Oklahoma City Thunder Russell Westbrook passes inside to a teammate in their NBA basketball game against the Toronto Raptors in Oklahoma City

Thunder get right with blowout destruction of Raptors

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If you want the short version of how things went for the Raptors in Oklahoma City on Tuesday, we have that for you here and here. For those that want the excruciating details, feel free to continue.

It’s amazing how any the talk of chemistry issues and in-house bickering suddenly disappears when a weaker opponent comes to town, and is dismantled with ease by the defending Western Conference champs. That’s essentially what the Thunder did in the team’s 108-88 win over Toronto — they made their problems vanish, if only for a night.

OKC had this game in hand, even before Kyle Lowry — who had been sensational to start the season — went down with an ankle injury less than two minutes before halftime, with his team already trailing by 17 points.

It started early for the Thunder, when their attacking offense and unselfish ball movement led to wide-open looks for the team’s lesser players. Thabo Sefolosha led OKC in scoring with nine at the end of the first quarter, after hitting all three of his three-point field goal attempts — all of which were assisted by his teammates.

The unselfishness was truly the theme for the Thunder on this night, as proven by the blowout coming when neither Kevin Durant nor Russell Westbrook had anywhere close to the dominant games they’re each capable of. Westbrook got to the line plenty, and led the team in scoring with 19 points, but shot just 5-of-12 from the field. Durant had his moments, but finished with just 15 points on 4-of-11 shooting.

Part of the reason for the low numbers from the Thunder’s stars was due to the low minutes they played in such a lopsided game — under 30 for Durant, and under 29 for Westbrook. But the team was picked up by 17 points in 23 minutes from Serge Ibaka on 8-of-9 shooting, and solid contributions from Kevin Martin and Hasheem Thabeet off the bench.

The energy level just wasn’t there from the Raptors in this one, and they couldn’t find a way to get anyone into a consistent rhythm to help carry the load offensively. DeMar DeRozan had one of those forgettable nights people point to when balking at the large contract extension he just received, and Andrea Bargnani continues to be unreliable as the team’s go-to offensive threat.

The loss of Lowry early on certainly didn’t help, but again, the game was over long before then. This one will go down as a get-right night for the Thunder, and the Raptors will leave Oklahoma City in the same state that they entered — still searching for answers.

Watch Spurs’ Dejounte Murray throw off-the-backboard alley-oop to himself in pickup game

Washington guard Dejounte Murray, center, dribbles the ball past Mount St. Mary's center Taylor Danaher (50) as Washington forward Marquese Chriss, right, watches duirng the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2015, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Just a suggestion for rookie Dejounte Murray: Don’t do this in front of Gregg Popovich. You may not like his reaction.

That said, the Spurs needed to get more athletic this off-season — landing Pau Gasol certainly didn’t help that cause — so enter first-round pick Murray, who pulled this off in a recent pickup game.

Murray is going to be brought along slowly in a backcourt where Tony Parker and Patty Mills will be splitting time at the point. Murray is more of a combo guard and is going to have to shoot a lot better than he did in college (28.8 percent from three) to get some run. But this is a situation where the Spurs can groom him, bring him along slowly, and see if they have another draft steal.

He’s certainly got the athleticism.

Corey Brewer: “James (Harden) is going to play defense this year”

HOUSTON, TX - MARCH 18:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets walks across the court during their game against the Minnesota Timberwolves at the Toyota Center on March 18, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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James Harden‘s defense is not as bad as its reputation.

Well, at least it wasn’t two seasons ago — his near MVP season he was in good enough shape that he could put in a respectable effort on that end and still handle his massive offensive load. There were still some mental lapses, but his focus was better and his improvement lifted the team defense. Last season, he regressed back to youtube “highlight” defense Harden — his conditioning was not where it needed to be, he didn’t expend as much effort on that end, and it showed.

Harden got a massive contract extension this summer, and Dwight Howard is Atlanta’s problem — now Harden has to lead the Rockets. By example. Corey Brewer told ESPN you’re going to see that on defense.

“I think this year he’s going to play better defense, We’re going to let the past be in the past. It’s the future of the Rockets, man. James is going to play defense this year.”

We’re all Missourians on this one: Show me.

Remember that the Rockets will be out and running — Mike D’Antoni is the coach now, and Daryl Morey is going to get the up tempo ball he wants (which Kevin McHale had them doing, but Harden didn’t like him so…). D’Antoni’s teams in Phoenix played better defense than their reputation — points per possession they were middle of the pack — but that has never been his focus.

Will Harden be able to run like he needs to on offense and still defend at a reasonable level?

If he can, it’s a big step toward the Rockets being a dangerous team in the West because if he does it others will follow. Otherwise, every Rockets game will be a shootout, which is entertaining but not going to get a team deep into the playoffs.

 

Watch Drake hit a half court shot while doing a situp

TORONTO, ON - APRIL 26:  Singer Drake celebrates after Terrance Ross #31 of the Toronto Raptors sinks a 3-pointer in the second half of Game Five of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Indiana Pacers during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 26, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  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 Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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I can see the questions on Twitter/in the comments already so let me save you some time.

Because it’s summer.

Because it’s Drake (he’s a celebrity and an NBA hanger-on with some quasi-official position with the Raptors).

Because Stephen Curry did it, too.

Because what other hoops are you watching on a late August afternoon?

And besides, you clicked on it. You know you want to see it.

So here it is, Drake, hitting a halfcourt shot while doing a sit up. Enjoy.

FOR THE KIA!!!!! @highlighthub @bleacherreport

A video posted by champagnepapi (@champagnepapi) on

Mario Chalmers says he’s cleared to play

Memphis Grizzlies guard Mario Chalmers moves the ball during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2015, in Washington. Chalmers was ejected in the first half. The Wizards won 100-91. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
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Mario Chalmers was thriving with the Grizzlies after a midseason trade from the Heat when a torn Achilles ended his season.

Not the way Chalmers wanted to enter free agency.

Still unsigned, he says he’s progressing.

Chalmers:

Can he go 100%, though? If not, when?

A few teams could use another point guard. If Chalmers shows his health, he belongs in someone’s rotation. But that might require taking a low-paying deal and working his way up from the third point guard spot – or even just onto the regular-season roster.