NBA finals Game 4: Five things the Thunder need to do to win

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Miami has made its statement. Nobody ever questioned their talent, the questions were how LeBron James would deal with being back on the biggest stage, and secondly, would they bring consistent effort that they had lacked all playoffs?

LeBron has been the series MVP so far and for two games in a row the Heat have played at a sustained level of intensity they rarely have through the playoffs.

The ball is in the Thunder’s court to adjust for Game 4 Tuesday night. And they better do it now because they are down 2-1 and no team has ever come back from a 3-1 deficit in the NBA finals. Oklahoma City needs to play with real desperation, and they need to execute better.

Here are five keys for OKC if they are going to tie this series up.

1) Protect the paint. In Game 3 it looked like a Miami conga line to the rim. The Heat were getting into the paint on cuts and penetration — they finished the game with 35 shots at the rim, plus all that action got them 35 free throws. Miami will win every time that happens.

In Game 3 Serge Ibaka made the adjustment and stayed with Shane Shane Battier at the arc rather than leave him to protect the paint, and for most of the game Battier was less of a factor (9 points). But having the league’s best shot blocker out at the arc does the Heat no good. I still think the Thunder need less Kendrick Perkins and more Ibaka (he didn’t play the fourth quarter of Game 3). Pairing them hasn’t really worked.

Also, the Thunder are hinting at zone (or zone-like defense) and that could work well, too — anything that makes the Heat a jump shooting team.

2) Would the real James Harden please stand up. Harden is the Thunder’s best playmaker late in games, a guy who is a threat to score or set others up. But in his quest to set others up these finals he has not been himself — 2-for-10 shooting last game with two key turnovers. In the finals he is averaging just 11.7 points on 40.7 percent shooting and he’s had one good half. He is the Thunder’s X factor this series and he has to be at his best. Harden needs to be a little selfish, get some buckets and draw the defense, then set guys up. OKC needs the All-Star level James Harden.

3) Scott Brooks needs to change rotations to what works. Put simply, if Kevin Durant gets in foul trouble, don’t sit Russell Westbrook at the same time. You need the scoring against the Heat, and they are already a good defensive team happy to muck things up and play ugly. You’ve got to find a way to keep Ibaka near the basket where he is a shot blocking threat. Brooks has been out-coached by Erik Spoelstra this series. The Thunder need the coach that made moves Gregg Popovich couldn’t match.

Which ties into….

4) Kevin Durant can’t get in foul trouble. This falls in part to Brooks because he has Durant trying to guard LeBron and that has been part of the foul trouble. Brooks needs to put Thabo Sefolosha on LeBron (he’s the Thunder’s best defender and Dwyane Wade isn’t healthy and is not as big a threat). Durant has to be part of this as well — recognize how the game is being called and if it’s tight on the perimeter then be more careful, avoid contact. You can’t help your team from the bench.

5) Get out and run. Half court ugly games will not work for the Thunder, they need to get out and go. Russell Westbrook needs to push the pace. It has to start with better defense and stops, but then they need to turn that into some easy baskets. In the paint. If the Thunder want to win, they need to set the tempo for Game 4.

What to watch for in NBA Draft? Trades, trades, trades

Associated Press
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Every year we say it — there’s a lot of buzz about trades heading into the draft. Fans want to see it — teams moving up and down, players getting shipped out or brought in to facilitate those draft day moves.

The comes draft night and… meh. There are a few deals but not like was predicted.

But this year we really mean it — this year there is an incredible amount of buzz about trades.

Starting as high as with Atlanta at No. 3 and more likely Memphis at No. 4, there are going to be picks traded (we already saw one, with the Lakers taking on the 39th pick from the Sixers for a future second rounder). There also are going to be players moved — we already saw Dwight Howard get traded to Brooklyn in what was mostly a financial deal for both sides.

Why will there be trades this year, why is it not going to bomb out like all those other years?

Two reasons.

First, this year there is less of a consensus and a wider variance in how many top picks are ranked by teams. For example, Luka Doncic is a second and pushing for the top spot on some team’s big draft boards, others have him more like seventh. Michael Porter Jr. falls anywhere from No. 2 to “with that back there is no way we take him.” Trae Young could go third (unlikely but not impossible) or 13th. I could go on with Mohamed Bomba or Aaron Holiday or others, but you get the point.

