Tony Parker, Tim Duncan, Serge Ibaka

Tony Parker’s clutch buckets late help Spurs take down the Thunder

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This was a game the Thunder could have won, and watching how the last few possessions played out, it’s one the Thunder should have won. But in the end, San Antonio had the execution that Oklahoma City did not, and the Spurs came away with a buzzer-beating 86-84 win over the Thunder to give them their second win in as many nights to open the 2012 season.

This was a close game that went back and forth all night, but it wasn’t a particularly well-played one. The teams combined for 31 turnovers, and the Spurs’ 44.3 percent shooting seemed high compared to the 37.7 percent that OKC posted.

A lot of the Thunder’s problems offensively can be traced directly to Russell Westbrook, whose shot selection was atrocious for most of the night, and yet despite rarely connecting, he kept on firing — 21 times, the most from any player on either team. Westbrook hit on only six of those shots, which came mainly on his patented pull-up jumpers from mid-range, while seemingly not even considering time left on the shot clock or the overall game situation.

Westbrook is a double-edged sword, however, because on nights like this one, he’s typically the only one on the team making a point of being aggressive. The rest of the Thunder looked largely passive for most of the game, playing at a slower overall tempo which played right into the Spurs’ hands.

Oklahoma City debuted its sixth-man replacement for James Harden in this one, and got a decent performance from Kevin Martin, who scored 15 points off the bench, and chipped in five assists in his 32 minutes of action. It’ll take some time for Martin to learn where to go on the court to get the easiest looks, and of course, he’ll need to adjust to playing with his new teammates. But he can definitely score, so as the season progresses, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see his offensive numbers surpass even those of Harden’s.

But while Martin is a scorer, Harden is a better overall playmaker. And with that second unit, OKC will need to have someone step into that role to be successful — over time, maybe that’ll be Eric Maynor. But it isn’t likely to be Martin.

On the Spurs’ side of things, San Antonio got a lot of positive contributions from a lot of guys you don’t necessarily expect them from. And isn’t that just like them? Kawhi Leonard did an excellent job defensively on Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan played big on the second night of a back-to-back, and Tony Parker drained the shots that mattered down the stretch for the second straight night. Danny Green hit timely shots from three-point distance, and Gary Neal came in and got buckets efficiently in limited minutes.

This game had wild swings both ways, with the Thunder leading by as many as eight, and the Spurs leading by as many as 10. But it came down to the final few possessions, and the Spurs were supremely prepared to execute while the Thunder couldn’t get out of their own way. Let’s review:

– OKC led by three with 1:02 remaining. They had a chance at converting an alley-oop, but Westbrook should have known he was too close to the rim to convert it, and should have simply caught the ball and come down with it instead of forcing the shot attempt. It was a quick possession for the Thunder when they didn’t need one, and the Spurs immediately responded.

– On the ensuing possession, Boris Diaw found himself under the basket and nearly falling out of bounds along the baseline, but gathered himself enough to kick the ball out to Parker up top, who drained an open three-pointer to tie the game at 84. It was a classic Spurs possession in the sense that once the defense collapsed and things seemed to break down, someone made the heady play to find the open man, who calmly knocked down the shot.

– No problem for the Thunder now, theoretically. Kevin Durant is among the game’s purest scorers, so get the ball into his hands and let him go to work. Except, you have to actually get the ball into his hands. The Thunder failed in this regard, because as Durant flashed to get the ball (somewhat lackadaisically), Leonard was able to head off the pass and get the steal. It wasn’t all on Westbrook for making a poor read on the pass, because Durant should have showed a little harder and sealed his defender. But it was a blown opportunity for the Thunder nevertheless.

– This brings us to the final possession. Watch it again for yourself, but it appears that Westbrook had no intention of guarding anybody during this play — either that, or he got completely lost. Parker creeps along the baseline, then curls out to the wing to receive the pass, while Westbrook casually heads to the middle of the paint for no apparent reason. Big-time shot from Parker to be sure, but you can’t tell me that the Thunder did all they could defensively to prevent that wide-open look.

This one came down to execution; once the season is finished, should these two teams meet again, things will likely end up differently. But at this early stage of the season, with the veteran crew the Spurs have in place, and with one of the best in the game running the show there in Gregg Popovich, the fact that San Antonio was able to get the win the way that they did shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

US romps over Argentina in first Olympic exhibition

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Paul George #13 of the United States passes the ball up the court against Argentina during a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS (AP) New team. Same old result.

Full of new star power – and dominant on the inside – the U.S. men’s basketball team opened its bid for a third straight Olympic gold medal Friday night with a 111-74 exhibition romp over Argentina.

A game that was over almost before it began showed the U.S. has to improve its shooting and conditioning. It also showed that there is plenty of talent among a group of players that seem to want to play well for each other and their country despite the absence of Olympic stalwarts Kobe Bryant and LeBron James.

