While everyone talked Seattle, Dallas and Sacramento played a good game (that the Mavs won)


As people filed into the Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, it felt like the game was secondary. All everyone was talking about was the reports that the Kings could be sold to the Chris Hansen/Steve Ballmer group out of Seattle and moved.

But despite the best efforts of the Maloof family to seemingly follow the “Major League” model to drive attendance down, Kings fans are loyal. They showed up.

And what they got was a very entertaining game. One that was ultimately frustrating for them because the Kings blew a 17-point third quarter lead to lose 117-112 to the Mavericks in overtime.

As it has been all season, the arena was not full for the Kings game (as is true around most arenas during the season). Our own Aaron Bruski was there and said that the crowd fills in nearly three quarters of the seats, which is actually up from most recent games. There seemed to be a push to be there, to show support.

“With everything that has gone on with out team this year the fans have come out and shown really great energy in our building, have booed us when we need to be booed, but cheered us when we played exciting basketball,” Kings coach Keith smart said before the game.

Sacramento fans love the Kings. It’s the owners that they loath.

Of course, the Maloofs weren’t there for the game. They haven’t been at a game for a while.

But the fans were there and as they have been since 1985. And early on they liked what they saw. DeMarcus Cousins had 12 first quarter points while the Mavericks started 1-10 from floor. But the Kings really didn’t take control until the second quarter when they went on a 13-0 run sparked by Tyreke Evans (who finished with 20 points).

By the middle of the third that lead was at 17 points. Then Dallas started to come back, helped in part by the Kings going with a small lineup when they had owned the paint in the first half. It was gradual comeback until a 16-4 fourth-quarter run gave the Mavericks the lead. At the end of that run it was O.J. Mayo in transition and some old-school Vince Carter isolation in the half court that helped the Mavs stretch out to a six point lead with less than a minute to go.

But John Salmons nailed a pull-up three pointer from two feet beyond the arc to cut the lead in half (Salmons was 3-of-12 before that shot). Of course, Salmons also had the offensive foul driving the lane with 16.7 left with the Kings down 100-98 that seemed to doom them. The Kings were forced to foul Mayo and he made one of two, it was 101-98.

That’s when it happened. With 10 seconds left Cousins had the ball, kicked it out to Isaiah Thomas, who missed a three so bad he banked it in. He might even have been fouled. Tie game, 101-101. And after a Dallas miss we were headed to overtime.

It was close there too, 109-109, with minute to go, when Cousins picks up goaltend on Shaun Marion layup. Then next possession with 41 seconds left Cousins was stripped when triple-teamed in the paint, then frustrated pushed Carter in the face knocking him to the ground. Cousins was assessed a flagrant two foul for it and he was ejected, the Mavs got two free throws and the ball. Carter hit both. (My feeling is it was a flagrant one, but we will see what the league office thinks. Either way was exactly the kind of reactionary emotional play Cousins needs to stop making.)

Still the Kings got another chance. After a Vince Carter missed free throw it was 115-112 Mavericks with 15 seconds left in OT, once again a three could tie it. Thomas tried again and missed badly again, but this one short and right and fell out. And that was pretty much the ballgame.

Now everyone can go back to discussions about the move. Well, that and Cousins.

It’s time: Russell Westbrook looks to fill void after Durant’s exit

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Nick Collison (4), head coach Billy Donovan, guard Russell Westbrook (0) and center Steven Adams pose for a photo during the 2016-2017 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day in Oklahoma City, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — There were few indications before August that Russell Westbrook would be so willing to be the hero downtrodden Thunder fans needed.

For years, the sometimes combustible Westbrook toiled in Kevin Durant‘s shadow. He often was viewed as the talented, selfish player who was as likely to get in Durant’s way as he was to make a winning play. His flashy style seemed at odds with small-market Oklahoma City so when Durant, who seemingly was a better fit in OKC, left for rival Golden State, fear that Westbrook would bolt for a larger market increased.

He didn’t. He chose to re-sign with the Thunder and now that he has answered the call, it’s time to deliver.

“We know a few things about Russell at this point,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said. “He’s going to bring his lunch pail every day. He’s going to compete. He’s going to inspire. He’s going to show great conviction and courage to his teammates, to the city, to the organization. And from there, we have to figure out how that comes together.”

That trek begins Wednesday in Philadelphia when Oklahoma City officially tips off the post-Durant era in its season opener against the 76ers.

Westbrook is now the unquestioned leader of the Thunder and player folks behind the scenes knew – the thoughtful, humble, giving man – has more readily come to the surface. He has gone to great lengths to connect with Thunder fans in recent months.

