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.
Wednesday night, Kawhi Leonard returns to Toronto for the first time since leaving the team last summer to head to Los Angeles.
Unlike most returns in recent years, there will not be boos — Toronto will welcome Leonard back with open arms. He won them a ring, there are no hard feelings.
The Raptors already dropped a tribute video on Twitter.
Well done, Raptors.
It’s going to be fun to see his return, which will be a celebration — and should be a good game.
Monday night, Grizzlies star rookie Ja Morant returned to the court after missing four games with what was officially called “back spasms,” but in reality was him recovering from his back hitting a courtside cameraman after a fall.
Morant scored 26 to lead the Warriors to a win in Golden State, but he admitted to Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes that when he drove the lane and went up he thought about his landing spot and those cameramen.
Following the contest, Morant acknowledged that instead of solely focusing on being the best version of himself, he occasionally found himself thinking about the proximity of camera operators while driving in the paint.
“It’s tough because I know I just have to do more controlled jumps now,” Morant told Yahoo Sports. “But at the same time, I’m just trying not to think about it and still try to play my game. It’s just a tough situation all the way around, honestly….
“I just think player safety should be first and foremost. How I play and where I end up, [cameramen] are right there. Personally, I like to attack the rack, and I feel like that injury came from me attacking the rack and it was just nowhere to land for me.”
Morant echoes the concern of a lot of players and coaches.
The NBA is aware of the issue, back in 2014 they reduced the number of cameramen on the baseline by half (down to 10 per side) and created a four-foot-wide “runway” on either side of the stanchion that players can run up if they have a full head of steam.
That’s not close to eliminating the problem. The NBA is not going to remove those cameras — the NBA is in the entertainment business, and those cameras provide some of the best video angles and still shots to show fans — but expect it to take another look and review its process here.
What we don’t want to happen is the game loses a promising young player like Morant for a lot more than four games after a run-in with a cameraman.
The Chicago Bulls miss Otto Porter. He was a starter on the wing for nine games, scoring 11.2 points per game, hitting 40 percent of his threes, playing solid defense, and the Bulls offense was 8.3 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he was on the court. He’s a steadying influence as a veteran.
However, he has been out the last 16 games with a foot injury, and he’s going to miss at least another month, the Bulls announced Tuesday. The Bulls said Porter saw a specialist and he “confirmed the bone injury and healing response in Porter’s left foot consistent with a small fracture that has become more clearly defined with repeated imaging over the last five weeks.”
What that means for Porter is another month in a boot.
Chandler Hutchison‘s bruised shoulder has him in street clothes, too, which means Kris Dunn will remain the starter for now. Denzel Valentine has used a bump in minutes to show some growth in his game, play fairly well, and make a push for even more run of late.
But without Porter, the Bulls are not the same.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are listening to trade offers for Kevin Love.
Love’s reaction to this is essentially “whatevs.” He’s been in the middle of trade rumors for four years now, it’s as constant and annoying in his life as taxes.
However, if he is going to get traded, he’d prefer to go home to Oregon and play for Portland, reports Kevin O’Conner at The Ringer.
Love would prefer to play for his hometown Portland Trail Blazers, according to multiple league sources. The Blazers make perfect sense as a destination for Love; they need help for Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum after the team has been decimated by injuries….
The Blazers have the salaries to make a deal work with the expiring contracts of Hassan Whiteside ($27.1 million) or Kent Bazemore ($19.3 million).
There were previous reports Love just wants to go to a contender. That said, there is logic to him wanting to go home, and there is a good fit in Portland, a team that needed help at the four before injuries rocked the roster. Love is averaging 16.1 points and 10.5 rebounds a game, is shooting 37.1 percent from three, and remains one of the best outlet passers in the game.
Making a trade work is trickier. Bazemore has to play a much larger role after Rodney Hood was lost for the season with a torn Achilles, his availability is up for debate.
Hassan Whiteside can make the trade numbers work with his expiring contract, and Whiteside won’t be missed once Jusuf Nurkic (and even Zach Collins) returns from injury. However, the Cavaliers are going to want draft picks or young players to help with their rebuild to make this trade. Would the Blazers throw in a protected first to make this happen?
There also is this question any team trading for Love has to ask itself: Do we want to take on the three-plus years remaining on his four-year, $120 million contract? That’s a lot of money and years for an All-Star player who is productive but aging, and also has a lengthy injury history.
Portland can also try to trade for Danilo Gallinari and his expiring contract with the Thunder, which has a lot less risk involved.
Love, however, would be popular in Portland, and he would help the team.