Associated Press

Thunder show why they’re dangerous, Spurs show why they need Kawhi back in loss

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Last Tuesday night, the Houston Rockets exposed all the warts of Oklahoma City in a win that didn’t feel as close as the 122-112 score. The Rocket bench dominated the Thunder, and Houston got pretty much any shot it wanted by attacking Carmelo Anthony as a defender all night. Without Andre Roberson, the Thunder looked overmatched.

Saturday night the Thunder reminded everyone why they are a playoff threat.

And they showed everyone why the Spurs need Kawhi Leonard to come back next week to keep them in the playoffs.

The up-and-down this season Thunder looked like the team that has beaten the Warriors twice this season (and the Rockets and Raptors once each) in a 104-94 win at home.

OKC’s bench poured in 50 points and dominated the game — particlarly Nick Collison — while Russell Westbrook put together a triple-double of 21 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists.

The loss drops the Spurs to the seven seed in the West, just one game from the nine seed and being out of the playoffs all together. With the win the Thunder move up to the five seed.

The Thunder have struggled against other playoff teams the past month, but in this game they came out attacking like they need to nightly — it showed in the free throws, the Thunder were 16-of-24 from the stripe while the Spurs were 4-of-7. What’s more Westbrook was leading with intensity on both ends — this was as good a defensive game as he probably has had all season (he’s not been consistent on that end at all). The Thunder also were much more aggressive doubling LaMarcus Aldridge from the start, which threw his game off.

Combine that defense with a Spurs offense that is leaning on Aldridge – who is banged up and went 5-of-16 from the field — and Pau Gasol to get most of their buckets, and an older Tony Parker to do the shot creation, and you get a stumped and slowed Spurs team. To a man they seemed to own it.

Leonard is expected to return to the Spurs next Thursday. It’s unknown how much rust is on Leonard, how healthy his knees really feel, and what kind of form the All-NBA level player can achieve, but the Spurs need whatever he can give. He’s not going to cover all the holes on a flawed team, but he can help. For much of the season Gregg Popovich found a way — mostly through defense — to get this team wins and keep it in the playoff chase. That defense isn’t the same right now and if not for Leonard’s return the Spurs might be the pick to fall out of the postseason all together.

OKC’s big game does not have Houston or Golden State nervous, but it’s the kind of confidence-boosting with they need in the final stretch of the season. The Thunder have been inconsistent, they need some building block wins like this to build their confidence, to get them executing good habits, before the intensity of the playoffs hit.

Kings return to Staples Center, beat Clippers for second time in a month

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kent Bazemore scored a season-high 23 points, Bogdan Bogdanovic added 20 and the Sacramento Kings beat the Los Angeles Clippers on the road for the second time in less than a month, winning 112-103 on Saturday.

De’Aaron Fox had 20 points and eight assists for the surging Kings. They have won two straight out of the All-Star break and eight of 12 overall.

Sacramento blew a 14-point lead in the second half to a Clippers lineup missing injured stars Paul George and Patrick Beverley. But the Kings then shut out Kawhi Leonard and the Clips for more than five straight minutes down the stretch, making a decisive 10-0 run capped by Harry Giles’ percussive dunk with 58 seconds left.

Leonard scored 31 points in his return from his MVP performance in Chicago, but the Clippers returned from the All-Star break with their first three-game losing streak of the season. Lou Williams added 24 points, and Montrezl Harrell had 16 points and 10 rebounds.

Sacramento had a big lead late in the third quarter, but the Clippers took their first lead of the day on Harrell’s leap-and-lean bucket with 8:30 to play.

The Kings reclaimed the lead on Harry Giles’ putback score with 4:17 left, and Bogdanovic hit a clutch 3-pointer two minutes later.

With the Clippers comfortably in third place in the Western Conference, George and Beverley are both getting extra time off to rest persistent injuries.

Reggie Jackson scored eight points in his Clippers debut two days after the Pistons bought him out, while Marcus Morris had six points and five turnovers in 32 minutes in his home debut nearly two weeks after the Clippers acquired him in a three-way trade.

