Tony Parker, Tim Duncan

Thunder vs. Spurs Game 5 preview: Is home cooking enough for San Antonio?


San Antonio doesn’t want to hear about 2012 (when it was up 2-0 on Oklahoma City in the Western Conference Finals and got swept the next four). The Spurs are a different team now they say, as are the Thunder. This is a different series. All of that is true.

The Spurs biggest problem for Game 5 is one they couldn’t solve in 2012:

When the Thunder players get off the plane in San Antonio, they are still going to be incredibly long and athletic. For a couple years now that advantage has not been something the Spurs have been able to overcome.

Through four games of the Western Conference Finals the home team has won in a blowout. Yet while the series may be even 2-2 but the games have not been. The Spurs owned the first two. After getting crushed on the road now the Spurs come home seeking to reassert their dominance. The Spurs need to win at home because it’s become evident through their nine-game losing streak there they can’t win in Oklahoma City.

Their Serge Ibaka is coming to Game 5, too.

Since he returned to the Heat in Game 3 from a calf injury that was allegedly going to keep him out of the playoffs (nice bit of gamesmanship by the Thunder) the Thunder have been a different team. Their offensive spacing is vastly improved, Ibaka’s threat on the pick-and-pop has opened up driving lanes for Russell Westbrook. On defense the Thunder are more aggressive in extending their pressure because Ibaka is lurking back in the paint to clean up their mistakes. The Thunder’s length and athleticism, with Ibaka back in the lineup, allows them to contest virtually everything — in Game 5 the Thunder contested 47 percent of the Spurs shots, and San Antonio shot 33 percent on those (for comparison, the Thunder shot 49 percent on contested shots in Game 5).

Gregg Popovich has had a couple of years to tinker and experiment on how to beat a healthy Oklahoma City, and as evidenced by the last two games he’s still looking for answers. His team played well for the first eight to nine minutes of Game 4 but then he said they got away from what worked and that will doom you against the Thunder.

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said in his post game press conference broadcast on NBA TV Tuesday night. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge (Ibaka) could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench so they’d know who Serge was. Really unwise basketball all of a sudden. Rather than hitting open people we started attacking the rim unwisely and that turns into blocked shots and turnovers.

“You got to play smarter against such great athletes. They’re talented, obviously, but their athleticism and length gives you a smaller margin for error and you better be smart the way you play. And you can’t afford to screw that up as many times as we did.”

For two games the Thunder have not only been more athletic, they have been far more aggressive and far more physical. Their ability to challenge passes on the perimeter with that athleticism (and Ibaka as a backstop to clean up problems) has the Spurs hesitating to make passes for a split second, which is allowing defenders more time to recover and contest. Tony Parker has had Russell Westbrook in his face defensively and Ibaka in the lane when he drives, taking away anything easy and clean. When Parker struggles the Spurs offense stalls.

Going home for Game 5, and realizing the desperate situation, expect to see the Spurs play harder. Play smarter. Expect the Spurs to come out with a new sense of physicality to their game.

The question is will it matter, or are these Thunder just a matchup problem Popovich and the Spurs cannot solve?

Spurs waive first-rounder Livio Jean-Charles before first NBA game, putting him in small club

San Antonio Spurs' Livio Jean-Charles, center, and Orlando Magic's Bismack Biyombo (11) go after a loose ball during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game, Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. San Antonio won 95-89. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
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It took a few years, but the Spurs finally signed Livio Jean-Charles – the No. 28 pick in the 2013 draft – to a rookie-scale contract this summer.

The problem: Jean-Charles tore his ACL in Europe and hadn’t developed as San Antonio hoped.

So, San Antonio is cutting bait historically quickly.

Spurs release:

The San Antonio Spurs today announced that the team has waived Joel Anthony, Ryan Arcidiacono, Patricio Garino and Livio Jean-Charles.

This allows the Spurs to keep two players without guaranteed salaries, Bryn Forbes and Nicolas Laprovittola. A shooting guard, Forbes is a 3-point specialist who went undrafted out of Michigan State. Laprovittola, a point guard, will give San Antonio a second Argentinian with Manu Ginobili – though Garino could’ve been three.

Jean-Charles is just the fifth first-round pick in the rookie-scale era to be waived or renounced before playing in the NBA. The other four:

Royce White (No. 16 pick in 2012 by Rockets)

White and and Houston never got on the same page about how to handle his anxiety issues. The Rockets traded him in a financial move to the 76ers, who waived him. White later played three games with the Kings.

Frederic Weis (No. 15 pick in 1999 by Knicks)

Weis never came to the NBA from Europe, but he became infamous for getting dunked on by Vince Carter in the 2000 Olympics. New York traded Weis’ rights to the Rockets (for Patrick Ewing Jr.) in 2008. Weis retired in 2011, and Houston renounced him.

