Kevin Durant, Thunder overwhelm and blow out Heat

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For the first six minutes of this game, it felt like 2012 all over again — Miami’s defense was smothering, Miami’s offense was finding space and knocking down shots. Meanwhile the red-hot Kevin Durant could not fine room to make his play.

For six minutes the Heat looked like the two-time defending champs and the Thunder looked a couple steps behind them.

Then everything turned.

It started when Jeremy Lamb and Derek Fisher came in and started knocking down threes. Kept going as Scott Brooks sent Kendrick Perkins to the bench and went with a smaller, more mobile lineup — then broke form and kept it for the second half, with Perry Jones starting in place of Perkins (and not shockingly, it worked, I don’t understand why Brooks is so stubborn sticking with Perk). It started when the Thunder started sharing the ball like a contender — two passes after the Heat’s defensive trap to get an open look.

It ended with a 112-95 Oklahoma City rout of the Heat.

If you had any questions about if the Thunder were really title contenders this season, here was your answer.

Kevin Durant finished with 33 points, making it a dozen games in a row over the 30 point mark. The league record is 16 by Tracy McGrady and Durant could well catch him.

However, what really matters is he was efficient racking up those points — 12-of-23 shooting overall and 4-of-9 from three, plus he had seven assists and five rebounds.

LeBron James had 34 points on 20 shots, the rest of his game was bottled up and he had three rebounds and three assists.

What’s more is Miami turned the ball over on 22.7 percent of its possessions Wednesday night — more than 1-in-5 times down the court they coughed it up without a shot. Those became fast break points going the other way for OKC — 11 of those fast break points in the second quarter when the Thunder turned the game around. After his cold start Durant got his rhythm converting those turnovers into easy transition buckets, and once he got his rhythm he was knocking down threes from Epcot Center.

Miami wants to play fast but as part of that they want to attack the rim and the heat stopped that and settled for jumpers much of night. Often ones early in then shot clock. Which went poorly. After starting 2-of-3 from deep the Heat missed their next 15 three pointers. Yet they kept settling, they kept firing away.

Meanwhile Oklahoma was 10-of-16 from three at one point in the third quarter and finished the game 16-of-27 from deep. The Thunder’s fantastic ball movement exploited the Heat traps, on Durant and everyone above the three-point line, by making two and three passes after the trap to find the open man. Then they hit the shot.

Serge Ibaka finished with 22 points, Jeremy Lamb 18 and Derek Fisher 15 as he turned back the hands of time and was 5-of-5 from three.

Chris Bosh had 18 points and 9 rebounds, playing a solid game. Dwyane Wade had 15 points and looked just a step slow.

That’s nine wins in a row for the Thunder, who still get to add to Russell Westbrook to the mix. That was Kevin Durant grabbing ahold of the MVP race.

As much as can happen in a January game (which isn’t much), that was the Thunder making a statement.

Watch Nowitzki pass Wilt Chamberlain for 6th on NBA scoring list

Associated Press
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DALLAS (AP) — Dirk Nowitzki of the Dallas Mavericks became the NBA’s sixth-leading scorer Monday night with another of his signature long-range jumpers.

Nowitzki took Luka Doncic‘s handoff and backed down New Orleans’ Kenrich Williams before hitting a turnaround from the top of the free-throw circle with 8:33 left in the first quarter.

The basket brought Nowitzki to 31,420 points in his career, one more than Wilt Chamberlain. The 40-year-old German trails only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Michael Jordan. James passed Jordan for fourth place on March 6.

Coming into the game, Nowitzki needed just four points to pass Chamberlain, and he started for just the ninth time this season. His first basket was a 20-footer off an assist from rookie Jalen Brunson.

While Nowitzki stands only an inch shorter than Chamberlain’s listed height of 7-foot-1, the two reached their point totals with contrasting styles of play.

Chamberlain once averaged more than 50 points in a season, dominating inside to such a degree that the NBA widened the paint in an effort to neutralize him.

Nowitzki, meanwhile, has made nearly 2,000 3-pointers in his career, establishing the trend of big men with long-range shooting capabilities. He’s an 88-percent free-throw shooter, 37 points higher than Chamberlain’s mark.

“One of his real legacies is gonna be how he helped this game evolve to what it is today,” Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle said. “In the ’90s and early 2000s, there was a real crisis. Scoring was down. The way Dirk approached the game helped … nudge the game along and open up space. Eventually the value of the 3-point shot to open up space became a reality. And so today, you don’t hear anybody talking about how there’s not enough scoring or the game’s not exciting.”

Nowitzki is 872 points behind Jordan but may retire at the end of the season, though he has said he will decide on his future when the season is over. He is the only player in NBA history to play 21 seasons with one team.

Nowitzki missed the first 26 games of the season recovering from left ankle surgery and has been reduced to a role player for much of the year, but he has started the past four games and nine out of the last 12 for the Mavs. His season high entering Monday was 15 points.

 

Stephen Curry is hitting ridiculous shots. Again. Including 3/4 court shot to end quarter.

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Stephen Curry is a show unto himself.

Before the game, Curry was doing this during warmups.

Then at the end of the first quarter came this.

The man is worth the price of admission, even when the Warriors struggle (which they did in the second quarter of this game and the Spurs took a comfortable lead).

Isaiah Thomas gets choked up after tribute video, welcome back from Boston fans

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Isaiah Thomas is still loved in Boston.

He’s the undersized hero who played like an MVP, led the Celtics to the playoffs, all while playing through hip pain and the death of his sister. He embodied what Celtics fans want to see in their stars.

Monday night he returned — in a Denver Nuggets uniform — and IT became emotional during the tribute video and reception from the fans in Boston.

There was more love when Thomas checked into the game.

Next season hopefully Thomas is fully healthy for an entire season and lands in a place where he can truly showcase his talents.

Isaiah Thomas not happy to be benched in Denver, still working to find way back

Associated Press
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Isaiah Thomas is frustrated and nobody can blame him.

Just a couple of seasons back he was fifth in the MVP voting and was lined up for a “back up the Brink’s truck” payday, but he tried to play through a hip injury that eventually required surgery and nobody stepped up with a payday. This season in Denver, on a one-year minimum contract, he was given plenty of time to get his body right, but when he came back he wasn’t helping a team thinking deep playoff run. Thomas averaged 8.6 points a night but is shooting 27.3% from three (where he takes 44% of his shot attempts), and even when he gets to the rim he’s only finishing 50% of his attempts. Coach Mike Malone couldn’t keep Monte Morris — who is a Most Improved Player candidate with his play this year — on the bench while Thomas worked things out, and IT has been moved out of the rotation.

That doesn’t mean he took the news well. From Mike Singer of the Denver Post.

It’s very possible we’ve seen peak Thomas. That doesn’t mean most of the NBA is rooting to be proved wrong on that — I’m among many who want to see him succeed.

Hopefully next season he lands somewhere and really gets that chance. Denver became too good too fast to really be that place for him this season.