NBA Playoffs: Ron Artest was too strong, too smart for Durant, Thunder

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artest_durant.jpgIn a year, maybe two, teams are not going to be able to do this to Oklahoma City and Kevin Durant. Then he will be stronger; the team will be more experienced. But right now they can, and Ron Artest and the Lakers did.

Los Angeles simply out-muscled, out-hustled and out-thought the best player Oklahoma City has got. With Ron Artest on him, Kevin Durant was just 4 of 18 shooting on the night (7-24 overall). Durant usually still makes some of those well-covered shots, he will as the series goes on, but Scott Brooks and his team need to come up with other actions to get Durant open, or things will not get a lot better.

After rewatching the game and focusing on the Artest/Durant battle, it was clear the Lakers did several things to shut him down.

The first was keeping the game in the half-court. In an uptempo game, the young and athletic Thunder would steamroll the Lakers, and Durant would get easy points filling a lane on the break. His confidence would grow. The Lakers held the game to 87 possessions, six fewer than the Thunder averaged this season  — and about six less than the Lakers, it’s just that LA is better able to adjust their game.

Part two of the plan was what everybody is talking about — Ron Artest.

Artest is a pit bull of a defender. First off, he is relentless, he never quits, never gives up. Second, he is physical and strong, and knows how to use it. The Oklahoma City team — not just Durant but also the team — were not prepared for this.

Artest tried to deny Durant the ball in any spot on the floor he likes. That’s always his modus operandi. And he is too strong for Durant to hold his position on his own. Artest tries to do the same things to players like LeBron James or Carmelo Anthony but has less success because they are strong enough to hold him off and get some angles they want. Durant needs more muscle on the frame to do that.

To help Durant out, the Thunder ran some simple plays right out of every NBA playbook — some cross screens, some pindowns — trying to free Durant up on the strong side. Artest just blew those up and was in Durant’s grill the whole time. Two reasons for that. First, Artest has been seeing those since he entered the league. Artest is a smart player, a savvy one. If he knows it’s coming, you’re not going to succeed with it very often. You have to do better than the basics to catch him off guard.

Second, there isn’t a player strong enough on the Thunder to set a pick Artest can’t run through, especially on the screen-and-roll. Much like Durant himself, this is a young and lanky team. That serves them well in transition, not as well in a game of physical half-court sets.

The Lakers bigs also defended the picks well, they showed out on Durant enough until Artest arrived, which was not long. The Lakers were well prepared for this part of the Thunder playbook.

Brooks and his staff have to figure out ways to get Durant free. That may be better putting Durant on the weakside then using quick ball rotation to get him the ball in isolation. They can’t keep running basic sets and keep Durant on the strong side.

They have to do something different. The Thunder need Durant to win in this series, and Artest and his somewhat creepy blond hair are not going away.

Take that for data: NBA preps for expanded betting on games

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — Here’s a scenario: LeBron James is four assists and three rebounds shy of a triple-double after three quarters. A bettor, who is watching at home and utilizing a mobile app, decides to gamble that James will get those assists and rebounds in the final 12 minutes. The wager then gets made before play resumes.

The NBA wants that bettor to see the best possible data.

So the league is seeking to get stats out quicker than ever.

Fast isn’t fast enough for the NBA anymore, not when it comes to stats – especially now that the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door for states to allow wagering on games. The league has upgraded its stat systems in the past year to try and get its data out as close to real-time as possible, even aiming to beat the typical lag of 7-15 seconds that it takes for television or streaming services to show whatever happened.

It’s about what the NBA calls official data. The league’s stance is that getting accurate stats to bettors is critical so the player knows what they’re betting on and the casinos will know when to pay out or not. But how much value that data has for casinos – and whether they will pay anything for it – remains unclear.

“My view is we should be compensated for our intellectual property, but we can do that directly, again, with commercial relationships with gaming establishments,” said NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, whose league had hoped this matter would be resolved with federal regulation instead of various policies getting worked on state by state by state.

Silver met with betting officials in Las Vegas earlier this month, and how data should be provided was one of the topics on the agenda. The NBA has said it is seeking a 1 percent “integrity fee” on wagers, which the league said would offset their additional security costs and compensate them for the data they can provide.

The casinos, however, are balking at legislative mandates insisting upon the use of official data. Joe Asher, the CEO of bookmaker William Hill USA, told The New York Times that such a mandate “sets up monopoly pricing power. This whole thing of official league data is like a smoke screen.”

It’s a major issue to work through, especially if in-game betting – people betting on various aspects of games after they’ve already started – catches on in the United States the same way that it has in the United Kingdom.

In-game betting, which is huge in Europe, is still relatively small in this country. Most Nevada bookmakers say in-game options make up no more than 5 percent of their sports-wagering business, although William Hill has said it accounted for nearly 25 percent of its sports business in the U.S. during 2017.

Only a handful of states have legalized sports betting since the Supreme Court decision in May, though several more states are expected to get operations up and running in the next year or so. Bettors now have been largely playing the basics – will Team X beat Team Y by more than six points, will the teams combine to score more than 210 points, that sort of thing.

“There’s a couple things about official data that make it advantageous for sports betting,” said Scott Kaufman-Ross, an NBA vice president who oversees fantasy sports and gaming. “Most is the speed. … That’s important for in-game betting.”

The NBA switched last year to software provided by Genius Sports, a London-based company that collects and distributes official data for dozens of sports federations around the globe and even recently completed a deal to work with the NCAA. The NBA data collected by Genius has been distributed globally by Sportradar, which sends it to media outlets, broadcasters and betting outlets outside the U.S.

Sportradar, the NBA said, is now working on obtaining the ability to send the data to U.S.-based betting entities.

