Miami Heat v Indiana Pacers

Greg Oden waits for lucky break that may not come

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CHARLOTTE — The man sitting at the end of the bench knows he is not going to play. The warm-up jacket and pants will not come off. So he just sits, plaintive look on his face, and he watches with an expression that almost never changed. His long legs stretch out almost into the court. Every now and again, someone in the stands will point at him.

“That guy,” a friend will say to a friend or a parent will say to a child, “was once the first pick in the NBA Draft. He was going to be the next big star.”

Yes, Greg Oden was the first pick in the NBA Draft. Yes, he was going to be the game’s next big star.  Yes, he had everything — size, strength, balance, a defensive presence, a sense of the game. Yes, yes, yes, he was all those things, his future was unlimited … but that was many injuries ago. MANY injuries ago.  Nostalgia and regret often mingle.

Now he sits here on the end of the bench. Sure, Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has told him to be ready to get in there, that all players must be ready if the Heat is going to repeat as champions again. Oden doesn’t say much but he says he will stay ready.

He also knows that LeBron James continuously makes the point that the team’s depth — and specifically having Greg Oden on that bench — will play a huge role in these playoffs at some point. Oden says he will be prepared for the moment.

Greg Oden also knows that he is not going to play.

Sometimes there is nothing left to say except life is unfair.

* * *

Let’s start with the end because it is easier to pinpoint. We know the exact date. The end for the Greg Oden experiment came on March 26, 2014. That was the day that every hope and illusion about this latest comeback shattered.

Everybody wanted that comeback. For him. He deserved it. Oden had missed almost four years of basketball when Miami signed him for the minimum before the season began. He deserved good things.

And this looked like a good setup. Nobody expected Greg Oden to suddenly be the superstar everyone expected six or seven years ago. But, in the least, he looked like potential Kryptonite for Indiana’s big man Roy Hibbert. You will remember that last year the Heat had a ferocious seven-game series with Indiana and they could do nothing at all with Hibbert, who averaged 22 points and 10 boards for the series. It didn’t matter what Spoelstra tried, the Heat did not have a Hibbert answer.

Well Greg Oden is a 7-footer, 250-plus pounds, he could pound on Hibbert and weigh on him and foul him and frustrate him. Sure, if Oden recaptured some of his lost talent, everyone would cheer. But, at the least, he could slow Hibbert.

That dream ended on March 26. The Heat had slowly worked Oden into the lineup. From the start of the new year, they put him in a few games for five- and six-minute stretches just to get him some time on the court. Ten days before the big game against Indiana, they put him in the starting lineup. He flashed a few positive signs. He scored six, grabbed three rebounds, blocked a couple of shots at Cleveland. He made both his shots and blocked two more against Memphis.

And on March 26, he started against Indiana — a homecoming for Oden, who went to High School in Indianapolis. Everyone was watching this time. And … lets just say it did not go well. If it had been a fight, they would have stopped it. Well, in truth, they did stop it. Hibbert did everything he wanted for six minutes, Oden was utterly helpless, and after six minutes Spoelstra could not watch anymore. He pulled Oden and did not put him back in … for three weeks.

In fact, Oden has played in just one game since the end — 13 uninspired minutes in an entirely meaningless game against a putrid Philadelphia team. He has not played again. The official explanation for Oden’s disappearance was that he has had “back spasms.” He undoubtedly has had back spasms. But …

“Terrible,” Oden told reporters after the Hibbert game. He knew. He was heartbroken. This haunted pro basketball career of his just won’t ever let Greg Oden breathe.

* * *

In the beginning, Greg Oden was the franchise. He was the next in line of dominant NBA centers after Dwight Howard, Tim Duncan and Shaq. He was big, he was strong, he was balanced, he worked hard, he blocked shots, he was the man. When you asked around the NBA about the first pick in the 2007 draft — the choice being manchild Greg Oden or scoring machine Kevin Durant — about seven out of 10 said Oden.

Why Oden? Well, some thought he was a SAFER pick. Durant was viewed as a one-dimensional scorer. Oden had a bigger game.

Some thought he was the WISER pick because he had already filled out. People forget: Durant made news shortly before the draft because he couldn’t bench-press all seven Harry Potter books (actually it was 185 pounds he couldn’t press) and scouts could just imagine him getting backed all the way down to the beer concession stand. Oden meanwhile looked like he was 10 years older than his age, even as a freshman he looked like a man going back and playing with the college kids, and there was no need to imagine who he would become.

And some though he was a BETTER pick than Durant because great centers tend to lead teams to championships while great scoring forwards often do not.

Of course, there were counterarguments; there were some people who passionately believed Durant was the right choice. But in the end, Portland did what most teams would have done with the first pick and took Oden. There was some irony here; Portland brought a special history to the draft having already taken an injury-prone center (Sam Bowie) over a college super-scorer (Michael Jordan) and had never quite lived that down. But, hey, that could not happen again, right?

Before Oden played his first NBA game, he had microfracture surgery on his right knee. Before his first game. He missed the entire 2007-08 season. While Durant poured in points his rookie year, the Bowie-Jordan comparison was being made ad nauseam.

