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

31 Comments

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.

Alvin Gentry: Pelicans wouldn’t trade Anthony Davis for anyone – ‘not even Beyonce’

Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Coachella
Leave a comment

Pelicans star Anthony Davis said he’s the best player in the NBA.

His coach, Alvin Gentry, agreed then expanded.

Gentry:

If you don’t want to call him the best player, I call him the most valuable. Because if you can trade him for anybody, then he is the most valuable guy. Not that we would ever consider that. Don’t you guys take some kind of spin and put it on top. There is no one in the league that we would trade him for. There is no one out of the league. Not even Beyonce. If we wouldn’t trade him for her, then he’s probably untouchable.

I’d trade Davis for Giannis Antetokounmpo, who’s also in the MVP race, even younger and locked up an extra season.

LeBron James, Stephen Curry and James Harden are better, older and locked up for longer than Davis. I’d probably trade Davis for LeBron or Curry, though not Harden.

Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid and Jayson Tatum are worse, younger but also locked up for longer than Davis. I probably wouldn’t trade Davis for any of them, though the additional team control makes it worth considering.

Really, Davis is already at the point – as few as two years from unrestricted free agency – trade speculation hits high gear. The possibility of him leaving New Orleans high and dry in 2020 is too great to ignore.

As far as Davis for Beyonce… I guess it depends on your priorities.

Paul Allen, long-time owner of Portland Trail Blazers, dies after battle with cancer

Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is a painful loss, not just for the Portland Trail Blazers, but for the NBA.

Paul Allen, who made his money as one of the founders of Microsoft and went on to start Vulcan enterprises, which owns the Trail Blazers as well as the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks, has passed away from his battle with cancer. He was just 65 years old.

“Paul Allen was the ultimate trail blazer – in business, philanthropy and in sports,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “As one of the longest-tenured owners in the NBA, Paul brought a sense of discovery and vision to every league matter large and small.  He was generous with his time on committee work, and his expertise helped lay the foundation for the league’s growth internationally and our embrace of new technologies.  He was a valued voice who challenged assumptions and conventional wisdom and one we will deeply miss as we start a new season without him.  Our condolences go to his family, friends and the entire Trail Blazers organization.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, Allen had announced his non-Hodgkins lymphoma had returned. It was his third round with the disease, but it was not known that it was already at a life-threatening stage.

After his first battle with the disease, Allen left Microsoft to pursue other interests, which included philanthropy and owning the Trail Blazers and Seahawks. Allen bought the Trail Blazers in 1988 for $70 million from real estate developer Larry Weinberg. Forbes currently estimates the value of the franchise at $1.3 billion.

It is possible this will lead to a sale of the Trail Blazers in not too distant future.

(Do not think this means another owner can swoop in like a vulture and move the team. Aside the fact Commissioner Adam Silver and the league would push back against moving a healthy franchise, the Blazers’ lease at the Moda runs through 2025, with explicit language to keep the team in Portland through 2023 at least.)

Allen’s sister, Ms. Jody Allen, released the following statement:

“Paul’s family and friends were blessed to experience his wit, warmth, his generosity and deep concern. For all the demands on his schedule, there was always time for family and friends. At this time of loss and grief for us – and so many others – we are profoundly grateful for the care and concern he demonstrated every day.”

Our thoughts and condolences go out to Allen’s family and friends.

Larry Nance Jr., Cavaliers reportedly agree to four-year, $45 million contract extension

Getty Images
1 Comment

Cleveland wanted this to happen, he’s the son of a Cavaliers’ legend who showed last playoffs he can have a role in whatever is next for this team post-LeBron.

Larry Nance Jr. wanted this to happen — he was born in Akron and was raised in the area, Cleveland is where he wants to be.

So as had been expected, the Cavaliers and Nance were able to work out an extension to his rookie contract before the deadline, as reported by Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.

Joe Varden of the Athletic said the final numbers were four-years, $44.8 million.

That seems about a fair price. Nance was a steal in the draft by the Lakers 27th back in 2015 and was a fan favorite in L.A., but was sent to Cleveland in the Isaiah Thomas trade. Nance is a quality rotation player on both ends, a guy who averaged 8.7 points per game last season (expect that to go up) and shot 58.1 percent overall (and a 58.5 true shooting percentage, above the league average). He had a PER of 21.5 while with the Cavaliers last season (and a 20.2 PER with a 68.5 true shooting percentage in a smaller playoff role), showing the kind of versatility prized in today’s NBA.

This contract is a win for both sides.

Report: Wizards trade Jodie Meeks, pick, cash to Bucks

AP Photo/John Raoux
Leave a comment

Update: Albert Nahmad of Heat Hoops:

The Bucks will keep Meeks on the suspended list for 19 games while paying him his reduced salary then likely waive him and what’s left on his contract. So never mind about Meeks keeping more of his money.

 

Jodie Meeks was set to forfeit $596,686 this season due to his performance-enhancing-drug suspension.

Instead, he could receive his his entire $3,454,500 salary.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The Wizards are in line to save $6,146,794 in luxury tax with this move. Subtract the amount paid to the Bucks, which surely includes at least Meeks’ full salary. But that’s still at least $2,692,294 in savings, which is why Washington also sent a draft pick.

Milwaukee was in the right place at the right time – with the Greg Monroe trade exception (from the Eric Bledsoe deal) just large enough to absorb Meeks – to extract an extra draft pick.

But the big winner is Meeks, who can’t serve a suspension while not on a roster and therefore can’t have his pay docked. If he signs again in the NBA, he’d still have to sit 19 games, but his lost salary would almost certainly be based on a minimum salary, not the higher amount he’s due this year.