Thunder find a little of their magic, came from behind to close out Rockets

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For a night, Oklahoma City showed some progress, found a little of the old magic, and that was something to celebrate. And that was something that was too much for the Rockets.

We all know the Thunder are not themselves right now, that their biggest tests lie ahead (started Sunday against Memphis). But for a night it was enough.

The Thunder battled back from a 10-point third quarter deficit, took control with a 14-4 run at the start of the fourth quarter and went on to beat the Rockets 103-94 Friday night.

With the win the Thunder win the series 4-2 and advance to the second round — which starts Sunday in OKC against a tough Memphis Grizzlies squad.

But to get there the Thunder had to find a little of their magic again, which was missing in the couple of Rockets wins since Russell Westbrook went down for the playoffs with a torn meniscus. This was easily the best Thunder game since that injury.

What they found in the first half was the good Kevin Martin — 21 points on 5-of-8 shooting as he was getting to the line and knocking down threes. Martin would finish the game with 25 points. Reggie Jackson added 17 points, eight assists and  seven rebounds.

Of course, this is still Kevin Durant’s team and he pretty much carried the Thunder this series and for the game 27 points (on 11-of-23 shooting) with 8 rebounds and 6 assists. Or look at it this way: In the four games since Westbrook went down Durant has averaged 35.5 points on 51 percent shooting, while adding 9.3 rebounds and 5.8 assists — those are monster numbers from the guy that has to carry a bigger load on offense.

Led by Durant, we say a more focused Thunder team, one that on offense scored 113 points per 100 possessions and looked more like one of the best offenses in the NBA.

All of which was too much for the Rockets. Houston got 26 points out of James Harden and another strong performance form Chandler Parsons (25 points on 14 shots).

This was all a learning process for a young team. The Rockets picked up James Harden in a great deal before the season and he has proved he can be the alpha dog for the team. Parsons, Omer Asik and Patrick Beverly are some good role players (as is Jeremy Lin most of the time). But this was always going to be a learning experience for the Rockets — and I think they did grow from it. This team got better and better as the season went on. They should have their chins up.

But the Thunder have already been where the Rockets are trying to get. And they looked more like that team on Friday, showing some heart n a comeback and eventual win==. Which was good enough to send them to the second round

The Thunder have survived and advanced and that should be celebrated. You can start the new task in a couple days.

Report: Spurs ‘shut the door’ on Lakers’ Kawhi Leonard trade inquiry

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After shooting down trade inquiries before the trade deadline and brushing off proposals earlier this offseason, the Spurs are reportedly hearing out offers for Kawhi Leonard.

Except from the Lakers.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

The Lakers are reportedly Leonard’s preferred destination. Of course, San Antonio isn’t obligated to send him there. But he can influence the process by stating a plan to sign with only certain team(s) in 2019 unrestricted free agency.

The Celtics and 76ers might have better assets to send the Spurs. But if only the Lakers have a commitment from Leonard to re-sign, they might offer a greater share of their assets than Boston or Philadelphia would (especially if Los Angeles believes acquiring Leonard would be the first domino in also landing LeBron James and Paul George).

Between Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and future first-round picks, the Lakers could offer roughly commensurate value for Leonard. San Antonio might not like those particular players, but a third team could always get involved. Send some combination of Ball, Ingram, Kuzma and Hart to a team that wants them and have that third team convey players more desirable to the Spurs.

But that takes thoughtful negotiating, and San Antonio doesn’t seem interested.

There’s a belief San Antonio won’t trade Leonard to a Western Conference team, especially another historically strong franchise like the Lakers. That sentiment seems foolish to me, but it didn’t emerge out of thin air. There are real people – and real hurt feelings – involved here. Grudges sometimes trump rationality.

Maybe the Spurs will eventually explore whether the Lakers present the best offer. But this is at least circumstantial evidence San Antonio will handle this crisis stubbornly.

League buzz: Kings will take Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, Luka Doncic gone at three

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It’s hard to see through all the smoke and tell if things around the 2018 NBA Draft are solidifying as we get to fewer than three hours before the Phoenix Suns go on the clock.

The Suns are a lock to take DeAndre Ayton at No. 1.

After that, the Kings more and more seem to be leaning toward taking Marvin Bagley III at No. 2, according to multiple reports of those close to the team.

At three things really open up. Atlanta is listening to trade offers but one way or another is likely to pick Luka Doncic. There are rumors that multiple teams — Dallas, Orlando, others — would then trade their pick plus some other asset (young player/future pick) to the Hawks for Doncic. Who the Hawks reportedly really want is Trae Young, but they can move down to get him.

If the Slovenian is off the board, it’s more likely that Memphis trades the No. 4 pick, according to sources. However, there are questions about whether Memphis can get what it thinks is fair value for selling the No. 4. So maybe they just take Jaren Jackson Jr.

How is it going to shake out?

That follows my final mock draft, which was put together Wednesday for the video above. It has:

1. Phoenix: DeAndre Ayton
2. Sacramento: Marvin Bagley
3. Atlanta: Luka Doncic
4. Memphis: Jaren Jackson
5. Dallas: Mo Bamba
6. Orlando: Trae Young
7. Chicago: Michael Porter Jr.
8. Cleveland: Wendell Carter Jr.
9. New York: Kevin Knox
10. Philadelphia: Mikail Bridges
11. Charlotte: Shai Gilgeous-Alexander
12. LA Clippers: Robert Williams
13. LA Clippers: Collin Sexton
14. Denver: Miles Bridges

The problem with any mock draft now is accounting for trades, and those are coming.

Report: Spurs hearing out Kawhi Leonard trade offers, including from Lakers

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The Spurs shot down Kawhi Leonard trade offers before the trade deadline. They brushed off Leonard trade offers earlier this offseason.

Then, the already strained situation got even worse.

Leonard put out word he wanted to leave San Antonio, ideally for the Lakers. He met with Gregg Popovich this week in San Diego, reportedly directly telling the president-coach he wants out.

What are the Spurs doing now?

Chris Mannix of Yahoo Sports:

The Lakers are in that mix.

The Spurs can try to mend their relationship with Leonard. They could even use a super-max contract – projected to be worth $219 million over five years – to aid that process. They don’t have to trade him.

But the clock is ticking toward tonight’s draft, teams using their cap space in other ways and Leonard’s 2019 free agency.

San Antonio has no choice but to get more aggressive in handling Leonard’s future. This is a small step in that direction.

Report: Nets to buy out Dwight Howard

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The Magic, Lakers, Rockets, Hawks and Hornets all grew tired of Dwight Howard.

The Nets did it in record time.

After acquiring Howard in a trade from Charlotte yesterday, Brooklyn is moving toward shedding him.

Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports:

In the trade, the Nets dumped Timofey Mozgov‘s $16.72 million salary for 2019-20. Now, they could get a reduction on Howard’s $23,819,725 expiring contract. Brooklyn is doing a great job of unloading bad money.

Next year, the Nets will have their own first-round pick for the first time in six years. Though he has declined considerably from his Hall of Fame peak, Howard can still play some. Brooklyn didn’t need him interfering with its tanking and culture.

Instead, the Nets can focus on developing Jarrett Allen and losing enough to secure the best draft position possible.

It’ll be interesting to see how much Howard surrenders and where he goes. Again, he can still play. But the league is moving away from traditional centers, and he’s high maintenance.