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Three Things to Know: Up-and-down Thunder dropped fourth straight, this time to Lakers

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Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Thunder have dropped four in a row, latest to Lakers. So queue up the Paul George speculation. Every up and down in Oklahoma City this season gets viewed through the “what is Paul George thinking?” prism. Fair or not. His people were not subtle last summer about his desire to go to Los Angeles in 2018, but he has since made it sound like Oklahoma City has a real chance to keep him this summer (if the small market team is willing to pay a ridiculous amount of luxury tax).

With that backdrop, the Thunder dropped their fourth game in a row Sunday, this time to the scrappy Los Angeles Lakers 108-104 (and LA is still without Lonzo Ball). The game wasn’t that close, the Thunder closed on a 9-2 run to make this look more competitive late than it had been (Los Angeles was up 10 with just more than two minutes left).

The problem in this game was not Russell Westbrook (36 points, 9 assists, but 7 turnovers) or Paul George (26 points, 7 rebounds, and +3 on the night), rather it was everyone around them. Carmelo Anthony is in a slump, scoring 10 points on 13 shots Sunday, he’s now shooting 33.8 percent during the four-game losing streak. The ball movement on the team has dried up. And OKC’s top-five NBA defense is giving up 2.5 points per 100 possessions more during the streak and has been pedestrian, with coach Billy Donovan complaining about the team’s three-point defense in particular, they are not chasing guys off the line (the Lakers hit 43.3 percent from deep).

The defense struggling and the team going 1-4 since Andre Roberson went down is not a coincidence. Roberson, for all his flaws, knew how to fit on this team as a starter. He was their fifth guy on that impressive starting lineup. His replacement, 19-year-old rookie Terrance Ferguson, has potential but has looked over his head in this stretch. It makes the Thunder a team to watch at the trade deadline as they search for another piece.

OKC players are saying all the right things about them having confidence and that they will get their groove back, but their next game is Tuesday at Golden State. Don’t defend the arc well against that team and the price is severe.

It’s a marathon of a season, and what is really going to sway George’s decision is how things shake out in the playoffs. But for now, the Thunder need to get their mojo back.

2) Al Horford’s step-back jumper gave Boston at least one win on the day. Sunday was not a banner day for Boston sports fans, the Patriots defense could not stop the Eagles in Super Bowl LII and lost the game as favorites.

Al Horford gave Boston fans something to cheer earlier on Sunday. Down one with four seconds to go, Horford channeled his inner Dirk Nowitzki with an elbow fadeaway for the game-winner.

The reaction of the bench is awesome.

3) WTF was that ending between the Knicks, Hawks? This was the strangest thing we have seen in the NBA this season.

With 3:49 left in the game and the Knicks up three, Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore was fouled taking a three. He missed the first free throw, and when he missed the second the Knicks grabbed the rebound, dribbled up the court, ran a play and Tim Hardaway Jr. got the and-1. However, when play stopped, Mike Budenholzer and the Hawks were screaming about the third free throw for Bazemore. The referees conferred, put time back on the clock, went to the other end and gave Bazemore his free throw (which he hit.) From referee crew chief Pat Fraher and the pool report after the game with the officials:

“What was called was a 3-shot foul and not 2.  So, played continued erroneously after two free throws, now we go down to the other end of the floor and we have a foul.  Then it was brought to our attention that we should’ve shot one extra free throw.  The rule under correctable errors is, do you want the citation?  It says if there’s a merited free throw that was not shot, that was to remain in play, which was what our situation was, than if under 24 seconds have elapsed, we go back to the point of interruption, reset the game clock, and nullify all play that happens up until that point.”

Yes, you’re reading that right. If the play had gone on more than :25 seconds, they would have given Bazemore another free throw, but then given Hardaway his free throw after the and-1 and continued play from there.

Anyway, we’re not done. Next up was Kent Bazemore draining what would be the game-winner, a wide-open three from the corner where no Knick made a rotation out to challenge him.

There was time for one-last Knicks shot to tie or win, and the play called for Kristaps Porzingis to set a screen and free up Tim Hardaway Jr., but he was busy trying to get someone’s attention.

Porzingis said after the game he was trying to get the attention of the official on the far side because he expected to be fouled, but in doing so missed the start of the play. That’s possible, you can’t really tell from the video, but it wasn’t pretty either way. And the Hawks get the win.

