Memphis has become something of a mythological team.
Beating them suddenly sounds like a task of Herculean proportions, where one must battle a seven-headed hydra and Zach Randolph. Nobody — not even the legendary Tim Duncan — could slay the beast.
But the Oklahoma City Thunder are supposed to have the tools. They are supposed to be the better team. And two things are going to have happen if they are going to even this series — and they had better even this series, because if they head to Memphis down 2-0 they might as well try to slay a hydra.
One is Kendrick Perkins simply must play better. He was brought in to be the defensive enforcer but he let Randolph get the position he wanted and the result was baskets no matter what he did. As Randolph likes to get the ball 15-to-18 feet from the basket denying him position and the ball is hard, but he must be pushed out and his preferred angles cut off. Both Perkins and Serge Ibaka need not let the Grizzlies bigs get comfortable. Send late doubles from guards looking for steals. Make Randolph and Gasol pass. Make the Memphis perimeter players take on more of the offense.
Randolph is not going to be stopped totally — he’s always been able to score, from his days in Portland on. What is different in Memphis is he is disciplined. He’s not just taking bad shot after bad shot now. Maybe the Thunder can lure him into some bad ones, but for the most part they need to make someone else bat them.
The other key for the Thunder is Russell Westbrook must be better. The Grizzlies were the best team in the NBA at forcing turnovers this season, but Westbrook had seven. And hit just 9-of-23 shots. He had patches like that during the season but often they were masked by wins against lesser opponents. He must be more efficient, he must be smarter with the ball. He is not Derrick Rose — he has help, he has Kevin Durant. Look to take what the defense gives you, do not force what you want.
What does Memphis need to do? Keep doing what they are doing. They have been smart about going to their strengths and exploiting it this season. Find what works and keep doing it. Defend hard. Just keep doing all that.
Look for Oklahoma City to try and establish themselves as the more physical team. Maybe that will throw the Grizzlies off their game. Because the Thunder need to find something fast.
Luka Doncic is having a “we’ve got to talk about this guy as a possible MVP” kind of season so far.
The latest addition to the resume: A 42 point, 11 rebounds, 12 assist triple-double to lead the Mavericks past the Spurs. That includes sticking the dagger in the Spurs late.
Dallas won 117-110 and improves to 8-5 on the season.
The 42 points is a career-high for Doncic, and he is the first player in Dallas history to record a 40-point triple-double. This is Doncic’s sixth triple-double of the season.
And he’s still just 20 years old.
Here’s the full list of NBA players who have had 40-point triple-doubles at the age of 20 or younger:
That’s it — and that’s some impressive company for Doncic.
This was a $25,000 celebration by Buddy Hield.
Sacramento led by one in the final seconds against Boston Sunday, but the Celtics had a final shot and Marcus Smart‘s attempt at a game-winning floater hung on the rim seemingly forever… then fell off. The ball was tipped out to mid-court and — as you can see in this video — Heild kicks the ball into the stands as part of the celebration.
Kicking or throwing the ball into the stands is a standing $25,000 fine, and the league came down with that on Hield on Monday. It was not a surprise.
Hield was the reason Sacramento won the game, scoring 35 points to lead the Kings, including going 7-of-12 from three. He’d likely make that trade for the win again.
This isn’t load management. This is a bruised knee.
The first Clipper game with Kawhi Leonard and Paul George sharing the court will have to wait as Leonard is going to miss his third straight game with a knee contusion Monday night against the Thunder. Ramona Shelburne of ESPN broke the news.
The Clippers are going to be cautious with bringing Leonard back from this, thinking long term with his health, as they should. Los Angeles is playing for games in May and June, not games in November.
This means tonight the Clippers will be the Paul George show again — in two games he has scored 70 points in 44 minutes. This will be George’s first game against the Thunder since he demanded a trade out of the city last summer, landing him on the Clippers with Leonard.
Cleveland Cavaliers GM said he has no interest in trading Kevin Love.
You can count the number of people around the league who believe him on one hand. There’s a good chance Love is still on the Cavaliers at the end of this season, but that’s more about him being in the first year of a four-year, $120 million contract extension than it is Cleveland’s willingness to trade him (or interest from other teams, if money was not an issue). The Cavaliers are rebuilding, and if they can get young players and picks for Love, they have to consider it.
With Portland off to a slow start, and Love growing up in the Pacific Northwest, that rumor has floated around. There are others. Love is just trying to ignore them and play ball, he told Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times.
“I know there’s talk about me possibly being the missing piece somewhere,” Love said. “There’s been constant chatter since I signed that I could be traded. It’s one of those things where I’m going to keep doing right by the team, by Cleveland and by the organization. If my number is called, so be it, but I’m going to stay true to my commitment and let the chips fall where they may.”
Love, who has been open in recent years about his struggles with anxiety and mental health, said dealing with the trade rumors that constantly swirl around him can be a challenge on that front.
“A big aspect of mental health is just staying in the present but it’s so hard,” he said. “You have to try to not get too far ahead of yourself or get worked up. You can get that anxious feeling or fear for the future, but you have to try to stay focused on getting better and let things work out the way they should.”
Kevin Love has played well to start the season, averaging 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds a game, shooting a respectable 34.7 percent from three. He could help a lot of teams, particularly ones in the West who want to be in the mix for a ring but who look at the Lakers and Clippers and think, “we have to get better fast.”
The rumors around Love are just going to get louder the closer and closer we get to the trade deadline. Love will have to do a lot of work to tune all that out.