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.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.