Grizzlies continue impressive start with road win over Thunder

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The Memphis Grizzlies look like a team ready to compete in the postseason. The Thunder look like a team still searching for answers.

The result of the meeting between these two teams reflected that on Wednesday, as Memphis had little trouble in cruising to a convincing 107-97 win in Oklahoma City.

When we last saw the Grizzlies, they were blowing out the defending champion Heat by 18 points. In OKC, the result against the team Miami beat in the Finals last June was essentially the same, after Memphis spotted the home team a 10-point first quarter lead.

It all began to go wrong for the Thunder in the second quarter, once the bench unit couldn’t seem to manufacture any offense, and couldn’t even begin to stop the Grizzlies defensively. Memphis, which has won six straight since an opening-game loss, outscored OKC 36-15 in the period, led by 11 from Quincy Pondexter behind 3-of-3 shooting from three-point distance.

Kevin Martin played all 12 minutes of the second, and managed just two points. Eric Maynor and Hasheem Thabeet were essentially zeroes on both ends of the court in the few minutes they were out there, and Russell Westbrook had a rough first half from the field, hitting on just one of his eight shots, though he did manage eight assists.

Watching Memphis play you get a very Spurs-like vibe at this point in the young season, in that the execution and ball movement — as well as the rotations defensively — seem to be well ahead of the curve of where most teams are at this early stage.

On the Thunder side, it might seem like lazy analysis to say that they are searching to fill the huge void left by the James Harden trade, but it’s absolutely the truth. Scott Brooks has long been criticized for his lack of creativity in designing offensive sets for this Thunder squad, and now more than ever that weakness is becoming more and more glaring with each passing game.

There is no ball movement and no motion from players away from the ball on the majority of OKC’s possessions; the ball handler is lucky if he gets a screen from a big, and then is forced to execute a pick and roll or drive and kick to someone else. Harden is an exceptional playmaker who can score if he chooses, and his ability to do that, especially playing alongside Kevin Durant and Westbrook with the team’s crunch time lineup, is sorely missed.

Durant finished with 34 points, but he had to play 44 minutes to get there. It was his first 30-point effort on the season. He was nearly matched by Rudy Gay’s 28, and Memphis got more-than-solid performances from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Randolph and Kendrick Perkins were both ejected with 2:05 to play for what seemed like just words, but the game had already been decided.

Memphis was the sharper and more active team on this night, and it really wasn’t that close. The Grizzlies have the talent to compete with anyone all season long, and have shown it without a doubt in their last two games.

Meanwhile, OKC will need to improve dramatically on both ends of the floor to be considered one of the Western Conference elites once again, but the good news is that they have 73 more regular season games to get themselves straightened out.

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.