Thunder race out to early lead, get comfortable win over Clippers

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If you watched Thursday night’s Thunder win over the Clippers, and compared it to the first time these two teams met — at least up to the point in that first game when Serge Ibaka was ejected — you could come away saying that the Thunder are just flat out better than the Clippers. At least right now.

They were Thursday night when the Thunder led from the opening tip and were in control the whole way of a 105-91 win in Oklahoma City. Los Angeles make little runs but never got this to a one possession game, and whenever they’d get close the Thunder had answers — the game never felt in doubt.

OKC opened the game on a 13-3 run, led by Kevin Durant who did as he pleased in the first quarter on his way to 12 points (he finished the game with 28).

More than that, there were two other real keys to this game that are more troubling signs for the Clippers if they are looking ahead to more meaningful games against the Thunder or other elite teams.

First, when Serge Ibaka is on the court he gives the Clippers big men fits. Ibaka finished with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting, plus he had five rebounds and three blocks. He also plays good defense on Griffin, although Griffin still had 27 points and showed off a solid midrange game (from the left side of the court, anyway, where he was 5-of-6 outside the key).

Second, and the bigger long-term issue in Los Angeles, is they are not getting enough from the bench. The Thunder bench outplayed the Clippers reserves — Jeremy Lamb had 11 points and was +9, Reggie Jackson had 9 points and was +14, Steven Adams had 6 points, 7 rebounds and was +10. The Clippers count on Jamal Crawford to create offense (he had 18 points) but Ryan Hollins was a -12, Darren Collison -7 and nobody else played well.

Look at it this way: in the 17 minutes the starting five played together the Clippers were -3, once you had to mix anyone else in with them and Los Angeles was -11. Missing Matt Barnes (eye injury) was part of it, but that’s not all of it.

There are all kinds of caveats here for the Clippers. First, you can’t read much into November games, teams evolve and improve (usually) over the course of the season. Second, this was a schedule makers loss — the Clippers went to OKC on the second night of a back-to-back while the Thunder were rested.

Still, what these two early games showed me is that the Clippers have a lot of work to do this season. Maybe some with the roster, certainly some with Doc Rivers getting his bench to buy into the defense.

Oklahoma City is back to where they were a year ago before the Russell Westbrook injury — they are contenders. The Clippers are still aspiring.

Kobe Bryant nominated for Oscar

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Does Kobe Bryant need another trophy? He might get one – at the Oscars.

Bryant, the retired Los Angeles Lakers star, was nominated in the animated short category for “Dear Basketball,” based on a poem he wrote in 2015 announcing his impending retirement from basketball. He was nominated along with veteran Disney animator Glen Keane.

Bryant’s poem begins: “Dear Basketball, from the moment I started rolling my dad’s tube socks, and shooting imaginary game-winning shots in the Great Western Forum, I knew one thing was real: I fell in love with you.”

It reflects on how time is running out. “I can’t love you obsessively for much longer,” it says. “This season is all I have left to give. My heart can take the pounding, my mind can handle the grind. But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.”

It ends by counting down the final five seconds on a game clock:

Bryant, 39, a five-time NBA champion, played 20 seasons with the Lakers before retiring last year.

Report: Cavaliers, Kings still talking George Hill for Shumpert, Frye trade

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The Cleveland Cavaliers are going to make moves at the deadline — they have surveyed the landscape and realize they may need help just to get out of the East this season, forget about the Warriors (or even Rockets).

It’s been reported before that Sacramento guard George Hill is of interest to Cleveland. The Cavs could use guard help — they have Isaiah Thomas at the point, and a combination of Dwyane Wade (really a three), Iman Shumpert (injured) and the starter J.R. Smith at the two. Hill is a defensive upgrade, can play some backup point guard, and generally give them solid minutes when healthy.

Which is why the sides are still talking, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

Channing Frye and Shumpert straight up for Hill works as a legal trade. It also works for the Cavaliers, as Frye and Shumpert are not part of the rotation. But adding another older player (31) who has an injury history (he hasn’t played even 50 games the past two seasons) to this roster comes with a lot of risks. Is it really worth that for Cleveland? This is not a deal that changes things much, it’s just a better fit for the Cavs.

It’s less of a good deal for the Kings, who want a deal that is about how it helps them two or three years from now as they rebuild. The only advantage Shumpert and Frye give the Kings is their contracts are shorter — Frye is a free agent next summer, Shumpert has a player option at $11 million for next season, while Hill has two more years after this one on his contract. However, neither player would be part of the Kings’ long-term plans, so the Kings likely want a pick or something else in this deal to make it work for them.

The Cavaliers are going to do something at the deadline. What remains to be seen. While there may be trades that help them get out of the East, there isn’t anyone available who solves their Warriors problems, and if they can’t get that it’s hard to imagine them throwing in the Brooklyn pick in a trade (their biggest chip). The moves will be smaller, not grand ones.

John Wall calls J.J. Barea ‘little midget’, Barea says Wizards teammates dislike Wall

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J.J. Barea got hit with a technical foul for jawing with John Wall during the Mavericks’ win over the Wizards yesterday.

The trash talk only intensified after the game.

Wall, via Chase Hughes of NBC Sports Washington:

“It was cool. It was funny. It was just a little midget trying to get mad. So, I paid him no mind.”

Barea, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“Now I have somebody in the NBA that I don’t like,” Barea said. “That’s my first. I don’t like him at all now. But I don’t think his teammates like him, either. So it’s nothing new for him.”

Barea is short, listed at 6-foot.

Do Wall’s teammates dislike him? A lot of that perception stems from his relationship with Bradley Beal, and it seems their biggest troubles are behind them. But the chemistry in Washington isn’t quite right. The latest evidence:

The Wizards got outscored by a whopping 20 points while diminutive J.J. Barea was on the court last night.

And that’s how you burn the burners.

LeBron James congratulates himself, ‘Young King,’ on reaching 30,000 points later tonight

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The Cavaliers have lost nine of 12. Prominent Cleveland players are raising concerns about the roster. Rumors are swirling about coach Tyronn Lue getting fired. The locker room is in disarray. Some Cavs are even pointing the finger at LeBron James himself.

And this is what LeBron posts to Instagram hours before tonight’s Cavaliers-Spurs game:

Wanna be one of the first to Congratulate you on this accomplishment/achievement tonight that you’ll reach! Only a handful has reach/seen it too and while I know it’s never been a goal of yours from the beginning try(please try) to take a moment for yourself on how you’ve done it! The House you’re about to be apart of has only 6 seats in it(as of now) but 1 more will be added and you should be very proud and honored to be invited inside. There’s so many people to thank who has help this even become possible(so thank them all) and when u finally get your moment(alone) to yourself smile, look up to the higher skies and say THANK YOU! So with that said, Congrats again Young King 🤴🏾! 1 Love! #striveforgreatness🚀 #thekidfromakron👑

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LeBron is just seven points from 30,000. The only players to score so much in their careers: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, Michael Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain and Dirk Nowitzki.

It’ll be a nice milestone for LeBron, but he darn well better score those seven points tonight. Not getting there tonight would be the simplest way to make this even more insufferable.