Wholesale Indiana Pacers Jerseys

INDIANAPOLIS – They’re feeling a little better in Oklahoma City, at least, after the Indiana Pacers squandered an opportunity against the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference playoff series Sunday night.

Victor Oladipo, who has spent the past seven months making the Thunder look bad for trading him away – along with big man Domantas Sabonis – in the Paul George deal, had a nightmarish shooting night (5-of-20) at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. That was one of several Pacers failings that thwarted their chance to take a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series and push LeBron James and the rest of the Cavaliers to the brink of elimination.

Oladipo, motivated by the trade and the trash talked nationally about the Pacers’ end of the deal, worked himself all the way to the All-Star Game this season. He’ll likely have the Most Improved Player award on his mantle when the league’s hardware is handed out in a couple months.

But it’s hard to imagine he or his Pacers teammates will have a series victory. Not now. Not after the way they let James and Co. off the hook Sunday.

“I’m a person that learns,” Oladipo said, when asked about his ways of coping with a forgettable offensive performance. He shot 3-of-7 in the first half when Indiana fell behind by 10 points, then missed his first 10 shots of the second half. His last one, a 3-pointer late, mattered not at all in the 104-100 defeat. “I learn from it. I make sure I’m better the next game.”

What he and the Pacers learned the hard way is this: If you come at the King, you best not miss.

With all the reason in the world to play their best game so far in the series – and maybe because of that imperative, turned over a few too many times in their heads until it loomed as pressure – the Pacers didn’t come close.

They had trouble getting out of their own way in the first half. Determined to clean up bad starts in the two previous games, they instead made it three in a row – this makes it 33, 31 and 30 points allowed in the first quarters alone.

Indiana dug itself a hole again double-digits deep by intermission, and didn’t fully make the Cavs pay when they fell prey to their own bad habit of shaky third quarters. The Pacers appeared to have the defending East champions right where they wanted them midway through the fourth after James was whistled for a technical foul (he shoved pest Lance Stephenson to the floor in a move that had to be worth a point to him).

That free throw put Indiana up 92-89 … after which it unraveled completely.
I didn’t think we played the game the right way. There were some quick shots, some ‘heroic’ shots… You’re not going to win if you play the game like that.”

Pacers coach Nate McMillan

The Pacers missed their next three shots, two by Oladipo and one by Cory Joseph, so a lead that might have gone to seven or eight points only got nudged to 93-91. When the Cavaliers methodically went to their most savvy offensive options from there – a couple of Kyle Korver 3-pointers sandwiched around a driving layup from James, then one more rush-and-spin by Cleveland’s dominator – Game 4 got yanked right out from under Indiana.

Just like that, it was 101-95. From there, it was a few more bricks from the Pacers and too much Stephenson sideshow, wrestling Cleveland’s Jeff Green to the floor in yet more antics gone too far.

Indiana had been able to come back from a 17-point deficit in Game 3, but this time left its resiliency wherever it had lost its poise.

Coach Nate McMillan didn’t like what he saw, not early, not late, not in between.

“Similar start in this game as the last two games,” McMillan said. “Not getting stops. Frantic offensively throughout the game. I didn’t think we played the game the right way. There were some quick shots, some ‘heroic’ shots… You’re not going to win if you play the game like that.”

Oladipo had company, what with Darren Collison and Bojan Bogdonovic combining to shoot 9-for-27, including 3-for-13 from the arc. Thaddeus Young grabbed 16 rebounds, but looked to be wearing oven mitts early when he missed three point-blank shots.

The Pacers handed out an arena’s worth of gold towels emblazoned with the word “Together” for fans to wave. But the team itself looked more disjointed and, aside from some solid offensive execution in the third, too willing to settle.

Whether it was overconfidence or just a really bad case of pinch-me nerves trying to put out in the first round a man who gets his mail forwarded to The Finals each June, Indiana has let Cleveland back not just into this series but the postseason.

Every game the Cavs survive and advance is another chance for playoff newbies such as Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. to add a little experience, feel a bit more comfortable. Each of them had his moments Sunday, mostly in the first half.

