Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Thunder try to make statement with thrashing of Mavericks 108-70 in game one


Oklahoma City has said all season they want to be talked about in the same breath with Golden State and San Antonio.

In Game 1 of the playoffs they looked like they should.

Oklahoma City made a “we belong” statement with a 108-70 thrashing of Dallas in the first game of their seven game series. Dirk Nowitzki said he was “embarrassed” as his team set a franchise low for points scored in a playoff game.

Oklahoma City opened the game on a 15-2 run, was up 26-11 after one quarter and 59-33 at the half. This game was never close. Russell Westbrook had 24 points, Kevin Durant 23, and neither had to set foot on the court in the fourth quarter.

More than offensively, this was a defensive statement by OKC which was aggressive on that end of the court from the start, holding Dallas as a team to 29.8 percent shooting and 4-of-18 from three (0-of-8 in the first half). Rick Carlisle wanted to play smaller and faster — why so little Justin Anderson for the first three quarters? — and that proved a disaster when the point guard trio of J.J. Barea, Deron Williams, and Raymond Felton combined to shoot 4-of-25 from the floor, while Wesley Matthews was 1-of-6 from three. Williams in particular seemed to go off on his own dribbling around, not passing, and taking poor shots.

To literally add insult to injury, Barea strained a groin muscle, did not play the second half, and is questionable for Game 2.

One Dallas player who didn’t suck was Nowitzki, who was 7-of-15 from the floor for 18 points, the only Mav in double figures.

We knew there was a talent gap between these teams, but it looked like there was a talent Grand Canyon between them on Saturday, particularly with Serge Ibaka playing like his vintage self. Dallas’ big advantage is supposed to be coach Rick Carlisle, and I expect some major adjustments (like playing Justin Anderson?) but it’s going to take a lot more than Xs and Os tweaks to change the tone of this series.

Dallas will make the next game closer, they may win a game or so, but in the NBA talent wins out and it’s clear who in this series has more of it.


Playoff Preview: Three questions about Memphis Grizzlies vs. San Antonio Spurs


If the Memphis Grizzlies were healthy — meaning if they had Mike Conley, Marc Gasol and a host of others currently sidelined — this series would have some intriguing angles.

But that’s not the series we’re getting. On paper, this is the most lopsided first-round series in either conference, with the 67-win Spurs taking on a Grizzlies team that lost 10 of their last 11. Can Memphis make this at all interesting?

Here are three questions that will decide the series.

Where will Memphis get points from? San Antonio had the best defense in the NBA this past season — by a mile. San Antonio allowed just 96.6 points per 100 possessions (according to NBA.com), and that was two more than the second-place team (Atlanta) and nearly four better than third. San Antonio shuts everyone down. They have elite perimeter defenders in Kawhi Leonard (the likely Defensive Player of the Year again) and Danny Green, plus Tim Duncan quarterbacks the entire operation in the paint.

Memphis now starts Jordan Farmar at the point — he wasn’t even in the NBA most of the season. Zach Randolph is the most reliable scorer on the Grizzlies, with his old-man-at-the-Y game inside that never ages, however, he scored just nine points the last time these teams met. Duncan and LaMarcus Aldridge can keep him in check. Memphis did get 24 points from Matt Barnes a couple of times late in the season (including against Golden State), he can score a little. Lance Stephenson will get some inefficient buckets. Tony Allen had a couple decent shooting nights lately. But we’re grasping at straws; the Grizzlies do not have good shot creators and they are going against an elite defense.

Is there anything the Grizzlies can do about the Spurs’ depth? San Antonio’s second unit has Manu Ginobili, Patty Mills, David West, Kyle Anderson, and a host of other guys who can contribute — they pull away from teams with the execution of their reserves. Who is coming off the bench for Memphis? P.J. Hairston, Stephenson, what’s left of Vince Carter, and JaMychal Green. San Antonio has an advantage when the starters are in, but it’s a gulf once the benches come into play.

The grit and grind Grizzlies are not just going to roll over — they will defend hard, they will try to muck he game up, they will be physical. But once the benches get involved, look for he Spurs to pull away.

Can the Spurs stay focused in the moment and not look ahead? The only team that can beat the Spurs in this series is the Spurs. Everyone is looking forward to the Spurs and the Thunder (almost certainly) next round, and that’s a fantastic matchup. If the Spurs get caught looking ahead, skipping steps, and not being focused the Grizzlies will grind this into a series. Don’t bet on it though.

Prediction: Spurs in four.  Memphis will make it close in a game or two, they are a prideful team, and Dave Joerger can coach, but the Grizzlies are outmatched this time around. There will be no stunning upset.

Playoff Preview: Three questions about Boston Celtics vs. Atlanta Hawks

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Of all the first-round series in either conference, this is the most evenly matched. Both teams won 48 games during the season, but more than that they play similar styles, and both are very well coached. This is going to be a series for the people who like chess matches in the playoffs — there will be smart adjustments of versatile rosters on both sides.

You’ll have plenty of time to watch it — this series is going to go on for a while.