What that means is if a team really likes Bamba or Doncic and he’s still on the board at No. 4, they will be willing to give up players/future picks to get him, and Memphis will be willing to slide back. (If one team is most likely to trade their pick, it’s the Grizzlies, according to sources around the league, but they want to dump the Chandler Parsons contract in the process.) Or take the case with the Hawks at three — they are rumored to really like Young, but they could slide back four or five (or more) slots and get him, plus get another asset from a team that wants to jump up to No. 3 to draft Bamba or Doncic or Jaren Jackson or whoever.

It continues like that all the way down through the lottery and into the first round. The Cavaliers are testing the waters to see what the No. 8 pick and Kevin Love could net them (someone who would help keep LeBron James in town?). The Clippers are thought of as likely to move one of their two picks at 12 and 13. There are a lot of teams who may see the guy they wanted off the board and decide they would slide down the draft, and other teams who see the guy they like still on the board and want to move up or into the first round. That’s what the player evaluation variance means. There’s going to be a lot more pick swaps than usual.

Second — and this is going to carry over into July and free agency — there are a lot of teams where management is looking at their roster, looking at the landscape of the NBA, and thinking “we are paying too much to just be average (or wherever they are at).” Those teams are going to look to move key players. For example, Washington had the fourth highest payroll in the NBA last season, barely got into the playoffs as the eighth seed and were bounced by a Celtics team about to get a lot better. They are rumored to be looking to make dramatic moves.

Toronto is looking to shake things up. Portland is reportedly testing the trade waters for C.J. McCollum. Charlotte is doing the same with Kemba Walker, who is a free agent in a couple of years (although the Howard trade could be about keeping Walker). Miami, Washington, and a host of other teams want to shake things up. There will be unexpected moves.

And that’s not included the more obvious ones: The Spurs being forced to move Kawhi Leonard (not on draft night, however, that will drag out), the Lakers trading most of their young players to get Leonard if they can, the Cavaliers moving Kevin Love (either with the No. 8 pick on Thursday or Love separately if LeBron leaves).

Bottom line: This year we mean it — there’s going to be a lot of trades on draft night. We’re serious. More than most years, there’s a lot of buzz about trades going on around league circles.

How it shakes out is going to be fascinating.

PBT Extra: One last mock draft of NBA lottery

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DeAndre Ayton will go No. 1 to the Phoenix Suns Thursday night. Marvin Bagley III probably goes second to Sacramento (but that’s not a lock).

After that, things get wide open in the 2018 NBA Draft. Teams value different players at very different levels this year, and there are going to be a number of trades.

Which makes putting together a mock draft for this year more random than a roulette wheel. Not that it stopped me. Here is my final mock draft for the 14 lottery picks. I present it without much confidence, but I’m throwing it out there anyway.

Report: Dewayne Dedmon opts in for $7.2 million with Hawks

AP Photo/Todd Kirkland
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The Hawks’ rebuild got going with big John Collins. Though they’re reportedly eying Luka Doncic with the No. 3 pick, they could easily draft another big – Jaren Jackson Jr., Mohamed Bamba, Marvin Bagley or Wendell Carter.

And then there’s veteran center Dewayne Dedmon.

He no longer fits in Atlanta (never did, really). But he’s not bypassing a chance to earn $7.2 million.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

There just wasn’t going to be that much money for the 28-year-old Dedmon in a tight market this summer.

Dedmon is a good defender, and he developed his ball skills – as a 3-point shooter and passer – in Atlanta last season. The Hawks could look to trade him. Maybe, in a deal primarily about his expiring contract, he adds extra value to the other team due to his playing ability.

If Atlanta doesn’t move him, Dedmon will be a fine player on a likely tanking team. At least he’s not good enough to subvert the Hawks’ tank, especially with the new lottery format.

Nick Young says ‘everybody needs to do cocaine,’ later insists he was joking

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer
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Nick Young will say and do nearly anything for attention.

Empowered by the Warriors’ championship, he swung for the fences when asked about Canada passing marijuana legalization.

Young, via TMZ:

“I want people to pass cocaine,” the NBA star told TMZ Sports outside 1 OAK on Tuesday night … “Everybody needs to do cocaine!”

Predictably, that caused a bit of an uproar. Then, Young backtracked:

Chill. You know I was just joking

A post shared by Nick Young (@swaggyp1) on

Too late, Nick. People are already asking questions you don’t want asked.