Thunder come through late to get overtime win over Mavericks

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The Oklahoma City Thunder barely had any business staying in this game, considering the lackluster effort they brought to the floor for the majority of its first three and a half quarters.

But while Dallas had the energy, they simply didn’t have the execution when it mattered most, and OKC pulled away in overtime for the 111-105 victory.

This was a game the Mavericks should have won, plain and simple.

Dallas was the aggressor essentially all night long, with Darren Collison leading the way from the point guard position. He took it to the Thunder at every opportunity, and finished with 32 pints, five rebounds, four assits, and four steals.

None of Collison’s shots were bigger than his ridiculous one-legged three-pointer as time expired in regulation that sent it to OT, but it was that kind of night for him personally, despite his team’s ultimately negative result.

The Thunder were clearly experiencing a bit of an emotional letdown, after losing the Finals rematch to the Heat on Christmas Day and facing a Mavericks team at home who they would have had no real reason to fear coming into this one.

But Dallas likely knew that they’d have more of a shot than normal if they simply brought it from the opening tip, and were able to take advantage of a Thunder team that was likely to coast through the game’s beginning stages.

The Thunder had no interest in exerting the necessary energy to defend for the majority of this game, but the overall talent present in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook proved to be more than enough to make up for the lack of effort initially.

While the Thunder shot just 40 percent from the field through three quarters, the Mavericks were in attack mode, and led by as many as 10 with under eight minutes to play in the fourth. But some costly turnovers and some missed free throws late from O.J. Mayo really hurt his team’s chances on this night, despite his All-Star caliber play that carried Dallas offensively while Dirk Nowitzki was making his way back from injury.

Dirk came off the bench for Dallas, and finished with just nine points on 3-of-11 shooting in 26 minutes of action.

Russell Westbrook didn’t have one of his better games offensively, and finished with 16 points on 7-of-20 shooting. But he seemed to find his way on the defensive end of the floor down the stretch, making some key plays which helped his team seal it.

Westbrook’s defense was enough to turn Mayo over twice with the game on the line — once near the end of regulation, and once near the end of the overtime session.

That’s the danger of the reigning Western Conference champions; the fact that they’ll find another way to beat you if their preferred method of transition offense isn’t having the success it’s accustomed to. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Kevin Durant scoring a smooth 40 points in 48 minutes, either.

Dallas deserved to beat the Thunder on Thursday, but as is often the case with the league’s elite teams, the longer the game continues, the less favorable the chance for the underdog remains.

The effort to even get it to overtime was impressive from Collison and the Mavericks. But in order to beat one of the top teams on their home floor, you need to execute for 48 minutes. Dallas faltered in this department down the stretch, and the veteran and more talented Thunder simply took advantage.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.

Mavericks sign Jeff Withey to one-year contract

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Jeff Withey‘s ex-fiancée accused him of domestic violence, but he was not charged.

That frees him to continue his basketball career, which he’ll do in Dallas.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

The Mavericks could use another center, even if they re-sign Nerlens Noel. Salah Mejri is the only other true center, though Dirk Nowitzki will now play the position.

Withey is a good rim protector. Just don’t ask him to do anything away from the basket.

Dallas annually brings excess players to training camp and has them compete for regular-season roster spots. Whether or not his salary is guaranteed, Withey will likely fall into that competition.