NBA Playoffs: Oklahoma City plays like veterans and the Lakers fold under pressure, just like we expected

3 Comments

Westbrook_Dunk.jpgEveryone expected this to be a series of close games, of exciting finishes. In the end, it would be the team with the calm demeanor, the team that played like they seen pressure like this a thousand times and knew how to handle it that was going to win.

Oklahoma City, of course.

Thursday — in a rockin’ loud building that had the volume of a 1984 Van Halen concert at key points — it was the young Oklahoma Thunder that executed their game plan. It was their star Kevin Durant that out dueled Kobe Bryant. It was the Thunder role players that made plays.

This time it was the Thunder with the win, 101-96. The Lakers still lead the series 2-1 but Oklahoma City can tie it up on Saturday.

It was the first NBA playoff game ever for Oklahoma City and the fans were ready — everyone in the crowd put on the Smurf-blue shirts and screamed like Jamie Lee Curtis in a slasher film. It was a refreshing bit of passion, a contrast to the seemingly jaded Lakers fans. But early on the Lakers just ignored it and played like they are the defending champions. Los Angeles opened the game on a 10-0 run fueled by Thunder missed shots, which stunned the Smurfs crowd and quieted the Ford Center. The Lakers started out hitting their first seven shots, including previously cold Derek Fisher and Ron Artest. They started out playing with the poise defending NBA champions.

But these Thunder are relentless. They fought back to stay in the game, to stay close. They made runs throughout the game, turning a couple Lakers misses or turnovers into fast points and getting within four, only to have the Lakers brush it aside by pounding the ball inside to their great advantage in the paint. Suddenly the lead would be 10 again.

And so it went. Then the Thunder made a 10-1 run to close out the third quarter — a Russell Westbrook dunk, a James Harden three, a Durant three — and trailed by only one. As it had been in game two — as it was expected to be all series — it was now about the team that could execute under pressure. And most expected that to be the Lakers, what with the banners ad the rings and the coach and Kobe and Fisher.

Not Thursday night. This was Oklahoma City’s big night.

Durant flat out beat Bryant. The Thunder switched Durant on to defending him and Kobe went 2 for 10 and settled for jump shots with the long arm of Durant in his face (Kobe was 1 of 9 on jumpers in the quarter). When the Lakers won a close game at home on Tuesday he was 4 of 7 in the fourth, and those 7 shots were closer (more at the elbow, fewer beyond the three point line. Durant changed that, and at the same time got hot on offense and poured in 12 fourth-quarter points.

As a team the Thunder pressured and the Lakers gladly settled. That’s how the Lakers ended up taking 31 threes (making 10).  In the fourth, Los Angeles went 5 for 15 on shots from 15 feet or more out. Meanwhile Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol had just four shots total. The Lakers went away from their advantage inside to shoot jumpers. Ones they missed.

It was Oklahoma City’s night.

The Thunder are growing right before our eyes. You can see a smart young team soaking in the lessons of the playoffs, and Thursday night applying them. That’s what makes game four interesting. The Thunder and their fans will swarm like piranha sensing blood in the water. They will be able to taste a tied series. But these Lakers play better when challenged. They have the experience if they choose to call on it. Phil Jackson knows how to make adjustments and get the team to feed the big men inside. Kobe Bryant isn’t going to go 2 for 10 in the clutch twice. Is he?

Maybe, with the long arm of Durant in his face.What we have now is a real playoff series.

Lonzo Ball says he likes it when Rajon Rondo trash talks him

Getty
Leave a comment

Would you want to get yelled at by Rajon Rondo? Pretty much in any circumstance, most people would say no. Especially if they were Rondo’s teammate.

That’s not the case for Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball.

Speaking to ESPN this week, Ball said that Rondo had been pivotal in his development this season, and that he actually enjoyed and encouraged Rondo to antagonize him during practices.

Via ESPN:

“Yeah, he’ll try to get into me,” Ball said. “Just stuff to try to get me going. He talks a bunch of trash in practice all the time, which makes me pretty mad.”

“I told him, my whole life I [respond to] getting yelled at [by the coach] so that is how I respond … if you see stuff, just yell at me. I tune into it. That is how he tries to help me out.”

Ball went on to say that Rondo was, “The best leader that I’ve ever played with” outside of LeBron James.

