Spurs vs. Thunder Game 4 preview: Serge Ibaka’s back but which Spurs team shows up?

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Serge Ibaka changed the dynamic of the Spurs/Thunder series, no doubt. After being declared out for the series with a calf injury he was back in Game 3 and was blocking shots (four) while altering others in the paint on defense, he was helping space out the floor on offense. Combine that with the comforts of being home and the Thunder were a different team in Game 3.

But the Spurs were a different team, too.

Gregg Popovich called the first half the worst defense he had seen from the Spurs all season. Tony Parker was 4-of-13 shooting with as many turnovers as assists. Spurs not named Manu Ginobili shot 35.9 percent overall and 23.5 percent from three. The Spurs were out rebounded by 16.

Yes, Ibaka’s return helped influence the Spurs poor play, but the fact is the Spurs shot 40.7 percent when he was on the court and 37.5 percent when he was off it. They shot worse from three when he was off the court. It you watched the game, you saw the Spurs just flat out miss a number of good looks they normally knock down.

That is the big question for Game 4 Tuesday night, not can Ibaka’s play keep lifting the Thunder — it can and will — but how will the Spurs respond?

If the Spurs play up to their standards from the first couple rounds of the playoffs and the first couple games of this series, Game 4 could be a classic.

Back before this series started and before we knew the extent of Ibaka’s injury, we thought we had a real series on our hands — evenly matched, a tight series that could go either way. Now we have that. It’s going to be a good show.

For the Spurs, they need to get back to defending without fouling — they were the best in the league at it but in Game 3 the Thunder lived at the line (31 free throw attempts). Part of that was the Thunder were the clear aggressors and attacking, but still the Spurs were uncharacteristically fouling.

The Thunder should still be playing with a sense of desperation — they can’t just trade wins, go down 3-1 in this series and it’s all but over — but they got a boost in Game 3 from more than just Ibaka. Reggie Jackson being inserted into the starting lineup also provided scoring balance and the Spurs did not exploit the defensive mismatch (Russell Westbrook was usually on Parker and Danny Green was just 3-of-12 at the other guard spot). Jackson will be back in the starting lineup and while he had 15 points he was 1-of-6 from three and the Thunder may need better than that.

The Thunder need the much improved defense to keep clicking as well, their rotations were much sharper in Game 3 — Ibaka deserves the credit there. His ability to cover ground defensively, his timing, are very impressive and knowing he is back there protecting the rim lets the perimeter Thunder defenders be more aggressive, more confident.

You couldn’t watch Game 3 Sunday and not think back to 2012, when the Spurs won the first two games of the Western Conference Finals before the Thunder figured out how their athleticism could disrupt the Spurs offense, then the Thunder won the next four and went on to the NBA Finals. That Game 3 and Sunday night had a similar feel.

But it is Game 4 Tuesday that will be more telling of what kind of series we have the rest of the way. The Spurs are not prone to have a couple bad games in a row. The question is will that be enough?

Lakers exercise David Nwaba’s $1.3 million contract option

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — The Los Angeles Lakers have exercised their $1.3 million contract option on guard David Nwaba for the upcoming season.

The Lakers announced the move Wednesday.

Nwaba earned a job with the Lakers after they called him up from their D-League affiliate on Feb. 28. The rookie averaged 6.0 points and 3.2 rebounds per game while impressing Luke Walton’s coaching staff with his hustle and defensive play.

The Lakers signed him to a new contract with a multi-year component just three weeks after his NBA debut.

Nwaba is a local product, attending University High School in West Los Angeles and Santa Monica College before finishing his college career at Cal Poly.

Stephen Curry to play Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic

AP Photo/Eric Risberg
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HAYWARD, Calif. (AP) — Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is set to test his golf game against the pros.

The Web.com Tour said Wednesday that Curry, coming off his second NBA championship with the Golden State Warriors, will play in the Ellie Mae Classic at TPC Stonebrae on Aug. 3-6.

