Miami Heat's James goes to the basket against Oklahoma City Thunder's Durant during Game 2 of the NBA basketball finals in Oklahoma City

NBA Finals Heat-Thunder Game 2: Welcome back, Thunder defense

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I had serious questions about the Thunder defense heading into Game 1. After all, this was a top ten, but not top five defense throughout the year, and it still gave up a ton of points to San Antonio (which granted has the best offense in the league). I had major concerns about how they would react to a tougher, more physical team. In Game 1, they responded beautifully. The rotations were great, their man-attack was spectacular, they did everything right. It was a major response.

“Maybe I was wrong,” I said to a friend. “Maybe they’re just better defensively than I thought they were.”

/clown nose honks

/kazoo

Welcome back, Thunder defense.

A 111 defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) for OKC, and that was the difference in the game. You can talk the no-call on an obvious fouls, or the goaltending call, or Shane Battier’s “what in the hell” three. But the reality is that the Heat allowed a Miami offense that everyone left for dead after Game 1 to put up a 111 defensive efficiency. That killed them. That’s the game.

And some of it wasn’t their fault. Thabo Sefolosha’s work has been brilliant. He’s contesting jumpers, and running under layups to disrupt without drawing fouls. James Harden has played better than usual, and Russell Westbrook, surprisingly, has been quite good. He’s been active in passing lanes and creating steals.

But the rest? It was not good. When the Heat offense didn’t fall to pieces as it did in Game 1, it created enough to get the win. Surprisingly, the biggest culprit Thursday night was Kevin Durant, who has been magnificent this year defensively. From the first tip, Durant was just a second off with his timing, just a bit slow on his rotations. And versus Game 1, when he bodied and held his ground against LeBron James in the post, James worked him over in all sorts of nasty ways in Game 2. He was overmatched. That foul trouble he got into? Four of his five fouls were absolutely legitimate. He gave up an and-one to Chris Bosh on a fast break, for crying out loud. It’s a sign of Durant’s development that he’s reached a level where his defense is expected to be better. But it is. And it wasn’t.

But Durant wasn’t the only one. Oh, the Ibaka blocks! What wonders of wonders! Too bad Ibaka also got torched by Chris Bosh and LeBron James because of his tendency to overreact to pumpfakes, and that several times late the Heat found Chris Bosh for dunks because he was too eager in his rotations. Sick blocks, tho, bro. (It should be noted Ibaka genuinely was fantastic in the first half defensively, a big reason the Thunder hung.)

Even Nick Collison, wondrous Nick Collison, was a problem. Chris Bosh abused him by being quicker and more aggressive, and drawing fouls. The Thunder as a defense was just not in a position it needed to be in on Thursday.

Everyone said that it wasn’t a problem after Game 1, that the Thunder could just outscore them. This is a very good Heat defense. That’s a flawed approach. If the Thunder want to regain homecourt and get the lead back in this series, they have to get back to playing defense as they did in the second half of Game 1. Quit worrying about Westbrook’s shots, or fouls, or goaltends. You’ve got to stop the Heat if you’re going to win the title.

Report: Warriors plan to sign Jose Calderon

Golden State Warriors' Klay Thompson (11) is defended by Los Angeles Lakers' Jose Calderon (5) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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The Warriors let Briante Weber go (to the Hornets). Golden State wouldn’t do that without another third point guard lined up.

The likely replacement: Jose Calderon, who’s being bought out by the Lakers.

Monte Poole of CSN Bay Area:

Calderon is in the process to be bought out by the Lakers, after which he will become a free agent. Once he clears waivers, the Warriors, according to multiple sources, will be waiting to offer a physical examination and a contract.

The 35-year-old Calderon hasn’t been good in a few years. He’s a major defensive liability, and his lack of burst makes it more difficult for him to capitalize on his remaining offensive skills: a smooth standstill jumper and acute passing.

But the Warriors won’t ask much of him, sticking him behind Stephen Curry and Shaun Livingston. Draymond Green can also be a de facto point guard, and so can Andre Iguodala.

