Kevin Durant, Antawn Jamison

Lakers’ backs against wall after Thunder hands L.A. sixth straight loss


“I told the team that the biggest thing is that our season starts Sunday,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said after the latest in a parade of losses. “And we have got one run and have one shot at it and they need to get ready mentally and physically.”

That is the sound of a desperate coach. A coach who knows his team needs wins right now, needs to win two-thirds of its games from here on out to have a chance of even making the playoffs.

Lakers fans have been mentally in that desperate space for a while now, but it felt and sounded like the Lakers team is finally getting there after getting thumped 116-101 by a genuine contender in the Oklahoma City Thunder Friday night. Kevin Durant had a season high 42 points. Russell Westbrook had 27 points and 10 assists. Oklahoma defended, ran the break, executed with crispness, and basically did whatever they wanted. Oklahoma City was up 16 at halftime and the game felt like glorified garbage time in the second half.

The Lakers have plenty of excuses — they were without Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol again in this game, plus now comes the news Jordan Hill will be out for the season with hip surgery. Westbrook’s eyes lit up when asked what it was like to turn the corner and not see the Lakers’ seven-footers protecting the rim, but he caught himself and just said it was “different.”

“It’s true, but people aren’t going to remember all the excuses of the season,” said Kobe Bryant, who finished with 28 points but on 8-of-23 shooting.

The Lakers have had injury excuses all season but the fact is with this loss they fall to 15-21. They will need to go better than 30-16 the rest of the way to make the playoffs (that record would get them to 45 wins, which is the lowest number the West’s eighth seed has had in five years). And remember they still have the Grammy road trip ahead of them.

But more than that, Friday night’s drubbing was evidence of just how far away from a contender the Lakers are right now. And how much better the Thunder are even than last season.

Early on, with fresh legs, the Lakers starters hung around in the game. Then the run everyone knew the Thunder would go on came with a Thabo Sefolosha three and a Durant runner in the lane. Suddenly it was a 9-point OKC lead.

But at the end of the first quarter the Lakers fought back to tie it up with a stretch of good defense — an Antawn Jamison steal under the basket, an Earl Clark block of Serge Ibaka, a Kobe steal. They tied the game at 25.

But the problem for the Lakers all season has been the defense has only been good in stretches. Then it goes away.

It went away in the second quarter — Oklahoma City put up 39 points quarter shooting 70 percent. They got shots in the lane, they were draining threes and most of their shots seem to be open ones created off the dribble or with the extra pass. The Thunder shot 59.1 percent for the first half, were up 16 at the break and the game was all over but the shouting.

Durant was 10-of-15 shooting for 25 points in the first half, and he was fired up. He drove around Earl Clark at one point and just threw down a dunk then displayed the kind of anger we don’t usually see from the NBA’s golden child.

“We moved the ball so well,” Durant said. “We were finding open shots, guys were getting into the lane.”

And when that didn’t work, Durant or Westbrook would just blow by their defender off the dribble. Westbrook in particular looked sharp with his game. And the Lakers lacked any real rim protection to slow them.

“Well they have a good team but like I say you can’t expect to be at your best when you don’t have your best players on the floor,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “There is just no way around that. When you get them back it takes time to gel and get rhythm and chemistry.”

The Lakers just don’t have that time anymore. And they know it.

Whether they can do anything about it remains to be seen.

Report: Pistons claim Beno Udrich off Miami’s waivers

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Beno Udrih #9 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Miami felt set at point guard with Goran Dragic starting and the up-and-coming Tyler Johnson as his backup. They decided veteran Beno Udrih wasn’t part of the future and waived him.

Detroit, looking for some help at the one until Reggie Jackson returns, saw a dependable veteran guard on the market. So they snapped him up, reports Shams Charnaria of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

At age 34 we are seeing Ulrich’s game start to slip. Still, he has valuable NBA skills as a point guard: he doesn’t turn the ball over, can run an offense, and if you ignore him coming off a pick he will bury the shot.

Jackson is expected to be out at least another six weeks after getting PRP therapy to deal with knee tendonitis (he hopes to be back sooner). That leaves Ish Smith as the starting point guard in the short term; Udrih will help provide solid depth at the position.

The Pistons need to keep their heads above water until Jackson can return.

NBA’s new Collective Bargaining Agreement could run to 2024

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The first 12 years of the NBA’s salary-cap era went without a lockout. The league again avoided a lockout for a dozen straight years between 1999 to 2011.

Now, with a new Collective Bargaining Agreement coming soon, the NBA is setting itself up for another 12 years of labor peace.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

The NBA and National Basketball Players Association are working on a seven-year extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, with a mutual opt-out in six years, league sources told The Vertical.

The seven-year deal could potentially deliver the NBA labor peace through the 2023-24 season, unless the opt-outs are exercised in 2022, league sources told The Vertical.

The new CBA will begin with the 2017-18 season.

Expect an opt out after six years. By then, there’s usually something to renegotiate.

Hope for another quick resolution, like we’re getting now.

And if neither the owners nor players opt out, be pleasantly surprised at an unprecedented 13th straight year without a lockout in this era.

Rockets waive Gary Payton II and reportedly Tyler Ennis

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Gary Payton II #0 of the Houston Rockets poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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The Rockets entered the day with five point guards with guaranteed salaries: James Harden, Patrick Beverley, Pablo Prigioni, Tyler Ennis and Gary Payton II.

That seemed like too many, but Houston had just 15 players – the regular-season roster limit – with guaranteed salaries. There didn’t seem to be urgency to drop a player with a guaranteed deal.

Yet, the Rockets will drop two.

Rockets release:

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey announced today that the team has waived guard/forward P.J. Hairston, forward Le’Bryan Nash, and guard Gary Payton II.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

Barring another move, this opens the door for Houston to keep Bobby Brown (whose biggest impact in the preseason was causing an international incident) and Kyle Wiltjer, a stretch big who went undrafted out of Gonzaga.

The Rockets come out behind in their trade for Ennis. They have could have just waived the player they dealt, a lower-paid Michael Beasley, and saved a little money.

Payton, undrafted out of Oregon State, is an intriguing project. But Brown is probably more capable of helping now, a bigger factor for that roster spot with Beverley injured.

Thunder waive Ronnie Price and Mitch McGary, keep Semaj Christon

2014 Oklahoma City Thunder Media Day
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The Thunder waived a former No. 21 pick who still had two years left on his rookie-scale contract and a 33-year-old journeyman.

The latter was the surprise.

Thunder release:

The Oklahoma City Thunder waived forwards Mitch McGary and Chris Wright along with guard Ronnie Price and center Kaleb Tarczewski, it was announced today by Executive Vice President and General Manager Sam Presti.

At this point, Oklahoma City waiving Mitch McGary was completely expected. Facing 15 games of drug suspension with no proven track record of NBA sustainability, McGary was an easy cut on a team with a roster crunch.

Price signed a fully guaranteed two-year contract worth nearly $5 million this offseason, and teams don’t generally waive players so soon after guaranteeing them multiple seasons (even if guaranteeing them multiple seasons was questionable in the first place). This opens the door not only for Semaj Christon to make the regular-season roster, but to serve as Russell Westbrook‘s primary backup at point guard with Cameron Payne injured.

Christon, the No. 55 pick in the 2014 draft, also signed this summer (with just a $200,000 guarantee). After leaving Xavier, he spent a year on the Thunder’s D-League affiliate then a year overseas. Perhaps, he’s ready for a regular role without the safety net of a veteran like Price behind him, but this sure seems like another case of Oklahoma City overrating its developmental system. See previously: Josh Huestis.