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Star wars: LeBron James, Kevin Durant moving toward NBA Finals reunion

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OAKLAND (AP) — Kevin Durant admires LeBron James from afar, marveling at how Cleveland’s main man finds ways to elevate his game at age 32 – year after year, title after title.

Kobe Bryant was much the same.

Ten years into his NBA journey, the unassuming, scoring machine everyone calls “KD”, strives to emulate those superstars. Soon, he will likely see James again in the Finals, this time in a matchup that has been talked about from the very moment Durant departed Oklahoma City to join Golden State last July.

The anticipation of this potential matchup has overshadowed other postseason series.

Durant understands that like LeBron and Bryant, it’s time to take his game to another level. They each have something Durant wants.

“It’s a mindset, when you don’t realize how old you are or how many years you’ve played or mileage or the moment,” Durant said. “You’ve just got to try to keep getting better. You have that mindset when you step on the court that you want to be the best player on the court. It may not happen every game. You may not be the best, you might not have the best game, but just having that mindset you never get satisfied with what you do.

“That’s the mindset he (James) has taken on, that’s the mindset Kobe did. There’s a lot of other players that did it. I feel like I’m on the same path as far as – I wouldn’t say I’m going to have four MVPs or three championships, I’m not guaranteeing that but I want that. On the basketball court, I want to be consistent and great every night.”

James and Durant have squared off 23 times during their NBA careers, and James has a decisive 18-5 edge, including 4-1 in the postseason and 1-0 in battles for the championship.

Now the basketball world is watching and waiting, even hoping for a Durant-James rematch. And this one could live up to the hype.

After swatting aside their opponents in the first and second rounds, the Cavaliers and Warriors stand an unblemished 16-0 combined as they await their conference finals opponents.

The 3-Match. Another must-see, best-of-seven series featuring arguably the league’s best players in James and Durant – both playing some of the best basketball of their careers – and a marquee All-Star cast that includes two-time MVP Stephen Curry, Kyrie Irving, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson and Kevin Love.

It’s a showdown made in hoops heaven, but Durant is downplaying a matchup with James as anything worthy of stealing the spotlight from the others.

“If we do end up making it to the Finals and Cleveland makes it to the Finals, it’s never going to be me versus LeBron,” Durant said. “It’s going to be team versus team. It’s not an individual sport. We’re not playing 1-on-1 out there, as much as people want us to.”

They have history and a rivalry – albeit a rather one-sided one. James, then with the Miami Heat, won the first of his three NBA titles by beating Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in 2012.

The pair is linked by talent, tenacity and drive. Olympic gold medal-winning teammates, they have become close friends and workout companions. They spent two summers pushing each other during training sessions in James’ hometown of Akron, Ohio. Little did these two realize then that their stellar NBA careers would become even more intertwined when Durant bolted from OKC and faced the constant scrutiny that came with his decision.

In many ways, James actually helped show him how it’s done.

He as much as anyone understood the tornado of criticism aimed at Durant for signing onto a “super team” to chase a championship. James left home in 2010 for Miami, where he won two titles and played in four straight Finals before leading Cleveland to its first major sports championship in 52 years . Before returning to Oklahoma City – a place he still holds dear and supports – earlier this season to face fans who are still stung and feel betrayed, Durant sought James out for advice on handling the hatred.

Now they’re on a path toward Cavs-Dubs 3.0.

James has been practically unstoppable. And Durant, who missed 19 games late in the regular season with a left knee injury, has found the right balance of taking charge and sacrificing for him teammates with the Warriors.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue is impressed with how Durant seamlessly blended in on Golden State, as Curry took a backseat.

“When Steph and Klay have a bad game – which is not very often – when they do, then you can give the ball to Durant and he can go get his own basket and his own shot,” Lue said. “You saw that in this Utah series where Steph and Klay struggled one game, and they just put it to Durant in the midrange area, and he went and got it. So you have that third player who is definitely one of the top three players in this league that can go get his own shot at any time and that’s what makes them more dangerous.”

Mike Brown knows both well.

Golden State’s assistant, now filling in for Warriors coach Steve Kerr, spent five seasons with James in Cleveland. He appreciates his athleticism, but is more impressed by James’ all-consuming work ethic that has allowed him to evolve every year.

