Archive for Net Proceeds

Test failed

And spectacularly so:

You probably weren’t wondering why D.J. Cooper — who went undrafted out of Ohio in 2013 then played professionally overseas — sat out last season.

You probably should have been.

Cooper submitted urine for a drug test that indicated he was pregnant, according to MMC RTV Slovenia. The urine reportedly originally belonged to his girlfriend.

That got Cooper a two-year suspension that covered last season and runs through next season.

(Via Fark.)

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804 games later

Eighty-two times ten, minus 16 games lost to the lockout in 2011:

Where there’s a top. one might expect to find a bottom, but it’s, um, slightly smaller:

To maintain this heady pace, OKC will have to go 53-29 this season. Should that happen, everyone from Sam Presti on down will be amazed.

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Zeroed out

An alignment for Russell Westbrook? Lucas says yes:

After [Paul] George’s trade, we could feel the wind changing, and it was the first time I’ve ever thought, “You know, we should really trade Russell Westbrook.” He was always my favorite Thunder player, even if he wasn’t the most reliable or consistent. Can you win a championship with the Brodie? Who cares, he’s fun to watch. Win by the sword, die by the sword. Westbrook is the most chaotic-neutral player since Allen Iverson. AI never won a title, but his larger-than-life persona and playing style has already cemented him as a legendary player, and by this point that almost means more than a trophy.

Good old Agent Zero. Although Iverson didn’t actually wear #0, as Westbrook did. (The Sixers retired Iverson’s #3 jersey.)

Even though I wanted to see Westbrook spend his whole career fighting and scrapping away for the unlikely team on the prairie, the George trade made things clear that it was time for him to move on. With his aggressively athletic playing style, one can’t help but wonder how many more years of his prime are left before his body starts to break down and rust. He wants nothing more than to win, and how many games can he win with a team that is jettisoning any usable part for future assets?

It’s like that really hot and cool and fun girlfriend/boyfriend you had back in college that was amazing, but after a few months they needed to go backpack in South America, and you realize that even though you love them very much, you’re kinda boring and have nothing to offer and if you love them set them free, man.

That’s me, except for the minor detail that I never had a girlfriend in college.

So what happens now? Andre Roberson, after a long absence, returns as Kal-el’s little brother, and holds the rest of the league to 79 points per game? It would be nice, but let’s not hold our breath.

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Oakland booty

Someone made out like a bandit:

The demand for seats at the 2019 NBA Finals has led to a new record for ticket cost.

According to Darren Rovell of Action Network, a person spent $101,015 on two courtside seats for Game 4 between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors at Oracle Arena. The $50,507.50 per seat is the most ever spent on tickets at the NBA Finals.

And that record may not last long:

While the Raptors are competing in their first NBA Finals in franchise history, the Warriors have reached this stage for the fifth straight season. And considering Golden State has no chance of clinching the series in Game 4 (as it did last year) due to the Game 1 loss, the expensive tickets are a bit bizarre.

On the other hand, this is the last year the Warriors will play in Oracle Arena, and Game 4 could be the final contest there (unless the series reaches six games). Fans will certainly want to commemorate the last few moments they can get in this venue.

Well, fans with lots of money, anyway.

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And that was the end of that

With about four minutes left, there was a radio announcement to the effect that tickets for Game Six would go on sale at 10 am. To me, this seemed a bit premature; the Thunder had a fair-sized lead, but the Trail Blazers are renowned for their ability to finish strong, and at :57 it was tied up. Paul George, who’d missed three free throws in a row, tossed in a jumper at :40; Damian Lillard took eight second to score a bucket, and just for the hell of it, knocked down a trey at the horn to end it all. Portland 118, Oklahoma City 115, the series ends 4-1, and no, there won’t be any Game Six tickets.

Lillard, evidently, does not tire; he didn’t rest until after the third quarter, and he was back within three minutes. During those 45 minutes, he collected 50 points, 30 of them from the three-point arc. And it’s probably a good thing, since C. J. McCollum was sitting early with three fouls. (He wound up with, um, three.) And now that I look at it, Jerami Grant played about 44:30, though he’s not quite a Lillard-level superstar just yet. George had a respectable 36; Russell Westbrook came up with yet another anticlimactic triple-double (29-11-14), and Dennis Schröder outscored the entire Portland bench. None of that mattered in this wild display of Lillardization.

And just to close it out:


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They came to play

“The Blazers,” said radio guy Matt Pinto with about 6:50 left, “own all the hustle numbers,” and you might have figured that just from the mournful sound of his voice. At some point, Portland had a 19-point lead, and it was 3:35 before the Thunder were able to clamber back to down ten. Two minutes later, that ten-point lead had shrunk all the way to, um, nine. From the virtual sidelines, Kendrick Perkins yelled: “Can’t get into a 3 point shootout with Portland! That’s what they do!” The final was Portland 111, Oklahoma City 98, and Thunder Twitter had a definite undertone of “Get it over with, and let’s find Donovan’s replacement.”

Tuesday at Rip City is the earliest it can be “over with,” and there will be, I suspect, some apocalyptic verbiage from Berry Tramel in the Oklahoman tomorrow. But what has to be done, first and foremost, is to keep the Blazers from scoring like the very dickens. Four of five Portland starters made double figures, and Enes Kanter had only eight points but ten rebounds. Also with ten rebounds: Moe Harkless, with 15 points. The twin-guard duo did the usual damage: C. J. McCollum had 27 points, Damian Lillard 24. And all five of those guys were +16 or better.

Paul George, idled early in the second quarter with three fouls, did come up with 32 points and ten boards for a -2. And Russell Westbrook’s 14-9-7 doesn’t tell you that 13 of those points came in the first half. The Thunder shot 38 percent, the Blazers 41, and you have to figure, if Portland can beat you by 13 while shooting 41 percent, there are problems afoot.

