Five Things We Learned in NBA Wednesday: OKC reminds us the West playoffs will be bloodbath

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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 discussing what is wrong with action films today….

Oklahoma City routs Memphis, reminds us the Western Conference playoffs are wide open. Fox Sports’ Bill Reiter recently compared the coming WesternConfernce playoffs go Game of Thrones — a lot of worthy successors are going to be slaughtered. Consider what Oklahoma City did to Memphis Wednesday your reminder of that. This game was close until midway through the first quarter when the Grizzlies missed a few shots, which Oklahoma City turned into fast break points. Suddenly the tempo of the game changed, OKC went on a 20-2 run and when that was over so was the game. Memphis never threatened again. With that win the Thunder enter the All-Star break just half a game back of Phoenix and the eight seed in the West. The final playoff slot in the West (they are six games back of the seven-seed Spurs, the Thunder are not catching them.) Oklahoma City vs. Golden State in the first round of the playoffs seems likely. Again, a lot of worthy successors are going to be slaughtered out West.

Don’t look now, but Boston is in the playoff chase in the East. Sentences I never expected to type this season: Evan Turner beat the Hawks at the buzzer. But there you have it. Atlanta was about as focused as a high school senior the day before Spring break and credit Boston for taking advantage. With the win, Boston moves just two games back of Charlotte for that final playoff slot in the East (and the chance to lose to Atlanta in the first round). Boston would need to pass not only Charlotte (or seven-seed Miami), but also Brooklyn and Detroit to get into the postseason dance. Maybe it’s not likely, but stranger things have happened. For example, Evan Turner beat the Hawks at the buzzer.

Toronto is winning again, and DeMar DeRozan provided the dagger against Washington. Toronto started off the season hot, lost their way for a while due to injuries and the fact their defense just isn’t that great, but they have found their way again — Toronto has won 9-of-11. That includes three straight wins over playoff teams: The Spurs, Clippers and on Wednesday night the Wizards. This is the second Raptors’ win over the Wizards in the last two weeks, and although this second game was  not pretty, rather a grind-it-out affair, the Raptors will take it. Toronto remains the two seed in the East and while Chicago lurks and Cleveland is charging up the standings, the Raptors are going to have home court in the first round. Which means a good chance to advance, because DeMar DeRozan can do this:

Shabazz Muhammad dunked so hard he hit his own face. Minnesota is a lot more entertaining to watch with Ricky Rubio back at the helm — they get out and run now. Which plays right into the game of now healthy Shabazz Muhammad, he likes to finish dunks. Sometimes so hard he dunks on himself (thanks to Zach Harper).

DeAndre Jordan is putting up video game numbers. The Clippers center has put up a 20-20 stat line in two straight games and three times in the last eight days. With Blake Griffin out following elbow surgery, the Clippers needed Jordan to step up a little, but nobody expected him to go NBA Jams on us. He was key to punishing the Dwight Howard-less Rockets inside and getting the Clippers a quality win at home Wednesday.

Tacko Fall’s agent confident if Celtics don’t keep him on roster another team will

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Tacko Fall was arguably the most popular player at Las Vegas Summer League (especially since Zion Williamson only played nine minutes). Fans chanted for him to get in games and then chanted “M-V-P” once he was in. Fall averaged 7.2 points a game on 77 percent shooting at Summer League and every play he made became a viral highlight.

But that was Summer League.

Now things are getting real and Fall is trying to make the Celtics’ roster. Fall signed an Exhibit 10 contract with the Celtics, which is essentially a training camp invite.

It’s a longshot Fall makes the Celtics’ regular season roster for two reasons. First, Fall needs a lot more development to be NBA ready, both physically and in terms of understanding and reacting to the game and how fast it moves. That was evident in Las Vegas. Second, the Celtics have Enes Kanter starting at center with Daniel Theis and Robert Williams behind him, it’s unlikely they keep a fourth traditional center on the roster. Both of Boston’s two-way contracts are already filled.

