Archive for Net Proceeds

A colder war than usual

During a second-quarter lull, radio guy Matt Pinto ventured the opinion that if these Warriors played their cards right, they could wind up in the Finals. They didn’t have a particularly hot hand tonight — Golden State’s shooting prowess seemed to fail them from time to time — but they cashed enough aces to slide by the Thunder, 91-86, the Warriors’ tenth win and the Thunder’s twelfth loss.

Still, the Warriors are nothing if not persistent, and when Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson cooled off, reserve forward Marreese Speights took over, hitting 11-28 on the way to a game-high 28 points. (Thompson finished with 20, Curry 15.) Yet the mind boggles at a Golden State team shooting a mere 35.5 percent. (The Thunder were, um, 35.6.) And two other Warrior mainstays — Andre Igoudala and Andrew Bogut — retired early with physical damage.

And there’s that dreaded Consistency Factor that continues to elude Oklahoma City. Serge Ibaka, for instance, checked in with 16 points, but he shot a dim 5-17 from the floor. Jeremy Lamb hit all his foul shots (five), none of his field goals (six). The Thunder did haul in the bulk of the rebounds tonight (58-51), 12 by Anthony Morrow and 11 by Reggie Jackson, but the Warriors had all the dimes (26 versus 13). Jackson’s 22 for the night was respectable; but 26 shots to get it, not so much. OKC was never really out of it, but you have to wonder how much they were really in it.

The homestand continues Wednesday with a visit from the Jazz, a day off for Turkey Day, and a Friday-night clash with the Knicks. Visions of 3-29, alas, are still dancing in my head.

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Men in black

About the only thing that was discussed in advance of this game is that somebody’s losing streak would have to end: the Thunder had lost four straight coming in, the Nets five straight. (Well, there was the absence of Andrei Kirilenko, who didn’t travel with the team; there is reasonable speculation that he never will again.) And OKC played it close for three quarters, only to watch the Nets go on a 10-0 run in the middle of the fourth. With a minute left, the badass black-clad Nets were up five; the lead shrank to three, then to one, then went back to two with 4.6 left. Reggie Jackson had a decent look for a last-second trey to win, but the ball refused to cooperate, and Brooklyn, on the high side of a 94-92 score, is now on a one-game winning streak, having swept the Thunder for the season.

Scott Brooks started Andre Roberson in place of Jeremy Lamb; it didn’t seem to make any difference, as the two of them together managed only nine points, though Roberson, the superior defenseman, did block four shots. The usual suspects got the scoring: Jackson with 21, Serge Ibaka with 16 (and ten rebounds), Anthony Morrow with 11, Steven Adams with 10. Adams, I must note, was 2-5 from the foul line, which reflects a growing problem: when your best foul shooters are Kendrick Perkins and Sebastian Telfair, each of who went 2-2 from the stripe, there’s something horribly wrong somewhere. OKC put up 19 freebies, sank only 12. By contrast, the Nets wangled 30 shots and hit 27 of them.

Reserve guard Jarrett Jack was the big scorer for Brooklyn, with a game-high 23; of the starters, Deron Williams had 17 points, and Brook Lopez 16 (and ten rebounds). Shooting percentages were pretty close — 46-45 — though the Nets were substantially more efficient, bagging 31 of 67, while the Thunder put up 85 and saw only 38 go through.

Three more games on this homestand: Golden State Sunday, Utah on Wednesday, New York on Friday. The Jazz have already shown they can beat OKC; the Warriors, 8-2 going into tonight’s game with those same Jazz, can probably beat anyone. We’re forced to hope against hope that the Knickerbockers are terrible. Then again, their crosstown rivals had dropped five in a row before arriving here, so the Knicks have to be worse than that. I’m not counting on it.

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It can’t happen here

You know, if Scott Brooks could get decent performances from even six of his ten actual players, the Thunder surely would have a record better than 3-10. (A Tulsa woman on Twitter invoked the painful memory of 2008-09, which began 3-29.) But it didn’t happen in Denver, where the Thunder, down 17 at one point in the third quarter, mounted enough of a rally to pull within three late, only to see the Nuggets nail back-to-back treys, one by Wilson Chandler, one by Arron Afflalo, and squelch what was left of the Thunder’s hopes. Denver 107, Oklahoma City 100, evening the season series at 1-1.

Contrast: Sebastian Telfair, who didn’t miss a shot all night (7-7, 4-4 on treys, 18 points), and Reggie Jackson, who missed a lot of them (5-20, 0-3 on treys, 6-6 free throws for 16 points). Speaking of not hitting treys, Anthony Morrow went 0-4, and Andre Roberson, in limited minutes, was 1-4. Serge Ibaka had a good night: 22 points, 13 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb had a not-so-good night: 8 points. Kendrick Perkins spent more time in the middle than did Steven Adams, but neither was as much of a factor as Timofey Mozgov, who not only guarded the lane but scored 17 points from close in.

Four of five starting Nuggets hit double figures; Kenneth Faried, the one who didn’t, did grab ten rebounds to go with his eight points. Chandler led Denver with 21 and nine boards; Ty Lawson served up 15 points and 15 assists. Denver didn’t drop below 50% shooting until the very end, and finished with 49. (Thunder shooting was not awful: 46%, and 10-23 on treys, though they’re 6-19 if you factor out whatever alchemy was sending Telfair’s long shots into the cylinder.) There is, however, one Telltale Statistic: OKC blocked zero shots. None. Not Ibaka, not Collison, not nobody. Explains some of that highfalutin’ Denver shootin’, don’t it?

For what it’s worth, during the annus horribilis that was 2008-09, OKC got its fourth win on the 31st of December. It shouldn’t take that long this year. Then again, “shouldn’t” is a word one shouldn’t use in connection with sports.

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Bebopped on the head

Seven minutes into the second quarter, the Thunder owned a 39-22 lead over the Jazz. It was all downhill after that: Utah finished the half with an 18-3 run, outscored OKC 32-17 in the third quarter, and opened the fourth with an 8-2 run. Faced with a 19-point deficit, the Thunder did what they’ve done most often this season: rallied to make up a fraction of it. The Jazz won it by 17, 98-81, with all five starters in double figures and a 55-44 rebounding edge. Not going to pieces when the going is rough is a decided advantage, wouldn’t you say?

