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.

Rockets waive R.J. Hunter, he’s a free agent. Again.

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R.J. Hunter has just not been able to find a home and stick in the NBA. He was a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 2015 and expected to be a sharpshooter at the NBA level. He went on to play in 35 games for Boston his rookie season, but during the following training camp they cut the former Georgia Tech shooting guard. The Chicago Bulls picked him up on a non-guaranteed minimum contract, he played a total of three games for them, then was cut loose. Houston eventually had him on a two-way contract the second half of last season, where he played five games for the big club and spent most of the season in the G-League.

He played for the Rockets at Summer League and averaged 11.2 points a game on just 40 percent shooting. Now, the Rockets have cut him loose, too. Via Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports (for now, he moves over to The Athletic in the coming weeks).

Hunter will look for another chance in the NBA via the G-League, although he may be at the point he considers the overseas money he could earn.

In the G-League last season, playing for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, he averaged 20.4 points per game with an impressive 60.4 true shooting percentage, and shot 37.7 percent from three. However, he has never been able to transfer those numbers, or anything close to it, over to the NBA level. He has tried to broaden his game and be more than a shooter, but the consistency has just never been where he needs it to be.

He has talked about learning and maturing through all of this. Hopefully he has, and it pays off for him at his next stop. Wherever that may be.

Kobe Bryant’s $6 million investment in BodyArmor now worth estimated $200 million

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And the rich get richer.

Kobe Bryant is a smart man who studies whatever he does. He was that way on the court, breaking down film on opponents and knowing what was coming next, being one step ahead. He’s done the same in his post-NBA life, which is in part how he won an Oscar.  He is calculated.

The same with his investments. Before he stopped playing, he invested in a new sports drink called BodyArmor. (Did you notice the last couple years of his career he always took down or at least turned the label away of NBA sponsor Gatorade when he sat at a podium to speak?) This week, his investment in that company paid off big time, reports Darren Rovell of ESPN.

On Tuesday, Coca-Cola announced it had purchased a minority stake in sports drink BodyArmor.

Bryant made his first investment in the brand, for roughly 10 percent of the company, in March 2014, putting in roughly $6 million over time. Based on the valuation of the Coca-Cola deal, his stake is now worth approximately $200 million, sources told ESPN.

At least where I shop, BodyArmor — marketed as a healthier alternative to the other sports drinks — is showing up in the same spaces as Gatorade, Powerade, and the rest. It’s got a growing market share, with more than $400 million in sales expected this year.

I guess Kobe can afford college for his daughters now. Although, he may have already had that covered.

Check out Trae Young, Carmelo Anthony getting buckets at ‘Black Ops’ run in NYC

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Chris Brickley runs one of the best, most star-studded NBA summer runs anywhere in the nation out of his facility in New York. (You can learn more about him and what he does in the video above.)

Right now, Carmelo Anthony and Trae Young are among the names there — and they are getting buckets. Check out some videos.

“They’re all competitive, they got to the NBA because they’re competitive athletes. It’s the off-season, so you might as well, if you can, play against some elite talent, they do it…” Brickley told NBC Sports earlier this summer. “It’s personal. Certain guys have certain rivalries against other guys, whether they are superstars or not superstars, so when it’s time and that other player is guarding them, they’re not going to want to be embarrassed in front of their peers. There’s 10-15 other NBA players in there.”

‘Melo and Young look good in these clips. Granted, this is summer run and no matter the level it has to come with a grain of salt — these are not NBA defenses and systems. It’s still summer ball. But if you’re a Hawks or Rockets fan (or a fan of Miles Bridges, or Mo Bamba, or some other NBA guys) you have to like what you see.

Some fans decided to go after Anthony in the comments on some of these videos, and he gave it right back (NSFW language):

For the record, if you feel the need to insult an NBA player in the comments of an Instagram feed of some summer run, you may want to step back and examine where things went sideways in your life.

DeMar DeRozan already has a mural in San Antonio

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This is far less likely to be vandalized by Kobe fans

DeMar DeRozan has yet to suit up for a game in San Antonio, but he’s already been welcomed by a local artist with an impressive mural.

DeRozan was committed to Toronto like no other star before him, he was understandably frustrated when he got traded. However, he is going to love the welcoming reception in San Antonio, both from the passionate fan base and Gregg Popovich. DeRozan is going to get more chances in motion and not just having to create for himself, and that will be a good thing.

The Spurs won 47 games last season without Kawhi Leonard and now add an All-NBA player in DeRozan. Do not sleep on them in the West.