Five Things We Learned in NBA Sunday: Thunder don’t look like playoff team yet

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If you watch closely every night in the NBA you can learn a little something. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to help with those lessons from another night in the Association. Here’s what you missed while taking your deceased parent to the bank to make cash withdrawals….

1) Oklahoma City does not look like a playoff team yet. They have Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook back healthy, plus both are playing at an elite level. Yet they have lost two in a row (including Sunday to Cleveland), are 5-5 in their last 10, and now have fallen back to .500 again. Sunday on national television it looked like the Cavaliers are finally getting it together — LeBron James is explosive and the Cavs are defending better — while the Thunder… we’re still waiting. Their defense isn’t sharp, although it’s not terrible. The offense on the other hand… They shot just 39.4 percent as a team Sunday and key guys were not efficient (Westbrook was 7-of-26, Dion Waiters 5-of-15). In their last 10 games they have the 21st ranked offense in the league. Despite those two studs. You can say there is half a season to get it together before the playoffs, but they have to make the playoffs. They are three games back of the Suns and not making up ground of late. OKC needs to find it’s groove sooner rather than later.

That said, Kevin Durant can still do this:

2) New Orleans doesn’t know it can’t make the playoffs, only two games out. This is like when his trainer Duke leans into Apollo Creed in Rocky and said “He doesn’t know it’s a damn show! He thinks it’s a damn fight!” We did it in the paragraph above — assumed that if anyone is going to catch the Phoenix Suns for the last playoff spot in the West, it’s the Thunder. Why not the Pelicans? They beat the Mavericks on Sunday, their third straight win, and they are now just two games back of the Suns (who lost to the Clippers). The Pelicans are in front of the inconsistent Thunder. New Orleans has the superstar in Anthony Davis and he played like it Sunday (28 points, 10 boards) but they also got 24 points out of Tyreke Evans (who will have the ball in his hands a lot until Jrue Holiday returns) and 18 from Ryan Anderson. If I had to bet I’d still put my money on OKC to finish ahead of Phoenix and New Orleans, but we shouldn’t be counting the Pelicans out of this race.

3) Hassan Whiteside is not another Miami fad. Miami fans have been hyped on Whiteside since he came to South Beach and started putting up numbers — he has a PER of 26, which is normally the kind of thing that gets one mentioned for the All-Star Team. He has been a defensive force and very efficient on the offensive end, shooting 68.4 percent. But would it last? It looks like he is not another Miami fad gone in a week. Sunday Whiteside had his coming out party on national television with 14 points, 13 rebounds and a Heat record 12 blocks. His energy and athleticism have been something they needed and he can get some easy looks as the defense focuses on Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade. The Heat have found something here.

4) Monta Ellis and D.J. Augustin did their best (but it wasn’t enough). Two of the best performances of Sunday night came in a losing effort. One was from Dallas’ should-be-but-will-not-be All Star Monta Ellis who had 36 points on 27 shots and was at his best when attacking the rim or shooting threes from the left side of the court. He gave the Mavs a chance in their loss. (Sorry Mavericks fans, he’s been fantastic but in the deep West he just can’t make the All-Star cut. Nowitzki is on the outside looking in, too. Just can’t see a Mav on the team.)

D.J. Augustin got thrust into the Pistons’ starting lineup due to the Brandon Jennings injury, and he put up 35 points on 20 shots in Detroit’s loss to Toronto. He was 5-of-9 from three and 7-of-9 when he attacked and got inside eight feet of the rim. Augustin also dished out eight assists. He played well opposite Kyle Lowry, but it wasn’t enough.

5) Kyle Lowry pulled off the old fake timeout trick. We see this about once a season, this time it was Lowry’s turn to break it out.

Deep and dominant Bucks give Pistons longest playoff-game losing streak of all-time

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DETROIT – Giannis Antetokounmpo finished dressing, sat in front of his locker and looked up.

Usually, that’s the signal a player is ready to begin his postgame interview.

The swarm of reporters in the visiting locker room barely even turned his direction.

“No media?” Antetokounmpo asked rhetorically as he feigned leaving. “OK.”

That the MVP favorite was an afterthought in the Bucks’ 119-103 Game 3 win over the Pistons on Saturday is a tribute to Milwaukee’s strength as a team. Four Bucks outscored Antetokounmpo as Milwaukee again crushed Detroit to take a 3-0 series lead.

All 132 teams up 3-0 in a best-of-seven series have won the series – most of them by sweep. The Bucks – who haven’t won a playoff series in the previous 17 years – can close this one in Game 4 Monday.

“It’s going to be a nice feeling, winning my first playoff series,” Antetokounmpo said after sitting back down. “And it’s going to be a nice feeling, the team getting out of the first round. And it’s going to be keep going. Whoever we play in the second round, I know it’s far away from here – six, seven days away – but whoever we play, we’re going to try to win.”

Forgive Antetokounmpo for looking ahead. Even for a team up 3-0, Milwaukee has looked particularly dominant.

