Oklahoma City Thunder Westbrook reacts with Durant and Harden as they lose to the Miami Heat during Game 3 of the NBA basketball finals in Miami

NBA finals Game 4: Five things the Thunder need to do to win

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Miami has made its statement. Nobody ever questioned their talent, the questions were how LeBron James would deal with being back on the biggest stage, and secondly, would they bring consistent effort that they had lacked all playoffs?

LeBron has been the series MVP so far and for two games in a row the Heat have played at a sustained level of intensity they rarely have through the playoffs.

The ball is in the Thunder’s court to adjust for Game 4 Tuesday night. And they better do it now because they are down 2-1 and no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals. Oklahoma City needs to play with real desperation, and they need to execute better.

Here are five keys for OKC if they are going to tie this series up.

1) Protect the paint. In Game 3 it looked like a Miami conga line to the rim. The Heat were getting into the paint on cuts and penetration — they finished the game with 35 shots at the rim, plus all that action got them 35 free throws. Miami will win every time that happens.

In Game 3 Serge Ibaka made the adjustment and stayed with Shane Shane Battier at the arc rather than leave him to protect the paint, and for most of the game Battier was less of a factor (9 points). But having the league’s best shot blocker out at the arc does the Heat no good. I still think the Thunder need less Kendrick Perkins and more Ibaka (he didn’t play the fourth quarter of Game 3). Pairing them hasn’t really worked.

Also, the Thunder are hinting at zone (or zone-like defense) and that could work well, too — anything that makes the Heat a jump shooting team.

2) Would the real James Harden please stand up. Harden is the Thunder’s best playmaker late in games, a guy who is a threat to score or set others up. But in his quest to set others up these finals he has not been himself — 2-for-10 shooting last game with two key turnovers. In the finals he is averaging just 11.7 points on 40.7 percent shooting and he’s had one good half. He is the Thunder’s X factor this series and he has to be at his best. Harden needs to be a little selfish, get some buckets and draw the defense, then set guys up. OKC needs the All-Star level James Harden.

3) Scott Brooks needs to change rotations to what works. Put simply, if Kevin Durant gets in foul trouble, don’t sit Russell Westbrook at the same time. You need the scoring against the Heat, and they are already a good defensive team happy to muck things up and play ugly. You’ve got to find a way to keep Ibaka near the basket where he is a shot blocking threat. Brooks has been out-coached by Erik Spoelstra this series. The Thunder need the coach that made moves Gregg Popovich couldn’t match.

Which ties into….

4) Kevin Durant can’t get in foul trouble. This falls in part to Brooks because he has Durant trying to guard LeBron and that has been part of the foul trouble. Brooks needs to put Thabo Sefolosha on LeBron (he’s the Thunder’s best defender and Dwyane Wade isn’t healthy and is not as big a threat). Durant has to be part of this as well — recognize how the game is being called and if it’s tight on the perimeter then be more careful, avoid contact. You can’t help your team from the bench.

5) Get out and run. Half court ugly games will not work for the Thunder, they need to get out and go. Russell Westbrook needs to push the pace. It has to start with better defense and stops, but then they need to turn that into some easy baskets. In the paint. If the Thunder want to win, they need to set the tempo for Game 4.

Reports: Kings front office rushed to trade DeMarcus Cousins, fearing owner would change mind

Vlade Divac, Vivek Ranadive
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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Why did the Kings trade DeMarcus Cousins late Sunday night? Might they have gotten a better off than the Pelicans’ piddly package by waiting until closer to Thursday’s trade deadline?

Kings general manager Vlade Divac felt pressure on multiple fronts.

First, as he said, he had a better offer two days prior and feared the return would only get worse. Cognizant of losing out on the designated-veteran-player extension, Cousins’ agent was threatening not to re-sign with teams that traded for Cousins, and that apparently spooked one at least one potential suitor.

And then there’s Sacramento owner Vivek Ranadive, who reportedly has been intent on keeping Cousins.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports on The Vertical Podcast with Chris Mannix:

They wanted to do this deal before Vivek Ranadive changed his mind again. This talk about this new list of transgressions by Cousins over the last few weeks — the incident with the Golden State fan, the technical fouls now that it turned into suspensions — these were very consistent with what’s gone on. These weren’t new. Now, they used that to say, “Well, we just decided we couldn’t go forward with him.” Management, the front office, they’ve wanted to trade him for a very long time. And they could not get Vivek on board. Once they had Vivek on board, they didn’t want him to change his mind again. A, that was part of the reason they rushed on Sunday to get the deal done.

Marc Stein of ESPN on The Lowe Post podcast:

Vivek has been resistant to a DeMarcus Cousins trade for so long. He was into the Buddy Hield-New Orleans package idea, and the Kings’ front-office people wanted to push this thing through as fast they could before the owner changed his mind. I think that’s where the urgency came.

Cousins contributed to a toxic environment in Sacramento. For all the good he brought, there were plenty of negatives. I understand trading him to improve the culture.

But if you have to rush through a trade before other teams (like the Lakers) have a chance to improve their offers just so your Buddy-Hield loving owner won’t harmfully meddle, maybe jettisoning Cousins won’t eliminate all the dysfunction.

