San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Game 2: Can Thunder protect the paint?

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Sometimes one stat can tell the story.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals San Antonio scored 66 points in the paint. That equals the most the Thunder gave up all season. It speaks directly to the loss of Serge Ibaka and how Thunder coach Scott Brooks spent all of Game 1 trying to find a lineup or strategy that could both score and slow down the Spurs (who put up 122 in the opener).

The question for Game 2 is simply this:

“So, Scott, what did you come up with?”

Some of the Thunder’s success came when they sagged way back into the paint in the second half, clogging things up. It’s what Dallas did to some success in the first round. Expect to see more of that. Problem is if you sag you leave Tony Parker, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs more open at the arc, and that can burn you.

One thing we can hope to see is a front line combination of Nick Collison and Steven Adams — those two were +16 in 17 minutes after Serge Ibaka went down in Game 6 against the Clippers, but Brooks didn’t play them together at all in Game 1. Not sure exactly what he’s saving them for, but Game 2 is time to break out that pairing.

Aside that, look for some “small” (Kevin Durant at the four) lineups, but more “big” ones as Oklahoma City generally had more success that way. For example, the starting five — Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefalosha, Durant, Collison and Kendrick Perkins — made a nice run in the second half and were +4 after the break (after a poor start to the game).

The problem with the big lineups for OKC is that it doesn’t have a lot of scoring options outside Durant and Westbrook and it puts extra pressure on those two to do all the scoring. While the Spurs defense is focused on them.

As for San Antonio… another game like that would work.

Of course, another game with 66 points in the paint and shooting 25-of-29 at the rim is not likely. What they need to do is carry over the attacks in the paint, be aggressive, and if the Thunder do pack the paint more they need to make them pay with threes right over the top of it.

The other key for San Antonio is another strong defensive game. Durant and Westbrook are going to get theirs and put up 50-70 points between the two of them, the key is not to let Reggie Jackson or Caron Butler put up a big numbers, too.

Mostly though the Spurs just have to attack on offense and see if Scott Brooks found any answers.

Michael Beasley had his truck stolen out of his driveway

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Michael Beasley will be getting buckets, shooting long twos, and playing inconsistent defense for the New York Knicks next season (the analysis is just based on recent history).

But first, he’d like to find his truck. Which was stolen.

Well, I did see a Dodge Ram 1500 on the road today, but since I’m on the West Coast and I have no idea what color/year Beasley’s truck is, I’m going to assume the guy I saw didn’t perpetrate the heist.

Still, that sucks for Beasley, even if he can easily afford to replace it.

Kevin Durant gets into Twitter debate with reporter over White House comments

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Kevin Durant became the latest Warrior — joining Stephen Curry, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston, that we know of — to say he would not visit President Donald Trump’s White House as NBA champion. Which is all kind of moot because it’s unlikely the White House invites them and outspoken Trump critic/Warriors coach Steve Kerr and his players any way. (The White House’s biggest concern should be that Kerr accepts the invitation and uses that platform to challenge the president’s policies and style in front of him.)

Durant’s comments led to plenty of talk on sports talk radio and around the sports world online about whether a player or team should decline an invitation from the president. It’s not a new debate, Tom Brady denied that politics is why he didn’t visit Barack Obama’s White House (although I’m not sure many believed him), but KD’s on a big stage now so it became a talking point.

Former ESPN reporter Britt McHenry questioned a player not visiting the White House, and Durant responded, leading to a little Twitter back-and-forth.

Durant had previously Tweeted in response “by doing the opposite, I am inspiring more people” but that Tweet was deleted.

There is no one correct way to protest a person/policy/action, McHenry may see things differently, but Durant has chosen to stay away. That’s valid — traditionally these “champions to the White House” things are tedious photo ops with a few bad jokes thrown in. Having a hoops fan/player in Obama in the White House made the NBA visits more entertaining the past eight years, there was some trash talk, but still, they are largely just a public relations moment. If KD doesn’t want to play the PR game with Trump, that’s a legitimate response.

This has all been a tempest in a teapot. Until/unless the White House actually invites the Warriors to come, it’s all kind of moot.

Dwight Howard on Hornets’ coach Clifford: “It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you”

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Dwight Howard‘s game is much better than his reputation among fans.

He’s not the Defensive Player of the Year/All-NBA/MVP candidate level player he was back in Orlando, but Howard is still one of the best rebounders in the game, he’s strong defensively, and he’s an efficient scorer inside. He’s a quality center, if he plays within himself and is used well. His perception as a guy who does not take the game seriously and held back Houston and Atlanta in recent years has validity (he plays better in pick-and-roll than on the move, but wants the ball in the post), but the idea he is trash is flat-out wrong. He’s still good.

Howard wants to change his reputation, rewrite the final chapters of his career, and told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN that Steve Clifford’s Charlotte Hornets are the place that is going to happen.

“The other places I was, the coaches didn’t really know who I am,” Howard told ESPN. “I think that they had perception of me and ran with it. Cliff knows my game. He knows all the things that I can do. I’m very determined to get back to the top. It’s a great feeling when somebody believes in you. They aren’t just saying it; they believe it. It really just pushed me to the limit in workouts: running, training, everything. I want to do more.

“In Orlando, I was getting 13-15 shots a game. Last season, in Atlanta, it was six shot attempts. It looks like I’m not involved in the game. And if I miss a shot, it sticks out because I am not getting very many of them. But I think it’s all opportunity, the system. I haven’t had a system where I can be who I am since I was in Orlando.”

Howard averaged 8.3 field goal attempts per game in Atlanta, which is about five a game below his peak. Last season 75 percent of Howard’s shots came within three feet of the rim — is is not there to space the floor, however, he can still move fairly well off the roll and is a good passer for a big.

Last season, 28 percent of Howard’s possessions came on post ups, and he averaged a pedestrian 0.84 points per possession on those. On the 21 percent of shots he got on a cut, he averaged a very good 1.36 PPP. When he got the ball back as a roll man (again on the move), it was 1.18 PPP. The challenge long has been Howard is better on the move but doesn’t feel involved unless he gets post touches, and if he doesn’t feel involved and engaged he’s not the same player.

Maybe Clifford can make this all work with some older plays where Howard feels comfortable.

Charlotte, with Howard in the paint and on the boards, should get back to being a top 10 NBA defensive team, not the middle of the pack as they were last season. Clifford is better than that as a coach, and Howard is an upgrade in the paint (on both ends). Charlotte should be a playoff team again in the East.

But it all will come back to Howard. Fair or not. And Wojnarowski is right, this is Howard’s last best chance to write the ending he wants to his career.

Friday afternoon fun: Watch James Harden’s 10 best plays from last season

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James Harden had a historic season in Houston.

Since it’s Friday afternoon and your sports viewing options consist of watching guys about to be cut from NFL rosters try to impress, why not check out Harden’s best plays from last season. It’s worth a couple minutes of your time.