“There’s a willingness from these guys to work on anything we need and to work hard,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “These are very good guys.”

A U.S. team that hasn’t lost a game in 10 years had little trouble with Argentina, which some consider a medal contender in Rio. Paul George scored 14 first-half points, Kevin Durant added 12, and the U.S. blew open the game early before an appreciative crowd on the Las Vegas Strip.

Even with Bryant retired and James taking this Olympics off, there was no real talent drop off on a team heavily favored to win gold once again. The depth of the U.S. showed as coach Mike Krzyzewski rotated players in and out, searching for the right combinations on a team with 10 new players from 2012.

“Nothing is for sure,” Durant said. “We want to get this gold and right now we have a job to do. We have to prepare the right way.”

Count the Argentines among those who were impressed at the first real game for the Olympic team.

“Obviously, they have the best talent and the best size in the world,” Argentina’s Luis Scola said. “That’s a big difference in their favor.”

The game was the first of five exhibitions the U.S. will play before traveling to Rio to defend the gold medal. The U.S. team has spent the last week practicing in Las Vegas in preparation for the tour and the games.

There weren’t any opening night jitters, though the U.S. shot only 45 percent and missed all but 14 of 41 3-pointers. With DeMarcus Cousins pulling down 15 rebounds in just 16 minutes, the U.S. dominated inside, outrebounding Argentina 53-30.

“The big thing is getting in shape and they are not there where they will be,” Krzyzewski said. “But we really have an inside presence on the boards.”

For Durant the game was a chance to play with a pair of his new Golden State teammates, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. It was also a chance for Durant and Carmelo Anthony – the only two players from the 2012 team – to demonstrate that this will be their team in Rio.

Both players cheered from the bench as the minutes were spread around, jumping up to clap for teammates. Every U.S. player got quality time, with Green’s 12 minutes the least played by any American.

“We’re going to have fun and we’re going to enjoy ourselves,” Anthony said. “If it’s not fun it’s not worth it. We’re going to enjoy ourselves but at the same time we’re going to be focused in trying to get that gold medal.”

Durant finished as the game’s high scorer with 23 points, while George had 18 and Carmelo Anthony 17. Andres Nocioni had 15 for Argentina, while Manu Ginobili added 11 for Argentina, which lost to the U.S. in the semifinals of the 2012 Olympics.

Though at times little defense was played, there was plenty of offense to keep the crowd at the new T-Mobile Arena happy. The teams combined to put up 70 3-point attempts, 41 of them from the U.S.

Oddsmakers had made the U.S. a prohibitive 29.5-point favorite in what at times looked a lot like an NBA All-Star game. But while the U.S. team is loaded with 12 NBA players, the Argentines had only three on their roster and the talent difference showed.

While the team is full of new players, the gold medal run will be the last for Krzyzewski, the national coach for the last decade. His teams have lost only one game during his reign, which will end after the Olympics with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich taking over.

Kevin Durant gets first taste of playing with Warriors teammates in USA exhibition

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Kevin Durant #5 of the United States drives against Facundo Campazzo #7 of Argentina during a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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LAS VEGAS — It wasn’t the highest of stakes, but after a heavily hyped announcement and all the fallout that resulted from it, Kevin Durant has now played organized basketball with some of his new Golden State Warriors teammates.

In a 111-74 blowout win over Argentina in an exhibition game at Las Vegas’ brand-new T-Mobile Arena, Durant shared the court with Klay Thompson and Draymond Green, who will make up three-fifths of the most formidable starting lineup in the NBA. Durant looked plenty comfortable, leading all scorers with 23 points on 7-of-12 shooting and making four three-pointers. Thompson and Green came off the bench, but the three Warriors shared the court in the second quarter.

Not that Durant was really thinking about it.

“I was just lost in the game,” he said afterwards. “I didn’t really notice, I was lost in the game and trying to play the right way. We worry about what Coach K wants us to do. I’m sure they felt the same way. We didn’t talk about it.”

Green concurred.

“It was great,” he said of playing with Durant for the first time. “You don’t really pay attention to the fact that we’re teammates [in the NBA]. We’re all teammates. We’re all going for the same goal.”

To be sure, these exhibition games — and even the real games in Rio next month — are nothing like what the Warriors will experience playing together when the regular season kicks off in the fall. The Olympics feature the top talent from all over the world, but the disparity in talent between the USA’s group and any other country is so staggering that most of the games are likely going to turn out like this one.

Green didn’t want to compare this experience with something like the NBA Finals.

“It’s a little different,” Green said. “Because when you’re in the Finals, No. 1 you play a team seven times, No. 2 you already know the guys. We know [Manu] Ginobili, [Andres] Nocioni, [Luis] Scola. We’ve played against those guys a bunch of times, but not at a level where you know everything they do. When you’re in the Finals, I know everything Kyrie does. It’s just a matter of, can you stop it or not? Just because you know he’s gonna do it doesn’t mean you can stop it. Here, it’s a little different because of these guys we’ve never played before.”

