Memphis Grizzlies v Oklahoma City Thunder - Game One

Team balance: Grizzlies have had it, Thunder have not. It’s key to Game 4, series.

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You don’t win an NBA title without at least one superstar player. Two or three is better. Go all the way back to 1979 and you find just one team that won a ring without one of the 10 best players in the game, usually a couple of them. (That exception is the 2004 Pistons, and they had Chauncey Billups playing at that level for a stretch, plus a superstar defense.)

But you also can’t win a title without a good supporting cast playing well around those superstars.

The latter issue is why the Thunder enter Saturday night’s Game 4 trailing the Grizzlies 2-1 and making this game almost must win. Team balance and alternate scoring options have been at the heart of this series — Memphis has had that, the Thunder have not.

With two of the game’s top 10 players in Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder have the superstar players they need. The Grizzlies have countered with two very good perimeter defenders — Mike Conley and Tony Allen — plus a team defense led by Marc Gasol the Grizzlies can take away the first offensive option, they can make life difficult for Durant and Westbrook — in Game 3 Westbrook and Durant scored a combined 60 points but shot a combined 34 percent and were 4-of-21 from three.

In the last two games, Thunder players not names Westbrook or Durant have shot 39.4 percent and made a total of 28 shots. Serge Ibaka has been in double figures scoring both games (12 and 15) and he’s the only other one.

Without a reliable third option (remember late in games the year they went to the Finals the ball was often in James Harden’s hands and he created for everyone else) the Thunder offense has become a “you take a turn then I take a turn” trade off between Durant and Westbrook. They still put up numbers but the Thunder are not the same offensive juggernaut.

The Grizzlies on the other hand have balance.

Oklahoma City has rightfully focused on slowing Conley, Gasol and Zach Randolph on offense — but others have stepped up. Tony Allen had 16 points, Beno Udrih 12 and Courtney Lee 10 on Thursday night in Memphis. In Game 2 Lee and Udrih combined for 30 points.

The Grizzlies are disciplined and making the extra pass to the open man. They are moving the ball side-to-side well, which is allowing Randolph to seal his man and get the ball in deep for good looks.

The Grizzlies have balance and are using it well.

The Thunder has not had that balance. If they don’t have it they might still win Game 4 — Durant and Westbrook can carry a team a long way — but it is the playoff flaw that will ultimately doom them. Much earlier than they had planned.

Joel Embiid out indefinitely

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid in action during an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Friday, Jan. 27, 2017, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
AP Photo/Matt Slocum
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The 76ers could finish the season with the last No. 1 pick and the best rookie in years sidelined.

One one hand, Philadelphia should be thrilled that describes two players.

On the other hand, it’s not ideal to have so much talent injured.

No. 1 pick Ben Simmons is definitely out for the rest of the year. And it doesn’t sound encouraging for Joel Embiid, who has been hampered by a knee injury.

CSN Philly:

Joel Embiid on Monday will have an MRI on his injured left knee and is now listed as out indefinitely.

Embiid has been experiencing swelling and soreness in the left knee injury that has caused him to miss 16 out of the last 17 games. Bryan Colangelo announced back on Feb. 11 that Embiid has a minor meniscal tear. In his most recent press conference last Friday, Colangelo had targeted this Friday’s home game against the Knicks as a possibility for Embiid’s return. Now, that isn’t the case.

Embiid had been the biggest ray of hope for Philadelphia, but the 76ers shouldn’t chase watchability down the stretch. Sit Embiid until he’s fully healthy and secure the best draft position possible.

Maybe Embiid’s body just can’t handle the rigors of NBA basketball, but Philadelphia has no choice but to hope for the best with him and Simmons. And hope the nail the their first-round pick this year and get the Lakers’ first-rounder.

This could still be a dangerously good team in coming years. The Process created that potential.

But the threat of injury always looms around the corner, maybe especially so for Embiid.

Report: Knicks’ Joakim Noah likely to miss rest of season after knee surgery

New York Knicks' Joakim Noah (13) walks to the bench during a time out in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2017, in Dallas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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And then there was Derrick Rose.

The Knicks’ big-name offseason acquisitions* are falling one by one.

New York is releasing Brandon Jennings. Now Joakim Noah is out.

*I’m not counting Courtney Lee, who is unknown to far too many casual fans.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Prepare for the talk next fall about Noah feeling refreshed and ready to help the Knicks.

But this surgery won’t reverse the underlying problem: Noah is a 31-year-old big man with heavy mileage. He can manage his knees, but it’s probably too late for him to regain enough athleticism to reliably contribute.

Just three years and $55 million+ remaining on his contract, which already looked like the NBA’s worst deal and is now even more unfavorable.

Buddy Hield: Vivek Ranadive told me at Kings-Pelicans games, ‘We’re still going to get you’

Sacramento Kings guard Buddy Hield, right, talks with teammate Ben McLemore as they work out before their NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017, in Sacramento, Calif. Hield, along with New Orleans Pelicans teammates Tyreke Evans and Langston Galloway, was sent to the Kings in exchange for center DeMarcus Cousins and forward Omri Casspi, Sunday. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli
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The Kings reportedly coveted Buddy Hield in last year’s draft. Once the Pelicans picked him No. 6, Sacramento traded down from No. 8.

Several months later, the Kings traded for him in the DeMarcus Cousins deal.

Between?

Kings owner Vivek Ranadive apparently communicated his intentions at the Pelicans’ two games in Sacramento this season.

Sean Cunningham of ABC 10:

Hield:

Vivek always, every time — even the past two times — he always talk about, “We’re always pushing hard for you.” He said, “We’re still going to get you.” He kept saying that.

I was surprised with him saying that, but now, when I saw I was going to Sacramento, I said, “Oh, these guys are really serious about me.” I just kind of know they were determined about getting me.

This is wild!

Hield obviously doesn’t outright say the Kings’ front office rushed this trade through before the Cousins-loving owner, awestruck by the prospect of having the next Stephen Curry, changed his mind. But Hield’s statement runs right in line with all those rumors.

Even at face value, Ranadive’s words, assuming Hield is accurately conveying them, are something — especially for an owner who has denied much basketball involvement.

Sacramento is some kind of place.

So many pretty putback dunks (videos)

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Yesterday’s NBA games featured a fun number of highlight putback dunks.

The best by:

Dewayne Dedmon:

DeAndre Jordan:

Blake Griffin:

Serge Ibaka: