Tim Duncan

Spurs sure look like contenders in 12-point win over Thunder

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There are two, slightly contradictory take aways from this game:

1) There are a lot of people that watched the Spurs look great in the regular season the last couple years but then look very beatable in the playoffs who think this Spurs team is like those. But there is a key difference — this Spurs team is a top three defensive team in the NBA. They are allowing 99.7 points per 100 possessions coming into this game (third best in the NBA, last season they were 11th).

Monday night the Spurs held a Thunder team averaging 107.1 points per 100 possessions to 99 per 100.

2) Don’t read too far into this one game as a playoff preview. This was the Thunder’s fourth game in five nights and it showed when Russell Westbrook is settling for jumpers and shoots 11-of-27 from the field. It shows when the Thunder have to play Derek Fisher 12 minutes (the more you see of him, the worse news it is for OKC). The Spurs bench was much fresher and better. And by the way, the Spurs were without Tony Parker.

The result of all this was a comfortable 105-93 Spurs win over the defending Western Conference champs.

The only message — don’t assume the Thunder will be facing the Heat in the NBA finals just yet. The Spurs are not young but they will not go quietly into that good night. Manu Ginobili still rages against the dying of the light.

Early on this looked like it might be very different. The Thunder went on 16-2 run midway through the first quarter to go up by 13. The Spurs were the ones that didn’t look crisp, giving too much space on defense, not rotating with energy and not hitting the glass (OKC opened on a 12-2 rebounding edge). It was 32-22 Thunder after one quarter.

But the Spurs bench was changing the energy of the game — Stephen Jackson and Manu Ginobili started making plays. Kawhi Leonard started knocking down jumpers (he had 9 points on 4-of-5 shooting in the second quarter. The Spurs went on an 11-0 run to tie the game, Gary Neal got in got in the act with a couple shots and suddenly the Spurs had won the second quarter 35-18.

The Thunder were settling for jumpers while the Spurs were getting the ball inside to Tiago Splitter — he shot 9-of-11 on the night for 21 points to go with his 10 rebounds.

Still, this was a three point game with 2:20 left in the third quarter because Westbrook found his touch and scored 13 in the quarter.

Then the benches came back in. And it was all Spurs. Boris Diaw knocked down a corner three. Manu Ginobili drove the lane for a lay-up bucket then stepped back off a pick and knocked down a three.

The Thunder turned the ball over on 20 percent of their possessions and didn’t close out well on shooters all night (particularly the corner three). Do that and the Spurs are too good and too disciplined — they will make you pay.

What was disturbing mostly for Thunder fans was they just didn’t have a lot of fight off their bench. San Antonio did a good job with their length of making it hard for Kevin Durant — he still had 26 points on 13 shots — but not Westbrook or anyone else could pick up the slack.

Danny Green added 16 and Leonard had 17 for the Spurs, who in their very Spurs way had six guys in double figures. No Tony Parker, no problem, everybody steps up. The Spurs have beaten the Thunder eight of the last nine in San Antonio, and with this win the Spurs are a full two games up on the Thunder in the race for the top spot in the West.

And that is another reason to consider the Spurs a serious threat to the Thunder when the playoffs start in a few weeks.

Watch Nerlens Noel say goodbye to Joel Embiid after learning of trade

Philadelphia 76ers Media Day
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Nerlens Noel had a plane to catch — he is headed to Minneapolis because that is where his new team the Dallas Mavericks are right now (Dallas faces Minnesota on Friday night).

But first, Noel wanted to say goodbye to his buddy Joel Embiid.

Noel was traded to the Mavericks for Justin Anderson, Andrew Bogut (who will be traded again by the deadline or waived by Philly after), and a protected first-round pick in the 2017 draft that will almost certainly convert to two second-round picks (2017 and 2018). It’s a great landing spot for Noel, Dallas will re-sign him this summer and see him as the future of the franchise at the five.

What we as fans tend to focus on is things like that last paragraph — who “won” or who “lost” the trade, how it fits on the court — and we can forget these are human beings. They are leaving their home, their friends, and in many cases asking family to pack up and move with them. There is a human side, a human cost to these trades, which we can’t overlook.

Report: Boston finally willing to put Nets pick in Paul George trade talks, still may not be enough

Eastern Conference forward Paul George of the Indiana Pacers (13) reacts during the second half of the NBA All-Star basketball game in New Orleans, Sunday, Feb. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)
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They are the two biggest pieces on the trade deadline day chess board: Boston has the rights to swap picks with Brooklyn’s first-round pick this season (and the Nets will finish with the worst record in the league), and then Boston owns the Brooklyn pick outright next season.

