Lakers-Thunder Game 1: Lakers suffer a Thundertality

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This was a beating. A smackdown. A trouncing. A demolition. A boat race. A blowout. A “hit ’em in the head with a shovel and drag their team to an unmarked grave,” “nail ’em with a 2X4, watch them stagger around and then slam the door on them on the way out,” downright unavoidable-to-say butt kicking. The Thunder destroyed the Lakers 119-90 Monday to win Game 1 of their Western Conference Semifinals series.

The Thunder scored 39 points in the third quarter to bust the lead open. It was a 30-point lead late in the quarter, the starters didn’t play the fourth, Devin Ebanks was ejected in garbage time, and the Lakers essentially embarrassed themselves every way possible.

Some numbers, just for fun.

The Thunder finished with a 132 offensive efficiency. In the third quarter, they had a 161 offensive efficiency. They started the third with a 22-6 run. In six minutes. In six minutes, the Thunder scored 22 points, the Lakers just six. Kevin Durant had 10 points in that span, all with Metta World Peace on the floor.

Thundertality.

So for the Thunder, the only thing you can really say is “do that more.” They played nearly perfectly, holding Kobe Bryant to 20 points on 18 shots, Paul Gasol to 10 points on 11 shots, and Ramon Sessions to just 2 points. They dominated every area of the game, played their way and hit absolutely everything they put up. This is not rocket science. Play that way, all the time, and you win a title.

For the Lakers?

OK, some caveats. The Lakers are two days removed from a Game 7 which is a physically and emotionally draining experience. They were on the road against a rested and ready OKC team who have young legs and are able to get up emotionally for Game 1s. The Thunder nailed everything in sight and the Lakers were just a step behind. It’s just one game. The Lakers can recover, respond, and tie the series on Wednesday. Losing by this much doesn’t have influence on the start of Game 2. It’ll be 0-0.

That said…

A message was sent.

The Thunder ran them out the building, and no one responded. There was no fight, no charge, no big move or surge. They didn’t even trim the lead in half to make a point going into Game 2. They just wilted. The Lakers are supposed to be a better defensive team, but they were crushed by the Thunder’s three-headed monster. Everything went wrong at once for the Lakers, and they do not appear to be aware that they are facing a team that finished with more wins, including two over them in dominant fashion this season. They do not appear to recognize that the Thunder are not kids who they can take lightly. This team is dangerous and has matchup advantages over the Lakers.

If the Lakers are going to win this series, if they’re going to win a game, everything has to change.

Knicks stress patience then indulge impatient tendencies by stretching Joakim Noah

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NBCSports.com’s Dan Feldman is grading every team’s offseason based on where the team stands now relative to its position entering the offseason. A ‘C’ means a team is in similar standing, with notches up or down from there.

Knicks president Steve Mills and general manager Scott Perry talked a big game about patiently rebuilding – practically a foreign concept in New York.

And most of the summer, they backed up their words.

They drafted Kevin Knox No. 9 and Mitchell Robinson No. 36. They didn’t sign a single free agent to a multi-year deal. They made no win-now trade (or any trade at all).

Yet, even in the Knicks’ most patient offseason in years, they closed it with an incredibly impatient move.

New York stretched Joakim Noah, locking in a cap hit of $18,530,000 this season and $6,431,667 each of the following three years. The move opens an additional $12,863,333 in cap space next summer.

But what if the Knicks don’t need that extra room? What if they don’t attract free agents worth spending that amount then? Eating Noah’s entire $19,295,000 2019-20 salary that season, rather than splitting it over three years, is off the table.

What if they need even more room? What if they can draw great free agents who command more money than New York can offer? Attaching sweeteners to trade Noah’s salary and remove it entirely is also now impossible.

The Knicks could have waited until next summer to stretch, straight waive or trade Noah. They would have had far more information then, as the stretch deadline is Aug. 31.

This move puts so much needless pressure on New York to use its cap space next summer. Though the Knicks’ reported top target, Kyrie Irving, already said he’d re-sign with the Celtics, Kevin Durant-New York rumors are swirling, and Jimmy Butler put the Knicks on his list. The Knicks project to have about $33 million in cap space next summer, including a cap hold for only Kristaps Porzingis. They could add a franchise-changing star.

But this doesn’t jibe with a patient rebuild.

Biding time until next summer, New York took fliers on Mario Hezonja (one year, $6.5 million) and Noah Vonleh (one year, minimum). But despite seemingly tepid markets for those two in free agency, the Knicks didn’t capitalize on their leverage by attaching any additional unguaranteed seasons to their contracts. That will make it extremely difficult to get value from them. If Hezonja or Vonleh break out, they’ll be in line for bigger deals next summer.

Of course, it’s more likely New York’s first-, not second-, draft players dictate the team’s future. For the first time in eight seasons, the Knicks will have three players simultaneously on rookie-scale contracts – Porzingis, Frank Ntilikina and Knox. That most-modest benchmark is a major accomplishment in New York, where quick fixes have ruled the day.

After waiving Noah, it’s hard to see the Knicks as truly committed to a new, more prudent approach.

