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Durant still loves Oklahoma City despite fans’ frustrations

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — As much as it still hurts for so many Oklahomans to see Kevin Durant shine elsewhere, the Golden State star remains committed to the community he called home for nearly a decade. The place where he grew into the basketball player he is today, and the man he has become.

KD departed Oklahoma City with fanfare on the 4th of July last year to chase a championship with Stephen Curry and the star-studded Warriors.

So when he goes back Saturday night for the first time it will be far from a perfectly harmonious reunion. And that’s fine with Durant. He gets it, he understands what he meant to a city that so desperately needed the lift he provided.

“I put everything into that place, so it will be great to see some people that I haven’t seen in a while,” he said. “So I’m looking forward to that.”

In December, Durant donated $57,000 to Positive Tomorrows, an Oklahoma City elementary school for homeless children that he still cares so much about – and insists he always will, wherever he is. So far, he has honored that commitment after previously giving $35,000 to the school through his foundation.

“Well, that’s real life,” Durant said in December. “I’ve been a part of that group going on four years now. Just `cuz I left there don’t mean I’ll stop building with them. That’s totally separate from this NBA stuff. Those kids mean a lot to me, definitely want to continue to keep helping them. I’m glad I can keep helping growing the school. It’s all about the community there. That was home for me for eight years. I’ve still got love for the people there.”

But did Durant have to join the Warriors of all teams? The franchise that somehow rallied from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Thunder in a thrilling Western Conference Finals last June.

“I do know it’ll be huge for him, and them,” teammate Draymond Green said this week. “They want him coming back in there as well. It will be a huge weekend for them also. Huge for him, and if it’s huge for him, it’s huge for us. It’s like any other time, you always have ones that you have circled on the schedule.”

Golden State has already beaten Durant’s old team handily twice this season – by 47 combined points.

Durant has been brilliant in those games: 79 points on 28-for-40 shooting.

Most recently, Durant dazzled with a season-best 40 points in a 121-100 win Jan. 18 at Oracle Arena. He hit seven 3-pointers on the way to 39 points in the first meeting, a 122-96 Warriors rout Nov. 3 also at Oracle.

There are certain to be mixed feelings when he enters Chesapeake Energy Arena again.

Boos? Cheers? Both.

So stung were some fans by his decision they burned his No. 35 jersey and turned to calling him a coward.

Facing Russell Westbrook and his old teammates twice already, Durant has kept his emotions in check and flat-out dominated.

“It’s good to see everybody but once the ball’s tipped you’re just playing, just hooping. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

There is no love lost between Durant and OKC’s current superstar. No pregame pleasantries planned.

“I don’t talk to nobody during the game,” Westbrook said, noting it’s up to the fans what kind of reception they choose for KD. “Obviously, Kevin has done a lot for Oklahoma City and our team when he was here.”

Warriors coach Steve Kerr changed teams so many times he became used to regular returns to arenas he once called home. Yet the reigning NBA Coach of the Year was a role player, a far different situation than Durant’s going back.

“It always gives you a bounce in your step when you go back to the place where you played. You get an emotional kickstart. Just walking into the building is exciting, seeing all your old friends and having all those memories,” he said. “… It’s a weird feeling but it’s nice because out of 82 games sometimes you need that emotion, and that’ll definitely do it. I can’t even imagine what it’ll feel like for KD, that’s a totally different level. It’s one thing to be a role player for a few years but to be a superstar in one town and have the whole place adore, the whole city, to go back is going be very emotional for him.”

You bet the Warriors want to win for him.

“He grew up there, pretty much, into a man,” Curry said. “That’s hard to turn off.”

Durant acknowledges that truth.

“It meant a lot,” he said of the community. “I had some great times there, man, never going to forget them.”

AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Oklahoma City contributed to this report.

MVP James Harden, dominant Rockets show up in second half, crush Timberwolves

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We had to wait three-and-a-half games for it.

We had seen James Harden play like an MVP all season. We had seen the Rockets bury threes at a record rate all season. We had seen Houston’s switching defense impress all season (sixth best in the NBA). We had seen Houston rack up 65 wins and make it look easy.

Then we got to the playoffs and the Rockets couldn’t put it all together at once. Harden struggled after Game 1, including going 0-of-7 in the first quarter Monday night. The defense was inconsistent and the threes were not falling. All of it let the Timberwolves hang around in the series — down 2-1 — and the same in Game 4, down just a point at halftime.

