Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Victor Oladipo’s first game provides hope for Thunder post-Durant

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Russell Westbrook and the Oklahoma City Thunder saw exactly what they need to move on after Kevin Durant: buckets in bunches from Victor Oladipo.

The 24-year-old guard scored 34 points in his debut on Monday as the Thunder began their first preseason without Durant in nearly a decade with a 142-137 overtime loss at Real Madrid.

Getting Oladipo off to a good start was clearly the Thunder’s focus for the game in the Spanish capital. He made 14 of 24 shots in 33 minutes and dished out five assists, while Westbrook left the team in his hands. Westbrook settled for 18 points in 22 minutes after sitting out the second and fourth quarters.

“I think (Oladipo) did a good job of playing aggressive,” Westbrook said of his new backcourt partner. “That’s the most important part of going out and competing, being aggressive, and that’s what we need for him to do.”

Consistently driving to the basket against the nine-time Euroleague champions, Oladipo led an offense that coach Billy Donovan is trying to remake after the departure of Durant and his superb shooting touch from long range.

The problems for Donovan came at the other end of the court. With shot-blocker Serge Ibaka no longer defending the paint after the Thunder traded him to the Orlando Magic for Oladipo and other players, Real Madrid roared back from an early 22-point deficit by scoring 92 points in the second half and overtime.

“We are a work in progress. We replaced faces on our team,” Donovan said. “We were very good offensively, we scored an enormous amount of points, but . they nearly scored 95 points in the second half. So, to me, it’s much, much more us being able to sustain a defensive intensity for the full 48 minutes.”

Domantas Sabonis and Ersan Ilyasova, the other players the Thunder acquired from Orlando for Ibaka, also played their first games under Donovan. The newly drafted Sabonis had seven points, five rebounds and four assists before fouling out.

Oladipo, taken second by the Magic in the 2013 draft, led the Thunder in scoring just ahead of forward Enes Kanter‘s 29 points, despite misfiring from distance. He hit only one of seven 3-point attempts.

Spanish rookie Alex Abrines, however, showed how important he could be to the team built around the driving duo of Oladipo and Westbrook by making four of his five 3-pointers.

“(Abrines) is going to be huge for us. We need him, the way he shoots the ball, the way he can open up the lane for me and Russ, the way he spreads the floor,” Oladipo said. “I still got room to improve there obviously. But, again, I feel that I am special in that aspect, that I can do a lot of things pretty good. So I’ve just got to keep growing, keep getting better.”

Next up, the Thunder head east to the Mediterranean coast for Wednesday’s game against Barcelona, Abrines’ team until he made the leap to the NBA in July.

It will then be back to the U.S. for four more preseason games before the Thunder’s season opener at the Philadelphia 76ers on Oct. 26.

Oladipo will have until Feb. 11 to prime his game for the return of Durant to Oklahoma City, this time in a Golden State Warriors uniform.

Damian Lillard says he wouldn’t join superteam: “I might have too much pride for that”

Associated Press

Kevin Durant has become one of the NBA’s polarizing players.

Some players — and pretty much everyone in the Bay Area — support not only his right to choose to play with the Warriors, but they also note that if the goal is to win titles he put himself in the best position to do that (and still get paid).

Most fans and some players say they don’t like the formation of superteams.

Put Damian Lillard in the latter group. Here is what the Portland guard he said on SiriusXM NBA Radio Monday.

“If somebody wants to go join people and do that, it’s not against the rules. They can do it. It’s just more pressure to win when you do it. Some people say, ‘Oh, they had to do that to win it,’ but we play the game to win it. So when people do it, that’s their decision. I wouldn’t do it. That’s just not who I am.

“I might have too much pride for that or be too much of a competitor where I couldn’t bring myself to do it, but it also makes it more fun. You get to take a monster down and that’s always fun.”

I’m always a little skeptical of players who were not in KD’s shoes saying they wouldn’t make his choice. No doubt Lillard believes he would not make the same decision, maybe he wouldn’t, but for him the question is moot — with his new contract kicking in he will be in Portland for years to come.