And let’s not forget how James handled a similar predicament three years ago. Chicago had a chance in the East semifinals to go up 3-1 on the Cavs in Game 4 at United Center. This was a Cleveland team missing Kevin Love after his shoulder dislocation by Boston’s Kelly Olynyk, with Kyrie Irving already limping on his way to a knee fracture.

James vetoed a David Blatt play-call near the end, hit a dagger fadeaway from the left corner to slay the Bulls and, at the end of his back-to-Cleveland season, propelled a rag tag Cavs crew all the way to six games in the Finals.

Any potential parallels, then and now?

“I don’t know. It’s to be seen,” James said. “I mean, 3-1 is a huge deficit and you don’t ever want to go down 3-1 versus anybody, no matter if it’s first round or if you’re fortunate to get to The Finals. It’s just too difficult.”

Going up 3-1 proved to be too hard for the Pacers, who have only themselves to blame.

Wholesale Los Angeles Clippers Jerseys

Los Angeles Clippers
Los Angeles Clippers

LOS ANGELES — Following the conclusion of the 2017-18 season, despite missing the playoffs, the Clippers organization was filled with positivity as the team reflected on their accomplishments over the past year.

“I challenge any team to lose three or four starters for most of the year and finish with the record we did,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers.

Ending the season with a record of 42-40, the Clippers fought tooth and nail, game after game, overcoming a myriad of injuries which forced different lineups and rotations to form regularly. It took 79 games before LA was officially eliminated from playoff contention. In total, the Clippers used 37 different starting lineups, a league-high. The next closest teams were the Suns, Kings and Grizzlies, all of whom ended the season near the bottom of the league’s standings.

“Chemistry is one of those things that is hard to define, but you know when you have it and you know when you don’t,” said Clippers President of Basketball Operations Lawrence Frank. “I think the fact that this group showed so much resolve, they kept fighting back even when we would dig some holes, it’s because they truly cared about each other.”

To begin the season, the Clippers roster included nine new players, after representing one of the NBA’s most consistent rosters over the previous few seasons. By midseason, three new players arrived after LA traded Blake Griffin to the Pistons, making it 12 new guys. Then, there’s the three two-way players who frequently flew to join the team on game days only, creating nearly an unrecognizable roster.

“I don’t know if those guys know any of y’all’s names,” Clippers guard Lou Williams once said in a team huddle during the middle of a game. “I’m not sure they know who you are.”

Still, the Clippers persevered, anchored by Williams and center DeAndre Jordan. In his 13th season, “Sweet Lou” averaged 22.6 points and 5.3 assists – both career-highs – becoming the first player in league history to hit those marks as a reserve. In January, Williams set the basketball world ablaze, scoring 50 points at Golden State on Jan. 10, recording 31 points and 10 steals in Utah on Jan. 20, and adding a 40-point, 10-assist game at Memphis on Jan. 26, only the third player in history to do so off the bench. Williams’ play and leadership was rewarded with a multi-year contract, providing the Sixth Man of the Year favorite with the stability he’s been longing for.

“It was nice for this organization to commit to me the same way I’ve committed to these guys this year,” Williams said. “In years past, these scenarios don’t usually go my way. So it was nice for one to go my way and be somewhere I wanted to be.”

Jordan, in his 10th year with the Clippers, climbed to the top of the franchise record books for games played, passing Randy Smith as the most tenured Clipper ever. He finished the season with a career-high 15.2 rebounds per game, ranking second in the NBA. Recording 46 double-doubles on the season, Jordan sits one behind Elton Brand for most in Clippers history, a mark he’s sure to pass next season if he returns. But Jordan headlines some of the questions regarding the team’s future.

Jordan has a player-option on his contract, meaning he can either opt-in for another year, or he could decide to become a free agent and test the open market. The same is true for guards Austin Rivers and Milos Teodosic, and forward Wesley Johnson. Guard Avery Bradley and forward Montrezl Harrell are both free agents. The Clippers, most likely, will also have two top-15 draft picks in this year’s draft.

