Thunder snap Spurs’ 19-game winning streak

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The Spurs entered Thursday night’s contest against the Thunder with the best record in the league, a four-game lead over Oklahoma City in the Western Conference standings, and a 19-game winning streak.

The best record part remains, but the Thunder put together a complete effort, especially defensively, to close the gap in the standings and deal San Antonio a very rare loss.

OKC earned every bit of its 106-94 victory over the Spurs, and is unquestionably going to be the biggest hurdle in the way of San Antonio making a return trip to the NBA Finals. But there were factors in play that negatively affected the Spurs’ chances in this one.

San Antonio was playing on the second night of a back-to-back set, a challenge faced consistently by every team in the league over the course of the season. But for the Spurs, that usually means getting some of their veteran players some rest, and Manu Ginobili — a legitimate candidate for the league’s Sixth Man of the Year award this season — sat this one out for that very reason.

It also meant that Tim Duncan and Tony Parker sat out the entire fourth quarter when the game was anything but over, with the Thunder lead hovering in the low double digits for most of the period but was just eight points with under six minutes remaining.

All of that aside, this was an impressive win for Oklahoma City. They swarmed the Spurs defensively, especially in a blistering third quarter where they held San Antonio to 30.4 percent shooting, while turning a five-point deficit into a nine-point lead before the period was finished.

Kevin Durant had an off night shooting by his standards, finishing just 11-of-26 from the field for 28 points. That was good enough to keep his streak of scoring at least 25 points intact, one that seems like an arbitrary marker but has now reached 39 consecutive games. According to ESPN Stats & Info, only Michael Jordan (40), Oscar Robertson (46) and Wilt Chamberlain (80) have longer career scoring streaks.

Russell Westbrook and Reggie Jackson were each more effective on this night, finishing with 27 and 14 points respectively on far more efficient statistical lines.

On the Spurs side (and even for the Thunder, to a certain extent), it’s no longer about wins and losses these last two weeks of the regular season. Gregg Popovich was shown on the telecast telling his team in a timeout huddle that winning this particular game didn’t matter, but instead the team needed to focus on playing the right way, and doing so with the maximum amount of energy.

As good as the Spurs have been, however, and no matter who was and was not in the San Antonio lineup at various points this season, the Thunder have been the one team that has consistently shut them down. Oklahoma City improved to 4-0 on the season against San Antonio with this victory, and that’s something that will undoubtedly weigh upon Popovich if the Spurs should have the misfortune of meeting the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals.

Watch Michael Jordan’s best highlight from each of his playoff runs (video)

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I’ve become a sucker for this highlight format.

Jazz deny rumored promise to draft D.J. Wilson

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Michigan forward D.J. Wilson said he’d stay in the draft only if he’d go in the first round. Yet, despite not doing any on-court work at the combine, the borderline first-rounder remained in the draft beyond the withdrawal deadline.

What gives?

Rod Beard of The Detroit News:

Kyle Goon of The Salt Lake Tribune:

NBA teams sometimes promise to draft a player. They never reveal that before the draft. So, Utah’s denial doesn’t mean much – even if it’s true.

The Jazz were the last team to give Wilson a full work out before he injured himself in a Spurs workout. So, this rumor could be based on circumstantial evidence rather than leak of a Utah guarantee.

Wilson would make sense for the Jazz, who could see their payroll bloat if they re-sign Gordon Hayward and George Hill (and maybe even Joe Ingles). They could move Derrick Favors, an interior who doesn’t exactly fit with Rudy Gobert. Wilson would give Utah another option with Trey Lyles as developing stretch fours behind Boris Diaw. (Utah could even move Diaw and count on Lyles/Wilson to emerge sooner than later.)

Watch LeBron James’ top highlight from each of his postseason appearances (video)

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LeBron James and Tony Parker are the only players to play in the last dozen postseasons.

(If you’re wondering, Manu Ginobili missed the 2009 playoffs due to an ankle injury.)

It’s fair to say LeBron was a bit more spectacular than Parker in that span. As LeBron enters his seventh straight Finals, the NBA released this awesome video showing LeBron’s best playoff highlight from each year:

There’s no entry for this year. Here’s betting it comes against the Warriors in the NBA Finals.

David Stern: We thought we could re-work Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade until Mitch Kupchak ‘panicked’

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NBA commissioner David Stern – acting as New Orleans’ owner representative, he says – infamously vetoed a potential Chris Paul-to-Lakers trade in 2011.

But that didn’t close the possibility of Paul going to the Lakers.

The New Orleans Hornets (now the Pelicans and not be confused with the current Charlotte Hornets), Lakers and Rockets tried to rework the three-team trade that would’ve sent Paul to the Lakers, Pau Gasol to Houston and Lamar Odom, Kevin Martin, Luis Scola, Goran Dragic and a first-round pick to New Orleans. But talks fell apart around the time the Lakers dealt Odom to the Mavericks.

Stern on Nunyo & Company (hat tip: Harrison Feigen of Silver Screen & Roll):

In fact, in the course of the weekend, we thought we could re-do the deal. We really thought that Houston would be ready to part with Kevin Lowry, and we had a trade lined up for Odom that would have gotten us a good first-round draft pick – not we, but my basketball folks. But Mitch Kupchak at the time panicked and moved Odom to Dallas. So the piece wasn’t even there for us to play with at the time. So that was it — just about what was good for the then-New Orleans Hornets.

Remember, Stern – roundly criticized for his handling of this episode* – has blamed the Lakers and Rockets for the lingering perception. This could just be him again trying to shift responsibility.

*Somewhat fairly, somewhat not. Owners veto general manager-approved trades often enough, and Stern was acting as New Orleans’ owner after George Shinn sold the franchise back to the league. But Stern had an agenda as commissioner. He never should have assumed such a large conflict of interest. What he did with the Paul trade was reasonable for an acting owner, but because Stern was also commissioner, it’s fair to question how much New Orleans’ interests and how much the league’s interests factored into the decision-making.

But let’s take Stern at his word – that he and the Hornets thought they could re-do the trade and send Paul to the Lakers. That doesn’t mean they were right. Maybe the Lakers and Rockets (who had Kyle Lowry, not the “Kevin Lowry” Stern named) were never going to part with enough to get Stern’s approval.

And maybe New Orleans didn’t properly convey its interest in still completing a deal. Perhaps, Kupchak acted reasonably by trading Odom to Dallas – for a first-round pick, a deal Mark Cuban would ultimately regret – rather than wait around for the Hornets, who eventually sent Paul to the Clippers.

It’s easy to blame Kupchak, but he might tell a different story.