For the victorious Jazz, Alec Burks posted a game-high 20 points, and while he was at it gathered 14 rebounds. Enes Kanter scored 16, retrieved 15; Trey Burke scored 17 and served up nine assists. No real monster numbers here: just attention to the fundamentals. Meanwhile, OKC shot a subpar 36 percent and bagged 35 percent of their treys, seven points behind the Jazz on both counts. (Neither side did very well at the stripe, just under 70 percent.) Jeremy Lamb had a respectable night with 19 points, Steven Adams slid by with 11, Reggie Jackson struggled to 10. But this was the night that Lance Thomas would outrebound Serge Ibaka, 8-6. (Both scored six points.) And only one player hit all his shots tonight: Kendrick Perkins, 4-4 for eight points. Were it not for Nick Collison’s newfound 3-point prowess — he hoisted five, actually made two — well, do the math.

And there are, I suppose, worse places to be than 13th in the West. (Under five feet of snow in Buffalo is one of them.) But there’s no point wasting time in contemplation: it’s off to Denver, where the Nuggets are enjoying similar levels of disappointment so far this season. Four home games follow, one of them against these same Jazz.

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Can’t anyone here play this game?

Houston came into the ‘Peake with Peak Swagger; not only were they 5-0 on the road, but James Harden was scoring something like a bazillion points a game. And indeed, they dominated the first half of the game, leading 42-33 after two. Then great strangeness manifested itself: the Thunder scored a lousy 18 points in the third quarter — and briefly took the lead. The two free throws Harden sank in the final moments of the third were Houston’s eighth and ninth points of the quarter. Stifling Oklahoma City defense did it: the Thunder had blocked 14 shots in the first 36 minutes. But they couldn’t make any shots on their own, either.

Three minutes into the fourth, there was a bizarre little incident in which Patrick Beverley was trashtalking one of the zebras. Scott Brooks took the opportunity to point this out to the crew; Kevin McHale jumped up because he’s Kevin McHale, and for a moment there, it looked like a hockey game was about to break out. After a lengthy discussion, a tech was called on Sebastian Telfair, which drew a muted “Wow” from radio guy Matt Pinto.

With 78 seconds left, a Harden trey put the Rockets up 68-65; Houston did their best to run some clock, the Thunder managed no further threats — Reggie Jackson sent up a 30-footer over Dwight Howard which went nowhere — and the Beard cashed in one of two free throws for the final four-point difference, 69-65. If that sounds like a high-school score, well, consider: neither side shot over 30 percent; fully 54 treys were attempted tonight, and 44 of them failed; Harden, who scored the last four points in the game, was -2 for the evening. If anyone on earth was thinking “Oh, Mama, I want to see the bricks tonight!” she should have been in downtown OKC.

Harden led all scorers with 19 despite going 5-17 from the floor; Dwight Howard (4-12) and Patrick Beverley (4-10) had 12 each; Trevor Ariza, who drew a tech for some unknown reason, got 11 points from 4-11. Reggie Jackson and Lance Thomas had 15 each for the Thunder, with the Reg hauling in 11 boards; Serge Ibaka had 10; Steven Adams scored one solitary foul shot, though he contributed six blocks to the cause. OKC at least remembered how to do foul shots, making 22 of 28. (The Rockets were 16-30, largely due to Howard, who is to free throws what Shaq was to, well, free throws.)

Seems like a good time to get out of town. So it’s a trip halfway out West, to meet the Jazz on Tuesday and the Nuggets on Wednesday. The Nets will be in OKC Friday night.

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Crank sensor

Sometimes it’s just hard to watch. Halfway through the fourth quarter, Detroit led Oklahoma City 77-70, a score which suggests the presence of many, many bricks tossed up by both sides. This obviously would not do, and the Thunder put some effort into catching up. With a minute left, it was tied 82-82; the Pistons burned up two timeouts on a single possession, and came up empty when Kyle Singler failed to get a shot past Steven Adams. Reggie Jackson’s fadeaway jumper at the horn proved to be invisible, and overtime ensued. A lot of fumbling in the first couple of minutes, and then Detroit leaned on the loud pedal. In those five minutes, Brandon Jennings outscored the Thunder, 8-7, and the Pistons got their first win ever in the ‘Peake, 96-89.

Were I inclined to look for moral victories, I’d point to the three OKC double-doubles: Jeremy Lamb (24 points — a career high — and 10 rebounds), Reggie Jackson (20 points, 12 assists), and Serge Ibaka (19 points, 10 boards). But here’s the amazing statistic: the Thunder took only six foul shots — and missed five. Remember “close to the worst foul shooting in NBA history”? This was more than 10 percentage points worse.

And really, nobody expected this from Brandon Jennings, who checked into the locker room at halftime with four points. He wound up with 29 on decently efficient 10-18 shooting, including five of eight from far outside. The Detroit frontcourt also performed, with Josh Smith salting away 18 points, Greg Monroe (+30 for the night!) 14, and Andre Drummond nine, albeit with 15 rebounds. The Pistons collected 55 boards, 13 more than the Thunder, and outshot them by about 3 percent. (They were a blah 9-15 from the stripe, but hey: nine points. OKC should try that more often.) Meanwhile, a couple of blocks away, the D-League Blue dropped one to the Maine Red Claws, 111-105. Cold hands all around?

The Houston Rockets, who managed to beat the hapless Sixers by one point tonight, will be here Sunday. Pray for snow.

