Russell Westbrook, Thunder defense proves too much for Clippers

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If this is going to be a second round series out West — and it very well may be — we are in for a treat.

And the Clippers may be in some trouble.

Oklahoma City showed off the two things it has in abundance — athleticism and scorers — and that was too much for Los Angeles. The Thunder went almost wire to wire in knocking off the Clippers in Los Angeles 107-101, although Los Angeles made it interesting late. Russell Westbrook had 30 points and 11 assists while Kevin Durant chipped in 27 on the night.

The win basically locks the Thunder into the two seed in the West and the Clippers as the three seed. In the incredibly deep West you can never rule out an early upset, but these two teams are on track to meet in the second round.

If those games are anything like this, I’m good with that. This was a great show.

Credit the Clippers for making life difficult for Kevin Durant, making him really work for his shots all night (it took him 26 shots to get his 27 points). Problem for the Clips was the Thunder also have Westbrook — he was able to get into the lane seemingly at will and had 14 of Thunder’s first 25 points on 7-of-8 shooting, with 4-of-5 of those at the rim. Westbook’s hot shooting cooled but he still put up 30 and was making plays all night.

The bigger issue for Los Angeles was the OKC defense — the Thunder are so long and so athletic, they can cover ground and contest everything. It really bothered the Clippers. Los Angeles shot 41.2 percent for the game and more importantly shot just 50 percent (21-of-42) inside eight feet. It seemed every shot the Clippers took there was a hand in their face. The Clippers also had 17 turnovers.Early in the second half the Thunder upped their aggressiveness handling pick and role, trying to force mistakes, and result was they race out to 13 point lead early after forcing four quick turnovers.

The best example of this was Thabo Sefalosha on Chris Paul (he was on that assignment for more than half the game). CP3 would come off picks and not only see no room but see long arms disrupting his passing lanes. Paul still finished with 25 points and 8 assists — he is Chris Paul after all — but like Durant he really had to work for it.

The Clippers really miss Jamal Crawford, who should be back for the playoffs. Just returned J.J. Redick looked rusty as well, something that should change with some game action.

The Thunder seemed to be in control and cruising in for an easy win until a 14-0 run in the fourth quarter made this a ballgame. The Clippers seemed to find some things that worked — for example a small ball lineup with Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan and shooters around them that spaced the floor after the pick-and-roll. You can bet Doc Rivers filed that one away for a potential use if there is a playoff meeting.

The Clippers got the lead all the way down to 1 twice in the fourth quarter, and both times turned the ball over. It was that kind of night for them.

This was not the best of the Clippers — although Blake Griffin had 30 and Chris Paul added 25. Still the length and athleticism of the Thunder disrupted the Clippers offense all night long. Los Angeles can do better.

It is going to need to if they want to get past OKC in the postseason.

Tom Thibodeau on Timberwolves not getting first-rounder in Jimmy Butler trade: ‘Getting good players was a priority’

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The Heat offered Josh Richardson and a first-round pick. The Rockets offered four first-round picks or Eric Gordon, Nene and two first-round picks. The Pelicans reportedly offered Nikola Mirotic and an unprotected first-round pick.

But the Timberwolves traded Jimmy Butler to the 76ers for Robert Covington and Dario Saric in a deal that included no first-round picks and Minnesota getting only one second-rounder.

Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau:

We wanted quality players. I think that that was important for us.

When you look at, to get two starters off a team that won 52 games, and they’re both young, and they’re going to get better, and they’re both very good defensively. They both shoot the 3, so we think they fit well with the guys that we do have.

And so once we once got to that point where felt we were getting multiple rotational players, then we felt it would be time to execute the deal.

It was what was best for the organization. Obviously, getting good players was a priority. But the pick part is important, and we felt we got a good pick from Philly.

It was what does it mean for the team? If you get two rotational players, that’s good. And then if you can get a pick, that allows you to do more things. And so I think that’s all part of it. You always try to think about what the possibilities could be.

Thibodeau might have taken the best offer for the the Timberwolves by the time he actually accepted a deal. Miami pulled the Richardson offer after his strong start to the season. Getting four first-rounders from Houston required taking Brandon Knight‘s negative-value contract, and it’s unclear exactly how the picks were protected. New Orleans has the best record of those three teams, so an unprotected pick carries less value.

But it’s also impossible to overlook Thibodeau’s present-minded attitude. That’s how he already approached everything. Now, he appears to be coaching for his job this season. Nobody ever expected him to prioritize long-term assets.

Covington and Saric are good players, but Minnesota was also 4-9 at the time of the trade. Are Covington and Saric good enough to lift the Timberwolves out of this hole and into the playoffs? It’s a tough ask. In 2020-21, Saric will be up for a big raise, and the Timberwolves already have a lot of money committed. They might have to downgrade the rest of the roster to keep Saric and avoid the luxury tax. This is a narrow window for Minnesota to get value from this trade.

That said, blame Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor for creating this situation. By allowing Thibodeau to remain in charge without much job security, Taylor is practically demanding Thibodeau emphasize the present. If Taylor wanted draft picks, he should have fired Thibodeau earlier.

Caris LeVert suffers injury so horrific, it brings teammates to tears and opponents to prayer (video)

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Caris LeVert has been one of the Nets’ biggest bright spots. The hard-working 24-year-old was a Most Improved Player candidate, and he seems well-liked throughout the organization. He’s even already hit a couple gamewinners this season.

But LeVert’s breakout campaign hit a devastating snag tonight, as he injured his leg.

The reactions of both his Brooklyn teammates and the Timberwolves say everything. This is a tough one.

Markelle Fultz takes ugly pump-fake free throw

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A key question after the 76ers traded for Jimmy Butler: How would the demanding star affect Markelle Fultz‘s confidence?

Butler isn’t even playing for Philadelphia yet, but this isn’t an encouraging sign.

Maybe the ball just slipped out of Fultz’s hands on the way up, and he had to continue pushing it toward the rim to avoid a violation. That could happen to anybody.

But given everything we know about Fultz’s shooting woes, it’s impossible to take this as anything other than a ghastly low point in an ongoing problem.

LeBron James: ‘I almost cracked’ with Lakers’ slow start

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LeBron James has played in eight straight NBA Finals.

How’s he handling reduced expectations with the Lakers, who started 2-5 before rising to 7-6?

LeBron, via Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports:

‪“I haven’t changed anything outwardly, but you know me. You know how I am. I almost cracked [last week]. I had to sit back and remind myself, ‘[Expletive], you knew what you were getting yourself into,’” James told Yahoo Sports while laughing after Saturday’s win in Sacramento. “This process has been good for me. I just have to continue being patient.”‬

LeBron warned everyone to stay clear when he loses his patience, but he has never sounded close to losing it this season. He signed a four-year deal with the Lakers, said he doesn’t feel urgency to win quickly before his prime ends and seems content to wait for a co-star.

If anything, it seemed LeBron might be too relaxed, enjoying the Los Angeles lifestyle and focusing on showbusiness.

So, this is a welcome sign of his competitiveness.

Also kudos to LeBron for harnessing it unlike others in the organization. These Lakers need time to determine how these oddly shaped pieces fit together – unless a star becomes available. Then, all bets are off.