Too much Kevin Durant, MVP leads Thunder past Clippers to Conference Finals

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It was a game about poise.

The Clippers showed a lot of it to start the game. Two days after a devastating loss the Clippers showed the growth and maturity Doc Rivers has been trying to instill since he walked in the door — they moved the ball on offense, they defended well (Russell Westbrook started 0-of-4, Kevin Durant 1-of-7) and the Clippers were up 14 in the first quarter. OKC’s offense was stagnant, the Clippers were the ones attacking.

Then Kevin Durant woke up.

Midway through the second quarter, after the Clippers took a mental vacation on defense. Three times in a couple of minutes they left Durant wide open for a three point shot. He hit them, scoring 9 straight. Then it was on

From that point on Durant had 36 points on 11-of-16 shooting, looking every bit the MVP. He even had 16 rebounds. He and the Thunder were the more mature team, looking more like a veteran, battle-tested team.

He carried the Thunder all the way to a 104-98 win over the Clippers.

Oklahoma City takes the series 4-2, moving on to face the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Finals starting Monday night in San Antonio.

The only question for Oklahoma City is will Serge Ibaka be ready to go for that game — he left the game less than five minutes into the second half with a strained calf and did not return. After the game coach Scott Brooks said he did not know the severity and if Ibaka would be able to go on Monday.

If Durant plays like this, it may not matter. Once the Clippers let him get his rhythm there was no stopping his offense. He rained down jumpers, made moves to the rim, drew a charge on Blake Griffin (who eventually fouled out after a spectacular game) and generally was impressive every time he touched the ball.

Russell Westbrook looked like himself and had 17 of his 19 points on the night after the break, and more importantly he added 12 assists as he shared the rock.

With Ibaka down Scott Brooks played the Steven Adams/Nick Collison combination together more and it worked well — they defended with strength, both are good passers and both ran the floor. Adams played continued his great run scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds — more of him and less of Kendrick Perkins is good for the Thunder. We’ll see if Brooks plays more Adams and less Perkins in the next round. Thunder fans hope so.

The Clippers got more and more desperate and for a second straight game made too many mistakes down the stretch. Players said that was less about the Donald Sterling drama (although the weight of that certainly didn’t help them) as much as it was about them not making plays. Doc Rivers signed off on that in his press conference.

“We’re a team in process,” Rivers said.

That process saw 57 wins and a trip to the second round of the playoffs, one where they showed themselves to be on the cusp of being a championship team. In the NBA teams often have to learn how to win and the Clippers look like a team that took big steps down that road this season and in these playoffs.

Those were steps the Thunder had already taken.

When they were down early then again late in the game the Thunder showed more poise, more maturity. They dealt with both adversity and success well in this series.

Those are things they will need a lot of next round against the Spurs.

Reports: Lakers, Pacers both confident in tampering case

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The Lakers reportedly expect to be cleared of the tampering allegations brought by the Pacers over Paul George.

As for the Pacers?

Bob Kravitz of WTHR on The Rich Eisen Show

They feel very strongly that there were correspondences between Lakers executives and Paul George’s representative. They had heard those rumors for quite some time. They think there’s some there there.

Wishful thinking by both sides? It sure looks like it.

The Lakers probably tampered, because everybody tampers. But teams are rarely punished for it, so they can also believe they did nothing egregious enough to become an exception.

A paper trail between the Lakers – Magic Johnson or any other executive – and George’s camp would go far. But even that must be more specific. George’s agent, Aaron Mintz, also represents Lakers forward Julius Randle and former Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell. So, he’d have good reason to communicate with the organization.

I don’t know what the NBA will do here. Tampering rules are rarely and arbitrarily enforced. That gives each team plenty of room to believe it’s right.

Only two of 38 rookies surveyed say No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz will have class’s best career

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The 76ers drafted Ben Simmons No. 1 last year, believing he’d have the best career of anyone in his draft class. This year, Philadelphia traded up to draft Markelle Fultz No. 1 for the same reason.

Their fellow rookies – Simmons missed all of last season due to injury – aren’t nearly as enthused.

John Schuhmann of NBA.com conducted his annual rookie survey, polling 39 players who weren’t allowed to vote for themselves or college or NBA teammates. Thirty-eight responded to the best-career question:

Which rookie will have the best career?

