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Oklahoma City needs Victor Oladipo to break out of slump

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Victor Oladipo knows the Oklahoma City Thunder need more offense from him, and Russell Westbrook‘s wingman is feeling the heat.

The shooting guard averaged nearly 16 points a game during Westbrook’s record-setting season, but his scoring has dropped to about half that in the postseason. His disappearing act is a major reason the Thunder trail the Houston Rockets 2-0 heading into Friday’s game in Oklahoma City.

Westbrook has averaged a triple-double the first two games of the series and dropped a 51-point triple-double on Wednesday night. But the Thunder have no wins to show for his heroics. Oladipo, Oklahoma City’s No. 2 scorer in the regular season, is averaging 8.5 points and shooting a woeful 19 percent from the field in the series.

The 24-year-old Oladipo, who played collegiately at Indiana, is trying to keep it simple in the first playoff appearances of his career.

“That’s the thing,” Oladipo said, “when you have games like this, you go back to the basics. You go back to what got you here, continue to keep working and never lose confidence.”

The focus on Oladipo’s production is magnified with no Kevin Durant in OKC.

The Thunder acquired Oladipo in a draft-night deal with Orlando last year, and it looked like he would be the team’s third option. But Durant left for Golden State, leaving Oladipo to fill a massive void created by the departure of the four-time scoring champion.

At times, the explosive Oladipo has looked capable. He got off to a hot start with the Thunder, and his scoring average was over 17 points at the end of November. He missed nine games in December after spraining his right wrist, then missed six games in February with back spasms, slowing his momentum.

He was solid upon his return from the back issues before falling into a bit of a slump in April that has carried over into the playoffs

Westbrook and Thunder coach Billy Donovan have talked to Oladipo about his struggles and tried to reassure him.

“He wants to do great like every player,” Westbrook said. “Everybody always wants to come out and play great. It doesn’t always work out that way. Your mindset – you’ve just got to keep going, regardless of if you miss or make shots. He does so many other things for our team when he’s on the floor – defending at a high level, rebounding, can make plays. Regardless of if he misses or makes shots, his job is to play, and he’ll be all right.”

Westbrook said he doesn’t need Oladipo to do any more than he normally does – or did during the regular season.

“Just play,” Westbrook said. “Go out and compete at a level he’s able to compete at, and that’s it.”

Donovan said the 6-foot-4 Oladipo has been solid overall. He is averaging six rebounds in the two games and has been one of OKC’s better defenders.

“Victor’s not a one-dimensional player – he can do a lot of different things,” Donovan said. “Taking his mindset off the ball going in the basket, and him realizing, `I’m not going to allow myself to be defined by that because there’s too many other things I can do out there to help this team.”‘

There are plenty of other problems for Oklahoma City – the Thunder fall apart when Westbrook rests, the team has struggled to keep James Harden off the foul line, Steven Adams‘ foul trouble crippled their interior defense in Game 2 and they are stretched thin chasing Houston’s numerous perimeter threats. But getting Oladipo on track is perhaps the most critical.

In Game 2, Oladipo missed his only two shots in the fourth quarter against the Rockets while Westbrook was just 4 of 18 from the field. But Oladipo isn’t concerned.

“I’m just out there playing,” Oladipo said. “I’m doing whatever it takes to help my team win. We’ve been in that situation all year, and Russ has made shots.”

Both will have to knock down shots when they count the most to get back in the series, especially Oladipo.

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP.

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves start with Paul George

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.