He sees those same qualities in Durant, who now understands that when the stage enlarges he has to expand that 7-foot-5 wingspan even more.

“That’s what those guys do,” Brown said. “When you have superstars like that and the competition gets tougher, they usually rise to the moment or the occasion.”

 

Three Things to Know: Paul George returns to Indiana, gets bailed out by OKC defense

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Paul George returns to Indiana, gets booed, and gets win… thanks to Thunder defense. Russell Westbrook got his triple-double (10 points, 17 rebounds, 12 assists). Paul George got some measure of satisfaction with a win on a night he returned to Indiana and was booed mercilessly by the Pacer faithful.

But George didn’t earn them this win, at least on the offensive end. This was a typical Thunder win because it was their elite defense bailing out an unimpressive offense. Again. The Thunder’s big trio of Westbrook, George, and Carmelo Anthony remained in an offensive funk they cannot shoot their way out of, going a combined 10-of-45 from the floor Wednesday, or 22.2 percent.

What the Thunder can fall back on is their defense — second best in the NBA this season (100.9 points allowed per 100 possessions). Indiana came into the game with a top-10 offense and OKC held them in check. The Pacers scored 7.7 points per 100 less than they have averaged for the season. Victor Oladipo, who had been destroying teams for a week, shot 9-of-26 on the night with George as the primary defender on him most of the game. However, Oladipo did lead a charge from 11 down with just more than 5 minutes to go to make it a game late. Then came the big play of the game: Down three with 10 seconds to go, the Pacers tried to get the ball to Oladipo, but it was George who tipped and stole the inbounds pass, followed by hit two free throws after being fouled, to ice the game.

The Thunder got a huge performance from Steven Adams, who had 23 points but more importantly nine offensive rebounds — Oklahoma City grabbed the offensive board and got a second chance on 35.4 percent of their missed shots, and that was the difference in this game.

This didn’t feel like a game where the Thunder turned any corners, but it’s a win on the road and the Thunder will take that without asking any questions.

2) Rockets have yet to lose since Chris Paul returned, win streak reaches 11 after beating Charlotte. It’s not as simple as “Chris Paul came back and Houston can’t lose.” First off, they were winning a lot before he came back. Second, if you’re going to credit something credit the Houston defense, which has been the best in the NBA over the last 11 games (allowing 100.5 points per 100 possessions).

That said, Chris Paul dropped 31 points and 11 assists on Charlotte, torched the Hornet defense, and did it effortlessly as always.

It’s this simple: Houston is a legit contender and the team best poised to knock off Golden State this postseason. How they match up with the Warriors in a series is a question left for late May. We’re a long way from there. But that big question is not going to be answered until then, and the Rockets have answered all the other ones thrown at them so far.

3) Gordon Hayward got his boot off. Celtics’ fans fever dreams of Gordon Hayward returning from his horrific dislocated ankle injury in time for the playoffs — giving Boston a better shot at dethroning LeBron James and the Cavaliers — got a boost on Wednesday.

Hayward is out of his walking boot.

Not to put a damper on those dreams (well, kind of actually) Hayward himself said if things don’t progress he will be back in the boot, and there remains no official timetable for his return. Hayward, his agent, and the Celtics have all said not to expect him back this season… but if you’re a dreaming Celtics fan that just sounds like a PR statement, a managing of expectations so butts are covered if he’s not back.

Hayward is reportedly working hard on his rehab. He talked to Kobe Bryant and Paul George early in the process, guys who know about bouncing back from injury, and both told him to go at rehab hard every day like it was preparing for a game. Do everything the doctors and trainers say. There would be good days, bad days, but work the process. By all accounts, Hayward is doing just that.

And that still doesn’t mean he will be back for these playoffs. We all saw that injury, right? If he’s not back this season, nobody should blink. That was nasty. But he is out of his boot and walking normally, and that’s a good sign because what everyone wants to see is him back on the court. Whenever it happens.

Thunder pick up Paul George in his return to Indiana

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Paul George made a winning return to Indiana, hitting the clinching free throws with 10.7 seconds left in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 100-95 victory over the Pacers on Wednesday night.