“When you look at the draft and you look at our two picks, obviously we’ll be in position to get two very good players,” Frank said. “We’ll also potentially be in a position where we can package both of those picks and move up, and we may be in a position where we can take one of those picks and move down to get a future asset. We just have more chips and when you look at our roster and trying to build a championship roster, we just know we’re a little bit short-handed on young, emerging talent, and this gives us a great runway to start that process.”

Whatever happens going forward, the Clippers are looking back on the past season with pride, defying expectations while playing with passion and energy that will surely create a lasting memory within Clipper Nation.

“We won a lot of games against teams that are better than us and I thought as a group, I don’t think I have been more proud of a group, maybe ever, than I have been of this group,” Rivers said. “We have asked a lot of guys to do a lot of stuff that they should not have had to do and yet they did it.”

Wholesale Los Angeles Lakers Jerseys

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hornets owner Michael Jordan has turned to a fellow former North Carolina Tar Heel with a strong NBA track record to help turn around his struggling franchise.

Charlotte hired Mitch Kupchak as president of basketball operations and general manager Sunday, giving him full control of day-to-day operations. Jordan called Kupchak a “proven winner” in a statement.

As a player and executive, Kupchak has been a part of 10 NBA championship teams. He won three as a player — one with the Washington Wizards and two with in Los Angeles Lakers — and seven as a Lakers executive.

“In every role and in every stop during his tenure in the NBA, Mitch Kupchak has brought the highest levels of success to his teams,” Jordan said. “… Having won championships as both a player and an executive, we have confidence that Mitch is the right person to lead our basketball operations, build a winning culture and bring sustained success to our organization, for our fans and for the city of Charlotte.”

The 63-year-old Kupchak replaces Rich Cho, who was fired earlier this season. Charlotte has failed to make the playoffs in three of its last four seasons.

One of Kupchak’s first decisions will be whether or not to bring back coach Steve Clifford, whose contract expires after the 2019 season.

Kupchak brings more than 30 years of NBA front office experience to Charlotte, including 17 seasons as a general manager with the Lakers.

“I’m excited to join the Hornets organization and I want to thank Michael for this opportunity,” said Kupchak. “I am well aware of the passion for basketball in Charlotte and throughout the entire state of North Carolina, and I am confident that we can build the Hornets into a successful team that our great fans can be proud of.”

Kupchak inherits a roster that includes two-time All-Star point guard Kemba Walker, aging center Dwight Howard and Nic Batum, but not much else to build around for the future and with few assets available to trade other than Walker.

But Jordan thinks Kupchak is the man who can turn things around.

Kupchak began working in the Lakers’ front office in 1986 under Hall of Famers Jerry West and Bill Sharman, who was the first person to win a championship as a player, coach and executive. Kupchak took over as general manager in 2000, serving in that capacity until being fired in 2017.

The Lakers won four NBA titles and six Western Conference Championships during that 17-year run, posting a 747-607 (.552) regular-season record and winning 63 percent (111-66) of their postseason contests. During that span Kupchak was responsible for the day-to-day management of the team, including personnel decisions, contract negotiations, salary cap strategy and scouting collegiate and international players.

Kupchak played at North Carolina and was the 13th overall pick in the first round of the 1976 NBA draft.

He played nine NBA seasons in Washington and Los Angeles and averaged 10.2 points and 5.4 rebounds in 510 games.

At North Carolina, Kupchak was named 1975-76 ACC Player of the Year as a senior. He is one of 49 UNC standouts to have his jersey (No. 21) honored and raised to the rafters of the Dean Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Wholesale Memphis Grizzlies Jerseys

The Memphis Grizzlies travel to Portland to face the Trail Blazers in an Easter showdown. Can the Grizz beat them for the second time in a week?

The Memphis Grizzlies straight fooled the Trail Blazers last Wednesday. The whole game was an early Aprils Fools joke.

Wade Baldwin played a great game for Portland. After about four years away from the NBA, MarShon Brooks balled out and won the game for the Grizzlies. Memphis actually won their second game in a row.

What a crazy night.

Could it be even crazier as the Grizzlies look to fool the Blazers again?
Dame Time

Last time out, the Blazers were without their floor general, and you could tell. They faltered in the fourth quarter — a time known as “Dame Time.” CJ McCollum was tasked with a heavy load, as you can tell when he dropped 36 points.

