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Kevin Durant drops 39 on Westbrook, Thunder as Warriors win 122-96

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It started without much of anything, really. No handshake. No fistbump. No acknowledgement. Just a tip between the Golden State Warriors and Oklahoma City Thunder to quietly start the most anticipated game of the season as Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant faced off as foes for the first time.

The Warriors began slow, mismanaging their gameplan save for Durant, who had 13 points in the first quarter. Oklahoma City played as well as could be asked of them given the raucous crowd at Oracle Arena, but by early in the second quarter Golden State opened up a massive lead as Westbrook sat on the bench.

From that point on, there wasn’t much Westbrook or the Thunder could do to stop the four-time NBA scoring champion. Durant was everywhere — pouring in long-range threes, slashing to the lane, and talking smack to supporting members of the Oklahoma City roster.

At one point, Durant and Westbrook exchanged vicious blocks on each other that almost made you think the game wasn’t ridiculously out of hand. But it was, 68-43, at halftime in favor of the Warriors.

Durant had 29 points on 17 shots while Westbrook struggled on just 3-of-13 shooting after two quarters. The Thunder couldn’t seem to lend a hand to Westbrook, who remained surprisingly reserved given the circumstances. Only a few times did Westbrook force it, instead deciding to pass genially and with frequency in order to supply his teammates with opportunities.

Then came a clear shift.

After the second half started, Westbrook still raced up and down the floor to start the break, but instead of attacking he began passing by the time he got to the 3-point line. He defaulted to his teammates too early and too often. Maybe because he believed in them, or maybe because he wanted them to take some of the blame. It seemed as though he had purposely faded into the background.

Meanwhile, it seemed Durant was determined, with the help of this game, to steer the national conversation away from what it has been this year. Up nearly 30 points, Durant stayed on the floor for the Warriors until the 6:41 mark in the fourth quarter, playing with Steve Kerr’s bench unit. He needed it to be definitive.

Durant — long the quiet, humble star next to Westbrook’s raging, spinning asteroid — had the narrative flipped on his head. Somehow, Durant’s move to Oakland made Westbrook the sympathetic figure. The lanky 7-footer didn’t seem to like that very much, so he went out focused on to burying the Thunder. He succeeded, but I don’t think Durant changed the narrative.

Golden State would go on to beat Oklahoma City, 122-96. Durant had 39 points on 15-of-24 shooting, adding seven rebounds, one assist and one block. Westbrook wasn’t even the highest scorer for the Thunder, an honor that went to Victor Oladipo. The Thunder point guard went 4-of-15 from the field to match 10 assists, six turnovers, two blocks and one steal.

After an embarrassing stumble against the San Antonio Spurs to start the season, the Warriors have counterbalanced and appear to be, as it were, who we thought they were.

They clobbered Portland on Tuesday during a game in which Damian Lillard was in mid-season form. They slammed the Thunder, a projected playoff team by many, on Thursday. They are a Superteam™. I’m not sure that absolves Durant in the public eye.

If anything, destroying the newly branded anti-anti-hero in Westbrook with such force confirms the rest of the NBA’s fears about Golden State. That is, they are a team so powerful when fully integrated that not even Adam Silver thinks they should exist. That basketball, for us mere mortals, may be a futile exercise. That when the gods have decided they are bored in five or six years time, that we may have it back.

Until then, this looks like the Warriors’ league. We thought it would be this way. We even thought it might come this soon. But there were doubts. Doubts that they would have chemistry issues a la The Big 3 in Miami. That we could call upon lone heroes — the Lillards, Westbrooks, and James Hardens of this earth — to make them bleed.

In Westbrook, Durant helped slay at least one gladiator. When he left the court, it was the same as how it started: No handshake. No fistbump. No acknowledgement.

Just a win, and a dangerously waning hope for the rest of the NBA.

Kings hire WNBA’s Lindsey Harding as assistant coach

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The Sacramento Kings have hired former WNBA player Lindsey Harding as an assistant and player development coach on Luke Walton’s staff.

The team also hired Stacey Augmon and Rico Hines on Friday.

Harding played nine years in the WNBA before working as a pro personnel scout and then player development coach for the Philadelphia 76ers.

