Lakers-Thunder Western Conference Semifinals Preview: No longer a feel good story

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Two years ago, the Oklahoma City Thunder faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the first-round of the 2010 NBA Playoffs. It was supposed to be a nice learning experience for a team on the rise, a quick lesson from the reigning champs as to how the playoffs work. Instead, the world was introduced to the intensity of the Oklahoma City crowd, and the Lakers generally looked inept in their efforts to dominate the less experienced team. The Lakers went on to win the title, because that’s kind of their thing. Struggle when they don’t have to actually try, then kill everything in front of them once they get going. The league took notice, though, and it was the big step forward for the Thunder into the spotlight.

My, how things have changed.

Now the Thunder enter Monday night as the prohibitive favorite, having handled the Lakers in all but their last meeting, an overtime home win for the Lakers that featured Metta World Peace taking out the Thunder’s third best player. The student has become the master, so to speak. But can they win out over the more experienced team, with Kobe Bryant and a huge size advantage?

Five things to note as the series kick off.

1. If You Want Blood,  You Got It: This thing is no longer a friendly little-brother thing. It’s a full-blown rivalry. The Thunder have taken it to the Lakers, and James Harden was actually talking trash to Kobe Bryant in a Thunder win earlier this season. You know, the one before Metta World Peace “accidentally” elbowed him in the side of the head giving him a concussion. Kendrick Perkins has had an issue with Andrew Bynum for years dating back to his Boston days. Serge Ibaka goes at Pau Gasol, and Kevin Durant hates being guarded by MWP. The Lakers will always think they rule the roost and the Thunder just knocked off the Mavericks who tossed them last year. They have something to prove. This is going to be a rough series with emotions running high in the madhouse that is Chesapeake Energy Arena

2. On Guard: Anyone else notice that Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers? Because Ty Lawson destroyed the Lakers. The Lakers have lacked a good perimeter defender for point guards for years. Ramon Sessions has not helped the situation. Russell Westbrook is the same model as Lawson, fast and explosive, only maybe faster, definitely more explosive, and a better overall scorer. In the 2010 series, Kobe Bryant switched onto Westbrook and did the lion’s share on him. The problem with that is that James Harden has stepped up and become the playmaker that OKC needs as a third option. If Bryant handles Westbrook, they’re just letting Harden loose. Switch MWP onto Harden to defend him without elbowing him, and there’s that problem of Kevin Durant. Someone’s going to get loose for OKC. It’s just a matter of the Lakers picking their poison.

3. Big And Bad And Lazy All Over: Kendrick Perkins does really well against huge athletic centers. But Andrew Bynum’s size is still going to win out most times… if he exerts himself. Bynum could have ended the Nuggets series in five games had he tried. He chose not to, and the series went to seven. How much effort will he give in this series? Likewise, Serge Ibaka is going to have a hard time with Pau Gasol who can shoot over him from mid-range which is where Ibaka struggles. If Gasol is engaged, which again, flip a coin, the Lakers have so much length they can punish the Thunder inside. If not, the game becomes about transition and perimeter and that’s where the Thunder live.

4. Unlikely Heroes: The playoffs have been rife with unlikely heroes. Among these was Steve Blake, hitting five threes in Game 7 vs. Denver. Can the Lakers get great shooting from Blake and MWP over the course of a series despite all evidence to the contrary outside of Game 7? Can Daequan Cook or Thabo Sefolosha makes plays? What about Jordan Hill? No, seriously, what about Jordan Hill? This series is likely to be close and whoever gets a step up from the unlikely guys may come out on top.

5. The Finest Hour: Kobe Bryant was magnificent in Game 6 in a lost cause. In Game 7, he played in the flow of the offense and encouraged his teammates to do their job. Kevin Durant struggled early on vs. the Mavericks before breaking loose. This series is about two evenly matched teams with history and talented rosters. But it’s about Kobe vs. Durant. The Thunder don’t have a defender like MWP to stick on Bryant, but Durant is the best scorer in the series. Either Bryant is going to add to his already insane legend, or Durant’s going to make the biggest statement of his.

Rumor: Spurs won’t trade Kawhi Leonard to Western Conference team

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Kawhi Leonard reportedly wants the Spurs to trade him, ideally to the Lakers or Clippers.

Chris Sheridan of Get More Sports:

He is not going to Los Angeles…or any other destination in the Western Conference, sources are telling GetMoreSports.com.

