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Durant, Thunder left to wonder what went wrong


Durant, Thunder left to wonder what went wrong

From Comcast SportsNet
MIAMI (AP) -- A week ago, they were leading the NBA Finals. And now, the Oklahoma City Thunder are heading home for the summer to ruminate over lessons doled out by the Miami Heat. Favorites coming into the series, the Thunder fell in Game 5 of the finals Thursday night, as Miami finished off its run to a championship by beating the Thunder 121-106. Oklahoma City's 11-point win in Game 1 is long forgotten and irrelevant now, considering that for the first time in more than three years, the Thunder have lost four straight games. At the absolute worst time, on the absolute biggest stage, no less. "When you play against the best, you learn," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. Kevin Durant had 32 points and 11 rebounds, and Russell Westbrook finished with 19 points for the Thunder, though Westbrook's night -- one game removed from a 20-for-32 performance from the field -- came on a night where he shot 4 for 20. They came out with 4:44 left, the outcome long decided, the Heat fans going delirious. "We made it to the finals, which was cool for us, but we didn't want to just make it there," Durant said. "Unfortunately we lost, so it's tough. It's tough, man. That's the only way I can explain it. But as a whole, I'm proud of the guys on how we fought all season." James Harden scored 19 points and Derek Fisher added 11 for the Thunder. Down 10 at the half, the Thunder cut the deficit in half by the time the third quarter was a minute old. It was the last gasp of the season -- Miami put the game, and the title, away with a 34-13 burst that pushed the lead to 93-67 on a three-point play by Dwyane Wade with 1:23 left in that pivotal quarter. Mike Miller connected on his sixth 3-pointer of the night, and Miami's 13th, on the first possession of the fourth quarter. Miller would soon add another, for good measure. From that point, the clock wasn't ticking down time left in the game. It was ticking down the time left in Oklahoma City's season. "We know what this feeling feels like," Westbrook said. "We'll remember this feeling, and that will push everybody in the summer, just try to keep everybody going and keep everybody's heads up." The Thunder came in saying they had to have that proverbial Game 7 -- win or else -- mentality. Apparently, they chose else. "You hate to go home and not win the whole thing. ... We lost to a team that played better than us in four of the five games," Brooks said. Even though it was a five-point game after one quarter, a 10-point game at the half and still a two-possession game early in the third quarter, the Thunder simply did not have enough answers for the barrage that came from Miami. Forget Miami's Big Three of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh. It was more like a Big Six for the Heat on this night. Two years of work, and a year of frustration after falling to Dallas in the title round a year ago, came pouring out of the Heat. By the time the third quarter was over, Miami had six players in double figures. Oklahoma City? Just two. And that was largely the downfall of Oklahoma City in this series. Durant was consistently great. Westbrook had more good moments than bad, by far. But the third option simply wasn't there, or at least, wasn't there often enough. "The best two teams were in the finals," James said. This Thunder team is built to contend for this title for a long time to come. Durant and Westbrook are already exceptional, and likely nowhere near their prime. Harden was the best sixth man in the league all season, though he struggled big-time in this series. Serge Ibaka is one of the best defenders in the league. The general manager, Sam Presti, is extremely well thought of in just about every league circle. And Oklahoma City has proven itself to be a city that loves its team. More good things for the franchise are certain. But a title -- that wasn't happening, not yet anyway, not against a Heat team that spent a year preparing for this stage. Now, it's Oklahoma City's turn to take a finals loss and use it as motivation. "You get here because you're good. You get here because you're committed to each other," Brooks said. "We definitely have room to improve. That's what the summers are for." Durant spent part of this past summer working out with James in the finals MVP's hometown of Akron, Ohio. He vowed to work even harder this time around. "I'm going to find the positives and the negatives," Durant said. "It was tough losing the finals. We got to the finals, had a tough road to get here. But we've just got to move past it, I guess, man. It's going to hurt for a little bit. We've got to move past it."

John Carlson gets the better of John Klingberg in duel of top defensemen


John Carlson gets the better of John Klingberg in duel of top defensemen

One week ago, the hockey world was captivated by the matchup of Alex Ovechkin and Patrik Laine, two players battling for the Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer. Tuesday's matchup between the Washington Capitals and Dallas Stars once again pitted two competitors locked in a point battle together in John Carlson and John Klingberg.

Carlson and Klingberg entered Tuesday's games with 59 points each, tied for the league lead in points among defensemen. In a 4-3 win for Washington, both defensemen delivered phenomenal performances as each recorded two points, two assists for Klingberg and a goal and an assist for Carlson.

Tuesday's game was the latest example this season of Carlson rising to the occasion. He has been at his best when he has been needed the most such as when he was averaging 27:46 of ice time a night while Matt Niskanen was out injured.


