Oklahoma City Thunder v San Antonio Spurs

Western Conference Finals preview: Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs

20 Comments

SEASON RECORDS

San Antonio Spurs 62-20 (No. 1 seed in West)

Oklahoma City Thunder 59-23 (No. 2 seed in West)

KEY INJURIES

San Antonio Spurs: Tony Parker has a strained hamstring but will play in Game 1 Monday. If he is hampered and can’t penetrate off the pick-and-roll, can’t push the pace in transition, it will be an issue.

Oklahoma City Thunder: Serge Ibaka is out for the playoffs with a strained calf muscle (suffered in Game 6 vs. Clippers). This is a huge blow for the Thunder, who lose their third best player and an athletic shot blocker on defense. In these playoffs Ibaka has averaged 12.2 points on 61.6 percent shooting, 7.3 rebounds and 2.2 blocks a game — his catch-and-shoot baseline jumper is a key part of what the Thunder do.

If I were a Thunder fan this is the stat that would scare me the most: In four games this season San Antonio’s offense averaged 93 points per 100 possessions when Ibaka was on the court, and 120.8 (shooting 51.4 percent) when he was on the bench. That is 27.8 per 100 better when he was out, and he is out for all seven games.

OFFENSE/DEFENSE RANKINGS IN PLAYOFFS (points per 100 possession)

San Antonio Spurs: Offense 111.1 (second in playoffs); Defense 101.2 (third in playoffs)

Oklahoma City Thunder: Offense 107.9 (seventh in playoffs); Defense 102.8 (fifth in playoffs)

THREE KEYS TO THE SERIES

1) How do the Thunder replace Serge Ibaka? The short answer is they can’t. Not easily. In four meetings with San Antonio this season the Thunder did not use any five-man lineup that didn’t feature Ibaka for more than 10 minutes. Over the course of the first couple games of this series expect Scott Brooks to throw a lot of different looks against the wall to see what sticks.

Here are two to watch for. First, Kevin Durant at the four spot. This would be the “going small” lineup and it could create some matchup issues for the Spurs. That lineup can work if the Thunder hit their threes and can play up tempo, but it also creates some defensive challenges. Second, when Ibaka went down in Game 6 vs. Clippers Brooks turned to a front line of Nick Collison and Steven Adams to great success. That lineup also keeps Kendrick Perkins off the court, which is a good thing for the Thunder.

2) Can Tony Parker get into the paint and finish at the basket? It’s not a shock to find out Tony Parker had success driving the lane against Oklahoma City, he does that against everybody. According to the Sports VU camera data this season Parker didn’t get in the lane as much when Westbrook was his primary defender, but when it was Reggie Jackson or the Thunder’s Serge Ibaka switched on him on a pick-and-roll Parker drove in at will (he will be more aggressive against Perkins/Adams/Collison, all of whom are slower of foot than Ibaka).

But when he got to the rim on those drives Parker only finished 13-of-24 (54.2 percent) — that is what Ibaka’s length and shot blocking bring. As a team the Spurs shot only 50 percent in the restricted area in four meetings between these teams this season, the length and athleticism of the Thunder disturbed those shots. Will that happen with Ibaka out? If Parker, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs as a whole get into the paint and finish a higher percentage at the rim things will look very good for them this series.

3) Can the Spurs hit their corner threes, open midrange looks? Why have the Thunder taken 10-of-12 from the Spurs the last few years? Athleticism on defense. Gregg Popovich’s mantra is “good for great” and the Spurs are better than any team in the league at making the extra pass to get the open look. The Thunder’s length and athleticism on defense (Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant, Westbrook) negates that — OKC can recover and contest that shot anyway. In four regular season meetings this year the Spurs shot just 9-of-28 (32.1 percent) on the corner threes they love and just 39.7 percent from the midrange. Will that change with Ibaka out? As with #2 above on drives, if the Spurs are hitting their corner threes it tilts everything toward the Spurs. Watch for Danny Green, if he gets hot from deep it’s huge for San Antonio.

