Thunder need to get defensive Thursday or this series is over

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Scott Brooks doesn’t seem to have any answers. Neither did Vinny Del Negro or Ty Corbin. Nobody has for 20 games now.

The San Antonio offense over the last month is as efficient a machine as the NBA has ever seen and unless the Thunder can find a way to slow Tony Parker and the Spurs down in Game 3 Thursday night in Oklahoma City this series will be all but over. And the Spurs will be Erik Spoelstra’s problem.

The Thunder were not a perfectly efficient offense in Game 2 — they need even more from Russell Westbrook, he remains the key to this series — but the Thunder still put up 111 points last game. James Harden had 30, Kevin Durant 31. The only way that doesn’t get you a win is if you are playing the ‘80s Nuggets or you can’t slow the Spurs now. San Antonio put up 120 last game.

So, now what? Because home or road, you know the Spurs are bringing it Thursday.

If there are answers they came during the Thunder’s 13-4 in the fourth quarter of Game 2 when they made the game interesting again.

Rewatching that stretch, the Thunder really tried to pressure the pick-and-roll ball handler and switched everything. They went with a more athletic lineup (and Derek Fisher, who should play less) and they collapsed guys who should be on shooters into the paint to take away penetration, then tried to close out on shooters. It worked for a bit, they forced a couple isolation plays, the Spurs turned it over a couple times and they just missed a couple shots.

But then the Spurs found their footing again, and won. And that’s the problem, you can throw something at them that works or a stretch, but then San Antonio adjusts on the fly and you have to try something else.

The Thunder need to try a lot of different looks to keep San Antonio off balance — chase Parker over the pick sometimes, trap sometimes, go under others — but it comes down to the pick-and-roll. The Spurs will run 80 or more of them this game, and in Game 2 the ball handler shot 10-12 for the Spurs (via MySynergySports). If they do that again, it’s hard to see the Spurs winning.

Zach Lowe summed up the Thunder’s conundrum well at Sports Illustrated.

But the Thunder have to try something. Perhaps they should experiment with Sefolosha on Parker, and/or with going under the initial screens, rather than chasing Parker over them. Maybe they should trap Parker more aggressively, hoping that they can recover properly before Parker finds an open Duncan.

I don’t know the answer, but I know the status quo isn’t working. The Thunder need a solution — and they’re running out of time

The Thunder have not looked bad this series, just half a step behind the Spurs best. Oklahoma City still has Kevin Durant. They will have home cooking and maybe the crowd’s energy can get them a couple more defensive plays that become transition buckets. They need those. They need stops that become easy buckets. They need the very best of Russell Westbrook.

Then they need to find a way to sustain that. But let’s get one win first.

DeMar DeRozan learned he had been traded in parking lot of Jack-in-the-Box

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As if eating Jack-in-the-Box in your car at midnight was not depressing enough already…

That’s when and where DeMar DeRozan learned he had been traded from Toronto — the city and franchise he was all in on — to the San Antonio Spurs. The trade sent DeRozan, Jakob Poeltl, and a protected 2019 first-round pick to the Spurs for Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green.

DeRozan opened up to Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report about how he learned about the decision that rocked him to his core.

DeRozan found out about the trade after getting out of a screening of The Equalizer 2, featuring Denzel Washington. Upon leaving the movie theater in Los Angeles late into the night, he checked his phone. “[I] was wondering why I was getting missed calls,” he says.

He was hungry, so he went to get something to eat at a Jack in the Box. In the parking lot, he got the call telling him he had just been traded to San Antonio. “It just caught me off guard,” he says. “I sat in the Jack in the Box parking lot for, like, two hours just trying to process it all, like just trying to process the whole thing, and it just tripped me out honestly, just trying to figure it out, but that’s how I found out. Midnight, sitting in the Jack in the Box parking lot for about two hours till I went home.”

It’s a trade that Toronto felt it had to make, in the same way it felt it had to move on from Coach of the Year Dwane Casey. The Raptors were enjoying their best run of basketball success in franchise history, having won 59 games the season before, but come the playoffs their system and personnel were just a little too predictable, and they could not reach the next level. Plus LeBron James was in the way.

Except now LeBron wasn’t in the way, and the Raptors decided to swing for the fences. Early on Toronto looks very good this season, but the real test of Leonard and the new-look Raptors starts in April. We’ve seen the good regular season Raptors before.

DeRozan is averaging 25.2 points per game this season and has been more efficient as a shooter because the Spurs have asked him to play to his strengths — the midrange jumper. DeRozan is taking fewer threes in a league that has gone three crazy. The Spurs are 9.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court, with most of that help on the offensive end. More than that, DeRozan has found a new home, a new comfort level.

But there are still a few scars from how all of it went down.

Nets: Caris LeVert dislocated foot, will return this season

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Caris LeVert‘s injury last night looked so severe, his Nets teammates cried and the Timberwolves prayed.

Thankfully, that all turned out to be an overreaction. (Or, if you believe, the compassion and prayer worked.)

Nets release:

Brooklyn Nets guard Caris LeVert returned to New York with the team last night and was evaluated today by Nets’ Team Orthopedist Dr. Martin O’Malley at the Hospital for Special Surgery. Following the evaluation, LeVert was diagnosed with a subtalar dislocation of the right foot.

“Fortunately, tests performed this morning revealed that there are no fractures and only moderate ligament damage,” said Dr. O’Malley. “While the optics of this injury may have appeared to be more severe, surgery will not be required. Caris will begin a period of rehabilitation with the Nets’ performance staff, following which he is expected to return to full strength and resume all basketball activities without any limitations this season.”

This is fantastic news. LeVert is one of the NBA’s up-and-comers and well-liked by nearly everyone who knows him. People all around the league wished him well in the wake of this injury.

It’s still unclear how much time LeVert will miss. A dislocated foot is a small matter only relative to the feared severity of LeVert’s injury. This will probably derail his Most Improved Player campaign.

But LeVert returning to the court this season will be a joyous occasion on its own.

PBT Podcast: Lakers’ talk with Eric Pincus (plus Butler, Carmelo news)

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Jimmy Butler is in Philadelphia.

Carmelo Anthony is in Houston, but not for much longer.

And the Lakers have Tyson Chandler and a three-game winning streak — there is never a dull moment in the NBA. Kurt Helin of NBC Sports welcomes in Eric Pincus, who covers the Lakers for Bleacher Report plus is a salary cap expert you have seen on NBA TV, to talk about it all. The pair talk about what the Sixers need to do next to capitalize on their window with Butler, are there landing spots for Carmelo Anthony, and then a deep dive on the Lakers: What is the team doing right? Does Lonzo Ball fit with LeBron James? What about Brandon Ingram? And who is the next big star the Lakers will be able to add to their mix?

We want your questions for the podcast, and your comments, email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com. As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

Report: Markelle Fultz and Drew Hanlen no longer speaking, let alone working together

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Markelle Fultz has had few more vocal backers than Drew Hanlen, who trained the 76ers guard over the offseason.

Hanlen said Fultz would be an All-Star this season if 100%. With Fultz still struggling to shoot, Hanlen said Fultz wasn’t fully healthy.

But Fultz contradicted that, calling himself generally healthy. Fultz also rebuffed Hanlen’s assertion Fultz had the yips, as Fultz stressed his problems were due to injury.

Apparently, they became even more divided.

Alex Kennedy of HoopsHype:

Hanlen brought himself plenty of fame through his work with Fultz. This moves Hanlen back closer to the anonymity of most trainers.

More importantly, it suggests Fultz needs yet another plan for fixing his shooting form.