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.

Report: NBA to announce All-NBA Teams early, because of salary cap reasons

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The NBA’s Most Valuable Player award will not be announced until an awards ceremony June 26 on TNT — after the NBA draft, and after the NBA playoffs that will shape the narrative of the award even though voting will have been completed more than two months earlier. Same for Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year and on down the line.

But not the All-NBA Teams, those are coming sooner — because teams want it that way.

The easiest example is the Indiana Pacers: If Paul George makes an All-NBA team they can offer him a designated veteran contract worth roughly $80 million more than any other team. However, if he doesn’t make a team the Pacers need to worry about him leaving as a free agent in 2018, and they may try to trade him. The best time for that trade might be around the draft — Indiana may be able to secure a high pick from a team near the top of the draft in a trade. However, if the Pacers didn’t know if George made an All-NBA team by the draft they wouldn’t make that move.

So the NBA is announcing early, a story broken by Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

To allow for its teams to have all the necessary information to make offseason preparations, the NBA will announce its all-NBA teams before its inaugural awards show in late June, according to league sources.

Because of the newly created Designated Player Exception, which relies on players making, among other things, one of the three all-NBA teams to qualify, decisions about whether players — such as Indiana Pacers star Paul George, for example — will be willing to remain with their current team or be open to being traded elsewhere could be based upon whether a player is voted on to one of the teams.

Smart move by the NBA. There are also bonuses and other impacts on salaries based on end of season awards that will alter the salary structure of teams heading into free agency.

Larry Bird delivers Pacers’ 2021 All-Star bid in an Indy car

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NEW YORK (AP) — Indiana wants the NBA All-Star Game and sent Larry Bird to get it – in an Indy car.

Bird drove four blocks down Fifth Avenue in his car Monday to deliver the Pacers’ bid to host the 2021 game to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, fitting his 6-foot-9 frame into a car usually driven by much shorter people.

Bird, an Indiana native and now the Pacers president, had driven an Indy car only once, during his practice for his drive Monday.

Drawing a crowd of a couple hundred spectators, he maneuvered along the left lane, exited his yellow and blue “Larry Bird” car and called it a “little rough ride” because of his big feet and the car’s small pedals.

Silver says the Pacers, who hosted the game in 1985, would be “fantastic hosts.”

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is in Los Angeles, and 2019 is expected to be re-awarded to Charlotte. Houston, Orlando, and a number of other cities are expected to make bids for the 2020 and 2021 games, along with Indiana.

Rajon Rondo out for Game 5, Isaiah Canaan to start… but is that Bulls’ best option late?

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Jerian Grant, and then Michael Carter-Williams, have been unmitigated disasters for the Chicago Bulls in the two games they just lost at home to the Boston Celtics, evening up the series 2-2. That’s not the only reasons for the Celtics’ surge — Boston has gang rebounded well, they’ve done a great job slowing down the tempo and taking away easy Chicago buckets, and going small has worked because Al Horford has played fantastic at the five — but if Chicago is going to still win this series, they need better play at the point.

Despite some rumors, that is not going to come from Rajon Rondo in Game 5

That means Isaiah Canaan, who played the best of any of the reserve points in Game 4, will get the start.

Canaan with the other four Bulls starters — Jimmy Butler, Dwyane Wade, Nikola Mirotic, and Robin Lopez — were +12 in 11 minutes together in Game 4, and played fantastic on both ends of the court. At least until Canaan, who had seen limited minutes most of the season, started to show signs of being tired.

That said, Canaan was on the bench for a reason at the beginning of this series — he shot 36.4 percent on the season, 26.6 percent from three, and he’s not a great defender. Expect the Celtics to try and exploit him on that end with favorable matchups in Game 5.

Which is why Fred Hoiberg needs to lean on a no point guard lineup when it matters most. Maybe not to start (you don’t want to overtax Butler and have him tired late), but in the fourth and other key moments the Bulls should break with tradition.

The Bulls were +2 in Game 3 when Rondo and Wade were the de facto point guards, and -29 when Grant or Carter-Williams was in the role. In Game 4, because Canaan played well, there was almost always a point guard on the court.

I would play Wade and Butler with rookie Denzel Valentine also on the wing — he can space the floor (35.1 percent from three this season), and the ball tends to move when he is out there. Hoiberg clearly has little trust in Valentine, and he’s not a great defender, but neither is Canaan.

The Celtics have found a stride this series, and I’m not sure the Bulls can come back and win, but if they are going to Hoiberg has to prove he’ll take risks and make big adjustments when needed in this series. Brad Stevens already made his bold move starting Gerald Green, and it worked. Can the Bulls match it?

Rumor: Paul George told former Pacers teammates he wanted to join the Lakers

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Paul George to the Lakers is a capital-T thing.

George is from Southern California, and he keeps indicating his dissatisfaction with the Pacers. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent in 2018. Even Lakers president Magic Johnson is talking about George.

Where do rumors like this originate?

Mitch Lawrence of Sporting News:

A SoCal native, he’s been talking about playing for his hometown team, the Lakers, for a long time. He’s never made his long-term intentions a secret within the Pacers’ locker room, according to former teammates. He wants to wear the purple and gold.

Did George say he dreamed of playing for the Lakers growing up? Did he say it’d be cool to join his boyhood favorite team if the situation presented itself? Or did he say he wanted to get the heck out of Indiana to join the Lakers as soon as possible?

There are so many ways his comments to teammates could get misconstrued as they get passed down in the game of telephone.

But the Lakers threat – to whatever degree it’s real – looms, and it’ll impact how the Pacers handle their offseason.