Kevin Durant and the Thunder are NBA Finals-bound

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Kevin Durant and the Thunder are NBA Finals-bound

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- After years of nagging Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks not to take him out of games, Kevin Durant finally got his wish. And now, he's one big step closer to making his basketball dreams come true. Durant had 34 points and 14 rebounds while playing all of regulation for the first time all season, and the Thunder claimed a spot in the NBA finals by beating the San Antonio Spurs 107-99 on Wednesday night. Russell Westbrook added 25 points for the Thunder, who trailed Game 6 of the Western Conference finals by 18 in the first half and erased a 15-point halftime deficit before pulling ahead to stay in the fourth. "It's an amazing moment for him to play like this in this moment, in this setting, and I wasn't going to take him out," Brooks said. "I was not going to take him out. I don't care how many times he looked at me fatigued. He has enough, and I think all of our guys have enough to play. You just have to fight through it." Durant grabbed the final rebound, dribbled the ball across halfcourt and raised his right fist to celebrate with a sold-out crowd wearing free white T-shirts. The franchise will play for the NBA title for the first time since 1996, before relocating from Seattle. Even before the final buzzer, Durant indulged by hugging his mother and brother seated courtside after a foul was called with 14 seconds remaining. "I never want to take those moments for granted," Durant said. "I know it's just one step closer to our dreams, but it felt good." Tony Parker had 29 points and 12 assists for San Antonio, but only eight of the points and two assists came in the second half. The Thunder outscored the Spurs 59-36 after falling behind 63-48 at halftime and getting a challenge from Brooks that he said had "nothing to do" with committing eight turnovers against only six assists while allowing San Antonio to shoot 9 for 15 on 3-pointers. "It just had everything to do with who we are as men, who we are as a team, the type of spirit that we want to show every time down the court," Brooks said. "It was all about that, about body language, about being a family. I thought our guys did that the first possession of that second half and they did not look back." Tim Duncan chipped in 25 points and 14 rebounds, and Stephen Jackson scored 23 as San Antonio lost its fourth straight after becoming only the fourth team in NBA history to win 20 games in a row. In the process, the Spurs pushed past Oklahoma City for the best record in the league and home-court advantage in the playoffs. But the Thunder took that back by winning Game 5 in San Antonio on Monday night. "There's not much to complain about," San Antonio's Manu Ginobili said. "We had a great run. We just couldn't beat these guys." The Thunder, only three years removed from a 3-29 start that had them on pace for the worst record in NBA history, went through the only three West teams to reach the finals since 1998 -- Dallas, the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio -- to earn their shot at the title. Game 1 of the NBA finals will be Tuesday night in Oklahoma City against either Boston or Miami. The Celtics lead that series 3-2 and can earn a trip to the finals with a win at home in Game 6 on Thursday night. The Thunder took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter, getting nine of their first 13 points on free throws as the fouls started to pile up for San Antonio -- six on the defensive end and three on the offensive end in the first 7 minutes. Even Durant drew what he thought was his first charge of the season, stepping in front of Ginobili. Derek Fisher and James Harden hit 3-pointers in a three-possession span to increase the lead to 99-93 with 3:13 remaining. Jackson, who had made his previous six 3-pointers, and Parker both missed 3s that would have gotten the Spurs within 103-102 in the final minute. The Spurs put up quite a fight, at least for the first half. Parker, who had been largely bottled up ever since the Thunder put 6-foot-7 defensive specialist Thabo Sefolosha on him in Game 3, had a hand in the Spurs' first 12 baskets, making seven on his own and assisting on the other five. Kawhi Leonard and Jackson followed his three-point play by nailing back-to-back 3-pointers for a 34-16 advantage in the final 2 minutes of the first quarter. "I told the coaches that I could go all night, I could go 48, and I didn't think they would let me do it," Durant said. "But they kept me in and I just tried to give my team a spark." The Thunder stormed back with an 11-2 run to start the third quarter and eventually pulled ahead after Durant's 3-pointer from the top of the key made it 79-77 with 1:41 left in the period. San Antonio missed nine of 11 3-pointers in the second half. "The third quarter, it was like playing in mud," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "So, that was our downfall as much as anything." Notes: Popovich, whose request for his team to play nasty led to T-shirts being made in San Antonio, said at the morning shootaround that his team needed to play "with a little bit of ugly." Not nasty? "I was trying to stay away from that word," he said. ... San Antonio had a 29-28 edge in the second quarter after getting outscored 138-106 in the period in the first five games -- dropping more than six points per game. ... Greg Willard was initially scheduled to be one of the three officials but pulled out due to illness. Rodney Mott replaced him, alongside Joe Crawford and Bill Kennedy.

A's spring training Day 10: Canha doubles off Gray in intrasquad game

A's spring training Day 10: Canha doubles off Gray in intrasquad game

MESA, Ariz. — The A’s had four lineups sketched out for two intrasquad games taking place simultaneously Thursday.

You couldn’t help but notice that one of the lineups in particular was packed with Oakland’s regulars, and there were plenty of highlights delivered by notable names during the two-inning game at the A’s minor league facility.

Sonny Gray gave up a run on Mark Canha’s RBI double to right-center in his inning of work but also struck out Ryon Healy with a good breaking ball. Gray’s stuff earned solid reviews from manager Bob Melvin.

Overall, Melvin was pleasantly surprised with some of the hard contact generated by his hitters, who had seen just two days of live batting practice prior to Thursday.

“Canha hits a pitch down that’s moving all over the place to right-center,” Melvin said.

