Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

Improved Lakers get measuring stick game against Thunder

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There was a time not so long ago when the up-and-coming Thunder were measuring their improvement against the Lakers.

Now, it’s the Western Conference champion Thunder that are the measuring stick and the Lakers who want to see where they stand after a run of better play. The two face off Tuesday night in Oklahoma City.

It’s been well documented that after Lakers started the season an unimpressive 17-25 they have started to turn it around and gone 13-5 since. The thing is, it’s not that the Lakers are dramatically better in their last 18 overall — their point differential per 100 possessions +2.5, less than one point per 100 better than it was when they were eight games below .500.

What has changed is they got healthy, and with their key guys got to play together for a stretch modified Mike D’Antoni system, and with all that they started to find there identity. It’s taken a lot of Kobe Bryant — sometimes as scorer, sometimes as facilitator. It’s taken Steve Nash to work a lot off the ball. It’s taken Dwight Howard defending and playing more pick-and-roll. It’s been the role players finding their way.

It’s been the Lakers finally forming an identity like was expected of them in training camp (but injuries and a coaching change to a radically different system delayed that cohesion). Now that they have a sense of self the Lakers are winning the close ones they lost earlier in the season. Such as the 99-98 win over the Hawks on Sunday. John Schuhmann has all the numbers to back this up over at NBA.com — the Lakers with an identity are playing much better in the clutch than they did. They are now a .500 team.

But the Thunder are a whole new level of challenge. They are the measuring stick. They are still the favorites to make the finals out of the West, they have the best scorer in the game in Kevin Durant.

What are the keys for Tuesday night? They all revolve around the Lakers defense, because the Lakers will score some (that Kobe Bryant guy is pretty good) but the question is can they slow the Thunder at all:

1) The Lakers transition defense. Among all their many weaknesses this season, this has been the biggest — if you can run on the Lakers you can beat them. Los Angeles allows teams to shoot 58.1 percent in transition and score 1.16 points per possession, 23rd in the NBA. In the first meeting between these teams this year the Thunder shot 9-of-11 in transition and 3-of-3 from three. If this is an up-tempo game it will not be a close one.

2) Lakers pick-and-roll defense against Westbrook. It’s been improved in recent weeks but in the first meeting the Lakers struggled to stop Russell Westbrook (33 points) on this play. Westbrook has 60 points combined in the first two meetings this season. If Westbrook in particular, but also Kevin Durant and others, are allowed to probe and create off the pick-and-roll the Lakers defense will get picked apart and they will struggle.

On the other hand, when Westbrook went cold — 6-of-22 in the last meeting of these teams — the Lakers got the win. I say went cold because Westbrook completed just 3-of-8 shots inside the restricted area and I’m not sure the Lakers should count on that again. But the Lakers also turned him into a jump shooter and he struggled in that role — Dwight Howard is key here taking away the paint from Westbrook on drives.

3) Can Los Angeles slow Kevin Durant. I know, everyone writes they want to do this and he’s the league’s three-time leading scoring champ for a reason. He dropped 42 on them in a game this season. However, in the last meeting the Lakers had some success with Earl Clark — Durant was 3-of-11 with Clark on him. I’m not sure I’d want to bet on that trend continuing, but you can bet the Lakers go back to that well and if Clark can even just slow Durant and make him work for his baskets it will help.

Jeremy Lin stars in Space Jam 3 (video)

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LeBron James will reportedly star in Space Jam 2.

Space Jam 3? Jeremy Lin already claimed the top role in a very, um, strange video.

Kids Jeopardy! contestant whiffs on LeBron James question (video)

LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, Metta World Peace
AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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Did LeBron James lead the Lakers to NBA titles in 2012 and 2013?

If you haven’t already gotten your fix of laughing at children, here’s a kid who guessed that happened:

The question, as you surely know, is who are the Miami Heat?

Doc Rivers: Clippers were third for Kevin Durant

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 22:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder makes a pass to Serge Ibaka #9 around DeAndre Jordan #6 and Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers during a 109-97 Thunder win at Staples Center on January 22, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  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 Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images
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The Warriors signed Kevin Durant.

The Celtics claimed they finished second for the superstar free agent.

And the bronze medal goes to…

Doc Rivers on The Vertical Podcast with Woj, as transcribed by CSN Bay Area:

And we were in it. We were in the Top 3 at the very end

We asked a simple question, and the first question I asked was, ‘Are we in the Top 3?’ And they said ‘Yes.’ So that made us feel good. My next question was, ‘Are we in the Top 2?’ And we had made the decision if they say ‘No’ then we go, if they say ‘Yes’ we stay. And they said ‘No.’

This is all obviously quite silly. It mostly matters only where Durant plays, not where he came closer to playing. Golden State won. Everyone else lost.

But teams are fighting for perception, trying to send a message to the next superstar free that they’re a legitimate destination.

I just have a hard time believing the Clippers were actually third and ahead of re-signing with the Thunder. The Clippers didn’t have enough cap space to keep Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan and give Durant a max contract.

I believe Durant could’ve told the Clippers they ranked third because he liked their pitch and the statement was largely superficial. But if it actually came down to it, would Durant have taken a reduced salary or joined a team depleted by losing one of its stars? Those were the only two options for picking the Clippers.

I have my doubts, but at least Rivers has a narrative he can sell. And sell it he will.

Newspaper editor on Michael Jordan article: ‘What other photo could be more suitable than the infamous Crying Jordan meme’

SPRINGFIELD, MA - SEPTEMBER 11: Michael Jordan to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame speaks during an induction ceremony on September 11, 2009 in Springfield, Massachusetts. 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 Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
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A Malawian newspaper, writing about Michael Jordan’s statement on race, used the Crying Jordan photo accompany the article.

How did that happen?

A page designer who didn’t understand the meme? A joke never fixed before printing? A staff-wide ignorance of the photo’s cultural relevance?

Justin Block of The Huffington Post:

As it turns out, the newspaper is called The Nation, or The Malawi Nation. When reached for comment on Thursday afternoon, The Nation Senior News Analyst Joy Ndovi stated that using the Michael Jordan Crying meme was intentional, and said Sports Editor Garry Chirwa picked the photo.

Chirwa told us that when he read the story, he felt that the emotions packed within Jordan’s quote, “I could no longer keep silent,” were represented in the Michael Jordan Crying meme.

“I just imagined him crying,” Chirwa wrote via WhatsApp.

Ndovi echoed Chirwa’s sentiments:

The article on Jordan reacting to the violence in U.S. was just the perfect one for the meme to be used. It depicts the emotional state of the former NBA star. Though it might seem unconventional, what other photo could be more suitable than the infamous Crying Jordan meme?

I can think of a few.