This game, the Grizzlies will be tasked with stopping Damian Lillard, which isn’t an easy feat. With Mike Conley, Tyreke Evans and Andrew Harrison out, it’ll be extremely difficult to slow him down. Maybe — just maybe — Kobi Simmons and Marquis Teague could have the games of their lives.

Dame might go for 50 though, so you might want to tune in if you like him.
The Trifecta

MarShon Brooks has been a walking bucket since making his return to the NBA.

Though he’s been out of the league for four years, it’s like he never left. In his two games back in the league, Brooks has scored 21 and 24 points, respectively.

Right now, he’s listed as questionable right now for an ankle injury. It probably has to do with this video:

Anyways, MarShon Brooks is going to be a fascinating storyline for the next two weeks. Will he receive a longer deal? Will the Grizzlies even look to retain him?

If they could nab him for the roster next season, they’ll have more wing depth, as Brooks is proving himself as a shooter, shot creator and a bucket-getter.

Wholesale Miami Heat Jerseys

The Miami HEAT defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 98-79 Tuesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena. Kelly Olynyk led the way for the HEAT with 19 points.

1. JJ Accepts The Challenge

You could tell from the start that James Johnson was ready for this matchup.

How so?

Well, less than two minutes into the game he came through with this nice block on LeBron James after recovering well from the King’s initial move:

As the game progressed, Johnson limited LBJ about as well as you can and made life absolutely miserable for him.

I mean, just look at this great defensive sequence in the third quarter:

That wasn’t all, though.

On the offensive end, Johnson was aggressive as usual and had this impressive finish over James earlier in the third:

Talk about accepting the challenge.

In all, Johnson tallied 15 points on 7-of-11 shooting, nine boards, five assists, three blocks, two steals and a plus-16 rating.

2. KO Keeps Cleveland Guessing

Although Kelly Olynyk really made some noise in the second quarter with 10 points, including this easy jam off a fake handoff…

…he made sure the Cavs wouldn’t mount a comeback in the fourth.

In fact, he scored a team-high nine points on 3-of-3 shooting in the final period thanks to some great feeds from Dwyane Wade.

When it was all said and done, Olynyk amassed five rebounds, three assists, a team-high three steals and a plus-19 rating to go along with his team-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting overall.

3. Wade Shines On The Defensive End

There’s a reason why no other player in NBA history 6-foot-4 or under has as many blocks as Dwyane Wade.

While a lot of that has to do with his athleticism, his high basketball IQ and ability to time his jump perfectly also have a lot to do with it.

Let’s look at all four of his blocks against the Cavs, shall we?

Oh yeah, Wade also did his thing offensively in the fourth quarter with this nifty give-and-go with Olynyk:

Wade finished with 12 points, four assists and a team-high plus-22 rating to go along with his game-high four blocks against Cleveland.

Game Note:

-The HEAT held the Cavaliers to a season-low 79 points on 36.5 percent shooting.

-Derrick Walton Jr., Bam Adebayo (right ankle sprain), Hassan Whiteside (left hip flexor strain) and Dion Waiters (left ankle surgery) were inactive.

Looking Ahead:

-The HEAT will continue their homestand on Thursday against the Bulls at 7:30 PM. Tickets for that game can be found

Wholesale Minnesota Timberwolves Jerseys

The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a tough stretch so far in March, and with such a close Western Conference playoff race these next few weeks are going to be the most important of the season.

The Minnesota Timberwolves have had a season that has impressed beyond anything their fans have seen in quite some time.

Already in possession of what will be a winning record come end of season, the Timberwolves have had their best season since they won 44 games in the 2004-05 campaign. That year, they finished ninth and missed the playoffs for the first of what has now become 13 consecutive years.

The Timberwolves have eight games remaining this season, and as of this writing sit tied for seventh in the Western Conference, just 1.5 games above ninth-place Denver. The tenth-placed Clippers are a further game and a half behind Denver, but are far from excluded from the playoff race.

While the Wolves have eight remaining games to solidify their spot in the playoffs, Utah and Denver have nine remaining in their playoff hunt, while the Clippers have 10 games to chase a spot in the postseason.

