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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.

Kevin Love says about a month until he’s back on court with new-look Cavaliers

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LOS ANGELES — Kevin Love had some of the best seats in the house for the new-look Cavaliers and their 2-0 push before the break, and he wants back on the court to be part of it.

“I’m probably about two weeks out from getting this movable cast off for good, and then from there about a few weeks after that before I get back,” Love told NBCSports.com about his recovery from a fractured left hand. “So I have a good amount of time, about a month.”

Love was in Los Angeles all last weekend, where he had been voted onto the All-Star team by the coaches for the fifth time, but for the second consecutive year had to sit out due to injury. Love seemed to be at all the events in his former home Los Angeles — working with Kevin Hart for the “Closer Than Courtside” with Mountain Dew Kickstart, at the Beats by Dre party in Hollywood, and courtside for the All-Star Game itself sitting next to Kyrie Irving and LeBron James — but not on the court where he wants to be.

When he does get back on the court, it will be a very different team in Cleveland he’s playing with — and he thinks that’s a good thing.

“Just clearing out… I shouldn’t say that, just getting new faces and getting new energy in the locker room has been big for us,” Love told NBC Sports Saturday. “Even in the last two games, you can just see the energy is different, you can see guys are really competing on both ends of the floor, and that bodes well for us the second half of the season.”

The changes were needed.

“It might not have been a bad thing to get some fresh faces in there and guys from situations where they really wanted to win,” Love said during media day. “I think first and foremost, seeing those (new) guys in Atlanta, they didn’t play, but they got there right after the trade and they just said they want to win.

“You can tell when somebody says it, you can tell when somebody means it. They really meant it and it felt good to have that there.”

In Los Angeles, Love was having fun working with the other guy who seemed to be everywhere all weekend, comedian Kevin Hart. Love was working with Hart on the Mountain Dew Kickstart “Closer Than Courtside” Contest – a nationwide search to find Hart new “CourtsideKick” where fans tell Hart on social media why they think they’re courtside ready for a chance to sit with him during the NBA Playoffs.

“I’ve been drinking Code Red Mountain Dew, and Baja Blast forever,” Love said of this partnership. “My friend and I were just talking about how long we’ve been drinking Code Red, which is kind of a throwback flavor now.”

He’s just drinking it with his right hand. His left — his off, non-shooting hand — is still in that soft cast.

But having been down the injury road before, Love knows what it takes to get back.

“Just look at it from an optimistic point of view,” Love said of his mental process. “Even last year I missed the New Orleans All-Star Game because I just had my knee scoped, so just knowing that I’ve been there before, knowing that I’ve had success coming back, and just getting over that mental hurdle of coming back from an injury.

“Looking at it glass half full, it’s my left hand, so I can still do a ton of stuff out there on the floor and be ready to play in a month.”

A ton of stuff includes both cardio work and being able to do some strength and lifting with bands so that when the cast does come off his return to the court is faster. Once he gets there, Love expects that even with the new players he’ll be back in the same roles playing both the four and a lot at the five with these smaller, speedier lineups.

“I know we will supplement different guys in the lineup,” Love said. “I’ll hopefully be able to come back quite easily, I’ll have my legs under me — like I said, just because it’s my left hand — and I’ll be able to get back into rhythm here really fast.”

The Cavaliers hope so, too.

Little change in TV ratings for new-look NBA All-Star Game

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NEW YORK (AP) — A new format for the NBA All-Star Game had a negligible impact on television ratings.

Total viewership for the game was down slightly compared to last year, although it improved over 2014, the previous time the league’s midseason showcase faced competition from the Winter Olympics.

Turner Sports announced on Monday that the game drew an average of 7.7 million viewers Sunday night on TNT. Last year’s game attracted an average of 7.8 million viewers. In 2014 during the Sochi Olympics, an average of 7.5 million people watched the NBA’s best at the All-Star Game.

This year’s game abandoned the traditional East-vs.-West format in favor of teams selected by superstars LeBron James and Stephen Curry. James’ team won 148-145 in an uncommonly competitive matchup that featured better effort on defense.