The Bucks have outscored Detroit by 72 points so far – the second-largest margin through three games of a best-of-seven series. Here are the biggest combined margins through three games of all series (game scores in parentheses):

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Antetokounmpo (14 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, five fouls, four turnovers,) just never got got in a groove. The Bucks even got outscored by seven points with Antetokounmpo on the floor.

But Khris Middleton (20 points), Brook Lopez (19 points), Eric Bledsoe (19 points), Ersan Ilyasova (15 points), Nikola Mirotic (12 points) and George Hill (11 points) stepped up. The Bucks were +23 without Antetokounmpo – one of their best-ever marks while the superstar sat.

“It’s not just all about Giannis, as amazing and great as he is,” Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer said.

For the Pistons, it wasn’t all about Blake Griffin.

Detroit’s best and most important player surprisingly played through knee pain that sidelined him the first two games. Griffin (27 points and six assists) had his moments, but he was clearly hobbled. Though the Pistons’ offense flowed far better with Griffin, their defense remains no match for the Bucks’ elite attack. Especially with Griffin slowed.

In a skid dating back to 2008, the Pistons have now tied the Knicks (2001-2012) for longest playoff-game losing streak at 13 games.

Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson are the only current Pistons who played in a 2016 sweep to the Cavaliers. Nearly everything – arena, ownership, front office coaching staff, players – has changed since a 2009 sweep to Cleveland, which was preceded by dropping the final two games of the Eastern Conference finals the year prior against the Celtics.

But this record now falls on the franchise.

Here are the longest playoff-game losing streaks of all time:

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With a deep supporting cast he truly seems to enjoy and a win, it was easy for Antetokounmpo to brush off his lackluster game.

“Hey, there’s going to be nights like this,” Antetokounmpo said.

For Detroit, a lot of them.

Nuggets beat Spurs 117-103 to tie series at 2-2

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 12 rebounds, Jamal Murray added 24 points and the Denver Nuggets beat the San Antonio Spurs 117-103 on Saturday night, rebounding from a flat performance tie the first-round series at two games apiece.

LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points and nine rebounds for San Antonio. DeMar DeRozan added 19 points before he was ejected with five minutes remaining after arguing with an official over an offensive foul.

Game 5 is Tuesday night in Denver.

The Nuggets were more aggressive and physical after a deflating Game 3 loss, just as Denver coach Michael Malone had hoped.

“I want to see some emotion. I want to see some fire. I want to see some passion,” Malone said prior to the game.

Malone was able to stir that fire with a couple of changes after Derrick White‘s 36-point outing in San Antonio’s Game 3 victory.

Torrey Craig started over a struggling Will Barton and was charged with defending White to open the game, with Murray switching to Forbes. The moves proved beneficial, if not at first.

White was limited to eight points on 3-for-8 shooting after going 15 for 21 on Thursday. Craig finished with 18 points, going 5 for 7 on 3-pointers. Barton finished with 12 points and made all three of his 3-point attempts.

Down by 12 points in the first quarter, Denver outscored San Antonio 69-45 in the second and third.

Aldridge had 13 points in the opening quarter, shooting 5 for 9. His final points of the quarter came when he grabbed a miss by Marco Belineli and slammed it back in. Denver rallied in the second, with Jokic and Murray combining for 15 points as the Nuggets outscored 34-22.

The Spurs stopped driving to the basket and the Nuggets began making their 3-pointers.

Denver finished 15-for-31 on 3-pointers.

 

Trail Blazers’ Maurice Harkless fined $15,000 for throwing headband into stands

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Nobody wants your sweat.

I guess that’s the message the league was trying to send Portland’s Maurice Harkless, who was fined $15,000 by the league office for “throwing” his Ninja-style headband into the crowd near the end of Portland’s Friday night loss to Oklahoma City.

“Throwing” is a strong word for the light toss he made, not that the officials cared, Harkless was given a technical and ejected at the time for the move.

Harkless was fired up as he and Russell Westbrook had been jawing at each other before the ejection.

 

Spurs’ DeMar DeRozan ejected after throwing ball at referee Scott Foster in frustration

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Scott Foster and his officiating crew refereed Game 3 between the Clippers and Warriors Thursday night, and by the end players on both teams were frustrated enough with the tightly — but not consistently — called game they were ready to throw the ball at Foster.

San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan couldn’t resist the urge.

Near the end of the Nuggets’ road win over the Spurs — which sends the series back to Denver tied 2-2 — DeRozan was given a charge call from Foster, then threw the ball in his direction out of frustration. When the notoriously short-fused Foster realized what happened, he ejected DeRozan. The league will back Foster on this, it can’t have players throwing balls at officials or making other grand gestures to show them up.

But DeRozan’s sentiment is easy to understand.

The Athletic did a survey asked about a quarter of NBA players a series of questions, including, “Who is the worst ref?” Foster came in second with 20.7 percent of the vote (Tony Brothers won the “honor,” and he is working the playoffs as well).

Expect Foster to keep working deep into the playoffs, he has officiated 18 Finals games in his career.