Thunder remind Spurs, everyone they are contenders with rout

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The Oklahoma City Thunder would like to remind you that they are a very, very good basketball team.

For days now the buzz had been about the Spurs’ 20-game win streak, how they played like the old man at the YMCA that schools the more athletic kids with the extra pass and smart positioning.

But the Thunder are not inexperienced kids, they are a title contenders and reminded San Antonio of that — and maybe reminded themselves of that — as they routed the Spurs 102-82. The win makes this a 2-1 series in favor of the Spurs and sets up a huge Game 4 on Saturday night in OKC. It was a dramatic end to the Spurs’ streak.

We’ve got a real series now.

For the first time this series, the Thunder looked like the young athletic team that could overwhelm the old Spurs. Kevin Durant seemed to be everywhere, as did Thabo Sefolosha. The Thunder put on an offensive show with some beautiful fast breaks and powerful dunks.

But that’s not what this game was about.

“Defensively, that was about well as you can play against the best team in basketball,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of his team’s effort. “And everybody did it throughout every possession.”

For two games the Spurs torched the Thunder defense. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili got free off picks and drove into the paint, either scoring or kicking out to an open man who made the extra pass for an open corner three. Or, Parker would pull back and hit the jumper. Or Parker would pull back and hit a rolling Tim Duncan. The Spurs just got the shot they wanted.

Oklahoma City changed lineups, changed strategy and blew that up. They sat Fisher more and played Sefolosha on the ball handler, then switched every pick-and-roll — and they did it with a physicality and energy lacking in the first two games. OKC cut off the Spurs’ penetration — the Spurs had six points in the paint in the first half. San Antonio’s ball movement went away. Its ability to reset the play went away with the pressure. The result was the Spurs were doing more isolation with Tim Duncan and others.

That defense worked from the start, when the Thunder went on an 8-0 run to open the game. The Spurs shot 39.5 percent and had 21 turnovers in the game. Sefolosha had six steals by himself. Only two Spurs scored in double digits.

Oklahoma City turned all those misses and turnovers into fast-break opportunities. They got out and ran and got looks closer to the basket because of it. Durant had 22 points and James Harden 15, but Sefolosha added 19 (including four threes) and Serge Ibaka had 14.

The pressure now shifts to the Spurs, who must make the offensive adjustments — they have to find a way to use Sefolosha’s aggressiveness against him. They have to get the ball moving again — with the Spurs jumping the passing lanes, we may see more cuts (particularly along the baseline).

For San Antonio this is an easy game to write off. They are a veteran team, they’ve been blown out before. They know what they need to do in the next game.

But the Thunder we expected to see from the start are back in this series. They have awoken and played like a contender. There will be nothing easy for either side from here on out.

We’ve got a real series now.

Knicks: Reggie Bullock has spine injury

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Reggie Bullock had his agreed-upon salary cut by more than half with the Knicks. He’ll reportedly miss at least a month of the regular season.

All because of a mysterious health issue.

The Knicks have finally disclosed what’s happening.

Knicks release:

Reggie Bullock underwent successful surgery today at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York for a cervical disc herniation. The team will plan to provide an update on his rehab and progress around the start of training camp.

Bullock is a good shooter from the wing. New York could use him. Many teams could use him.

But Bullock must get healthy first.

At this point, we probably shouldn’t expect much from him any time soon. The best indication: how eagerly his agent praised the Knicks for their handling of this situation. Again, Bullock settled for less than half his initially agreed-upon salary.

Report: Suns signing Cheick Diallo to two-year contract

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The Suns went old in the draft, picking 23-year-old Cameron Johnson at No. 11.

Phoenix will go younger in free agency with 22-year-old Cheick Diallo.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

Barring another move, the Suns have only the minimum available. Diallo will get $1,678,854 next season and $1,824,003 the following season.

The No. 33 pick in the 2016 draft, Diallo worked his way into the low end of the rotation during his three years with the Pelicans. He’s a hustle big, committed rebounder and athletic player. But at 6-foot-9 and 220 pounds, he’s not strong enough to bang with most centers. His skill level is low for power forward.

Phoenix will stick him behind Deandre Ayton, Dario Saric, Aron Baynes and Frank Kaminsky in the frontcourt. Diallo might receive situation minutes, but he must develop further to hold staying power.

Report: Chris Paul increasingly expected to start season with Thunder

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Last week, the Thunder had an expensive point guard who’s into his 30s and didn’t fit a team shifting into rebuilding without Paul George.