Turner said the ratings improved among key demographics, including people between ages 18 and 34, and that video views on social media channels were up 37 percent compared to 2017.

Fergie says she “tried my best” after national anthem blowback

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Fergie is apologizing after trying something different with the national anthem at the NBA All-Star Game.

“I’ve always been honored and proud to perform the national anthem and last night I wanted to try something special for the NBA,” the Grammy-winning singer said in a statement Monday. “I’m a risk taker artistically, but clearly this rendition didn’t strike the intended tone. I love this country and honestly tried my best.”

Fergie’s slow, bluesy rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner” on Sunday night wasn’t particularly well received at Staples Center or on social media before the 67th edition of the NBA’s annual showcase.

A low chuckle rumbled through the sold-out arena after she finished the first line of the song with a throaty growl on “the dawn’s early light.”

Fans throughout the star-studded crowd reacted with varying levels of bemusement and enthusiasm while her languid, 2 +-minute version of the song continued. Although Fergie was on pitch, her tempo, musical accompaniment and sexy delivery were not exactly typical for a sporting event or a patriotic song.

Golden State All-Star Draymond Green captured Sunday’s mood – and became an instant GIF – when he was shown open-mouthed on the scoreboard and the television broadcast in apparent confusion over the unique vocal stylings. Green then chuckled to himself after realizing he was on TV.

After a forceful finish, Fergie finally got big cheers when she shouted, “Let’s play some basketball!”

The Black Eyed Peas singer, born Stacy Ann Ferguson, is from nearby Hacienda Heights, California.

Famed basketball commentator Charles Barkley joked that he “needed a cigarette” after Fergie’s performance during the TNT halftime show.

Former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal leaped to Fergie’s defense, saying: “Fergie, I love you. It was different. It was sexy. I liked it. Leave her alone.”

Others on social media weren’t as kind, with criticism of the performance outpacing the positive reviews.

 

Did Lakers help keep LeBron James in Cleveland with trade?

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When the trade went down between the Lakers and Cavaliers before the deadline — sending Jordan Clarkson and Larry Nance Jr. to Cleveland in exchange for Isaiah Thomas and Channing Frye plus Cleveland’s 2018 first-round draft pick (top-five protected) — it caught the NBA by surprise.

The first reaction for a lot of people to the deal? This opens up as much as $70 million in cap space for the Lakers this summer (depending on other moves with players such as Julius Randle). Los Angeles could sign two max players — LeBron James and Paul George. Why would Cleveland help Los Angeles open up room to steal LeBron.

The Cavaliers didn’t see it that way — they knew they had to make a major shakeup or LeBron was gone. At that point, does it matter where? So in a series of moves, Cleveland GM Koby Altman radically remade the roster around LeBron. The goal was to energize them back into being the team to beat in the East, and from there make it hard for him to leave as a free agent. Since the trades, the Cavaliers are 2-0 and LeBron has clearly been reinvigorated, plus they will add Kevin Love back in a few weeks.

Altman’s plan seems to be working, one executive told Mark Spears of ESPN’s The Undefeated.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Cleveland now,” one high-ranking Eastern Conference team executive said. “The Cavaliers put a really good team around him. The Cavaliers have made it really tough for him to decide to leave Cleveland again. The Lakers might have helped them keep LeBron.”

I had heard from sources for a while LeBron to the Lakers was not likely (Paul George is another story, that door remains open). As Spears notes, the Lakers did not have an All-Star in Sunday’s game. Even if LeBron and PG13 went to Los Angeles, that team was third or fourth best in the West next season. LeBron is in full on legacy mode and wants to win rings. Los Angeles is not the place to do it.

Houston is interesting (and it’s still a team I hear some execs think has a real shot), but the gutting or role players on that roster to make it work would be a concern. Maybe a dark horse such as Philadelphia can emerge. However, if LeBron can lead this newly-energized Cavaliers team to the Finals again (his eighth consecutive trip there), they get a high draft pick with the Brooklyn pick, then LeBron gets a commitment from Altman and owner Dan Gilbert to keep spending and being aggressive, where is he going to be closer to a title than at home?