Five Things We Learned in NBA Thursday: Oklahoma City may be best in West now

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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 wondering why you get the munchies while high

1) Oklahoma City should now be the favorite to win the West. The lowest seed to win the NBA title was the Houston Rockets as the six seed (the only eight seed to make the NBA Finals was the 1999 Knicks). The Thunder may rewrite that history. Oklahoma City was a potential contender before Thursday — healthy again this was the same team that made the conference finals last season and, once Serge Ibaka returned, gave San Antonio all it could handle. But they won the trade deadline Thursday adding Enes Kanter, D.J. Augustin, and Steve Novak. They now have a bench they can trust in the playoffs, something they have lacked since James Harden left. If you had any question how good the Thunder are you could see it Thursday night as they jumped on a good Dallas team early and never let up. The one concern with OKC is health — Kevin Durant’s surgically-repaired foot was clearly bothering him Thursday night. The West remains loaded and to count out Golden State, Memphis, San Antonio, or a few other teams is a mistake. But right now, I’d bet on OKC.

2) Tim Duncan can still dunk. Watch out Zach LaVine, the Big Fundamental is coming for you. First he did this on DeAndre Jordan (more on him later):

Then later in the game Duncan (who had 30 points on 12-of-14 shooting) did this:

3) Sam Hinkie likes to blow things up. I’ve been in the corner of the Sixers’ GM through all of this rebuild that has become the poster child for tanking — for the Sixers to become elite the core needs to be built through the draft. I’ve said we need to wait until 2018 to truly judge this plan. And I still believe those things — but I don’t get today’s moves. These Sixers were starting to develop an identity. They were playing good defense, and while the offense lacked shooting you could envision them becoming dangerous with Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and some more picks coming over the next couple years. So Hinkie blew it up. I could live with trading Michael Carter-Williams for the Lakers first round pick that belonged to the Suns (top five protected this year, top three next year; the Lakers stink that should be a very high pick). But I don’t get trading K.J. McDaniels just because they have to pay him some this summer — now the Sixers are going to pay JaVale McGee instead, because they took him on to get a pick. At some point all the assets need to become players and you started to see that in Philly, but the team was blown up again. It’s time to build something. But I’ll reserve total judgement for a few more years.

4) Portland quietly had a big day Thursday. With the frenzy of trades at the deadline there was a lot of buzz about how the Thunder got better, how the Sixers got worse, and what the Suns were doing (Brett Pollakoff of PBT liked their moves, I’m not a fan). Lost in all that — Portland had a fantastic trade deadline. They are a team with questions at the three and questions about depth, they went out and added Arron Afflalo from the Nuggets. This is a fantastic fit, a sixth man who can knock down the three, is a solid defender and can create his own shot on the wing playing the two or three. Portland’s starting five — Damian Lillard, Wesley Matthews, Nicolas Batum, LaMarcus Aldridge, Robin Lopez — outscores opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions, but when the team goes to the bench things go sideways. Afflalo helps change that. Portland just got a lot better.

5) Blake who? DeAndre Jordan finding offensive game at right time. That’s three wins in a row for the Clippers without Blake Griffin, this time Jordan put up 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting plus he had 18 rebounds. He was a force inside from the very start and was the focal point all night because Gregg Popovich went to the “hack-the-DJ” strategy. It worked in the first half when Jordan was 4-of-14 from the line, then in the second half he was 6-of-14 but the Clippers did not surrender their lead. With the Dallas loss to OKC, the Clippers are now the five seed in the West, and while things will change before the end of the season so far they are not slipping down the ladder without Griffin. And DJ is the main reason.

Plus, he did this.

Potential No. 1 pick James Wiseman suspended by NCAA 11 more games

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Starting on Jan. 12, James Wiseman can return to playing for the University of Memphis.

