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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.

Salah Mejri kicks at Patty Mills as Mavericks and Spurs leave court for halftime (video)

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Mavericks center Salah Mejri has a history of agitating, including against the Spurs.

Two years ago, Mejri dunked while Dallas got blown out by San Antonio and yapped at the Spurs bench – drawing laughter from Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan. Last season, Mejri had Trevor Ariza and other Rockets trying to confront him after reportedly saying something about Ariza’s family.

In the Mavericks’ win over the Spurs on Tuesday, Mejri got into it with Patty Mills.

Earl K. Sneed of Mavs.com:

Mejri and Rudy Gay received double technical fouls, and Mejri went to the bench. Everything could have cooled down at halftime, but Mejri escalated tension

Watch the full sequence above, but the key moment:

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That’ll probably draw a fine.

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

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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

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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.