It should be noted: The story was certainly not in stone yet. It was just one injury, and one thing that Portland loved about Oden was his dedication and work ethic. Before he entered his surgery, he reportedly told Portland GM Kevin Pritchard again and again how sorry he was for letting the team down and how desperate he was to come back. “We picked the right kid,” Pritchard told reporters after that surgery. “He cares about this organization.”

Oden came back in 2008. In his first game – HIS FIRST GAME – Andrew Bynum landed on his foot and he missed two weeks. But then Oden started to show the promise. In his fifth NBA game, he scored 22, grabbed 10 boards, blocked two shots. He became a starter in Game 9, and while he was inconsistent — rookies will be inconsistent — he had bright moments. He grabbed 13 boards against Detroit. He had a double-double at Washington. Fifteen rebounds against the Clippers. Sixteen points 10 boards against Toronto.

On January 12, he went to Chicago and dominated — 17 points, 13 rebounds. Milwaukee couldn’t stop him — 24 points, 15 rebounds. He blocked six shots against the Knicks. Yes, finally, it was coming together.

And then, just as he started to feel good, he bumped knees with Corey Maggette. This time he cracked the patella in his left knee. He was out for more than a month. But the bigger problem was that he now had some trouble with BOTH knees. And that, any big man will tell you, is a bad, bad sign.

In December of the next season, Oden fractured his left patella. Everyone said it had nothing to do with the earlier injury but, at this point, it didn’t matter. The guy just could not stay healthy. He was out for another season. Oden announced that this time he wasn’t coming back until he was ready, until he was fully healthy and ready to deliver on his promise.

One year later, instead, he announced that he was having microfracture surgery on his left knee. That put him out for another year.

The next year, he ha a couple more knee surgeries, putting him out for another year.

Then he said he needed a year to recover and be fully healthy.

When the Miami Heat signed him before this season, he had played in just 82 games in five years. He worked insanely hard to come back, time after time, he didn’t deserve all those setbacks. But, as the line in Unforgiven goes, “Deserve’s got nothing to do with it.” And you know the end already.

* * *

Two or three weeks ago, people were openly questioning the Heat — they were playing pretty lousy. But in the NBA, nothing really matters until the playoffs and the Heat was the only team to sweep its opening round series. The champs suddenly look healthy and rested and they are enjoying watching the best teams in the East flounder and their own path open up.

Miami not only looks healthy now, it looks overstocked. The end of the Heat bench is loaded with guys you know even if you are only a mild NBA fan. There’s Shane Battier, the 35-year-old defensive specialist who has played a huge role in the Heat’s previous two championships. There’s Udonis Haslem, another major player in the championship runs, who every now and again goes into games and cannot be stopped. There’s Rashard Lewis, once one of the top scorers in the NBA.

The truth is, the Heat can’t use them all. The NBA is a game of match-ups, a game of rhythm, and Erik Spoelstra is not bluffing when he says he needs everyone to be ready. There could come a moment for any of them.

But … probably not for Greg Oden. For one thing, the man he was probably brought in to stop — Roy Hibbert — is in the middle of a nightmare playoffs and his Pacers could get eliminated as early as Thursday. For another, Oden’s body just won’t let him be the player he might have been. He’s just 26, but his knees are 50, and while Kevin Durant will probably win the MVP Award this year, Greg Oden will probably not leave the Miami bench.

Oden says he will keep waiting though. He says he has not lost hope. That might be the most miraculous part of all.

Andrew Bogut comes up big for Warriors, who so often shun him to go small

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The Warriors’ Nuclear Lineup propelled them to the 2015 NBA championship. It has drawn praise from the President of the United States. It has been credited with revolutionizing basketball.

And it has marginalized Andrew Bogut.

Golden State has been at its best the last two years when benching Bogut for Andre Iguodala and shifting Draymond Green to center. That small-ball unit has defended well, pushed the pace and found quality shots.

But with the death lineup looking more vulnerable than ever – and, really, vulnerable at all for the first time – the Warriors turned to the starter who had sat and cheered his teammates in the biggest moments.

Bogut scored 15 points (his career playoff high) and grabbed 14 rebounds (his 2016 postseason high) in the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the the Thunder.

The biggest number: Bogut’s 30 minutes.

He played just 17, 16, 12 and 11 minutes in the series’ first four games. Foul trouble contributed, but so did Golden State’s sloppiness – turnovers and quick shots – that turned games into track meets. At 7 feet and age 31, Bogut isn’t built to keep up. But the Warriors slowed the game just enough to let Bogut shine.

Protecting the paint has two major components:

1. Preventing shots at the rim. Even the worst finishing teams score at point-blank range more efficiently than the best mid-range teams do between the paint and 3-point arc.

2. Forcing misses at the rim when the opponent gets off a shot. Obviously.

Golden State improved tremendously in both areas tonight.

