Three reasons this is not 2012 and the Thunder are not coming back on the Spurs

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Oklahoma City has been here before, exactly here, in 2012.

The San Antonio Spurs had won the first two games of the Western Conference Finals and seemed to be in control. On blogs and across talk radio there were questions about just how good the Thunder really were. Then suddenly the lightbulb went on over the Thunders’ head before Game 3 — “We’re way more athletic than these guys and we can overwhelm them on both ends of the court.” They did. Oklahoma City defended aggressively, won Game 3 by 20 and went on to sweep the Spurs right out of the series.

Thunder fans are hanging their hat on that again in 2014 — they turned it around against the Spurs before, they can do it again.

No. Not this time.

This time the Spurs are going to win this series and return to the NBA Finals. It will take four or five games, based on the fact they won the first two by a combined 52 points (it was 12 in 2012).

Here are three key reasons 2014 is not going to be a repeat of 2012.

1) No James Harden. Back in 2012 it was the heady days when the Thunder were a trio, not a duo. Harden came in off the bench but was the Thunder’s second leading scorer in that series, averaging 18.5 points a game with a true shooting percentage of .641 in those six games (Westbrook scored 18.3 but had an unimpressive true shooting percentage of .450). At the end of games OKC put the ball in Harden’s hands to create for Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant, to guide the offense and share the ball. That third scorer no longer exists. That glue that got Durant and Westbrook to play with each other and not next to each other is gone. And it shows.

2) No Serge Ibaka. Thunder management made the call to pay Ibaka and not Harden, and while there are things you may question about that choice you can’t question how much Serge Ibaka means to the Thunder. Not now. On one end the Spurs have scored 120 points in the paint in two games, exploiting the lack of shot-blocking with Ibaka out with a calf injury (Scott Brooks should play more Steven Adams, but that doesn’t solve this issue). However, the Thunder miss Ibaka more on offense — they miss his baseline jumper to bail out Westbrook on drives, they miss his offensive putbacks, they miss his activity off the ball and his energy. They are not the same offensive team without Ibaka, thy are much easier to defend. And it shows.

3) The Spurs are much more athletic, much deeper now. When these teams met two years ago, the fourth leading scorer for the Spurs was an aging Stephen Jackson. Kawhi Leonard was still growing into the player his now, he was not a defensive force, he was not getting that much run. Tiago Splitter was not a guy Gregg Popovich trusted, now he starts and is a key defensive force. Splitter gives them a versatile big man who is a defensive anchor and can make a few plays on offense, too. Danny Green wasn’t getting many minutes, nor was Patty Mills. Bottom line is that the Spurs are still not the most athletic team in this series, but they closed the gap some. And it shows.

The Thunder can play better, make some adjustment (start Steven Adams and Caron Butler, for one) but this is a very different Spurs team from two years ago. One that is not going to let the Thunder roll them this time.

It’s not 2012.

Stephen Curry says “pretty good” chance he plays in Game 3 next Saturday

Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry, left, and head coach Steve Kerr react during the first half in Game 1 of a second-round NBA basketball playoff series against the Portland Trail Blazers in Oakland, Calif., Sunday, May 1, 2016. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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The Golden State Warriors were just fine without him Sunday in Game 1.

But no doubt the Warriors are a much more dangerous team with the past-and-future league MVP, so when will they get him back? Maybe by next weekend.

That would put him a couple of days inside the two weeks the team said he would be out, but it’s not unreasonable.

That said, players are the worst people to ask about their recovery timeline, they are always convinced they can be back more quickly than the team doctors say. Also, if the Warriors can win Game 2 Tuesday at home and be up 2-0 in the series, why rush Curry back? Make Portland win a game first.

That said, the Warriors would like to get Curry a little game run and his legs under him this series, because they are going to need him next series (against San Antonio or possibly Oklahoma City).

Warriors’ defense too good, Klay Thompson too hot for Blazers in easy Game 1 win

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Even without Stephen Curry — who thinks he can be back for Game 3 next Saturday — the Golden State Warriors execute like champions.