Contending teams too often fill their deep bench with over-the-hill veterans whose experience make them seem reliable but are actually overwhelmed in the moment due to a lack of athleticism. Golden State made that mistake last year with Anderson Varajeao, who didn’t make a shot in 41 Finals minutes and was -9 in Game 7.

Calderon offers a much better chance of succeeding if pressed into a limited role. If he plays important minutes, he’ll bring a steady style, best he can still execute it.

But the Warriors better hope Calderon remains glued to the bench during the playoffs. That presents a far more dependable path to victory.

Joel Embiid out indefinitely

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The 76ers could finish the season with the last No. 1 pick and the best rookie in years sidelined.

One one hand, Philadelphia should be thrilled that describes two players.

On the other hand, it’s not ideal to have so much talent injured.

No. 1 pick Ben Simmons is definitely out for the rest of the year. And it doesn’t sound encouraging for Joel Embiid, who has been hampered by a knee injury.

CSN Philly:

Joel Embiid on Monday will have an MRI on his injured left knee and is now listed as out indefinitely.

Embiid has been experiencing swelling and soreness in the left knee injury that has caused him to miss 16 out of the last 17 games. Bryan Colangelo announced back on Feb. 11 that Embiid has a minor meniscal tear. In his most recent press conference last Friday, Colangelo had targeted this Friday’s home game against the Knicks as a possibility for Embiid’s return. Now, that isn’t the case.

Embiid had been the biggest ray of hope for Philadelphia, but the 76ers shouldn’t chase watchability down the stretch. Sit Embiid until he’s fully healthy and secure the best draft position possible.

Maybe Embiid’s body just can’t handle the rigors of NBA basketball, but Philadelphia has no choice but to hope for the best with him and Simmons. And hope the nail the their first-round pick this year and get the Lakers’ first-rounder.

This could still be a dangerously good team in coming years. The Process created that potential.

But the threat of injury always looms around the corner, maybe especially so for Embiid.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah likely to miss rest of season after knee surgery

New York Knicks' Joakim Noah (13) walks to the bench during a time out in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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And then there was Derrick Rose.

The Knicks’ big-name offseason acquisitions* are falling one by one.

New York is releasing Brandon Jennings. Now Joakim Noah is out.

*I’m not counting Courtney Lee, who is unknown to far too many casual fans.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Prepare for the talk next fall about Noah feeling refreshed and ready to help the Knicks.

But this surgery won’t reverse the underlying problem: Noah is a 31-year-old big man with heavy mileage. He can manage his knees, but it’s probably too late for him to regain enough athleticism to reliably contribute.

Just three years and $55 million+ remaining on his contract, which already looked like the NBA’s worst deal and is now even more unfavorable.

Buddy Hield: Vivek Ranadive told me at Kings-Pelicans games, ‘We’re still going to get you’

Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield, right, talks with teammate Ben McLemore as they work out before their NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. Hield, along with New Orleans Pelicans teammates Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway, was sent to the Kings in exchange for center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Omri Casspi, Sunday. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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The Kings reportedly coveted Buddy Hield in last year’s draft. Once the Pelicans picked him No. 6, Sacramento traded down from No. 8.

Several months later, the Kings traded for him in the DeMarcus Cousins deal.

Between?

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive apparently communicated his intentions at the Pelicans’ two games in Sacramento this season.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Hield:

Vivek always, every time — even the past two times — he always talk about, “We’re always pushing hard for you.” He said, “We’re still going to get you.” He kept saying that.

I was surprised with him saying that, but now, when I saw I was going to Sacramento, I said, “Oh, these guys are really serious about me.” I just kind of know they were determined about getting me.

This is wild!

Hield obviously doesn’t outright say the Kings’ front office rushed this trade through before the Cousins-loving owner, awestruck by the prospect of having the next Stephen Curry, changed his mind. But Hield’s statement runs right in line with all those rumors.

Even at face value, Ranadive’s words, assuming Hield is accurately conveying them, are something — especially for an owner who has denied much basketball involvement.

Sacramento is some kind of place.