PREDICTION

The Thunder swept the regular season meetings and have won 10-of-12 between these two teams — their athleticism has given them a real match advantage in this series. It will again, but that is diminished some without Ibaka. Oklahoma City is going to miss Ibaka as a third scoring option. The Thunder need to run more this series and get some buckets in transition. Kevin Durant has to have a monster series despite Kawhi Leonard being on him (Durant shot 43 percent with Leonard on him in the regular season), Westbrook has shot just 32 percent with Parker guarding him during the regular season. OKC’s stars are going to have to be phenomenal for them to have a chance. They can do that a couple of times, but not enough to win the series.

Spurs in six.

Ex-Cavalier Sasha Kaun retires

CLEVELAND, OHIO - APRIL 13: Sasha Kaun #14 of the Cleveland Cavaliers works against Joel Anthony #50 of the Detroit Pistons at Quicken Loans Arena on April 13, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. The Pistons defeated Cleveland 112-110 in overtime.  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 David Maxwell/Getty Images)
David Maxwell/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Accompanying their signing of Chris Andersen, the Cavaliers paid Philadelphia to take Sasha Kaun. Cleveland, facing a steep luxury tax, didn’t want to pay both big men. It was cheaper to send the 76ers cash and have them waive Kaun rather than the Cavs doing it themselves.

But perhaps the Cavaliers could’ve just waited out Kaun.

Gary Bedore of the Lawrence Journal-World:

Sasha Kaun, one of only two Kansas University basketball players, along with Hall of Famer Clyde Lovellette, to win an NCAA title (2008), NBA title (2016) and medal in the Olympic Games (2012 bronze), has decided to retire from pro ball at the age of 31.

“I was very blessed and fortunate to play as long as I have. I had a great experience for the (Russian) national team and professionally. Overall, it’s been phenomenal,” Kaun said Saturday in a phone conversation

Kaun said he started thinking seriously about retirement “toward the end of the season. I kind of feel my ankle has been bothering me awhile. With the amount of pain I was going through, I just wanted to be done. It’s something I’ve had all my career,” he added of right ankle problems. “It was definitely getting worse and worse, year by year. Especially coming here (one year in NBA after seven seasons in Moscow) … the intensity of the game I just kind of realized I don’t think I can go and do it any more.

“I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to be happy playing. I’m not going to be happy not playing. I think it’s a good time to call it quits.’’’

Kaun joined the NBA at age 30 last year — eight years after being the No. 56 pick in the 2008 draft. He played just 95 minutes in 25 games for Cleveland in his rookie and only season.

Perhaps Kaun wouldn’t have retired if he had a roster spot on the defending NBA champions. At minimum, being a free agent made it an easier call.

Kaun was best known professionally for playing for David Blatt both with the Russian national team and the Cavs and not being Kendrick Perkins.

Jarron and Jason Collins address Democratic National Convention (video)

Leave a comment

Former NBA player Jason Collins, the first openly gay athlete in major North American team sports and a longtime friend of the Clinton family, spoke at Democratic National Convention. Collins touted Hillary Clinton’s ability to help the LGBT and African-American communities.

He was preceded at the podium by his twin brother, Jarron, a Warriors assistant coach. Jarron discussed the dangers of Donald Trump before turning it over to “my less handsome twin brother.”

Report: Heat gave Dion Waiters player option in two-year contract

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 28:  Dion Waiters #3 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dribbles as Andre Iguodala #9 of the Golden State Warriors defends him during the first half in game six of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 28, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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 Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Heat got Dion Waiters cheaply.

Just not as cheaply as initially reported.

Turns out, Waiters didn’t sign a one-year deal. It’s a two-year deal with a player option.

Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo Sports:

Waiters holds a player option on the 2017-18 season

If Waiters received the full room exception and maximum raise, his 2017-18 salary is slated to be $3,028,410. Given his self-confidence, there’s a good chance he’ll opt out.

But Miami loses flexibility by putting the decision in his hands.

The Heat now project to have just about $14 million of cap space in 2017.

That counts the guaranteed salaries of Chris Bosh, Hassan Whiteside, Goran Dragic and Tyler Johnson, player options for Josh McRoberts, Waiters and Willie Reed, a team option on Justise Winslow, Josh Richardson‘s unguaranteed salary and the No. 15 pick.

So, there’s a lot of wiggle room. The cap could land higher than expected, especially because a new Collective Bargaining Agreement could dictate terms. Miami could trade. McRoberts, Waiters and/or Reed could opt out. The Heat could get a lower draft pick.

