Spurs need Duncan to step up if they want to reach the Finals

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Tim Duncan’s legacy is largely beyond reproach. The man has four NBA titles to his name, is one of the two greatest players of his generation, and just recently became the all-time playoff leader in blocked shots.

And yet, his play in the Western Conference Finals hasn’t been all that special.

Duncan will get a pass from his coach and his teammates, and probably even from his fans for his lackluster performance in this series against the Thunder, one that his Spurs now find themselves all tied up in at two games apiece.

The reality is, though, that if Duncan doesn’t assert himself and play to his full capabilities for the remaining two or three games of these Western Conference finals, his Spurs may be done.

Sure, Duncan was 9-of-17 shooting in Game 4 for a team-high 21 points. But his offense came very quietly, and had virtually no impact in a game where his team desperately needed one.

No one is saying that Duncan is no longer capable of dominating a game offensively for his Spurs; in fact, it’s the opposite. San Antonio needs to feature its Hall-of-Fame big man to the point where he touches the ball on nearly every possession, with the decision to shoot or make the pass to the open man lying completely on his intelligent and capable shoulders.

In the first two rounds of the playoffs, Duncan was efficient and magnificent; excuse me for channeling my inner Clyde Frasier. He shot 23-of-49 from the field in the first round against the Jazz, and 38-of-64 from the field in the second round against the Clippers.

Those shooting numbers were good for marks of 47 percent and 59 percent respectively. Against the Thunder in this series, Duncan is just 22-of-58, for just 38 percent.

Now, it’s easy to argue that Tony Parker’s individual performance is more important to his team’s chances, considering the explosive ability he has to not only score, but to create easy opportunities for his teammates. But Parker has to perform at a certain level for the Spurs to even be within contention; to push them over the top, Duncan is the one who has to raise his game.

The Spurs have made it this far in the postseason with a surgical level of execution from role-players and stars alike. They had been getting timely shots off of open looks from seemingly everyone who touched the ball, after a series of screens and well-timed passes made their way into the hands of whomever was open at the time. But the offense by committee has stagnated in Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City.

For the Spurs to get back on track, take control of this series, and earn themselves a trip to the NBA Finals, they’ll need Duncan to step up one last time and deliver as we know he can. San Antonio needs to feature him, and let him go to work against the Thunder’s front line. The defense has shifted its focus to slowing Parker and Manu Ginobili on the perimeter; it’s time for San Antonio to trust Duncan in this series, just as they have in so many series past.

Rumor: Pistons among teams considering Markelle Fultz trade

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Markelle Fultz remains away from the 76ers, getting treatment for his Thoracic Outlet Syndrome while the rest of his teammates try to adjust to playing with Jimmy Butler (which is going better for some than others).

The sense around the league is the Sixers still plan to trade Fultz, they’re just waiting for better offers to come in, the first round was very lowball.

A few teams are kicking the tires on a trade, and among them are the Pistons, reports Rod Beard of the Detroit News.

Let’s be clear, nothing is close on any Sixers trade of Fultz right now. Teams are just testing the waters.

It’s an interesting idea for Detroit, the chance to add a player who was a high draft pick —  but only if they think he’s healthy and can get over his mental hurdles (his agent said there aren’t any, it’s all physical, and most of the league laughed at that). Also, the sides need to find a trade that works. Fultz, as a No. 1 pick, is not cheap, he makes $8.3 million this season and is guaranteed $9.7 next season, then $12.3 million the season after that (unless whatever team has his rights and just cuts bait on that last season).

The Pistons are flirting with the luxury tax line right now, their $123.3 million payroll is just about $500,000 below the tax line, so Detroit will not be taking on any salary in any potential trade. They also sent out this year’s first-round pick in the Blake Griffin trade, so they don’t have that, either, and likely would not include a pick. A deal centered around Ish Smith or Langston Galloway plus Zaza Pachulia works (after Dec. 15 when Pachulia becomes available to trade). Both provide guard depth and Galloway offers Philly some shooting (34.9 percent taking 65 percent of his shots from three this season). Reggie Bullock also could be part of a trade.

There are options. Right now the Pistons are among the teams kicking the tires on a trade, but we are a long way from it actually happening.

Pacers fans epically bad at tic-tac-toe (video)

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Trail Blazers fans are off the hook.

A couple Pacers fans are also terrible at tic-tac-toe.

Pacers:

I can’t rule out this being staged, which is disappointing.

But if genuine – wow.

Spencer Dinwiddie signs three-year, $34 million extension to stay with Nets

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There were a lot of general managers eyeing Spencer Dinwiddie as a quality point guard they could grab on the free agent market this summer at a fair price. The hardworking point guard out of the University of Colorado has averaged 16.9 points and 4.8 assists for the Nets this season, is shooting 36.8 percent from three, knows how to be a good floor general, and while a lot of fans may not know his name smart front offices around the league saw an above-average point guard that would fit their system.

Which is why the Nets decided to lock him up and not let him leave Brooklyn. The team announced the deal, Dinwiddie himself confirmed it, and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN had the details.

That’s an above the league average but low starter money, and it’s a good deal for Dinwiddie, who is making $1.6 million this year and that’s the largest payday of his career.

If you don’t know what Dinwiddie can do on the court, go ask the Sixers — he dropped 39 on them last night.

The Nets are trying to build a culture and have a core of smart, solid players to put stars around, and Dinwiddie fits right into this model. They could have tried to lowball him and save some money, but that came with the risk of losing him this summer. The Nets decided to take care of their own instead, a good sign for the franchise.

Raptors’ Jonas Valanciunas undergoes surgery on dislocated thumb, out a month

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It was clear it was bad when it happened. Not because of the violence of the play by Draymond Green — no foul was called, and the hand is part of the ball by rule in these cases — but because of Jonas Valanciunas‘ reaction. The man was in a lot of pain.

With 8 minutes to go in the second quarter of the Raptors win Wednesday night, Valanciunas got the ball with Green on him and decided to back down the smaller player, Green reached in and swiped down knocking the ball away but getting Valanciunas’ hand in the process.

Thursday the Raptors announced that Valanciunas had surgery on his dislocated left thumb and will be out at least a month.

This is a blow to the Raptors’ frontline depth, although they still have plenty of talent up front. Serge Ibaka starts most nights at center, and at times the Raptors go small and put breakout player Pascal Siakam at the five. However, Valanciunas is their matchup for other bigger, more traditional centers, or sometimes coach Nick Nurse tries him to force a mismatch. Valanciunas is averaging 12.8 points and 7.2 rebounds a night playing nearly 19 minutes a night, the Raptors defense is 3 points per 100 possessions better, and the Raptors outscore opponents by 5.4 per 100 when he is on the court. It will not be easy to fill his minutes.

The Raptors are 23-7 and the team in first place in the East having just knocked off the Clippers and Warriors in back-to-back nights on the road. They look like contenders, but they could use Valanciunas to help them get through the regular season (he’s harder to play in the postseason, but we’re not there yet).