Poised Thunder exploit Clippers defense down stretch, take 2-1 series lead

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LOS ANGELES — This was playoff basketball at its most intense (certainly the most intense we’ve seen this second round, anyway). The Clippers and Thunder were battling and it was emotional, chippy, loud, and foul filled. It was a roller coaster.

It didn’t have much defense, but it was fun.

Through that storm the Thunder kept their heads about them. It’s a cliche to say the most poised team wins a close game, but it’s a cliche for a reason.

While the Clippers got frustrated with each other and chirped at officials in the fourth —all of which seemed to impact their defensive rotations and offensive shot selection, their minds elsewhere — the Thunder kept executing. OKC kept trusting players like Caron Butler to make plays (he nailed three threes in the fourth), kept trusting they would win going small, and they played with the confidence they would make the big shots when they needed to. The Clippers were the team pressing, the team still learning to win on this big a stage.

Oklahoma City won the fourth quarter 32-22 and with that become the first team to trail the Clippers after three quarters and come back to win this season, 118-112.

With the win the Thunder take a 2-1 series lead in the Western Conference semi-finals. Game 4 is Sunday at Staples Center and it is all but a must win for the Clippers.

When asked about the late game poise Kevin Durant talked about the journey and said this year they are way ahead of where they were in years past.

“Just from experience,” Durant said. “You grow from experience. Having been here before, it’s helped us all out. Reggie (Jackson) when Russell (Westbrook) was out, Serge playing in big games, Russell playing in big games, myself. All the way down the line.”

The other thing the Thunder were able to do is play through the physicality better.

As Doc Rivers had said pregame he wanted his team to do, the Clippers came out attacking the rim — they were not going to settle for jumpers. That’s good basketball. But with Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins hanging back, the Thunder are long and physical in the paint — and that physicality threw the Clippers off. The Clippers hit just 4-of-12 at the rim to start the game and finished 24-of-47 in the paint (51 percent).

“We didn’t finish a lot at the basket,” Rivers said. “I think they hurt us…. we’re getting to the basket. That’s what you want to do. We missed a lot of shots at the rim, wide open threes.”

Meanwhile the Thunder offense showed balance — when it’s more than just Kevin Durant (36 points) and Russell Westbrook (23 points and 13 assists, 8 rebounds) it means trouble for whomever is in the other jerseys. Friday night Serge Ibaka had 20, Reggie Jackson and Caron Butler each had 14 (Butler nailing threes in the fourth quarter to make the Clippers pay for not matching OKC’s small lineup). As a team the Thunder had an offensive rating of 123.8 and a true shooting percentage of 64.6 percent.

“Listen they played well today. They really did,” Rivers said. “I thought offensively we played good, but defensively we didn’t”

“Early I thought we allowed too many easy baskets, you know, dunks, layups” Blake Griffin said. “I think we’ve got to do a better job on the boards.”

After what has been a lackluster start to the second round of the playoffs with a lot of blowouts — and a slog of a first game Friday night between Indiana and Washington — the Clippers and Thunder put on a show. It was entertaining. It was a back and forth game with both teams surviving the run of the other — the lead never got more than 8 either way util the final minute.

The Clippers had their chances. This game was 102-101 Thunder with Chris Paul at the free throw line and five minutes left. But then CP3 missed the free throw, and then Serge Ibaka scored the next four points and quickely the Thunder seemed comfortable again. Then the Clipper made another push and it was 108-107 with two minutes left Thunder when Westbrook it a three, then on the next trip down Durant hit a ridiculous turn-around, 18-foot fade-away three over the wrong shoulder. That was the dagger.

The Clippers got 34 points out of Griffin, 21 points and 16 assists from Chris Paul, and 20 points from Jamal Crawford off the bench.

But they couldn’t just outscore the other team — that other team that has two elite scorers. The Clippers were not the defensive team they know they need to be to contend.

“We’ve been a team that regardless of how we plead the first three quarts, the first part of the fourth quarter, we relied on stops down the stretch,” Paul said. “Tonight we didn’t do that.”

They have until Sunday to figure out how to get those stops or they will be free to set golf tee times very soon.

Report: Jim Buss resigns as Lakers trustee

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Jim Buss’ fall from power within the Lakers continues.

After Jeanie Buss fired Jim from his front-office position, Jim and Johnny Buss tried to wrestle control from Jeanie.

That gambit has failed.

Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times:

The three siblings have agreed for Jeanie to serve as controlling owner and on the team’s board of directors as long as the family owns the Lakers. On Monday morning, they asked a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to issue an order to that effect.

According to a person familiar with the situation, Jim Buss resigned as co-trustee Thursday as part of a requirement by Jeanie Buss to resolve the dispute. Her younger sister and staunch ally, Janie, replaced the brother, joining Jeanie and Johnny Buss as co-trustees.

The person said there was no financial settlement with Jim Buss.

So Jim Buss no longer runs basketball operations, is no longer a trustee and received no payout. This is what happens you make bold promises and don’t keep them.

