Kurt Helin

Russell Westbrook may not be superstar but is Mavericks killer, drops 36 in Thunder’s series clinching win

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Mark Cuban says Russell Westbrook is not a superstar.

Ooookay. We know this for sure — Westbrook is very good at basketball. And he plays even better when angry. Which he appeared to be Monday night.

Westbrook had 36 points, 12 rebounds, and nine assists, which when combined with 33 points from the one Cuban-approved Thunder Superstar in Kevin Durant proved to be too much for Dallas.

The Thunder won Game 5 118-104, taking the series 4-1 from the Mavericks.

Oklahoma City will tip off the second round in San Antonio Saturday.

After the game, Mavericks coach Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said that the Thunder’s two superstars were fantastic. Two. He was right. Westbrook spoke with his game; Durant spoke with some words, too.

Dallas own superstar Dirk Nowitzki was fantastic all series — he led Dallas with 24 points on 16 shots. The German future Hall of Famer played to the point exhaustion in the last couple of games. He did all he could, but he did not have the talent around him to match up with OKC. For example, the starting Dallas backcourt of Raymond Felton and Wesley Matthews were 8-of-25 shooting in this game.

Hopefully, we get to see Nowitzki for at least another year — he can still flat out play the game.

Oklahoma City pulled away down the stretch as Billy Donovan did the smart thing he didn’t always do during the regular season — he played his impressive starting lineup. It went on a late 11-0 run that put the game away. That group defends well, and when Durant and Westbrook are scoring that lineup becomes more dangerous. Expect to see more of that against the Spurs, although that team defends a whole lot better than OKC.

Steven Adams added 15 points and 10 rebounds, while Dion Waiters added 11 points.

The Thunder get a few days off, then the Western Conference playoffs start to bet very serious.

Tough choices ahead for Grizzlies with painful season over

SAN ANTONIO,TX - APRIL 19: Tony Allen #9 of the Memphis Grizzlies reacts after missing a breakaway in against the San Antonio Spurs of game two of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at AT&T Center on April 19, 2016 in San Antonio, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that , by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ronald Cortes/Getty Images)
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (AP) — The Memphis Grizzlies took care of things they could control by assembling a roster good enough to challenge for the NBA title.

They couldn’t manage players’ health, and injuries derailed a promising season. Now, they face some tough decisions heading into the offseason.

The Grizzlies were fifth in the Western Conference on Feb. 8 with a 30-22 record before that dissolved under a myriad of injuries forcing Memphis to use a NBA-record 28 players. The Grizzlies lost 14 of their final 15 regular season games, slipping to the No. 7 seed in the postseason before being swept in the first round by San Antonio.

Coach Dave Joerger finally broke down after the final loss, 116-95 to the Spurs on Sunday, emotionally talking about how proud he was of every player who came through his locker room.

“This season has been hard, it’s been really hard,” Joerger said. “They could’ve quit, could’ve not made the playoffs and every day they came out and fought like crazy.”

The season started slipping away when Marc Gasol broke his right foot and needed season-ending surgery. The Grizzlies traded away Jeff Green and Courtney Lee, point guard Mike Conley didn’t play again after March 6 with left Achilles tendinitis and then his backup Mario Chalmers ruptured his own Achilles a couple days later.

The Grizzlies wound up signing eight different players to 11 10-day contracts. Yet they made the playoffs for a sixth straight season, a streak behind only the Spurs (19) and Atlanta Hawks (9) in the NBA.

“We did everything that we could do,” forward Matt Barnes said.

Some things to know as the Grizzlies head into the offseason:

CONLEY’S FUTURE: The Grizzlies are in the same situation as a year ago with a top leader heading to free agency for the first time in his career. Marc Gasol agreed to a new contract pretty quickly in July after talking with Conley, whose own commitment to the Grizzlies played a major factor in Gasol’s decision.

The point guard led the NBA in assist to turnover ratio despite not playing after March 6 because of Achilles tendinitis in his left foot. Conley plans to continue healing up and said his summer will be fun. But he wants to see what the Grizzlies do keep winning.

“We need to be committed to doing the things, whatever it may be and however hard the decision may be, to do the right things in order to get us where we need to go,” Conley said.

GASOL’S FOOT: Gasol was off crutches by the playoffs and stepping up his recovery. His full and complete recovery is crucial to the Grizzlies’ immediate future with four more years left on his contract.

CARTER’S FUTURE: Carter has another year on his contract but turns 40 in January. Carter played 60 games this season for Memphis and averaged 6.6 points per game. He started all four games of the playoffs against San Antonio, and he was on the court for the final minutes along with Barnes.

“I plan on coming back,” Carter said. “I feel good, body feels good, that’s all I got. We’ll still just go through the summer and it’s when I don’t feel like training, or I lose the passion I have for playing, then it’s time to walk away.”

WHAT ABOUT BARNES? Among the moves Memphis must consider is whether or not to bring back the veteran forward. Barnes is a pending free agent after the Grizzlies traded for him last summer. He started 45 of his 76 games, and he joined Randolph and Carter in leading the injury-dissipated roster down the stretch. Barnes played more than 41 minutes in Game 3 and nearly 45 in Game 4. Barnes, 36, had one of his best seasons averaging 10 points.

QUESTIONABLE MOVES: Brandan Wright, a big free agent signee, played only 12 games in a season where he needed surgery on his right knee. He had just returned in February when he sprained his right knee five games later. Forward Jarell Martin, their first-round draft pick, played just 27 games and two in the playoffs because of a left foot that he had surgery on last offseason. By reaching the playoffs, Memphis protected its first round draft pick and will choose 17th in June.

AP freelance writer Clay Bailey contributed to this report.

Mark Cuban: Thunder have only one superstar, Kevin Durant. Westbrook falls short.