Above the Timberwolves, fifth and sixth-placed Pelicans and Spurs, respectively, are each one game ahead of the Wolves, but also have eight remaining games to finish their playoff pushes. No. 4 Oklahoma City also has eight games remaining and sits two games above the Wolves, while No. 3 Portland is three games clear of the Wolves with 10 remaining appearances for the season.

First and second-placed Houston and Golden State are well out of reach of the Wolves, of course, however with both teams having remaining games against the Wolves’ Western Conference playoff competitors, their results will matter to the Wolves.

In the last few weeks of the season, Oklahoma City, Portland, San Antonio, New Orleans and Utah all have at least one game against one of those aforementioned leaders in the Western Conference. This is good news for the Wolves, who’ve already faced both teams for the last time this season.

The Wolves do, however, have a few games of their own against these Western Conference rivals, which may be integral to win to cement their place in the playoffs over them. The Wolves remaining games for the playoffs should all be treated as must-win. Many are against lower-tier teams, and one game may be all that separate eighth and ninth seeds at the end of the season.

The Timberwolves’ remaining path to the playoffs begins in Minneapolis, with the game against the Grizzlies on Monday. The Grizzlies currently sit with a 19-54 record and come to Minnesota on a four-game losing streak.

On Wednesday, the Atlanta Hawks visit Target Center. Similarly to Grizzlies, they’re far removed from playoff contention and sit last in the East with a 21-52 record.

Friday, the Wolves will head to Dallas to take on the Mavericks to close out this ‘easy’ trio of games, which the Timberwolves should make a certainty to emerge from with a 3-0 record. Dallas has a 22-51 record and is just above Memphis in the standings, and are similarly excluded from playoff contention.

It’s yet to be seen if these teams will be tanking and looking themselves to lose, or whether the Wolves will need to work hard for these wins, but a 3-0 record in this stretch is the start the Wolves need to set themselves on the right track for the remainder of the season.

April gets a little tougher for the Timberwolves, however.

Their five remaining games will kick off Sunday April 1 against Utah in Minneapolis, who currently sit in a tie with the Timberwolves and will be treating this game as do-or-die, much like the Wolves. While it’s yet to be seen how the standings will have shaken out by this point, Utah have upcoming games against Boston and Golden State, and getting a game up on the Wolves could be the make or break for the team.

 

After the game against Utah, the Wolves have a three-day break to rest, recover and prepare for a doubleheader on the road, which starts with Denver on Thursday.

Denver in in a similar position as Utah, and may be fighting for their playoff position. While Denver has no remaining games against Golden State, Houston or Boston, they do have Toronto to face, as well as games against other contenders such as Oklahoma and Portland before season’s end, not to mention two games against the Wolves.

After the game in Denver, the Timberwolves will head to L.A. to take on the Lakers. As of writing, the Lakers are not yet excluded from playoff contention, but are excruciatingly close, sitting 8.5 games behind the eighth seed.

By the game against the Wolves, the Lakers will likely be out of the playoff hunt, and the Timberwolves will hopefully be able to capitalise for a win after the two (more) difficult games prior.

The Timberwolves’ penultimate game of the season takes place Monday, April 9 when the Grizzlies return to Minneapolis, for what the Wolves will be hoping is another win.

The season finale takes place Wednesday April 11, in what theoretically could be a play-for-playoff game against Denver, which fortunately is again in Minneapolis. The Wolves will have to dig in deep for this one to finish the regular season out on a high.

With five of their remaining eight games coming at home, the Timberwolves will need to capitalise on their home-court advantage to secure some much needed wins.

The Minnesota home crowds will surely be getting behind our Wolves in this stretch of the season where every game counts.

With just five games separating the fourth and tenth seeds in the West and the Timberwolves sitting right in the middle of that bunch, every game could be a difference-maker, and certainly needs to be treated as such.

The two games against Memphis, the Dallas game and the Atlanta game should all be must-wins and fill in another four for the wins column for the Wolves, but it’s likely that a 4-4 record wouldn’t be enough to cement a playoff spot, nor should the Wolves accept a .500 record over the last eight games.