But Jim remains an owner of the franchise. This is what happens when you’re born to a wealthy father.

This will end the latest round of drama, but Jim’s ownership gives him some — though far less — say. The Buss/Laker business is too personal to assume this new legal arrangement ends the drama for good.

Rockets’ Ryan Anderson out two weeks with ankle injury

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The third-place Rockets could probably lose the rest of their games and still land the No. 3 seed in their Western Conference. The most important thing for Houston is being healthy and clicking for the playoffs, which would likely begin against the Thunder.

A threat to the Rockets surging into the postseason: Ryan Anderson‘s ankle.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle:

Rockets forward Ryan Anderson is expected to miss two weeks with a sprained right ankle, but the Rockets were relieved after tests that the injury was not more serious, allowing him to return before the end of the regular season.

“All the MRIs and tests came back negative and great,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said. “Now, it’s just a matter of time. They’re saying two weeks. So be it. The important thing is he can play two or three games before we get in the playoffs and it looks like he’ll be on that timetable. We won’t push it.”

Without Anderson, Houston has gone ultra small, starting three guards (James Harden, Patrick Beverley and Eric Gordon) and sliding Trevor Ariza from small forward to power forward. That has worked just fine, including a win over Oklahoma City.

But the 6-foot-10 Anderson provides another dimension while allowing the Rockets to maintain their elite spacing. It’d be a big loss if he’s not full speed by the playoffs.

Report: Kings shutting down Malachi Richardson for rest of season

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The Kings got their big win.

Now, they’re taking their loss — Malachi Richardson for the rest of the season.

James Ham of CSN California:

CSN California has confirmed that the team is shutting down rookie Malachi Richardson for the remainder of the season.

Richardson, 21, suffered a partial tear of the right hamstring on February 15 and was listed as out 4-6 weeks. While the wing has not incurred a setback, he will need the entire six weeks to heal, which places him ready to return to action with just a handful of games remaining in the schedule.

Richardson rode a breakout NCAA tournament into being the No. 22 pick last summer. He’s a physically impressive shooting guard with nice raw tools and questionable shooting. Just 198 NBA minutes have not drastically altered his scouting report coming out of Syracuse.

But his situation in Sacramento has changed. The Kings added Buddy Hield in the DeMarcus Cousins trade, and they’ve talked about signing 2014 No. 27 pick Bogdan Bogdanovic this summer. That’s a lot of competition at shooting guard, and Richardson will miss this late-season developmental opportunity.

Report: Heat not rushing to waive Chris Bosh to keep open trade possibilities

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The Heat were always going to waive Chris Bosh after March 1, assuming a doctor jointly selected by the league and union rules his blood clots are “of such severity that continuing to play professional basketball at an NBA level would subject the player to medically unacceptable risk of suffering a life-threatening or permanently disabling injury or illness.” And Miami, for good reason, seems pretty confident the doctor would make that determination.

Waiting until after March 1 ensured Bosh isn’t eligible for the 2016 playoffs, meaning his salary would be excluded from the Heat’s cap this summer. It would return to Miami’s cap if he plays 25 games (regular season plus postseason) elsewhere, so this guaranteed he wouldn’t have enough time this season.

But we’re well into March, and Bosh hasn’t been waived yet.

What gives?

Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald:

Chris Bosh was scheduled to speak with a high-ranking Heat official this week, as the sides try to move past the rancor created by the Heat’s justified unwillingness to allow him to play after a third blood clotting episode and failed physical last September.

The Heat has no intention of using him in a game but has delayed his inevitable release and removing him from its salary cap (a process that was allowed to begin Feb. 9) for two reasons, according to multiple sources:

• Miami doesn’t need the roster spot just yet, and none of the recent available free agents held great appeal to the Heat.

• More importantly, Miami want to keep alive the not-very-likely possibility of being able to trade Bosh (after the season) to a team that might want to trade something Miami wants or a team that believes he could play or (as was the case before last month’s trade deadline) a team that needed to get to the cap floor. There were preliminary trade inquiries earlier this season.

A team that trades for Bosh couldn’t exclude his salary from its cap, because Bosh’s illness was first known while he played for Miami. He has three years and $75,868,170 remaining on his contract. It’s nearly impossible to see any team dealing for him.

A better guess at the delay: The Heat are exploring using the panels created by the next Collective Bargaining Agreement to handle issues like these. It’s unclear whether he’d be eligible for one, considering he signed and had his medical issue discovered under the current CBA, but the panel could remove his salary from Miami’s cap forever — even if Bosh defies the diagnosis and plays 25 games in a future season.

There are numerous hurdles to going that route, starting with the Heat not being able to begin that process until the next CBA takes effect July 1. That’s also the day free agency begins, so Miami probably doesn’t want have Bosh still occupying cap space as free agents agree to terms.

But the Heat have already come this far with him on the books. It’s worth examining why they’re waiting, and nobody has done that better than Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops. If you want to learn more, I highly recommend his article on the topic.