There are three questions that will determine the series.

Can Brad Stevens get Isaiah Thomas room to operate against the Hawks? Thomas is an All-Star and the engine of the Celtics offense — he is the one guy who can consistently create shots for himself and others. However, the Hawks defense — second best in the NBA over the course of the season — made life difficult for Thomas during the regular season when he averaged four turnovers a game against Atlanta. The Hawks long, rangy defenders led by Jeff Teague (a solid defender when focused) blew up the Boston pick-and-roll fairly often.

Can Stevens draw up sets and find ways to get Thomas room to drive the lane, disrupt the defense, and just be himself? He needs to, the Celtics don’t have anyone else who can create shots of the same quality.

Will Boston punish Atlanta on the offensive glass, or will Paul Millsap own it? Atlanta is not a good rebounding team — they were the third worst in the NBA overall last season in rebound percentage, just below the Lakers. They intentionally don’t chase offensive rebounds in an effort to get back on defense and kill the opposition transition (as is the trend in the NBA), but they also were sixth worst in grabbing defensive rebounds. It’s a known weakness. The Celtics have some players — Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, and others — who like to battle inside, and Boston was 10th in the NBA in grabbing offensive boards this past season. Look for Boston to try to get some easy putbacks and second chances by focusing more on offensive rebounds.

They need to do something because during the regular season All-Star Millsap owned the Boston front line. The Celtics cannot afford a repeat of that, they have to find a way to keep him in check.

Will the Hawks knock down their open looks? The book on defending the Hawks in the playoffs is out there, David Blatt and the Cavaliers wrote it last May in the Conference Finals. Go under picks, lay off on the pick-and-roll, and dare Millsap, Teague, Al Horford and the rest of them (except Kyle Korver) to beat you with jump shots. You can look at the shot charts for this past season and say those guys can hit those shots — Millsap shoots just under 40 percent from the top of the key area — but they couldn’t knock them down when it mattered last postseason. You can be sure Steven’s defensive strategy to start will be to make them hit those shots. If they do, the Celtics will need to adjust, and that will open up the drives the Hawks prefer, but first they must prove they can knock down the midrange (and threes) they will get.

Prediction: Hawks in seven. But if the Celtics win this, it’s not an upset in my mind, it could go either way.

NBC’s PBT Podcast: Western Conference first-round playoff preview with Sean Highkin

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Drama? Who needs drama?

It doesn’t feel like there is a lot of drama in the first round or the Western Conference playoffs this season — the Warriors, Spurs, Thunder, and Clippers are expected to advance. Fairly easily.

Kurt Helin and Sean Highkin of NBC’s ProBasketballTalk discuss these series, including whether Portland can push Los Angeles a little bit. The two also get off topic at points and talk Lakers and Bulls going forward.

As always, you can listen to the podcast below, or listen and subscribe via iTunesdownload it directly here, or you can check out our new PBT Podcast homepage, which has the most recent episodes available. If you have the Stitcher app, you can listen there as well.

Bosh addresses Heat before 1st practice of postseason


MIAMI (AP) — Chris Bosh will still play a role for the Miami Heat in the playoffs, though apparently one that doesn’t include him returning to the court.

The All-Star forward gave an emotional address to teammates before their first practice of this postseason on Friday, speaking about what playoff time means to him and how it pains him to be unable to play right now.

Bosh has been sidelined since the All-Star break – the second straight year that his season came to an end at the break because of a blood clot that started in his calf. Other than issuing a statement to announce that clot had dissipated several weeks ago, Bosh has not been available for interviews or offered any other updates on his health.

“Chris talked today to us, as a team,” fellow Heat All-Star Dwyane Wade said after practice. “The biggest message is someone who lived for this moment, someone who envisioned these moments especially after last year, he doesn’t have the ability to be in it.”

Wade did not reveal everything Bosh said, but quoted him as saying, “You guys have an opportunity to be out in the playoffs. What I wouldn’t do to be out there.”

Heat guard Goran Dragic said he got goosebumps thinking about Bosh’s message. Dragic said part of the meeting involved Heat coach Erik Spoelstra telling each player what their role would be, and then Bosh got called upon to speak.

“It’s really tough for him,” Dragic said. “He wants to be part of this on the court and it’s really hard to watch and not to do nothing. It’s a tough situation for him but we need him – even if he’s not going to play, his ability to talk to the players, show what you’re doing wrong, how you’re supposed to do it on the floor, it’s big time.”

Bosh led the Heat in scoring this season, averaging 19.1 points in 53 games.

He said he was sitting out All-Star weekend with a calf strain. Soon afterward, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press that he had been placed on a regimen of bloodthinners – just as he was a year ago. Athletes in contact sports are discouraged from competition while on bloodthinners, because of additional medical risks.

“With CB, it would be so much easier,” Dragic said. “He can do a lot of different things.”

Miami opens the Eastern Conference playoffs against Charlotte on Sunday. Bosh is expected to be on the bench for home games, as he has been for several weeks.