 

 

Dikembe Mutombo to receive Sager Strong Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — Hall of Fame basketball player Dikembe Mutombo will receive the Sager Strong Award at this year’s NBA Awards show.

The award is named for longtime Turner Sports sideline reporter Craig Sager and presented annually to an individual who has been a trailblazer while exemplifying courage, faith, compassion and grace.

Mutombo’s honor was announced Tuesday by the NBA and Turner.

The four-time Defensive Player of the Year created the Dikembe Mutombo Foundation to improve conditions for people in his native Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Biamba Marie Mutombo Hospital has treated nearly a quarter of a million people since opening in 2007.

He will receive a colorful suit jacket, the kind Sager fashioned during his years on air before dying of leukemia. The award will be presented on June 25 in Santa Monica, California.

Former New Orleans coach Monty Williams was last year’s inaugural recipient.

Kyle Kuzma says Lonzo Ball hitting weight room hard this offseason

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It wasn’t just Lonzo Ball‘s awkward jumper that was a problem for him, so was his finishing around the rim — Ball shot less than 50 percent in the restricted area and 43.6 percent inside eight feet. In today’s NBA, he has to become more of a consistent scoring threat to open up his passing lanes.

Part of that is Ball getting physically stronger, something that also would help him avoid injuries and play in more than 52 games (what he did as a rookie). That part he is working on already, Kyle Kuzma told Ohm Youngmisuk of ESPN.

“Consistency in the weight room, that is the biggest thing,” Kuzma said on Tuesday of what he has seen out of Ball this offseason so far. “He has been in there pretty much every day I have been in here around this time. You can tell he is taking the weight room a lot more serious and that is going to help him by allowing him to recover faster and hopefully next year be on the court more because of that weight room.”

The Lakers are counting on the development of their young core — Ball, Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, etc. — as well as free agents they can attract this summer to lift them into the playoffs next season.

Magic Johnson told Ball this is going to be the most important summer of his life, that now he has to put in the work to take his body and game to the next level. To play like a No. 2 pick.

So far, so good.

Re-watch highlights from the final minutes of Houston’s series-tying win

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After the game, Warriors coach Steve Kerr said his team ran out of gas, which is what led to their 3-of-18 fourth-quarter shooting and just 12 points. There’s some truth to that, particularly with Andre Iguodala out forcing other guys into the rotation and a heavier load on the stars.

But give the Rockets credit here.

Part of what wore down the Warriors was fantastic pressure defense from Houston that made Golden State really work on offense. As Golden State got tired, players settled for midrange jumpers, not getting to the rim much (three times in the quarter) and not having the legs under their threes (0-of-6 in the quarter).

Meanwhile, it wasn’t pretty, but James Harden and Chris Paul were making plays.

Check out those plays again in the video above — we finally got a good game in a series, we should savor that.

Steve Kerr on Warriors’ late possession vs. Rockets: “I wanted the timeout”

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The Houston Rockets leveled the Western Conference finals against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night by a margin of 95-92. The win for the Rockets was ugly, but it leveled the series at 2-2 heading back to Houston.

It was a close game down the stretch, and it looked like Golden State’s last chance to get the win was going to come on a possession with 11 seconds to go following a missed James Harden jumper.

The Warriors immediately turned up the floor and did not call a timeout. The resulting possession was messy, and it wound up ending on a difficult Klay Thompson turnaround jumper. Golden State would get another shot at a 3-pointer with half a second left thanks to a foul on Thompson’s miss, but many were still left wondering why Steve Kerr did not choose to call a timeout during the possession before.

Kerr addressed the decision after the game.

Via Twitter:

You sort of have to side with Kerr in principle, but if you’d seen the way the Warriors played the rest of that fourth quarter you would probably err on calling a timeout and letting them set something up. Curry was 1-of-8 in the fourth, Durant shot poorly most of the game, and Golden State scored 12 total points in the final period.

When you consider Curry got a look at a wide open 3-pointer in the corner with 0.5 seconds left on the clock when the Warriors did call a timeout on the next possession, it makes it look even worse.

In any case, Houston beat out Golden State in a close game and we’re headed back to Texas for Game 5 on Thursday.