The Timberwolves have already proven this season they’re a better team than the Lakers, and should collect a fifth win against L.A. The games against Utah and Denver will certainly be much tougher, but as long as we don’t have an 0-3 record throughout then the Timberwolves will hopefully be in a position to be making their first playoff appearance since 2004.

Each game remaining in the Timberwolves’ schedule needs to be treated as a must-win, as each may be the difference maker for the Timberwolves playoff hopes. The Timberwolves’ need to capitalize on their impressive season to secure a postseason appearance that the fans and the team itself so desperately deserves.

Wholesale Milwaukee Bucks Jerseys

Milwaukee Bucks All-Star Giannis Antetokounmpo did not return to Wednesday night’s 127-120 loss to the LA Clippers due to a right ankle sprain.

Bucks coach Joe Prunty did not have an official update on Antetokounmpo’s injury postgame.

Antetokounmpo appeared to get hurt in the second quarter when he tripped over teammate Shabazz Muhammad under Milwaukee’s basket. He stayed in the game for a brief period, but hobbled around the court while grimacing. He went to the locker room with about four minutes remaining in the second quarter and did not return.

The team downgraded him to out at halftime.

He’s averaging 27.5 points and 10.1 rebounds this season for Milwaukee, which is eighth in the Eastern Conference. He had 12 points before leaving.

Wholesale New Orleans Pelicans Jerseys

Pelicans Head Coach Alvin Gentry

On the key to the win tonight:

“Oh I thought that…for some reason these guys shoot the heck out of the ball against us. We were trying to take away the three’s and force them into you know the mid-range twos, and they made a ton of those, but I thought we did a good job of running them off the line or shooting contested ones…you know they got up 35 and made 10 so were pretty happy with that. I thought defensively we picked it up. From the last five minutes of the second quarter for the rest of the game, I thought we were pretty good defensively, even some of the tough shots that they made. And offensively I thought we did a good job, once again moving the basketball. You know 33 assists again. I thought we did a good job in cuts; I thought we did a good job of reading situations, especially when AD (Anthony Davis) had the ball and they tried to double him. I thought we had some good cuts. You know we had guys step up. With Jrue (Holiday) not here, we had to have guys step up. You know I think Ian (Clark) is playing really good basketball. I thought (Rajon) Rondo really closed the game great, and then Cheick (Diallo) continues to play great for us off the bench. So those are the kind of things you got to have at this stage to try and stay in the race.”

On the managing of the game tonight:

“Well pretty much so. You know we had to put AD probably back in a couple minutes…you know we were really trying to keep him under 34, try to keep him at 32 or something and we just…we held him as long as we could. And then we had to put him back. Most of the other numbers you are pretty good. You know E’Twaun (Moore) just had 35 minutes, which we were kinda forced into that because we needed him out there. You know we’ll meet here tomorrow, and once again you know we’ll line up. We’ll try to do a bit better job tomorrow of shortening consecutive minutes. I thought we did a pretty good job today and we used our timeouts strategically to kinda get rest in that fourth quarter. But you know we have to try to find a way to win the game. That’s the most important thing.”

Pelicans Forward Solomon Hill

On the Pelicans’ bench play tonight:

“People just stepped up. With Jrue (Holiday) out, Ian (Clark) did a great job for us on both ends of the court, he came out ready. That is all we can ask for, when one guy goes out, it is an opportunity for another guy showcase and go out there and play hard. Cheick (Diallo) is playing some really good basketball. Another double-double for him. That is huge in a game like that when we are fighting for our lives and every game matters.”

On guarding Harrison Barnes:

“I feel good. I think it was my first time coming out and from the start and having a matchup like that. I respect Harrison Barnes and what he does for his team. I just wanted to go out there and compete and do as much as I could for the team win.”

On how he is feeling after playing 11 minutes and if he can play more tomorrow:

“You know we will see. I always feel good after the game, but we will see tomorrow morning when I wake up and get back into the gym. The plan is to stay prepared and take every day serious to increase that minimum.”

Pelicans Guard Ian Clark

On his play tonight and his confidence:

“I am really confident. These guys in this locker room they give me the most confidence. They have been telling me to play my game and be aggressive. I just want to do anything I can to help this team.”

