New York Knicks' Smith walks off the floor after missing a shot in their NBA basketball game against the Oklahoma City Thunder in New York

Thunder overcome hot shooting from J.R. Smith to outlast Knicks

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Initially, a little of the luster was lost from the TNT matchup between the Knicks and the Thunder when it was learned that Carmelo Anthony would be forced to sit out his second straight game due to a sore right knee.

J.R. Smith took it upon himself to carry the offensive load for New York in Anthony’s absence, however, and as a result, we had ourselves a pretty entertaining ballgame.

In the end, the Thunder outlasted the Knicks to get a 95-94 victory, but it was much closer than expected thanks to Smith’s heroics.

The game gave us what we all expected in its first 12 minutes. Oklahoma City scored 35 first quarter points and led by nine after one, thanks to 15 points from Russell Westbrook, and a flailing offensive effort from New York to get things started. The Knicks opened 9-of-23 from the field, and were doubled up on the boards by their opponent.

The second quarter belonged to Smith, who scored 18 points in the period to cut the Thunder lead to just two by halftime. The shots came in typical fashion for Smith, who is one of the more capable scorers in the league when he gets rolling.

That roll continued in the third quarter, but not immediately. As Smith began the second half on the bench (as is his normal spot in the rotation), New York opened the period just 1-14 from the floor, with the lone bucket coming courtesy of Smith once he checked back in. The Thunder couldn’t gain any separation during that stretch, and as Smith hit step-back jumpers and three-pointers consistently, while Westbrook cooled considerably and missed five of six shots in the period, the Knicks took a six-point lead into the game’s final 12 minutes.

Knicks fans would have been happy to fill you in on how the final 12 minutes were about to unfold, even after Smith had just scored 31 points over the previous two periods. Smith would take, and sometimes force progressively tougher shots as he tried to keep it going, while the Thunder locked down defensively and had their superstar, Kevin Durant, score 12 of his team’s final 20 points.

The fourth was an ugly one offensively, as Smith made just two of his nine shot attempts and the Knicks managed just 13 points over the game’s final 12 minutes. The low-scoring final frame kept things close until the final buzzer, and Smith actually had two pretty good looks with the game in the balance that would have given his team the lead or the win had he gotten one of those shots to go down.

Smith finished with 36 points on 14-of-29 shooting, including making six of his 13 attempts from three-point distance. Durant didn’t play one of his more aesthetically pleasing games, but as always, he more than got the job done with 34 points, eight rebounds, and six assists, making 14 of 15 attempts from the free throw line in the process.

Ultimately, the game ended up as we expected it would — the Thunder came away with the victory, and Durant’s scoring led the way. But Smith provided more than enough excitement to keep things close, which kept us watching until his 17-foot, fading jumper in isolation over Westbrook rimmed out just before the final buzzer sounded.

Cavaliers have offered Anderson Varejao a championship ring. Does he take it?

Golden State Warriors' Anderson Varejao (18) poses with a cutout with his likeness during NBA basketball media day Monday, Sept. 26, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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In the middle of last season, the Cleveland Cavaliers let go of long-time Cav and fan favorite Anderson Varejao to make room for Channing Frye, a stretch four they thought would be more valuable in the playoffs. In hindsight it seems the right move.

After a cap clearing move in Portland, Varejao ended up on the bench of the Golden State Warriors. We all know the story from there, including Varejao getting some meaningful minutes after Andrew Bogut went down, but it wasn’t enough for Golden State.

Which brings us to the awkward championship ring conversation. Usually, an iconic team player like Varejao would get one from the Cavaliers, but will Varejao want this one? From Marc Stein of ESPN:

Good on the Cavaliers for offering.

Is there a correct answer for Varejao? A wrong answer? I can’t blame him either way.

He is on the Warriors roster again this season, and he once again could get meaningful minutes (now behind Zaza Pachulia). Does he decide that one with this team is what he wants (and will bet is going to happen)? Nobody can answer all these questions for him.

Nuggets retiring Dikembe Mutombo’s number at first home game

Center Dikembe Mutombo of the Denver Nuggets goes up for two over center David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs during the Nuggets game versus the Spurs at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver, Colorado.
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If the Hawks can retire Dikembe Mutombo’s number after four and a half seasons in Atlanta, the Nuggets can retire it after five in Denver.