They have an elite defense. Just as Damian Lillard, who shot 3-of-17 and had 12 points through the first three quarters (he went 5-of-8 in the fourth and scored 18 points, but the game was over by then). Or ask C.J, McCollum, who shot 5-of-17 for 12 points on the night.

The Warriors have more than one elite shooter and playmaker. Klay Thompson had 37 points and was 7-of-14 from three. Draymond Green added a triple-double of 23 points, 13 rebounds, and 11 assists.

It all overwhelmed a Portland team that had played against the Clippers Friday night and still looked a little sluggish. The Warriors opened the game on an 18-4 run and led by 20 after 12 minutes, Thompson had 18 of his points in the first quarter, and by that point the Warriors put it in cruise control and were never seriously threatened on their way to a 118-106 win.

Golden State leads the series 1-0, with Game 2 at Oracle Arena Tuesday night.

Portland has a lot of work to do before then, starting with altering their defensive strategies — they need to have their bigs show out more and be physical when they can with Thompson. Oh, and put Maurice Harkless on Thompson, not McCollum. They need to take away Klay’s space, if Portland gives him the room to operate he had for three quarters Sunday again and he will beat them again.

Another part of the Warriors’ fast start was a clever move by Steve Kerr, asking center Andrew Bogut to guard wing Maurice Harkless. Portland’s game plan (almost every game) is to try and drag the opposing center into defending the pick-and-roll, but now Harkless had to be involved rather than Mason Plumlee. Harkless isn’t half the playmaker or threat in that role Plumlee is. It helped slow the Blazers pick-and-roll, and they went on to score just 17 first quarter points.

All game long the Warriors were able to attack the rim and Portland just does not have the paint protectors that will slow them down. Shaun Livingston had 12 for Golden State getting the start in Curry’s place and Golden State did a good job of posting up the smaller Trail Blazers guards. Portland got 15 each from Al-Farouq Aminu and Allen Crabbe (who had a good game), but Bogut was a force in the paint and his rim protection was an issue for the Blazers.

Portland also lost Gerald Henderson to an ejection, one that seemed like a quick trigger to me. Toward the end of the third quarter, Anderson Varejao fell and as he did kicked Henderson knocking the Blazer to the ground. Henderson thought it was intentional and got up and got in Varejao’s face. The referees looked at the tape and went with the double technical.  But neither man let the incident go and with 15 seconds left in the third Henderson was trash talking with Varejao, who at that point was on the Warriors’ bench. The referee hit him with a second technical.

But that’s the least of Portland’s problems right now.

They have not been a strong defensive team all season, however they need to be a better one by Tuesday. If the Blazers go down 0-2, and Curry is back for Game 3, Golden State could get even more time to rest before the next round because this series will not last long. Lillard and company need to bring it on Tuesday night.

Walton has unfinished work with Warriors before Lakers job

Golden State Warriors interim head coach Luke Walton argues a call against the Charlotte Hornets during the second half of an NBA basketball game Monday, Jan. 4, 2016, in Oakland, Calif. Golden State won 111-101. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Luke Walton was in no rush to leave his job as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.

He won an NBA championship his first season, went 39-4 as interim coach in place of Steve Kerr to start this season and was part of a team that set the single-season record for wins in the regular season.

But when the Los Angeles Lakers came calling, Walton could not turn down the team he began his career with and which he helped win two NBA titles.

“I was very comfortable with the idea of coming back here and coaching again next year with this team and Steve,” Walton said Saturday. “I was fine with that. But you have to take the opportunities when they come.”

The Lakers announced Friday night that they had agreed to a contract to hire Walton just five days after firing Byron Scott. It all came together very fast as Walton interviewed in Oakland with Lakers owner Jim Buss and general manager Mitch Kupchak on Thursday before getting the offer the following day.

Walton said he was nervous to call Kerr to give him the news. He started the call by telling Kerr he had good news – he got the offer to coach the Lakers – and bad news – he was going to take it.

“He’s thrilled for the opportunity and it’s going to be great,” Kerr said. “But it’s bad news for all of us. You can’t replace Luke. He’s one of a kind. They broke the mold after they made Luke. We’re going to miss him desperately.”

