Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant thoroughly, easily – and, yes, reliably – dismantles Grizzlies in Game 6


The Oklahoman. Tony Allen. An elimination game in the Grindhouse.

Kevin Durant faced pressure from all directions.

Yet, the the Oklahoma City Thunder relied on their MVP-to-be to extend their season. And it worked!

Mr. UnReliable scored 36 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Thunder’s 104-84 Game 6 win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday.

Durant earned a stay of scrutiny, though only temporarily. The Oklahoman’s point, even if initially miscommunicated, was accurate. Durant had not been reliable throughout this series. A cold Game 7 on Saturday against the battered and bruised Grizzlies – Mike Conley left the game with an injury – and the criticism of Durant will return in greater force than ever.

But, until proven otherwise, Durant has earned the benefit of the doubt. Reliability is not proven in five games, and adding Durant’s Game 6 (11-of-17 on 2-pointers, 0-for-6 on 3-pointers and 14-of-15 on free throws) to the scale tips it in a different direction.

This was not Durant’s best game,  mostly because that bar is absurdly high. He was just reliably good when his team’s season was on the line.

Durant needed barely more than 14 minutes to score 18 points, doing most of that damage before his defensive nemesis, Allen, even entered the game. Allen later had his moments, but Durant was not nearly as bothered as he’d been previously.

The Thunder leading by at least 15 for the final 25 minutes also helped keep Durant comfortable.

Russell Westbrook (25 points on 9-of-21 shooting, nine rebounds, five assists, three steals and four turnovers) provided his usual compromise – sometimes-erratic, but much-more-often-effective, play.

Scott Brooks’ decision to start Caron Butler over Thabo Sefolosha paid off with Butler spacing the floor by making 2-of-4 3-pointers. Many wanted Reggie Jackson inserted into the starting lineup instead, but Brooks kept Jackson in the second unit, and the point guard scored 16 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting.

Serge Ibaka (four blocks) and Steven Adams (five blocks) anchored a defense that held the Grizzlies to 37 percent shooting and a series-low 84 points. Of course, ending the game after the fourth quarter helped keep Memphis’ scoring down.

For the first time in five games, the Thunder and Grizzlies didn’t play overtime – and that reminded us of something that was getting lost

The Thunder are better than Memphis.

They were better all season, and they’re better now. Not so much better that they’ll necessarily win Game 7, but better.

Oklahoma City has won games in this series by 14 points and 20 points. That leaves four overtime – i.e., coin-flip – games, three of which the Thunder lost. Had they won one more of those, this series would be over. You can claim “What if?” about overtime games, not 14- and 20-point losses.

Wednesday, Marc Gasol (17 points) and Zach Randolph (16 points), but by the end of the game, they were sitting sullenly on the bench. More worrying, Conley was in the locker room.

Conley went to the lock room late in the third quarter with a right hamstring strain. He returned for 56 seconds in the fourth quarter, but then he went back the locker room for the rest of the game.

The Grizzlies point guard struggled Wednesday (2-for-10 shooting), but it’s difficult to see Memphis winning a Game 7 on the road without him. He’s a major plus on both ends of the floor – especially for a team that already lost its backup point guard, Nick Calathes, to suspension.

In 18 playoff games against each other in the last four years, including 308 minutes in this series, the Thunder and Grizzlies have grown tired of each other. Butler and James Johnson got into a tizzy, drawing a double technical foul, and Randolph and Adams later had to be separated. Play got chippy at points, even though the lack of drama in the game’s result probably eased tension.

The battle hasn’t ended. We have, at least, 48 minutes left in what’s been a mostly well-played series.

Durant proved tonight the Thunder can rely on him when it matters most, but he proved it only for a night. Now, Saturday matters most.

Is Kevin Durant reliable? It’s a question he’ll answer – again – in Game 7.

Lakers keep Metta World Peace and Thomas Robinson, waive Anthony Brown

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 15:  Metta World Peace #37 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands on the court during warmups before a preseason game against the Golden State Warriors at T-Mobile Arena on October 15, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Golden State won 112-107. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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The NBA just can’t shake Metta World Peace as a player.

Despite the Lakers’ reported intention of waiving World Peace and making him an assistant coach, they’ll keep him, Thomas Robinson and Nick Young into the regular season. After waiving Yi Jianlian at his request, they’ll also waive Anthony Brown.

Lakers release:

The Los Angeles Lakers have waived forward Anthony Brown, it was announced today by General Manager Mitch Kupchak.

Brown was the No. 34 pick just last year, but he didn’t show much as a rookie and is already 24. There was no need to keep him over more valuable players – like Robinson.

But World Peace, who turns 37 next month? He’s washed up and offers no upside. The Lakers don’t already have enough veteran leadership between Luol Deng, Jose Calderon, Lou Williams and Timofey Mozgov?

The Lakers probably won’t regret dropping Brown – though they might – but there are better uses for a roster spot in 2016 than World Peace.

51 Questions: Which team will win the West? Make NBA Finals?

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It is the final days of PBT’s 2016-17 NBA preview series, 51 Questions. For six weeks we have tackled 51 questions we cannot wait to see answered during the upcoming NBA season. Today the PBT staff answers the biggest questions of them all this season:

Which teams make the playoffs, then who wins the East? Who will be NBA champion?

Here are our staff predictions.

