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.

Florida State’s Jonathan Isaac, probable top-10 pick, declares for NBA draft

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Jonathan Isaac explored bursting through a loophole to declare for the 2016 NBA draft straight out of high school.

Instead, he went to Florida State. Now, he’ll enter the 2017 draft.

Isaac:

If he doesn’t hire an agent, Isaac can maintain college eligibility, but this message seems pretty final. Expect Isaac to remain in the draft, and expect him to go in the top 10.

What I like most about the 6-foot-11 forward: Despite being so lanky, he was an elite defensive rebounder. That shows an underlying technical proficiency and physicality that should serve him well.

And then there are the drool-inducing flashes – his ability to go up and get alley-oops above the rim and a sweet-looking jumper.

He’s still a work in progress, and he deferred a lot at Florida State. But he’s just 19, and he has the tools to do more. I’d love to get him on my team as he learns to assert himself.

Report: Clippers sort of resent Austin Rivers’ favored status

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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The Clippers faced a potential crisis this summer.

They had already agreed to re-sign Austin Rivers to a three-year contract worth more than $35 million, and Jamal Crawford was threatening to leave. Losing the then-36-year-old Crawford would’ve been costly, but it wouldn’t have been devastating. The bigger issue would have been the image: keeping the coach’s son over the reigning Sixth Man of the Year.

Clippers president/coach Doc Rivers calmed the brewing storm by giving Crawford a three-year, $42 million deal.

But apparently the underlying tension hasn’t completely dissipated.

Kevin Ding of Bleacher Report:

The in-house resentment toward Austin Rivers being favored as Doc’s son, according to team sources, still very much exists, but it isn’t out of control.

Know what the Clippers truly resent? Losing. They’ve gone 8-9 since the All-Star break, and they’re clearly feeling the slump.

That brings lingering issues, like Austin’s place on the team, to the surface.

And other Clippers are reasonable to show suspicion about the dynamic, a complication Doc should have considered when he traded for Austin.

Austin has explained his never-that-warm relationship with Doc, who was busy coaching while Austin was growing up. These two claim this is far more a coach-player than father-son relationship, and I believe they believe that. I also believe it’s mostly true, though their familial ties probably intrude more than they realize.

That said, Austin has worked himself into a legitimate backup guard after a horrendous start to his NBA career. It’s worth a reminder just how bad he was in New Orleans because that shows how even his modest role now is a sign of tremendous growth. Austin has improved his shot, and his 6-foot-4 frame is an asset in some defensive matchups (probably not as many as Doc believes, judging by Austin’s assignments).

Does Austin deserve 28 minutes per game? Probably not, though he also handles garbage-time minutes so older teammates don’t have to. Does Austin deserve his $11 million+ annual salary? Probably not, though the capped-out Clippers had no recourse beyond minimum contracts to replace him, so he had leverage (ditto Crawford). Does he deserve to so often speak for the team? Probably not, though bigger stars Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan might not mind the occasional break.

Austin’s biggest problem is that, despite his improvement, his gaffes are still so blatant. That makes it more difficult to take him seriously, even when the totality of evidence says we should.

And for all the examples of Doc’s Clippers favoring Doc’s son, Austin was still the player who got left in the game with a concussion. That’s just dangerous, not nepotism.

There isn’t out-of-control resentment for Austin, because there’s isn’t out-of-control favoritism for him.

But there is some favoritism, and the more the Clippers struggle, the more they’ll look for a place to point the finger and occasionally land on Austin.

Report: Spurs assistant Becky Hammon, determined to become NBA head coach, offered Florida women’s job

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Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is the NBA’s first female full-time coach.

She could also become the next Florida women’s basketball coach.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

San Antonio Spurs assistant Becky Hammon is considering a lucrative offer to leave the NBA and become the University of Florida women’s basketball coach, league sources told The Vertical.

The financial offer would be a considerable raise, especially considering that she’s still a young, behind-the-bench assistant on Gregg Popovich’s staff. Nevertheless, Hammon is grappling with the decision, because she has been determined to stay on course to become the NBA’s first female head coach, league sources said.

Hammon is blazing a trail in the NBA and might eventually become a head coach in the league. She has Gregg Popovich’s endorsement, praise from San Antonio players and success in limited opportunities.

But the path for a woman coach in men’s basketball is extremely narrow. It’s not fair, but Hammon faces hurdles others wouldn’t.

And the glass ceiling becomes exponentially thicker for a woman in women’s basketball who’s trying to jump to men’s basketball. Women’s college basketball is not a pipeline to the NBA, especially not for a woman. If Hammon goes to Florida, the paradigm changes. It would renew questions about her playing experience coming only in women’s basketball and her limited time with the Spurs.

Hammon wouldn’t be blackballed from the NBA, but she’d be setting up more obstacles for herself to clear to become a head coach in the league.

In one respect, I don’t envy her decision. However, she has positioned herself to choose between a promising path and an excellent job. Even if deciding is difficult, she’ll wind up in a good place.

Reports: Phil Jackson attending Shaq statue ceremony, Magic Johnson missing it to scout UCLA-Kentucky

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The Lakers are formally unveiling Shaquille O’Neal’s statue outside their arena tonight. Also tonight: UCLA-Kentucky in the Sweet 16, which features NBA prospects Lonzo Ball, Ike Anigbogu, T.J. Leaf, De’Aaron Fox, Malik Monk and Bam Adebayo.

That makes an interesting choice for the NBA’s two highest-profile team presidents – the Lakers’ Magic Johnson and Knicks’ Phil Jackson (who coached Shaq in Los Angeles), both of whose teams are headed toward a high picks in the upcoming draft.

And the front-office heads are going different directions.

Arash Markazi of ESPN:

Marc Stein of ESPN:

Watching a single game in person is unlikely to swing anything. Both Johnson and Jackson could send scouts to watch UCLA-Kentucky live and then the presidents could watch video later.

But attending in person is ideal, and there are already questions about Jackson’s work ethic. This will only fuel them.

If nothing else, this is an opportunity for Johnson, new on the job, to establish an image. He can clearly juxtapose himself with the failing Jackson and establish himself as a diligent alternative. The Lakers hired Johnson at least in part due to his high profile, but that needn’t stop him from grinding now that he has the position. Anyone doubting him would respect that.