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.

Adam Silver backs Knicks center Enes Kanter’s decision to skip London trip

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LONDON (AP) — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the safety and security of players will always be paramount for the league after New York Knicks center Enes Kanter did not travel to London for his team’s game against the Washington Wizards.

Kanter said he feared he could be attacked or killed over his opposition to Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he were to travel to London. Istanbul-based newspaper Daily Sabah reported that an arrest warrant was issued for Kanter by Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday.

Silver, speaking ahead of Thursday’s game, says “it was never a suggestion from the league that (Kanter) was not welcome on this trip.”

“There are significant issues that he is dealing with, and I recognize that for the NBA, by virtue of the fact that we’re a global business, we have to pay a lot of attention to those issues as well,” Silver says.

Kanter, who has frequently criticized Erdogan, had his Turkish passport revoked in 2017.

Wizards beat Knicks with game-winning goaltending call in London Game

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The good people of England could use a break from the dumpster fire that is Brexit, so the NBA came to town to entertain with their very best… their biggest stars… the teams that were willing to go, the Knicks and the Wizards.

But the Londoners got to see one unusual ending.

The Knicks were up 100-99 thanks to a Noah Vonleh hook shot, but the Wizards had three seconds to try to get off a game winner. Scott Brooks designed an interesting play, with Bradley Beal starting in the backcourt and sprinting into the frontcourt, and when the defense moved to him as the likely shooter he passed to Thomas Bryant rolling down the lane, he put up the finger roll and…

That was a goaltend by Allonzo Trier to my eyes — the ball is just starting its downward trajectory, and it may have been over the cylinder (in an NBA arena there would have been an above-basket camera with a better angle on if it was over the rim, but that did not seem to be available in London).

The Wizards — who owner Ted Leonsis said will never tank, so forget about them trading away assets at the deadline — have won 3-of-4 and are 6-4 since John Wall was sidelined with his foot injury, with a +3 net rating in those games. Washington is now just two games out of the playoffs in the East and GM Ernie Grunfeld does not believe in tanking, so expect them to make a push.

Which is why wins like this matter.

PBT Extra: DeMarcus Cousins’ return will be big boost for Warriors. Maybe.

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The Golden State Warriors — the two-time defending NBA champs, the team on top of the Western Conference with the best offense in the NBA — are about to get a whole lot better.

Maybe.

Nobody really knows.

What we know is DeMarcus Cousins is scheduled to make his return to the court on Friday night against the Clippers in Los Angeles. Cousins missed the end of last season and all of this season recovering from a ruptured Achilles.

I get into all of it in this PBT Extra.

As NBC’s Tom Haberstroh pointed out, the history of big men bouncing back from this injury does not bode well for Cousins. On the other side, Cousins was so skilled, if the Warriors can get 75 percent of the old Cousins it will be an upgrade over Kevon Looney and give Golden State a guy who can exploit mismatches.

On paper, the Warriors should get better with Cousins in the lineup. But nobody really knows.

Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich says he doesn’t know whether he’ll retire after season

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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said in 2015 he made a commitment to newly signed LaMarcus Aldridge, presumably to coach through the five-year contract he signed in 2014.

That contract will expire after this season.

Then what?

Popovich, via Marc Stein of The New York Times:

“I don’t know the answer,” Popovich said when asked about his plans for next season in an interview Wednesday

Maybe Popovich is legitimately undecided about his future. Maybe he has a firm plan and was just being dismissive because he didn’t want to discuss it publicly. There’s obviously a massive difference between the two, but it’s difficult to parse from only his quote.

Popovich will coach Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and 2020 Olympics. That responsibility means a lot to the Air Force veteran. Some have even speculated he’ll retire from the NBA after this season to prepare for his USA Basketball duties.

In the meantime, Popovich remains one of the NBA’s top coaches. He has helped San Antonio turn around its season, building a strong offense around mid-range shooters DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge and getting everyone on enough of the same page defensively to be reasonable on that end. The Spurs aren’t a great team, but they’re good in ways that have Popovich’s fingerprints all over them.

Popovich could continue to succeed in the NBA for the foreseeable future. The question is – with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili gone and Popovich nearing age 70 – how much longer he wants to do it.