San Antonio Spurs vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Game 2: Can Thunder protect the paint?

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Sometimes one stat can tell the story.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals San Antonio scored 66 points in the paint. That equals the most the Thunder gave up all season. It speaks directly to the loss of Serge Ibaka and how Thunder coach Scott Brooks spent all of Game 1 trying to find a lineup or strategy that could both score and slow down the Spurs (who put up 122 in the opener).

The question for Game 2 is simply this:

“So, Scott, what did you come up with?”

Some of the Thunder’s success came when they sagged way back into the paint in the second half, clogging things up. It’s what Dallas did to some success in the first round. Expect to see more of that. Problem is if you sag you leave Tony Parker, Danny Green, Manu Ginobili and the rest of the Spurs more open at the arc, and that can burn you.

One thing we can hope to see is a front line combination of Nick Collison and Steven Adams — those two were +16 in 17 minutes after Serge Ibaka went down in Game 6 against the Clippers, but Brooks didn’t play them together at all in Game 1. Not sure exactly what he’s saving them for, but Game 2 is time to break out that pairing.

Aside that, look for some “small” (Kevin Durant at the four) lineups, but more “big” ones as Oklahoma City generally had more success that way. For example, the starting five — Russell Westbrook, Thabo Sefalosha, Durant, Collison and Kendrick Perkins — made a nice run in the second half and were +4 after the break (after a poor start to the game).

The problem with the big lineups for OKC is that it doesn’t have a lot of scoring options outside Durant and Westbrook and it puts extra pressure on those two to do all the scoring. While the Spurs defense is focused on them.

As for San Antonio… another game like that would work.

Of course, another game with 66 points in the paint and shooting 25-of-29 at the rim is not likely. What they need to do is carry over the attacks in the paint, be aggressive, and if the Thunder do pack the paint more they need to make them pay with threes right over the top of it.

The other key for San Antonio is another strong defensive game. Durant and Westbrook are going to get theirs and put up 50-70 points between the two of them, the key is not to let Reggie Jackson or Caron Butler put up a big numbers, too.

Mostly though the Spurs just have to attack on offense and see if Scott Brooks found any answers.

Lakers, DeMarcus Cousins reportedly may talk new contract next summer

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Sunday, the Lakers waived DeMarcus Cousins to clear out a roster space for Markieff Morris. Cousins was signed last July to be the team’s starting center, but he tore his ACL in training and has not stepped on the court this season. It wasn’t personal, it was business, and under the terms of the CBA Cousins can continue his rehab in the Lakers’ practice facilities.

Cousins may be officially gone, but he could return next season to the Lakers, reports Joe Varden at The Athletic.

But the Lakers could re-sign him this summer, something both sides have expressed interest in pursuing, sources said.

This would be another one-year minimum contract deal, and it makes sense for both sides. Dwight Howard is a free agent and, after a resurgent (but not elite) season in Los Angeles, likely will get offers for more than the Lakers can pay him. JaVale McGee has a $4.2 million player option. Whatever McGee decides, the Lakers will be looking for another big man (and maybe two). Cousins could step right in.

What he can offer on the court coming off a torn Achilles and ACL remains to be seen, but the Lakers will not ask a lot of their centers. Cousins is a two-time All-NBA, four-time All-Star player who should still be able to give the Lakers some solid minutes in the paint.

The Lakers will keep their options open, but don’t be surprised if the two sides reunite.

Vanessa Bryant suing helicopter company after crash that killed Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Bryant and Gianna Bryant
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Ever since Kobe Bryant and Gianna Bryant died in a helicopter crash last month, we’ve been seeking answers about what went wrong during the flight piloted by Ara Zobayan. After all, Kobe Bryant had made helicopter rides such a normal part of his life.

Now, Vanessa Bryant – Kobe’s wife and Gianna’s mother – is suing the company that operated the helicopter for wrongful death.

Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times:

The complaint in Los Angeles County Superior Court against Island Express Helicopters and Island Express Holding Corp. alleged that pilot Ara Zobayan, who also died in the crash, failed “to use ordinary care in piloting the subject aircraft” and was “negligent.”

“Defendant Island Express Helicopters’ breach of its duty and negligence caused the injuries and damages complained of herein and Plaintiffs’ deceased, Kobe Bryant, was killed as a direct result of the negligent conduct of Zobayan for which Defendant Island Express Helicopters is vicariously liable in all respects,” the lawsuit said.

Report: Ben Simmons back injury “isn’t a day-to-day thing”

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ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reports that the back injury for Philadelphia 76ers All-Star Ben Simmons “isn’t a day-to-day thing”.

Simmons missed the Sixers first game following the All-Star break on Thursday. He then left Saturday’s game in Milwaukee after playing just 4:44.

Over the weekend, Philadelphia ruled Simmons out for Monday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks and said he would undergo further evaluation. Per Wojnarowski’s report, that evaluation is ongoing and a course of treatment is yet to be decided upon.

Expect Philadelphia to lean on Raul Neto, Alec Burks and Shake Milton as primary ballhandlers while Simmons is out. None possess the size and skill combination of Simmons, but all have had moments throughout their careers. Neto drew the start in place of Simmons on Thursday. Burks was acquired at the trade deadline to give the team much-needed bench depth. Milton has flashed at time in his second season, after beginning his NBA career on a Two-Way contract.

Philadelphia loses Simmons while in a battle with the Miami Heat for homecourt advantage in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The fifth-place 76ers are 1.5 games behind the Heat for the fourth seed, and two games ahead of the sixth-place Indiana Pacers.

Pacers: Jeremy Lamb suffers torn ACL, torn meniscus, fracture

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Kobe Bryant making two free throws after tearing his Achilles was one of the greatest moments of his legendary career.

On a day Bryant was honored, we learned Pacers guard Jeremy Lamb made a similarly gutsy pair of free throws during Indiana’s loss to the Raptors yesterday.

Pacers release:

During the second quarter of the Pacers game at Toronto on Sunday, Indiana Pacers forward Jeremy Lamb sustained a torn left anterior cruciate ligament, a torn lateral meniscus and a lateral femoral condylar fracture.

He will undergo surgery on a date to be determined. He will be out the remainder of the season. Any further updates will be provided after surgery.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Lamb misses all of next season. This is just a devastating set of calamities.

At least Lamb has a guaranteed $10.5 million salary each of the next two seasons.

Indiana (sixth place, 33-24) will have an even tougher time winning a playoff series now. The Pacers could challenge in the first round, but they’ll almost certainly be significant underdogs.

They have depth at shooting guard, for what that’s worth. Victor Oladipo just returned. Justin Holiday is a solid reserve. Finding his lane at point guard, Malcolm Brogdon can move off the ball when T.J. McConnell or Aaron Holiday plays point guard.