Thunder snap Spurs win streak, show they have some depth

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It’s not quite “James Harden who?” But the Thunder may be taking steps in that direction.

What has been the knock on the Oklahoma City Thunder as a title threat? Depth. Yes they have two elite scorers in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, plus some quality guys like Serge Ibaka, but if you can get into their bench you can beat OKC.

Which is what the Spurs did — except the Thunder bench shot 78 percent on the night and won OKC the game.

Reggie Jackson had 23 points on 10-of-14 shooting, Jeremy Lamb had 12 points and the spark they brought in off the bench — plus some good team defense by OKC all night — gave the Thunder a 94-88 win at home. The loss snapped the Spurs 11 game winning streak.

This is not a statement game — both of these teams know there are no statements made in November. Not if you’re a contender. But this game could be a sign that OKC is going to get get more out of their bench than expected, and that could take them a long way later in the season.

San Antonio focused its defense on not letting the Thunder stars take over and it worked — Durant had 24 points but needed 23 shots to do it, Russell Westbrook was a disaster at 2-of-16 shooting. However the Thunder had a strong defensive game as well, holding the Spurs to 39.1 percent shooting and just 88.7 points per 100 possessions (the Spurs average 104.9 per 100 on the season).

Tony Parker had 16 points for the Spurs but needed 16 shots to get there. Kawhi Leonard had 14 points on 18 shots, Tim Duncan 11 points on 14 shots. It was that kind of night of the Spurs.

Serge Ibaka had a strong game for the Thunder, with 17 points and 11 rebounds, but it was the five blocks and numerous changed shots in the paint that were bigger.

The Spurs advanced to the NBA Finals last season, but the athleticism of the Thunder has always given them trouble. It did again on Wednesday. This one game will not mean anything if these teams meet in May in a playoff series, but the bench play and defense are reminder that the Thunder can beat the Spurs and are legit contenders when on their game.

Brandon Jennings no fan of the NBA’s new Awards Ceremony event

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Come June 26, Drake will be on stage in New York City, handing out the NBA’s awards — Most Valuable Player, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, and so on. (We need to set an under/over on the number of players Drake hugs that night.)

The NFL does it. The NHL does it. And the NBA has decided to follow suit with a broadcast awards ceremony where everything — except the All-NBA Team — will be announced that night. It’s happening because the broadcast partners want it.

Brandon Jennings is not a fan. Here is what the Wizards’ point guard Tweeted:

Jennings took down a Tweet that said if he had won the award he would have wanted to get it with the organization and his teammates around him. (And no, he knows he’s not winning the award. If you were going to put that in the comments be more creative.)

There’s something to what Jennings is saying. The NBA award roll out was awkward at times in previous years, but it gave the fans a chance to celebrate the awards with their favorite player. Now, everyone will watch it unfold on television from a ballroom in NYC. That feels a little colder. Also, we will get to see the reaction of those who don’t win (particularly this season, where several players can make a strong case for MVP).

It will be interesting to see how this first year goes, and how the league tweaks it going forward. The more than two month gap between the end of the regular season and the awards could feel a bit awkward. But we’re not going to knock the idea until we’ve seen it in action.

Portland GM makes it official, Festus Ezeli will not be back with team next season

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This season the Portland Trail Blazers found their center of the future (and the present) in Jusuf Nurkic.

Which makes the next step fairly obvious: Portland will not pick up the option on Festus Ezeli for next season, GM Neil Olshay confirmed at the team exit meetings Tuesday.

Portland signed Ezeli on what they thought was a great contract (one-year, $7.4 million, with a team option for the second year) because he was coming off knee surgery last summer. However, Ezeli was never healthy, needed a second surgery, and never got on the court. After taking it slow over last summer he practiced with the team twice in mid-October, there was more swelling, so he pulled back.

This summer Ezeli will not draw any guaranteed money from teams, but some teams may take a look at him. Athletic bigs get a lot of chances in the NBA.

Gordon Hayward will play for Jazz in Game 5 without minutes restriction

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Gordon Hayward has averaged 20.5 points a game in these playoffs — and that includes a 40 point outburst in Game 3 — but what has been more impressive is he has done it efficiently, with a true shooting percentage of 61.1. While Joe Johnson and others have stepped up, Utah will need Hayward’s shot creation if they are going to win this series.

They will have it Tuesday night in Game 5.

After missing the second half of Game 4 due to food poisoning (he tried to play but was ineffective in the first half), he is back and ready to go this time around.

So is Rudy Gobert. The Jazz will be at full health, while the Clippers remain without Blake Griffin for the remainder of the playoffs.

Having those two back is a boost for the Jazz, they need to score more consistently against the Clippers, but the bigger key will be defensively trying to deal with Chris Paul on the pick-and-roll. He has been masterful this series, and the Jazz need to keep him in check to give their offense a chance.

When NBA switches to Nike uniforms next season, Hornets will move to Jordan Brand

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There are not going to be dramatic changes to the look of the NBA when Nike takes over the apparel contract for next season, replacing Adidas. Instead of the Adidas logo, there will be a swoosh, sleeved jerseys will fade away, and some teams will modify their alternate jerseys, but the league is not getting a total uniform makeover next season. Things will look basically the same.

Except in Charlotte — they will not have a swoosh, they will have the Jordan Jumpman logo.

The why is obvious — Michael Jordan is the primary owner of the Hornets and, obviously, the guy the Jordan brand was named after. The Jordan Brand is part of Nike. The Hornets made the announcement this week buried in a press release about moving the fan shop at the arena, hat tip to Sole Collector for finding this. Here is what the release says:

The re-opening of the Hornets Fan Shop will coincide with the launch of the team’s new Jordan Brand uniforms as Nike becomes the NBA’s uniform provider beginning this season.  The Hornets will be the only team in the NBA wearing Jordan Brand uniforms, and with the agreement taking effect, the Hornets Fan Shop will have even more of the popular Jordan Brand Hornets merchandise than it has had previously.

While it’s not like the Lakers or Celtics are going to be changing up their traditional uniforms, even teams like the Hornets will keep a similar look under Nike.

What should be interesting to see is what the Christmas Day and All-Star uniforms look like under a Nike touch.