Associated Press

Defense, LaMarcus Aldridge’s double-double lift Spurs past Thunder

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Needing a win to strengthen their playoff hopes, the Spurs turned to the only things they have been able to rely on this season.

Defense and LaMarcus Aldridge.

Aldridge had 25 points and 11 rebounds while playing through an ailing knee, and San Antonio held off the Oklahoma City Thunder 103-99 on Thursday night to climb back into fourth place in the Western Conference.

Aldridge played despite bruising his left knee following a collision in Tuesday’s 116-106 loss to Washington. The Spurs are already without an injured Kawhi Leonard, so they desperately needed Aldridge as they battle for a playoff berth.

“Playing without (Aldridge) at this level is almost like handing a win,” San Antonio veteran Manu Ginobili said. “He’s become so important and we depend on him so much that it could have been almost impossible. Great to see him compete like that and fight through the pain and have a great game.”

The Spurs matched Oklahoma City at 44-32 in jumping two spots in the standings. The Thunder are fifth, a half-game ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans.

Aldridge scored 19 points in the first half, then drove past Steven Adams for a dunk and a three-point lead with 52 seconds left as the Spurs snapped a two-game slide.

Aldridge played 34 minutes, shooting 9 for 19 while scoring 20-plus points for the 47th time this season.

“Just trying to keep guys motivated, into it,” Aldridge said. “We’ve already been offensively challenged this year, so when I’m not in the game, it makes it even harder on us. So, I thought guys definitely felt more comfortable that I was out there.”

Paul George led Oklahoma City with 26 points and had six assists. Russell Westbrook added 19 points and 11 rebounds, but had a pair of 3-pointers miss the rim and land out of bounds in the final minutes.

Both teams experienced scoring droughts, resulting in 10 lead changes and seven ties.

“As I’ve said all along, the defense is what we have to be good at because we’re going to have nights where our scoring isn’t great,” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

San Antonio held Oklahoma City to 18 points in the fourth quarter by limiting the Thunder to 27 percent shooting.

Patty Mills and Davis Bertans hit back-to-back 3s to give the Spurs a 94-87 lead with 4 minutes remaining. The Thunder made only two field goals between the 10:34 and 3:17 mark of the fourth but still were within a basket with less than 2 minutes remaining.

“I thought we had some shots that just didn’t go down,” Oklahoma City coach Billy Donovan said. “They were in drop coverage. I thought we missed some pull-up jump shots that we had relatively good looks at. I thought we had some things around the basket that we didn’t finish that we had the opportunity to finish, and then I think we had some possessions that weren’t great.”

George sank three free throws to pull Oklahoma City within 97-96, but Aldridge scored before Westbrook shot an airball on a 3-pointer with 14 seconds remaining.

Westbrook was asked if he had any second thoughts about those final shots.

“What do you think?” Westbrook said. “You know me.”

Oklahoma City took advantage of San Antonio’s offensive troubles when Aldridge exited, going on a 13-2 run beginning midway through the third quarter in taking a 74-68 lead.

The Spurs had 18 turnovers, including three in the first four minutes. The Thunder had 17 points off the turnovers, but Danny Green ensured it wasn’t more. Green ran down George from behind following a steal in the third quarter, swatting away a layup attempt near the rim.

George had four steals.

 

Watch the top 60 blocked shots of last NBA season

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We love blocked shots. One player is attacking the rim, another gets in his way and rejects that shot. Frankly, we overestimate their importance on defense at points (because it’s a quantifiable stat in a world where defense is hard to quantify), but they matter.

And they are fun.

Check out the top 60 blocks from last season, as put together by NBA.com. It all starts with a chase down block by Kevin Durant (who has improved his rim protection in recent years) and ends with Anthony Davis showing why he is a beast.

It’s Sunday, and what else are you going to do? Watch preseason football?

Grizzlies expected to bring rookie Jaren Jackson along slowly

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Jaren Jackson was one of the standout rookies of Summer League. It started in Salt Lake City at the Jazz Summer League, where he looked like the future of the NBA five — knocking down threes, being athletic enough to run the court on the break, blocking shots, and being physical inside. In Utah, he averaged 15.7 points per game and five boards a night.

Expect the Grizzlies to bring Jackson along slowly, however, once the regular season starts. Jackson likely will come off the bench behind the starting frontline of Marc Gasol and JaMychal Green. That will not be popular with the fan base, but the Grizzlies want to trust their veterans and make a playoff push.

Look at what Grizzlies executive John Hollinger told the Peter Edmiston of the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

I think whatever happens, we want it to happen organically, and not get ahead of ourselves, and make sure we’re taking all the right steps on him, and not getting too excited and skipping ahead….

“We don’t want to put him into overtly physical matchups yet because he’s 18 and his body is still filling out,” he said.

Strength is almost always the biggest challenge facing young big men in the NBA (and Jackson is still 18, he will turn 19 during training camp). These are grown men they are going against nightly, and while Jackson had plenty of strength to hang with the Summer League crowd, things are very different when the big boys come to play. Even in an NBA moving away from old-school power ball, it still matters.