On what has changed with his game:

“I think it was just me being more comfortable. I really didn’t know where my shots would come from. Obviously playing with AD (Anthony Davis), he makes everything look so easy, so you want to feed him the ball all the time, but he encourages me to be aggressive and play my game and that is what I have been trying to do.”

 

Pelicans Forward Anthony Davis

On the Pelicans’ play tonight without Jrue Holiday:

“He is our second leading scorer, so with him gone and not on the floor, we need guys to step up. The second unit, Ian (Clark), Niko (Nikola Mirotić) and Cheick (Diallo) brought a lot of scoring mentality and energy. Once we got in that rhythm, we kind of forgot that Jrue was not playing. Of course we need him, he is a key component to our team and hopefully he gets well and he can play tomorrow, but guys just have to step up.

On the Pelicans’ bench tonight and the importance of their play over the last month:

“It is very important. Especially late in this stretch and you are playing so many minutes. When you come out, you either want to lead or be right there when the bench comes in. When we make those substitutions, we want the bench to come in and maintain the lead or give us the lead. They have been well all season and they are playing their butts off.”

Wholesale Oklahoma City Thunder Jerseys

Oklahoma City Thunder
Oklahoma City Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY — It’s just like Oklahoma City Thunder general manager Sam Presti probably always envisioned it: a quality win over a current Western Conference playoff team, a balanced scoring attack across the board with Corey Brewer leading the way.

Wait … what?

It’s true, Brewer led the Thunder in scoring with 22 points in their 121-113 win to complete a three-game season sweep over the LA Clippers on Friday, even making the two biggest plays of the game: a corner 3 with 1:44 left to put OKC up 10, and a steal with 26 seconds remaining after the Clippers had cut the lead to six. The impact Brewer has made since joining the Thunder is real, and it’s been shockingly spectacular, with them going 5-0 since he was inserted into the starting lineup.

There’s a clear sense of normalcy and chemistry that’s returned to the team with Brewer’s activity providing a tangible spark. It was a shock to their system after Andre Roberson was lost for the season, and there was some clear wandering going on after it. Brewer has infused the Thunder with loads of energy, but it’s not just empty play-harding. Brewer is contributing in real ways, hitting corner 3s, slashing off the weakside, running the floor with Russell Westbrook, and playing quality defense.

“When you’ve got a guy out there doing everything he can to get extra possessions and energize the team, it’s contagious,” Paul George said. “We feel that energy. And you’ve got to match it. You’ve got to match how hard he’s playing. If a guy’s going to play that hard for you, you’ve got to play just as hard for him.”

Whatever it is, it’s come right on time for the Thunder. Capping the 5-0 stretch was especially important with what’s ahead — road games against the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics — with 10 of their final 11 against teams over .500 and in the playoff hunt. With the West logjammed in the middle with a loss potentially swinging you from fourth to ninth, the Thunder are in need of accomplishing what they’ve said they’ve been trying to do all season — come together and play their best basketball at the right time.

“Just knowing the importance of what’s going on, our situation, knowing that it’s coming down to crunch time, the end of the season,” Carmelo Anthony said. “Just kind of gearing up mentally and emotionally for the postseason. Now we’re just playing basketball, we understand how we need to win. When we lose games we understand why we’re losing, so it’s not like we don’t understand why we lose games. We control that.”

It’s been a process for the Thunder to get to that point, with the peaks and valleys coming in obvious waves, but if they’re going to be for real, this is their time to prove it. They can look at the schedule ahead and see a snake pit, or they can see it as an opportunity to rise to the occasion. They’ve played their best when their backs are pushed to the wall, and when they’ve played higher level competition. They’ve seen themselves as a sleeping giant, on the cusp of something great. Whether, ahem, Corey Brewer is what actually restores them to believing in that or not, there’s a true confidence emanating out of the locker room again.

It’s also (mostly) Westbrook. He’s triple-doubled in four consecutive games — 16-10-11 against the Clippers — and has gotten back to the kind of stuff that made him the MVP last season. He’s taking smart shots, attacking relentlessly, and accessing all the weapons he has around him.