Leonard has some leverage in that he can tell any non-L.A. team that he has no interest in signing an extension after his current deal expires in a year, and that may end up diminishing the value of offers Eastern Conference teams are willing to make.

But if you think that bothers Popovich, you don’t know Popovich. The guy would gladly take 75 cents on the dollar for Kawhi if he could ship him out of the West — even if that upsets Kawhi.

There are two choices here:

The Spurs are a well-run organization that will manage this crisis as effectively as possible.

or

The Spurs will outright refuse to trade Leonard to a Western Conference team.

It can’t be both.

If the Spurs trade Leonard, they should take the best offer they get – no matter who makes it. Teams like the Celtics and 76ers have better assets to dangle. But if the Lakers and Clippers are the only team with assurances Leonard will re-sign next summer, they could offer more, even assembling a package from a shallower pool of assets.

The Spurs shouldn’t worry where Leonard lands. But that doesn’t mean they won’t worry where Leonard lands.

Report: Celtics believe Kyrie Irving happy in Boston

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Chris Mannix reported Kyrie Irving, when he played for the Cavaliers, told teammates of his desire to play for the Knicks. In the same discussion, Mannix speculated on the Celtics’ fear of Irving leaving in 2019 unrestricted free agency. Asked about his future in Boston, Irving gave a cryptic answer.

There’s just no good way to resolve this until summer 2019. As Irving knows, a contract extension is illogical. The largest extension he could sign, beginning July 1, would be four years, $108,053,240 ($27,013,310 annually). If he waits until 2019 free agency, he could re-sign for a projected $188 million over five years (about $38 million annually) – and even more if he makes an All-NBA team next year. In that case, his max would project to be $219 million over five years (about $44 million annually).

So, the Celtics must ride this out – or trade Irving before he gets to free agency. How do they feel about his future with Boston?

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

A league source said Friday that the Celtics believe Irving is happy in Boston and would like to be with the team long-term, but that there are no certainties.

This is probably correct. Irving clearly wanted out of Cleveland, so him longing for a spot on the Knicks made more sense then. Overall, Irving seems happy in Boston. A noncommittal answer from someone whose brand is mysterious ideas doesn’t set off alarms.

That said, also file this under: What else are they supposed to say? The Celtics maximize Irving’s trade value if everyone believes he’s happy and not a flight risk who should be preemptively traded.

The Celtics must closely monitor Irving’s satisfaction with them. If it seems he might leave, they ought to look hard at trading him first.

But it really seems the Celtics aren’t anywhere near that point. If they are, they’ve bluffed well.

J.R. Smith’s Game 1 Finals jersey up for auction

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It was the moment that defined the 2018 NBA Finals.

The score was tied with 4.7 seconds left when George Hill missed his second of two free throws, but J.R. Smith made an impressive play to get the offensive rebound — then tried to dribble out the clock like the Cavaliers were ahead.

Now, you can own Smith’s Game 1 jersey — the one he was wearing when he made a play so thoughtless LeBron James broke his own hand punching a whiteboard in frustration over it. It’s available on the NBA auction site. The bidding goes on for three more days, until June 21.

As of Monday morning, the current bid is $3000.

A Warriors’ fan is going to buy this thing, not a Cavaliers fan. They are still trying to repress this memory.

Kevin Durant’s dad wrote him a nice letter for Father’s Day

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Kevin Durant and his father didn’t have the best relationship growing up. Wayne Pratt, father of the Golden State Warriors star, left Durant and his family when the sharpshooting Finals MVP was just one year old.

Pratt was in and out of Durant’s life, and eventually they reconciled. Now, Pratt is important part of Durant’s career and business decisions.

As several players decided to celebrate their fathers and the national day of recognition on social media, it was actually Pratt who decided to write a letter to his son. In a post on The Undefeated, Pratt spoke about how he was grateful to have Durant as a son and to have reconciled with him.

Via The Undefeated:

I regret missing out on your first day of school, your first haircut, holidays and the first day you picked up a basketball. But I thank God daily for creating the opportunity for us to reconnect. I’m so thankful for you opening your heart at such a tender time. Every parent-child relationship has its ups and downs and we are no exception. I feel fortunate that we have learned how to successfully navigate life’s mistakes. Thank you for forgiving me and allowing us to have the great relationship we have today.

Go back and read the full letter, it’s worth it. Seeing the vulnerability between two grown men living a real, complicated, and adult situation like this is humanizing. Plus, it appears to have had a positive ending for Durant and his pops.

Hope all you dads out there had a good one on Sunday.