Oklahoma City Thunder Durant , Ibaka of Congo, and Perkins share a light moment on the bench late in the game against the Houston Rockets in Oklahoma City

Thunder turn Game 1 against Rockets into a laugher


The Thunder led 13-2 before the Rockets tied the game at 38, but Oklahoma City responded with a 14-1 run late in the first half. Houston hung around the fringe of striking distance before the Thunder made another 13-2 run midway through the second half.

The Rockets – and the Western Conference – are trying to catch the Thunder, and Oklahoma City’s 120-91 Game 1 win over the Rockets provided little evidence either can do it. Nobody has beaten a playoff team this badly in more than a month (the Warriors’ 108-78 win over the Rockets on March 17).

Higher seeds went 8-0 in the opening games of the 2013 playoffs, and chalk bodes well for the Thunder. They won the West last year, won more games than anyone in the conference this year and still might have their best basketball ahead of them.

Kevin Durant (24 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks) and Russell Westbrook (19 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and two steals) were strong tonight, but Oklahoma City’s stars received plenty of support.

Serge Ibaka had 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

Nick Collison made all four of his shots to go with five rebounds and four assists

Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Martin, Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson each made 3-pointers in the first half. After shooting near the arc proved to be little challenge, the Thunder resorted to half-court shots in the second half – and letting fans take them.

James Harden scored 20 points on 19 shots, similar production to the player the Rockets traded to acquire him. Kevin Martin had 16 points on 15 shots, but he was just a blip in the Thunder’s massive output.

Harden, on the other hand, was – by far – Houston’s leading scorer. A legitimate All-NBA first-team candidate (though, I’m partial to Westbrook in the guard spot next to Chris Paul), Harden must play better, but he also needs help. It wasn’t just his fault the Rockets’ offensive rating was 86.2, higher than only the Lakers in the playoffs’ opening games.

The same issues exist for Houston on the other end of the court. The Rockets aren’t a good defensive team, but they have a couple good defensive players.

Durant shot just 3-of-9 with Chandler Parsons on the court, compared to 4-of-6 with Parsons on the bench. Houston’s defensive rating dropped from 138.1 to 97.3 when Omer Asik played.

And really, that’s what this series boils down to.

The Rockets have impressive pieces. The Thunder have an impressive team.

Pizza and soccer on agenda for Celtics on trip to Italy

Perry Jones III, Malcolm Miller, James Young, Jordan Mickey
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MILAN (AP) — After a couple of days in Milan, Isaiah Thomas‘ Italian experience is still lacking a certain something.

“I’m waiting on some pizza,” said a laughing Thomas, who used to do commercials for a regional pizza franchise when he played for the Sacramento Kings. “The place we went to last night didn’t have no pizza so hopefully tonight we go somewhere I can order some pizza for real.”

This trip isn’t just about culinary experiences, though. The Celtics are in Milan to play an exhibition game against Olimpia Milano on Tuesday before traveling to Spain to play Real Madrid as part of the NBA Global Games.

Ahead of the team’s practice session on Sunday, Thomas was also looking forward to his first soccer match, as the Celtics headed to San Siro later for AC Milan’s home match against Napoli in the Italian league – after an afternoon trip to nearby Lake Como.

“That’s going to be fun,” Thomas told The Associated Press at the Celtics’ first practice in Italy. “I’m excited about that. I’ve never been to a soccer match, to have my first soccer match be in Italy is going to be nice.”

Teammate Marcus Smart said the trip was also an important bonding experience for a young roster with plenty of new pieces. They went for a players-only meal in Milan on Saturday night.

“We had a good time with each other,” Smart said. “No phones, so everyone was talking to one other. It was good overall fun.

“We understand the severity of this trip, it is a business trip but at the same time not many people get this chance to travel like we do so we understand its business but we’re here to have fun at the same time.”

Coach Brad Stevens has overseen plenty of rebuilding since taking over the Celtics in 2013 but still led the team to the playoffs last season after trading point guard Rajon Rondo – the only remaining player from the 2008 championship team. After being swept by the Cleveland Cavaliers, the team is aiming higher this season. For Stevens, it all starts here in Italy.

“These sessions are really important to get something accomplished in practice and to make sure that we’re continuing to progress,” Stevens said. “It’s still very much a part of our training camp, and so you’ve got all of the great things about being a tourist – getting a chance to see new things and experience new things – and at the same time we’re 24 or 25 days away from our season opener.”

And after spending so many hours in the gym during the offseason, Thomas is ready to start playing actual games again – even if its just preseason.

“We’re ready to beat up on somebody else, we’re tired of beating up on each other,” Smith said.

Kings’ Karl admits mistakes in DeMarcus Cousins trade controversey

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In the NBA, elite players have the leverage. It is just simple supply and demand.

DeMarcus Cousins is an elite player — and a favorite of owner Vivek Ranadive. He is not going anywhere.

Which made this summer’s “George Karl wants trade Cousins” a battle the coach couldn’t ultimately win — the owner wasn’t going to sign off on it, and the fans are going to side with Boogie. Remember Karl said he never had a player that was untradable, and that spiraled into reports Karl probed trade options with other teams, much to the frustration of management and Cousins himself.

Karl owned up to some of his mistakes in an interview on Comcast Bay Area, as reported by James Ham at CSNBayArea.com.

“To be honest with you, I apologized to DeMarcus for making the trade comment that I’ve never coached a player that’s untradeable,” Karl told Christensen. “That was wrong for me to say, because you all (the media) took it and blew it up into crazy.”

“But it’s my responsibility to be smart enough to not say things like that,” Karl continued. “So I did apologize because I thought that was the only thing, maybe some other things, but really the only thing that got us separated was that comment that then everybody wrote the we’re going to trade [Cousins].”

The relationship between Cousins and Karl — not to mention Rajon Rondo and other veterans — is the biggest key to the Kings’ season. Karl and Cousins say their relationship is solid now, but what happens when that is put under stress at some point during the season?

In talking to people around the team, the Kings players seemed to have formed a tight bond — even if part of the glue of that bond is a distrust of Karl that can work for them. This is a team that has the talent to compete for the bottom couple playoff seeds in the Western Conference, but everybody needs to be pulling on the rope in the same direction. We will see pretty quickly if the Kings can do that.