DALLAS, TX - APRIL 21:  Owner, Mark Cuban before game three of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Center on April 21, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Apparently Mark Cuban wanted to see his Mavericks eliminated on Monday night and was trying to fire up the one guy on the Thunder who plays better angry. That or Cuban just likes to say things to get a reaction. You can decide which.

The Mavericks’ owner raised a few eyebrows with this pregame comment Monday, via ESPN’s Tim MacMahon.

Um, ok.

Durant is undoubtedly a bigger crossover name than Westbrook, but not by that much. Westbrook has his own fashion line, can be found on national late night talk shows, played on the big stage of the Olympics and won gold, plus ends up in fashion and pop culture magazines. Plus he’s a top five player in the league right now.

That says superstar to me.

But he may not be as famous as Cuban. Then again, neither is Dirk Nowitzki.

Young Pistons have plenty of potential after playoff berth

CLEVELAND, OH - APRIL 20: Tobias Harris #34 Andre Drummond #0 and Marcus Morris #13 of the Detroit Pistons celebrates during the first half of the NBA Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on April 20, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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AUBURN HILLS, Mich. (AP) — Moments after his season ended, Detroit star Andre Drummond was asked about free throws – clearly not his favorite topic.

“You think I sit around all day and not work on it?” he asked.

Drummond’s woeful free throw shooting is becoming a bigger issue because the Pistons will face higher expectations in the future. Detroit – thanks in large part to Drummond’s impressive work around the basket – made the playoffs this year for the first time since 2009 before being swept by Cleveland in the first round. With a young roster that improved significantly this season, the Pistons will expect to be back in the postseason again, and the question now is whether they can take another step and actually win a series.

Or at least win a playoff game. Detroit has now lost 10 of those in a row and hasn’t won one since 2008.

To advance further, the Pistons will need to shore up a number of details. Drummond’s free throw shooting is a problem: He is at 38 percent for his four-year career, and this season (35.5 percent) was his worst yet. In the regular season and the playoffs, teams would foul him intentionally, and coach Stan Van Gundy felt he had no choice but to remove the NBA’s top rebounder at times, even late in games.

Here’s how things look for the Pistons heading into the offseason:

BIGGEST NEED: More consistency on defense. Although Detroit made a late push to reach the playoffs, Van Gundy wasn’t always happy with his team’s defensive performance. Guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was solid at that end of the court, and Drummond can block shots and rebound, but that’s not always enough against good opponents.

THE GOOD NEWS: The Pistons are young. Their five starters are Drummond (22 years old), Reggie Jackson (26), Caldwell-Pope (23), Marcus Morris (26) and Tobias Harris (23). It’s a nucleus that could be together for a while and could grow into a special team eventually.

THE BAD NEWS: On the surface, it seems like Detroit has put together a nice lineup for Van Gundy’s system, with a dominant big man surrounded by shooters, but the Pistons only shot 34 percent from 3-point range this season, finishing firmly in the bottom half of the league in that department.

EXPERIENCE COUNTS: Detroit can take solace in the fact that its four-game loss to Cleveland wasn’t as lopsided as some sweeps. The Pistons came close to winning three of the four games, and they did beat both Cleveland (three times) and Golden State during the regular season.

“We said this (postseason) would be a great experience for our guys,” Van Gundy said. “It has been, as has, really, the last five or six weeks of the season, fighting to get in.”

BENCH DEPTH: Detroit’s bench didn’t provide much help in the playoffs against Cleveland, but backup center Aron Baynes generally played fine when called upon this season, and Anthony Tolliver added some occasional outside shooting. The Pistons also have reason to be excited about Stanley Johnson, their lottery pick last year. He averaged 8.1 points a game as a rookie – and showed no fear in the playoffs going toe-to-toe with LeBron James.

“We know how hard we made these four games on them, and so do they,” Johnson said after the series. “LeBron is a great player – he’s the guy I looked up to when I was growing up – but I’m not going to back down from anyone.”

Follow Noah Trister at http://www.Twitter.com/noahtrister

Report: Add Kevin McHale to the long list of candidates for Kings’ coaching job

Kevin McHale
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Vlade Divac is doing a thorough search for the next Sacramento Kings coach. Which is good for a few reasons. First, GMs generally should do that anyway, look at all the options available. Second, this is the first coaching search Divac or any basketball side person in Sacramento has gotten to make unfettered by ownership interference. Third, the Kings need to nail this. DeMarcus Cousins has had six coaches in Sacramento since coming into the league, the Kings need some stability.

You can add to the list of coaches the Kings have reached out to — Mark Jackson, Mike Woodson, Vinny Del Negro, Ettore Messina, Sam Mitchel, Luke Walton, and the list goes on and on — one Kevin McHale, reports Marc Stein at ESPN.

Kevin McHale has emerged on the list of known candidates for the Sacramento Kings’ vacant coaching job after engaging in exploratory talks about the position, according to league sources.

Sources told ESPN.com that Kings general manager Vlade Divac, while still in the early ‎stages of what is expected to be a broad search, has sounded out McHale about his potential interest after the former Houston Rockets coach was fired just 11 games into the current season.

McHale certainly checks off some boxes for the Kings: Experienced coach, former All-Star big man with knowledge DeMarcus Cousins could lean on, many former players liked him (not James Harden, but others), could work well with Divac and whoever is brought in as the day-to-day GM.

The question is, will McHale want the gig? There were rumors he did not. After not getting the backing of ownership or management in Houston, would he want to deal with another emotional team star that is not easy to get along with, and an organization not exactly known for stability? Or would he rather just do some appearances on NBA TV and spend more time at home?

Expect it to be a while before the Kings reach a decision. There is no need to rush the process.