Grizzlies advance to Conference finals for first time in team history after Game 5 win over Thunder

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The Memphis Grizzlies have punched a ticket to the Western Conference finals for the first time in franchise history, thanks to closing out the Thunder 88-84 with a Game 5 victory in Oklahoma City.

The Thunder were going to need a superstar performance out of Kevin Durant in order to extend this series, and just as has been the case over the past few games, it simply didn’t come to pass.

Durant started this elimination game by missing his first seven shots, perhaps due to the fact that he was trying to do too much in the early part of things to keep his team within reach. He finished shooting just 5-of-21 from the field, with 21 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and seven turnovers.

With Durant unable to carry his undermanned team, the Grizzlies were able to lead by double digits for most of the game. They got a huge performance out of Zach Randolph, who contributed 28 points and 14 rebounds, and everyone else did just enough for Memphis to come out on top.

Oklahoma City made a late run to make a game of it, and legitimately had a chance to steal this one in the final minutes to extend the series.

After the Grizzlies had re-established a double digit lead with under three minutes to play, the Thunder went on a furious run to get back into it, and cut the lead to just two on a three-pointer from Reggie Jackson with 14 seconds remaining. An intentional foul by the Thunder sent Randolph to the free throw line, but he missed both of his attempts, giving the Thunder one final chance.

Somewhat miraculously, Durant was able to free himself from Tony Allen, and received the ball with a wide-open look from not much more than 15 feet out. Durant makes that shot in his sleep, yet couldn’t get it to go on this night, and the Grizzlies sealed the game at the free throw line following the rebound of the missed shot.

Once Russell Westbrook was lost for the remainder of the postseason due to injury, few expected the Thunder to advance beyond the second round. The fact that they were able to stay close with the Grizzlies until the final moments of every game in this series is a testament to their collective will, as well as to Durant’s ability to singlehandedly be great for extended stretches.

The Grizzlies were by no means dominant in this series, and those who are penciling them into an NBA Finals matchup with the Heat should be cautious in remembering just how efficient the Spurs can be on both ends of the floor before sliding Memphis past them into the championship round.

But regardless of how much you may choose to overvalue this Memphis team, this is a massive accomplishment for the Grizzlies, especially given how inconsistent they were during the regular season. The confidence they’ve gained to this point in the playoffs will serve them well in the Conference finals, though they’ll have to be much more efficient offensively to take down the likes of the Spurs in a seven game series in the next round.

Report: Former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett signing with Suns

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Getting cut by the NBA-worst Nets was a low point for former No. 1 pick Anthony Bennett, but at least he had a guaranteed salary and got paid out through the end of the year.

That won’t be the case with the Suns.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

This is a no-risk flier for Phoenix. If Bennett plays well enough in the preseason, the 24-year-old will make the regular season roster. If not, the Suns won’t owe him anything.

Bennett has a chance to stick. Phoenix has just 13 players with guaranteed salaries, leaving two standard-contract spots open on the regular-season roster. Bennett will compete with Derrick Jones Jr., Elijah Millsap, Peter Jok and anyone else the Suns sign.

I don’t love Bennett’s odds. He hasn’t looked like an NBA player, and he’s reaching the age where current production matters more than potential. But by virtue of being the top pick a few years ago, he carries more intrigue than the typical player of his caliber.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey: Lottery-reform proposal ‘not doing a whole lot’

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Rockets general manager Daryl Morey supports the NBA’s lottery-reform proposal:

But that doesn’t mean Morey believes the proposal is a silver bullet.

Morey, via Bleacher Report:

Let’s be clear. This reform is not doing a whole lot, right?

And I keep saying: If it was already in place, no one would talk about it. If it wasn’t in place – all these people are talking about it because it’s coming up for probably a vote here in a minutes. Otherwise, no one would be talking about it. Everyone would be like, “Oh, yeah. Of course the bottom three lottery odds are flat. That’s how it’s always been.” It’s a very minor change, and it fixes some pretty important problems in terms of how the incentives work at the bottom of the draft, and I don’t think it changes much in any other way.

And then the best argument is the people who are frustrated the league is unbalanced between destination and non-destination cities, they say, “Because that whole system might be broken, I’m going to be against this minor, logical, simple reform.” I don’t really buy that. Let’s fix the other issues in another way, but you can still be for this reform and say we need larger reform that attacks those issues in a more fundamental way. But it doesn’t change that this is a good, logical step we’re taking.

Morey is aggressively logical, and you can see that at work here. If the new rule is better than the old rule, owners should vote for it. It shouldn’t matter which was already in place. For similar reasons, I argued against shelving lottery reform just because new national TV contracts would increase the salary cap.

Morey is also right that this is a minor reform. There’s still value in tanking, even if not quite as much. Finishing with the league’s worst record still guarantees a top-five pick with team control for five years and the inside track on keeping the player for far longer.