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Warmed up in Beantown

No thanks to the Don’t Call It A Polar Vortex, it was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit warmer in Boston than in Oklahoma City. Then again, one does not expect a warm reception at TD Garden, especially when Rajon Rondo is in good form. And Rondo was in excellent form tonight, coming in just short of a triple-double. It didn’t help that the Thunder opened with a chilling demonstration of shooting ineptitude — 1-11! — and found themselves trailing 18-3 midway through the first quarter. Things settled down, but OKC was still down nine at the half, 51-42. And then suddenly things just started to work. Reggie Jackson, who’d had eight points in the first half, played the entire second half and ended up with a sizzling 28, one short of his regular-season career high. Lance Thomas, not previously known as a collector of rebounds or a deliverer of assists, had career highs in both: 13 boards, six dimes. Nick Collison tossed up two more treys and finished with 12 points. Then there was Scott Brooks’ decision to take the stopwatch off Anthony Morrow. Given 31 minutes to work, Morrow missed exactly one shot in the second half and wound up with 28 points. Despite a blah performance by Serge Ibaka (11 points/4 boards/1 block) and a sub-blah performance by Jeremy Lamb (2-10 for four points), the Thunder waltzed all over the Garden floor and left the Celtics on the bad end of a 109-94 trouncing.

Still: Rondo, excellent form. Twenty points, twelve assists, nine rebounds. Avery Bradley added 17; the other three starters — Jeff Green, Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk — contributed 14 each, and Sullinger collected 11 rebounds. But that was about it for the Boston offense: the reserves, six of whom saw playing time, came up with only 15 points in aggregate, or just over half what Anthony Morrow did by himself. The extremely thin OKC bench — four, with Ish Smith getting a DNP-CD — managed, um, fifty.

A startling calculation: after that 1-11 start, the Thunder finished 40-82, a tick or two below 50 percent. They even outrebounded the Celtics by six, and the Celtics had been outrebounding everyone this season. But this may be the key: only eight turnovers all night.

Next: things resume at the ‘Peake, with the Pistons arriving Friday and the Rockets on Sunday.

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Deer in gear

One statistic that was tossed around a lot during pregame: the Milwaukee Bucks did not have a winning streak worthy of the name — not even two games — all of last year. Then again, they were 15-67 last year, which doesn’t afford a team a lot of opportunities to pair off the wins. The wiser analyst ignored that number and looked at the 3-4 Bucks’ last win: over the mighty Memphis Grizzlies. All of a sudden, we knew they were trouble. The first quarter was all Thunder, to the tune of 22-15; but shortly thereafter, OKC lost the beat, or something. Milwaukee took a three-point lead at the half, stretched it to five after three, and cranked it up in the fourth, aided and abetted by some perfectly dreadful Thunder marksmanship. (How dreadful? They took ten minutes to score nine points in the fourth, and three of those came off an Ish Smith trey at the two-minute mark.) With 31 seconds left, a pair of Serge Ibaka free throws pulled the Thunder to within four, but that was it: the Bucks win it, 85-78, two in a row for the first time since 2012-2013, and OKC drops to 2-6.

Let me amplify that “perfectly dreadful.” On a night when Reggie Jackson rolls to a regular-season career-high 29 points, and sharpshooter Anthony Morrow is available for limited minutes, and Kendrick Perkins goes three for four, the Thunder shot … 33 percent. Factor out those three guys, and the team was 10-55, barely 18 percent. Ibaka had 14 points but only one block; Steven Adams had 10 rebounds but only two points.

Meanwhile, sixth Buck O. J. Mayo led Milwaukee with 19 points, Brandon Knight paced the starters with 16, and Johnny A (sooner or later someone’s going to call Giannis Antetokounmpo that, and it might as well be me) produced 14 points and nine rebounds. And when Johnny wasn’t pulling them down, Zaza Pachulia was: he had ten boards for the night.

By sunset tomorrow, the Thunder hope to have something resembling an offense, and they’ll have to try it out on the Celtics in Bosstown. Good luck with that.

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Mutual disdain

The Kings, in days gone by, could pretty much count on being thrashed in Oklahoma City. Tonight, they came in with a stellar 5-1 record with their hopes high, but with their coach warning that even a 1-5 Thunder is still the Thunder and not to be underestimated. And Mike Malone was right, at least for the first half: OKC came on strong and took a 52-39 lead at the half. Then the Thunder faded, allowing the Kings to approach to within a bucket; it was 67-65 OKC through three. Scott Brooks shrugged and shuffled the lineup yet again, and the Thunder responded with a 5-0 run over 44 seconds to go back up seven. Thus reenergized, OKC proceeded to deal the Kings their umpteenth consecutive loss in the Big Breezy, though not before several anxious moments: the final was Oklahoma City 101, Sacramento 93.

Unexpected bonuses for the Thunder: Nick Collison’s fourth and fifth treys of the season — he’d had only four all of last year — and seven points in less than eight minutes from Ish Smith, the temporary third point guard. And free throws, an issue of late, weren’t a problem tonight, with OKC knocking down 23 of 27. (The Kings, who were leading the NBA in charity-stripe prowess, were held to 15-22.) No double-doubles, though Jeremy Lamb (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Serge Ibaka (14/9) came close; Reggie Jackson posted a team-high 22 points.

Rudy Gay did come up with a double-double for Sacramento: 23 points, 10 boards. DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore added 16 each; Cousins was his usual fearsome self on defense, and McLemore knocked down four of six treys, generally at inopportune moments. Is this a playoff team? Too early to tell, but I’m thinking they’re too good to finish near the bottom.

There follows a back-to-back sequence on the road — in Milwaukee on Tuesday, in Boston on Wednesday — before the Thunder return home Friday for a match with the somewhat-improved Detroit Pistons.

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A finer grind

The Memphis Grizzlies are what you’d call a Known Quantity: they play tough and they foul a lot. Except they didn’t foul a lot: the Thunder took only one shot from the stripe in the first half, and missed it. OKC finally got a free throw in the third quarter, but rather a lot of subsequent foul shots went awry. Just as badly, they didn’t manage a fast-break point until midway through the fourth, and there was, as has often happened this year, the full array of Possible Turnovers. Still, they tied it up with four minutes left. Three minutes later, the Griz were up 1; Reggie Jackson put up a trey at 0:53 for a two-point OKC lead; Mike Conley responded with one of his own at 0:38. Then an odd little contretemps just inside the 0:06 mark: Nick Collison failed to make the inbound within five seconds, passing possession to the Griz, and after a foul, Courtney Lee sank one of two free throws. With Memphis up two with 2.4 seconds left, the Thunder got one more shot, a Serge Ibaka trey which went wide, and that’s how it ended: Memphis 91, Oklahoma City 89.

