NBA Playoffs: Thunder nearly blow lead vs. Nuggets, take 3-0 lead, or did they?

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So this should go over well in Denver.

Let’s start with the controversy. Here’s the final play in Denver in the Thunder’s win over the Nuggets. You decide.

Did Harden get him on the arm? Did he go straight up?


That’s about as close as it gets.

Nothing will change the result, however. Thunder win, 97-94, 3-0 series lead for the young’ns from OKC.

It was a haymaker-type of game. Just when one team would think they had the advantage, the other team would storm back. Kevin Durant had an inefficient night, so Russell Westbrook stepped up with 23 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists to just two turnovers, doing most of his damage from the free-throw line (11-of-13). J.R. Smith decided to show up for Denver (15 points, 4-of-9 from the arc)? That’s OK, Serge Ibaka roars back with a career playoff-high 22 points to go along with 16 rebounds. The Thunder thought they had the game under control when they hit the afterburners and blew right past the Nuggets, only to nearly surrender the lead thanks to costly turnovers. The Nuggets roared back, they had a shot to win … and it just didn’t work out for them.

In reality, the Nuggets have never really seemed to have control of this series. They’ve had their fair share of leads, this isn’t like Sixers-Heat, or even Celtics-Knicks. But the Thunder have had an answer for every adjustment the Nuggets have made. Even on a night when Durant doesn’t have it, their role players step up. The Nuggets have little excuse for how this one ended up. They shot a better percentage from the field. They had more free throws, a constant complaint of teams against the foul-drawing Thunder. They turned the ball over a few more times, were outrebounded a few times. But the real problem was free throws.

The Nuggets left 15 points on the court at the line — 30-of-45 from the stripe, with Nene hitting just 5-of-10. It’s easy to point to those in most games, but here, with the Nuggets hitting just 67 percent, there’s no way around it. They really did lose that game, and probably the series, at the free-throw line.

So now the Thunder will try to close out the series in Game 4. Denver has been an emotional roller-coaster this entire season, and Smith’s postgame outburst at the lack of a foul will probably not endear him to the zebras. The Nuggets needed to rely on their home crowd to push the Thunder, and instead, OKC has weathered the storm. They’ve gone into a hostile environment, up 2-0, taken their opponents’ stiffest punch, and walloped them back with their Ibaka haymaker.

The Thunder look like they could be the championship contender people have started discussing them as, and they need just one more roundhouse to put the Nuggets down for the count and set off an uncertain future for Denver, while they head on to face … well, we don’t have any idea who they’ll face in the second round.

But with every game, the Thunder look stronger and stronger.

Report: Suns’ Kelly Oubre out for rest of season

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Kelly Oubre has a lot of tantalizing raw talent. He’s young, energetic and feisty.

But just as it appeared as his game was rounding into form, Oubre – who averaged 20 points and two steals in 12 games since moving into the starting lineup – will get shut down.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Phoenix Suns forward Kelly Oubre Jr. will undergo a minor procedure on his left thumb and miss the rest of the season, league sources told ESPN.

Oubre is expected to make a full recovery in four to six weeks, sources said.

This could be a blessing in disguise for Oubre, who’ll be a restricted free agent this summer. He ends his season on a high note on the court. There’s no opportunity for regression to the mean. This also isn’t an injury that will last long into the offseason.

The 23-year-old Oubre is a versatile defender. When his 3-pointer is falling, he looks really good. In a league that can’t get enough productive wings, he should draw a solid contract.

Nick Collison: Thunder should retire Kevin Durant’s number

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Kevin Durant made himself public enemy No. 1 in Oklahoma City by leaving the Thunder for the Warriors three years ago.

Nick Collison, on the other hand, remains beloved in Oklahoma City. Like Durant, he moved with the franchise from Seattle. But Collison stayed until retiring last year.

With the Thunder retiring his number yesterday, Collison vouched for his former teammate.

Collison, in a Q&A with Royce Young of ESPN:

Kevin Durant gave you the nickname “Mr. Thunder.” Do you think the Thunder should eventually retire No. 35?