But Waiters’ contract ties up just a little more 2017 cap room. It’s still probably worth the flier on the talented, though woefully inefficient, 24-year-old. The downside is just a little sharper.

Which leads to the bigger question: Was it worth letting Dwyane Wade leave in the name of maintaining flexibility if that flexibility is only moderate anyway?

Obviously, it’ll be easier to handle Waiters’ $3 million player option than Wade’s requested $25 million salary in 2017. But the Heat won’t have substantial cap space regardless. And this way, they also won’t have Wade.

Carmelo Anthony gathers athletes, cops, kids in conversation

LAS VEGAS, NV - JULY 22:  Carmelo Anthony #15 of the United States stands on the court as the American national anthem is performed before a USA Basketball showcase exhibition game against Argentina at T-Mobile Arena on July 22, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The United States won 111-74.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
1 Comment

LOS ANGELES (AP) Carmelo Anthony spent the U.S. Olympic basketball team’s precious day off running a two-hour town hall meeting at a South Los Angeles youth center because he can’t sleep anymore.

With only a few spare hours Monday before jetting off to continue the Americans’ pre-Olympic tour, Anthony gathered basketball stars, community leaders and police officers to speak with teenagers and young adults about the importance of respect, communication and safety. Roughly 200 people came together for the meeting, and Anthony believes everyone left with something to contemplate.

“We really got a lot of messages out of today,” Anthony said. “Hopefully we can continue this dialogue, and we created something today that will continue on.”

Anthony shares many Americans’ profound disquiet with gun violence after this year’s series of increasingly dismaying shootings. With both the men’s and women’s Olympic teams in Los Angeles at the same time, the New York Knicks star recruited fellow Olympian Tamika Catchings and other like-minded athletes at the Challengers Boys and Girls Club to begin a badly needed nationwide conversation.

“There were some very, very powerful messages that were being talked about,” Anthony said. “Not just amongst us as athletes, but among the youth. The youth really spoke out today about how they feel about their community, how they feel about police officers, how they feel about relationships and how we can mend these relationships.”

Anthony’s awakening interest in social activism was piqued after he spent a day watching news coverage of the latest shootings earlier this month. He awoke in the middle of the night and wrote a 280-word Instagram post declaring that the “system is broken” and calling on sports figures to lead change.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, I have to get my athletes, my fellow athletes, to step up and use their voice and use their platform in the best way they can,” Anthony said.

Two weeks ago, he took the stage at the ESPY Awards with Chris Paul, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. The four superstars decried violence and called for open conversation on racial issues.

Anthony backed up the group’s words before Team USA left Los Angeles following an exhibition game on Sunday night. He plans to keep finding ways to facilitate communication after this gathering led to frank discussions.

Catchings recalled young adults telling police officers about the fear they feel when approached by officers with their hands on their guns. One young woman told officers: “Just smile! A smile goes a long way.”

“Definitely tension, and definitely some tears,” said Catchings, the three-time Olympic gold medalist and former WNBA MVP. “One young lady said that when she got off the bus and saw the (police) uniform, right off the bat, she was scared.

“But coming into this environment and hearing everything, she (said), `I doubted if I really wanted to be a part of it, but I’m so glad I came, because now I feel like I’m walking away with so much more than I thought I was going to get.’ When you have conversations like that and you get feedback like that, we know we’re going in the right direction.”

The community leaders invited by Anthony echoed his confidence in the importance of communication, particularly between police and young black men. Deputy Chief Bill Scott of the LAPD brought a large group of officers to join the meeting.

“Many of the kids in our group said, `We’re thrilled to be here,”‘ said Calvin Lyons, the CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles. “`We have a higher level of respect for the officers because of what they’re sharing.’ There was no fear.”

Anthony hopes to be a three-time Olympic gold medalist at this time next month, possibly capping a remarkable international career with another title in Rio before he heads back to the Knicks. He knows his work in American communities will go on much longer than even his NBA career, but he welcomes the challenge.

“We know that nothing is going to happen overnight,” Anthony said. “But what we wanted to do was create something that we could start right now, and continue on when we leave here today.”