Five Takeaways from NBA Wednesday: Thunder blow 22-point lead to Clippers

Associated Press
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It was a full night around the NBA, here’s what you need to know from around the Association:

1) LOS ANGELES —Clippers close out game on 26-5 run, come from behind to upset Thunder. OKC had been in control since the opening tip; they were up 16 with just more than seven minutes left in the game, and it looked like the Thunder were going to remind the Clippers that they do need Blake Griffin to complete with the elite teams. Then everything changed.

“I went out (of the game) to start the fourth quarter and Jamal Crawford looked at me and said ‘we are going to get us back in this thing by the time you get back in,’” Chris Paul said. “I don’t know if he’s a fortune teller, but he did it.”

“We just let up and got comfortable with the lead,” Russell Westbrook said.

The Thunder’s shot selection didn’t impress, either. (I’m not including Westbrook’s late three in that mix, although it wasn’t a great shot the Thunder, down three, expected the Clippers to foul and he was trying to draw the three shots.) OKC settled for too many contested jumpers, which became transition/early offense opportunities for the Clippers going the other way (the Thunder didn’t get back on defense). The Clipper bench took advantage of it by attacking, and then their stars sealed the deal — DeAndre Jordan hit a couple of key and-ones on his way to 20 points and 18 rebounds, and Paul added 21 points and 13 assists.

2) Another year, another Spurs trip to the playoffs (that’s 19 straight). The last time the San Antonio Spurs didn’t make the playoffs, Princess Diana was still alive. So were Biggie and Tupac.

Wednesday night the Spurs took care of business against the Pistons 97-81 and that, combined with Utah’s loss to Toronto, clinched a playoff spot for the Spurs. Again. For the 19th season in a row. Let’s acknowledge just how amazing that is as an organization. You can expect the rest of Spurs stars to begin in earnest in a couple of weeks.

3) Chicago suffers an ugly loss to Orlando. There are a lot of questions to ask about what is going on in Chicago, but we need to remind ourselves that this is a very banged-up team. Wednesday night they were without Jimmy Butler, Joakim Noah, Taj Gibson, and Nikola Mirotic — four key rotation players. Still, losses like the one to Orlando Tuesday hurts them dearly in the playoff chase. The Bulls once again played matador defense against a lesser opponent and lost because of it (the Magic didn’t hurt them like the Heat the night before, but it wasn’t because of improved defense). Derrick Rose played well in the first half (16 points on 7-of-9 shooting), but when he was off in the third the Bulls put up just 17 points and got throttled.

The Bulls are just half a game back of eight-seed Detroit. But at 30-30 the Bulls are now tied with the Wizards, who have a much easier schedule the rest of the way. Chicago has a lot of work to do if they are going to make the postseason.

4) Vince Carter turns back the clock with reverse dunk. He’s not winning-the-dunk-contest Vince Carter anymore, but he can still throw one down occasionally.

5) James Harden‘s 39 points bails out ugly shooting night from Rockets. Houston could not throw a pea in the ocean (to borrow an old Chick Hearn line) — Houston was 3-of-34 from three. That’s 8.9 percent. The lowest percentage ever in an NBA game for a team that took 30 or more threes. But James Harden had 12 of his 39 in the fourth quarter, and the Rockets went on a late 13-2 run to beat the Pelicans 100-95, holding on to the eight seed in the West for now.

Suns fall to hot shooting Adelaide 36ers from Australia, 134-124

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The Adelaide 36ers may be from Australia’s National Basketball League, but they are professional players — leave them wide open and they will hit shots.

Phoenix treated Sunday like their first preseason game (it was) and the 36ers hit 24 3-pointers on their way to an upset of the Suns, 134-124. The 36ers were the aggressors all night long, playing team basketball and putting Phoenix on its heels.

It’s just preseason. One preseason game is not a bellwether for the season, there should be little more than raised eyebrows in Phoenix. However, with their last game being a crushing 33-point loss to Dallas which eliminated them from the playoffs a season ago, this was not the palate cleanser that Phoenix fans were hoping for.

Craig Randall — you may remember him from the University of Memphis and Tennessee-Martin — scored 35 points while Robert Franks added 32. The 3-point shot is the great equalizer in basketball and the 36ers were on fire.

 

The last NBA team to lose to an International squad before Sunday was the Thunder in 2016 to Real Madrid. The year before, Turkish power Fenerbahce beat Brooklyn in the preseason. It does happen.

Reserve point guard Cameron Payne led the Suns with 23 points, while Deandre Ayton looked solid and dropped 22, as did Mikal Bridges, who also had 22. Devin Booker had 13 points and Chris Paul dished out 12 dimes.

With the size of Ayton and the athletic slashing of Bridges, the Suns scored 64 points in the paint, more than doubling the 36ers. But math was not on the Suns’ side, as they traded twos for threes and kept falling behind.

This is great for the NBL and its efforts to grow the brand — the 36ers will now take on the Thunder later this week.

It’s a shrug and move on game for the Suns. Expect a more focused effort from the team next game.

Heat, Tyler Herro agree to four-year, $120 million extension (with $10 million in incentives)

Miami Heat Media Day
Eric Espada/Getty Images
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Tyler Herro was frustrated — he saw players he felt he was better than getting paid.

Now he has a contract he will have to live up to.

The Heat have signed Herro to a four-year, $120 million extension of his rookie contract, with up to $10 million in incentives) a story broken by Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN and now confirmed by the team.

Herro went to Twitter to confirm the deal himself.

“Tyler is an impact multi-faceted player and we are excited to have him signed for the next five years,” Heat President Pat Riley said in the statement announcing the signing. “His improvement every year since we drafted him has led to this day. We believe he will continue to get better.”

This is a straight four years, no options for either side.

Signing an extension takes Herro off the table for any trades to upgrade the Heat roster this season. Herro had been at the heart of the rumors about the Heat and Kevin Durant, as well as other teams.

Herro’s new contract extension is a big bet on the wing taking another step forward this season and beyond. The deal is a little larger than expected (the conventional wisdom had Herro coming in close to the $107 million RJ Barrett got with the Knicks). Ira Winderman of the Sun Sentinel and I have discussed Herro’s price before and didn’t quite picture it this high, but with the rising cap over the next few years this deal may not look out of line.

Miami stepped up and paid the reigning Sixth Man of the Year high-level starter money — now he has to earn that job and that paycheck.

Mostly, he has to improve on defense so Eric Spoelstra can trust him at the end of games and deep into the playoffs (while Herro has had big playoff games, his role shrunk deeper in last postseason because of his defense).

Herro puts up numbers — 20.7 points a game on 39.9% from 3 last season — and is the reigning Sixth Man of the Year, but does this new deal move him up in the Heat offensive pecking order with Bam Adebayo and Jimmy Butler? Probably not in crunch time (and if Kyle Lowry bounces back this season, there could be games where Herro is option No.4).

This locks up part of Miami’s roster going into the season, but they are still on the look for depth at the four. Don’t consider this roster settled.

 

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

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The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.