Steven Adams had 23 points and 13 rebounds and Russell Westbrook finished with 10 points, 17 rebounds and 12 assists in his ninth triple-double this season. The Thunder have won two straight on the road.

Victor Oladipo led the Pacers with 19 points and Bojan Bogdanovic scored 15. Indiana had a chance to tie the score after getting the ball back with 15.2 seconds left, but George got a steal then hit a couple free throws.

The Pacers’ winning streak ended at four.

But the highly anticipated matchup between George and Oladipo, the key components in last summer’s blockbuster trade, didn’t go as expected.

George was booed loudly during introductions and every time he touched the ball. Fans only cheered for George when he was called for a foul or made a mistake and it seemed to take a toll on the four-time All-Star. He finished 12 points on 3-of-14 shooting, had two rebounds and four turnovers.

Oladipo, the reigning Eastern Conference player of the week, didn’t have a typical night either. He was 9 of 26 with five rebounds and six assists.

The result: Both teams struggled.

Indiana led 27-22 after one but gave the lead right back by allowing Oklahoma City to start the second quarter on a 9-0 spurt.

After the Pacers answered with a 9-0 run, the Thunder closed the half on a 9-3 spurt to make it 51-46.

The trend continued in the second half.

Indiana charged back to take a 63-59 lead before the Thunder used an 11-2 run to pull out to a 73-69 lead going into the fourth.

Oklahoma City extended the lead to 92-81 with 5:16 to go but only scored six points the rest of the way. That was just enough to hold on.

TIP-INS

Thunder: Oklahoma City is 4-10 on the road. … Oklahoma City got its first series split with the Pacers since 2012-13. … Oklahoma City had 17 offensive rebounds and was 13 of 29 on 3-pointers.

Pacers: Thaddeus Young had 11 points, 10 rebounds and seven steals. … Made 11 3s but fell to 14-3 when making 10 or more 3-pointers in a game this season. … Center Myles Turner had three blocks, his 12th game this season with three or more. … Former Colts coach Tony Dungy attended the game. He’s in town for Thursday night’s NFL game between the Colts and Broncos.

ALL-STAR DAY

The Pacers got a win before they even took the floor.

A little less than three hours before tip, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced Indiana would host the 2021 All-Star Game. It will be the first time the Pacers have hosted the marquee event since 1985.

The move comes seven months after Larry Bird hand-delivered the formal proposal at the league’s New York headquarters in an IndyCar.

UP NEXT

Thunder: Faces Philadelphia on Friday, trying to improve to 17-1 in the series since moving to Oklahoma City.

Pacers: Host Detroit on Friday, seeking a seventh straight home win in the series.

 

Rockets’ Clint Capela on Warriors: ‘I expect to beat them’

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During the 2014-15 season, Rockets star James Harden said the Warriors “ain’t even that good.”

Golden State went on to reach the last three NBA Finals, twice beating Houston in the playoffs, and win two championships.

The Rockets have since re-tooled around Harden, Chris Paul and several quality role players and are in first place. Houston looks like the biggest threat to the Warriors in the Western Conference.

Rockets center Clint Capela on the Warriors, via Dave Schilling of Bleacher Report:

“I expect to beat them,” Capela says.

That’s a fine sentiment. Saying it publicly is another matter. Not even Harden did that a couple years ago. He was recorded during a pregame team huddle.

There’s a fine line between self-fulfilling confidence and providing bulletin-board material to the opponent. There’s already some animosity between the teams stemming from the Stephen Curry-Harden MVP race in 2015, and it has bubbled since. No matter how harmless Capela’s remark might have been intended to be, it’ll be met contentiously in the Bay Area.

PBT Extra Player of the Week: Victor Oladipo

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Oklahoma City traded for Victor Oladipo out of Orlando to be their third scorer, behind Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. It didn’t exactly work out that way, Durant bolted town and when Westbrook went off Oladipo was looking for a place to fit in.

That place turned out to be the Pacers.

Oladipo has been playing like an All-Star this season with Indiana, and last week he was key in snapping Cleveland’s 13 game win streak, then turned around and dropped 47 points on Denver. For the week he averaged 35.7 points a game, shot 45.7 percent from three, plus grabbed 7.7 rebounds per game.

That will get you named the PBT Extra Player of the Week.