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Like it or not, OKC's working out pretty well

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Clay Bennett is a weaselly, lying, no-good, rotten son-of-a-gun. Trying to find someone who disagrees with that sentiment, at heart, would be pretty difficult. He said he would commit his due diligence in attempts to keep the Seattle Sonics in Seattle, he instead never had such plans, and cavorted off to Oklahoma, leaving a 40-year old fanbase weeping and broken in his tracks.

Even the most merciful of critics would review the actions taken during the move of the current Oklahoma City Thunder and label them “unfortunate.”

And the outcry has been vast. Go take a look around the internet circa the move. Try and find a dissenting view, a single, bright shining example of “Well, let’s be reasonable, there are two sides to this story.” Not going to find one. That’s how difficult it is to look at the facts and reach any other conclusion other than “Seattle got hosed.” There was even a brilliant documentary made about the shenanigans. From mainstream sea to small-blog creek, the rivers all ran with bloodlust for Bennett, and that mixed with something just as ugly as the tar on Clay Bennett’s immortal soul (too much? To quote Animal House, “forget it, he’s rolling.”).

Some sort of bizarre resentment for the good people of Oklahoma City. Oh, it was denied. But the sentiment was out there. Not only was a classic franchise having their team ripped from their very hands, but it was being given to… Oklahoma? The coastal bias actually dripped so much a small flood occurred. There was rampant speculation that the Thunder would fail miserably in Oklahoma, proving that the move from Seattle was a mistake, on top of travesty, bathed in a traveshamockery.

The brilliant Tom Ziller actually did a piece looking at the immediate failure of the Oklahoma City Thunder, just two weeks into their first season in OKC. Ziller was simply examining a trend and positing if OKC really is a viable NBA market. After all, the league is littered with teams that simply don’t seem to support their teams, regardless of performance, which leads of course to an impact on said performance. (Strangely enough, no one talks about the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been in the bottom half of the league in attendance for 6 of the last 10 years and miserable the last few). So Ziller was right to start tracking whether OKC would continue to bottom out.

They did not.

The Thunder wound up 9th in their first year in OKC. And this year? 8th. The Thunder have the 8th highest percentage of attendance in the National Basketball Association. That’s better than the Jazz, Spurs, Suns, Celtics, and Nuggets, all of which have been around a bit longer and most of which are in bigger markets. Not bad for a cowtown.

You can blame Bennett, or Stern, or Schultz, or anyone else you’d like for the Sonics skipping town. It was a devastating blow to a great fanbase. It left the town with only a major league baseball team, an NFL team, and an MLS team to root for. There’s no question that it was shady business. But OKC, while still very young in its NBA life, is thriving, as it did with the Hornets in town, which is what helped land them a team in the first place. The city is full of passionate sports fans that have responded to the team’s success, and are building a great atmosphere. And so far, the results are there. OKC is an NBA city.

One last note. In 2005? The Sonics had the seventh best attendance percentage. That’s how quick things can change in this modern sports world. 

Watch Austin Reaves score career-high 35, lead Lakers past Magic

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Austin Reaves scored a career-high 35 points, D’Angelo Russell added 18 points and the Los Angeles Lakers hung on for a 111-105 victory over the Orlando Magic on Sunday night.

Anthony Davis had 15 points and 11 rebounds on another rough shooting night, but Reaves carried the Lakers to victory with 13 points in the fourth quarter, including Los Angeles’ last 10 points over the final 1:33. The undrafted second-year pro has earned a vital role his star-studded team, and Reaves factored in almost every big play down the stretch as the Lakers snapped a two-game skid.

Lakers fans serenaded Reaves with chants of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” as he repeatedly earned trips to the line in the fourth quarter. Reaves shot a career-high 18 free throws, while the Magic shot 17.

“For them to recognize what I do – obviously I’m not an MVP-caliber player, those guys are really good – but for them to do that is special,” Reaves said. “It means a lot to me.”

The Lakers entered this game off back-to-back losses to Houston and Dallas, imperiling their tenuous position in the playoff race. This win put Los Angeles (35-37) back in ninth in the Western Conference, tied with Minnesota.

“I thought it was (Reaves) being his normal self,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “What he’s been all year. Coming up in clutch moments for us, trying to make plays downhill, putting the defense in uncomfortable situations with his ability to attack the paint and draw fouls. He was great. He ended up with 35, and we needed all of them.”

Rookie Paolo Banchero scored 21 points for Orlando, but got an unwise technical foul with 25.3 seconds to play after repeatedly arguing with officials during the night.

“It just puts you in a hard situation when they’re calling it like that,” Banchero said. “You want to defend without fouling, but we keep getting called. We keep fouling, I guess. We keep getting foul calls against us, so it just makes it hard, but we still had a chance to win. You can’t blame it all on that.”

Franz Wagner also scored 21 points in the Magic’s sixth loss in eight games to wrap up a four-game road swing. Wendell Carter Jr. had 16 points and 11 rebounds, but Orlando couldn’t repeat the dominance of its 39-point fourth quarter in a victory over the Clippers one day earlier in the same arena.