And I closed with this:

No one laughed.

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Do or die

The one statistic everyone quoted today was the one about how nobody has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. This was intended, I assume, to put the fear of God, or at least the fear of Terry Stotts, into the Loud City faithful, who were acutely aware that Portland had won the first two games on their turf. The first half was old-fashioned grinder ball; for a moment I thought maybe the Grizzlies from two years ago had been reincarnated. Then came the third, a burst of productivity from Damian Lillard, and 43 points for the Blazers, who had scored only 39 in the first two quarters. As a result, a statistically sound 37-point third quarter for the Thunder left their ten-point halftime score smashed down to four. The Blazers tied it up early in the fourth before OKC found where they’d misplaced their mojo. With 3:10 left and the Thunder up seven, this happened:

He went with Schröder, who wound up with a series-high 17. Lillard, who’d rolled out 25 points in the third quarter, got exactly three in the fourth, and OKC decided to make life uncomfortable for Portland. Russell Westbrook, who’s good at that sort of thing, got rung up for a technical. No matter. Moe Harkless got one in return, after fouling out, and the Blazers went down 120-108. Paul George, just for spite, executed a post-buzzer dunk, which annoyed Portland even further. You know Westbrook was smiling at that.

Still, that twin-guard attack of Portland’s is awfully hard to defend, and Lillard’s 32 plus C. J. McCollum’s 21 demonstrates how hard it really is. Dennis Schröder kept Lillard under wraps in the first half, but that wasn’t going to last. Westbrook’s 33 points and 11 dimes were almost enough to compensate for a blah night by George, 22 points from 3-16. The Thunder missed eight free throws, but then, they made 31 of them. And 15-29 from the three-point line — 52 percent — always helps.

Game 4 is Sunday night in OKC. Keep your nitroglycerin pills handy.

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Feeling about half past dead

Jacking up a bunch of treys is generally bad business if you can get the two-pointers in quantity. But if you’re not getting shots at any distance, it seems pointless to grumble. And the Thunder have not been getting shots: at the 3:31 mark, when Billy Donovan raised the white flag, OKC had a blah 34-80 (43 percent) from the floor and an appalling 5-27 (19 percent) on the long ball. Faced with this level of ineptitude, all the Blazers had to do was not mess up, and they didn’t, handing the Thunder their second consecutive playoff loss, 114-94.

The Blazers’ twin guards, as always, contributed the bulk of Portland’s offense: 33 for C. J. McCollum, 29 for Damian Lillard. Only one other Blazer made double figures: Moe Harkless, with 14. But all five Portland starters were at least plus 10 for the night, as was reserve big Meyers Leonard. One can argue with the utility of the plus/minus metric — Raymond Felton led all OKC players with a plus-11 after scoring one point in 15 minutes — but the Thunder starters were well and truly skunked, Paul George managing a respectable 27, but Russell Westbrook never got untracked, going 5-20 yet barely missing a triple-double (14-9-11). The one metric where OKC showed big was in turnovers: they horked up the ball sixteen times, which isn’t horrible, for 23 Portland points, which is.

Game 3 is Friday in Oklahoma City, and if the Thunder aren’t exactly under the gun, you can see a very large grey mass floating over them, in the manner of Al Capp’s Joe Btfsplk. So far, it’s just rain. But if the Blazers can take Game 3, forget the cloud and Joe Btfsplk; it becomes the anvil and Wile E. Coyote.

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It looked worse from here

This play, said radio guy Matt Pinto, summed up Game One almost perfectly: Steven Adams and Enes Kanter wound up in a jump, Adams backtapped to Jerami Grant, and Evan Turner stole it right out from under Grant’s nose. There were, of course, other issues: the assumption that Kanter, being a less-than-inspiring defender, would be easy to elude, and the sheer spottiness of Thunder shooting. But if Kanter is no Jusuf Nurkić, he’s a very respectable presence on offense, and while OKC managed to pull within one once, Kanter’s offensive rebounds down the stretch made sure the Thunder didn’t do anything to get that close again. Then again, in the last minute, sometimes you have to foul, and the Thunder didn’t do that either. Portland 104, Oklahoma City 99, and the Blazers go up 1-0 in a series OKC might have thought of winning.

If the Thunder expects to come back, they have to start hitting the long ball; they jacked up 33 treys, and hit a mere five. Fifteen percent will not get you anywhere in a regular-season game, let alone in a playoff series. And it would help if they took Kanter (20 points, 18 rebounds, Nurkić-like numbers) a bit more seriously. Portland’s starting guards delivered 54 points, 30 from Damien Lillard, 24 from C. J. McCollum. OKC’s usual suspects got the usual numbers: Russell Westbrook had a triple-double (24-10-10), Paul George dropped in 26 and collected 10 boards before fouling out late. (Adams finished a hair behind Kanter, with 17 points and nine rebounds.) Neither bench was much of a presence, 21 from the Thunder reserves, 18 from the Blazers.

Game 2 is late Tuesday night at Portland; I don’t think the Blazers are worried. As yet, OKC’s given them no real reason to.

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Capping off a lifetime

Now this is a proper sendoff:

Fare thee well, Mr Wade. Sir.

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No Bucks given

Milwaukee, having no reason to exert itself, decided to rest both Brook Lopez and Giannis Antetokounmpo, and defended early on with a none-too-tight 2-3 zone. Meanwhile, the Thunder needed a win to nail down sixth in the West, which is the very definition of “incentive.” Difficulty: Paul George was out. Achievement: surprisingly easily unlocked, with OKC up ten at the half and, briefly, up 22 midway through the fourth, though the Bucks weren’t in any mood to let the Thunder get away unscathed and sliced that lead in half before finally yielding, 127-116.