So far, Boston hasn’t been willing to put those pieces into play, even for an elite player such as Jimmy Butler or Paul George. The thinking in Boston has been very logical: Cleveland is in the middle of its title window, Toronto also is a win-now team (hence the Serge Ibaka trade), and Washington is in the same boat. However, with those Brooklyn picks the Celtics are not going to peak until three years or so from now, right as those other teams fade. Boston could be patient because they have next.

But that attitude seems to be shifting a little — Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports reports one of the Nets picks may be in play for George.

We don’t know which pick (17 or 18) nor do we know what other pieces are involved. There’s a lot of variables and more than likely this deal doesn’t happen.

This seems to signal a shift in Boston’s thinking — they may be sliding into a win-now space. It means they see the Cavaliers as vulnerable (maybe due to the rash of injuries and the heavy minutes for LeBron James) and they want to pounce now rather than wait.

Report: Sixers trade Nerlens Noel to Mavericks for Bogut, Anderson, first-round pick

CAMDEN, NJ - SEPTEMBER 26: Nerlens Noel #4 of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during media day on September 26, 2016 in Camden, New Jersey. 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 Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Philadephia has been trying to unclog its frontcourt logjam for a while, but finding little out there in a market with a glut of big men — Brook Lopez, Tyson Chandler, Gregg Monroe, and so on. They have not found a deal they like for Jahlil Okafor despite months of trying.

However, they now have found one for Nerlens Noel.

Dallas has been looking for the big man of their future and has jumped on landing the former Kentucky star, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

Marc Stein and Zach Lowe of ESPN added these crucial details.

Those protections make it almost certain Dallas keeps its first round pick this year, so the Sixers get a couple of seconds.

I love this trade for Dallas, but they have to re-sign Noel this summer as a restricted free agent. Dallas has chased the right big man for a while (remember DeAndre Jordan?), and Noel fits what they want at the five — he can protect the rim, he has hops, and he can finish around the rim (63.4 percent of his shots come in the restricted area, and he shoots 72 percent on those). He gets most of his offense off cuts or being the roll man — get him the rock near the basket and he’ll do the rest, but he’s not going to create or step out. Noel provides rim protection in the paint on defense, but if you have a big that can pull him out of the paint it gives him trouble. He’s also young and his game can develop.

Noel can be a piece along with Harrison Barnes in the post-Dirk era coming to Dallas.

I’ve been told (as have other reporters) to expect the Sixers to buy out Bogut, which will make him a very sought after free agent by contenders in a few days (Cleveland? He is not allowed by rule to return to Warriors this season). Unless they can flip him again before the deadline.

What Philly gets out of this of value is not only the pick (eventually) but also Justin Anderson, who shows promise as a “3&D” wing. He’s still got to work on the three part of that, he’s hitting just 30.3 percent from three this season, but he’s a strong defender already able to cover twos, threes, and small fours. Good rebounder as well for his position. You could see him growing into Brett Brown’s rotation.

Reports: Minnesota working hard to trade Ricky Rubio by deadline; Knicks swap for Rose possible

DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 28: Ricky Rubio #9 of the Minnesota Timberwolves brings the ball down court against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center on December 28, 2016 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)
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On paper, Ricky Rubio seemed a good fit for the Tom Thibodeau’s Timberwolves: He’s a gifted passer and strong defender who knows how to run a team. In practice, his lack of shooting on a team of slashers and a big man inside — Karl-Anthony Towns — allowed teams to clog the lane.

So the Timberwolves are working hard to find a landing spot for him before the trade deadline at 3 p.m. Eastern, according to multiple reports.

This has led to talks with the Knicks of a Ricky Rubio for Derrick Rose swap, and there is more than just smoke with this. Although, if there is enough fire to get a deal done is another question entirely.

A Rose/Rubio swap is a small win for the Knicks — Rubio would find a way to get the ball to Kristaps Porzingis and Carmelo Anthony, plus he improves their defense. Also, it means they don’t have to overpay Rose or another point guard this summer as Rubio is under contract for next season.

For the Timberwolves, they get a guy who will get them some buckets on the drive but who also takes opportunities out of the hands of Towns, Andrew Wiggins and everyone else. Plus Minnesota’s defense gets worse. I’m not sure how that gets them to the playoffs.