The Thunder were up to nine players tonight: guard Ish Smith was brought in under the hardship clause, and Jeremy Lamb was deemed well enough to start. Smith didn’t stay in long, though he collected an assist in four minutes. Five of those nine men made double figures, led by Jackson (a game-high 22); Lamb had seventeen. OKC did several things right: 44-38 rebounding advantage, 47-42 shooting, and 12 of 25 treys (versus 9-18). But twenty turnovers — the Grizzlies had only eight — and close to the worst foul shooting in NBA history (3-11 for 27 percent) sealed their doom.

The Memphis offense came from all directions, as usual: Conley’s last trey gave him 20 for the night, with 17 from Lee and 16 from Zach Randolph. Tony Allen, while not on the list of offensive attractions, had four steals, one more than the entire OKC team.

Next outing: Sunday evening, with the Kings coming to town. Sacramento is 5-1 at this writing; the Thunder are 1-5 and out of the Western Conference basement only because the Lakers have dropped five straight.

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A word to the sufficient

And sufficiency, in this context, refers to being able to sign NBA-sized checks, preferably wisely:

The machinations surrounding a star player’s free agency don’t start when his contract expires, or even in the final season of his contract. They start the year before, when everyone can see the end of the contract in the distance, and maximizing the star’s trade value becomes a pressing issue if that star is disgruntled.

There is no evidence Durant is disgruntled. Repeat: There is no evidence Durant is disgruntled. If the Durant / Russell Westbrook / Serge Ibaka three-man core stays healthy, Durant is living within a roster that could hit 60 wins in every season for at least the next five years. That is a tough situation to leave.

Of course, “stays healthy” is a theoretical construct at the moment. This season, at least, 60 wins may already be out of the question.

But you’re kidding yourself if you think the Thunder aren’t well into the process of thinking about Durant’s future, or that other teams aren’t lining up their cap sheets to make a run at him. It might be unpleasant to read and hear chatter about a thing that is 18 months away, and I do my best to focus on the actual NBA games during the NBA season. But this is reality.

Before that, though, someone’s going to try to deal for Reggie Jackson, and right now the only question is the size of the offer sheet.

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Beyond decimation

Technically, if your forces are decimated, they’ve been reduced by 10 percent, though contemporary usage suggests something much worse — say, 53.3 percent, which is where you are when you have 15 players and only seven are able to play. The Thunder have reached that unhappy point, losing Perry Jones to a knee contusion early in the second half, and their one-point lead at halftime turned into a 14-point deficit halfway through the fourth quarter. Toronto’s Raptors are nothing if not opportunistic — it’s no accident they get to the foul line more than any other team in the league — and they had plenty of opportunities tonight. The Thunder managed to cut that lead to seven a couple of times, and then wound up with six players when Sebastian Telfair drew a flagrant-two at the expense of Tyler Hansbrough’s face. What’s the next step beyond decimated? Toronto 100, Oklahoma City 88, and if the Thunder isn’t exactly on pace for 3-29 by New Year’s Eve, they’re getting closer every game.

And this, mind you, despite shooting well from the floor: 52 percent — the Raptors managed 40 — and while 6-21 from outside isn’t great, the Raps were 8-31, which is worse. You can account for most of the 12-point loss, though, by looking at the foul line, where OKC missed 11 of 25 shots. (Toronto flubbed only four out of 33.) There were even double-doubles: Reggie Jackson had 13 points and 14 assists, while Serge Ibaka had 25 points and 11 rebounds. In fact, everybody scored except Perk; but “everybody” doesn’t mean what it used to mean.

The Raptors spread the scoring around with five in double figures — one less than OKC — led by DeMar DeRozen, who punched in 16. And they gave up ten turnovers, which is a lot for them. Then again, the Thunder coughed it up 21 times, which unfortunately isn’t a lot for them these days.

Three days until the Grizzlies come to town. I’m not taking any bets on how many players will actually be able to suit up for that massacre. (The Griz have won four straight.) At the present rate, Ibaka, who played almost 46 minutes tonight, will probably have to fill at least three positions by himself.

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Blasted in Brooklyn

After that semi-miraculous outing at home with a mere eight players, the thought of having nine players must have seemed a delightful prospect. It was not. While Reggie Jackson’s presence was welcome, and while he did score a game-high 23 points, the Nets were still able to blow the Thunder out of the Barclay Center, shooting over 50 percent all night, just slightly under 50 from beyond the arc, and turning the ball over a mere eight times. (Jackson had seven turnovers all by himself.) It was 32-19 at the end of the first quarter, and things only got worse after that; the final shot, a trey by Sebastian Telfair, brought the Thunder to within, um, thirty-one. Final: Brooklyn 116, Oklahoma City 85.

Brooklyn presented the dreaded Balanced Offense, with six players in double figures, led by Brook Lopez and Alan Anderson with 18 each. Deron Williams, the only Net to hang around for more than 30 minutes, scored 17 in 36:46 and racked up a +29 for the night. (Meanwhile, Reggie Jackson played 41:45 and ended up -28.) The Nets took only 19 foul shots all night, but they made 17 of them.

Meanwhile, OKC was putting up 21 from the stripe and hitting only 13, and shooting a below-par 39 percent from the field. Telfair, who legendarily can’t shoot, shot well: 5-10, 3-7 from outside, 16 points. But the big guys put up small lines, Steven Adams with a mere 9, Nick Collison 3, Lance Thomas 2, and Kendrick Perkins saw nothing go in at all. The Thunder did have the edge (15-9) in offensive rebounds, though that edge was made possible largely by not hitting the first shot in the possession.

And, oh yes, it’s back to eight players again: Andre Roberson came up sprained after eleven minutes and a single point, and did not return. I suspect he won’t be back for tomorrow night in Toronto, anent which Darnell Mayberry quipped: “DeMar DeRozan and Terrence Ross probably can’t wait until tomorrow night.” Oh, good lord, no: were there a bit involved, the Raptors would be champing at it.