She becomes the latest woman to serve as a coach in the NBA, joining others like Boston’s Kara Lawson, San Antonio’s Becky Hammon, Dallas’ Jenny Boucek and Cleveland’s Lindsay Gottlieb.

The Kings have a history of hiring female coaches, notably Nancy Lieberman and Boucek.

 

Wizards reportedly to finally remove interim tag from GM Tommy Sheppard

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Tommy Sheppard has been doing the work as the Wizards GM since April when Wizards owner Ted Leonsis finally ended Ernie Grunfeld’s run as team GM.

Sheppard was the GM through the draft. Through free agency. All the time with the “interim” tag on his job title. In Las Vegas for Summer League, plenty of other executives wondered why that tag was still on Sheppard’s title.

It’s finally coming off, reports Candace Buckner of the Washington Post.

The Washington Wizards removed the interim tag from Tommy Sheppard’s title Friday, promoting him to be the 12th general manager in franchise history, according to a person with knowledge of the situation…

The promotion of Sheppard, who will be entering his 17th season with the Wizards, mirrors the internal hiring decision Leonsis made with his hockey team. In 2014, Leonsis elevated Brian MacLellan as the Washington Capitals senior vice president and general manager after firing George McPhee. Before the promotion, MacLellan had spent the previous seven years under McPhee as an assistant general manager.

This likely will be made official in the next 48-72 hours.

Part of the delay may have been that a couple of prominent names were linked to the Wizards job at different times. There were reportedly talks with Tim Conley, who built Denver into a real threat, but he decided to stay in the Rockies. There were rumors of Masai Ujiri coming to the District, but he has chosen to stay in Toronto after winning a title.

Making Sheppard the full-time GM provides some stability just as the Wizards reach their most important moment of the summer.

On July 26 the Wizards can offer star two guard Bradley Beal a three-year, $111 million extension. The Wizards have been talking to Beal’s people and the offer will be made.

What Beal decides will decide the Wizards future for years. If Beal doesn’t sign that offer, the Wizards have to look at trading him. If he signs it, they need to build more around him.

Beal has spoken numerous times in the past about wanting to stay with the Wizards. However, there was plenty of informed speculation at Summer League that he is frustrated with the franchise and could choose to not sign it and essentially force his way out.

Either way, Beal’s decision will define the next steps for Sheppard for years.

 

Child tries to call out James Harden for step-back travels, he says it’s no travel

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If you tried this move in a high-school game 10 years ago, you would have been called for traveling.

In today’s NBA, as the rules are interpreted, James Harden‘s step back is not a travel.

At an event on Friday, a young fan tried to call Harden out on the travel and he defended himself. Via Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

Harden’s stepback is not a travel (when he executes it properly). Even if it looks like it is.

Here is the play in question.

The official response — meaning from officials:

I know when you played Junior High basketball in 2002 that was a travel, but the NBA hasn’t called it that way in years.

The NBA rule here (Rule 10, Section XIII) simplified is a “gather and two steps.” Meaning one step while Harden is gathering the ball, plus two more. Nobody pushes the boundary of the gather step like Harden, he has mastered the grey area. But when he executes it properly — and he doesn’t every time — it’s not a travel.

No matter what that young boy’s father tells him.

Justin Holiday reportedly reaches deal with Pacers, will join forces with brother

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The Pacers just added the wing depth and some defense at the position they have been looking for.

It’s through someone they have long had their eye on, Justin Holiday, the six-year NBA veteran who split time last season between Chicago and Memphis. He has reached an agreement to join the Pacers — and his brother, Aaron Holiday — for a season in Indiana. Shams Charania of The Athletic broke the news.

The Pacers have been in touch with Holiday for a while, reports J. Michael of the Indy Star.

Holiday averaged 10.5 points a game last season, shot 34.7 percent from three, and played solid wing defense.

Victor Oladipo is the team’s best wing player, once he returns from injury (the Pacers are hoping around Christmas or a little after). Beyond him there is Jeremy Lamb, C.J. Wilcox, T.J. Warren, Doug McDermott, and Brian Bowen. Holiday can find minutes in that group.

This also sparks the dream of an all T.J./Holiday lineup. The Pacers have two Holidays, Justin and Aaron, as well as three un-related players named T.J. — T.J. McConnell, T.J. Warren, and T.J. Leaf. We need to see those five on the court together next season, if only for a few minutes.