NBA stat crews all generally work the same way: a primary caller uses a code to describe a play as it happens, a primary inputter uses a touch-screen tablet to punch in what he or she hears the caller say into the headsets that the crew share, a secondary inputter cleans up any mistakes, and a secondary caller is in contact with league offices in Secaucus, New Jersey, and reviews any plays that need additional study.

Those various crews, many members of which have received training during the summer league in Las Vegas, are the ones who decide who gets an assist or a rebound.

“The NBA has always been front and center on rapidly deploying statistics, first because of our television partners and then the Internet happened and that was good for the Internet,” said Steve Hellmuth, the NBA’s executive vice president for media operations and technology. “So it’s kind of always been in our DNA.”

Report: Stephen Curry also skipping Team USA minicamp

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In 2015, then-USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo declared a minicamp mandatory for invited players who wanted a chance to join Team USA in the Olympics the following year. (Colangelo didn’t exactly stick with that.)

New USA Basketball chairman Martin Dempsey isn’t bothering to set such a hard line a year before another major competition – the 2019 World Cup.

LeBron James will miss next week’s minicamp, and so will Stephen Curry.

Chris Haynes of ESPN:

Golden State Warriors All-Star guard Stephen Curry will not be in attendance for Team USA’s minicamp next week in Las Vegas, league sources tell ESPN.

The two-time NBA MVP, according to sources, will be spending time with his family, including his newborn son.

Curry and James will not be eliminated from consideration moving forward.

Curry and LeBron have both played all the way through the NBA Finals the last four years. I don’t blame them for taking time for themselves. They’re also good enough to still get onto Team USA in 2019 if they want to play. They have leverage other players might not.

If Kawhi Leonard is looking for attention-grabbing cover to attend the camp, he won’t get it from the NBA’s two biggest stars. If Leonard participates, he’ll be – by far – the biggest story there.

Are Raptors viable trade destination for Kawhi Leonard?

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The Lakers, Clippers, 76ers and Celtics have dominated Kawhi Leonard trade discussions for most of the summer.

But the Raptors have emerged as a trendy pick for the star’s destination. One betting site even gave Toronto even odds against the field – including the Spurs – as Leonard’s team to begin next season.

Are the Raptors actually a realistic landing spot for Leonard?

Brian Windhorst and Zach Lowe of ESPN discussed on The Lowe Post podcast.

Windhorst:

Toronto Raptors, I think they’re in the driver’s seat for Kawhi. Because I think the Lakers have given up. The Sixers have given up. And with the Nets, Bulls and Hawks spending their cap space, it makes it harder to assemble a multi-team trade. I think the Raptors are in the driver’s seat.

Lowe:

I’ve seen a lot of snark on Twitter that the Raptors stuff is a joke, that the odds went up because of something I said on my podcast and you said on TV. I’ve seen it being dismissed. It may not happen. Most NBA trades don’t happen. But if you think it’s a joke, you should probably recalibrate your expectations.

The Raptors can construct an offer built around:

Because DeRozan and Lowry earn more than Leonard, the Raptors could also take back a costly contract San Antonio wants to dump.

Such a deal would allow the Spurs to remain competitive now while gaining long-term assets under greater team control than Leonard, who can walk in unrestricted free agency next summer.

It’d also give the the Raptors a championship chance they wouldn’t have next season otherwise. The window might not remain open long considering Leonard’s health and contract status, but there’s something to be said for raising the ceiling when it can reach that level – even if it means lowering the floor. Plus, if Leonard left, Toronto could more easily transition into its next phase than if DeRozan and Lowry remained on the books.

This trade framework makes too much sense for the teams not to discuss it. But whether that’d result in an actual deal is another question.

Report: Kawhi Leonard considering participating in Gregg Popovich-led Team USA minicamp

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The Spurs want to repair their relationship with Kawhi Leonard and keep him long-term. Leonard wants to leave San Antonio. Potential trade partners want to know more about his health and mindset.

Something has to give.

Maybe it will next week.

Spurs president/coach Gregg Popovich, taking over Team USA, will direct a minicamp in Las Vegas. Leonard is invited and – in a surprising development after he missed the few months of the season due to a quad injury – might actually play.

Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

San Antonio Spurs star Kawhi Leonard is seriously considering participation in the USA Basketball national team’s minicamp in Las Vegas next week, an event for the embattled All-NBA forward to showcase the status of his recovery to prospective trade partners, league sources told ESPN.

Among NBA teams and USA Basketball officials, there is a belief that Leonard wants to participate in the camp, but could be dissuaded based on ancillary concerns.

Leonard holds some enthusiasm for showcasing his revitalized health in the wake of the quad injury that has been at the center of discord between the Spurs and him, sources said. The question being debated, sources said, is whether participating in the Team USA camp will ignite trade talks that deliver him to his preferred destination — the Lakers — or give the Spurs more cause to hold on to Leonard and push him to report to training camp in September.

For what it’s worth, there is conflicting reporting about Leonard’s preferred destination. Some say it’s the Clippers.

This low-intensity camp won’t be a chance for Leonard to prove he’s fully healthy, but he can show enough to ignite trade interest. Maybe that helps propel him out of San Antonio – though if it’s not to Los Angeles, how much would that mean to Leonard?

The camp could also give Leonard and Popovich a chance to reconnect. Depending on whom you believe, maybe some in Leonard’s camp or even Leonard himself don’t want to give the Spurs boss that opportunity.

If Leonard goes to Las Vegas, it’d become a media circus. All his movements and interactions, especially with Popovich, would be closely scrutinized. At one point, I would have figured the reserved Leonard would want no part of that. But I now believe we incorrectly assumed too much about him just because he’s quiet.

So, I’m not entirely sure what he wants – or what direction participating in this camp would send him.

Leonard knows more about the former. It’s on him to evaluate the latter.