Mike Budenholzer played only eight men, and it was a long night for some of them; Tim Frazier (29 points, 13 assists) played all 48 minutes, Bonzie Colson (21 points, 10 boards, a career high and a first-ever double-double) played 44:50, and D. J. Wilson (18 points, 17 boards) was out there for 46:49. If the Bucks were weakened at the end, they certainly didn’t look like it. They pulled down 53 rebounds, dead even with Oklahoma City, and shot 43 percent.

Where the Thunder really dominated was dime time — 40 assists versus 27 — and beyond the three-point line, OKC connecting on 23 (!) of 54 (!!). (The Bucks were 15-46.) Russell Westbrook, already destined for a third straight triple-double season, knocked out his 34th of the year, 15-11-17. Jerami Grant showed up with a career-high 28 points, and Dennis Schröder, starting at the two, sprang for 32.

At this writing, 5th through 8th are set in the West, as is 1st (Golden State); OKC, finishing sixth, will play whoever ends up 3rd at that whoever’s home court starting this weekend. (Sort of adjacent: the Jazz are 5th, the Spurs 7th, and the Clippers 8th.) The Thunder swept the Trail Blazers this season, so they might hope for Portland in the first round, but it will be later tonight before all the puzzle pieces fit into place.

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Let us refuse

Bernie Taupin’s imagery notwithstanding, the Rocket men didn’t burn out their fuses, but it took the Thunder about three and a half quarters to throw water on their efforts. Trailing by thirteen going into the final frame, OKC put together a 20-6 run to take a 100-99 lead, the first one they’d seen since late in the first quarter. It didn’t last too long: with two minutes left, Houston was back up four, 106-102, and were still up three at the :15 mark. Paul George slipped and fell, Russell Westbrook called the last time out, and then came back with a deuce. James Hardin drew a foul because of course he did, and sank one free throw. George, with 1.8 seconds left, came up with a trey to give the Thunder a 112-111 lead. Houston failed to inbound, took their last time out, got the ball to Harden, who put up what could have been the game-winner. It wasn’t. And so it was that the Thunder secured the season series, 3-1, and came just a bit closer to finishing in sixth place. (Fifth is out of the question.) The Rockets have finished their season with a highly respectable 53-29, and will wind up third, maybe fourth.

Harden, being Harden, delivered a full measure of histrionics. But he also played his flintly little heart out, pulling down 39 points and ten rebounds. (Clint Capela also swept ten boards to go with 18 points; Chris Paul worked really hard for 24. The Rockets put up a hell of a lot of treys, by which we mean 53 of them, of which they made 18. But the tell on those treys: the last one Houston made was barely three minutes into the fourth quarter.

I suppose we can mention the Westbrook triple-double (29-10-12), his 33rd of the season. And that late PG-13 game-winner gave him 27 points. This wasn’t a great night for reserves, with the Thunder bench accumulating a mere 22 points and the Rocket backups 18, 15 of which came from five Gerald Green treys. But think 56-42: that’s was the Thunder advantage on the boards.

One game left for OKC: tomorrow at Milwaukee. The Deer have already clinched the top of the East, and will supposedly sit both Giannis Antetokounmpo and Brook Lopez. And why not? They’ve won 60 games, the only team to do so this year. (The Raptors finish 58-24; Golden State has won 57 with one to play.) It’s been a rough season at times, and the playoffs will be no less frenetic.

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Wilting down the stretch

So said radio guy Matt Pinto, describing the situation in which the Timberwolves found themselves five minutes into the fourth quarter, in which the Thunder had outscored them 16-4, including twelve in a row from Dennis Schröder. Two minutes later, Steven Adams fouled out, and the question then became: “Who guards Karl-Anthony Towns?” The answer, apparently, was “Nobody,” with Towns running rampant, pulling Minnesota to within four several times. But Towns, as good as he is — once rid of Adams, he rolled up 13 points to bring his total to 35 — wasn’t enough to fend off a surprisingly strong Thunder drive, which gave OKC a 132-126 win, its first against Minnesota after four straight losses, and enough to spur fantasies of rising as high as fifth in the West.

The Wolves didn’t lack for offense, with both Andrew Wiggins and Dario Sarić going 9-15 from the floor and Tyus Jones coming up with a 10-13 double-double. Minnesota shot 54 percent. 10-23 from the three-point circle, and made 24 of 29 free throws. (Towns was 13-14 from the stripe all by his lonesome.) Where OKC ruled was at the backboard, 46-32; they shot 52 percent and managed 14 of 34 from beyond the arc. And six Thundermen were in double figures, with another triple-double for Russell Westbrook (27-10-15) and another solid 27 from Paul George. Schröder’s late-game burst brought him to 22.

Now what has to happen to get fifth place? Winning out (two games), the Jazz losing their last three, and several planets in perfect alignment. Sixth might be doable if the Clippers continue to slump. But OKC has a tough row to hoe: a back-to-back with Houston (#3 West) and Milwaukee (#1 East). So maybe seventh, maybe eighth. The Spurs, who trail the Thunder by half a game with three left, probably will have something to say about that.

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Swish, flop, swish

Dwane Casey’s game plan evidently was simply this: get the ball to Blake Griffin, and he’ll either stuff it into the rim or feign a fainting spell. And that worked for three quarters, after which the Pistons were down only one. But it apparently doesn’t work for much longer than that: eight minutes into the fourth, the Thunder had run up 20 points compared to ten for the Pistons. And shortly thereafter, Casey, who’d made the game-time decision to let Griffin play, observed that Griffin appeared to be showing some signs of weakness and pulled him out. Benches were emptied, and the rest was anticlimactic. Oklahoma City 123, Detroit 110, a sweep of the season series, and while the Pistons aren’t out of the playoff race, this loss drops them one game below .500.