Kerr credited Walton for helping to create the culture that allowed Golden State to win 140 games the past two regular seasons, including a record 73 this season. Walton took over when Kerr was sidelined by complications from offseason back surgery to start this season and led Golden State to a record 24 straight wins to open the season.

Walton will remain with the Warriors until their playoff run ends, while using some down time to prepare for his new job.

“My priority is the Warriors, these players and winning a championship right now,” Walton said. “The Lakers know that and they know that’s how it should be. We have a chance to do something very special.”

Walton spent nine seasons as a forward for the Lakers, winning two championship rings as a smart, steady contributor. Three years after his retirement as a player, the 36-year-old Southern California native is back to become the 26th head coach in franchise history.

Walton, a second-round pick out of Arizona in 2003, was a depth forward on the Lakers’ championship teams in 2009 and 2010 before getting traded to Cleveland in March 2012.

After his playing career ended in 2013, he worked briefly for the Lakers’ television network as a broadcaster, and for their D-League team as a player development coach. Walton became an assistant in Golden State last season and earned promotion to the job of Kerr’s lead assistant this season after Alvin Gentry left.

“I’m happy for him but at the same time this will sting a little bit,” Warriors forward Draymond Green said. “He’s obviously a guy we want around. When we have the type of success we had and he proved what he proved this year he deserves it. That’s a dream job for him.”

Walton has a tough task trying to turn around an organization that has won 16 NBA championships but is coming off the two worst seasons in franchise history as it transitions into a new era after the retirement of Kobe Bryant.

The Lakers are fully rebuilding after the retirement of Bryant, Walton’s longtime teammate. Bryant has backed Walton as a future head coach for years, praising his intelligence and understanding of the game.

The Lakers’ core consists of recent draft picks D'Angelo Russell, Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. alongside an unremarkable collection of veterans and young players. They also will add a top-three draft pick if they finish high enough in the lottery next month.

“There’s always challenges with every coaching job you take,” Walton said. “The one here was trying to take a good team that already had established themselves and try to make them great. The team in L.A., we need to go down there and build a foundation.”

Report: Kings to interview Patrick Ewing for coaching job

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11: Assistant coach Patrick Ewing of the Charlotte Hornets looks on in the first half against the Boston Celtics at TD Garden on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. 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 Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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The Kings’ coaching search is the definition of wide ranging. So far names that have come up in the search are Mark Jackson, Nate McMillan, Vinny Del Negro, Mike Woodson, Sam Mitchell, and Kevin McHale (although his level of interest is up for debate). Luke Walton and other big names were called but are now off the board.

You can add Patrick Ewing to that list.

The legendary Knicks big man and current Hornets assistant will get a shot, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

The Sacramento Kings will interview Charlotte Hornets associate head coach Patrick Ewing for their head coaching vacancy this week, league sources told The Vertical….

What makes Ewing an intriguing candidate for Sacramento officials is his potential ability to command the respect of mercurial All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins, league sources said. Ewing, a Hall of Fame center, has the unique blend of his own physical and playing stature to go with a strong coaching pedigree as part of staffs with Clifford, Stan Van Gundy and Jeff Van Gundy.

The big man connection is obvious, but the real question for Ewing — or whoever gets the Kings job — is how well they can help change the culture of the locker room. It’s going to take a strong coach and some other locker room leaders to give this team a new start as it moves into a new building.

It’s going to be a lot of work, look at what Marco Belinelli said in an interview with Sky Sport Italy, via Sportando.

“There wasn’t a group from the start of the season,” said Belinelli. ‘Karl didn’t want Cousins and Cousins didn’t want Karl as coach. It’s pretty hard to play well in a situation like that. At the beginning it looked like Ranadive was the man calling the shots but then Divac came in, trying to be the peacemaker between Cousins and Karl”.

“I saw some very bad stuff in the locker room,” Belinelli added. ‘Coming from a perfect organization like the Spurs, I was pretty surprised to see stuff like that”.