Rockets play much better, but Thunder escape with the win for a 2-0 series lead

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After dropping Game 1 of their first round playoff series to the top seeded Thunder by 29 points, there weren’t many who believed the Rockets would be able to compete for more than short stretches the rest of the series.

But thanks to some key adjustments, Houston gave the Thunder all they could handle in Game 2, and erased all of a 15-point fourth quarter deficit before ultimately falling 105-102.

Rockets head coach Kevin McHale knew he had to match the Thunder’s speed after the way the first game unfolded, so he went small and inserted first year reserve point guard Patrick Beverley into the starting lineup in place of his usual starting big man, Greg Smith.

The move worked to perfection. Not only did Beverley produce by contributing 16 points, 12 rebounds, and six assists in 41 minutes, but he got under the skin of Russell Westbrook at times when battling him defensively. Two early fouls on Westbrook had him sitting on the bench after playing less than six first quarter minutes, but Kevin Durant took over without issue as he poured in 15 points in the game’s first 12 minutes.

Westbrook came back with a vengeance in the second, and put in one of those electric stretches he’s become known for. Westbrook had 11 in the period in under seven and a half minutes.

While Durant and Westbrook were doing their collective thing, Harden was doing his for the Rockets. He barreled into the paint on seemingly every possession, and got to the free throw line for 20 attempts. Harden finished with a game high 36 points (albeit on just 9-of-24 shooting), to go along with 11 rebounds and six assists.

This was an exciting game that stayed tight in the first half, and then gave way to wild swings by both teams in the second.

Oklahoma City ran its lead to 11 midway through the third period, once Beverley headed to the bench after picking up his fourth foul. Jeremy Lin was unavailable in the second half due to a shoulder contusion, so Aaron Brooks got the call in the third when Beverley was forced to sit out.

The Thunder briefly took control to start the fourth thanks to a couple of threes from Kevin Martin and one from Westbrook that saw the lead reach 15 points with under nine and a half minutes remaining. The Rockets then went to a zone defense, and everything changed.

Houston went on a monster of a run while the Thunder struggled to deal with the zone by taking too many long twos and threes, instead of moving the ball and trying to attack the center of it. The Rockets put together a 21-2 stretch, capped off by a three-pointer from Carlos Delfino that gave them a four-point lead with 3:37 remaining.

But Durant responded. He blocked Chandler Parsons inside, then drained a three a couple of possessions later that put the Thunder back ahead, before driving to draw the defense and making a great kick-out pass to Thabo Sefolosha, who drained the open three that sealed it for OKC.

The Rockets got just about everything they wanted in this one statistically, except for one glaring omission. Houston killed the Thunder on the glass, outrebounding them 57-40. Thy won the battle of points in the paint with a 50-30 advantage, and outscored them 27-15 in second chance points.

But the Rockets were a dreadful 10-35 from three-point distance, good for just 28.6 percent. They got plenty of open looks, but simply couldn’t knock them down, and it’s a shame considering that the team was second in the league behind only the Knicks in three-pointers made per game, and finished eighth in the league in three-point shooting percentage.

Houston may be able to carry some momentum with them from this one back home for Games 3 and 4, and now it will be Thunder head coach Scott Brooks’ turn to make the adjustments. The Thunder won’t likely struggle as much against the zone again (they were plenty successful against it at times during the regular season), and they’ll have to find a way to close better on the Rockets shooters, while not allowing Harden to get into the paint so easily where he draws the bulk of the fouls that give him those free throw opportunities.

The status of Jeremy Lin moving forward will obviously be a concern for the Rockets, and will have a big impact on whether or not they can put up a fight similar to the one we saw in Game 2 once the series shifts to Houston.

LeBron James calls President Trump a “bum”

Associated Press
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LeBron James isn’t going to stick to sports.

The way the president isn’t sticking to politics.

Donald Trump pulled his White House invitation to the Warriors Saturday after Stephen Curry said he would vote not to go to make.a statement.

LeBron James came to Curry and the Warriors defense on Twitter.

LeBron endorsed and campaigned for Hillary Clinton in the last election.

LeBron has been more outspoken on social and political issues in recent years, which has worked for him in an era where fans want players to be authentic and themselves.