Leon Smith (No. 29 pick in 1999 by Spurs)

The Mavericks acquired Smith in a draft-night trade, and the player who jumped straight from high school struggled in every respect. He clashed with coaches and management, attempted suicide and got arrested twice before being released during his rookie season. It’s a sad tale. Smith later had short stints with the Hawks and Sonics.

Travis Knight (No. 29 in 1996 by Bulls)

Knight never even signed a contract. Chicago renounced him rather than giving him the required three-year guaranteed deal. He signed with the Lakers and made the All-Rookie second team. That led to a more lucrative contract with the Celtics, and Knight also played for the Knicks in a seven-year NBA career.

Pelicans keep Lance Stephenson, waive Alonzo Gee

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 18:  Lance Stephenson #5 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives against Kyle Korver #26 of the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena on October 18, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.  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 Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Keep Alonzo Gee: $1,500,000.

Keep Lance Stephenson: $2,380,431.

The Pelicans opted for the more expensive – and more intriguing – option with their final roster spot.

Pelicans release:

The New Orleans Pelicans today announced that the team has waived forward Alonzo Gee.

This drops New Orleans’ roster to the regular-season limit of 15 players, including Stephenson.

Teams rarely give someone a guaranteed, above-minimum salary and then waive him the same offseason. But that’s what the Pelicans did with Gee. At least he’ll take home $1.4 million, more than his $1,379,400 player option would’ve paid had he opted in last summer.

Stephenson – with just $100,000 of his minimum salary guaranteed – adds much-needed playmaking with Jrue Holiday and Tyreke Evans both out. Though he has struggled since leaving the Pacers, Stephenson is still talented and relatively young. Maybe he re-finds his groove in New Orleans. It’ll at least be interesting to watch him try.

Report: Lamar Odom, Khloe Kardashian (engaged to Tristan Thompson) agree to divorce terms

Khloe Kardashian Odom, Lamar Odom
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Cavaliers center Tristan Thompson and Khloe Kardashian are reportedly engaged.

But some wondered: Isn’t Kardashian still married to former NBA player Lamar Odom?


Khloe Kardashian and Lamar Odom have officially signed off on their divorce, and all that’s left is a judge’s John Hancock … TMZ has learned.

Khloe and Lamar have reached a property settlement and each has now signed legal docs that were filed Friday.

Thankfully, that’s cleared up.

Report: Rockets management wanted to elevate Clint Capela over Dwight Howard last season, coach resisted

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 17:  Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets celebrates with General Manager Daryl Morey after they defeated the Los Angeles Clippers 113 to 100 during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Toyota Center for the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 17, 2015 in Houston, Texas. 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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When he was starting at power forward next to Dwight Howard last season, Clint Capela looked like he could eventually supplant Howard as the Rockets’ starting center.

It happened this offseason with Howard leaving for the Hawks.

Houston apparently wanted it to happen even sooner.

Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

Houston Rockets management repeatedly pushed for Clint Capela to get more playing time at the expense of Dwight Howard last season, sources told ESPN, adding to the disharmony that played a prominent role in the team’s disappointing 2015-16 campaign.

Former Rockets interim coach J.B. Bickerstaff resisted complying with the wishes of general manager Daryl Morey and owner Leslie Alexander regarding a drastic reduction in Howard’s playing time. Team sources said Alexander never participated in the meetings with Morey and Bickerstaff but fully supported the general manager’s plan to prioritize Capela’s development.

League sources said input from face-of-the-franchise James Harden heavily influenced Houston management’s desire to decrease Howard’s minutes. However, team sources insisted that Harden was not involved in those discussions.

It’s believable Harden conspired against Howard. It’s also believable the Rockets covered for Harden.

Whoever was working against him, Howard clearly understood Houston planned to deemphasize him. Maybe he didn’t always handle that the absolute best way, but to a certain degree, he was just dealing with a difficult reality – one the Rockets should have foreseen.

It’s tough to tell an established star his role is being reduced. It’s far easier to tell a second-year player he must wait his turn. Houston’s management tried to take the harder path – and didn’t even get its own coach to comply, which only muddled the situation further.

The Rockets were coming off a run to the Western Conference finals, and amid so much chaos, still made the playoffs. This was a talented team that came too close to wasting a season due to internal dynamics.

And what does Houston have to show for its Howard plan? The Rockets didn’t trade Howard, didn’t get him to opt in (as they wanted him to do, according to MacMahon) and didn’t re-sign him. Capela will start now, but he’s not substantially more experienced playing center with other starters. Howard is in Atlanta, ready to help another team.

Prolonged breakups just aren’t healthy. Rip off the bandage or leave it on.