Kevin Durant, even out injured, sparks Oklahoma City Thunder to sixth straight win

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BOSTON – Kevin Durant rose from his seat on the bench, tugging up the slack on his warm-up pants as he inched forward at nearly action that could lead to an Oklahoma City Thunder basket.

As the Thunder connected on shot after shot, Durant – out with a sore right shoulder that will be re-evaluated Saturday – repeatedly uncoiled to celebrate. While he clapped and hollered, a gaggle of supportive benchmates filed in behind him.

At times, it was if he were trying to recreate this for his active teammates:

In the second half, as the Thunder shot on the opposite end of the court from their bench, Durant relaxed a bit in his seat – he’s still  no Kent Bazemore – but Oklahoma City kept coming anyway in a 101-83 win over the Boston Celtics on Friday.

Serge Ibaka had 21 points and seven rebounds, but Jeremy Lamb was the real bright spot in Oklahoma City’s first-ever game without Durant and Russell Westbrook. Second to his career-high 22, Lamb scored 19 points, 15 of them on 7-of-11 shooting in the first half – when Durant was closest.

“He’s one of the best players in the game, best scorer in the game – for him to cheer for us, it’s huge,” Lamb said. “You always, when you’re on the road, you’ve got to lean on your bench sometimes to get energy. And he definitely was on the bench giving energy.”

As much as Durant’s energy, the Thunder needed stiffer defense, and they had it in the third quarter. Oklahoma City’s defensive rating was 52.8 in that period as it outscored the Celtics 27-13.

“We gave a good effort and played for one another,” said Thabo Sefolosha, who shot 6-for-6. “But that’s a staple of our team. It’s no different if KD and Russ are there or not.”

For many teams riding a five-game win streak that most recently including thrilling wins over the powerful Spurs and Trail Blazers, a potential letdown would seem concerning.

“I’ve never had that problem with our guys,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said.

Even sidelined, Durant proved that.

Warriors hope to get Shaun Livingston, Matt Barnes back for second round

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — The Golden State Warriors hope to get injured reserves Shaun Livingston and Matt Barnes back from injuries for the second round of the playoffs after getting more than a week off between series.

The Warriors said Saturday that Barnes has been upgraded to probable for Tuesday night’s Game 1 and Livingston remains questionable but is hopeful he will be ready to return. Star forward Kevin Durant is expected to be a full go after missing two games and being limited to 20 minutes in Game 4 last round because of a strained left calf.

Barnes has been sidelined since April 8, while Livingston sprained a finger on his right hand in Game 1 of the first-round against Portland.

Golden State begins the second round at home on Tuesday night against the winner of Sunday’s Game 7 between the Los Angeles Clippers and Utah Jazz. The Warriors have been off since sweeping the Trail Blazers last Monday, giving them more than a week between games.

“I’m trying to make sure I rest it as much as I possibly can, because when I do come back I plan on staying all the way back,” Livingston said Saturday. “Hopefully it will be ready for Tuesday.”

After taking Tuesday and Thursday off following their first-round sweep, the Warriors practiced for a second straight day Saturday. They plan to practice again on Sunday and then again Monday once they know their second-round opponent.

There is no update on the status of coach Steve Kerr, who missed the final two games of the first round because of complications from two back surgeries. Kerr talks daily with interim coach Mike Brown and took part in coaching meetings Friday but was not at practice on Saturday.

PBT Extra: Rockets vs. Spurs far more than Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden

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Kawhi Leonard vs. James Harden. Two MVP candidates matching up in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

However, the San Antonio Spurs vs. Houston Rockets is much more than that.

It’s a battle of pace. It’s a chess match between two of the best coaches in the game. It’s about which team’s role players are going to step up.

I talk about all of that in this latest PBT Extra. Plus, of course, when Leonard will guard Harden.

How to start your Saturday night: Watching 15 minutes of best plays from NBA season

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There are no NBA playoff games Saturday night, the first night since the start of the postseason there hasn’t been one game. Don’t worry, there are two games on Sunday, including Game 7 between the Jazz and Clippers.

But if you need a Saturday night fix, this will have to do: 15 minutes of the best plays from last season, as compiled by NBA.com.

Go ahead, watch it. You’ve got nothing better to do.

 

Paul Millsap says the expected, he will “most likely” opt out of contract

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This is ranked right next to “overeating can lead to weight gain” on the list of surprising things, but we will dutifully report it anyway:

Paul Millsap is going to opt out and officially become a free agent this summer.

Atlanta’s owner as well as Mike Budenholzer, the coach and head of basketball operations, have both said they plan to do whatever it takes to re-sign Millsap with the Hawks. Millsap didn’t sound like someone eager to leave after the Hawks were eliminated from the playoffs Friday.

“It’s been great. I’m looking to expand this and see where the franchise can go. These last four years has been great. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Even with both sides singing Kumbaya, keeping Millsap in Atlanta likely means a five-year contract at or near the max, which for a 32-year-old player means the Hawks would regret the last year or two of that deal.

Not that the Hawks have much of a choice here, they have to come in big and keep him. For one, they can’t afford to lose Al Horford and then Millsap for nothing in back-to-back years. If they were going down the rebuilding road, they needed to trade Millsap at the deadline (or last summer) to make sure they got something in return. Atlanta explored trade options at the deadline, but then pulled back (rumored to be because of an edict from ownership, which didn’t want to see the team blown up after the Kyle Korver trade).

By not making that trade the Hawks signaled their intention to remain a good team — a 43-win team this season that got them the five seed — with Dennis Schroder and Dwight Howard, one that draws well at an arena that historically has not been that full, and see if they can add on. They strike me as a team that will win between 42-50 games a year and be middle of the pack in the East for the next few years, unless they can find a way to add an elite player (which is incredibly difficult).

But if the Hawks can’t re-sign Millsap, then the plan gets blown up. So expect them to come in with a big offer come July 1.