Thunder let Game 3 get away in NBA Finals after Miami gave them multiple chances

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The Oklahoma City Thunder have shown all season that they’re a tough team to beat, but their youth and relative inexperience may have finally caught up to them on Sunday night.

The Thunder, playing their first game as the away team in the NBA Finals, looked like they might be on the way to running the Miami Heat right out of their own building at one point in the third quarter, but they were unable to execute down the stretch and lost 91-85 as Miami took a 2-1 series lead.

Miami entered halftime with a contentious one-point lead, but the Thunder — a team full of young players without the vaunted “playoff experience” — came out of the locker room looking like they were well on their way to avenging the loss they suffered on their homecourt in Game 2 of the series. Thanks in large part to Kevin Durant, who scored eight of the Thunder’s 14 points to begin the second half, Oklahoma City began the second half with valuable momentum and an eventual double-digit lead with less than five minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Unfortunately for OKC that lead wouldn’t last, though, as Durant took a seat on the bench after picking up his fourth foul — a foul which would also wind up taking the wind out of the Oklahoma City’s sails. With Durant on the bench due to foul trouble, Russell Westbrook subbed out a bit later to apparently get some rest and James Harden once again inexplicably ineffective on the offensive end, Miami turned the tides to take a 69-67 lead with 12 minutes left to play.

Durant returned to the court for the start of the fourth quarter and, for awhile, the Thunder again looked like they might cause another photo-finish in the Finals as the momentum shifted back and forth throughout the final stanza. In fact, Oklahoma City’s finest looked like they might even be able to come out as victors when they caught lighting in a bottle en route to a 6-0 run, cutting a seven-point Miami lead down to just one with 1:30 left on the game clock. LeBron James set up Chris Bosh in the post, resulting in a pair of free-throws and an end to the Thunder run, but the momentum had yet to shift considering the Thunder were still down just three — and the NBA’s best scorer was still in the game despite his trouble with fouls.

Durant didn’t score on a drive around James on the next possession, but the momentum still stuck when LeBron bricked a fadeaway on the ensuing possession. Through this point, it still seemed as though the Thunder would  (at least) end up tying the game considering they had the ball and were down just three points with 45 seconds remaining. More mistakes manifested on the next couple of possessions, though, as Russell Westbrook was unable to connect on a wide-open three and then James Harden committed a bad foul after allowing 14 seconds to come off of the clock, giftng King James a pair of free-throws and Miami a six-point lead.

Even then, though, the Thunder still showed signs of life … especially when one remembers the incredible almost-comeback the Thunder pulled off to end the second game of the series. It apparently wasn’t meant to be once again for OKC on Sunday night, however, because Thabo Sefolosha and Westbrook suffered a communication error of epic proportions that ended in a turnover and allowed Miami to hammer the final nail in to the coffin.

It’s tough to put the blame on the Thunder considering how well the Heat, sans Dwyane Wade — it wasn’t as though Miami was outright handing Durant and Co. the keys to victory — but a young team like Oklahoma City needs to take advantage of every opportunity that opens up in the NBA Finals. They were unable to do so again on Sunday night, though, and now find themselves in a 2-1 hole and an uphill battle considering they’ll need to win one of the next two games in Miami.

Nuggets say Paul Millsap won’t return until after All-Star break

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The Western Conference has been a blast this season, with the Houston Rockets playing strong after the arrival of Chris Paul. The team has 13 straight wins, and a 1.5 game lead over the Golden State Warriors.

That’s just part of the results of the West getting a boatload of stars sent its way over the summer. One team is lacking their new addition, however, and his absence has been a quiet disappointment. The Denver Nuggets still sit in sixth place out West, but new forward Paul Millsap has been sidelined with a wrist injury.

The original timeline for Millsap said he would be out for three months, which would put him back around the beginning of March. That plan was confirmed by Nuggets head coach Mike Malone, who said that he expects Millsap will be out until at least the All-Star break, which starts on February 16.

Malone also seemed to indicate it’s possible Millsap is out longer than that.

Via Twitter:

At least Millsap is on schedule? It’s hard to tell inflection from text, but let’s just hope Malone’s “at the earliest” isn’t an indicator of slow recovery on Millsap’s part. The Nuggets certainly don’t need to rush Millsap back. They have a 16-13 record and instill more confidence than most the teams floundering below them in the standings.