Trump on Friday night at a rally in Alabama slammed the NFL for its increased focus on concussions saying it was ruining the game, and said regarding national anthem protests in the league:

“We respect our flag. Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say get that son of a b—h off the field, right now, out? He’s fired.”

This may resonate with some NFL fans, but LeBron will resonate more with NBA fan base, which is younger, more urban, and much more multicultural. The NBA fan base leans left of the NFLs, plus is far more international (where Trump bashing plays well).

Saturday morning, after being told the NBA was going to vote on whether to come to the White House, he pulled his invitation.

Now we know how LeBron feels about that.

President Trump withdraws Warriors invitation to White House after Curry’s remarks

Associated Press
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As tends to happen with presidential decrees in this administration, the announcement came via Twitter — the Golden State Warriors are no longer invited to the White House.

Curry had been clear Friday at Warriors’ media day that he planned to vote no when the Warriors discussed visiting the White House.

“We have an opportunity to send a statement that hopefully encourages unity, encourages us to appreciate what it means to be American, and stand for something.”

Curry, along with coach Steve Kerr and other members of the Warriors organization had been openly critical of President Donald Trump and his policies. They were expected on Saturday to vote to decline the invitation. The NBA had let the White House know what was coming.

Trump decided to be proactive.

The tradition of championship teams going to the White House for a PR photo-op — it is nothing more than that — goes back many administrations. Some sports figures have skipped the White House event in the past when Barack Obama was president (even if Tom Brady wants to deny that’s why he bailed), but teams have not skipped it. Of course, now the Warriors aren’t skipping it, they are not invited.

 

Russell Westbrook to miss start of training camp after PRP injection in knee

Associated Press
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There is a physical price for the historic, MVP season Russell Westbrook had last go around.

When the Oklahoma City Thunder open training camp next week, Westbrook will be sidelined for a couple of days to rest his knee after getting a platelet-rich plasma therapy injection, Thunder GM Sam Presti told the media (as reported by Royce Young of ESPN).

PRP therapy was made popular in the NBA by Kobe Bryant and now a number of players have used the treatment. It involves the player giving some blood, which is then spun in a centrifuge to separate the platelets, which are then injected back into the area where the person wants to promote healing.

Westbrook is the heart and soul of the Thunder, averaging a triple-double last season with 31.6 points, 10.7 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game. With the off-season addition of Paul George, the Thunder are a dangerous team in the West, one that will have a very strong defense and a couple of elite scorers now.

Westbrook also has a max contract extension sitting in front of him from the Thunder, as he has since July 1, which he has yet to sign. That should make Thunder fans a little nervous. George is in the last year of his contract, and there have been not-so-subtle hints out of his camp he is headed to the Lakers next summer. If this year goes well in Oklahoma City — such as the Thunder reaching the Conference Finals — maybe George reconsiders, and with that Westbrook would stay (he has professed and shown loyalty to the city so far). Maybe they stay anyway. However, both men seem to be using the LeBron James playbook of keeping all their options open.

Report: Carmelo Anthony “heavily considering” adding Portland to trade list

Associated Press
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If he could choose his destination, Carmelo Anthony would be playing this coming season alongside Chris Paul and James Harden in Houston. However, since that seems dead, Anthony has told the Knicks he also would waive his no-trade clause for Cleveland or Oklahoma City.

What about Portland, a team hot on the rumor mill?

Anthony has yet to tell the Knicks he would waive his no-trade to head to the Pacific Northwest, but he’s seriously considering adding the Blazers to the list, reports Marc Berman of the New York Post.

The source told The Post that Anthony is heavily considering putting the Trail Blazers on his list as well.

Portland’s stars Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum have been very public in their recruitment of Anthony. That seems to be having an effect.

Portland has the pieces to get a trade done, much more so than the Thunder or Cavaliers. The Knicks would certainly ask the Blazers for the just drafted Zach Collins, and Evan Turner with his $17 million salary would be part of the deal to match up the numbers, then after that there would be other players and picks needed to round everything out. However, there are multiple ways to get that deal done.

Anthony just added Cleveland and Oklahoma City to his list of acceptable trade destinations, he likely lets Cleveland negotiate with them for a while to see if a trade can be reached. However, if no deal is reached — and it will not be easy to find a trade the Knicks like with those rosters, plus both of those teams are already paying the luxury tax so there are financial considerations — then the Trail Blazers could be in luck.