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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.

Sixers Jabari Parker upgraded to “probable,” will decide after warm ups

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Everything you saw in the first two games of this Miami/Philadelphia playoff series you can throw out in the trash.

Joel Embiid is back and is now “probable” for Game 3, the Sixers announced, upgrading his status from “doubtful” earlier in the day.

Embiid will go through warmups — trying out both a mask and goggles — then will make a formal decision. However, he is expected to go. He certainly wants to play.

This changes the Sixers and the series. Yes, Philly has likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and high quality role players such as J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, however, is Embiid that makes it all work. Put simply, when Embiid is on the court the Sixers are 15.2 points per 100 possessions better — their defense is elite and their offense is outstanding.

The Sixers will be better with their best player back in the fold, but don’t think this makes the series a cakewalk for Philly. It changes everything about matchups, but things are not all positives. When Embiid is on the court, the up-tempo, ball-movement style that the Sixers built around Simmons slows down and stops at points. The Sixers have played Hassan Whiteside and his rim protection off the court with floor spacing shooting bigs, now he has a place to be in the matchups. There are things the Heat can do now that may work for them.

It just may not matter — Philadelphia just got a lot better.

PBT Podcast: NBA first round playoff series breakdowns

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LeBron James‘ Cavaliers looks to be in a battle royal in the first round — and they could lose to Victor Oladipo‘s Pacers.

Miami’s defense and versatility is challenging the Sixers and shaking the faith of all those that just jumped on the bandwagon.

Utah stole a game in Oklahoma City showing great grit and resolve, not to mention a lot of Donovan Mitchell.

Anthony Davis has done everything but walk on water for the Pelicans.

The first round of the NBA playoffs has been filled with fascinating storylines — and we are just two games into each series. Kurt Helin and Dan Feldman of NBC Sports break down all eight first-round series in this podcast, starting in the East and the tight races there, then move into the West. There’s even some “who wants to pay Jabari Parker this summer?” talk thrown in.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

James Dolan says Knicks must build around ‘great’ Kristaps Porzingis, offers fair rebuke of meddling charges

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Phil Jackson received a standing ovation in his first game at Madison Square Garden as Knicks president. Don’t forget how excited New York was for Jackson, who coached the Bulls and Lakers to 11 championships and played for the Knicks’ last title team. He was welcomed as a potential savior.

The common refrain: Jackson would have a chance to succeed if Knicks owner James Dolan didn’t meddle.

Immediately, Dolan said he would cede control to Jackson “willingly and gratefully.” Dolan later pledged to honor Jackson’s full five-year contract.

But fans turned on Jackson as he did an awful job and the Knicks struggled. Dolan opted into the final two years of Jackson’s contract, anyway, as he said he would all along. Fans got angrier. When Jackson publicly flaunted Kristaps Porzingis trade talks, outrage reached a fever pitch. Finally, Dolan stepped in to fire Jackson.

Dolan, via Larry Brooks of the New York Post:

“A great player in hockey is the difference, but a great player in basketball is the team.

“And I think we have a great player in Porzingis. We just have to build around him.”

“Everybody who wants to talk about the Knicks wants to ask me about Phil Jackson,” Dolan said, smiling and shaking his head. “The entire market wanted to me to hire him and when I did, the entire market said it was a great move. The only thing was, everyone said that I shouldn’t interfere with him.

“Three years later, everyone wanted to know when I was going to do something about Phil. The same people who told me not to interfere wanted me to interfere. But that’s OK. I just think that Phil underestimated the job.”

Dolan makes a salient point about how people perceive his involvement. The problem isn’t that Dolan meddles. It’s that he makes poor decisions.

Hiring Jackson – an out-of-touch former coach with no front-office experience – was a poor decision. I’m not enthused about Steve Mills as Jackson’s replacement, either, though we’ll see how that plays out.

Building around Porzingis is a better decision. He’s an extremely talented 22-year-old.

But it’s hardly a foolproof plan. Porzingis is recovering from a torn ACL. Dolan said Porzingis could return in December – or miss next season entirely.

Either way, the Knicks must surround Porzingis with better teammates. Dolan will and should be a part of that process. Whether he’ll positively affect it is another matter.

76ers: Joel Embiid doubtful for Game 3 against Heat

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MIAMI (AP) — Joel Embiid remains listed as doubtful by Philadelphia for Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference playoff series at Miami on Thursday night.

Embiid was on the floor with the 76ers for their morning shootaround practice, but coach Brett Brown says there’s no change in the All-Star center’s status.

Embiid has missed Philadelphia’s last 10 games while recovering from a concussion and surgery that repaired a fractural orbital bone around his left eye. He’s no longer in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

He took to social media after the 76ers lost Game 2 of this series to the Heat, saying he’s tired of being “babied.”

Embiid has averaged 22.9 points and 11 rebounds in 63 games for the 76ers during the regular season.