Carlson's ability to deliver has not gone unnoticed by his teammates.

"John's having just a whale of a year, obviously," Niskanen said. "Monster year. Production, been carrying the load all year. He's been just a stalwart back there for us. He leads the way."

"The numbers don't lie, he's been having an unreal season," T.J. Oshie said. "Definitely on the points side of things, but maybe some parts that don't get talked about, the defensive side of things. He rarely loses a battle. It's very encouraging, it gets the bench going when he plays like that."

After the game, Carlson tried to downplay the notion that he elevated his game in response to playing against Klingberg.

"No," Carlson said when asked if he was motivated by the points race. "I think the guys do a good job of pumping that up in the locker room. I just want to go out there and win. I think we played a good game tonight so that's most important."

But while his words were subdued, his play was anything but.

Despite both players getting two points, Carlson got the better of his counterpart by scoring the game-winning goal in the third period, a one-timer slap shot to beat goalie Kari Lehtnonen, to lead Washington to the win.


Carlson may say he was not motivated by Klingberg, but his play certainly seemed to suggest otherwise.

"I think they both know, they know the stats," Barry Trotz said. "They know who they're lined up [against]. They're proud athletes. You're in a business where there's a lot of alpha males. That's what it is."

Of course, Carlson may not need a matchup with Klingberg to motivate him.

In the final year of his contract, Carlson has picked a good time to set new career highs in goals, assist and points. With a cap hit of just under $4 million, the 28-year-old blueliner will be due a significant raise in the offseason. That price tag continues to climb with every good performance as Carlson continues to cement himself among the league's top defensemen.

"Obviously he's very motivated," Trotz said. "He's in the last year of his contract. He'll be motivated. He's putting out points. He's gotten better and better. He's more poised every year. When he's intense and detailed in his game, he's a top defenseman in the league and he shows it."

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Need to Know: Redskins player quick hitters—Offensive starters

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Need to Know: Redskins player quick hitters—Offensive starters

Here is what you need to know on this Wednesday, March 21, 36 days before the NFL draft.  

Redskins starters quick hitters—offense

The last couple of days here I looked at how the depth charts are shaping up with a little bit of commentary (offense, defense). Today and tomorrow I’ll take a closer look at the starters with some quick hitters about each one, starting today with the offense.

QB Alex Smith—The deal is done, and the Redskins have their man for five years at $22.2 million per year or, if they prefer, three years at $23.7 million per. It seems like most fans are behind him but there will have to be a few more wins than losses this fall for that to become permanent.

RB Samaje Perine—He got better as the year went on, averaging nearly a half yard per carry more in the last seven games compared to the first nine. But the 3.4 average per carry certainly did not stop both Doug Williams and Jay Gruden from talking about drafting a running back early.

TE Jordan Reed—According to reports, he is rehabbing well from the hamstring and toe injuries that severely limited him last year. Still, expect him to be kept in bubble wrap until training camp and even then, his action may be limited.

WR Josh Doctson—Did Kirk Cousins look away from Doctson too often, lacking the confidence in him to let him go get the 50-50 balls? Will Smith have more confidence in Doctson? The answers to those questions may determine if the third-year receiver breaks out in 2018 or he continues to tease with flashes of ability.

WR Paul Richardson—He’s capable of the acrobatic catch, which should be fun to watch. Richardson was good with Russell Wilson on the off-schedule plays, maybe he can do the same with Smith.

WR Jamison Crowder—I guess it’s fair to say he had an off year in 2017 but his receiving yardage only dropped by 60 yards from 2016. It will be interesting to see if they keep him in as the punt returner after he averaged 6.3 yards per return (23rd of 25 qualifiers) last year.

LT Trent Williams—The six-time Pro Bowler is still in the relatively early stages of recovering from surgery to the knee that kept him from practicing from about Week 6 on. Don’t look for him until training camp and even then, the early workload is likely to be light.

LG Arie Kouandjio—This is the one offensive position that remains up in the air. Kouandjio has shown some grit as a spot starter but I don’t think the organization views him as a 16-game starter.

C Chase Roullier—Shortly after Roullier got the starting job when Spencer Long went out injured, Jay Gruden said that Roullier would be the Redskins’ center “for a long time”. There is no reason to doubt that at this point in time.

RG Brandon Scherff—His concern no longer is trying to live up to having been the fifth pick of the draft. Scherff has to play well enough to justify his 2019 option-year salary, which will be in the vicinity of $13 million.

RT Morgan Moses—He had surgery to repair his ankles, which were an issue most of last season. Still, he didn’t miss a start. Like Williams, even if he’s ready for training camp, don’t expect to see a whole lot of him.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/16) 27
—Training camp starts (approx. 7/26) 129
—2018 NFL season starts (9/9) 173

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