Kurt Helin

1. Warriors
2. Spurs
3. Clippers
4. Jazz
5. Rockets
6. Grizzlies
7. Trail Blazers
8. Thunder

Western Conference Finals:
Warriors over Clippers
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

There is a clear top three in the West, and while I think Golden State gets the top seed (but falls just short of 70 wins) I could flip Los Angeles and San Antonio without a problem — and I like the Clippers more in the postseason, they finally get past the second round. Much like the East, then I think 4-11 are all going to be within a handful of games of each other — Dallas, Minnesota, and Denver all could get into the playoffs with good health and a few breaks. Maybe Sacramento, too, but a lot more needs to go right for them.

As for the NBA Finals, the Warriors and Cavaliers are just clear and away the best teams on paper and, assuming health, it’s hard not to pick another Finals rematch. However, this time the Cavaliers can’t put LeBron James on Draymond Green when the Warriors go small because of the threat of Kevin Durant, and that opens up the Warriors offense again in ways it was shut down in the last Finals.

Dan Feldman

1. Warriors
2. Clippers
3. Spurs
4. Rockets
5. Jazz
6. Trail Blazers
7. Thunder
8. Grizzlies

Western Conference Finals: Warriors over Clippers
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

I’d give the Warriors about a 50-50 chance of winning the title — which means there’s no way I’m picking any other single team. The Clippers and Spurs lead the pack fighting for second, and I’m clearly intrigued by Houston’s offensive prowess with Mike D’Antoni and James Harden. The Timberwolves and Nuggets could knock on the postseason door, but I don’t think either is quite ready.

Dane Carbaugh

1. Warriors
2. Clippers
3. Spurs
4. Thunder
5. Blazers
6. Jazz
7. Rockets
8. Mavericks

Western Conference Finals: Warriors vs. Spurs
NBA Finals: Warriors over Cavaliers

I genuinely hope I’m wrong about how the West shakes out if only for Chris Paul‘s sake. The Point God and his band of Merry Complainers are in a perfect position to take over a stratified Western Conference that will doubtless be a bastion of parity in only a few years time. But the Clippers just always fall short somehow, be it injury or otherwise. I’m going with the Spurs — who had a historic defensive season in 2015-16 — and who are just too good on paper vs. the rest of the competition. San Antonio still might be the only team that can challenge Golden State, as weird as that sounds.

Reports: Celtics waive R.J. Hunter, keep James Young

WALTHAM, MA - SEPTEMBER 26:  (L-R) RJ Hunter #28, James Young #13, Jordan Mickey #55 and Ben Bentil #50 of the Boston Celtics pose during Boston Celtics Media Day on September 26, 2016 in Waltham, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)
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The Celtics’ final regular-season roster spot came down to a couple recent first-round picks who had guaranteed salaries on their rookie-scale deals:

Young won.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Jeff Goodman of ESPN:

Someone should claim Hunter on waivers. I rated him a mid-first-rounder just last year, and limited playing time in his rookie season only somewhat dissuades me. He’s no guarantee to pan out out in the NBA, but I like his odds better than many currently on other rosters. Just 23 – it’s his birthday – Hunter still has time to develop.

I’m skeptical anyone will claim him, given that Boston couldn’t trade him for even a second-rounder. But perhaps someone will take a chance rather than battling the field if Hunter becomes a free agent.

Young is similarly unproven in two NBA seasons, but beating Hunter for this job is a positive sign. Like Hunter, Young fits a 3-and-D mold. But the Celtics are betting on Young’s athleticism advantage rather than Hunter’s more refined all-around game. Young definitely has a higher upside.

Spurs waive first-rounder Livio Jean-Charles before first NBA game, putting him in small club

San Antonio Spurs' Livio Jean-Charles, center, and Orlando Magic's Bismack Biyombo (11) go after a loose ball during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. San Antonio won 95-89. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
AP Photo/John Raoux
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It took a few years, but the Spurs finally signed Livio Jean-Charles – the No. 28 pick in the 2013 draft – to a rookie-scale contract this summer.

The problem: Jean-Charles tore his ACL in Europe and hadn’t developed as San Antonio hoped.

So, San Antonio is cutting bait historically quickly.

Spurs release:

The San Antonio Spurs today announced that the team has waived Joel Anthony, Ryan Arcidiacono, Patricio Garino and Livio Jean-Charles.

This allows the Spurs to keep two players without guaranteed salaries, Bryn Forbes and Nicolas Laprovittola. A shooting guard, Forbes is a 3-point specialist who went undrafted out of Michigan State. Laprovittola, a point guard, will give San Antonio a second Argentinian with Manu Ginobili – though Garino could’ve been three.

Jean-Charles is just the fifth first-round pick in the rookie-scale era to be waived or renounced before playing in the NBA. The other four:

Royce White (No. 16 pick in 2012 by Rockets)

White and and Houston never got on the same page about how to handle his anxiety issues. The Rockets traded him in a financial move to the 76ers, who waived him. White later played three games with the Kings.

Frederic Weis (No. 15 pick in 1999 by Knicks)

Weis never came to the NBA from Europe, but he became infamous for getting dunked on by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics. New York traded Weis’ rights to the Rockets (for Patrick Ewing Jr.) in 2008. Weis retired in 2011, and Houston renounced him.

Leon Smith (No. 29 pick in 1999 by Spurs)

The Mavericks acquired Smith in a draft-night trade, and the player who jumped straight from high school struggled in every respect. He clashed with coaches and management, attempted suicide and got arrested twice before being released during his rookie season. It’s a sad tale. Smith later had short stints with the Hawks and Sonics.

Travis Knight (No. 29 in 1996 by Bulls)

Knight never even signed a contract. Chicago renounced him rather than giving him the required three-year guaranteed deal. He signed with the Lakers and made the All-Rookie second team. That led to a more lucrative contract with the Celtics, and Knight also played for the Knicks in a seven-year NBA career.