Still, Griffin justified Casey’s faith in him, going 11-20 with 9 treys and making 14 free throws on the way to 45 points. (Note: 14 free throws, out of 16. Thunder in toto: 15 of 22.) But the second-highest scorer for Detroit was reserve point guard Ish Smith, with 12. The oft-feared Andre Drummond collected a respectable nine rebounds, but scored only four points.

For the record (and record books), Russell Westbrook clinched his third consecutive season averaging a triple-double. His 19-8-15 line was decently impressive, but nothing in that line prepares you for this:

And here’s one other wild number: 59-32, that being the rebound advantage exhibited by OKC. Steven Adams, recipient of that no-look backwards pass, sat most of the first half after garnering three fouls in six minutes; he still finished with 14 points and 14 boards. Paul George dropped in 30 because that’s what he does.

Sunday, the Thunder make the tortuous trek to the Target Center, where the Timberwolves, who have thrashed OKC three times already, will be waiting. Then follows a scary back-to-back: Tuesday at home against Houston, then Wednesday in Milwaukee. In aggregate, those two teams have won 111 (!) games so far.

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The one that almost got away

For a moment, it looked almost easy: the Thunder had run a four-point halftime lead up to sixteen points after the third quarter, and the Lakers were seriously depleted, with Lonzo Ball, Tyson Chandler and, yes, LeBron James epoxied to the bench. But the rest of the squad had something to prove, and the Lakers clawed their way back to within five before the Thunder realized that they could lose yet another game to yet another sub-.500 team and battened down the hatches. With 1:04 left, both sets of reserves were deployed — except for Russell Westbrook, who was kept in perhaps for statistical purposes. (Less than half a minute later, the needs of the record-keepers were satisfied: Westbrook’s triple-double ended up at 20-20-21, the first time he’s pulled off that particular feat.) Oklahoma City 119, Los Angeles 103, a 2-1 win in the season series, and the Karma Police saw to it that at least two Thundermen finished higher than Westbrook in the plus/minus. (Jerami Grant +28, Steven Adams +26; Westbrook +24.)

And anyway, the game-high scorer was a Laker: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was 9-16 from the floor for 23 points, an admirable display of pure Kentaviousness, though he still wound up -14 for the night. The Laker bench produced 44 points, versus 30 for the Thunder second unit. And L.A. outshot OKC by a percentage point and a half, not to mention 16-39 on the three-ball, while the Thunder was bricking to the tune of 13-44. The 50-39 rebounding edge clearly helped the Thunder, and any day in which Jerami Grant knocks down 22 points has to be considered a good day.

Last game on the home stand will be against the Pistons on Friday. Detroit is half a game over .500; more important, they’re half a game ahead of the Nets.

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A future without Dirk

All the sports pundits are saying that Dirk Nowitzki will retire this year after 117, or however many seasons, he’s played. Mind you, Dirk has made no announcement to that effect, and this afternoon he actually started. The Mavericks aren’t playoff-bound this year, so it’s not like they need to rest the “regular” starters; I’m thinking this is just a case of Dirk wanting to go out on top. And while he didn’t shoot the way he used to — 2 for 10, seven points — he reeled in 13 rebounds, and for the sheer hell of it, he blocked a shot. So you can say what you will about Trey Burke and Devin Harris, who gathered 40 of the Mavs’ 57 reserve points, or Jalen Brunson, who led the starters with 18, or super-rookie Luka Doncić, who didn’t play due to an injury, or even Ryan Broekhoff, who sank the last two free throws with four seconds left. This one — Dallas 106, Oklahoma City 103 — belongs to Dirk.

Of course, had the Thunder been playing with any consistency, they’d have gotten this game for themselves. Didn’t happen. Even with two triple-doubles — Paul George, 27-11, and Steven Adams, 20-15 — and yet another triple-double from Russell Westbrook (25-11-11), it wasn’t going to happen. In the last 20 seconds, Dennis Schröder got two three-point looks from the corner, and neither of them fell. But it wasn’t just Schröder; in 48 minutes the Thunder put up 43 treys, and connected on only eleven. Also, they let the Mavs outrebound them 52-49. (See “Dirk,” supra.) If nothing else, this solidified OKC’s hold on #8 in the West, the Kings having been eliminated last night, which means for the rest of the season I have to root for Golden State, because I’d rather play them in the first round than Denver.

The LeBron-less Lakers arrive Tuesday, the Pistons on Friday. The Lakers aren’t going anywhere, but Detroit has work to do: the first five slots in the East are filled, and the Pistons are sixth — but there are five teams within reach of the last three slots. After that, a trip to the Twin Cities, where the Timberwolves will likely have their way once more.

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A box full of stops

You have to figure, that’s at the top of Billy Donovan’s Christmas list, assuming he’s still here in December. (Hey, you never know, right?) This team, we are told, lives and dies by defense. The Nuggets don’t care; after having been trounced last night by Houston, they managed to show few signs of fatigue tonight in Oklahoma City on the way to their fourth victory over the Thunder in four tries. Oh, there were a few tentative approaches, but OKC never got closer than six in the final frame, and the 115-105 final had the immediate effect of dropping the Thunder into eighth place in the West, behind the Spurs. It’s not likely Sacramento will rise from the sub-.500 depths to crowd the Thunder out, but at some point, OKC’s going to have to win a game to clinch a playoff spot.

As usual, Nikola Jokić was a thorn in the Thunder’s side, with a 23-16 double-double; Jamal Murray knocked down a team-high 27. And don’t all “tired” teams shoot 57 percent? And Denver cast forward an admirable 14-33 at the three-point line. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook picked up 27, though he missed triple-double glory (such as it is) with nine assists and nine boards. Paul George’s 25 was at least as muted as Westbrook’s 27.

