Thunder turn Game 1 against Rockets into a laugher

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The Thunder led 13-2 before the Rockets tied the game at 38, but Oklahoma City responded with a 14-1 run late in the first half. Houston hung around the fringe of striking distance before the Thunder made another 13-2 run midway through the second half.

The Rockets – and the Western Conference – are trying to catch the Thunder, and Oklahoma City’s 120-91 Game 1 win over the Rockets provided little evidence either can do it. Nobody has beaten a playoff team this badly in more than a month (the Warriors’ 108-78 win over the Rockets on March 17).

Higher seeds went 8-0 in the opening games of the 2013 playoffs, and chalk bodes well for the Thunder. They won the West last year, won more games than anyone in the conference this year and still might have their best basketball ahead of them.

Kevin Durant (24 points, six rebounds, four assists, two steals and two blocks) and Russell Westbrook (19 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and two steals) were strong tonight, but Oklahoma City’s stars received plenty of support.

Serge Ibaka had 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks.

Nick Collison made all four of his shots to go with five rebounds and four assists

Thabo Sefolosha, Kevin Martin, Derek Fisher and Reggie Jackson each made 3-pointers in the first half. After shooting near the arc proved to be little challenge, the Thunder resorted to half-court shots in the second half – and letting fans take them.

James Harden scored 20 points on 19 shots, similar production to the player the Rockets traded to acquire him. Kevin Martin had 16 points on 15 shots, but he was just a blip in the Thunder’s massive output.

Harden, on the other hand, was – by far – Houston’s leading scorer. A legitimate All-NBA first-team candidate (though, I’m partial to Westbrook in the guard spot next to Chris Paul), Harden must play better, but he also needs help. It wasn’t just his fault the Rockets’ offensive rating was 86.2, higher than only the Lakers in the playoffs’ opening games.

The same issues exist for Houston on the other end of the court. The Rockets aren’t a good defensive team, but they have a couple good defensive players.

Durant shot just 3-of-9 with Chandler Parsons on the court, compared to 4-of-6 with Parsons on the bench. Houston’s defensive rating dropped from 138.1 to 97.3 when Omer Asik played.

And really, that’s what this series boils down to.

The Rockets have impressive pieces. The Thunder have an impressive team.

Lakers fans give Dwyane Wade standing ovation, check out L.A. tribute video

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Lakers fans take a lot of abuse from other fan bases, some of it well deserved, but the core fans know the game.

And they know how much Dwyane Wade has meant to it.

Which is why they gave him a standing ovation when he checked into the game Monday night in Los Angeles.

The Lakers also put together a tribute video that played in the arena.

Classy move, Lakers. Well done.

Pacers’ Myles Turner shuts down Bradley Beal at the rim (VIDEO)

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Myles Turner owned the paint in the first half — the Pacers’ center had five blocked shots in the first 24 minutes.

The big shut down was on Bradley Beal, this is how a big man recovers and goes after it.

Then later there was this play leading to a bucket on the other end.

Turner has had a strong defensive season in the paint so far for the Pacers, a big step for him. He’s sixth among centers in ESPN’s defensive real plus/minus stat (which has its flaws but is a good snapshot).

Washington learned that the hard way.

 

Report: Houston kicking tires on J.R. Smith trade with Cavaliers

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The Houston Rockets desperately need help on the wing (among other things, but wing is the personnel focus). The Rockets would also like to have less salary on the books next season, giving them some flexibility and lowering the tax bill.

J.R. Smith fits both of those bills, so Houston and GM Daryl Morey are at least taking a look at a potential trade, reports Marc Stein of the New York Times.

While there is some logic to this, we are a long way from it being a reality. Smith does not exactly have a positive trade value, at least as a player right now.

Smith was part of the rotation that helped the LeBron-led Cavaliers reach the NBA Finals last season, but he will be best remembered for the Game 1 blunder in the Finals that deflated the Cavs. Without the playmaking of LeBron, Smith struggled to start this season, shooting 34 percent for the Cavaliers in limited minutes, before going on hiatus from the team. That said, in a better situation where he was asked to play a small and specific role, maybe he could still help.

Smith is guaranteed $18.59 million this season but only $3.87 million of his $15.68 million salary for next season is guaranteed.

Houston seems a logical fit. Money wise, a Brandon Knight for Smith trade works, but the Rockets will have to throw in picks or other sweeteners to get the Cavaliers interested. Cleveland also likely will be patient, hoping that as the deadline gets closer there is a little bidding war for Smith.

Still, the Rockets are active on the trade market (as always), and they need wings, so this is worth keeping an eye on.

Lakers’ Rajon Rondo has fluid drained from hand slowing his recovery from surgery

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Rajon Rondo has been out more than three weeks following surgery to repair the third metacarpal bone in his shooting hand (his right hand), and while there has been no official timeline he was expected back in the next week or two. He’s been out on the court before recent Lakers’ games getting in some work.

But he has now hit a bit of a setback, Lakers’ coach Luke Walton said on Wednesday. Here is what Walton said, via Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“There’s a little bit of swelling,” Walton said at Lakers shootaround on Monday in advance of his team’s game against the Miami Heat. “We’re going to shut him down for a few days then get back out after it again.”

It’s not clear when Rondo will return. He was averaging 8.5 points, 6.5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds a game before the injury.

The Lakers have gone 8-4 since Rondo went to the bench with his fractured hand. Without the veteran point guard, LeBron James has had the ball in his hands more as a playmaker (to Magic Johnson’s frustration at times), paired with Lonzo Ball (who has started to show some real chemistry with LeBron). The Lakers offense hasn’t been particularly good in these past dozen games, bottom 10 in the league, but they have balanced that with a top 7 defense. The Lakers are getting wins thanks to that defense and enough LeBron shot creation to get it done.

The Lakers are going to have to keep getting it done and now without Brandon Ingram, too, who is expected to miss a few more games with a sprained ankle.