The fun is back, and there’s some swagger. They’ve teetered over to unearned arrogance at times, but confidence is never a bad thing. Except when Westbrook is trying to hammer a lob from George, which he fired off the back of the rim in the third quarter.

“That was all Russ,” George said with a smile. “We’ve been trying to connect on lobs since I’ve been here. As powerful as he is as a dunker, you’ve got to tone it down just a little bit.”

Westbrook tone it down? Maybe there still are a few things to figure out apparently.

But if the Thunder are built for the postseason, like they believe they are, they’re going to get a preview of it the next few weeks. The road ahead is a gauntlet that could prop them up as a threatening 4-seed or 5-seed, or drop them to a ugly first-round matchup against one of the two juggernauts (or out altogether).

They’ve clearly found something again, with a rhythm and flow building among the starting five, and a second unit that has drastically improved over the past month. They look … good. Is this finally the time it sticks?

Wholesale New York Knicks Jerseys

Nigel Hayes
Nigel Hayes

Nigel Hayes isn’t short on cockiness and said he believes one day the Knicks will regret not keeping him in the organization.

Cut out of training camp, the undrafted rookie out of Wisconsin joined the Westchester Knicks, excelled and moved on. He signed a 10-day contract with the Lakers in January and now is with the Raptors.

Hayes came in for five minutes Sunday in the fourth quarter and drilled both of his 3-pointers. After making his second one, he whirled his finger and yapped at his former Westchester teammate Trey Burke, whom he claimed taunted him.

“I think it was Trey who yelled something,” said the always chatty Hayes, who buried New York City for its lack of cleanliness ahead of a 2017 NCAA Tournament game at the Garden. “I’m like, you didn’t just yell that. You didn’t because we played together in the G-League and you were passing me for 3s. It was friendly, playful banter.’’

Burke, whom the Knicks signed out of Westchester in January, said it was Kyle O’Quinn who had taunted Hayes.

“Wasn’t me, but if he wants it to be me, it was me,” Burke said.

The Knicks have made several roster additions, including signing small forward Troy Williams out of the All-Star break. Hayes, also a small forward, had just returned from his Lakers stint but says he’s not angry at another Knicks snub.

“Obviously they didn’t’ see the value of bringing me in,’’ Hayes said. “They felt they could get a better addition to the team by bringing someone else in. No need to get personal feelings in it. I made improvements the way they suggested when they waived me after preseason. I met those adjustments to help myself grow and exceeded them.”

Hayes has no issues of talking about himself in the third person.

“I can’t worry about comparing myself to another player and saying I’m better than him,’’ Hayes said. “I have to focus on Nigel. I bloomed a little too late. If I was this version of Nigel on draft night, I’d been on a roster rotation. I’m an NBA player. I took the stairs instead of the elevator but I will make it to the top floor.”

Hayes also was highly complimentary of Knicks assistant Kurt Rambis, who said he helped him improve his shot immensely with shoulder balance and said he’s a vital part of the staff.

“I love him,” Hayes said. “There’s one coach that keeps everything relaxed and chill and happy-go-lucky.”

Forward Isaiah Hicks is another player the Knicks valued over Hayes. Hicks signed a two-way contract with the Knicks after he was in training camp with the Hornets. Hicks had an interesting commute after Friday’s game in Milwaukee. Instead of flying home with the club, he took a 90-minute drive north to Oshkosh, Wis. to suit up Saturday for Westchester against the Wisconsin Herd.

Hicks racked up 29 points as Westchester (league-best 39-26) clinched a playoff berth. The undrafted rookie out of North Carolina is allowed 45 days with the Knicks under the new two-way contracts. He has appeared in seven games and played 11 minutes Sunday (1-of-3 from the field, three points) and probably will see more action as the Knicks’ tank rolls on.

With Hayes and Hicks, that means all five of Westchester’s starters at the season’s outset are on NBA rosters now. The other three are Luke Kornet, who started Sunday, Trey Burke and point guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes, who recently signed with Memphis.

“We had the best starting five and our whole starting five is not even there right now,” Hicks said. “It shows how talented our starting five was. We just weren’t winning every game. We were winning, winning — double-digits.”