Update, 9:09: Roberson is out tomorrow, says Scott Brooks.

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Not to be taken lightly

I think it’s fair to say that there was a great deal of trepidation going into the home opener, given the Thunder’s depleted state and the rumors that Reggie Jackson, at least, would be back tonight. He wasn’t. (I refuse to believe that this has anything to do with his newly-established restricted free-agent status.) And then things … happened. OKC held Denver to 17 points in the first quarter, 16 in the second, and sat on a 20-point lead after the third. The Nuggets, of course, didn’t go away, and their relatively fresh bench ran off eight consecutive points before Kendrick Perkins (!) knocked down a basket. And then another. If you ask me, Perk is relishing his new role as a reserve: he’s getting just as many minutes, what with all the injuries, and he’s doing a whole lot more than just watching the post. With 3:19 left, the Nuggets had shaved that 20-point lead down to a mere three; but the Thunder weren’t going to let this one get away. A 12-6 OKC run left Denver in a nine-point hole with 18 seconds left, and two Nuggets possessions produced no points. Final: Oklahoma City 102, Denver 91.

Pretty much everyone’s line looked good tonight: five of eight players in double figures, and of the three who didn’t, Nick Collison and Andre Roberson outrebounded everyone else on the court (Roberson 8, Collison 7), and Sebastian Telfair, despite five fouls, served up nine assists, also a game high. Serge Ibaka and Perry Jones both knocked down 23 points — this gives PJIII 55 in two nights — and Perk had 17. When’s the last time Perk had double figures? (The 5th of January, against the Celtics, when he had 12; it was his only double-digit performance of the year. I tell you, he likes coming off the bench.)

As could have been expected, the primary Nuggets threats were Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo, who had 25 and 14 points respectively, a lot of those coming in the 35-point fourth quarter. (Timofey Mozgov, not a factor in the fourth, garnered 19 points early.) But if you want a Telltale Statistic, you can’t do better than this: six Denver reserves scored 23 points (JaVale McGee led with 8), but three OKC benchmen — that’s all there were — scored 31.

Now comes another faraway back-to-back: Brooklyn on Monday, Toronto on Tuesday. No one was injured tonight, so maybe we’ll have nine players for one of those. Just don’t expect any high-fives from Russell Westbrook, who had hand surgery today and who will be, they say, reevaluated in four weeks.

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Attrition intensifies

And then there were eight. Russell Westbrook banged up his hand in the second quarter and did not return, the seventh Thunder player injured in this annus horribilis. (Suddenly, the signing of the relatively unheralded Lance Thomas to the 15th roster spot looks like yet another brilliant act of Prestidigitation.) If the remaining players had been able to control the ball, they might have pulled off the win, the mighty Clippers being slightly disorganized and otherwise looking like a team playing its first game of the season — which they were — and Scott Brooks suddenly looking like the world’s greatest manager of minutes. With :34 left, it was L.A. 89, OKC 88; the 27th Thunder turnover gave the ball back to the Clips, and Chris Paul promptly missed two free throws; OKC came up empty once more, and Blake Griffin sank two freebies to give the Clips a three-point lead. Nick Collison tossed up two in return, and J. J. Redick finalized the deal with two more: a Serge Ibaka trey at the buzzer went awry, and Los Angeles won it, 93-90.

Westbrook, while he was around, had two points and four assists in eight minutes. Sebastian Telfair looked better than he did last night — decent ball movement, timely free throws — but for him to get any rest, Perry Jones III once or twice found himself running the offense. Jones, fortunately, had a career night: a game-high 32 points and seven rebounds. With 17 from Ibaka and 11 from Telfair, you have to wonder what might have happened if the Thunder had hit some of the six free throws, or the fifteen treys, they missed.

Griffin, who fouled out in the last minute of the game, led the Clips with 23; CP3 had 22, and Jamal Crawford contributed 16 from the bench. L.A. lost most of the standard stat categories: shooting (43-39%), rebounds (47-33), assists (23-17). However, they turned it over only 12 times, and in this game, that was enough.

First home game is Saturday night against the Nuggets. Will anyone be recovered by then? Ask me at game time.

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Welcome to 5-7-9

Not the mall store for “junior” sizes, but an unfortunate circumstance facing the Oklahoma City Thunder: five games in seven days with only nine players. To make matters worse — how could they be worse? — this stretch begins with a back-to-back on the West Coast. And as we all know, Portland’s hospitality, at least on their home court, is decidedly limited. Still, you play ‘em as they come, and the OKC starting five was Westbrook, Roberson, Jones, Ibaka and Adams. Through three quarters, this sort of worked, with the Trail Blazers occasionally taking a small lead but the Thunder battling back: the final frame started with OKC up 77-75.

Then the Blazers ran 8-0 in just over two minutes, and things unwound. With 8:40 left, Russell Westbrook returned; three minutes later, he’d managed to go 1-4, and Portland was up 10. Quipped Royce Young: “If anything, I think Scott Brooks’ biggest mistake is not playing Kevin Durant a single minute tonight. I mean, what’s he thinking?” The Blazers were up 16 before Brooks waved the white flag, and the PDXers gave the starters, departing at 2:20, a standing O. They’d earned it. Portland 106, Oklahoma City 89, a nineteen-point shift in twelve minutes flat.

Of the OKC starters, Perry Jones perhaps came off the worst: he couldn’t play defense, but he couldn’t shoot either (1-9, 3 points). And while Westbrook still wound up with 38 points, it was distressingly evident that he’d have to do it alone: only Serge Ibaka (10 points, four blocks) and reserve forward Lance Thomas (7-10, 14 points) presented any offense. Meanwhile, all five Portland starters, plus sixth man Chris Kaman, hit double figures: LaMarcus Aldridge checked in with 27 (10-19), and Wesley Matthews added 22 (8-12). Telltale Statistic for the night: the Blazers, 2-15 from three-point land in the first half, went 9-14 in the second, with six coming in the fourth quarter while the Thunder were quieted to a low moan.

And just like that, it’s off to Los Angeles, to play the good team at the Staples Center. The Clippers, I suspect, will be even tougher.