There’s even still value in jockeying among the league’s three worst teams, which will have identical lottery odds if this proposal passes. If a team isn’t drawn for the top four, it will be slotted in reverse order of record. The No. 1 seed in the lottery has a 20% greater chance than the No. 2 seed of picking higher between the two, and the No. 2 seed has a 20% greater chance than the No. 3  seed of picking higher between the two, according to fantastic Ryan Bernardoni of Celtics Hub.

So, this lottery reform might only minimally change behavior.

Another thing to consider: NBA owners are far more risk-averse than Morey. If this reform passes, owners will take years to evaluate it before making more meaningful changes to address the problem (if you believe there’s a problem at all). So, a step in the right direction (again, if you believe this is the right direction) is effectively a small step and a pause that could delay bigger steps.

Three questions the Detroit Pistons must answer this season

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The NBC/ProBasketballTalk season previews will ask the questions each of the 30 NBA teams must answer to make their season a success. We are looking at one team a day until the start of the season, and it begins with a look back at the team’s offseason moves.

Last Season: 37-45, missed the playoffs following Detroit’s first postseason berth in six years

I know what you did last summer: The Pistons paid the price of Marcus Morris to upgrade from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope to Avery Bradley, who’s still on a relatively cheap old-TV-money deal for one more season. Detroit also seemingly spent well above market rate (three years, $21 million) for Langston Galloway, who plays the same position as No. 12 pick Luke Kennard. Anthony Tolliver returned after a season with the Kings.

THREE QUESTIONS THE PISTONS MUST ANSWER:

1) Will Reggie Jackson revert to form? Two years ago, Jackson was a solid starting point guard propelling the Pistons on an upward track. He started last season injured then never found his footing.

Jackson wasn’t exactly the Pistons’ problem last year. But he was central to all the Pistons’ problems last year.

He just didn’t attack the rim the same way, which hindered Andre Drummond‘s abilities in the pick-and-roll and Detroit’s other players getting as much space on 3-pointers. Meanwhile, Jackson stuck with the heavy-dribble, high-usage style he had grown accustomed to. Considering he was far less effective while still dominating the ball, that might have contributed to some infighting.

But if the worst thing about Jackson is that he doesn’t know how to adjust when not fully healthy, that doesn’t matter if he’s fully healthy.

2) Will Avery Bradley make the Pistons eager to invest in him long-term? Instead of paying Kentavious Caldwell-Pope this summer, Detroit set itself up to pay Bradley next summer.

This could go a few ways. Bradley could play poorly and not be welcomed back, which would be troubling very soon. But as long as he plays at least moderately well, the Pistons will probably pony up. They’re on track to be capped out even if he leaves in unrestricted free agency, and they’ll also likely want to save face on this summer’s moves as long as it’s feasible.

If Bradley merely meets the lowest expectations Detroit has for him and then re-signs on a lucrative contract, that wouldn’t be so bad. He’d probably be overpaid, but that’d likely be a manageable deal for the Pistons.

If Bradley truly thrives, though, that’d be a boon for Detroit in the short and long terms. In this cap environment, his salary probably wouldn’t climb much higher, and the Pistons would have a really good player.

The 26-year-old Bradley will get his chances. A lockdown perimeter defender, he’s likely in line for an expanded offensive role. This is a great situation for him entering free agency.

3) Will Andre Drummond take the next step? Drummond’s flaws are glaring. He’s an all-time bad free-throw shooter. He posts up far too much with ugly post moves. His effort and focus can wane.

But he’s still darned effective. With elite physical tools and a nose for the ball, Drummond is an elite rebounder. He finishes well in the pick-and-roll, and he can be disruptive defensively.

Despite the complaints of his detractors, Drummond is worth having on the floor. The good outweighs the bad.

That isn’t enough, though. The Pistons have treated him like a franchise player – max contract and a roster built around him. For their season to truly be a success, they need him become a star.

That starts defensively, where Drummond has shown flashes but taken just baby steps overall. If he locks in mentally and plays more energetically on that end more consistently, Detroit would be in far better shape.

Kevin Durant YouTube comment presaged Twitter/Instagram fiasco

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Kevin Durant admitted he went too far on social media, though he didn’t quite admit to the clear revelation: He has additional Twitter and Instagram accounts he used to anonymously fire back at his critics.

Who does that? More specifically, what kind of millionaire NBA-champion superstar does that?

Durant provided a glimpse into his mindset last week, when he replied to this YouTube comment about the insoles of his Finals shoes:

Who cares what people think . Just do you. Someone of stature, shouldn’t worry about stuff like that.

Durant:

of my stature, I play basketball, I got acne, I grew up with nothing, in still figuring myself out in my late 20, I slide in DMs, I make fun of my friends, I drink beers and play Xbox. I’m closer to you than u think

That Durant was interacting in YouTube comments – YouTube comments! – says plenty on its own. That’s the cesspool of internet commenting.

But the content of the reply is also illuminating. Durant is insecure. I think that’s pretty clear at this point.

There will always be people who accept nothing less than the ruthlessness of Michael Jordan from NBA stars. But maybe, once this scandal passes, some will find Durant’s vulnerability endearing.