In the same game, Rajai Davis hit a leadoff triple to center off Kendall Graveman and came home on Stephen Vogt’s single. Graveman got Matt Joyce looking on a fastball but gave up some hard contact in a brief 15-pitch outing. He’ll start Sunday’s game against the Angels, so Thursday’s outing acted like a between-start bullpen session.

In the other game, Sean Manaea got his three outs so quickly that they had to extend the inning a bit for him to get his work in. That game was highlighted by a long home run from infield prospect Yairo Munoz off Daniel Coulombe.

Melvin said bench coach Mark Kotsay handled duties of sketching out the rosters for the two intrasquad games, and while it will be interesting to see how Melvin writes out the lineup for Saturday’s exhibition opener against the Chicago Cubs, keep in mind that the early Cactus League games will only feature a handful of regulars in each of them.

PROSPECT WATCH: Shortstop Franklin Barreto, the A’s top-rated prospect, will also see some time at second base this spring but not in the outfield, Melvin said. Barreto has played some center field in winter ball, but general manager David Forst, during an offseason interview with CSN California, said the team envisions Barreto as an infielder. The A’s have Marcus Semien entrenched at shortstop right now, and there’s been some feeling among scouts that Barreto — whose bat is his biggest strength — is better suited for second base long-term anyway. Another highly touted prospect, Richie Martin, is a possible shortstop of the future as well.

NOTEWORTHY: The A’s have expressed optimism that reliever Santiago Casilla will arrive in camp shortly after being delayed by the visa process in the Dominican Republic. But Casilla remains day-to-day, with Melvin not giving a timetable for his arrival.

“We were going to slow-play him this spring anyway. He’ll throw some bullpens and probably throw to some hitters before we get him in a game,” Melvin said. “At this point in time I’m still not that concerned. I’ll start to be a little bit if we get into games (and he’s not in camp), but I still think we’re on a good schedule with him.”

ODDS AND ENDS: Oscar-nominated actor Mahershala Ali, an Oakland native who threw out the first pitch at an A’s game last season, arranged for a screening of his movie “Moonlight” on Thursday night for A’s players at a Scottsdale theatre. Ali is nominated for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the movie, which is also up for Best Picture.

“It’s nice of him to think of that and want to set that up,” reliever John Axford said. “I’ve already seen it and I’ll be there again.”

Axford, a movie fanatic and Film & Television major in college, has created a social media buzz in recent years by doing incredibly well predicting the Oscar winners. He has yet to reveal all of his picks for Sunday’s show, but he gives rave reviews to “Moonlight.”

Nuggets' Malone plays what if game with Kings, takes jab at ownership

Nuggets' Malone plays what if game with Kings, takes jab at ownership

SACRAMENTO -- It seems like yesterday that Michael Malone was leading a Sacramento Kings team featuring DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay into battle every night. Less than three years later, only Gay remains with the franchise and he’s out for the season with a torn left Achilles. 

Thomas left in a lopsided trade that yielded Sacramento Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception during the summer of 2014. Malone was let go with an 11-13 record 24 games into the 2014-15 campaign after Cousins went down with a bout of viral meningitis. Cousins is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans following a blockbuster trade on Sunday.

“I always go back and think - ‘what could have happened if myself, DeMarcus, Isaiah, a healthy Rudy, if we were all together?,’” Malone told a small group of reporters before shootaround on Thursday. “We’ll never know, but I like to think that a lot of positive things would have happened, because I felt like we had something good going here. And it wasn’t to be.”

Malone’s reputation as a defense-minded coach played into his firing. At the time, owner Vivek Ranadivé used musical metaphors to describe what he was looking for in his next head coach.

“We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised,” Ranadivé said. “What we need is a jazz director.”

Malone is back in Sacramento Thursday night as the head coach of the Denver Nuggets and he’s looking for his first win against his former club in his fifth opportunity. He also heads a group that leads the Kings by a game and a half in the standings and boasts the NBA’s fourth highest scoring average at 110.6 points per game. 

“I can’t remember all the things that were said when I was fired, because there was so much being said,” Malone stated. “But I know one of the things that was being said was ‘style of play.’ There were people that were not in my corner that used that as a way to get me fired. Now we’re one of the highest scoring teams in NBA.”

“I look at you people, you were wrong,” a smiling Malone added while looking directly into a news camera. 

Known for his ability to connect to Cousins, Malone was as shocked as anyone to hear that the Kings traded the talented 26-year-old. The two have remained close, despite no longer working together.

“That was definitely a surprise over All-Star break,” Malone said. “Surprise for me, even a bigger surprise for him from what I understand.”

Malone has very little time to worry about his former player. He has to prepare his Nuggets team for a new-look Kings roster that has played a gritty, hard-nosed style all season long. With 26 games remaining, his team sits in the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff chase and they face a team that is backed into a cormer.

“They have a chip on their shoulder,” Malone said. “You make a big trade like that and I’m sure the players in that locker room are going to say, ‘Everybody’s writing us off because we don’t have DeMarcus.’ They’re going to come out and try and prove everybody wrong. They beat Boston, a very good team, without DeMarcus, and I’m sure that’s the model they’re going to try to use moving forward.”

A straight shooter through and through, Malone spoke on a variety of topics before heading out to the floor to prep his team for the 7:30 start at Golden 1 Center. 

“I just want to get a win, period,” Malone said. “The grudge is gone, this is part of the business. I knew the rules when I signed up, I really did.”

Malone understood the reality of taking over a fledgling franchise under new ownership and management when he took the Kings job. Sacramento gave him his first head coaching opportunity in the league, which he is grateful for, but his departure was anything but clean. The grudge might be gone, but those who covered Malone during his time with the Kings know full-well that playing this franchise will always be personal.