Then the Harden and Rockets we all expected showed up.

Houston put up 50 points in the third quarter alone, shooting 61 percent overall and 9-of-13 from three, plus they got to the line 13 times and made every shot. The Rockets opened the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, with almost all of the damage from Harden, who had 22 in the quarter.

The Rockets pulled away and cruised from there to an easy 119-100 win.

“We hit the switch, the switch we’ve been trying to hit since the beginning of the playoffs on both ends of the floor,” Harden said postgame. “It’s pretty scary what we’re capable of when defensively we’re locked in like that, and offensively we got rolling.”

Houston now leads the series 3-1 and can close it out at home in Game 5 Wednesday night.

In the first half this looked nothing like something that would end with a comfortable Rockets win. Houston struggled at the start of Game 4, opening 0-of-5 in the paint, including Harden missing an open layup. As a team, the Rockets started the game 4-of-16 from three, and a lot of those were uncontested looks. The Rockets play a lot of isolation, but even for them the ball seemed to stick in the first half. If not for Trevor Ariza knocking down three from beyond the arc, the Timberwolves might have been able to pull away.

The fact they didn’t was a blown opportunity for the Timberwolves, something they just can’t do in this series. It was a one-point Rockets lead, 50-49, at the half.

Minnesota had some moments on offense in the game, usually when attacking quickly off the Rockets switch. Derrick Rose had some moments and finished the game with 17 points. Karl-Anthony Towns had 22 points and 15 rebounds, Jimmy Butler had 19 points on 17 shots.

But that was no match for the Rockets when they flipped the switch.

It was a barrage of threes that we have waited for all season, and it all started with Harden and Chris Paul, they had all of the first 15 points of the second half for Houston. Harden finished with 36 points and hit 5-of-11 from three. CP3 had 25 points and six assists, Eric Gordon finally woke up in this series with 18, and Ariza finished with 15.

Minnesota is a talented team, but they are learning fast what a contender can do — even not at their peak the Rockets had taken two of the first three in the series, and when they did flip the switch it was another level. A level the Timberwolves want to get to, there are just some rough lessons along the road to getting there.

James Harden puts on show to start second half vs. Timberwolves

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James Harden started Game 4 0-of-7 from the floor, including missing a lay-up. It was an extension of Game 3, and it let the Timberwolves hang around for a half despite their own offensive woes.

Then in the second half the MVP Harden showed up.

Houston started the second half on an 11-0 run that extended all the way to 25-4, and a lot of it was Harden (with a little help from Chris Paul). Harden had 22 points in the third (with 4:30 left in the quarter). After a couple rough games the Timberwolves were going under the pick when Harden had the ball, and suddenly he made them pay.

Or, he was just stepping back.

With all the buckets the Rockets turned a close game into a 25 point lead.

Tyronn Lue doesn’t hold back with retort to heckling Pacers’ fan

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It’s a part of the NBA experience that most fans don’t get to hear — some fans courtside heckling opposing players and coaches, and those guys occasionally firing back. We only tend to hear about it when things cross a line.

Sometimes the interactions are just funny, such as this one passed along by J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Well played, Lue.

Although is Cleveland really a city at the forefront of fashion? Well, I suppose if you went to college in Nebraska…

Report: Pelicans picked up Alvin Gentry’s option for next season before sweep

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Last summer the buzz was all over the league: Pelicans GM Dell Demps and coach Alvin Gentry were given a “playoffs or bust” mandate by management. If the Pelicans were not in the postseason — and just barely getting in and then blown out in the first round might be good enough — there was going to be a housecleaning.

The Pelicans made the playoffs as the six seed with 48 wins despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles midway through the season.

That alone was good enough to get Gentry another season in New Orleans, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

As noted, this happened before the Pelicans swept the Trail Blazers out of the first round and into a summer of re-evaluation. This option season is the last of Gentry’s original deal with the Pelicans.

Gentry has the Pelicans playing fast, using the elite defense of Anthony Davis and Jrue Holiday to get stops, and right now Davis is leading an offense that is just getting it done, with guys such as Nikola Mirotic stepping up. Gentry has earned another year, and a shot to integrate Cousins into this style and level of play, to see where that could take New Orleans next season.

It will be interesting to see if Demps can add more shooting and versatility with a capped out roster.