Reggie Jackson Thunder

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.

PBT Extra bold prediction previews: Can Thunder win 60 games?

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Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka are healthy — just how good will the Thunder be?

The bold prediction in this PBT Extra preview with Jenna Corrado is that the Thunder will win 60 games, something they have not yet done. I wouldn’t bet on them hitting that number — with a new coach, and them making sure Durant and Westbrook get rest coming off injuries, plus the fact they’re in the deep West, that number may be high.

I think they have a better chance to come out of the West than win 60 games. I think they have a good shot to come out of the West.

Gallinari ready to take big role in new Nuggets offense

Danilo Gallinari, Jimmy Butler
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DENVER (AP) — Danilo Gallinari wants everyone to know this: His surgically repaired left knee, the one that took three procedures to fix and nearly two seasons to fully trust, no longer bothers him.

The Denver Nuggets forward doesn’t need to be on any sort of minutes restriction. He doesn’t need days off during the season. And he certainly doesn’t need to be coddled.

He’s Gallo again, the hard-to-guard Italian playmaker who can knock down the 3-pointer just as easily as drive to the hoop or even post up. He believes he will fit in quite nicely into new coach Michael Malone’s system.

“The thing I’m focused on is trying to get (this team) back to the same level that the Nuggets were when I got to Denver, when we were going to the playoffs easy. When we were clinching a playoff one or two weeks before the season was over,” said Gallinari, who was acquired in the 2011 blockbuster deal that sent Carmelo Anthony to the New York Knicks. “We need to get back to that level.”

Almost seems so long ago, given that the Nuggets have missed the playoffs two straight seasons after consistently making it for nearly a decade.

Gallinari returned last season for the first time since blowing out his knee in a game on April 4, 2013. His minutes were closely monitored early in the season. He never really got completely on track until late last season, when he averaged 20.5 points over the final 10 contests, including a career-high 47 against Dallas. He’s hoping to carry that kind of confidence this season.

“I’m good to go. I was good to go as soon as the beginning of last year,” Gallinari said. “I was not on the same page with the coach that we had.”

That would be Brian Shaw, who was fired last March after 1 1/2 seasons in charge and going 56-85. Exactly why he wasn’t on the same page with Shaw, well, Gallinari preferred the past remain the past.

“I’m ready to play the new season,” he said. “We need to win games, and get back to the same level we were before.”

Gallinari thinks the Nuggets have the personnel to do just that, especially with a rookie point guard in Emmanuel Mudiay and Gallinari’s knee feeling better than it has in a while. He feels like he has some ground to make up, too, since he said that knee robbed him of some of his prime.

“Playing my best basketball right before I got injured,” the 27-year old said. “Now, we’re back to the same level, hopefully better.

“My knee has been feeling great. It felt great last year. Feeling great during the summer. Feeling great now. I just feel good.”

He spent the summer playing for the Italian team at the EuroBasket tournament, where he averaged nearly 18 points a game. In those games, Gallinari saw quite a bit of time at the four spot on the floor, forcing teams to either use a bulkier big man to cover him and risk getting burned on a drive or a smaller player that Gallinari could simply shoot over.

Malone plans to employ a similar type approach, something they discussed over gelato when the coach visited Gallinari in Italy soon after he was hired.

“He’s 6-foot-10. He can handle the ball. He can play pick-and-roll. He can stretch the floor and shoot the 3,” Malone said. “There’s not a lot he can’t do offensively.”

Gallinari wants the responsibility of being the go-to player for the Nuggets this season, especially at crunch time.

“I’ve always been trying to do that, since I came to Denver,” Gallinari said. “That’s what I like to do. I feel good filling those shoes.

“I want to have the ball in my hands. I do want to have the ball in my hands a lot more.”