Kurt Helin

Another day, another impressive Kristaps Porzingis putback dunk (VIDEO)

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Kevin Durant called Kristaps Porzingis a basketball unicorn — a rare sight. A skilled guy with that size and hoops IQ is not something you see every day.

High praise. Porzingis responded with 15 points, including another highlight putback dunk, facing off against Durant’s Thunder.

It wasn’t enough because Durant dropped 44 points, including 22 in the fourth quarter and overtime, to get OKC the win.

Five Takeaways from NBA Tuesday: Chris Paul ignores soap opera, gets Clippers win

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Everything L.A. Clippers felt like a soap opera on Tuesday. But there was more going on in the NBA than just Clippers drama, and while we need to start with the Clips from there with the other things you need to know from an NBA Wednesday.

1) Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of the Clippers’ lives. But at least they got a win.  GBlake Griffin says he’s sorry. The team’s owner condemned the action. The NBA is investigating. There will be more revelations to come about how and why Blake Griffin got so angry at a friend and member of the Clippers’ equipment staff that he punched the guy in a Toronto restaurant, and then when the staffer tried to leave Griffin tracked him down outside to punch him a couple more times. It’s a black eye for the marketable Griffin, who is constantly on my TV making a PB&J in the zone (or in some other commercial). Griffin is fortunate the police in Toronto were not called. As it is, he’s going to be out at least 4-6 weeks with a boxer’s fracture of his fourth metacarpal, and maybe longer than that.

The Clippers players took the court amid all that swirling soap opera and picked up another victory — 91-89 over the Indiana Pacers on the road. Chris Paul continues to be a beast — he has been huge the last 10 games for Los Angeles and on Tuesday night had 11 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter, plus dished out seven assists and grabbed six rebounds. The Clippers also got strong play from Wesley Johnson and others off the bench, a much-improved performance from the loss in Toronto a couple of nights before.

The Clippers are fairly locked in as the four seed in the West. It’s hard to imagine them making up the four games on Oklahoma City now to get the three seed. Meanwhile, Memphis is three-and-a-half games back as the five seed — that’s a good cushion for a Clippers team that will have to hold that spot with Griffin out until March, and with the schedule getting tougher. The win over Indiana improved the Clips to 12-3 without Griffin, but that record is about to see more losses. It’s wins like this one the Clippers need to maintain home court in the first round of the playoffs.

2) Kevin Durant drops 44 on Knicks in OT win. This is what makes Oklahoma City so tough: Even if much of the roster seems to have an off night, even if they run into a team that can exploit the flaws of the role players on the roster, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will prove to be too much. KD had half of his 44 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, and that proved to be too much for the Knicks. KD had a good day (and spent the morning deftly dodging free agency questions). Also, that Westbrook guy added 30 and 10. Not a bad night for him, either.

3) Portland beats Sacramento, now eight seed in the West. Before the season started, it was thought by most pundits (yours truly included) that the Trail Blazers would be battling the Lakers for one of the bottom of the conference spots, not the playoffs. I was wrong; we were wrong. Damian Lillard has been everything one would expect, C.J. McCollum has blossomed, and a top 10 offense has carried a weak defense into more than just playoff contention — with a win over Sacramento Tuesday, the Trail Blazers moved into the eighth seed in the West. They did it with a balanced attack — McCollum had 18 leading seven Blazers in double digits.

In what should be a fun race, Portland, Sacramento, and Utah are going to battle for that eighth seed in the West the rest of the way this season.

4) Jason Kidd back on Bucks’ sideline. For the first time since Dec. 20, Jason Kidd was back on the sidelines coaching Milwaukee. It was good to see. He’d been out following hip surgery, and he picked a heck of a game to come back for — his Bucks survived a barrage of Orlando threes, got a couple of key threes of their own from Jerryd Bayless, and hung on to win 107-100. The real highlight for Kidd’s return? Giannis  Antetokounmpo dunked eight times (on his way to 25 points).

5) Dirk Nowitzki hits game winner to beat Lakers, Kobe Byant respects that. Kobe was in a suit on the sidelines and saw a Lakers’ team that played hard and with energy a couple of days after Bryant called the team out for a lack of it. Still, that wasn’t enough because Dirk Nowitzki can knock down game winners for all eternity. And you can see Kobe respects that.

Dirk Nowitzki’s game-winning jumper propels Mavericks past Lakers, 92-90

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki hit the tiebreaking jumper with 2.1 seconds to play, and the Dallas Mavericks hung on for a 92-90 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

Nowitzki scored eight of his 13 points in the fourth quarter as the Mavericks snapped a two-game skid with their 10th consecutive victory over the Lakers.

Julius Randle missed a long jumper at the buzzer for the Lakers, who have lost seven straight.

Nowitzki nailed his go-ahead shot while falling toward the Lakers’ bench, where he got a pat on the back from Kobe Bryant, who sat out to rest his sore right shoulder.

