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.

Report: Clippers PG Patrick Beverley out rest of season

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Clippers point guard Patrick Beverley underwent knee surgery – never a great sign.

The prognosis is about as bad as could be expected.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This injury isn’t just a setback for this season. It could derail the Clippers’ long-term plan.

They’ve already lost nine straight, and Danilo Gallinari and Milos Teodosic are injured. If they fall further out of playoff position, they could become sellers before the trade deadline, especially with DeAndre Jordan ($24,119,025 player option for next season) and Lou Williams ($7 million salary on expiring contract).

Health was always the major question with this team, and it won’t soften as Blake Griffin and Danilo Gallinari age through lucrative contracts.

The final year of Beverley’s contract is guaranteed for just $5,027,028 next season, and the 29-year-old will spend most of the summer recovering from this injury. That salary is probably low enough that the Clippers will keep him without hesitation.

Until then, down a couple point guards, the Clippers have no choice but to continue leaning more on Austin Rivers. That also means greater roles for second-round rookies Jawun Evans and Sindarius Thornwell. That’s just too many players facing outsized responsibility.

The Pelicans, Grizzlies, Jazz and any other team competing for the final playoff spots in the Western Conference ought to feel better about their chances. They’re still competing with each other, and it’s doubtful all three make it. But Beverley’s injury helps clear the way.

The Clippers, who didn’t want to take a major step back after Chris Paul‘s departure, must confront an even more uneasy reality.

Giannis Antetokounmpo out for Bucks-Suns Eric Bledsoe revenge game

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Giannis Antetokounmpoone of the NBA’s best players – won’t help new Bucks teammate Eric Bledsoe in a revenge game against the Suns tonight.

Not only is Milwaukee missing Mirza Teletovic and John Henson (and Matthew Dellavedova and Jabari Parker), Antetokounmpo is out.

Matt Velazquez of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Antetokounmpo will miss Wednesday’s game against the Phoenix Suns due to right knee soreness.

Antetokounmpo says his knee soreness is the same injury he dealt with in the off-season, which caused him to withdraw from the Greek national team.

“It feels good,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting out shootaround. “I’m just trying to be careful with it and not make any damage. That’s it, because it’s a long season and I’m trying to be careful.”

The Bucks have been outscored by 18.6 points per 100 possessions without Antetokounmpo this season (and are +2.3 without him). Phoenix isn’t good, but neither is Milwaukee without Antetokounmpo.

I don’t think Bledsoe will mind a chance to get more aggressive tonight, though.

Report: Mexico City could host NBA’s 31st minor-league team

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said his league would look into placing a franchise in Mexico City.

Meanwhile, the NBA’s minor-league has affiliates for 26 of 30 NBA teams and counting. The league also has youth academies in China, India, Australia and Senegal – and also counting.

Jonathan Givony of  ESPN:

The NBA will announce a new basketball development and training academy in Mexico City during the Global Games December 7th and 9th, in conjunction with CONADE (Mexico’s National Commission for Physical Culture and Sport) and the Mexican Basketball Federation, sources told ESPN.

Mexico City could emerge as the 31st G League franchise, where prospects from the seven academies graduate up to, according to sources.

A minor-league team in Mexico City could be a nice testing ground for an NBA franchise. An unaffiliated minor-league team is also an interesting wrinkle, especially how it’d be stocked.

Ultimately, experimentation is a purpose of the NBA’s minor league. This would be running multiple test cases at once.

Lonzo Ball on his shot: “I feel like they’re going to fall. Just have to keep shooting.”

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Lonzo Ball‘s shooting woes this season have been well chronicled. Maybe even beaten to death — but when your father is a hype man, and Magic Johnson says you’re the “face of the franchise” it invites a whole new level of scrutiny. Doesn’t matter if it’s fair, it’s reality.

Rather than a cold recitation of the numbers, a look at Ball’s shot chart for the season says a 1,000 words worth.

Ball has admitted frustration but has said throughout he expects things to turn. He reiterated that in an interview on the Mason and Ireland Show on ESPN LA Radio. He likes the looks he’s getting, thinks they will start to go down. (Hat tip Lakers’ Nation.)

“I’m just missing shots. I definitely like the looks I’m getting. Most of them are wide open, people are going under screens. I feel like they’re going to fall. Just have to keep shooting and shooting with confidence.”

Ball is right. He is shooting 28.2 percent on shots where the defender is 4-6 feet away (22.9 percent from three on those), and 21.3 percent when the defender is 6 or more feet away (19.1 percent from three).

Those shots may start to fall — Luke Walton has preached the same thing to Ball, just keep shooting and it will come around. Right now Ball is in his own head about this, maybe guiding the shots rather than just firing away, but the Lakers aren’t going to rebuild his shot mid-season. He should just keep shooting.

Maybe of more concern is that 42.5 percent in the restricted area — if he isn’t a decent scoring threat on drives, it will hamper his entire passing game. He’s a rookie, he needs time to adjust to the speed, length, and physicality of the NBA, it’s far too early to say what he is and isn’t yet. But those finishing numbers are ones to watch.