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The fifteenth man

Historically, the Thunder have played with 14 men on the roster, keeping the 15th spot open for, um, flexibility. Yeah. That’s the ticket. In previous seasons, though, they didn’t start out with a starter and three reserves benched with injuries, so one of the four training-camp invitees actually got signed to a contract: forward Lance Thomas, who floated between New Orleans and the D-League’s Austin Toros before fleeing to China last season. (I had thought they might pick up Talib Zanna; Sam, I am disappoint.) Thomas, says HoopsHype, is being paid a modest salary of $948,163, or about one-twentieth what Kevin Durant gets. Then again, KD is out for six weeks or so with a Jones fracture, which I surmise is probably not as severe as a fracture of one’s Johnson.

Where Thomas fits on the depth chart is not clear, given Scott Brooks’ devotion to the One True Rotation, but I figure he spells Perry Jones III at the three, at least until KD is back.

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Thoroughly bebopped

Nobody is expecting much from the just-out-of-blankies Utah Jazz this season. Still, they’d won four of six preseason games before wandering into Oklahoma City, and all five Jazz starters rolled up double figures well before the official beginning of garbage time, inside the four-minute mark. (Enes Kanter led everyone with 27 points.) It’s a situation we’ve seen before: the Thunder can defend, but they foul. They foul a lot. Utah took 41 foul shots, more than two-thirds of them in the first half, collecting 30 points. (OKC attempted 26, made 13.) And scoring is intermittent at best: the Thunder managed to hit ten of 22 three-point shots, but managed only four fast-break points all night. So the Jazz walk away with a 105-91 win — the seventh time out of seven OKC gives up a triple-digit score — and we get to wonder Wha’Hoppen?

It wasn’t all dross, of course: no game in which Nick Collison can make two treys can be considered a total loss, and training-camp invitee Michael Jenkins managed to create a +10 for the night without making a shot. What’s more, Perry Jones came up with 20 points despite bricking five free throws. Anthony Morrow is calm and collected and occasionally accurate; Serge Ibaka is starting to look like the Serge Protector of old. And Russell Westbrook (14 points, 11 assists) pitched no hissy fits.

Still, from about five minutes in, the Jazz looked like they owned the place, and since they have to come back twice more during the regular season — did I mention this was a preseason game? — well, this can’t be allowed to stand, especially if the Jazz are supposed to suck. Meanwhile, we look forward to the first regular-season game, a week from tomorrow, in the Rose Garden Moda Center.

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All Wolves, all the time

Well, not all the time: briefly in the first quarter, the Thunder, still suffering Roster Depletion Syndrome, managed to claim the lead. It was straight down the slope after that, with Minnesota up 23-19 after the first, 49-40 at the half, 82-68 after three, and 112-94 when it was all over.

Today’s version of a starting five: Westbrook, Roberson, Morrow, Ibaka, Adams. They looked … okay, but not much better than that. The bench got a little better as time wore on, but not enough to make a serious dent in the Wolves’ lead. Your Telltale Statistic: Five Minnesota reserves scored in double figures. Thunder? One: Perry Jones, with 21, admittedly a game high. And a couple more numbers jumped out at me: Minnesota pulled off 17 steals, and the Thunder coughed the ball up six times more on their own, while the Wolves suffered only eight turnovers, two steals among them. Anthony Morrow clanked all five of his trey attempts, though he was 5-8 from closer in. And while the Thunder’s shooting has improved a tad, 41 percent is not going to win many games. Still, they did go after the rebounds, and retrieved 50 of them. It’s just that they didn’t turn many of them into actual points.

Tuesday night, the Jazz come to town for the last preseason game. For what it’s worth, Kendrick Perkins did make the trip to Tulsa, so maybe there’s a chance he’ll be able to snarl at the Utahns. At this point, you’ll take any positive signs you can get, and by “you” I mean me.

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Prototype birds of prey

Far be it from me to proclaim a disaster in the wake of Oklahoma City’s ongoing Durantlessness, but the Toronto Raptors, a perennial thorn in the Thunder’s side, managed to open several wounds at once tonight in beautiful downtown Wichita: the 37-17 second quarter reflected both OKC’s depleted state and Toronto’s knack for coming up with timely streaks. And if DeMar DeRozen was less of a DeStroyer than usual, his fellow sauri more than took up the slack, with Terrence Ross leading all scorers with 22 and four other Raptors (besides DeRozen) in double figures. They didn’t play a whole lot of defense, but they didn’t have to, with OKC once again shooting below 40 percent and accumulating fouls like Pac-Man swallowing dots: Steven Adams fouled out in 24 minutes; Jeremy Lamb fouled out in 18 minutes; Andre Roberson played most of the fourth quarter with five fouls, yet somehow wound up with a double-double. The return of Russell Westbrook was most welcome, and Serge Ibaka appeared for limited minutes, but with this game actually on television, it was possible to see the forlorn “What do we do now?” look on several Thunder faces. Or maybe it’s sweat, or just my imagination. But Toronto administered a thrashing so thorough — the 109-90 count is deceptively close — that I have to figure the Thunder is spooked. Possible Telltale Statistic: OKC missed 11 of 30 free throws. Perry Jones, all by his lonesome, missed seven of them.

Then again, there were 11 players available tonight, up from nine last night in New Orleans. On that point, at least, the Thunder is improving. But the defense is creaky, and the offense needs to pick up several ticks before they can claim to be creaky: Anthony Morrow, good as he is, is not going to shoot OKC out of its woes. Next round: Sunday evening in Tulsa, against the Timberwolves.

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Birds of prey

And so Russell Westbrook was given the night off, and the Thunder showed up in the Big Easy with a total of nine players. On the upside, we got a hint of Sebastian Telfair’s point-guard suss, which after ten years is still pretty sharp. Unfortunately, he hasn’t quite adjusted to the OKC system, assuming a system can even exist when you show up with only nine players. The Pelicans blew out the Thunder 36-18 in the first quarter, and sustained a lead about that wide for the next 36 minutes, giving radio guy Matt Pinto’s deadpan announcement of 8:20 remaining in regulation a veneer of purest Hail Mary: did anyone really think this was going into overtime? New Orleans 120, Oklahoma City 86, and suddenly a 44-minute game seemed desirable, and a 34-minute game perhaps more so.