Among other things, he unveiled his new line of True Religion clothing near downtown Oklahoma City and he attended an Oklahoma home football game against Louisiana-Monroe wearing a custom-made Sooners jersey. When he was introduced to the crowd before the Thunder’s preseason home opener, he got the kinds of cheers normally reserved for a return from injury.

Westbrook seems more at ease on the court, too. His preseason play seemed more effortless than electric, with an occasional flourish.

“I want the team to play how they want to play,” Westbrook said. “I mean, it’s not totally up to me how we play. You have to adjust to the team you have and adjust on a night-in, night-out basis on how you want to play. You want to play fast some nights and you want to play slow. I think it depends on the game, on the situation, who is on the floor.”

He is poised to put up astronomical numbers this season as he tries to keep the Thunder among the NBA elite.

Last season Westbrook averaged 23.5 points and career highs of 10.4 assists and 7.8 rebounds. He posted 18 triple-doubles, the most for a player since Magic Johnson had 18 during the 1981-82 season. The two-time All-Star MVP and former scoring champion could do more damage without Durant, but the Thunder don’t want too much pressure on him.

“I think we have to be able to play in a way that’s not just relying on him to do everything and create every single shot, whether it’s him making the shot or making the play for another guy,” Thunder forward Nick Collison said.

Westbrook already has left an impression on his new backcourt mate Victor Oladipo, who was acquired in the trade that sent defensive enforcer Serge Ibaka to Orlando.

“After working with Russ, I can see the intensity in how serious he was about his craft,” Oladipo said. “But one thing that I realized that after guarding him for three years – I can see why he’s so effective at what he does. I definitely stole that from him, and I’m going to take it and run as fast as I can with it.”

How Oladipo and the rest of the Thunder do in keeping up with Russell will determine how much success the team will have. Oklahoma City is no longer considered the team to beat in championship conversations, and that’s fine with Westbrook. He said the team embraces the underdog role.

“I love it,” he said. “I love it, man. I think it’s a great challenge, not just for myself, but for our whole team. I think just from talking to the guys throughout the summer, they understand that. They want to win. They want to get better.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter (at)CliffBruntAP .

Memphis’ Chandler Parsons says he’s playing 5-on-5, hopes to be on court soon

Memphis Grizzlies forward Chandler Parsons poses for a picture on NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. Parsons signed with the Grizzlies in July. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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When the Memphis Grizzlies get their full starting five on the court, that lineup is going to be a handful.

But the Grizzlies enter their opener Wednesday night likely without Tony Allen and certainly without Chandler Parsons.

Parsons is being brought along slowly following his latest knee surgery, but in an update on the team’s Twitter account notes he is now playing 5-on-5 and hopes to be on the court “soon.”

Parsons also says he hasn’t lost a step. We may need to see that before we fully buy in.

Memphis needs him — and Allen — on the court as soon as possible. While their starting five can be a force, there is not a lot of depth on the Grizzlies’ roster. Plus Parsons provides the floor-spacing shooting and second shot creator the Grizzlies desperately need.

Charles Barkley: Klay Thompson is a better player than Kevin Durant


You know the NBA season is back when Charles Barkley is just talking out his… er, saying ridiculous things.

On Inside the NBA before the tip off of San Antonio thrashing Golden State, Barkley said then tried to defend the idea that Klay Thompson is a better all-around player than Kevin Durant. It was vintage Barkley — and it’s what makes the barbershop feel of Inside the NBA must-watch television every week.

The flaw in Barkley’s argument is that he tries to use the “two-way player” argument to try and balance out Durant’s and Thompson’s offensive contributions. Is Thompson a better defender than Durant? Yes. Even though people underestimate Durant’s defense a little, I will stipulate Thompson is a better defender. But does that defense make up for how much more offensive versatility and shot creation Durant brings to the table compared to Thompson? No. Again, Thompson is an excellent offensive player and probably the second best shooter in the game, but he does not create shots or force a defense to adjust the way Durant does. KD’s amazing offense tips the scales more than Thompson’s defense. KD is the better overall player.

And The Jet is way too quick to dismiss Kawhi Leonard as maybe the second best player in the league. But Leonard made his case just after these comments.

Watch Jonathan Simmons posterize JaVale McGee


This was the exclamation point on the Spurs thrashing of the Warriors on opening night.

Jonathan Simmons — who was a beast in the first half and finished the night with 20 points off the bench — was pounding the ball out top, then as the clock wound down blew by rookie Patrick McCaw, got into the lane looking for the two-handed slam. When JaVale McGee slid over to contest Simmons switched to the one-hander and finished over the big man.

That’s the way to start an NBA season.