The NCAA — the self-appointed arbiters protecting the myth of amateurism — have investigated the fact that then high school coach Penny Hardaway, paid $11,500 to help Wiseman’s family move to Memphis. Hardaway, a graduate of Memphis, has since become the coach of the Tigers, and before that was considered a booster. That made helping Wiseman move an illegal benefit, and the NCAA has made its ruling to punish Wiseman for this.

Memphis reportedly plans to appeal the ruling. Wiseman had this reaction to the decision:

Here’s why fans of certain teams near the bottom of the standings — and the front offices of those teams — care: Wiseman has the potential to be elite.

He could be the top pick in next June’s draft and is a lock top-three selection. He is by far the best big man in a guard-heavy draft class coming up.

Wiseman was ranked 37th by the basketball writers here at NBC in our “50 Best Players in Five Years” project this past summer. Here is what College Basketball Talk’s Rob Dauster wrote about Wiseman for that project:

Wiseman has a chance to be really good. He stands 7-foot. He has the kind of length, mobility and athleticism that should allow him to thrive at the five in the modern NBA. He is a capable defender with the potential to be very, very good with some added strength and a bit of motivation. And he is skilled enough where he has the potential of one day doing all four things modern fives are asked to do – protect the rim, switch ball-screens, space the floor to the three-point line, be a lob target as a roll-man in ball-screens…

If Wiseman embraces the fact that he can be a top five center in the NBA doing the four things I listed above at an elite level, then he’ll make himself a lot of money while making some NBA GM very, very happy.

Wiseman also has worked on a face-up game and wants to add some Greek Freak like skills to his game. We’ll see how that goes, but his floor seems to be a very good NBA big man. A lot of teams could use that.

Rob Gronkowski, Venus Williams dance with Laker Girls (video)

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Former New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski said he doesn’t plan to play football this season.

How is he spending his time?

Dancing with the Laker Girls cheerleaders along with tennis legend Venus Williams. They put on quite a show. I’m sure comedians James Corden and Ian Karmel, mostly off camera, were also great.

But the most-impressive stoppage entertainment in Los Angeles last night? That might be Maxx.

Portland waives Pau Gasol as he tries to recover from foot surgery

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Portland signed Pau Gasol to a one-year contract this summer, hoping the aging Spaniard could help the team stay afloat while Jusuf Nurkic recovers from surgery on his leg.

It didn’t work out that way. Gasol suffered a foot injury that required surgery and he has yet to recover enough to get back on the court. Meanwhile, an injury to Zach Collins left Portland even more shorthanded up front. Wednesday, the Trail Blazers waived Gasol, something the player confirmed.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the news and had more details.

Is this the end of Gasol’s Hall of Fame career? He’s 39 years old, and last season with the Bucks he looked like a shell of the All-NBA big man who joined forces with Kobe Bryant to win the Lakers a couple of titles. Injuries limited him to 30 games last season, he doesn’t move like he once did, and he averaged a career-low 3.9 points per game.

If so, one of the good guys of the NBA will be missed.

If not, if he can get healthy, some teams certainly would be interested in having him for depth and his locker room presence during a playoff run.

Report: Kawhi Leonard, Paul George to play first game together on Wednesday

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The way they tell it, Paul George and Kawhi Leonard wanted to play together on the Spurs in 2017.

They’ll finally share the court as teammates tonight.

The Clippers signed Leonard and traded for George this summer. But alternating injuries have prevented the forwards from playing together. That’ll change against the Celtics tonight.

Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN:

George dominated three games without Leonard, scoring like crazy and hitting a game-winner against the Thunder. Leonard excelled before his knee injury.

It’s scary to imagine how Leonard and George will perform together.

Boston could provide a stiff first test. The Celtics have plenty of wings – Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye – to throw at the Clippers stars.

I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an adjustment period for Leonard and George. They have similar styles, and that can create complications. But Leonard and George are so versatile and talented. I expect them to thrive together in the long run.

There’s certainly excitement surrounding tonight’s game, but it’s only one night in what should be a long season in L.A.