Thursday NBA grades: Thunder defense key to beating Spurs

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Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while trying out hat new Cheetos cologn

source:  Oklahoma City Thunder defense. It’s flashy when Kevin Durant has 28 points, Russell Westbrook 27 and both are throwing down monster dunks. That’s not why the Thunder won and snapped the Spurs 19 game winning streak, that’s not why they have swept the season series and won 10-of-12 from San Antonio — it’s the defense. The length and athleticism of the Thunder (even without Thabo Sefalosha) can pressure, cover ground and contest shots. The Thunder did that in particular in the second half, holding San Antonio to 39.5 percent shooting. The Spurs had an offensive rating of just 94.7. This is why, as well as the Spurs have played, I like the Thunder out of the West (or maybe the Clippers) — the hyper athleticism of OKC just beats the Spurs.

source:  Dirk Nowitzki, Dallas Mavericks. This was the kind of win the Mavericks need — on the road against a quality opponent. Nowitzki was his classic self with 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting and 4-of-7 from three. He also had 11 boards. With the win the Mavs move half a game up on the Grizzlies and Suns in the battle for the last couple playoff spots in the East. The Mavs opened a tough four game road trip with a win, that’s huge in keeping a hold of one of those playoff spots.

source:  Blake Griffin, Los Angeles Clippers. He had a triple-double — 25 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. He scored 19 points in the first half. He gets the lower grade because it took 23 shots to get the 25 points, he shot just 8-of-16 inside 8 feet and 1-of-7 beyond that. His legs looked tired, which is to be expected on the second night of a back-to-back after a road trip. He tweaked his right ankle with a misstep late, he was limping off the court at the end. Hopefully it’s nothing serious, but don’t be shocked that even if it’s not Griffin gets a couple of games off to rest.

Bucks owner: NBA would have forced team to leave Milwaukee if new arena not built

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The NBA won’t expand anytime soon, but there’s still demand to get a team in Seattle and any number of cities. That means the quickest path could be a current franchise moving.

It won’t be the Bucks, who are playing in a new arena in Milwaukee this season.

But it could have been.

Bucks owner Marc Lasry, via Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today:

“We were going to do everything we could to stay in Milwaukee,” Lasry said. “That was ultimately something that was outside our control in that the NBA wanted a new arena, and if we couldn’t get one, they would have forced us to move.”

“For me, I never wanted to be anywhere else, and the simple reason is I like going to games there. We were going to do everything we could to stay in Milwaukee.”

If Lasry and co-owner Wes Edens would have done “everything we could to stay in Milwaukee,” Wisconsin governments did a terrible job negotiating the arena deal. Taxpayers are spending $457 million (more, if you count the absurd naming-rights situation) on the arena. Why pay so much for what will surely be a money-loser for the public? Maybe there’s an intangible value in keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee, but if Lasry and Edens were so determined to get the arena built, they could have contributed more than the $174 million they did.

Instead, they got the state and city to cover most of the costs and are now taking a victory lap.

Now, the NBA can use this as an example to other places: Publicly fund a new arena, or lose your team. And the cycle will continue.

Laker fan drains halfcourt shot… but security shuts down celebration with team

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LOS ANGELES — It was a great night for Ali Sabbouri.

The 26-year-old was selected to take the half-court shot at the end of the third quarter of the Laker game Monday night, and the Anaheim resident walked up and drained it. He was instantly $30,000 richer.

Then he ran around and celebrated as the crowd goes nuts, he gets a high-5 from the Laker girls — but watch security waive him off when he wants to get high-5s from the Lakers’ players.

That is hysterical. I’d feel sorry for Ali not getting a dap from LeBron James… but $30,000 will more than make up for that.

Lakers coach Luke Walton rips officiating: ‘I wasn’t going to say anything. I was going to save my money, but I just can’t anymore’

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The Lakers are 0-3 with LeBron James, and pressure is mounting.

One way to release it: Venting about officiating.

Lakers coach Walton via Kurt Helin:

“Let me start here. … I wasn’t going to say anything, because I was going to save my money. But I just can’t anymore.”

“It’s 70-something points in the paint to 50-something (74 to 50), again they outshoot us from the free throw line, 38 free throws (the Lakers had 26),” Walton ranted after the game. “Watch the play — watch the play where I got a technical, watch what happens to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul shot 30 free throws on us the night before. Then LeBron pulls up on a screen and somebody’s trying to fight over it, same thing they shot free throws on. Same thing.

“We are scoring 70 points a night in the paint. We’re putting pressure on. Josh Hart, watch how plays the game, played 40 minutes tonight, all he does is attack the rim — zero free throws tonight. Zero. I know they’re young, but if we’re going to play a certain way then let’s not reward people for flopping 30 feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping to see if they can get a foul call. And then not reward players who are physically going to the basket and getting hit. That’s not right.”

I’m not certain Walton will get fined. These comments are borderline. But he asked for it, and the league might abide.

The numbers Walton cites are not convincing. Sometimes, one team deserves more free throws than the other. Maybe the Lakers outscored the Spurs by so much in the paint because the Spurs kept ceding baskets inside rather than fouling and the Lakers kept sending San Antonio to the line for free throws, which don’t count as points in the paint. Also keep in mind: Los Angeles outscored the Spurs 41-7 in transition. Many of the Lakers’ paint points came against a defense not positioned to contest shots, with or without contact.

But Walton is fighting bigger battles – taking heat off his team for losing, showing his players he has their back, making referees think twice on foul calls. If Walton achieves those objectives, a fine will be well worth it.

LeBron James appears to call for timeout with Lakers out of them (video)

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David Blatt infamously tried to call a timeout while the Cavaliers were out of them. Though he was stopped before receiving a technical foul, that was seen as evidence Blatt didn’t have the basketball intelligence to coach LeBron James.

Somewhere, Blatt is quietly smiling. (Or let’s be real, loudly telling everyone how smart he is.)

LeBron had his biggest moment as a Laker, making a game-tying 3-pointer to force overtime in Los Angeles’ eventual loss to the Spurs last night. But LeBron probably shouldn’t have had the opportunity to take the shot.

Once the Lakers secured possession, LeBron appeared to call for a timeout despite the Lakers having none remaining. If referees granted the timeout, it also would have come with a technical foul that gave the Spurs a chance to put the game out of reach in regulation.

Instead, Josh Hart incidentally made a big play by passing to LeBron. LeBron had to drop his T-signaling hands to catch the pass. Then, he brought the ball up court and drilled a 3-pointer.

LeBron said he wasn’t trying to call timeout, but his smiling denial isn’t exactly convincing. Laker coach Luke Walton was more honest.

“When I saw LeBron calling for the timeout I was yelling and I think [Kyle Kuzma] was too, I’ve got to watch the tape,” Walton said after the game. “But once he realized that we didn’t have any there wasn’t an action we ran, LeBron just dribbled up and made a three, which is what makes him special.”

This isn’t the first time LeBron lost track of timeouts at the end of a game, anyway.