The Pelicans had several things going for them beyond merely having bench players to spare. Anthony Davis put in a 26-minute night and collected 28 points for his effort; Omer Asik did a pretty good job of keeping Steven Adams off the rim, though the Kiwi still managed 12 points; the Beaks overall shot 50 percent pretty much all night, when they weren’t shooting 60 percent. (They finished at 55.) Next to these feats, the Thunder’s apparent allergic reaction to the rim seems almost understandable, though 39 percent will get them a tongue-lashing from Foreman Scotty on the road to, um, Wichita, where the Toronto Raptors will meet them more than halfway tomorrow night. In the meantime, we take comfort in Jeremy Lamb’s 20 points, though it took him 42 minutes to do it.

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Anonymous bears

Dave Joerger, noting that it is, after all, still the preseason, decided to stick with his second string tonight: no Gasol, no Conley, no Z-Bo, no Tony Allen. Not even Tayshaun Prince. Considering that half the Thunder roster is hors de combat, it’s hard to fault Joerger. And the Griz did pretty good in that first quarter, leading 32-23 after twelve. Meanwhile, Scott Brooks’ current version of the Starting Five of Frankenstein — Perry Jones III and Lance Jones up front, Russell Westbrook and Andre Roberson on the wings, Steven Adams in the middle — took a good while to get warmed up, but were fairly awesome when they did: see, for instance, Adams’ 14 points in the second quarter. OKC 60, Memphis 59 at the half, and the redemption of Jeremy Lamb, who came back to life in the second half, brought the Thunder to its second win in Before It Counts, 117-107.

Lamb, in fact, had 23 points, Adams 22, and five others in double figures. (Westbrook had the game’s only double-double: 14 points, 12 assists.) Roberson, alas, continued the Thunder tradition of no actual shooting from the shooting guard, missing all four of his shots. Despite that, OKC shot 53 percent, and if you were wondering if Anthony Morrow would help in the absence of Kevin Durant, look at this line: 5-6 from the floor, 3-4 from outside, 6-6 from the stripe, for 19 points in just over 22 minutes.

Journeyman Quincy Pondexter, gone much of last year, evidently has spent some time working on his 3-ball: he made three of five to lead the Griz with 16 points. Newish guys Jordan Adams and Patrick Christopher carried much of the load towards the end. If Dave Joerger is saying “We do so have a bench,” well, we have to believe him.

Thursday night, it’s off to the Big Easy. Maybe Serge Ibaka will be back by then. Or maybe it won’t be a problem if he isn’t.

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Close-order drill

The Thunder, who were shorthanded in Denver, were more so in Dallas, with Mitch McGary, wounded at the Nuggets game, out for six weeks, Sebastian Telfair out with something or other wrong with his ankle, and Reggie Jackson, after 17 minutes retired with a wrist injury. So former Europlayer Michael Jenkins wound up running the Thunder offense — no way was Russell Westbrook going to play in the second half — and Jenkins did a pretty decent job, with seven points and five assists. This is, after all, why one has a preseason, right? Fortunately, the shorthandedness went in both directions: Dallas was Dirkless for the evening, Monta Ellis was unwell, Raymond Felton was hurt early on, and Mavs-Thunder ended up as the usual see-saw, with OKC up by one with 1:33 left and gradually opening up that lead into a 9-point win, 118-109.

Things to note:

  • Anthony Morrow, who was hired as a long-distance sharpshooter, was pretty much that: 2-7 from inside the circle, 4-7 from outside of it.
  • After a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad night at Denver, Jeremy Lamb recovered enough to come up with a double-double: 19 points, 11 rebounds. Guards, you may remember, don’t usually get 11 rebounds.
  • If they don’t pick up Talib Zanna and at least assign him to the 66ers Blue, I will be most disappointed.

There were 85 foul shots tonight, 45 by the Mavs (who made 32). Dallas also put up 36 treys, of which 11 actually hit. This is standard Maverick procedure, but it’s easier when you have the starters to work with.

First home game at OKC will involve the Grizzlies, on Tuesday. Fasten your safety belt.

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Fair is foul, and fouls are fair

One does not expect flawless play action in the NBA preseason. The Nuggets, who’d already played one game, were a smidgen less sloppy, but only a smidgen. (And they’d lost that earlier game, to the Lakers in San Diego.) The Thunder started out minus four players due to injury — Jones, Ibaka, Collison and Perkins — so big guys were at a premium. Steven Adams, starting in the middle, knocked down seven of eight shots for 15 points to lead OKC; he also collected six fouls. We saw a lot of shots not going in: the Nuggets shot close to 60 percent, the Thunder less than 40. (You want to see a curious line? Jeremy Lamb was 9-10 from the foul line, 1-14 from anywhere else.) And the fouls! Fifty-eight of them, 32 by OKC. (Which means 26 from Denver.) The last OKC lead was four points, early in the fourth; Denver then ran off an 18-2 run to go up 12, and held on for a 114-101 win.

Timofey Mozgov led all the scorers with 20 points; Jusuf Nurkić demonstrated both rebounding (15 boards) and histrionic (quelle flop) talent. And since the Nuggets have only one preseason game at home — this one — it’s probably a good thing they got to show the home crowd some good stuff. As for the Thunder, well, if they’re back at full strength Friday at Dallas, maybe we can figure out something. I’m thinking, though, that the guys who came in for training camp — Lance Thomas, Michael Jenkins and Talib Zanna — really seem to be busting a nut for a roster spot, which is always a good sign.