While the Grizzlies will work to not rush Jackson, that plan is somewhat dependent on players with a history of injury issues staying healthy. Jackson is not going to get 30 minutes a night, he’s not going to get the touches that fellow rookies such as Trae Young and Luka Doncic will receive, and he may not be in the mix for Rookie of the Year. We’ll see how things shake out, but on a Grizzlies team looking to put itself in the playoff conversation, the coach likely will lean on veterans he trusts.

Where Jackson will rank in this draft class three years from now could be very different. He has the potential to be the star of this class (or at least one of a few breakouts, this is an interesting group).

Victor Oladipo: “I play nothing safe now” because “that really didn’t get me anywhere”

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Victor Oladipo transformed last season.

Traded to the Pacers, he showed up to camp in better shape than he had ever been before, and with a new confidence in his handles and shot making. Coach Nate McMillan realized what he had, put the ball in Oladipo’s hands, and got out of the way. The result was a 48-win Pacers team where Oladipo was the league’s most improved player, made an All-NBA Team, the All-Defensive Team, and was an All-Star for the first time.

Oladipo, after going to the USA Basketball mini-camp in Las Vegas, is back in a Miami gym with the same team of trainers and staff who transformed his body and game a year ago. In a fantastic profile by J. Michael of the Indianapolis Star, Oladipo talks about the mental transformation he has undergone as well.

“I push the envelope. I play nothing safe now,” Oladipo says. “I’m the guy if we’re down two, I’m pulling up for three. I work too hard to not push the envelope. I used to be conservative but that really didn’t get me anywhere.”

His trainer, Al Watson, talked about getting Oladipo better prepared for defenses that focus on him and late-game situations.

“Last year we started doing a lot of tightening up his ball-handling skills. This year we took it to another level because I watch a lot of film on him,” Watson says. “In the fourth quarter, he’s like the point guard. Wanted to focus on a lot of combination moves, working on traps. It’s no secret now. They’re going to be double-teaming him.

“You look at the great players, Kobe, they had to do a little bit of everything. His shot from the perimeter may be off so he’s got to learn, ‘Let me get myself going, get to the mid-post, get some fouls.’ He’s got to be able to attack with all different facets of the game. We do a lot of sprinting, getting to your spots. Got to get open. I touch everything with in-game situation stuff.”

Oladipo’s team includes an off-the-court group trying to better position himself to make money off his stardom. He doesn’t want to play it safe off-the-court, either.

Indiana is going to lean heavily on Oladipo again. They added some depth — Doug McDermott, drafting Aaron Holiday — and are counting on more from players such as Myles Turner. However, by and large, the Pacers are running it back, and they are sneaking up on nobody this season. Internal improvement will be their key.

Oladipo is ready. He’s not playing it safe anymore.

Klay Thompson: “I would like to be a Warrior for life”

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Next summer, Klay Thompson becomes a free agent.

That has a lot of teams interested — they would love to pitch Thompson on how his elite shooting and strong defense would make him the star or their team and lift said team to new levels. Thompson is a big enough talent to have “his own team” if he wants it. Thompson’s free agency also excites fans who want to break up the Warriors juggernaut, this could be the first crack in the armor.

Or not.

At events around the Thompson Family Foundation Golf Tournament this weekend, Thompson reiterated to Mark Medina of the San Jose Mercury News that he wants to remain with the Warriors.

“I’ve said it many times before: I would like to be a Warrior for life,” Thompson told Bay Area News Group before hosting a party at Hotel Vitale as a prelude to his first annual Thompson Family Foundation Golf Tournament on Sunday at TPC Harding Park. “Contract negotiations are way down the line. But I think we all have the same interest. I would love to be here for the rest of my career.”

Would he take a massive discount and sign an extension?

“It’s tough to say,” Thompson said. “I’d definitely be interested. But at the end of the day, I’m going to be a free agent in 2019. Number one on my list would obviously be to stay with the Warriors.”

Thompson’s father Mychel — a former No. 1 pick, a 12-year NBA veteran with a couple of rings, and a current Lakers broadcaster — was more emphatic, speaking to Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Oh yeah, you can mark it down,” Mychal Thompson said at a party to kick off the Thompson Family Foundation’s first charity golf tourney. “Klay’s going to retire in the Warriors’ uniform. He’s going to play at Chase Center (the Warriors’ new arena, opening in 2019), and he’s not going to be at Chase Center as a visiting player, he’s going to be a Warrior for the next seven or eight years.”

Two thoughts here.

First, I am not a fan of taking seriously family members comments on players, they often miss the mark. However, there are exceptions, and Mychel Thompson is one of those. Not only has he lived the NBA life, but he and his son are also very close. He’s been a good barometer of what Klay is thinking.

Second, beyond Thompson’s own words, sources from other teams don’t expect Thompson to leave the Warriors. A lot of teams would love to make the pitch, they will place calls and try to get their foot in the door, but nobody really expects him to leave. Thompson is his own guy (he stepped out of his last contract extension talks to play with his dog), he’s not built with the “I have to be the man on my own team” ego that accompanies a lot of star players, what matters most to him is to win and be in a good environment, and he has that in Golden State. Thompson is happy. He’s not likely to sign an extension to stay with the Warriors, that would be financially stupid, but most sources expect him to give the team a discount and stay put.

Which kills the dreams of a lot of fan bases, but it’s the reality.