 

Offseason grade: C-

Jimmy Butler expects, welcomes boos from Timberwolves fans

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Jimmy Butler is set to start the season playing for the Timberwolves, who open Wednesday in San Antonio then host the Cavaliers on Friday.

Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic:

Butler has thrived in adversity and chaos. That’s the story of his life. There’s no reason this saga would be any different. In fact, Butler already showed his resolve during a heated practice.

Minnesota fans are well within their rights to boo Butler. He’s not a bad guy, but in the context of sports, he has made himself a villain there by requesting a trade from the Timberwolves.

The best thing Butler can do is embrace the inevitable backlash, which it sounds as if he’s prepared for.

The bigger question: How will Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor respond? He’s reportedly still looking to trade Butler, but an embarrassing fan response at a home game could shake him into pressing harder to get a deal done.

PBT Predictions: Who makes playoffs, who makes Finals, who wins it all

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Tuesday night the NBA season tips-off and the race for the playoffs begins, the first steps of a race that runs through June with some team lifting the Larry O’Brien Trophy. We’ve already made our predictions for who will win MVP, Rookie of the Year, Coach of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year and more.

Now it’s on to the team predictions: Who’s getting in the playoffs? Who will have home-court advantage? And which team will win it all?

Here are our picks:

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurt Helin: A little odd Dan and I agree up and down the line here. Putting the Raptors second is a bet that both Kawhi Leonard is his old self and new coach Nick Nurse can diversify the offense. The Pacers could finish fourth, but I’m very high on the Bucks with Mike Budenholzer so I’ll go with them getting home court. Also, Charlotte easily could best Miami or Detroit for one of those lower playoff seeds, and I’m not counting the Cavaliers out completely.

Dan Feldman: The Bucks are rising, to the point I thought about putting them over the 76ers. The bottom of the East playoff picture is ugly (and also includes the Hornets a small step behind Detroit).

WESTERN CONFERENCE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kurt Helin: Much like last season, I expect Golden State and Houston to be in and after that a razor-thin margin (five games or less) separating the three seed and the 10 seed. I’d have the Thunder higher but I think missing Andre Roberson the first couple months of the season is a big blow. I have the Timberwolves and Spurs missing the playoffs, but either could make it. I have Minnesota out on the assumption they trade Jimmy Butler. With the Spurs, I think the Dejounte Murray injury is a bigger blow than people realize.

Dan Feldman: The Spurs’ injuries and the Timberwolves’ [gestures at every Jimmy Butler link in the sidebar) made it easier to exclude them, but they still have a chance. So do the Clippers, Mavericks and Grizzlies. Too bad they’re all stuck in the West.

PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS:

Kurt Helin
ECF: Celtics over Raptors
WCF: Warriors over Rockets>
FINALS: Warriors over Celtics

I don’t think the Warriors are a title lock, both Houston in the West and Boston in the East have a legitimate shot to dethrone them. However, assuming health, I just can’t pick someone else.

Dan Feldman
ECF: Celtics over 76ers
WCF: Warriors over Rockets
FINALS: Warriors over Celtics
Golden State isn’t guaranteed another title by any means, but there’s no way I’m picking someone else.

Report: Jimmy Butler and Glen Taylor come to agreement about playing, future trade

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Jimmy Butler is a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves. For now.

The team confirmed on Sunday that Butler had practiced with the squad and is expected to play in Wednesday night’s opener against the San Antonio Spurs. However, according to a report from The Athletic’s Jon Krawczynski, the team will continue to search for a trade partner for Butler moving forward.

This came as a revelation of a Sunday meeting between Butler and Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor.

Via The Athletic:

Three days before the start of the regular season, Taylor met with his disgruntled All-Star before practice, searching for some sort of understanding to calm the noise that has drowned out any sense of excitement for the upcoming season. In the meeting, Taylor and Butler came to an agreement, sources said: Taylor will continue to work diligently to find a trade as soon as possible. Until that happens, Butler will be a good teammate and play as hard as he always does.

With trade talks whisper-quiet at this point, neither side has much of a choice.

“They want me to go out here and hoop to the best of my abilities,” Butler said after practice on Sunday, his second workout with the team since he returned from an absence created by his trade request. “Make sure I’m healthy. Compete, ‘cause that’s what I love to do. Go up against the best, ‘cause that’s what I love to do. And do it for the guys that’s in the same jerseys as me.”

It’s not clear where Butler is most likely to go at this juncture. The reported deal with the Miami Heat seemed to be best deal available, but there has been mixed reporting about why things fell apart between the two teams.

It’s also not certain, at least from a distance, that the Wolves will try their hardest to move Butler. When Taylor decided to take over the trade negotiations and have teams bypass Tom Thibodeau, that seemed like the decisive move. However, Thibodeau is still involved in talks around Butler and he appears reticent to let his star go.

The Timberwolves were always going to be in trouble this season, and the drama surrounding Butler has only added to speculation about where Minnesota could end up this year. The team finally broke their playoff drought, but I would be hard-pressed to bet on them to make the postseason in 2018-19.