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Kevin Durant appears headed down same path as Dirk Nowitzki

Kevin Durant appears headed down same path as Dirk Nowitzki

The propensity to call everything a “choke,” especially in the postseason, has gone overboard when it comes to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

They didn’t choke. They lost a seven-game series to the No. 1 overall seed in the NBA playoffs in the Golden State Warriors, a team that won a record 73 regular-season games, has the two-time MVP in Steph Curry, the deadliest shooting guard in the league in Klay Thompson and that jack-of-all-trades tweener that 29 other teams covet in Draymond Green. The 2015 Finals MVP Andre Igoudala is a good chip to have in the back pocket, too.

Yes, the Thunder still should’ve won. They led 3-1 and in their last two losses, winnable games in the crunch, reverted to who they’ve been for years -- an isolation team that lacked the discipline under the duress.

This is vindication of sorts for Scott Brooks, who was fired before this season for unspecified reasons though he had one NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

Billy Donovan didn’t achieve better results for his No. 3 seed Thunder but they wore down the 67-win San Antonio Spurs in six games (Brooks accomplished this, too) and stole home-court advantage from Golden State in Game 1. They showed what they could be when at an optimum level but maintaining that posture is even more difficult.

The Thunder had the size to go with that versatility to push the Warriors in ways that seemed unthinkable. Durant and Russell Westbrook were unstoppable. They were able to switch bigs such as Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams onto Curry and Thompson and it worked. Then the clock struck midnight and the carriage leading them to the NBA Finals turned into a pumpkin. The Splash Brothers figured out how to exploit the matchups as three-pointer after three-pointer blazed the nets. 

For his part, Durant didn’t recognize that he was being led into a traps as Igoudala defended him man-to-man while Green was playing zone coverage. What appeared to be clear paths to the basket turned into dreadful shot attempts.

The Thunder didn’t have a single turnover in the final 12 minutes of Monday’s series-defining 96-88 loss – only three in the second half in all -- but the errant shots that had no prayer of going into the basket might as well have been.

In a Game 6 loss, Oklahoma City shot just 5 of 19 (26.3%). Durant and Westbrook combined to shoot 3 of 14.

Durant is an MVP (2014). Westbrook, who tied an NBA record set Magic Johnson with 18 triple-doubles, was in the discussion and garnered more votes than his teammate for the award after the 2015-16 regular season.

They still weren't a match for history. Regardless of whether or not these Warriors could’ve beaten the Michael Jordan-led Bulls that won 72 games in a seven-game series, they're a special group. If it were so easy to replicate what they're doing, they would've lost more than nine regular-season games and surely wouldn't have stood a chance at coming back from a 3-1 deficit.  

The cliche questions about Durant as he enters unrestricted free agency will grow louder: Can a team win a championship with him as their best player? Does Durant shrink when the moments get bigger? 

After completing his ninth NBA season, he better get used to it. It happened to Dirk Nowitzki, who won a championship for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, four years after his MVP season on a 67-win team ended in a first-round playoff exit. It took Nowitzki 13 years to get there and he left with the MVP trophy by disposing of LeBron James.

Julius Erving played 12 years as a pro, including ABA, to win an NBA crown and his failures that preceeded it were every bit as heartbreaking. His Philadelphia 76ers led the Boston Celtics in the East finals 3-1 and they lost the next three games by a total of five points.

For some, that moment of redemption will never come like this. It could be that Durant and Westbrook can't maximize their greatness with each other because of their styles. As important as having talent is when it comes to winning titles, so is that talent being the ideal fit with each other. 

What would Durant look like next to a more traditional pass-first point guard such as a Mike Conley or John Wall? Unless there's a shakeup in Oklahoma City or he leaves in free agency to find that out, we'll never know.

But this is what is known: Losing in seven games of the conference finals to the best team for the last two years in the NBA isn't a choke but rather a hiccup. And hiccups can be cured.

 

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Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

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USA TODAY Sports

Wizards vs. Hornets: TV, live stream and radio info, things to watch

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter, Kelly Oubre, Jr. and the Washington Wizards battle Kemba Walker, Dwight Howard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and the Charlotte Hornets on Friday night.

Here is all you need to know: TV, live stream and radio info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

WASHINGTON WIZARDS VS. CHARLOTTE HORNETS

Where: Capital One Arena
Tip-off: 7 p.m.
TV: NBC Sports Washington (coverage begins at 6 p.m.)
Live stream: NBCSportsWashington.com
Radio: 1500 AM

On a roll

The Wizards have some serious momentum going right now. With an impressive win over the Cavs on Thursday, they have now won three straight games and eight of 10 since John Wall went down with a left knee injury. They had a week off due to the All-Star break, but didn't show any rust at all in their first game back.

The Wizards are now 34-24, 10 games above the .500 mark. They are fourth in the East and could move into third on Friday if they win and the Cavaliers lose. Even with Wall out, things continue to look up for Washington.

PODCAST: BIGGEST STORYLINES COMING OUT OF ALL-STAR BREAK

Hornets have had their number

The Wizards haven't done so well against the Hornets so far this season. Charlotte has taken both meetings and that includes a 24-point win on Jan. 17. That game featured Dwight Howard taunting the Wizards late in the fourth quarter.

Howard has killed the Wizards through two games with averages of 22.0 points and 14.0 rebounds. Jeremy Lamb (20.0 ppg vs. Wizards) has been a big factor as well as All-Star Kemba Walker (21.5 ppg vs. Wizards).

The last time these teams played about a month ago frustrations boiled over in an incident that got Tim Frazier ejected. Michael Carter-Williams picked a fight with Jason Smith and Frazier went off:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

Hornets coming in hot

The Hornets are outside the playoff picture at the moment at eight games below .500, but they have won two straight games and Walker and Howard are coming off huge games. In a win over the Brooklyn Nets on Thursday, Walker dropped 31 points and Howard grabbed 24 rebounds.

Those guys will be riding a high coming into Washington on Friday. But it should be noted that Howard complained after the game how tired he is at this point in the season. That exhausion could affect him more in the second game of a back-to-back.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS

 

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5 must-see moments from Wizards' huge road win over Cavaliers, including Markieff Morris' alley-oop

5 must-see moments from Wizards' huge road win over Cavaliers, including Markieff Morris' alley-oop

Here are the five best plays or moments from the Washington Wizards' 110-103 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday night...

1. The Wizards didn't start out well, as they trailed by nine points at the end of the first quarter. Kelly Oubre, Jr. stumbled early by missing four of his first six shots and it looked like a carryover of his slump before the All-Star break.

But Oubre got hot in the second quarter and helped the Wizards turn the game around. This was one of his best plays, a two-handed slam that he celebrated with an emphatic scream to the crowd:

RELATED: BEAL IMPRESSED BY LEBRON AT ALL-STAR GAME

2. Tomas Satoransky was one of the stars of the game. He had 17 points to go along with eight assists, four rebounds and two steals. 

Here's one of his dimes, a perfect alley-oop lob to Markieff Morris, who finished with nine points and eight rebounds:

3. Satoransky has reached double-figures in six of the 10 games since John Wall went out with an injury. This was a very impressive move, a stepback fadeaway that was super smooth:

RELATED: GET TO KNOW NEW WIZARDS FREE AGENT SIGNING

4. Ian Mahinmi made some key contributions including four offensive rebounds and a steal. This was his best basket, a powerful slam that came at a key time:

5. This play helped seal the victory. It was a smart after-timeout set drawn up by head coach Scott Brooks and it worked to perfection:

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS