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.

Likely No. 1 pick Zion Williamson leaves Duke-North Carolina game with knee injury

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Zion Williamson will probably be the No. 1 pick in the upcoming NBA draft.

He’s a generationally good prospect. The rest of this draft also looks relatively weak.

In fact, Williamson has such a stranglehold on the top pick, some have suggested he sit out the rest of his freshman season.

His injury during Duke’s game against North Carolina tonight will only heighten those calls.

Duke:

Hopefully, Williamson is OK.

And hopefully, the system changes. The NCAA is a cartel in which schools conspire to cap compensation for athletes at a scholarship plus some expenses. In a free market, Williamson would earn far more.

Unfortunately, it probably can’t be both. If Williamson escapes this without major injury, the status quo will likely endure.

But, if this injury even allows him to play again this season, it might be a warning shot that causes him to sit until he can enter the NBA draft.

Again, I hope he’s healthy enough to make that decision for himself.

Jayson Tatum guarantees Celtics will win 2019 NBA championship

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Friday morning, Jayson Tatum guaranteed the U.S. team would beat the World team in the Rising Stars game that night. The U.S. team won.

So, Tatum was asked Saturday morning whether he wanted to guarantee anything for that night. He guaranteed he’d win the Skills Challenge. He won.

So, then ESPN’s Rachel Nichols asked Tatum whether he wants to guarantee anything else. And he really let it ride.

Tatum:

We’re going to win the Finals this year. February 16th, mark it. Jayson Tatum says we’re going to win the Finals this year.

Obviously, Tatum wasn’t going to pick against Boston. But this wasn’t that. He could have easily avoided such a grand proclamation.

Instead, even if he were just caught up in the emotion of an All-Star Saturday Night victory and taking the interview especially seriously, Tatum put a little more attention and pressure on the Celtics.

I’m not convinced that’s what this team needs.

Kristaps Porzingis reportedly gave Knicks wish list of trade destinations: Nets, Clippers, Heat, Raptors

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Mavericks owner Mark Cuban said Kristaps Porzingis will sign long-term with Dallas this summer, and Porzingis he was on the same page.

But he will be a free agent. Restricted, but a free agent, nonetheless.

Porzingis’ exit from the Knicks provided a clue about where he’d want to go if he explores leaving the Mavericks.

Marc Stein of The New York Times in his newsletter:

The four teams Porzingis had on his wish list of trade destinations were the Nets, Los Angeles Clippers, Miami Heat and Toronto Raptors, according to two people with knowledge of the list who were not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Porzingis had little leverage to get to any of these teams. Because he’ll be a restricted free agent, the Knicks or any team acquiring him would retain immense team control over him.

The Nets and Clippers project to have cap space this summer. The Heat and Raptors don’t.

But even if Porzingis signs an offer sheet elsewhere, Dallas will will likely match it.

Still, Porzingis will become an unrestricted free agent someday – 2020 in the unlikely event he accepts his qualifying offer or a future year if he signs a multi-year deal this summer. It’s probably best to file away this list until then.

Kyrie Irving on video with Kevin Durant: ‘Me and one of my best friends talking’

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The Knicks opened double-max cap space for next summer. Kevin Durant‘s company is moving to a new office in New York. Kyrie Irving backed away from his commitment to re-sign with the Celtics.

Plenty of people were already connecting dots when this video emerged of Durant and Irving talking at the All-Star game (in which, not for nothing, they jelled).

Ben Stinar of Amico Hoops:

Irving, via MassLive (warning: language in the above video):

It’s just crazy. This is the stuff that just doesn’t make the league fun. It doesn’t make the league fun. Nobody helps promote the league even more by doing bulls— like that, of just putting fictitious things on what we’re talking about. It’s crazy.

It’s a video of me and one of my best friends talking. And then it turns out to be a dissection of a free agency meeting? Do you get that? Like, do you get that? And then I’m asked questions about it? That’s what disconnects me from all that s—.

That wasn’t a denial.

Still, it’s hard to believe Durant and Irving really discussed free agency in a hallway with so many people passing. There are far more discreet places to have that conversation.

Like a restaurant in Miami where they were spotted together:

I understand Irving’s exasperation with this, just as I understood Durant’s testiness over constant speculation. They should be allowed to spend time together as friends without it turning into a bigger deal.

But there is immense interest in where they play next year. People will continue to search for clues – some that prove insignificant, some that might prove significant – about the stars’ futures.

So, I’m at least glad Irving addressed this. It’s going to get discussed either way. Better for him to enter his perspective into the conversation.