Here’s where things get flaky. The Warriors started tonight at 51-23, half a game in front of where Denver is now (51-24). Now if it were up to me, which of course it isn’t, I’d rather play Golden State than Denver in the first round of the playoffs. And since Minnesota skunked the Warriors tonight, 131-130 in overtime, there’s a logjam at the very top of the West, though the Warriors own the tiebreaker over the Nuggets. (May I remind you who else has swept the Thunder so far this season? Right: those same Minnesota Timberwolves, mired in tenth place and back into the lottery.) And Tuesday, it’s Nuggets vs. Golden State at Oakland. So there’s still some potential for drama, kinda sorta, though probably not Sunday afternoon, when the Dallas Mavericks come to OKC.

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Burst mode

There was audible groaning in Loud City when the Pacers stymied OKC offensive efforts in the second quarter to take a nine-point lead at the half. The third, as the phrase, was a whole different thing: it took a little bit to ignite, but the Thunder went on a 24-0 run, including a point from a Wesley Matthews technical, to lead 76-69 going into the final frame. But the Pacers weren’t through by any means, with Bojan Bogdanović putting up back-to-back treys. Still, with 21 seconds left, the Thunder were up eight, and suddenly I remembered this incident:

Fortunately for the Thunder, Reggie Miller has long since retired. Oklahoma City 107, Indiana 99, the Pacers’ ninth consecutive road loss.

Bogdanović, with 11-20 shooting including six treys, led the Pacers with a highly respectable 28 points, backed up by OKC expat Domantas Sabonis, 8-13 for 18 off the bench. (Victor Oladipo, also ex-Thunder, was ailing and inactive.) Darren Collison was back at the point from a quad strain, but was held to eight.

And, because one factoid deserves another, Paul George, former Pacer, led the Thunder with 31 points. Steven Adams was back on his game with a 25-12 showing. Did Russell Westbrook get a triple double? Yes, he did: 17-11-12. (Radio guy Matt Pinto reminds me that this is Westbrook’s fourth consecutive triple-double against Indiana.) But here’s the obscure statistic that sells the game: OKC registered 29 assists while turning the ball over only seven times. (And to be fair, the Pacers turned in a worthy 26-11.)

One down, four to go on this homestand, with seven games left. Next game: um, Denver on Friday. The Nuggets have won 50 so far and have already clinched a playoff spot; perhaps more to the point, they’ve beaten OKC 3-0 this season. And then the Mavericks come in for a Sunday-afternoon — well, let’s hope it’s not a stroll.

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A rough night at the office

The last time Memphis beat the Thunder was in December of 2016. And it’s not like the Griz had overwhelming strength: no sign of Mike Conley or Avery Bradley, and C. J. Miles and Joakim Noah would be on the disabled list, if the NBA had a disabled list. But they came out breathing fire: if your opponents have a double-digit lead while you’ve piled up only two points, you can safely assume the presence of something incendiary. OKC was down eight after the first quarter and never made a strong charge thereafter; Memphis won it easily, 115-103, which won’t vault the Griz into the playoffs but which will come close to knocking the Thunder out of them. (Both OKC and San Antonio are 43-31, but the Spurs own the tiebreaker and 7th place.)

Here’s something you don’t see too often: one team with three double-doubles. Delon Wright, manning the point in Conley’s absence, rolled up 18 points and distributed 13 times. Jonas Valanciunas piled up 18 points and 14 rebounds (versus Steven Adams’ 2-8); Bruno Caboclo had a career-high 24 to go with his 11 boards. If that sounds like a lot of rebounds, well, Memphis got most of them: 57 versus 41.

On the Thunder side of things, we see Paul George getting his usual 30 points, but it took him 29 shots to get there. And he did pick up 12 boards. Russell Westbrook, who usually can snag a dozen or so himself, was held to five, along with seven assists and 16 points. Hot: Dennis Schröder, with 25. Not so hot: Jerami Grant, with seven, and five fouls to boot.

Next opponent figures to be stronger: the Pacers, who’ve already beaten OKC at home this year. That’s Wednesday.

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Stinkosaurus 2: Electric Boogaloo

It is never a good sign when Jerami Grant fouls out, even when he’s rolled up 19 points. And when he did, Kawhi Leonard, who never misses a foul shot, easily swished a pair, and the next five Raptors points as well. The difference from Wednesday night, though, was that the Thunder were actually ahead; they’d come back from 13 down in the third quarter to take a six-point lead with 53 seconds left. Thirty-four seconds later, Toronto had made up none of that deficit; a thirty-foot air ball was the Raptors’ last shot, and OKC escaped the Great White North with a seven-point win, 116-109, splitting the season series, all two days of it, and putting an end to the most recent four-game losing street. It doesn’t seem possible, but the Thunder have won their last four games in Ontario, a place where Western teams generally go to die.

Still, the Raptors had most of the numbers on their side: a solid 50-percent shooting, 52 percent on the long ball, and 46 over 39 in rebounding. But sometimes, as Mr Jagger would point out, you get what you need: 45 percent from the floor, 47 from beyond the arc — 20 out of 43, which is almost scary for this team — and OKC distributed 30 assists, compared to 20 for Toronto. And ultimately, what did in the Raptors was ball control, or lack thereof: they coughed up 22 turnovers. Kawhi was Kawhi, of course, finishing with 37; Pascal Siakam nailed 25, and Danny Green (6 of 11 treys!) had 19.