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Down on the hardwood plantation

Bruce Levenson, majority owner of the Atlanta Hawks, has decided to give up his stake in the team, presumably in atonement for revealing, in a 2012 email to GM Danny Ferry, some insensitive-sounding sentiments about the fan base’s demographics:

for the first couple of years we owned the team, i didn’t much focus on game ops. then one day a light bulb went off. when digging into why our season ticket base is so small, i was told it is because we can’t get 35-55 white males and corporations to buy season tixs and they are the primary demo for season tickets around the league. when i pushed further, folks generally shrugged their shoulders. then i start looking around our arena during games and notice the following:

— it’s 70 pct black

— the cheerleaders are black

— the music is hip hop

— at the bars it’s 90 pct black

— there are few fathers and sons at the games

— we are doing after game concerts to attract more fans and the concerts are either hip hop or gospel.

Then i start looking around at other arenas. It is completely different. Even DC with its affluent black community never has more than 15 pct black audience.

Levenson, it should be noted, works out of Washington.

Anyway, he found the situation intolerable:

I have been open with our executive team about these concerns. I have told them I want some white cheerleaders and while i don’t care what the color of the artist is, i want the music to be music familiar to a 40 year old white guy if that’s our season tixs demo. i have also balked when every fan picked out of crowd to shoot shots in some time out contest is black. I have even bitched that the kiss cam is too black.

Gradually things have changed. My unscientific guess is that our crowd is 40 pct black now, still four to five times all other teams. And my further guess is that 40 pct still feels like 70 pct to some whites at our games. Our bars are still overwhelmingly black.

This is obviously a sensitive topic, but sadly i think it is far and way the number one reason our season ticket base is so low.

And many of our black fans don’t have the spendable income which explains why our f&b and merchandise sales are so low. At all white thrasher games sales were nearly triple what they are at hawks games (the extra intermission explains some of that but not all).

The Atlanta Thrashers, a National Hockey League team, were sold in 2011, and the new owners relocated them to Winnipeg, giving Atlanta the dubious distinction of having lost two NHL teams to Canadian ownership. (The Calgary Flames were the Atlanta Flames through 1980.)

Oh, and you may be certain that Levenson officially took a dim view of the racist leanings of former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling: in April he said that he would support Sterling’s ouster. So give the man credit for consistency, for volunteering for his own. But could this simply be that Levenson hopes for a Sterling-sized payoff? The Hawks, up to now, have been worth maybe one-fifth the $2 billion Steve Ballmer put up to own the Clips.

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Dropping Thabeet

Hasheem the Dream heads northeast:

The Thunder have traded Hasheem Thabeet, along with cash considerations, to the 76ers who absorb his contract into their cap space, creating a $1.25 million trade exception.

Why did the Thunder do this? With the emergence of Steven Adams, plus the addition of Mitch McGary, Thabeet [was] firmly the Thunder’s third center and nothing more than an insurance policy. His contract for next season was non-guaranteed ($1.2 million) and was likely to be waived in training camp anyway.

On the upside, if the Sixers keep him, he’s likely to see more time on the floor, if only because there’s likely to be a whole lot of garbage time, especially if Philly isn’t substantially improved from last season, “one of the most dismal in franchise history.”

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Quote of the week

From a New York Times profile of Michele Roberts, the new executive director of the NBA Players Association, which includes this report from her appearance before actual players:

She said she was all too aware that if she was selected, she would represent several hundred male athletes in the N.B.A.; she would deal with league officials and agents who were nearly all men; she would negotiate with team owners who were almost all men; and she would stand before reporters who were predominantly men.

She did not flinch. “My past,” she told the room, “is littered with the bones of men who were foolish enough to think I was someone they could sleep on.”

Billy Hunter, her predecessor, never said anything that forceful — and he used to be an NFL wide receiver, fercrissake.

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From shooting brakes to shooting guards

Kobe Bryant’s company is setting up in his hometown in Orange County:

Kobe Bryant’s new company is setting up shop in the famed basketball player’s hometown.

Council members authorized the sale Tuesday of a city-owned property in West Newport Beach to Kobe Inc. for use as a global headquarters.

Ordinarily I would give this the MEGO treatment, but:

The roughly 1-acre site, at 1499 Monrovia Ave., includes a 16,550 square foot office building, where Road & Track Magazine used to operate. It was sold for $5.8 million.

Which is probably more than Hearst Magazines could get for R&T itself, now having to bunk with Car and Driver in Ann Arbor.

Somehow I get the feeling the late John R. Bond is doing 2000 rpm or so right about now. (Think of it as a fast idle.)

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Lost our lease, everyone must go

The 66ers will move farther down Route 66:

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s NBA Development League affiliate, the Tulsa 66ers, will be moving to Oklahoma City, the Thunder announced today.

The 66ers have played home games the last two seasons at the SpiritBank Event Center in Bixby, Okla., but team officials were notified recently that the facility will no longer offer arena space for lease. The move will take place prior to the start of the D-League regular season, which begins in mid-November and extends through early April.

In Tulsa, the 66ers drew about 2400 per game, slightly below midpack among D-League teams. (This past season, the team finished 24-26, which is also, um, slightly below midpack, though fifth in the six-team Central Division.)

I’m just surprised no one offered to move them to Seattle.

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Return of the prodigal

Maybe Thomas Wolfe was right and you can’t go home again, says Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:

To some skeptical residents, LeBron’s return to Cleveland is less that of the prodigal son’s triumphant return home than the straying husband who abandoned his longtime partner to chase a younger, hotter, firmer slice having second thoughts. Having realized he traded a deep love for a sweaty romp, he’s coming home with a bouquet of roses in one hand and a diamond bracelet in the other, begging forgiveness for his foolish mistake of lustful youth.

All that doesn’t make LeBron’s desire to return any less sincere. Who hasn’t at some time or other hurt those we loved? And it takes a lot of courage to return to what many Clevelanders might consider “the scene of the crime.” LeBron is one of the best players in the world. He could have gone anywhere, but he chose Cleveland, knowing he would have to endure a firestorm of criticism. Had he stayed in Miami or gone elsewhere, he would have been hoisted on shoulders and paraded through the streets. That testifies to his sincerity.

I’m not one of the best anything in the world, but I’ve left this town twice, and come back twice. So I tend to sympathize with King James: home is more than a location Google Maps has stored as a default. And if he pulls off in Cleveland, even once, what he did twice in Miami — well, let’s wait and see.

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