Serge Ibaka to start for Thunder in Game 3

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UPDATE: Serge Ibaka will play and start, Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before the game.

He also is starting Reggie Jackson at the two. That means Thabo Sefolosha and Nick Collison will come off the bench. That certainly brings more offense to the starting lineup, but we will see if that is enough against a Spurs team firing on all cylinders.

2:11 pm: The Oklahoma City Thunder will not make it official until as close to game time as they can get because… well that’s what Bill Belichick would do. And every hockey team (“he has a lower body injury”).

But after he went through shootaround with his team Sunday, you should bet on Serge Ibaka playing in Game 3 against the San Antonio Spurs.

Here is what Ibaka said, which you don’t have to read very deeply into to see he will suit up, as reported by Jeff Caplan at NBA.com.

“I remember when the doctor told me I would not be able to play in the playoffs, I cried,” Ibaka said. “Because it’s something I was not really looking for. I always enjoy playing with my teammates, I always enjoy playing basketball. When the doctor told me you are out for the playoffs, it was hard for me. So right now to be able to be back and have an opportunity to play tonight, it feels great, it feels great.”

The real question is will it matter?

No doubt with Ibaka protecting the rim — even 70 or 80 percent of Ibaka is more intimidating in the lane than the other Thunder bigs — it will be more difficult for the Spurs (they had 120 points in the paint the first two games combined). No doubt if Ibaka is knocking down 18-foot baseline jumpers and getting a few putbacks it will help the Thunder offense, it will take some pressure off Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

But it’s too late for these Thunder now — this is not 2012, these Spurs are not going to be swept the next four games. For one thing, no James Harden for OKC. More importantly, this is a better and more athletic Spurs team with Kawhi Leonard and Tiago Splitter playing key roles.

Maybe with Ibaka the Thunder can trade wins with the Spurs, but that’s not enough already down 2-0 in the series.

Still, with him back this series certainly just got a lot more interesting to watch.

NBA introducing 2-for-1 All-Star voting days

AP Photo/Chris Carlson
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The NBA changed its All-Star format this season from East vs. West to captain-picked teams (though still naming players equally from each conference).

That apparently wasn’t a big enough overhaul.

After including media and player votes last year, the league is making All-Star starter selection even more complex.

NBA release:

NBA All-Star Voting 2018 presented by Verizon will tip off with an early voting period exclusively on the NBA App and NBA.com beginning Thursday, Dec. 21 at 1 p.m. ET.

Voting via all other channels, including Amazon Alexa for the first time, will launch on Monday, Dec. 25 at 11 a.m.

Additionally, new for this season, five “2-for-1 Days” will allow fans to have their votes count twice on Dec. 31, Jan. 4, Jan. 11, Jan. 12 and Jan. 15 when voting through the NBA App and NBA.com, along with Sina Weibo and Tencent in China.  All “2-for-1 Days” will be designated 12 a.m. – 11:59 p.m. ET.

TNT will reveal the All-Star Game starters, including the two captains, on Thursday, Jan. 18 during TNT NBA Tip-Off

The network will announce the reserves, as selected by NBA head coaches, on Tuesday, Jan. 23 during TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET. 

The team rosters for NBA All-Star Game 2018 in Los Angeles will be revealed on Thursday, Jan. 25 during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off at 7 p.m. ET.

I suppose this is to drum up interest on otherwise quiet voting days. After all, this is really just about the NBA selling itself.

But the All-Star voting process has always left something to be desired. I don’t see how this changes that.

Report: Lakers ‘longshot’ to sign LeBron James

AP Photo/Jae C. Hong
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Preeminent NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski called it “likelyLeBron James would sign with the Lakers or Clippers next summer. The Clippers have since been somewhat debunked as a LeBron destination. There’s circumstantial evidence linking LeBron to Los Angeles.

Ramona Shelburne and Brian Windhorst of ESPN:

So imagining James’ last act coming in purple and gold isn’t without basis. But as of now, it’s also a longshot, according to league sources.

Shelburne and Windhorst are highly credible. I doubt they’d report this without connected sources.

LeBron’s agent, Rich Paul, and manager, Maverick Carter, have recently publicly downplayed the importance of Los Angeles to LeBron. That felt like a coordinated attack on the LeBron-Lakers rumors, and this fits as a continuation.

But why wage that campaign? To keep the Cavaliers focused while LeBron still plays for them, even if he might leave after the season? To lower expectations among the Lakers’ massive fan base, so as not alienate those people (potential customers of the many LeBron-connected brands) when LeBron inevitably signs elsewhere? Both could be true, but there’s obviously a difference between each driving LeBron’s camp.

DeMarcus Cousins barrels in for powerful putback dunk over Bucks (video)

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When DeMarcus Cousins builds up a head of steam like this… poor John Henson (and kind of Khris Middleton).

This helped the Pelicans pull away for a 115-108 win over the Bucks last night.

Enraged Jason Smith restrained from Mario Chalmers (video)

AP Photo/Nick Wass
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During the Wizards’ win over the Grizzlies last night, Mario Chalmers tried to stop Jason Smith from shooting after Smith had been called for travelling. It’s a fairly common tactic, one pioneered by Kevin Garnett. Players don’t want their opponents to gain confidence by seeing the ball go through the net, even after play stops.

But Chalmers held onto Smith’s arm, and Smith took umbrage.

NBC Sports Washington:

I think it’s more likely, after halting Smith’s shot, Chalmers was trying to hold up Smith rather than yank him down. But I can’t know Chalmers’ intentions, and holding up a falling person by his arm isn’t very effective.

The double technical foul called seems about fair.