Russell Westbrook had one of those weird triple-doubles: he was a blah 6-20 from the floor for 18 points, but he collected 12 boards and served up 13 dimes for a +18, one tick above Dennis Schöder, who outscored the entire Toronto bench with a startling 26 points. Paul George, who had only three fouls all night, headed the OKC side of the box with 28.

One more stop before coming home: Memphis, on Monday night. Despite already having been wiped off the playoff chart, the Griz are 19-17 in their house. And, as seemingly always in the West, there’s a logjam or two: Golden State and Denver (each 49-22) are of course on top; Houston (45-27) has the slenderest possible lead over Portland (44-27). But where it gets really hairy is fifth through eighth: OKC (43-30), the Clippers (43-30), the Jazz and the Spurs (42-30). Of course, nobody wants fifth if fourth can be reached.

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We can cover the good stuff very quickly:

And that, it seemed, was that. Once the players took the court, things began to unravel. The Raptors knocked down a seemingly effortless 39 points in the first twelve minutes, took an eight-point lead into the locker room, and then ran that lead to as much as 19. In the fourth quarter, the Thunder found some defense, but they still weren’t making shots until very late. “Stagnant,” said radio guy Matt Pinto, which at least sounds different from “running in mud.” Still, the last minute saw Paul George foul out with OKC down two. Then Russell Westbrook tied it up with 4.8 left. Pascal Siakam charged his way to a foul, a buzzer-beater didn’t, and overtime ensued.

The Raptors struck first, and then tossed up a 2-3 zone, which proved to be fatal: OKC managed only one bucket and two free throws in those last five minutes, and fell 123-114. And if anyone thought Kyle Lowry’s absence might work to the Thunder’s advantage, Fred VanVleet laughs in your face. F Double V finished with 23 points and six assists. Siakam’s 33 points came with 13 rebounds; Kawhi Leonard had his own double-double, at 22-10. All five Toronto starters made double figures.

Westbrook, after an unscheduled day of rest, popped up 42 points and snagged 11 boards. PG-13 probably would have gotten more than 19 if the foul limit were seven or eight, which of course it isn’t. Dennis Schröder led the bench with 12 and the only non-minus plus/minus on the team — he came in at zero — but both Steven Adams and Jerami Grant had subpar shooting nights. Still, you want to find a villain here, you look to see who’s haunting the charity stripe: the Thunder made 15 of 29. On a night when you lose by nine, leaving 14 at the stripe is, well, losing.

Friday it’s on the road against these same Raptors. Will OKC do any better in Toronto? Your guess is probably better than mine.

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A warm thumping

I’m not sure what happened here. The Thunder jumped out to a 15-3 lead early, watched it disappear, and then never managed to catch up again. Admittedly, the home team was somewhat undermanned, with Nerlens Noel a late scratch and Russell Westbrook under a one-game suspension for having collected 16 technical fouls, but you still have to wonder what happened after those first few minutes. Miami led by two after the first quarter, by three at the half, by eleven after three. The Heat ran that lead to as high as 19; the Thunder managed to shrink it to six, but there wasn’t anywhere near enough time for a full-fledged comeback. Finally Steven Adams fouled out, Dwyane Wade swished a couple of free throws, and that was it. Miami 116, Oklahoma City 107, the season series is split, and suddenly even making the playoffs becomes debatable.

And Wade, bless him, just had to go out on top. The Chesapeake Arena crowd gave him a warm welcome at the start, and they weren’t about to boo him. Still, the Heat starters were no great shakes tonight: Kelly Olynyk was the only one in double figures, with 18. Look at this bench, though: 25 from Wade, 26 (and 11 assists) from Goran Dragić, 14 from James Johnson. Meanwhile in Thunder blue, Jerami Grant squeezed out a career-high 27 (and 10 rebounds), just behind Paul George’s 31. Dennis Schröder, starting at the point in lieu of Westbrook, came up with 20, but the depleted Thunder reserves managed only 10 points all night.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Raptors won their 50th game tonight, and OKC gets to play them twice in succession, Wednesday night at home (where the big event is the retirement of Nick Collison’s #4 jersey), and then Friday in the Great White North. Tough times ahead, to be sure.

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Looking out at Number One

First, let’s get this out of the way:

Durant’s absence, however, did not create any opportunities for the Thunder, who could barely buy a bucket most of the night. And if the Warriors had a weak spot, OKC was not able to find it. Golden State rolled up 40 points in the first quarter, after which the Thunder defense was occasionally visible; still, halfway through the fourth, the Warriors were up 17, and a couple minutes later, the benches were emptied. When the smoke cleared, it was Golden State 110, Oklahoma City 88, and radio guy Matt Pinto had an interesting statistic to toss in: during Durant’s three seasons in Oakland, the Warriors have played 30 games in which Steph Curry played and Durant didn’t — and their record for those 30 games is 26-4.

Other numbers of note:

32.3:  the Thunder’s shooting percentage tonight, a season low. (88 points is also a season low.)

10:  the number of points OKC left at the charity stripe, shooting 13-23.

16:  the number of technical fouls called this season on Russell Westbrook, which unless rescinded will get him a one-game suspension.

Speaking of Westbrook, his line tonight was 7-8-9; he went 2-16 from the field, 0-7 from outside. Paul George delivered a double-double, 29-13, despite having Andre Iguodala breathing down his neck. (Hey, it could have been Durant.) Steph Curry was happy to drop in 33 points, and Klay Thompson tacked on 23 more.

And that’s the end of the season series, with Golden State winning 2-1. (Who knows what the playoffs may bring?) Monday brings the Miami Heat, who are actually better on the road (16-16) than they are at home (16-20). We note in passing that three of the 16 playoff slots have now been claimed: the Warriors in the West, Milwaukee and Toronto in the East. The Thunder have dropped to fifth in the West, one game up on the Spurs, who have won eight straight, including tonight’s tussle with Portland. Next for San Antonio: Golden State. It’s almost enough to make you root for the Spurs.