If the Celtics cut Fall and he signs with Boston’s G-League affiliate the Maine Red Claws, Fall gets a $50,000 bonus.

However, Fall’s agent Justin Haynes says if Boston cuts Fall he believes another team will sign him, something Haynes told Adam Himmelsbach of the Boston Globe.

“If the Celtics release him, I don’t think he goes unclaimed,” said Haynes, Fall’s agent. “I think somebody will take a shot on him because he’s done enough to show he can find a place in the NBA. I’m really hopeful that it’s Boston. I hope they find a way, and they do have a vision for him.”

I could see another team giving Fall one of their two-way contracts, but he needs a lot more development and time on the court. He needs time in the G-League. Maybe a team gives him a roster spot and develops him there, but that seems unlikely. Fall has the potential to be an NBA player, but it’s going to take a lot of work for him to get there.

Work that this year likely will take place in the G-League.

Gregg Popovich shows off some handles, and a midrange game (VIDEO)

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This is where you insert your “if one more player drops from USA Basketball” joke…

Team USA has flown to Australia for a series of FIBA World Cup tuneup games — two against Australia, one against Canada — and they are practicing there for a few days prior to those games. At one of those practices, USA (and Spurs) coach Gregg Popovich showed off a little behind-the-back dribble and midrange game, and Donovan Mitchell caught it on his camera and posted it.

Just as a reminder, Pop did play. Never in the NBA, but he was one of the last cuts of the 1972 USA Olympic team.

That said, I think the coaching gig worked out pretty well for him.

Team USA will play Australia on Aug. 22 and 24, then face Canada on Aug. 26. From there the USA flies to China where its first game is Sept. 1 against the Czech Republic.

Atlanta Hawks promote, extend contract of GM Travis Schlenk

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Trae Young. John Collins. Kevin Huerter. De’Andre Hunter. Cam Reddish.

The Atlanta Hawks have quietly built one of the more intriguing young teams in the NBA the past couple of years, trading up and down in the draft to compile a young roster with a lot of potential. They moved on from Mike Budenholzer (he landed on his feet just fine, thanks) and brought in player development specialist in Llyod Pierce as coach. All that has yet to translate to a lot of wins, but it will — the trajectory of the Hawks is going to take off like a rocket.

Travis Schlenk, the Hawks general manager and architect of all of it, earned the contract extension and new title he was given, something announced by the team on Monday. Schlenk is now Atlanta’s President of Basketball Operations and General Manager.

“We are extremely pleased with the direction that Travis and our entire basketball operations team has us heading as a franchise. He has used the draft to build an impressive young core, hired one of the NBA’s top young coaches in Lloyd Pierce and positioned us to have the cap space, draft picks and financial flexibility needed to have long-term success in the NBA,” Hawks Principal Owner Tony Ressler said in a statement announcing the move.

Schlenk had been an assistant GM in Golden State before coming to Atlanta, and also had spent time in the Miami and Orlando organizations. He’s been in the NBA front office game for a couple of decades.

This is a smart decision by the Hawks. When things are going well, when you have good people in place, keep them there and get ownership out of the way. Let the basketball people do their jobs. Atlanta has figured that out.

The Hawks won 24 games during Schlenk’s first year and 29 last season, but expect that number to jump as the young talent on this roster continues to mature and get added to.

NBA’s Steph Curry helps Howard U. start Division I golf team

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WASHINGTON (AP) Two-time NBA MVP Stephen Curry is helping Howard University launch a Division I golf program.

The Golden State Warriors star guard and the school announced the six-year partnership Monday.

The specifics of his contribution were not disclosed.

Howard officials say they plan to have women’s and men’s golf teams for the 2020-21 academic year.

The school had a Division II golf program in the past, along with intercollegiate and intramural club teams.

The 31-year-old Curry, who has won three NBA championships with the Warriors, says he decided to get involved after meeting a Howard student who had been trying to get the university to have a golf team.

Curry says “it’s tough” to hear about students “who have the talent but don’t have a fair shot at the game.”