It’s their decision to make, but I would certainly think so. He’s meant a ton to Thunder basketball and spent a huge majority of his career here. A lot of these honors are just kind of what the team decides to do, and I think players are appreciative of them. I don’t get too worked up about it. I’ll let other people debate that, but to me, he’s a big part of what we did here.

The Thunder will probably retire Durant’s number. Time heals most wounds, likely including this one.

Durant spent eight seasons in Oklahoma City. He won MVP and made five All-NBA first teams and an All-NBA second team there. He helped the Thunder win 10 playoff series.

No matter when each player retires, Oklahoma City will almost certainly retire Russell Westbrook‘s number first. He’s the one who stayed.

But some time after that, I’d bet on Durant getting his number retired.

Kobe Bryant: I wanted to play for Knicks, because of Madison Square Garden

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Kobe Bryant, who spent his entire career with the Lakers, has said he wanted to play for the Wizards and Bulls.

Add the Knicks to the list.

Bryant in a Q&A, via Frank Isola of The Athletic:

What other teams would you have liked to play for besides the Lakers?

There are some teams … I always kind of dreamed about playing in New York and what that would have been like. It’s true. As a fan, the Garden was the historical arena.

So, I always wanted to be a part of that history and play in it. So, New York was a team … it would have been pretty good to play in that city.

For a while, the best thing the Knicks have had going for them is their arena. That gets them only so far.

They need better ownership, better management, better coaching.

Maybe Kevin Durant will help turn the tide. If he chooses New York, it surely won’t be for only Madison Square Garden.

Timberwolves shut down Robert Covington, Derrick Rose, Jeff Teague for rest of season

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The Timberwolves are all but officially eliminated from the playoff race.

But Karl-Anthony Towns is still playing for something – a projected $32 million more over the next five years if he makes an All-NBA team.

He’ll continue that pursuit without teammates Robert Covington, Derrick Rose and Jeff Teague.

Timberwolves release:

Covington has missed the last 34 games while recovering from a right knee bone bruise, originally suffered on December 31 at New Orleans. Covington had made improvements in his recovery and had progressed to on-court activities, in preparation to rejoin the team.  However, he recently suffered a setback which will require further treatment before returning to the court and as a result, is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Rose has missed the last four games while experiencing soreness and swelling in his right elbow. An MRI taken Tuesday at Mayo Clinic Square revealed a chip fracture and a loose body in his elbow. The team and Rose are currently exploring further treatment options and he is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

Teague has missed the last four games after reaggravating a left foot injury, originally suffered in December. On Tuesday, Teague received an injection designed to treat chronic inflammation. He will wear a boot and is scheduled to be reevaluated in approximately three weeks. He is expected to miss the remainder of the season.

The language – “expected to miss the remainder of the season” – allows the possibility of the players returning. But the Timberwolves wouldn’t set this expectation unless they were pretty certain the players were finished.

Covington deserved All-Star consideration, and maybe Minnesota would still be in the playoff mix if he remained healthy. He was also heading toward an All-Defensive team before getting hurt. I doubt 35 games, even at 34 minutes per game, will be enough to get him selected now. Paul George, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Draymond Green clearly belong ahead of him. Covington has an outside chance for that fourth spot, though.

Rose had a bounce-back year after it appeared he could fall out of the NBA entirely. He looks like a solid backup point guard. He’ll draw plenty of interest in free agency this summer.

Teague has a $19 million player option for next season. He already seemed likely to exercise it, and this only increases the odds. The 30-year-old had a relatively down season.

Teague’s and Rose’s absences will leave the ball in Tyus Jones‘ hands at point guard. Jones has looked good in a small role, and this offers him an opportunity to prove himself before restricted free agency this summer.

Importantly for Towns, Minnesota’s depth at point guard allows him to play with someone credible at the position while he attempts to finish the season strong. There’s a lot of room to produce for the Timberwolves now, though Towns will likely face double-teams even more frequently.