Next week, Durant will play his first game at his new home when the USA faces off with China on Tuesday in Oakland. They’re all looking forward to it, especially Green.

“Definitely looking forward to getting back home,” Green said. “I think it will be something special, especially with the KD announcement. Him coming in there for the first time with a USA jersey. It’ll be pretty unique.”

The last time Durant played at Oracle Arena, the circumstances were very different. Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder took an unexpected 3-1 lead over the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals before dropping three straight games, leading to a Warriors trip to the Finals and, ultimately, Durant’s exit from Oklahoma City.

This time around, Durant will have the fans at Oracle on his side. Not that he needs any preparation.

Said Green, with a smile: “He knows all about Oracle.”

NBA, New Orleans ‘deep in negotiations’ for 2017 All-Star game

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 16:  Western Conference Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors moves the ball across mid court during 2014 NBA All-Star game against the Eastern Conference at the Smoothie King Center on February 16, 2014 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The East defeated the West 163-155.  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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — As the NBA looks for a new home for the 2017 All-Star Game, cities are lining up with open arms to welcome LeBron James, Stephen Curry and the hundred million or so dollars the festivities would bring to the local economy.

New Orleans is the favorite, a person close to the situation told The Associated Press. The person said the league and city are “deep in negotiations” to stage the game there for a third time. The person spoke to AP on condition of anonymity because the details of the discussions have not been publicly announced.

The league moved the game out of Charlotte on Thursday because of its objections to a North Carolina law that limits anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay and transgender people. The league also said it hoped to announce a new location for next February’s events shortly and will reschedule the 2019 game for Charlotte if there is a resolution to the matter.

Even before the announcement, the league had heard from cities that were available and interested in taking over the weekend – which has grown into more like a week.

Besides having open dates in arenas, cities would need to have necessary hotel space. Officials from several have expressed interest, including Boston and Atlanta.

But New Orleans, with its good February weather and endless entertainment options, is the “heavy favorite,” the person told AP.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards has said in a statement it would be an “honor” to have the game return to New Orleans.

“Louisiana is rich in diversity of heritage, culture, cuisine and people, and we believe the NBA could not select a better place for everyone to come and enjoy this spectacular sporting event,” he said.

Besides multiple Super Bowls and college football bowl games, New Orleans hosted the 2008 and 2014 NBA All-Star Games. The city is easily walkable and has moderate temperatures that time of year, a bonus after frigid temperatures the last two years in New York and Toronto.

The NBA announced plans for the 2008 game just nine months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city in 2005. The weekend brought about $100 million into the city to aid its recovery, and now New Orleans could benefit again because of Charlotte’s loss.

The National Basketball Players Association said Friday it supported the league’s decision to move the game that would have been in Curry’s hometown.

“North Carolina is home to a sizable number of current and former NBPA members. They and our entire membership looked forward to participating in the All-Star week activities in the Charlotte community,” the union said in a statement. “However, the enactment of legislation that challenges the right of all Americans from discrimination threatened the ability of every attendee to enjoy the All-Star festivities.”

Northern cities were excluded for years due to owners’ preferences for warm weather. But with the league being open to those locations under Commissioner Adam Silver, cities such as Cleveland, Portland and Boston have shown interest in hosting an All-Star Game.

Orlando held the 2012 game, boasts loads of hotel and entertainment options, and could be a fitting choice for the LGBT community after a gunman killed 49 patrons at a gay nightclub in the city last month.

But with the league hoping to announce a new destination in the coming weeks, New Orleans is “well on its way” to being selected, the official said.

“It would be an honor to have this event return to New Orleans, and we look forward to sharing our hospitality with basketball fans from around the country,” Edwards said. “My office will support and assist Tom Benson and the New Orleans Pelicans in any way possible to help bring the NBA All-Stars back.”

Hornets president: NBA assured Charlotte 2019 All-Star game if North Carolina law changes

Michael Jordan
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When pulling the 2017 All-Star game from Charlotte, the NBA said it hoped to hold the 2019 event there. (2018 is already scheduled for Los Angeles.)

It seems the 2019 plans are more concrete than just hoping.

Katherine Peralta and Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer:

Hornets President Fred Whitfield told the Observer the NBA has no plans to put 2019 – the next available All-Star Weekend – out to general bid.

“We’ve been assured if the HB2 situation is resolved, we’ll be hosting” All-Star Weekend, Whitfield said.

I wonder whether this was before or after the league office read Hornets minority owner Felix Sabates’ email.

Even beyond Sabates — no small thorn — there’s no guaranteed North Carolina’s anti-gay law is satisfactorily modified. The state’s lawmakers have dug in their heels.

But no matter what’s happening now, 2019 is a long way off. It seems the NBA will — once again — give Charlotte as much time as possible to be a suitable location for the All-Star game.