Chris Dempsey of The Denver Post:

Mutombo will join the list of people who’ve had a number retired by multiple teams:

  • Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lakers, Bucks)
  • Charles Barkley (76ers, Suns)
  • Wilt Chamberlain (Warriors, Lakers, 76ers)
  • Clyde Drexler (Trail Blazers, Rockets)
  • Julius Erving (Nets, 76ers)
  • Michael Jordan (Bulls, Heat)
  • Bob Lanier (Pistons, Bucks)
  • Moses Malone (Rockets, 76ers)
  • Pete Maravich (Jazz, Pelicans)
  • Earl Monroe (Knicks, Wizards)
  • Oscar Robertson (Bucks, Kings)
  • Jerry Sloan (Bulls, Jazz)
  • Nate Thurmond (Cavaliers, Warriors)

Shaquille O’Neal, who had his number retired by the Lakers, will also make the list this season, when the Heat will put his number in the rafters.

Mutombo spent his best years with the Hawks, but he was pretty darn good with the Nuggets, who drafted him No. 4 overall in 1991. He won a Defensive Player of the Year award and went to three All-Star games with Denver. Playing for the Nuggets, he also produced the most iconic image of his career: lying on the floor and clutching the ball in jubilation after Denver became the first No. 8 seed to upset the No. 1 seed (Seattle SuperSonics in 1994):

Draymond Green says he doesn’t want to chase 74 wins: “It’s brutal.”

CLEVELAND, OH - JUNE 16:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors reacts against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 6 of the 2016 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena on June 16, 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 Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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If the Warriors have been consistent about one thing in the run-up to the coming season it is this: They are not going for a record number of wins again.

From the GM on down they have worked to tamp down expectations about their regular season, saying there is no goal of chasing their 73-win total of last season. This is how Draymond Green put it on media day, via Sam Amick of the USA Today.

Last season Steve Kerr and some of the staff were hesitant to chase the Jordan-era Bulls 72-win record, but it was a push from the players — Draymond Green being at the front of that parade — who wanted it. They pushed, and Kerr let them. They got 73. Was that lack of rest down the stretch the reason they were down 3-1 to Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals, then blew a 3-1 lead in the NBA Finals against Cleveland? Certainly not, there were plenty of other bigger factors (hello LeBron James), but it may have played some role. Clearly, the team thinks it did, based on their words and actions.

However, the Warriors still want the No. 1 seed in the West and will make that a goal. The question is, with an excellent regular season team in San Antonio — one that had a better point differential than the Warriors last season, then they added Pau Gasol — how many wins will it take to get the top seed in the West? 65? More? How hard will the Warriors and Spurs push to get home court throughout?

The Warriors aren’t going for the record, but the top of the West is still going to be an interesting place.

Mike D’Antoni declares James Harden the Rockets’ point guard (‘points guard’)

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James Harden is no longer the NBA’s best shooting guard.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said Harden – who averaged 29.0 points and 7.5 assists per game last season – is now Houston’s point guard, though D’Antoni added it wouldn’t be a big adjustment.

D’Antoni, via ClutchFans:

With James, we’ll make a cheap joke. He’ll be a points guard.

We just renamed it. You guys got something to write about.

Harden already controlled the ball a ton, taking primary playmaking and distributing responsibilities last season. This just gets the ball into his hands quicker and should allow the Rockets to play faster, a key component of D’Antoni’s offense.

Of course, D’Antoni’s offense functioned best when Steve Nash – more of a pure passer – ran it with the Suns. Harden won’t duplicate that. His passing ability is more predicated on taking advantage of his scoring threat. But Harden – who, like Nash, is an excellent ball-handler – could make the offense hum in his own way.

Even though D’Antoni is trying to downplay the position switch, it’s a notable shift. Harden fully commanding the offense is a grand experiment with major upside (and potential for a rocky downside).

This will also allow Houston to use Patrick Beverley (historically a point guard) or Eric Gordon (historically a shooting guard) in the backcourt with Harden, allowing a more flexible rotation.