Rondo has been famously divisive during his time in the league, perhaps getting on the nerves of some veterans but acting as a favorite among younger players in places like Chicago.

Advanced statistics don’t support the idea that Ball has taken a big leap this year, and if anything he has perhaps trended downward as he’s tried to get into a better rhythm with LeBron and this funky Lakers team that’s been built around him.

However, many believe that Ball has the underpinnings to be a solid player and a consistent starter moving forward in his career. If he can glean any positive traits from Rondo in the meantime, all the better.

LeBron James on Lakers adding Carmelo Anthony: ‘I have no idea to be honest’

1 Comment

Carmelo Anthony is still a member of the Houston Rockets, but for how long?

Houston is trying to find a way to offload the aging superstar, with no apparent buyers ready to step up to the plate. Meanwhile, the NBA community-at-large has being agog with potential landing spots for Carmelo.

The most popular and obvious spot for Anthony to land is with the Los Angeles Lakers, a team made up of a veritable who’s who of former stars from the past decade-and-a-half of NBA basketball.

For their part, the Lakers don’t appear interested externally, and they don’t have a roster spot for him right now anyway. When LeBron James was asked about the potential of adding his Banana Boat friend, he even intimated as much.

Via ESPN:

I have no idea to be honest, that’s not a question to ask me. Right now, we have 15 rosters spots right? We don’t have a roster spot open right now so that’s not a question for myself.

Of course LeBron is being facetious in saying that he doesn’t have say over roster changes. His entire career has been dogged by his sometimes undue influence in either trading for or getting his buddies re-signed to his team.

Still, Los Angeles does seem like the only realistic landing spot for Anthony at this time. One could see a situation in which LeBron, much as he has tried to resist, getting fed up with LA’s middling play as the trade deadline approaches and forcing some kind of Anthony addition.

But for now, Carmelo remains a Houston Rocket and the Lakers don’t have a roster spot open. That’s the story, and they are sticking to it.

Markelle Fultz calls new free-throw routine ‘trial and error’

Getty
2 Comments

The confidence of Markelle Fultz continues to be a question, not just for Philadelphia 76ers fans but for NBA heads around the league wondering just when the former No. 1 overall pick will get back to his old college self.

Fultz continues to struggle in the oddest ways. The sophomore guard was seen double clutching a free throw attempt recently, which apparently led to another new routine at the charity stripe.

In his latest change is one where Fultz does a little juggle of the ball back and forth before quickly moving into a shooting motion. It took many by surprise on social media, and reporters naturally asked Fultz about it.

For his part, Fultz said that he’s not going to change the routine because it appears to be working for him.

Via Twitter:

Hey, whatever gives this kid confidence at this time is something that works.

Stephen Curry on Warriors’ potential to fall apart: ‘That’s not going to happen’

AP
1 Comment

Draymond Green will be away from the Golden State Warriors for a little while as he deals with what the team is calling an injured toe. Meanwhile, the dust has appeared to settle after his disagreement with Kevin Durant rose to a crescendo early this week, resulting in a one-game suspension for Green and questions about whether Durant might leave this offseason in free agency.

Reports have been flying out of Golden State ever since, and now the leader of the team, Stephen Curry, has finally made his voice known.

Speaking to reporters late this week, Curry said that he was proud of how the team handled their disagreement internally, and that it would not be the thing that tore them apart.

Via the San Francisco Chronicle:

“I’m not going to let that fall apart from an incident like that. I can talk about all the different conversations that have happened — whether I’ve been included or not — but again, it’s about how we as a team move forward.”

“Obviously, from a personal standpoint, there are things that need to be worked through like any relationship in life. At the end of the day, they both understand that neither one of them is going to be the reason that we don’t win a championship this year. I can roll with that.”

Those are certainly all the things you want to see from the franchise cornerstone following a dust up like this. Whether it’s actually true is another thing altogether, but we won’t be able to make any judgment on that until Green returns to the floor.

Championship teams have teammates that hate each other. Scottie Pippen even mentioned as much earlier this week. And the Warriors are so talented that I don’t believe it alters their championship hopes one bit if Green and Durant continue to simmer on this the rest of the year.

Kevin Durant is still on the Warriors.

The Warriors are still the favorites to win the NBA championship in June.

For now.