Brooks coaching part of Thunder’s problems vs. Heat

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Let’s be clear about this up front — Oklahoma City is not down 2-1 in the NBA finals because of Scott Brooks alone. First and foremost Miami has brought its best defensive focus and intensity for two games now, and when they do they can even slow the Thunder. Plus, Miami has that LeBron James guy and it turns out he’s pretty good.

But Brooks is part of the problem and a big part of the solution if the Thunder are going to come back in this series.

But with how he’s coached in the finals, he may regret shooting down a three-year, $11 million contract offer.

The most obvious mistake was sitting both Durant and Westbrook the final four minutes of the fourth quarter. Durant had picked up his fourth foul and Brooks sat him, as is tradition. (We can debate if that is a good tradition — you are sitting him now so he doesn’t get a fifth foul so you have to sit him, basically you’re punishing yourself now for what might happen.) Here’s an idea — if Durant has gotten in foul trouble the last two games covering LeBron James, don’t have him cover LeBron James.

At the time of that foul Westbrook made a couple bad plays and Brooks sat him, too.

Miami went on a 15-3 run and took the lead.

“I took (Durant) out because he had the foul trouble right there,” Brooks said after the game in a televised interview. “And Russell… Russell had a bad stretch for three or four possessions. I just took him out to kind of calm him down and put him right back in the game. I’ve done it before.”

With those two out the Thunder scored 7 points on their 11 possessions, and one of them was the lucky Derek Fisher four-point play. The offense died and the Heat were right back in the game.

The bigger issue for me goes back to the Thunder’s core lineup that plays Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins at the same time. It doesn’t work. It didn’t work at the start of the last two games because Ibaka wanted to be protecting the rim and not out at the three-point line chasing Shane Battier, and the result was two 17-point games for Battier and fast starts for the Heat.

In Game 3 Brooks didn’t change the lineup but he did get Ibaka out better on Battier to start the game — and the result was a layup line for the Heat in the paint. They got shots at the rim off cuts and penetration, the Thunder could not stop them.

Perkins and Ibaka were +11 together in Game 3 but Ibaka never saw the court in the fourth quarter and the issues with the two big man lineup remain.

Brooks has got to get his best matchups on the floor and think more outside of the box. If Durant is in foul trouble you have to keep offense on the floor with Westbrook. You need to get Ibaka in the paint where he is a feared shot blocker. It’s crazy to think this guy bested Gregg Popovich last round, but it can be easier to do that when you have the best pieces on the board to move around. Now that it’s a real chess match he has to step up his game.

Kobe Bryant on race for Podoloff Trophy: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year”

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The race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the 2017 NBA MVP has narrowed to a two-man race toward the end of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is averaging at triple-double this year, and the Houston Rockets guard is doing things nobody has ever done on a basketball court before.

It’s a tough decision to decide between them, so much so that even former Los Angeles Lakers great and 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant can’t do it.

Speaking on ESPN on Sunday, Bryant said he thought the league might have to just bite the bullet on Westbrook vs. Harden.

“We might see our first co-MVPs this year,” said Bryant.

That would be a huge step for the league, but I’m not entirely sure they would do it. There have been co-NBA All-Star Game MVPs in years past, but never league MVP.

Still, can you decide between Russ and Harden? The Mamba can’t.

Watch Rockets C Nene lead the break, eurostep past Enes Kanter (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets center Nene is from Brazil, but on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the South American native went full euro.

On a fastbreak possession, Nene took on Thunder big man Enes Kanter near the rim and absolutely shook him with a nasty eurostep.

The play was so good that it forced Oklahoma City to call a timeout as James Harden and the rest of the Rockets bench met Nene on the court to celebrate.

Kobe Bryant says he didn’t even have NBA League Pass until a month ago (VIDEO)

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What has retired all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant been doing with his time? A little of this, a little of that. Apparently that doesn’t include watching non-national NBA games.

Speaking with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on SC6, Bryant revealed that he went to go watch a little NBA while he was getting a workout in at his house and realized he didn’t have the NBA package hooked up on his cable.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know if I totally buy this. On one hand, Kobe is a busy guy and he did spend two decades living and breathing the NBA night in and night out. I would expect that after all that time he might want some kind of relief.

Then again, to think that Kobe doesn’t have multiple assistants that would have handled that sort of thing already is sort of silly. The only benefit here is Kobe trying to sell that he’s just relaxing and not paying attention to the league too much, which is hilarious.

Kobe, we all know who you are by now. You’re watching the league, man. You’re Kobe. We get it. You didn’t suddenly turn into The Dude.

Let’s just hope Kobe’s League Pass works right off the bat. We all know how much of a hassle it can be.

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.