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Clippers rally to beat Thunder following ejection of Serge Ibaka

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LOS ANGELES — The Thunder looked to be well on their way to a convincing win over the Clippers on Wednesday, following a strong first half that saw them dominating the game offensively, and doing so with relative ease.

But the results of an entanglement between Serge Ibaka and Blake Griffin with 6.2 seconds remaining in the half changed all of that, and the loss of Ibaka via ejection impacted the game to the point where the Clippers took control almost immediately to begin the second half.

A 30-16 third quarter sealed OKC’s fate, and L.A. finished with a 111-103 victory to improve to 6-3 on the season. It was the Thunder’s second loss of the year, but head coach Scott Brooks refused to blame it on the loss of Ibaka, who had already amassed 13 points on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting in under 17 minutes of action.

“They just got tangled up,” Brooks said, when asked to explain how he saw it afterward. “That’s part of it. That’s nothing that I get into. I respect what they do, my job is to coach. Players play, officials officiate the game. I have no complaints about what happened. The bottom line is they outplayed us, they created some turnovers on our part, and offensive rebounds. That’s why we lost the game. We didn’t lose the game because of that incident.”

The incident, as Brooks put it, unfolded after Ibaka flung Griffin toward the floor after the two became entangled. Matt Barnes was right there as he always seems to be, and immediately shoved Ibaka, escalating the situation. Barnes was also ejected, but it didn’t have nearly the same impact. And not surprisingly, Doc Rivers didn’t think that what Barnes did warranted an early shower.

“The only way I think Matt can possibly get thrown out in that situation is if they say he was the instigator of the whole thing,” Rivers said. “I didn’t see it that way. Clearly, I thought Ibaka grabbed Blake and swung him around, and I thought that was what instigated everything. Matt is a tough guy and he sticks up for his teammates, at least he did on that one. And that’s good.”

Barnes may be done playing the part of enforcer, at least if a since-deleted message he posted to his Twitter account is to be believed. “I love my teammates like family, but I’m DONE standing up for these [n—–]! All this [s—] does is cost me money,” he wrote.

Regardless of how everyone views what happened, the impact on the game’s outcome was undeniable. The Thunder were already without starting center Kendrick Perkins, who is away from the team due to a death in the family, and with Ibaka disqualified that left them extremely thin on the front line. OKC was getting whatever it wanted offensively in the first half — the team scored 33 points in the final 8:05 of the first quarter, by the time they had the lead to 11 in the second they had scored 26 of 42 points in the paint, and the spacing Ibaka helped provide was an important part of the Thunder shooting 54.5 percent from the field over the first two periods.

Ibaka claimed he hadn’t seen a replay of what happened, so he didn’t want to talk too much about it afterward. He also seemed done with it, no doubt empowered by his teammates and their “no excuses” mantra that was everywhere after this one.

“It’s a physical game, and anything can happen,” Ibaka said. “The referee made the decision, so I’ll take it. I didn’t see the video of it afterward, so I’ll need to watch it.

“I was very disappointed, but I’ll learn from my mistake,” Ibaka said. “All I can do know is focus on the next game.”

Kevin Durant did the heavy lifting for his team, finishing with 33 points and 10 assists, with 18 coming in the second half. He blamed everything but the ejection of Ibaka for the loss, while sticking to repeating his coach’s message that there were plenty of other reasons the game was lost.

“We’re not making no excuses,” Durant said. “We’ve got to finish the game out. No excuses. No matter who’s out there, we’ve just got to play. They beat us.”

Enes Kanter on claim nobody wants to play with Russell Westbrook: ‘Wrong!!!’

SAN ANTONIO,TX - MAY 10:  Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder celebrates with Enes Kanter #11 after a win against the San Antonio Spurs in game Five of the Western Conference Semifinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on May 10, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  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 Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant might have left the Thunder, in part, because he grew tired of playing with Russell Westbrook.

But does that mean nobody wants to play with Westbrook?

