Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

Improved Lakers get measuring stick game against Thunder


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.

Dwyane Wade fined $25,000 for throat slash gesture after dagger vs. Celtics

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All anyone would talk about is how the Bulls could not hit the three.

Then, with the game in the balance, the ball rolled out to Dwyane Wade standing at the three-point line and he sank the dagger three — Chicago beat Boston on Thursday night.

Watch the video above, after Wade hits the game-sealing three, he makes a throat-slashing gesture.

That will cost Wade $25,000. The league announced the fine Friday.

Wade cares about this as much as he cares when the Osmonds are playing in Branson. He can afford this.


Report: Cavaliers not “actively” shopping Iman Shumpert. Just listening.

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25: Iman Shumpert #4 of the Cleveland Cavaliers shows his championship ring before the game against the New York Knicks at Quicken Loans Arena on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Three days into the NBA season seems early to be discussing the semantics of NBA trade talk, but here we are.

There have been rumors that the Minnesota Timberwolves called the Cleveland Cavaliers, interested in talking Iman Shumpert trades, possibly involving Ricky Rubio (who at some point will lose his starting job to rookie Kris Dunn). And that the Cavaliers were at least open to the idea. But nothing came of it.

How serious is Cleveland on the Shumpert front? Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer addressed that in a Q&A with fans.

A few teams such as the Minnesota Timberwolves have inquired about Iman Shumpert, who has three years and $30 million left on his contract at age 26. The Cavs are answering the phone… But they are not actively looking to deal him, a team source told cleveland.com….

Keep in mind, Cleveland also has a trade exception worth about $11 million, the expiring contract of Mo Williams ($2.2 million) and Jordan McRae to deal. So if it is Rubio they want, they don’t have to trade Shumpert to get him.

What Varden is saying is Cavaliers GM David Griffin is not picking up the phone and seeing what he can get for Shumpert. But if teams call him…

Right now, the Cavaliers will need to be blown away to make a deal. Shumpert is backing up J.R. Smith and got more than 22 minutes of court time in the opener — he has a role on this team. Plus Shumpert is on an affordable contract. The Cavs are only going to make a move they believe makes them better right now — they want another ring. Maybe that offer comes, but the Cavs can be patient, and they have options.

Barack Obama picks Warriors to win title. Like everyone else.

Barack Obama

The Baller and Chief is on his way out the door.

Barack Obama has been by far the biggest hoops fan to inhabit the White House (with John Quincy Adams a very distant second). He’s put up a basketball court at the White House, filled out NCAA Tournament brackets, jokingly applied for the Wizards’ coaching job, thought about becoming an owner, gone to NBA games, and just been a fan like the rest of us.

And he’s picking the Warriors to win it all. Like everyone else.

In what was primarily a “get out the vote” effort, President Obama called in to ‘Sway in the Morning’ hosted by Sway Calloway on Eminem’s SiriusXM channel Shade 45. Asked to pick the next NBA champ, the Bulls fan went exactly where everyone else did — Golden State.

“I’m going to go with the Warriors just because of [Kevin] Durant, that addition. I think they just have too much firepower,” Obama said. “Although they just got spanked in their first game, so it will take a while to figure things out.”

Obama also picked the Patriots to win the NFL title. He’s such a frontrunner.

Report: NBA owners rejecting expansion ‘at every turn’

Seattle SuperSonics v Denver Nuggets
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With rumors of NBA expansion swirling, it’s time to look at more concrete evidence.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver has repeatedly shot down expansion talk, and that’s not him going rogue. His bosses have apparently taken a firm stance.

Steve Kyler of Basketball Insiders:

Basketball Insiders reached out to an NBA owner and a voting member of the Board of Governors and was told flatly that any talk of expansion has been shot down at every turn inside the Board of Governors meetings. It’s been a non-starter.

There is a theoretical one-time expansion fee so high where the current 30 owners would divide their shares of revenue further. But the NBA takes in so much annually, it’s hard to imagine a new ownership group could and would front enough money.

Sorry, Seattle (and Louisville and Las Vegas and…). The evidence is overwhelmingly on the side of the league staying at 30 teams. You’ll probably just have to poach a team from another city.