LeBron James on talk with Lonzo Ball: “Some things could be held private”

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LeBron James was caught on a hot mic this week speaking with Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The conversation came after the Cleveland Cavaliers beat the Lakers in Ohio, 121-112.

In their talk, LeBron told Ball that he needed to stay in his zone and be aggressive. Pretty generic stuff, to be honest.

Meanwhile, LeBron was asked about whether he thought having microphones record those types of conversations between players was good for the league. He was less than enthused.

Via Cleveland.com (response is at 0:50 in the video above):

Some things could be held private. Like my conversation with Lonzo. Everything doesn’t need to be said. Should be some type of privacy. I’m OK with it.

It does raise an interesting question in terms of player privacy and separation between media, fans, and players. On one hand, you could see how what they say on the floor, in a public arena meant for spectators, could be deemed public and therefore fair game.

But it’s also common for media not to publish — or for TV not to broadcast — the things players say during the game. We don’t hear trash talking, even if we see it, and if you’ve ever sat near the floor at an NBA game you hear a lot more colorful language than you do watching the game on TV.

However you come down player privacy on the court, it doesn’t seem like LeBron needed to speak with Ball in front of media like that. He could have spoken to him in the tunnels below the Q, or got his phone number and texted him. He could have sent him a DM on Twitter and it would have been more private.

It feels like there was a performative aspect to this, like LeBron wanted to create a mystery around his conversation with Lonzo but it got turned on its head. It’s just too bad what was said between them wasn’t actually that interesting.

LeBron James on possibly winning fifth MVP this season: “it would mean a lot”

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LeBron James is destroying the NBA’s traditional aging curve. Over the years and looking at thousands of players, we know that at certain ages and years in the league, guys start to decline. Look at the guys still in the league from the 2003 NBA draft: players still in the league, such as Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, are seeing their games deteriorate in their 15th NBA season. As expected.

Not LeBron.

About to turn 33 and having played more regular season games than Michael Jordan did, LeBron is averaging 28.1 points, 9.3 assists and 8.1 rebounds a game, with a true shooting percentage of 65.9 that would be a career high, and a PER of 31.5 that is right at his career high for a season (31.7). LeBron has not lost a step.

LeBron is in the middle of the too-early MVP conversation, where he and Houston’s James Harden have separated from the field a third of the way into the season. At shootaround Saturday LeBron said winning the NBA MVP for a fifth time would matter to him, but what he really likes doing is opening the door to future NBA players to blow up the aging curve. Via Nick Friedell of ESPN.

“Team success is always the number one, but along the way if you’re able to accomplish some individual awards, individual achievements, it would mean a lot,” James said after Saturday’s practice. “I feel good. This is my 15th year, but this is one of the best years I’ve had as far as how I feel and I want to continue that. I want to kind of try to break the mold for the next generation. So just take the narrative out of ‘OK, you’re past your prime when you get [to] 31, or you’re past your prime in your 12th year in the league, or whatever the case may be.’ Hopefully I can break the mold so when the next guy comes, he can still get 200 or 300 million and be 33 years old. I’m serious. You guys are laughing, I’m serious. This is the mold I’m trying to break.”

He’s broken it.

Part of it is that today’s players know more about nutrition and training than past generations. They tend to take better care of their bodies, there are improved medical treatments, and much better diets — and nobody takes all that more seriously than LeBron.

Also, he is a physical freak of nature. Always has been.

It’s too early to have a serious MVP conversation, we have two-thirds of the season remaining, but as of now LeBron and Harden are the front runners (with guys such as Giannis Antetokounmpo, Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Anthony Davis and others on the next tier). If LeBron can keep up this level of play, and continues to carry the Cavaliers to a top two record in the East, he will be one of the top vote-getters. No question.

And that would break a mold, too, and put him in a conversation with Michael Jordan again (Jordan won five MVPs, the oldest at age 35).

Kevin Hart plays Shaq, Saturday Night Live takes on Inside The NBA

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Notoriously undersized actor — and NBA All-Star Weekend Celebrity Game MVP — Kevin Hart playing the notoriously oversized Shaquille O’Neal is brilliant.

That was at the heart of it when Saturday Night Live took on Inside the NBA on its Christmas show Saturday night. Hart was into it poking fun at Shaq’s penchant for going off with his own word salad during the show.

Charles Barkley and Shaq are rich satire targets, and SNL went right at them. Well done.