Same story now.

Oklahoma City traded Russell Westbrook for Chris Paul to acquire draft picks and shed long-term salary. Getting Paul as a player was of minimal concern. That’s why the Thunder worked with him to flip him. But a team like the Heat wanted draft picks just for taking the three years and $124,076,442 remaining on Paul’s contract.

So, Oklahoma City might hold onto Paul, after all.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

The 34-year-old Paul is past his prime. But he’s still good. It’d be interesting to see him once again as his team’s best player after he spent so much time stuck in the corner watching James Harden.

Paul, Danilo Gallinari and Steven Adams could form the core of a solid team this season. Paul can run an offense, and Adams (pick-and-roll) and Gallinari (pick-and-pop) offer nice complementary skills. If Andre Roberson is healthy or if a young player like Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Nerlens Noel, Terrence Ferguson or Hamidou Diallo takes the next step, Oklahoma City could make real noise.

The Thunder’s biggest challenge: They play in the loaded Western Conference. That makes it far more difficult to make the playoffs. But in terms of team quality, Oklahoma City could be in the thick of competitiveness.

If Paul and Gallinari stay healthy. That can’t be assumed, though Adams can do some dirty work to keep those two clean.

The Thunder have tremendous draft capital – so much of which is tied to the fates of the Clippers, Rockets, Heat and Nuggets. Oklahoma City could tank and improve its draft position further and sooner. But owning so many picks from other teams allows the Thunder to try to win now while simultaneously rebuilding. They don’t necessarily have to waste seasons in the basement just to build themselves back up.

It will probably be easier to trade Paul on Dec. 15. That’s when most free agents who signed this summer become eligible to be traded. Right now, too many teams have untradable players, making it difficult to match Paul’s high salary. Generally, the more of Paul’s contract the Thunder pay out, the easier it’ll be to trade him.

But if Paul declines sharply or gets hurt, his value could diminish even further. There’s risk in waiting, though an injured Paul might allow Oklahoma City to tank anyway.

The Thunder must also cut a few million of salary before the final day of the regular season to avoid the luxury tax. That’s a priority.

So, Oklahoma City will make some move – Paul or otherwise.

But it appears likely we’ll see Paul play for the Thunder. It’ll be a return to Oklahoma City after he played home games there with the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets following Hurricane Katrina.

This isn’t the reunion Paul or the Thunder appeared to desire when the Westbrook trade was agreed upon. I still think it could be pretty cool.

Ben Simmons reverses course, withdraws from Australia’s Word Cup squad

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ben Simmons‘ new contract extension with the Philadelphia 76ers came with bad news for Australian basketball fans: The Melbourne-born NBA All-star won’t play for the Boomers at the World Cup.

Hours after Simmons and the 76ers agreed to a $170 million, five-year contract extension on Tuesday, Simmons said he preferred to spend time with his new teammates in September instead of travelling to China for the Aug. 31-Sept. 15 World Cup.

“I wanted to let everyone know that after consulting with my representation, I’ve made the difficult decision to forego playing in the World Cup in China,” Simmons said in a statement.

“Ultimately, we decided it was best that I use the time in September to return to Philadelphia to acquaint myself with my new teammates and prepare for the upcoming NBA season.”

Simmons had been selected for Australia’s World Cup squad and had earlier indicated he planned to play the tournament in China.

He now plans to play only for the Boomers in two exhibition games against the United States in Melbourne on Aug. 22 and 24 at a stadium that is expected to be sold out – 50,000 fans – for each game. He also said the Olympics next year in Tokyo remain on his schedule.

“I will still be heading back home to Australia to host my camps as well as train and play with the Boomers in the upcoming exhibition games,” Simmons said. “I’m really excited about the talent we have on the Boomers squad, especially moving closer to 2020 where I will be honored and humbled to represent my country on the world’s biggest sporting stage at the Olympics in Tokyo.”

Simmons was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2016. He made his NBA debut in the 2017-18 season and was the Rookie of the Year. He was an All-Star for the first time last season. He has averaged 16.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 7.9 assists in his two seasons.

Australia’s World Cup lineup is set to feature San Antonio’s Patty Mills, Joe Ingles of Utah Jazz, Phoenix center Aron Baynes, Cleveland’s Matthew Dellavedova, former No. 1 draft pick Andrew Bogut, Detroit center-forward Thon Maker and Simmons’ 76ers teammate Jonah Bolden.