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Pace picked up

A titanic defensive struggle? I’d certainly have expected one; neither Indiana nor Oklahoma City has been an offensive powerhouse of late, and when they win the big games, it’s because the defense was stout. And indeed, there wasn’t a massive amount of scoring: the Thunder led 63-50 at the half. But twelve minutes later, the Pacers had cut that lead nearly in half, largely due to the efforts of Thunder expat Domantas Sabonis; with 4:04 left, Indiana trailed by only one, and a Myles Turner dunk a minute later gave the Pacers the lead. You could see the momentum shift without adjusting the vertical hold. And then Paul George tied it up with a trey; the Pacers came up empty, PG-13 nailed two free throws, and Sabonis answered with a bucket; George stole the ball, and Darren Collison stole it back. Just inside the four-second mark, Bojan Bogdanovic put up a brick, which Wesley Matthews pushed back in for a two-point Indiana lead. The Thunder went for three, and didn’t get it; Indiana 108, Oklahoma City 106.

Sabonis, in fact, is developing a decent rep as a quality sixth man, averaging about 13 points a game. Tonight, he doubled that figure. It didn’t hurt that all the Indiana starters scored in double figures, but tonight Sabonis was The Man, with the highest plus (+14). (Twitter chatter wondered how we’d let this guy get away.) By comparison, the Russell Westbrook triple-double (19-14-11) was minus 1, and George’s game-high 36 rated only -5. Perhaps the most painful aspect of all this: OKC hit a decent free-throw percentage (16-20, 80 percent), but the Pacers made 27 of 32 (84 percent), Sabonis knocking down twelve by himself.

On the upside: the Thunder now head back home. On the downside: the Golden State Warriors will be dropping by for a chat. As the playoffs get closer, the anxiety gets, um, more anxious.

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Knotted here and there

Brooklyn started off this game with the best of intentions and some seriously good execution, enough to put them up by eight after the first quarter and ten at the half. Then came the third, and the Thunder suddenly remembered how to play this game. OKC swept past the Nets in high-powered fashion, and kept the hammer down in the fourth, eerily reminiscent of their December clash in which they came back from a 23-point hole. Once they were down by ten, it seemed like the Nets were out of it, and as it happens, they were: the Thunder rolled up 66 second-half points to 44 for Brooklyn, 30-10 in the paint, and walked away with a 108-96 win, making the sweep official.

Spencer Dinwiddie was the Nets’ primary scorer, with 25 off the bench. Beside him was Ed Davis, who managed only six points but reeled in 11 rebounds. Among the starters, D’Angelo Russell and Joe Harris tossed up 14 and 13 respectively. Paul George seems to have found his shot once more; he knocked down 25 tonight. And that Westbrook guy posted another triple-double, 31-12-11. But perhaps the niftiest spectacle was watching Steven Adams, who had a whole one point in the first half, open up the third quarter with a 6-0 run all by himself.

With 14 games left, there are still two teams the Thunder has yet to face. The first will be tomorrow, at the end of a longish plane trip to Indianapolis. The Pacers are near the top of the East and pack some serious punch. (The other team yet unplayed: the Raptors, whom OKC will play in the Great White North one week from tonight and again at home the following Friday.) Also coming up: Golden State, Denver, Houston, Milwaukee, and the dreaded Minnesota Timberwolves, who will have to be faced in their den once more.

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And the occasional bucket

Throw a couple of high-powered offenses at one another, and after only twelve minutes it’s, um, 22-21. Okay, forget that example. Let’s jump to halftime, where it’s — er, 50-37. Just inside the five-minute mark, we were looking at Oklahoma City 89, Utah 80. The Jazz held on for about three and a half minutes before throwing in the towel, and OKC managed yet another season sweep, thrashing Utah 98-89. Part of the problem for the Jazz was the inability to sink the long ball: Utah managed 12 treys in 42 tries. OKC knocked down only seven of 22. But great shooting was not going to jump out at you from the box score: the Thunder hit a sort of respectable 46 percent, the Jazz a decidedly less so 36. And the Jazz were missing Ricky Rubio, though Royce O’Neale turned in a decent 17 points in his place. Donovan Mitchell, unsurprisingly, led the Jazz with 25. Rudy Gobert, a reliable double-double maker, showed up with 15-12.

Dennis Schröder’s shooting woes seem to be behind him: 24 points in 30 minutes. Russell Westbrook had one of those almost-triple-doubles, 23-11-8. And Paul George wasn’t shooting well, but still came up with 14-11, hitting ten of twelve free throws. Rebounds were dead even at 48 each; Utah had the edge in assists, 21-18.

They keep telling us that ten of the last 15 games of the season are in the cozy-ish confines of Chesapeake, but after one at home, against the Nets on Wednesday, it’s right back out on the road again Thursday, to Indiana no less. Home again Saturday, and who should be waiting? The Warriors. A splintered time is guaranteed for all.

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That’s some fine sixth-man work there, Lou

It was foreordained, I suspect, that Lou Williams would lead all scorers tonight, and Paul George’s sixth and last foul left everyone wondering who could possibly stop him. Between 2:00 and 1:30, Williams put up five points, and shortly thereafter, Russell Westbrook fouled out. And he kept going, 13-24 for the night, 4-6 on the long ball, and 10-15 at the stripe for 40 points. What’s more, Danilo Galinari, also a perennial pest, knocked down 34. But as radio guy Matt Pinto will tell you, loudly, the zebras did at least as much to beat OKC as those two guys; the Clips’ 31-46 free throws (OKC managed 17-26, a percentage nearly as indifferent) made the difference in L.A.’s 118-110 win and a split in the season series. If you ask me, though, where this game really shines is in the plus/minus column, where inveterate flopper Patrick Beverley had a game-high +20 while scoring, um, zero. Oh, and Steven Adams also fouled out in the waning moments, perhaps as a show of solidarity.