“It’s difficult, because I think we’re an aggressive, attacking team,” Orlando coach Jamahl Mosley said. “We’ve got to just, I guess, continue to do a better job of defending without fouling, show our help early and earn the respect of being able to get those calls.”

Cole Anthony hit a tying 3-pointer with 2:37 left for the Magic, who had trailed throughout the second half. Banchero fouled Reaves on a 3-point attempt a minute later, and Reaves hit two free throws before Wagner tied it again.

But Reaves hit a mid-range jumper with 57 seconds left and then grabbed the long rebound of Wagner’s missed 3 before making two more free throws. Banchero missed a layup and got the technical foul that helped the Lakers to seal it.

The Lakers improved to 6-5 during the latest injury absence for LeBron James, who has been out for three weeks with a sore right foot. Ham reiterated before the game that Los Angeles expects James to return before the regular season ends in three weeks.

Ham on LeBron return: ‘We anticipate him coming back at some point’ during season

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The Lakers have kept their heads above water in a tight bottom half of the West, going 5-5 since LeBron James went out with a tendon issue in his foot. However, if they are going to be any kind of postseason threat, the Lakers need peak LeBron back.

With rumors swirling he might be out for a while, Lakers coach Darvin Ham gave the most concrete update yet on a LeBron return.

“At some point” is vague, but at least it means the team expects him to return.

LeBron has hinted on social media he is close to a return and will come back recharged.

In a West without a dominant team, Lakers fans — and players — can dream of a playoff run despite their 34-37 record. They looked good for the five games this team was healthy after the trade deadline, and it’s not inconceivable if the Lakers could get everyone back they could beat any team in the West in a best-of-seven. Whether a team with no margin for error (even when healthy) and health issues could string together three series wins to reach the Finals appears too big an ask, but do you think Denver/Memphis/Sacramento want to see LeBron and Anthony Davis in the first round?

Dillon Brooks, Klay Thompson beef gets fun as Grizzlies beat Warriors

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Dear basketball gods: We need another Warriors vs. Grizzlies playoff series this April. Please. (It’s lining up for a possible 2/7 or 6/3 matchup.)

Mainly because we need more of the Klay Thompson and Dillon Brooks beef, which was on full display Saturday.

The Grizzlies easily handled the Warriors — who have now lost 11 straight on the road — and Brooks was savoring the moment and talking trash, so Thompson went Kobe and reminded him about the ring count.

Brooks laughed it off after the game (hat tip Evan Barnes at the Commercial Appeal).

“He’s got four rings. That’s all he was saying. It’s motivation to us,” Brooks said. “We want a ring as well. Being able to go through the process of steps that we did last year, we keep going and learning from it all.

“It’s friendly trash talk, but I just hold a lot of real estate over there in San Francisco.”

Thompson responded:

“I don’t care about Dillon Brooks,” Thompson said. “When he retires, I don’t think anyone will ever talk about Dillon Brooks ever again. I promise you. It’s sweet right now, but wait 10 years.”

Brooks enjoys being the antagonist, particularly against the Warriors, he’s already got a beef going with Draymond Green. While Brooks can take it a little too far at points, he is at the heart of what NBC Sports’ Corey Robinson describes as the “punk rock” attitude of Memphis — which is both part of what fuels them and part of what can at times undercut their discipline.

As for the Warriors, the four in the past can’t help them this season if they can’t figure out how to win some games on the road.

Whatever the outcome, seven games between these sides is what we need this postseason.

Celtics blown lead to Jazz, plus another Embiid-fueled 76ers win, drops Celtics to third in East

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The Boston Celtics led by 19 in the first half in Utah. They led by four with 1:19 remaining. But the Celtics have played lately like a team that is comfortable — plus they miss Robert Williams III — and that led to another loss, this time 119-118 to the Jazz on the road.

This one came dramatically when Grant Williams — who was hot and hit seven 3-pointers in the game — broke off a play designed to be a dribble hand-off for Jayson Tatum and went to the rim, only to get rejected by rookie Walker Kessler.

Despite the loss, the Celtics clinched a playoff spot with the Heat’s loss to the Bulls. Utah’s Lauri Markkanen was hot and led all scorers with 28.

Earlier in the day, the 76ers had little trouble with the Pacers and picked up their eighth-straight win while Joel Embiid scored 31 points — his ninth straight game with 30+ points as he makes an MVP push.

The 76ers’ win and the Celtics’ loss moves Philadelphia percentage points ahead of Boston into the No. 2 seed in the East.

The Celtics and 76ers are destined to finish as the two and three seeds in the East, setting up a second-round clash (barring any first-round upsets). The seeding matters mostly for home court in that series and that could make a difference in what will be a physical, intense match-up that likely goes at least six games.

Meanwhile, the Bucks sit as the top seed with a two-game cushion and would love to watch the Celtics and 76ers beat each other up in the second round before having to face either.

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