It’ll be the first PGA Tour-sanctioned event for Curry, who has competed in various celebrity events and pro-ams. The top 25 on Web.com Tour’s regular-season money list will earn PGA Tour cards.

Curry will maintain his amateur status, competing on an unrestricted sponsor exemption in the event that benefits the Warriors Community Foundation.

Hall of Fame receiver Jerry Rice played in the event in 2011 and 2012. He missed the cut in 2011 with rounds of 83 and 76 and withdrew in 2012 after playing 27 holes in 23 over.

Also Wednesday, Nissan’s upscale Infiniti brand announced that Curry would be its new global brand ambassador. The point guard will be featured in ads for the Q50 sports sedan beginning this summer.

Report: Clippers never committed to offer Chris Paul five-year max contract

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The Clippers projected to be able to offer Chris Paul a five-year, $201 million contract that would have culminated with a $46 million salary in his final season.

Did they offer that much before sending him to the Rockets?

Just as one side is trying to pin all the Clippers’ problems on Doc Rivers and Austin Rivers, the Clippers surely want to spin Paul’s exit to another way – that they shrewdly chose when to part ways rather than that they lost the best player in franchise history due to nepotism.

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

If Paul really wanted that five-year max, he could have pushed harder for it by bringing counter offers to the Clippers in July rather than engineering his way to Houston before free agency even began.

Would the Clippers have eventually relented and offered the five-year max? We can never know for certain.

But it’s pretty clear why the Clippers would want this version out there. Accurate or not, it makes them seem far more on top of things and is less likely to taint them with free agents they covet in 2018.

How Ryan Anderson, Trevor Ariza complicate Rockets’ pursuit of third star

AP Photo/John Raoux
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After pairing Chris Paul and James Harden, the Rockets are reportedly chasing a third starPaul George, Carmelo Anthony or someone else.

But Houston parted with significant assets to land Paul from the Clippers. And the Rockets will have a tricky time dealing two remaining players, Ryan Anderson and Trevor Ariza.

Zach Lowe of ESPN:

Unloading Ryan Anderson to sign Paul outright would have helped Houston keep one of their outgoing guards, but the market for the three years and $60 million left on Anderson’s deal was frigid. Not even the Kings wanted him for free. At least two teams would have demanded two Houston first-round picks in exchange for absorbing Anderson, according to several league sources.

The salary filler probably can’t be Trevor Ariza, by the way. Ariza and Paul are close after years together in New Orleans, and playing with Ariza factored at least a little into Paul’s decision, per league sources. The Clippers had tried to trade for him in prior seasons, sources say. Ariza is also still good at a coveted position, and his Bird Rights will be valuable to a capped-out Rockets team next summer.

Anderson would be dangerous as a stretch four in pick-and-pops with Paul and Harden. Even if he’s overpaid, might be better to keep him than surrender more assets to dump him.

Likewise, Ariza is a nice two-way player and can play small-ball four. There’s a use for him on this team.

But beyond them, Houston is left with Eric Gordon and Clint Capela as movable players. Gordon, with a higher salary and less obvious fit with Paul and Harden, would almost certainly be a key cog in a trade for another star. Capela is younger and more valuable, though the Rockets would probably want to keep him as a defensive anchor.

That might not be possible while trading for a third star, though. Houston can’t even guarantee sending out another first-round pick in a trade after sending a protected first-rounder to the Clippers. (The Rockets could agree to convey a first-rounder two years after sending one to L.A., which would is highly likely to convey next year.) Including Capela in a trade might be the only way to assemble a suitable package.

Even then, Houston would be hard-pressed to surpass an offer from the Lakers or Celtics for George. Plus, if Indiana is rebuilding around Myles Turner, Capela is an awkward fit. That trade might require a third team – causing further complications.

Hoping Anthony gets bought out by the Knicks then signs for the mid-level exception is much simpler – though that route returns the lesser third star.

But Daryl Morey just brought Chris Paul to Houston before free agency even began. Now is not the time to underestimate the Rockets general manager.