Kurt Helin

Associated Press

Doc Rivers says Blake Griffin close to return to Clippers

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LOS ANGELES — Tuesday, Blake Griffin told reporters he was very close to returning from the broken hand that has had him sidelined for five weeks.

Doc Rivers agrees.

“Blake’s close. He’s looking good,” Rivers said without much hesitation before his team took on the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Honestly, watching him today (at shootaround), I was like, in my mind I was thinking ‘we could use some of that tonight.’ I don’t get involved in (the injury) part of it, I know there’s a reason he’s not activated. Honestly, today, watching him I said ‘Can he play tonight?’”

He can’t. For one, he hasn’t yet been cleared by doctors for contact.

“Watching him today I thought that had to be the only reason, that they’re worried it’s not healed properly yet,” Rivers said.

The other reason is that once cleared Griffin will have to serve a four-game suspension for the league from the incident where he broke his hand punching a Clipper employee during a dinner in Toronto. That broken hand required surgery. Griffin has since apologized.

Doc Rivers said that both for chemistry reasons and that the Clippers have a tough schedule down the stretch, he would like to get his starting power forward back in the rotation (and his 23.2 points and 8.7 rebounds a night). The Clippers have done well with a small ball, spread pick-and-roll style offense in Griffin’s absence, but while that has worked in the regular season, it will not be as effective in the playoffs when teams could drill down on it defensively. Rivers knows for his team to have a chance at even getting out of the second round, he needs Griffin.

And he could have him fairly soon.

Kevin Durant after blown lead to Clippers: “We want to be a great team, we’re fooling ourselves”

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LOS ANGELES — There’s an identity crisis in Oklahoma City.

“If we want to be a great team, we’re fooling ourselves,” Kevin Durant, arms resting on his thighs and looking at the ground after his team blew a 22-point lead and lost to the Clippers Wednesday. “If we want to be a great team the way we’re playing, we’re fooling ourselves. We want to win a bunch of games in the regular season, that’s cool, but we’re fooling ourselves with the way we’re playing.”

There was a lot of soul searching after the game as the Thunder kept the locker room closed after the game for longer than normal; and then their stars took their time to gather themselves before addressing the media. It’s to be expected in what is the latest in the line of “worst loss of the season” games for the Thunder — all with Golden State looming on Thursday. Not to mention Durant’s free agency looming this summer.

“What kind of team do we want to be?” Thunder coach Billy Donovan asked. “Because to (win) is going to require a level of sacrifice from every player. I think this is something where you see in the first half what a team like this is capable of, and then can you sustain it? Can you keep playing that way? They do it for long stretches, but then we have these lapses.”

The Thunder were in total control from the opening tip Wednesday night in Los Angeles. Where other teams had struggled with the spread offense the Clippers have run since Blake Griffin went out, the Thunder defense was sharp. Their ball movement was good enough. The Thunder raced out to an early lead and were up by 20 at the half. They kept that lead at double digits through the third.

Then in the fourth quarter, the Thunder’s identity crisis returned with a vengeance — they blew a 17-point lead to start the fourth to lose to the Clippers 103-98.

In that pivotal fourth quarter, too much isolation/hero ball led to bad shot selections, which in turn led to missed shots for the Thunder. Then they didn’t get back in transition which allowed the Clippers to get shots and match-ups they wanted — especially with their second unit. It was the Clipper bench that sparked the 35-13 fourth quarter and the win. Chris Paul had 21 points and 13 assists in the game, DeAndre Jordan had 20 points (including some key fourth-quarter plays at the rim) and 18 rebounds.

The Thunder have lost five-of-seven since the All-Star break, including a couple of heartbreaking come-from-ahead losses. Don’t sell this to Durant as a wake-up call for the team.

“We’ve already lost too many games we’re supposed to win. We can’t just keep talking about wake-up calls,” said Durant, who had 30 points on 27 shots in the game. “We’ve got 20 games left or whatever it is. We can’t have no wake-up calls at the end of the season. We’re supposed to had those. We’ve got to be locked in from the beginning, from shootaround.”

“I’ve said this before, the best thing for this team is adversity,” Donovan said. “We need adversity. It doesn’t need to be easy, in my opinion…. Now here is an adverse situation, what do we do with this in terms of going forward? When we get leads like this, can we sustain playing the right way on offense and defense?”