Presented with that claim, Oklahoma City center Enes Kanter refuted it strongly:

Of course, many players want to play with Russell Westbrook. He’s a great player and even better competitor. People want to be around someone so maniacal about winning and capable of delivering.

But there’s an obvious difference between Kanter and Durant. It’s much easier for a pick-and-roll big man than a superstar wing to play with Westbrook.

Westbrook tends to over-dribble, and he can be selfish. I’d understand Durant preferring a team with more ball movement like the Warriors.

Kanter doesn’t have the cachet to pick any team at any salary like Durant did. Of his options, Kanter is probably genuinely happy to play with Westbrook. And the Thunder should be happy to have Westbrook (as long as they do). His strengths far outweigh his flaws.

No scoring star seamlessly blend with each other. Even LeBron James and Dwyane Wadeclose friends and one an elite passer — struggled to mesh early in their Heat days. It’s just hard when there’s one ball.

So, it’s unfair to kill Westbrook for this drawback to his game. Maybe he’d click better with another star who’s more aggressive than Durant. And it’s not even as if Westbrook and Durant failed together. Oklahoma City won a lot of games with those two.

Plenty of players would sign up to replace Durant as Westbrook’s partner in crime.

Report: Amar’e Stoudemire wanted to play for Suns next season

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Amar'e Stoudemire #1 of the Phoenix Suns looks at the scoreboard late in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game Two of the Western Conference Finals during the 2010 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2010 in Los Angeles, California. 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 Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Amar’e Stoudemire — despite spending more time and having more success with the Suns — signed with the Knicks to retire.

Why not Phoenix?

John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7:

Stoudemire was linked to the Suns last year, but a return never happened.

It didn’t make more sense now. Phoenix already has 15 players, the regular-season roster limit. John Jenkins and Alan Williams have unguaranteed deals, but why waive one for Stoudemire? The Suns are semi-rebuilding, and Tyson Chandler already serves as a veteran big.

There’s a reason Stoudemire retired rather then sign somewhere. Maybe nobody wanted him.

But it’s also only July, and teams are still filling out their rosters. If Stoudemire wants to keep playing, he might have opportunities later, especially after the trade deadline. He’s just 33. There’s now reason to believe his retirement won’t stick.

Thunder renounce Derek Fisher

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 25: Oklahoma City Thunder Derek Fisher #6 runs up the court against the San Antonio Spurs during Game Three of the Western Conference Finals of the 2014 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 25, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Derek Fisher is already stumping for his second head-coaching job.

Fisher has done plenty since retiring as a player — getting hired by the Knicks, getting fired by the Knicks and in between being attacked by Matt Barnes and finding another controversy about player relations.

All the while, Fisher counted against the cap for the Thunder, his last NBA team.

Oklahoma City finally renounced him to sign Alex Abrines.

Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops:

This is one of my favorite salary-cap quirks, explained in further detail here.

These are becoming fewer and further between, because teams are using cap room more frequently as the salary cap skyrockets. Gone are the days of a team operating above the cap for a dozen straight years.

There’s also even less utility in old cap holds now that a player must have played the prior season for a team to be used in a sign-and-trade. (Not that these holds were useful except the rarest of occasions prior, anyway.)

Fisher’s quick transition from playing to coaching helped make this an exception, allowing this weird (and trivial) transaction.

Report: Las Vegas also in contention for 2017 NBA All-Star game

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 25:  Bushwacker, a world champion bucking bull, appears at the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign prior to the final ride of his legendary career on October 25, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by David Becker/Getty Images for Professional Bull Riders)
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Where will the NBA hold the 2017 All-Star game?

Charlotte? No.

New Orleans? Probably.

New York/Brooklyn or Chicago? Maybe.

One more maybe: Las Vegas.

Scott Kusher of The Advocate:

The NBA held All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas in 2007. By all accounts, it was wild.

I’d be surprised if the league returned the event to Las Vegas, but at this point, I’d really be surprised by any option besides New Orleans.