Report: Lakers seeking second round pick for Nick Young

Los Angeles Lakers' Nick Young (0) celebrates after making a three-point basket during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the New York Knicks, Monday, Feb. 6, 2017, in New York. The Lakers won 121-107. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)
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The buzz among Lakers fans on trade deadline day are the rumors about the Lakers going after Paul George. Those rumors place brand new team president Magic Johnson in an interesting spot because one of the first things he said upon being hired was that the team’s young core of players – Brandon Ingram, D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson — were “untouchable.” Yet, to get George out of Indiana would take two or three of them plus picks and other players (and that may not be enough considering how reluctant Larry Bird is to move George at all).

A more realistic trade: Moving Nick Young for a second-round pick. Which the Lakers are trying to do, reports Marc Stein of ESPN.

Young has been solid for the Lakers this season averaging 13.8 points per game, shooting 41.3 percent from three, and having a PER of 15.1 — plus he has at least tried on defense at times. This may be the most efficient season of his career. He also has an affordable $5.7 million player option for next season.

A second round pick for him is fair. The question is, does anyone want to pay it?

Report: Knicks give impression they’d just give away Derrick Rose

New York Knicks' Derrick Rose reacts to an officials call during the second half of the NBA basketball game against the Atlanta Hawks, Monday, Jan. 16, 2017 in New York. The Hawks defeated the Knicks 108-107. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)
AP Photo/Seth Wenig
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Derrick Rose said he hoped going AWOL for a game wouldn’t prevent the Knicks from re-signing him.

But it seems they’re ready to move on before the trade deadline.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The sense I’ve gotten from talking to other teams who’ve talked to New York is they feel like the Knicks would almost give away Derrick Rose right now.

Rose is earning $21,323,252 this season. No team has enough cap room to absorb his salary. The more cap space a team has, the less that team must send out to acquire Rose. But the NBA’s salary-matching rules make it difficult for many teams to trade for Rose. It’s just too hard to aggregate that much salary without including a player more valuable than Rose or someone on a long-term contract who’d be a dealbreaker for New York.

At least Rose is on an expiring contract. If they can’t dump him now, the Knicks can always let him walk in the offseason.

That expiring deal also limits potential trade partners. Why trade for Rose if you can just sign him in this summer? Because you value what he’ll provide the rest of this season. Rose is limited, but he still scores effectively on drives.

He has been linked to the Timberwolves, which makes sense given his familiarity with Tom Thibodeau from the Bulls and Minnesota’s stubborn insistence on aiming for the playoffs this year. But Ricky Rubio is more valuable than Rose, and the Timberwolves also have Kris Dunn and Tyus Jones at point guard.

There’s no simple fit for him, which could keep him in New York for another few months.

If Rose’s value has sunk this low, he’s in for a rude awakening in free agency.

 

Three players most likely to be moved on Trade Deadline day

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There will be trades today. Unexpected moves.

Probably not the big names fans are hoping to see. The offers for Carmelo Anthony have been so poor that as much as Phil Jackson wants to move ‘Melo he can’t take those. Indiana isn’t eager to trade Paul George, same with Chicago and Jimmy Butler, and it’s going to take a very unlikely Godfather offer to get those deals done (such as Boston parting with one of their Brooklyn picks). Andre Drummond likely remains a Piston.

Sorry to be Debbie Downer on the big trades.

But here are three guys likely to be moved.

1) Jahlil Okafor, Philadephia 76ers. He’s been in more rumors than Khloe Kardashian the past few months. The latest rumors have the Chicago Bulls making a push to land him, but demanding the Sixers take Nikola Mirotic back in the deal. The Bulls don’t need Mirotic — a stretch four shooing 29 percent from three this season — with the emergence of Cristiano Felicio. Okafor would give Chicago more scoring inside. However, why exactly do the Sixers want Mirotic when they have Dario Saric? The Bulls are going to have to throw more in that deal.

Other teams have expressed interest in Okafor, including Indiana. The Sixers need to move people around up front, the only question is price. Because there is a glut of centers on the market — Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Greg Monroe, to name a few — the price has been driven down. There’s more supply than demand. Bryan Colangelo may decide to wait until this summer, but he’d prefer to just get this done.

2) P.J. Tucker, Phoenix Suns. He’s a physical, tough defender who can get you buckets on the other end, a lot of teams could use him. The Clippers had interest and offered a couple of second round picks, but the Suns wanted a first-rounder. The Knicks also had interest at one point, but they don’t have a first-rounder they can move until basically the second coming. Still, Tucker is on the market and I expect some veteran team will come in and try to scoop him up.

3) Darren Collison, Sacramento Kings. After owner Vivek Ranadive finally changed his mind, the Kings moved quickly to trade DeMarcus Cousins and put the team on a new path. A rebuilding path. One that doesn’t have a lot of roster spots for older players. That includes Darren Collison. He’s a solid point guard averaging 13.7 points per game this season, shooting 42 percent from three, and he knows how to run an offense. There’s a lot of teams that could use him, and the Kings can listen to multiple offers than take the best one. But there’s no reason to keep him around the rest of the season.