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Did locker room culture eliminate Rockets from Kevin Durant chase?

Did locker room culture eliminate Rockets from Kevin Durant chase?

It's not just about winning and losing when it comes to where top free agents such as Kevin Durant would consider as a landing spot. It's not just about money. It's about culture. A team that has a poisonous core, such as the Houston Rockets, has made them an early cut.

Apparently, the Rockets are off the list before Durant even starts actively looking at his options. 

The long, winding story about James Harden and Dwight Howard and their bickering has been well-chrnoicled. Howard is going to opt-out the final year of his deal and leave in free agency. Harden, Durant's former teammate with the Oklahoma City Thunder, will remain.That's not nearly going to be enough for Durant who has made it clear he wants a comfortable environment.

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The Rockets made the playoffs as a No. 8 seed in the West at 41-41. The Wizards finished a few games back in ninth place in the East with the same record. 

Despite the Wizards' contentious relationship with coach Randy Wittman, he's now gone. While they aren't perfect, there hasn't been any locker room drama such as the passive aggressive sniping in Houston. The problem for the Wizards is there are about 20 teams with max cap room to make Durant a pitch. 

Yes, locker room culture matters. So does the relationship with the player and the front office. That's why the Thunder have a strong chance to retain their unrestricted free agent because they have both. 

Free agency opens July 1 and by all indications, including from Durant himself, he's going to be quick and to the point and not allow his decision to drag on.

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John Wall isn't listening to Drake's trash talk and isn't listening to his music either

John Wall isn't listening to Drake's trash talk and isn't listening to his music either

The friendly feud between Wizards guard John Wall and Raptors superfan Drake nearly tilted to Washington over the weekend as the rap star apparently floated the idea of showing up for Game 3 in D.C. 

Drake, in fact, was going to bring with him a prop to show just how confident he was after his team went up up 2-0.

"I told him to be here for Game 3. He told me he was going to be here," Wall said. "He didn't show up. He told me we was getting swept and he said he had the broom for us."

Wall and Drake exchanged trash-talk throughout the first two games held up in Toronto as Drake sat courtside. Their back-and-forth was caught on camera and went viral.

Wall now has the upperhand with the Wizards having won two straight games as the series shifts back to Toronto for Game 5 on Wednesday.

"I wanted him to know that they wasn't going to sweep us," Wall said. "We did what we were supposed to do. We came home and took home court, won two games."

Wall continued to say that him and Drake "are just having fun." He has referred to Drake as a friend in the past and Drake is a fan of the University of Kentucky, where Wall starred during the 2009-10 season.

But that friendship is currently on hold. Wall, in fact, says isn't listening to any of Drake's songs during the series and that includes 'Nice For What,' Drake's latest single. The song is being played everywhere, but Wall is avoiding it. 

"I can't?" Wall said when told he can't get away from 'Nice For What.' "I always have my headphones on."

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How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

The Wizards-Raptors first round playoff series has evolved to feature the emergence of several players who started off slowly including Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Kelly Oubre, Jr. The opposite has happened for Toronto big man Serge Ibaka.

After Ibaka lit up the Wizards for 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in Game 1, there has been a disappearance. His scoring has gone missing and it's a big reason why the Wizards have won two straight games and earned a 2-2 series split.

Head coach Scott Brooks knows Ibaka well from their days in Oklahoma City. He helped develop Ibaka and has since watched from afar as his game has changed to include a consistent outside game.

Brooks has on several occasions referred to Ibaka as one of the best three-point shooting big men in the league. The numbers back that up. Last season, he shot 39.1 percent from three on 4.0 attempts per game, excellent for a 6-foot-10 power forward.

This season that number dipped to 36 percent, but he hit 41 percent of his threes in his final 16 games of the regular season. That carried over into the playoffs when he went 3-for-4 in Game 1 as part of an 8-for-11 shooting night overall.

The Wizards made a point to take away those outside shots following their series-opening defeat. The way they are doing that is by crowding him when he gets the ball, even if it means him getting past the initial defender.

"You want to make sure you meet him on the catch. You want to take away his shot," Brooks said. "When he gets open shots, they are money. He's going to knock them down... We did a good job of meeting him on his catch and making him put the ball on the floor with his left hand. You can live with the results."

After his 23-point outburst in Game 1, Ibaka has scored just 20 points total in the last three games. He has gone 2-for-6 from three.

The Wizards are taking away his shot attempts in general. He took 11 shots in each of the first two games of this series, but just four in Game 3 and five in Game 4. In Game 3 he had three points and three turnovers and on Sunday he had seven points and four turnovers.

Here are two examples of the Wizards' defense on Ibaka. On this first play, Markieff Morris meets Ibaka as soon as he catches the ball and the result is a turnover:

On this next play, Morris follows Ibaka all the way to the rim and even though he goes up on a pump fake, Morris recovers to alter Ibaka's shot and force a miss:

The Wizards, however, did get away with one against Ibaka. He was left wide open for a three in the final minute, but the shot rimmed out:

As the first two plays demonstrate, Morris deserves a lot of credit for the Wizards' success against Ibaka. He has the size and mobility to keep up with him and is willing to use contact to his advantage.

"Just playing the tendencies," Morris said. "We're making them do things they are uncomfortable with and are getting better results."

Ibaka was fourth on the Raptors this season in points per game and third in shot attempts. He is their third option behind All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If the Wizards can continue to lock up Ibaka, it will be difficult for the Raptors to beat them.

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