Kevin Durant, Nicolas Batum

Kevin Durant dislikes dark ‘Slim Reaper’ nickname

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To compete at the highest levels, Michael Jordan channeled something inside himself, something dark and menacing.

Sometimes, it made him really unlikable, even to his teammates. But it also separated him from several similarly talented players to the point there’s little debate about the greatest player of all time.

Jordan’s mean streak both helped him win six championships and embarrass himself during his Hall of Fame acceptance speech. He couldn’t turn it off. There was nothing phony about it.

Because Jordan has become the standard for any wing superstar that has followed him, several members of the current generation have tried to emulate Jordan’s competitive nature – not only in intensity, but style too. Kobe Bryant flashes a similar rage at times, and after resisting for a while, so has LeBron James.

Kevin Durant, though, has been different.

His on-court persona ranges from calmly focused to jubilant. He never really seemed to be playing from a place of hate – at least until Russell Westbrook’s latest injury.

Since then, Durant’s in-game demeanor has seemed a little more angered, a little more cold. Maybe he’s mad about having to carry the load himself. Maybe he’s mad about critics too quickly writing off the Thunder. Maybe he’s mad about something else in his life we know nothing about.

But he has looked at least a little different, and that’s coincided with him playing the best basketball of his career.

During this stretch, he’s gotten a new nickname – “Slim Reaper.” (Personally, I wasn’t ready for Durant to outgrow “Durantula.” He’s so long, and he’s so skilled, it sometimes seems as if he’s working with more arms than the rest of us.)

He’s also thin and slays opponents, though, so “Slim Reaper” fits the Durant we’ve seen lately. But is this who Durant has become on the court? If so, the nickname should stick. But if he reverts to his previous demeanor once Westbrook returns, it probably won’t fit that well anymore.

If Durant had his druthers, the nickname would change before that.

Durant, via Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

“I’m here to shine a bright light,” Durant said. “I’m not here to be a guy of, I guess, death. I just like KD better.”

“That name is what it is,” Durant said. “It’s cool to have a nickname somebody else gave to you. It’s kind of weird if you make your own nickname up. But to have that out there, I guess, is cool…Everybody’s been loving the name. I think I’m the only one that really doesn’t like it too much.”

Good luck, Durant. I’m not sure there’s an NBA player who’s expressed more dislike for his nickname than Andre Iguodala, and nearly nobody has stopped calling him “Iggy.”

But if Durant wants any chance of dumping his new nickname, he must return to playing with a little more outward joy in his game, because the Durant we’ve seen lately definitely seems like a Slim Reaper.

Sunday is 16th anniversary of greatest dunk ever: Vince Carter over Frederic Weis

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It was the last game of the group stage of the 2000 Olympic basketball tournament at the Sydney Olympics, the USA was taking on France, another USA win on its way to another gold medal.

But what we all remember is this one play — Vince Carter dunking over the 7’2″ French center Frederic Weis.

Best. Dunk. Ever.

By anyone.

Weis was never the same.

In an impressive career — two-time All-NBA, eight-time All-Star, hours and hours of crazy highlights — this is always going to be the highlight at the top of the list. So we will use the anniversary of this dunk to look at it one more time.

Hat tip to nitramy at NBA Reddit.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford suggests allowing teams to advance ball in final two minutes without timeout

Steve Clifford
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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The final minutes of a close NBA game rank among the best moments in sports – which is pretty remarkable, considering frequent stoppages interrupt and impede enjoyment of the game.

Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout. Clutch play. Timeout.

Coaches should probably call fewer timeouts, because drawing up a play also allows the defense to set. But timeouts give the offense the option of advancing the inbound spot into the frontcourt, a key advantage. So, teams will keep calling timeouts.

Unless…

Steve Aschburner of NBA.com:

For Charlotte’s Steve Clifford, the ability in the final two minutes of a game to advance the ball without requiring a timeout to be called could speed up the action. That has been used on a trial basis in the D League and in Summer League, and several coaches felt it worked well.

“The game is at an all-time high in popularity, but a lot of people complain about the last two minutes,” Clifford said. “I think it would add a different dimension but it would also be a good thing in addressing our biggest issue.”

Not that the coaches would be willing to lose any of their timeouts, though. They just wouldn’t save them specifically for that purpose.

I’m here for that.

I’m unsurprised control-seeking coaches want to keep all their timeouts, and reducing those seems unlikely, anyway. The NBA pays its bills through commercial breaks.

Would moving those advertising opportunities earlier in the game pay off? Audiences are probably larger in crunch time, but an action-packed closing stretch could hook fans and grow overall audiences. It’s always a difficult decision to forgo maximizing immediate revenue in pursuit of more later.

But I’m fairly certain fans would appreciate the change, which is at least a starting point in considering it.

Kyrie Irving feels validated after hitting game-winning shot to bring title to Cleveland

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Back in July during the pre-Olympics USA Camp in Las Vegas, I asked Kyrie Irving what had changed for him, what was different for him after winning an NBA title. His answer was about the doors it opened, the possibilities that suddenly felt available to him. A month after winning the title he still seemed a little overwhelmed by the experience, and he hadn’t fully processed it yet. Which is completely understandable.

Now, as training camp is set to open for the Cavaliers and their defense of that title, Irving clearly has gotten used to being a champion — and he feels validated. Look at what he told Joe Varden of the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

“Yes, my life’s changed drastically,” Irving told cleveland.com Saturday, during Irving’s friendship walk and basketball challenge downtown for Best Buddies, Ohio — an organization that gives social growth and employment opportunities to people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

“It’s kind of, you’re waiting for that validation from everyone, I guess, to be considered one of the top players in the league at the highest stage,” Irving said. “That kind of changed. I was just trying to earn everyone’s respect as much as I could.”

It’s amazing to think of the impact one shot — Irving’s three over Stephen Curry with 53 seconds left in Game 7 — can have. If he misses, there is less pressure on the Warriors to answer with a three, maybe they come down and get a bucket inside for two (one could argue they should have done that anyway rather than hunt for the three), from there maybe the Warriors win. If so, that could change everything from Kevin Durant‘s summer plans to what the Cavaliers’ roster looks like today — there’s a good chance Cleveland’s lineup would have changed if they lost to the Warriors two Finals in a row.

One shot can have that kind of impact on a player, too.

Kyrie Irving was one of the top five point guards in the NBA for a while, a score first guy but one who had some floor general in him and got some steals. A lot of time seemed to be spent focusing on his flaws defensively and passing. But with that shot, he feels validated. If he carries that confidence into next season, the Cavaliers just got better.

Check out top 50 plays from Kevin Garnett’s Hall of Fame career (VIDEO)

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First Kobe Bryant. Then Tim Duncan.

Now Kevin Garnett. The Hall of Fame class in five years is going to be stacked.

But before we move on from Garnett’s announcement this week that he is retiring after 21 years in the NBA, let’s look back at his greatest plays (compiled by the folks at NBA.com). Enjoy this for 11 minutes rather than watching your NFL fantasy team flounder. Again.