With George and Beverley sidelined, Clippers coach Doc Rivers used his 28th starting lineup in 56 games, putting newcomers Morris and Jackson in the mix. Perhaps unsurprisingly, these unfamiliar Clippers returned from eight days off and missed 13 of their first 14 shots on their way to a 4-for-24 first quarter with five turnovers.

Sacramento wasn’t much better, but Bazemore scored 15 points in the first half. Los Angeles had more turnovers than field goals until late in the half, but Jackson’s first basket for the Clippers was a 3-pointer in the final second before halftime.

Tonight Miami retires Dwyane Wade’s number, time to watch some career highlights

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Next stop: The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

But first, the Miami Heat will retire Dwyane Wade’s No. 3 jersey tonight, the highlight of a weekend-long celebration.

That seems like a good reason to sit back and watch some vintage Wade highlights. His best play from every one of his NBA seasons is above.

Or, here are the top 35 plays of his career.

Also, just a reminder that Wade’s influence in Miami goes well beyond the court.

Miami’s No. 3 deserves every bit of love he will get from the Miami crowd.

No tanking for Wolves, Karl-Anthony Towns wants to return to court this season

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Karl-Anthony Towns will be sidelined a couple of weeks, at least, with a fractured left wrist. When he returns, there will be 15-17 games left in the season, at most (and the Timberwolves are not headed to the playoffs).

Time to shut him down and tank for a lottery spot?

Not in Minnesota. Towns wants back on the court when healthy,  sources told Jon Krawczynski at The Athletic, plus it’s the right move for the franchise.

“When he’s healthy enough, we’ll be able to make those decisions, but make no mistake, we’re a group that is competing,” coach Ryan Saunders said before a 127-117 loss to the Boston Celtics on Friday night. “You get better and you grow by doing the right things. That’s by, (no matter what) your record is, you’re not looking at the record.”

The translation: The Wolves don’t plan to let their place in the standings dictate their decision with Towns. League sources told The Athletic that Towns desperately wants to return to the court this season to play with Russell, Malik Beasley and the rest of a completely revamped Wolves roster.

There are a few reasons this is the right move for Minnesota.

• It has been a frustrating season for Towns, he is the franchise player, he wants to play, it’s best to keep him happy (and not dreaming of greener pastures elsewhere).

This is not a draft with elite talent at the top of it, so what exactly are the Timberwolves tanking for?

• Towns and Russell could use the time on the court to become more accustomed to each other’s games.

• The coaching staff and front office could use the time to evaluate the fit of players they have around Towns and Russell.

There are times that tanking makes sense, although the viability of that as a strategy has decreased some with the flattened out lottery odds. However, considering this draft and the value of having Towns and Russell on the court together, it doesn’t make sense for Minnesota.

Kemba Walker has knee drained, could get rest in run-up to playoffs

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Kemba Walker is not a guy who misses games. In the last four seasons he has never missed more than three games.

After playing nearly 30 minutes in the All-Star Game last weekend, Walker had his knee drained of fluid this week, is on a course of anti-inflammatories, sat Friday night’s Boston win over the Timberwolves, and could be out a week or two as they try to get him healthy and rested headed into the playoffs.

The idea of getting a little rest heading into the playoffs if foreign to Walker. That didn’t happen in Charlotte, mostly because the Hornets couldn’t afford to sit him and still win. Boston is a much deeper roster.

Walker is trying to get used to the idea.

Walker is averaging 21.8 points and five assists a game for Boston this season, and the Celtics are 8.4 points per 100 possessions better on offense when he is on the court, they shoot much better as a team, and the offense has a smoother flow.

If Boston is going to be the team in the East that is a threat to Milwaukee in the postseason, they will need every bit of Walkers’ skills. The smart move then is to get him healthy and do some load management down the stretch to make sure he is right.

Walker is just going to have to get used to it.