One thing Lillard said is how I think a lot of teams are viewing the Warriors — they want to slay Goliath. NBA players are by their natures very competitive, and if you put a mountain in front of them and they want to climb it. I’m not sure any teams outside Cleveland and San Antonio have a chance in the playoffs, but the target is on the Warriors’ backs. Even bigger than before.

Ben Simmons has surgery to repair broken foot, no official timetable for return

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We knew surgery to repair Ben Simmons broken bone in his foot — a Jones Fracture — the only question was when.

That turned out to be Tuesday. Philadelphia announced Simmons had the operation and, of course, it was called successful (like every athletic surgery). The Sixers did not give a timetable for his return to the court.

“Our sports performance and medical staff was debriefed by Dr. Martin O’Malley (Associate Attending Orthopaedic Surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City) following the procedure, and we were encouraged by the positive feedback,” saidDr. David T. Martin, Sixers Director of Performance Research and Development. “Moving forward, a comprehensive return to court program will be implemented for Ben, and we will closely monitor his progress throughout the rehabilitation process.”

While there have been rumors ranging from three months recovery to his agent trying to keep him sidelined for a full season, the reality with Jones fractures is recovery times are hard to pinpoint. Simmons fractured the fifth metatarsal of his right foot, the bone that runs from the little toe up to near the ankle in the foot, and that is an area that does not have great natural blood flow. Because of that, healing can be slow, even after surgery. If we can expect one thing from the Sixers, it’s for them to be cautious bringing back a potential franchise player.

The good news is, as evidenced by Kevin Durant and other young NBA players who have had this surgery, Simmons should bounce back and not be slowed by the injury down the line. It just may take a little time.

Frank Vogel to play Aaron Gordon at small forward, go big for defense

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There are a lot of interesting pieces in Orlando along the front line: Serge Ibaka, Nikola Vucevic, Bismack Biyombo, Aaron Gordon, Branden Dawson, and Jeff Green can play some small-ball four as well. There seems to be a lot of skill-set overlap. The question is can all those pieces fit together and turn the Magic into a playoff team?

Frank Vogel is charged with putting the puzzle together.

And he’s going big. Last season Gordon did his best work at the four and spent the majority of his playing time there, but with Ibaka in town he will now be the three, something Vogel confirmed to Adi Joseph at The Sporting News.

“I think positions still matter in today’s NBA. But (Gordon is) comfortable playing both (forward positions). You’re correct in your assessment that he’s going to be playing mostly small forward on this team. That’s something I’m excited about because I’ve always been able to build some really solid defenses, and the foundation of those teams was defensive length and athleticism. This is what we’re going to have with this club, with either Vuc or Bismack Biyombo at the five and Serge Ibaka at the four and Aaron Gordon at the three, you’ve got a really long, athletic front court, which I think is necessary if you want to be a great defensive team.”

Vogel is known as a strong defensive coach after what he did in Indiana, and it makes sense that with the players on this roster the Magic should be a strong defensive team. There are plenty of shot blockers, there is length all over the floor, and in the right system Orlando will get stops.

Can they score is another question. This is where the pieces seem and odd fit, and there may not be enough shooting (outside of Evan Fournier). Gordon was better at the four than the three. Vogel will ask Ibaka to play more inside, Vucevic will need to take steps forward, Gordon must continue on his quick trajectory of growth, and the big question is if Elfrid Payton can run this show at a playoff level? We know what Scott Skiles thought of that idea, we’ll see if Vogel can make it work.

Derrick Rose to play in Knicks preseason opener Tuesday, then fly to L.A. for trial

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Tuesday, the New York Knicks open their preseason in Houston.

Also Tuesday, the $21.5 million civil trial alleging Derrick Rose and two associates raped a woman opens in Los Angeles.

Rose will play for the Knicks Tuesday and at his trial by the time of opening statements, reports Stephan Bondy of the New York Daily News.

Both sides of the Rose trial have tried to sway public opinion with statements and revelations, to the point the judge issued a gag order to quiet things down. There had been rumors of a last-second settlement in the case, but that did not happen, and the jurors for the case are being selected Tuesday. The length of voir dire can vary, however, the trial itself is expected to start Thursday.

It is not known now long Rose will be away from the Knicks.

As a side note, Joakim Noah will be out of the Knicks preseason opener due to a hamstring issue.