Thunder’s young legs, depth show Lakers guard is changing

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Wednesday night it was the Celtics. Thursday night it was the Lakers.

Two nights, two wins for the young Oklahoma City Thunder over the old guard of the NBA. The teams that from 2008 to 2010 won the NBA titles and met in the finals twice.

In case you need any more proof that the guard has changed in the NBA. The Lakers looked like a team with some good pieces but missing a few, the Thunder looked like a title contenders. Oklahoma City pulled away in the second half to win 100-85.

For the first 24 minutes it was close — the Lakers played good defense, particularly on the pick and roll. Which essentially meant their big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol were active — those two can make up for the deficiencies of Derek Fisher and Steve Blake and slow the force that is Russell Westbrook.

Then in the final second of the first half, the entire momentum changed.

First Russell Westbrook hit a three with 0.8 seconds left that tied the score (just after the Lakers had made a little 7-1 run to take the lead). The Lakers were clearly frustrated, they didn’t move to get open for the “meaningless” inbounds pass.

Then Bynum threw a lazy pass to the corner, Kevin Durant stole it, got off a baseline jumper and nailed it. It changed the momentum the rest of the way. Well, that and the fact the Lakers are old legs on a back-to-back and the Thunder have young legs.

Oklahoma City pulled away for the win from there by getting out and running on a Lakers team that looked old the last 24. The Thunder are contenders. They are filled with long defenders who close out spaces quickly, they have two guys in the aggressive Westbrook and the skilled Durant who can get their shot off whenever they want. Good role players surround the Thunder stars.

The Lakers have their big three and then it is a Niagara Falls drop to the rest of the roster. For the second night in a row, Pau Gasol played well while Kobe Bryant struggled to find his shot. All night long Thursday the beard of Harden was tracking Kobe, getting in his face, denying passes and contesting shots. In the Lakers win over the Mavericks Wednesday and their loss to the Thunder, Kobe is 11-31 (35.4 percent). Harden used his sense of pace and angles to score 16 points of his own.

You don’t want to read too much into one game, but this summed up well where these two are heading into the All-Star Break.

NBA makes it official, moves up free agency six hours to 6 p.m. June 30 (Eastern)

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I’d like to think this means we’ll all be able to go to bed at a reasonable hour on June 30. I also know better.

There is a frenzy of activity right as free agency opens (Tampering? There is no tampering in the NBA…), which traditionally has been as the clock turns to July 1 in New York, right at midnight. Things got so active that a lot of agents and players made sure they were in Los Angeles, even if they didn’t live there in the offseason, just so things started at the more reasonable hour of 9 p.m.

Now the NBA has made the rumors official: Free agency will begin at 6 p.m. Eastern on June 30. Six hours earlier than before.

This was done as an agreement between the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association.

This is going to be a wild July with a lot of big-name free agents — Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Jimmy Butler — and maybe a third of the players in the league on the market, plus there are a lot more teams with cap space to spend this season. It’s going to be a frenzy.

Now we know what time the wild times start.

Why does Kevin Durant respond on social media? “I’m qualified to talk about basketball”

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Every NBA player gets ripped on social media, even the guys who are not on social media. Most of the time players just ignore it, the way they ignore fans yelling stuff courtside or distant family asking them for money.

Kevin Durant, however, gets into it sometimes, even with national media members (and even had a burner account). Which always becomes a thing.

Why? Why not just ignore it? From Durant himself at practice Friday, via NBC Sports Bay Area.

“Because I have social media,” Durant said Friday… “I mean, I’m a human being with a social media account. I could see if I ventured off into like politics, culinary arts or music and gave my input, but I’m sticking to something that I know. You know what I’m saying? This is all I know. I’m actually talking about stuff that I know. I’m qualified to talk about basketball.

“So when I respond to something, especially if it’s about me personally, of course I’m going to tell you if you wrong about it. When I’m on the training table getting treatment on my calf and I see a tweet that come by and I disagree — I don’t talk to people because I’m worried about what they say, it’s just that I’m interested. So if you talking about in-game or the NBA Finals, they’re the same to me, you know what I’m saying?”

Durant seems to have more time on hands to get into these spats while he is out injured. Which likely will last into the start of the NBA Finals.

Does this mean the Drake/Durant beef is inevitable?

LeBron likes Instagram of Kyrie Irving in Lakers jersey, Internet goes berserk

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The Lakers landing Kyrie Irving in free agency this summer might be their best realistic option. It’s far, far from a lock — the Knicks, and yes Celtics, will make their pitch, too — but reuniting the pair that won a title in Cleveland is on the Lakers’ radar. (Insert your own, “you know who should coach this team” Tyronn Lue joke here.)

Fueling the speculation, LeBron James and Irving were seen hanging out together at a club in Los Angeles recently. Then Friday, this happened: Cuffthelegend posted this on Instagram and LeBron liked it.

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I like how this feels

A post shared by Savage Season 365 (@cuffsthelegend) on

(For the record, Cuffthelegend gets some stuff right, he’s not a guy who posts stuff out of nowhere.)

Of course, NBA Twitter and the web responded to this in its usual measured, thoughtful way. Some Lakers fans think the deal is done, others mock the idea altogether.

Two thoughts on Irving and the Lakers:

• Multiple reports say Irving is open to it. Irving also has a strong relationship with Kevin Durant, and Boston still plans to trade for Anthony Davis and then try to re-sign Irving (even if Boston fans are done with Kyrie). The only person who knows which way Irving is leaning right now is Irving, and there’s a good chance he changes his mind in the next five weeks anyway.

• If the Lakers are going to land a star free agent this summer, it will be because LeBron was an active recruiter. These elite players have options, and the Laker front office is not inspiring confidence of late, it will be on LeBron to win guys over.

 

Jeremy Lin: Milwaukee security guard asked for my pass to Raptors team bus

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Jeremy Lin has discussed people not believing he plays in the NBA.

It apparently still happens.

Lin, whose Raptors are playing the Bucks in the Eastern Conference finals, via Bill Michaels Sports Talk Network:

After Game 2 in Milwaukee, I was trying to get to the team bus and one of the dudes in the Milwaukee arena just screams at me. He’s like, “Where do you think you’re going?!” And I’m like, “Uh, I’m trying to get to the team bus.” He’s like, “What?! Where’s your pass?” I was like, “I don’t have a pass. I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a pass.”

This happens in a lot of arenas, so I just kind of go with the flow.

It’s a fine line. Lin shouldn’t be profiled as a non-athlete because he’s Asian-American. Arena staffers should keep everyone safe by stopping unauthorized people.