The adversity keeps coming as the Thunder must take on the Warriors in the Bay Area on Thursday — where the Warriors have yet to drop a game this season.



Kevin Durant dunks over top of J.J. Redick (VIDEO)


Poor J.J. Redick didn’t stand a chance.

He was in the right place, back on defense, when Kevin Durant corralled the tap out and started on a fast break. But Redick was back peddling and KD had a full head of steam with every intent of throwing it down. The outcome was decided long before Durant took off.

We’ll see what Redick says about this on his podcast.

Like Melo’s botched dunk, Knicks tried to rise but fell flat


NEW YORK  — Even Carmelo Anthony laughed at his muffed stuff, when he didn’t jump high enough on his dunk attempt, slammed the ball into the rim and tumbled backward to the foul line.

Not so funny for Anthony and the Knicks is how perfectly Tuesday’s blooper summed up their season.

They tried to climb high and instead fell flat on their backs.

Another season has gone from hopeful to hopeless in a New York minute, as the Knicks have dropped out of realistic playoff contention by losing 15 of 18. They looked like one of the NBA’s most improved teams when they were 22-22, and now they just look like one of the worst.

“Everything just shifted all of a sudden,” Anthony said following a 104-85 loss to Portland.

And it happened so quickly, so unexpectedly that Anthony said this season is even tougher than last, when the Knicks finished with a franchise-worst 17-65 record.

Back then, they knew they were building from the bottom. This time, they thought they had escaped it.

“We looked a while back – not even a while back, a couple of weeks ago – and we sat in the locker room, and we were I think a game (behind) or even tied with Boston at one point in time,” Anthony said. “So we had some momentum going, it just went downhill from then. I don’t know why, I don’t know how, it just went downhill from there.”

Boston is now third in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks (25-37) are third from the bottom.

Anthony is frustrated, telling a heckling fan he should ask Madison Square Garden chairman James Dolan for his money back, a response for which he apologized on Wednesday.

Everyone might want a refund after the last few weeks.

Team President Phil Jackson won more championships than any coach but missed on his first attempt in hiring one, firing Derek Fisher last month after just 1 1/2 seasons. Jackson did well with the drafting of Kristaps Porzingis and did upgrade the roster but not enough to take the pressure off Anthony.

Even Porzingis’ play has tailed off lately, and that combined with the Knicks’ collapse probably ended any chance the Latvian had of beating Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns for Rookie of the Year.

Porzingis, like Anthony, can’t explain exactly what happened.

“It’s not one thing that went wrong, just can’t really pinpoint something,” Porzingis said. “It’s just maybe a few little things just adding up to each other and we’re not playing the way we should be playing and things are not going our way. But I think going through these tough times, this will make us stronger as we go forward.”

For now, they’re going nowhere. Fans booed loudly in the second half of Tuesday’s loss, save for the cheers for Jimmer Fredette as he played out the end of his 10-day contract.

And since the Knicks are no longer playing good basketball, they can’t hide the bad story lines that inevitably surround the team. Before his exchange with the fan, Anthony and former teammate Amare Stoudemire seemed to take swipes at each other, though neither mentioned the other’s name.

Jackson had to clarify a tweet that he meant as an observation about Stephen Curry but read like a comparison or even criticism, saying the NBA MVP’s game resembled former but far-less-accomplished guard Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf.

Anthony and Porzingis wouldn’t write off this season, but the damage appears to have been done. The Knicks will need to turn their attention to the summer, when Jackson will try to bolster the roster further without a first-round pick (dealt to Toronto in the failed Andrea Bargnani trade) and perhaps hire another coach if he doesn’t decide to stick with Kurt Rambis.

Perhaps he may try to trade Anthony, who has to approve any deal and has shown no interest in leaving New York. But headed toward a third straight season with no playoff appearance after never missing them previously, Anthony isn’t happy with the way things are going here.

“It gets frustrating,” Anthony said. “The losing gets frustrating.”


Thunder chairman Clay Bennett issues statement on passing of Aubrey McClendon

Associated Press
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Aubrey McClendon, the co-owner of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a man who helped move the team from Seattle to the Midwest, has died in a one-car accident. That tragedy came less than 24 hours after he had been indicted by a federal grand jury for conspiring to rig bids on oil leases.

Clay Bennett, the chairman and primary owner of the Thunder, released this statement.

Our thoughts are with the McClendon family at the time of this tragedy.