Kevin Durant, Thunder top Mavs 109-106 for season-best 7-game run

Associated Press
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DALLAS (AP) — Kevin Durant scored 24 points in the former Texas star’s first game in Dallas in almost two years, and the Oklahoma City Thunder extended their winning streak to a season-best seven games by holding on for a 109-106 victory over the Mavericks on Friday night.

Russell Westbrook had 16 points, eight rebounds and seven assists for the Thunder, who almost blew a 17-point lead in the fourth quarter before improving to 13-2 since a Christmas Day loss to Chicago.

Chandler Parsons led Dallas with 26 points and nearly extended an NBA-record streak of four straight overtime home games. His desperation 3-pointer bounced off the rim just before the buzzer. It was the last of three potential tying 3s in the final 35 seconds for Dallas.

The Dallas rally was sparked by seldom-used center Salah Mejri, who energized the crowd with blocks at the rim against both Westbrook and Durant. The latter came on a dunk attempt by Durant with the Thunder leading 107-103 in the final 2 minutes.

Deron Williams, who had 22 points, pulled Dallas within one with a 3, and Durant answered with a jumper. After Wesley Matthews missed a shot from long range, he drew a foul coming around a screen from Serge Ibaka to give the Mavericks another chance.

Williams made a mistake by trying to shoot from inside the arc, but ended up with the loose ball after Ibaka blocked it. Dirk Nowitzki, back in the lineup after missing a game with swelling in his right knee, was off target on a 3 and Parsons missed after grabbing the rebound and heading for the left corner with the clock winding down.

Oklahoma City has won all three games against Dallas this season, including a 19-point win at home Jan. 13 when the Mavericks sat all five starters on the second night of a back-to-back.

Mejri had 17 points and nine rebounds in 25 minutes in the earlier loss after not scoring all season. He didn’t score in this game, but the blocks had the crowd buzzing.

The Thunder turned an eight-point halftime deficit into an 11-point lead by outscoring Dallas 37-18 in the third quarter. Durant scored 12 points in the quarter, and Ibaka had 10 of his 14 as the Thunder shot 62 percent to 30 percent for Dallas.

Durant and Ibaka both went 2 of 3 from 3-point range in the third in Durant’s first game in Dallas since March 24, 2014, when he scored 43 points in a 128-119 overtime loss.

Nowitzki scored 14 points on 6-of-15 shooting after a sluggish start coming back from the knee injury.

Enes Kanter had 16 points and nine rebounds, while Nick Collison had a game-high 11 boards to lead a dominant effort by Oklahoma City, which was missing starting center Steven Adams for the first time this season with a right elbow strain.

The Thunder outrebounded the Mavericks 47-33 and outscored them 17-4 in second-chance points.

TIP-INS

Thunder: In Wednesday’s win over Charlotte, Westbrook became the fourth player in NBA history with at least 15 points, 15 assists, five rebounds and five steals in a game. He scored 16 points with 15 assists, eight rebounds and five steals in 27 minutes.

Mavericks: Parsons made his 300th career start, and Williams needs one more for 700. … C Zaza Pachulia got a technical for taunting in the fourth quarter.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

Pregame of Philadelphia 76ers vs Miami Heat
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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.

 

Vintage Kobe: Redeem Team recalls him running over Pau Gasol

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If the goal of a trailer is to get you to want to see the movie, then well done Netflix. I’m in.

Netflix released a trailer for its upcoming Redeem Team documentary on the 2008 Olympics, featuring some vintage Kobe Bryant. Just as a quick refresher, in 2008 the USA’s toughest opponent would be a deep Spanish team led by peak Pau Gasol but also with Marc Gasol, Ricky Rubio, José Calderón, Rudy Fernández, Juan Carlos Navarro and more. This was a legitimately dangerous team and one the USA would face first in group play.

Kobe wanted to set a tone — and did by running through his friend Gasol. (Warning: There is NSFW language in the video clip below.)

“‘First play of the game I’m running through Pau Gasol.’ And we was like, ‘What?’ He said, ‘First play of the game, I know what they’re gonna run.’ And he knew Pau was gonna be the last screen and he said ‘I’m running through him,'” Dwayne Wade said

Spoiler alert: The USA thrashed Spain in group stage play. However, come the Gold Medal game it was a lot tougher for the Americans to beat the Spaniards, with Kobe having to have a big fourth quarter and — what often goes unremembered — a master class from Chris Paul in game management to control the tempo and flow.

I’m all in for the documentary, which drops on Oct. 7 on Netflix.

Spurs’ Keldon Johnson to miss start of training camp with shoulder injury

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Keldon Johnson is poised to have a monster season on a rebuilding Spurs team.

Except he’s going to miss the start of training camp and the team’s preseason games. And could be out longer.

Johnson suffered a “right shoulder posterior dislocation during Spurs open gym” the team announced Saturday. Posterior dislocations are rare (less than 5% of all dislocations) and are usually from a fall on an extended arm. Recovering from the injury depends on many factors but can extend out for months. However, the Spurs said Johnson is expected to be available for the start of the regular season less than a month from now.

Johnson averaged 17 points and 6.1 rebounds a game last season, and is an elite perimeter shooter off the catch-and-shoot (39.8% from 3 overall), who also can put the ball on the floor and finish at the rim. He was the team’s second-leading scorer last season (to Dejounte Murray, who is now in Atlanta).

The Spurs will be cautious with bringing Johnson back. Even in what could be Gregg Popovich’s last season as coach the Spurs are looking more to be part of the Victor Wembanyama sweepstakes than push for a playoff spot. Johnson is a quality player who helps San Antonio win games, which both is why they want him back healthy and why they are not going to rush him.