed a little bit. It’s more, it’s almost feeling like back in, like, the 80s, you know, when teams were putting up 145 and 135 and more possessions and more shot attempts — obviously, they weren’t shooting as many 3s, but it was a lot of possessions. So with that being said, with his athleticism, him being able to get those rebounds, he handles the ball for the majority of the game for OKC so he’s gonna get the assists and I think he’s averaging nine free throws a game. He’s going to make seven or eight of those a game and obviously he’s going to get one bucket — he’s going to get 10 points. That’s the easy thing for him. So it’s very doable.”

I don’t think the question is can he do it? LeBron is right, he can. I think the question is will his body hold up? He’s a strong, well-conditioned athlete, but that is a lot of toll physically.

The Thunder need him to do this: Westbrook has 11 triple-doubles this season, the Thunder are 9-2 in those games. They are 5-6 when he fails.

Report: Donatas Motiejunas not reporting to Rockets over $6 million

Donatas Motiejunas, Kenneth Faried
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Donatas Motiejunas — with his agent B.J. Armstrong — has backed himself into a bit of a corner.

The restricted free agent signed a four-year, $37 million offer sheet with the Nets, but it had a lot of favorable terms (the final two years are not fully guaranteed, for example) so as one would expect the Rockets matched it. However, under NBA rules the Rockets only had to match the base of the contract — $31 million worth — not the incentives. Which is what the Rockets did.

On Tuesday, Motiejunas did not report for his physical with Houston, and the $6 million is the reason, reports Calvin Watkins of ESPN.

Restricted free agent Donatas Motiejunas won’t report to the Houston Rockets because of a difference of nearly $6 million from the offer sheet he signed with the Brooklyn Nets, sources told ESPN on Wednesday.

Last week, Motiejunas signed a four-year, $37 million offer sheet with the Nets. The Rockets on Monday opted to match that offer. However, based on the CBA, the Rockets only had to match the principle terms of the offer sheet, which came to $31 million. The $6 million difference was to be paid to Motiejunas via incentive clauses if he played for the Nets.

Motiejunas may not like it, but the Rockets have almost all the power here. As of Thursday, the Rockets can pull the offer (even if they don’t, it will expire eventually on March 1), and at that point Motiejunas is a restricted free agent again. Right where he was before. The Nets can’t re-sign him to an offer now for another year. Other teams with the cap space aren’t interested (for example, Philadelphia has the room, but the last thing they need is another big man in the rotation). The Rockets would like him to play — as a big who can shoot the three he should fit well in the Mike D’Antoni system — but they are not going fail him on the physical and let him go for nothing (they can’t trade him until after the season, even if Motiejunas relents and signs the deal with the Rockets)

Motiejunas’ only play? Sit out. But at age 26, why is he wasting part of his short career window to make money playing basketball?

LeBron James: No statement by not staying at Trump-branded hotel

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers looks on during the banner raising and ring ceremony before the game against the New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.   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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK (AP) — LeBron James said he wasn’t trying to make a statement by not staying at a Donald Trump-branded hotel with the Cleveland Cavaliers, calling it a personal preference.

“It would be the same if I went to a restaurant and decided to eat chicken and not steak,” James said.

James and some other players didn’t stay with the team at the Trump SoHo in lower Manhattan before the Cavs’ game against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. James said it was the first time in his career he hasn’t stayed with his team, though he said he rode the bus to the morning shootaround as usual with the squad.

James endorsed Hillary Clinton and campaigned with her in Ohio. Several of his teammates, including Richard Jefferson, Iman Shumpert and others have expressed their disappointment about Trump’s win.

“At the end of the day I hope he’s one of the best presidents ever, for all of our sake,” James said. “For my family, for all us.”

A team spokesman didn’t say how many players opted not to stay in the team hotel and wasn’t sure how James met up with the bus.

Coach Tyronn Lue, who stayed with the team, was asked if it was odd to have the players split up on the road.

“It’s not normal, but considering the circumstances that’s what we have,” Lue said. “But that’s not my main objective. My main thing is to try to get this team to stay on track and play the right way and try to get back on track by playing Cleveland Cavalier basketball.”

James wouldn’t talk about Knicks President Phil Jackson, who angered the All-Star forward last month by referring to his friends and business partners in an ESPN interview as a “posse.”

Boston’s Marcus Smart gets flopping warning from NBA

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 17:  Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics looks on during the second quarter of the preseason game against the Brooklyn Nets at TD Garden on October 17, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Boston’s Marcus Smart is one of the league’s more notorious floppers.

He was at it again Monday night against the Houston Rockets — and the league called him on it and gave him a warning.

It happened on the game’s final play — you were probably focused elsewhere, wondering how Al Horford could miss the game-winning layup. But watch Smart as he gets in position for the rebound on that shot.

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The referees didn’t buy it then.

This warning is barely a slap on the wrist. If — in his case, when — Smart gets caught a second time this season he will get a $5,000 fine from the league. Smart is making $3.6 million this season.