The Warriors allowed a series-low 18 attempts in the restricted area:

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And they held Oklahoma City to a series-low 44% shooting in the restricted area:

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Add it up, and that means the Thunder made just eight shots in the restricted area – a third as many as Game 3 and half as many as any other game:

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Bogut was central to the interior defense. Oklahoma City shot just 3-for-10 (30%) in the restricted area with him on the floor and 5-for-8 (63%) with him off.

“Bogues is our best defender,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, providing news to the voters who picked Golden State forward Draymond Green second in Defensive Player of the Year voting.

Green defended well tonight. But Bogut – who had two blocks and two steals – really drove the turnaround.

“It’s probably the key if you want to look for one thing – Bogues’ play leading to better defense,” Kerr said.

Add his quality finishing (7-for-9 from the field) and plus passing from the post (which generated two assists), and this was a real gem from Bogut – at a time the Warriors needed it most.

But can Bogut help them in Game 6 Saturday in Oklahoma City? He hasn’t played 30 minutes twice in three days in more than a year.

“I believe in Bogues,” Kerr said. “I think he can play that way in Game 6.”

Golden State will need him – or another way to defend the paint. Given the results of this series so far, including Green uncharacteristically struggling to protect the rim as the small-ball center, I’d turn to Bogut again.

Stephen Curry attacks rim, makes defensive plays, lifts Warriors to 120-111 win

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Stephen Curry wasn’t hitting threes like the video-game version of himself (the one we have come to expect), so he attacked the rim and made plays in the paint. The result was 31 points on 20 shots — and he set the tone for the Warriors all night.

Not just on offense, Curry had a key steal plus blocked a Kevin Durant shot late — highlighting an improved Warriors defense.

“I thought he looked like 91 percent,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr joked about Curry after the game (referencing the report Curry is just 70 percent healthy).

Curry played better than he had since Game 2 — so did Draymond Green, who had some offensive struggles but played the defense we know. The Warriors also got 27 points from Klay Thompson, and 15 points plus a lot great play in the paint from Andrew Bogut allowing the Warriors to stay with bigger lineups. Also, with Golden State attacking the rim, they got to the free throw line 34 times.

The result of all of it was a 120-111 Golden State win at home in Game 5, making the series 3-2.

Now the biggest test of the season comes for the Warriors — they will need to play better than this Saturday on the road in Oklahoma City to force a Game 7.

“We played with great energy, we played with great desperation, that’s the way you have to play in the playoffs,” Kerr said. “We were out of sorts the last two games, and we looked more like ourselves.”

The best way to describe Curry’s night was “good enough.” Credit to him attacking when his threes were not falling, look at his shot chart on the night.

Curry Game 5 shot chart

The Warriors also took the Thunder out of what had been successful for them the past couple games — OKC had just 15 fast break points (compared to 28 for the Warriors), the Warriors were +18 on points in the paint, and the Warriors outrebounded the Thunder on the night. The Warriors didn’t overthink thier defense on the Thunder in this one, they just did a better job of executing switches and, thanks to Bogut, taking away easy buckets inside.

Russell Westbrook and OKC struggled out of the gate — as a team, they shot 8-of-28 in the first quarter and at one point Westbrook missed 10 shots in a row. The Warriors were not hot with their typical shots — 2-of-10 from three — but they were getting to the rim and finishing better inside, which got them a lead in a game where Oracle Arena is rocking.

Steve Kerr did not dramatically change what had worked so well for Golden State all season, counting on his team to just be better — and it was, they outscored the Thunder small-ball lineup 20-15 in the first half (after being destroyed by it in the previous two games). The Thunder hung around in the second thanks to mid-range jumpers (5-of-7 in the second, plus 3-of-5 from three). But the Thunder did not get the same lift from their stars, Kevin Durant had 15 first half points on 15 shots, Westbrook had 13 on 14 shots (but still had six assists). Golden State led 58-50 at the half.

The Thunder opened the second half on a 9-2 run and things yo-yoed between tied and a small Warrior lead for much of the second half, until the Golden State’s bench pushed the lead into double digits again late in the third and early in the fourth. That lead held until the six-minute mark in the fourth quarter, when the Thunder went on an 8-0 run fueled by some sloppy Warriors turnovers.

But the Warriors showed more poise than they have in the past few games, holding on for the win, making plays at the end when they needed to.

Now, can they do that and better on the road?

Draymond Green banks in shot from logo after whistle (video)

OAKLAND, CA - MAY 26:  Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors warms up prior to Game Five of the Western Conference Finals against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at ORACLE Arena on May 26, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Draymond Green missed both his 3-pointers prior, but he made this.

Unfortunately for the Warriors, it didn’t count because it came after a whistle (that few heard over the loud Golden State fans).

Stephen Curry sunk a 3-pointer later in the possession. That one counted.

Report: Khloe Kardashian files for divorce from Lamar Odom

Khloe Kardashian Odom, Lamar Odom
AP Photo/Evan Agostini
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1. Khloe Kardashian filed for divorce from Lamar Odom.

2. With Odom facing health problems after a drug overdose, they rescinded the filing.

3. Odom reportedly continued drinking, frustrating Kardashian.

Associated Press:

Court records in Los Angeles show Kardashian filed for divorce Thursday, citing irreconcilable differences.