That Williams line is fearsome; apart from all those points, Lou scarfed down seven boards, served up six dimes, and executed four steals. (The Thunder had only three in aggregate.) He’s been Sixth Man of the Year twice, and I won’t be even slightly surprised if he gets it again this year.

Before their untimely exits, Westbrook had amassed 32 points, and PG-13 15, both firmly on the minus side of the ledger. Interestingly, the OKC reserves were all plus, except Donte Grantham, who played only the last nine seconds; Nerlens Noel (six points, five boards, +13) led that pack.

At least there’s some breathing room until the last game on this road trip, Monday at Utah. These guys must be tired. And somewhere in an unnamed officials’ lounge, a whistle is being swallowed.

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Exit of the gladiators

It took a little while to notice him in the double-zero jersey, but no doubt about it, it was Enes Kanter coming off the Portland bench, and it’s always a treat to see him. (He scored three points, but reeled in six rebounds.) And that’s about the last kindly thing I feel like saying about the Frail Blazers, who, in the eyes of radio guy Matt Pinto, were being given the benefit of the doubt on too many calls. (I don’t know what Pinto was talking about: quite often there wasn’t any doubt.) And in circumstances like this, when three teams have exactly the same record, you have to figure that things are going to be wild. With 45 seconds left, a pair of Damien Lillard free throws brought the score to a 111-all tie; after a couple of second-chance points didn’t materialize, Terrance Ferguson managed a stickback to give the Thunder a 113-111 lead. The Blazers got the ball back with :13 left, and after a brief contretemps, Paul George and Jusuf Nurkić drew double technicals, and unfortunately for Nurkić that was his second tech, and out he went. Jerami Grant actually fouled Nurkić Biily Donovan got to pick who shot the free throws. He picked Skal Labissiere, who missed the first by accident and missed the second deliberately. And somehow, Markieff Morris got called for a loose-ball foul. Al-Farouq Aminu did knock down two free throws to tie it up. Russell Westbrook took the inbound, it made a beeline for the sideline, and the Blazers failed to score on the last possession.

So overtime ensued. Lillard made it to 51 points, but it didn’t make any difference: OKC outscored the Blazers 16-8 in those five minutes to win it 129-121, to sweep the Blazers 4-0, and to take sole possession of third place in the West. Paul George says he’s still working on that shoulder, but he didn’t do badly: 32 points, 14 rebounds. Westbrook finished with 37. And not enough hours from now, we resume in Los Angeles.

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And sharp teeth, too

The Timberwolves are still somehow under .500, but they continue to have no trouble with the Thunder, whom they’d already beaten twice this season. And the return of Paul George didn’t make matters any more difficult for Minnesota; PG-13 might have looked a little oxidized early on, but it’s hard to imagine how George’s 25 points, welcome as they were, would have made any difference on a night where Karl-Anthony Towns hit 15 of 27 for 41 points in barely more than 30 minutes. It’s like the game plan was to tie up Andrew Wiggins, and the hell with the rest of it. And Wiggins was indeed held to 18 points and -1 for the evening. But Derrick Rose loaded 19 more into the barrel, and Jeff Teague tacked on 16 more, and when the smoke had cleared, the Wolves had shredded the Thunder, 131-120, clinching the season series with one to play. Shooting 53 percent and making half your treys will tend to do wonderful things for you.

Meanwhile, OKC shot 44 percent and put up a ridiculous 46 treys, 18 of which actually made. Russell Westbrook’s 38-13 line helped, but only Nerlens Noel showed up on the plus side of the ledger, with a +9. And when you lose by eleven, well, missing 13 free throws might just have had something to do with that.

It gets worse from here on out. Thursday night at Portland, a place where the Thunder win once about every thirty years, then Friday at Los Angeles to take on the Clippers, and finally Monday at Salt Lake City. After that, there are only 15 games left.

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Daylight on the horizon

About halfway through the fourth quarter, radio guy Matt Pinto summed up the game in exactly four words: “Grizzlies in Fat City.” He’d pretty much nailed it: the Griz were up about a dozen or so and the Thunder couldn’t get unstuck in whatever offensive quicksand had trapped them. Shortly thereafter, the Thunder went on a brief run to pull within five, but it wasn’t until 1:04 that Russell Westbrook, who’d missed ten treys, saw one slide in to tie the score at 93, and then half a minute later buried a pullup to put OKC up two. The Griz, obligingly, had quit scoring about a minute and a half earlier. Dennis Schröder sank two free throws to stretch the lead to four. Delon Wright sprang to the rim to pull Memphis back to within two; Terrance Ferguson got two freebies, the Griz sent up a hail-Mary trey at the horn, and after four days in the hole, the Thunder emerged with an actual win, 99-95.

This is scary: 33-93 shooting, around 36 percent. (Griz shooting: 35-79, 44 percent.) It didn’t help that the Thunder managed to miss nine free throws out of 33, though Steven Adams missed five of them, and with his 13 points and 22 rebounds, no one is likely to growl at the Kiwi. (The Memphis mirror-image, Jonas Valanciunas, put up a respectable 16-13; Avery Bradley poured in 27 points from the wing.) Westbrook finished with 22; Schröder posted 17-12 for the team’s only other double-double.

And now it’s time to hit the road. First stop is Minnesota, which doesn’t play doormat these days. Does Paul George return? We don’t know yet. But one thing is for sure: life is a lot trickier when PG-13 isn’t around.

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