NBA Playoffs: Serge Ibaka swats Thunder into the second round

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Is there a more fun team to watch play than the Oklahoma City Thunder?

They are pure passion on a basketball court. It was true again Wednesday night as this game had everything a basketball fan (especially an Oklahoma City one) could want — a come from behind win (they were down 9 at the three minutes left), big shots from Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and bigger ones from Kevin Durant (he finished with 41). Durant helped the Thunder take the lead on running floater across the lane — how do you defend a floater that a 6’9” player releases with his arm over his head?

But in the end, it was Serge Ibaka that won this game.

He had 9 blocks including two late in the game on Nene that sparked the 100-97 win for the Thunder, who advance to the second round for the first time since coming to the Midwest.

In a sense, this game played out like most of the series — Denver was plucky, energetic, they hit shots and made plays. Wilson Chandler awoke from his slumber and hit key shots. Ty Lawson was slashing the lane, as was Raymond Felton.

But with the game on the line, when it becomes harder to make those plays, the Thunder have the better athletes. They made the big plays. Usually we’re referring to Durant and Westbrook, not Ibaka. But this game the Thunder won with defense as much as offense.

The Thunder defended well, holding the Nuggets to 100 points per 100 possessions, which is 12 points below their league-leading regular season average. Oklahoma City has defended well all series and that was the key to their win. There used to be questions about their ability to defend inside but Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka change that.

And that should worry the rest of the teams in the West.

As for Denver, it should be proud.

A lot of teams would have folded after the Carmelo Anthony trade, but Denver played better team basketball at both ends of the floor. They played with a chip on their shoulder. They showed that there is some real talent on this team. It still needs its star — it’s Durant — but even without someone like that the Nuggets showed just good team play can go a long way. There is something there to build on.

The Thunder will try to build on this in the second round against Memphis or San Antonio, two teams that will continue to beat each other up while the Thunder sit at home and rest. And wait.

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James Harden buys piece of MLS Houston Dynamo

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NBA players being minority owners in a soccer team is not new, LeBron James owns a small piece of Champions’ League winner Liverpool, for example.

James Harden is keeping it closer to home — he bought a share of the Dynamo, Houston’s MLS franchise.

“I’m very excited about the opportunity to join the ownership group of the Houston Dynamo and Houston Dash and proud to be a part of a club with tremendous history and a great future,” Harden said in a statement. “Houston is my home now, and I saw this as a way to invest in my city and expand my business interests at the same time. Soccer in general, and especially MLS, have exploded in this country throughout my lifetime. I’ve been a fan of the game for several years, and I know that Houston has a massive soccer fanbase, so it was an easy decision for me when this opportunity arose.”

Harden reportedly purchased a five percent stake in the team.

The Dynamo — a former MLS cup champion and a franchise that has consistently been strong — is primarily owned by Gabriel Brener, and it has boxing legend Oscar De La Hoya as one of its minority owners.

Harden has earned more than $141 million in NBA salary in his 10 NBA seasons and has four years left on the $228 million contract extension he signed with the team in 2017. In addition, he has a large shoe contract with Adidas and other endorsements.

Report: R.C. Buford moving on from Spurs GM role, Brian Wright taking over

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For 15 years, through championships and an unparalleled run of playoff berths and success, R.C. Buford and Gregg Popovich seemed to work as one brain. Popovich was the coach but also team president, Buford the GM, and together they built an NBA powerhouse.

Buford is moving on from that role. Or, more precisely moving up into a new management role, and assistant GM Brian Wright is taking over as GM, reports Jabari Young of The Athletic.

After a little more than 15 years serving as GM, Buford is getting prepared to bequeath the role to assistant GM Brian Wright, league sources have confirmed to The Athletic. Wright will report directly to Buford, who will officially get a new title that some around the NBA believe will be a role helping to oversee Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

When the Spurs initially hired Wright in 2016, he stayed behind the scenes and focused mainly on scouting. But sources have informed The Athletic over the last year Wright has been more involved, even fielding calls and packages for the trade of Kawhi Leonard the previous summer.

Wright came to the Spurs from the Pistons a couple of years ago. That said, don’t expect a big change in how things are done in the Spurs front office. For one thing, Popovich is still there. Also, Wright has an excellent reputation around the league as being smart and a straight shooter. On top of all of that, Buford will remain his ultimate boss, although Buford’s role will change into one of more of a business manager for Spurs Sports & Entertainment.

Young hints there could be more changes coming. Obviously, the biggest would be when Popovich decides to step back in his dual roles as coach and president, but there could be shifts in the assistant GM ranks as well.

Just don’t expect the Spurs to stop being the Spurs.

Exclusive video preview: Dwyane Wade joins America’s Got Talent as guest judge

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Dwyane Wade is retired. He’s got some time on his hands.

But if he wants to spend quality time this summer with his wife, Gabrielle Union, he’s got to get on the set of America’s Got Talent, because she is a judge on the hit show. So, Wade did exactly that and steps in this week as a guest judge.

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In the video at the top of this page, you can see an exclusive of Wade and the rest of the AGT crew watching and judging an insane danger act out of India, a sneak preview of the show airing on NBC this Tuesday night (8 p.m.).

Wade knows talent on the court, but we’re going to see what talents impress him on the stage.

Kings hire WNBA’s Lindsey Harding as assistant coach

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings have hired former WNBA player Lindsey Harding as an assistant and player development coach on Luke Walton’s staff.

The team also hired Stacey Augmon and Rico Hines on Friday.

Harding played nine years in the WNBA before working as a pro personnel scout and then player development coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.

She becomes the latest woman to serve as a coach in the NBA, joining others like Boston’s Kara Lawson, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Dallas’ Jenny Boucek and Cleveland’s Lindsay Gottlieb.

The Kings have a history of hiring female coaches, notably Nancy Lieberman and Boucek.