J.J. Barea led the Mavericks with 18 points, and Chandler Parsons had 17.

Jordan Clarkson scored 18 points for the Lakers, and Randle had 16.

The injury prevented Bryant from facing Nowitzki for the 50th and final time in the careers of the NBA’s top two active scorers. Nowitzki is two months older than the 37-year-old Bryant, and the German 7-footer entered the NBA in 1998, two years after Bryant’s debut.

Nowitzki struggled with foul trouble while Bryant watched from the Lakers’ bench – after removing Larry Nance Jr. from his seat and telling the rookie to grab some floor.

The teams traded the lead throughout an exciting fourth quarter, with veteran Dallas struggling to put away the Lakers’ young lineup.

Nowitzki put the Mavericks ahead on a jumper with 2:31 to play, but Clarkson tied it moments later. Both teams missed open shots before Lou Williams was called for an offensive foul with 13.5 seconds left, setting the stage for Nowitzki’s latest big shot against the Lakers.

KOBE’S COMMANDMENTS

Bryant had harsh words of motivation for his young teammates after their most recent loss in Portland, but decided he shouldn’t play through the re-occurring pain in his shoulder. “When he complains about something and says something is sore, you know it’s sore and he’s not joking around,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “We’ll just rest it and see how he feels.” Bryant’s strained Achilles tendon felt fine, the guard said.

 

TIP-INS

Mavericks: Zaza Pachulia sat out to rest his injured Achilles tendon. Salah Mejri started in his place and scored nine points. … Devin Harris also sat out to rest his injured left foot. The guard got an injection in the foot earlier in the day. … Nowitzki got a technical foul in the final seconds of the first half for protesting a call.

Lakers: Nance returned from a four-game absence with a sore knee, but went scoreless in 23 minutes. … Brandon Bass played despite a foot injury, scoring five points.

 

Kevin Durant dodges free agency questions before facing Knicks

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) reacts in the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets, Sunday, Jan. 24, 2016, in New York. Durant had 32 points but the Nets upset the Thunder 116-106. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)
Associated Press
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This summer, the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets will both try to make a pitch to free agent Kevin Durant. While there’s a long line of teams that want to make that pitch, people in Durant’s camp have promoted the idea of coming to New York to him, sources have told NBC Sports.

That shouldn’t be a shock. Neither should the fact that while in New York Durant has dodged the question of his free agency this summer as expertly as he knocks down an elbow jumper over a shorter defender.

At shootaround Tuesday, as the Thunder prepared to face the Knicks, Durant said this about his free agency, as reported by Royce Young of ESPN.

“I’m just really, to be honest with you, I haven’t sat down and thought about it. The season moves along so quickly. And every time I get alone, it’s either on the plane or in the city thinking about the game the next day. So, of course I can’t totally just say I haven’t thought about it at all. But I haven’t sat down and really put a lot of time into what I’m looking for. Just focusing on my teammates, focusing on the season and how I can be better as a player, as a leader. Everything else comes after that and it comes after the season.”

On playing in a small market like Oklahoma City as opposed to the big platform of New York:

“It’s not different. There’s so many games on TV nowadays. Like you said, social media gives the game and different players exposure no matter where you are. It really doesn’t matter. To be honest, it’s never been about that for me. It’s been about the game and being a basketball player first.”

So why is he often linked to New York?

“They link everybody with New York City. One of the greatest cities in the world. They link everybody with this city. So, it’s not a bad thing. It’s a great city. It’s a great place to visit, great place to live, I’m sure. But they link everybody, it’s not just me.”

True that.

Durant said nothing. As you had to expect for someone as polished dealing with the media like him.

A number of teams will try to pitch Durant this summer — the Knicks, Nets, Lakers, Heat, Wizards and on down the line — but the smart money is still on the Thunder. Durant is in his prime; he needs to be in the best position to win a title, and even though the Thunder are in the deep West where is he going to find better running mates than Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka? He is closer to a title in OKC than even if he went to the softer East.

But predicting what a free agent may do six months out can be a fool’s errand. There are a lot of variables, a lot of things that will happen between now and July 1 which will influence Durant’s decision.

 

PBT Extra: Blake Griffin’s ill-advised punch bad for Clippers, himself

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There can be a steep price for losing your head, even for a few minutes.

Blake Griffin is finding that out the hard way.

Griffin will be out 4-6 weeks following surgery, then could face a suspension from the league. This is not good for the Clippers as they move into a more challenging part of their schedule — they are not going to go 11-3 through a part of the schedule with the Hawks, Bulls, Spurs and Warriors (all up in the next several weeks).

For Griffin, who has never been loved by other players but is near the heart of the NBA marketing machine, this is a black eye. It is bad for his image. We’ll see if it hits him in the wallet or not, but this is not positive for him in the least.