Thunder maintain West’s top playoff spot with blowout win over Warriors

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The Warriors celebrated mightily after Tuesday night’s win over the Timberwolves, and rightfully so.

The victory clinched a playoff spot for Golden State for the first time since 2007, and with only the difference between opening the postseason as the sixth or seventh seed hanging in the balance for their final few games, it’s perhaps understandable that the Warriors might not have been as dialed in as possible for Thursday night’s matchup with the Thunder.

Oklahoma City, however, is still playing for something.

The Thunder showed it with a dominant third quarter that led to a 116-97 victory, one which allowed them to maintain the best overall record atop the Western Conference standings.

Kevin Durant led the way with a near triple-double line of 31 points, 10 rebounds, and eight assists, and might have gotten the semi-rare statistical achievement had the game been a bit closer. He was subbed out for good with 8:14 remaining and his team leading by 21 points.

Durant scored 14 of his game-high total in that third quarter, where Oklahoma City outscored Golden State 36-23 behind a team shooting mark of 61.9 percent for the period, which included the Thunder knocking down five of eight attempts from three-point distance.

By the time the third had ended, the Thunder led by 19 points, and the Warriors would get no closer than within 16 points the rest of the way.

The win kept Oklahoma City in control of its own destiny in terms of locking up the number one overall seed in the Western Conference playoff picture. The Thunder are tied in the loss column with the Spurs, and hold a lead of a half game with just three games remaining in the regular season.

The Thunder own the tie-breaker over the Spurs should the two teams finish with identical records, by virtue of a better won-loss record against opponents within the conference.

One other note on the Warriors’ side: the team lost Andrew Bogut with an ankle injury that was apparently suffered originally in the previous game. Bogut aggravated it at some point on Thursday, and was shut down after playing just over nine minutes.

Bogut will not travel with the Warriors to Los Angeles for the team’s game against the Lakers on Friday, which has plenty of playoff implications of its own where Los Angeles and Utah are concerned, as those two teams are still battling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.

Clippers owner Steve Ballmer: ‘I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in’

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The Clippers will probably miss the playoffs in a loaded Western Conference. But they’re also even further from landing a high draft pick. They’re in that middling position some teams find perilous.

But not Clippers owner Steve Ballmer.

Helene Elliott of the Los Angeles Times:

Ballmer also vowed that the Clippers won’t tank to get a better draft pick. “That ain’t us. Nuh-uh, no way,” he said. “People can do it their way. We’re going to be good our way. We’re not going to show up and suck for a year, two years. I think we got higher expectations on us than the long, hard five, six years of absolute crap like the 76ers put in. How could we look you guys in the eye if we did that to you?”

The 76ers missed the playoffs five straight seasons, but they emerged from that self-inflicted drought with two franchise cornerstones – Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons – and multiple other helpful pieces. The Process worked as intended.

But this is also why the NBA needn’t freak out about other teams replicating Sam Hinkie’s plan. Few have the stomach for it.

Ballmer doesn’t. The Clippers are trying to attract free agents. The better they are in the interim, the more credibility they’ll build.

Jordan Clarkson, Yao Ming keen observers at Asian Games basketball

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JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jordan Clarkson watched from the bench, not quite able to make it to the Asian Games in time to play in the opening game for the Philippines.

Yao Ming was there, too, also keeping a close eye on the Philippines’ opening 96-59 win over Kazakhstan.

After getting a special exemption from the NBA to play for the Philippines in Jakarta, the US-born Clarkson should be ready to suit up for the next game against China. And that has the attention of ex-Houston Rockets and Chinese all-star center Yao.

Clarkson, one of three NBA players given an exemption by the league to play in Jakarta, said he had a frustrating time while his status for the tournament was being considered. The NBA also granted exemptions to Houston Rockets 7-foot-1 (2.17-meter) center Zhou Qi and Dallas Mavericks forward Ding Yanyuhang to play for China.

“We went back and forth so many times, saying I was going to play, then I wasn’t going to play,” the 6-5 (1.96-meter) Clarkson told Philippines’ reporters after Thursday’s game. “Now, being able to participate is awesome.

“I’m very excited to know that I’m finally getting to do this, being able to play … for the country. It’s definitely something that I’ve been looking forward to.”

Clarkson, who qualifies to play for the Philippines through his maternal grandmother, has four days to get familiar with “fun style of play.”

“I feel the support, the love all the time,” he said. “My grandma is real proud I’m able to do this now.”

The Philippines is playing a tournament for the first time since 10 players and two coaches were suspended following a wild brawl in a World Cup qualifier against Australia on July 2. Three Australian players were also suspended.

Video of the brawl was widely played around the world, with punches thrown, chairs tossed at players, and security needed to restore order.

Luka Doncic picks DeAndre Ayton for Rookie of the Year

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Deandre Ayton and Luka Doncic stirred plenty of pre-draft debate. I found them so similar, I rated them in the same tier atop the draft.

Those frequent pre-draft comparisons often lead to lasting personal rivalries, each player still trying to one-up the other throughout their careers.

But that might not be the case with Ayton (whom the Suns drafted No. 1) and Doncic (who went No. 3, to the Mavericks via the Hawks) – at least from Doncic’s perspective.

Doncic, via Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

I would say [Phoenix center Deandre] Ayton. He was the No. 1 pick. He’s tall, he’s strong, he can do so many things.

Maybe Doncic thought he couldn’t choose himself. After all, Forsberg also wrote:

Ask any member of the 2018 NBA draft class who’s going to win Rookie of the Year, and the response is almost universal: “Can I pick myself?”

But Marvin Bagley III (whom the Kings picked No. 2) was quoted talking through the possibility of picking himself before settling on teammate Harry Giles. Doncic isn’t quoted saying anything similar about himself.

Either way, it’s a little surprising to see Doncic pick Ayton. So much for Doncic trying to convince people he’s better than Ayton.

Ayton is my pick, too. He’s physically ready for the NBA and should post scoring and rebounding numbers that impress voters. His biggest deficiency – defensive awareness – tends to get overlooked with this award.

I also wouldn’t rule out Doncic, who’s so skilled and polished already. But I’m concerned about NBA athleticism shocking his system.

Will ex-Syracuse commit Darius Bazley still play in NBA’s minor league as planned?

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When Darius Bazley announced he’d skip his freshman year at Syracuse to play in the NBA’s minor league, it seemed he could start a trend.

But what if Bazley doesn’t even follow that path?

He just participated in the Nike Basketball Academy in Los Angeles and apparently struggled.

Jonathan Givony of ESPN:

After Bazley decided last spring to skip college basketball and play in the G League this season, there were heightened stakes for him at this event and not many positives to take away from his performance. There is speculation among NBA scouts that this might have been the last competitive action they will see from Bazley until the NBA pre-draft process next spring — or even the 2019 summer league. If he doesn’t feel ready for the G League, he could reconsider his decision and forgo competitive basketball for the year

I was never convinced Bazley was shaking up the system rather than just responding to his unique circumstances. This obviously doesn’t change that thought. Mitchell Robinson did the same thing just last year before the Knicks drafted him in the second round.

Maybe Bazley will still choose playing in the NBA’s minor league. He could develop there. But he’d also risk exposing his flaws and hurting his stock. On the other hand, maybe it’s too late and the cat is out of the bag.