1. Lonzo Ball, L.A. Lakers — 18.4%
Jayson Tatum, Boston — 18.4%

3. Josh Jackson, Phoenix — 10.5%
Dennis Smith Jr., Dallas — 10.5%

5. De'Aaron Fox, Sacramento — 7.9%

6. Markelle Fultz, Philadelphia — 5.3%
Harry Giles, Sacramento — 5.3%
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia — 5.3%

Others receiving votes: Jarrett Allen, Brooklyn; John Collins, Atlanta; Jonathan Isaac, Orlando; Luke Kennard, Detroit; Kyle Kuzma, L.A. Lakers; Donovan Mitchell, Utah; Malik Monk, Charlotte

Simmons might not have come to mind to players at the rookie photo shoot, which was for the most recent draft class. And rookies have tended to pick someone other than the No. 1 pick for this question. Anthony Davis in 2012 was the last No. 1 pick to lead voting. Simmons tied for fourth at 6.7% last year – behind Brandon Ingram, Kris Dunn and Buddy Hield. Even Karl-Anthony Towns landed behind Jahlil Okafor in 2015.

But so few votes for Fultz – the consensus top prospect in the draft – is fairly stunning.

Dennis Smith Jr. received the most votes for Rookie of the Year, but at just 25.7%. A large majority of rookies picked someone other than the Mavericks point guard.

Lonzo Ball (71.8% for best playmaker) was the only player to receive a majority of votes in a category. Luke Kennard (48.6% for best shooter) and Smith (43.6% for most athletic), who each tripled second place, came close.

LeBron James reemerged as rookies’ favorite player after a three-year run by Kevin Durant. Maybe that Warriors backlash if finally catching up to Durant?

Kendall Marshall, Marshall Plumlee headline Team USA’s AmeriCup roster

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AmeriCup, previously called the FIBA Americas Championship, lost its luster when FIBA decided the continental tournament wouldn’t double as World Cup qualifying.

But the U.S. is still sending a team, coached by Jeff Van Gundy. The roster (team last season):

  • Billy Baron (UCAM Murcia, Spain)
  • Alec Brown (Windy City Bulls)
  • Larry Drew II (Sioux Falls Skyforce)
  • Reggie Hearn (Reno Bighorns)
  • Darrun Hilliard (Detroit Pistons)
  • Jonathan Holmes (Canton Charge);
  • Kendall Marshall (Reno Bighorns)
  • Xavier Munford (Greensboro Swarm)
  • Marshall Plumlee (New York Knicks)
  • Jameel Warney (Texas Legends)
  • C.J. Williams (Texas Legends)
  • Reggie Williams (Oklahoma City Blue)

The Americans should still be favored, though obviously not as overwhelming as they’d be with NBA players, in a field also comprised of Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Venezuela, Dominican Republic, Colombia, Uruguay, Panama and U.S. Virgin Islands.

This will be a good benchmark, as the U.S. might take a similar roster into World Cup qualifying.

Report: Tampering investigation stems from Magic Johnson’s TV interview

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In April, new Lakers president Magic Johnson went on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and discussed then-Pacers forward Paul George:

We’re going to say hi, because we know each other. You just can’t say, “Hey, I want you to come to the Lakers,” even though I’m going to be wink-winking like [blinks repeatedly]. You know what that means, right?

Now, the Lakers – at Indiana’s request – are being investigated for tampering.

Broderick Turner of the Los Angeles Times:

The investigation, which has been going on since May, stemmed from comments Magic Johnson made on “Jimmy Kimmel Live” that angered Pacers owner Herb Simon, according to several NBA officials who were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

This doesn’t mean the Pacers believe Johnson tampered with his televised comments. It seems as if that was the last straw following numerous rumors about George going to Los Angeles.

However, there’s a case Johnson’s televised remarks alone would constitute tampering. The Collective Bargaining Agreement prohibits “assurances of intent, or understandings of any kind (whether disclosed or undisclosed to the NBA), between a player (or any person or entity controlled by, related to, or acting with authority on behalf of, such player) and any Team (or Team Affiliate)” – and even attempts to solicit assurance of intent or understanding – when the player is still under contract with another team. Johnson sure appeared to do that.

But it’d be shocking if Johnson or the Lakers were punished for the interview alone. Indiana probably needs more evidence.

Then again, the arbitrary way the NBA enforces tampering, who knows?