NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies take down Thunder in OT

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NBA Playoffs: Grizzlies take down Thunder in OT

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Nothing rattled the Memphis Grizzlies.

Not squandering a nine-point lead in the fourth quarter and a five-point lead in the final 19 seconds of regulation. Not Kevin Durant's 20 points after the third quarter. Not even giving up an improbable game-tying putback that forced overtime.

The Grizzlies remained steady and took care of business in the extra period. Zach Randolph scored 25 points to help Memphis defeat the Oklahoma City Thunder 111-105 in overtime on Monday night and tie their first-round playoff series at one game apiece.

"It was just staying confident, understanding that those guys are going to make runs," Memphis forward Tony Allen said. "We've got to weather the storm by staying together and not getting down."

Mike Conley added 19 points and 12 assists for the Grizzlies, who executed their game plan perfectly and put themselves in position to take control of the series in Game 3 Thursday night in Memphis. Oklahoma City pushed the pace through most of its 100-86 victory in Game 1, but on Monday, the Grizzlies successfully slowed the tempo and limited Oklahoma City's fast-break opportunities.

"Basically it's just going to be a slugfest," said Allen, who was praised by his teammates for playing solid defense against Durant. "We're going to pound it. They're going to run it. Whoever can come up with the most stops pretty much wins the game" (see full recap).

Clippers destroy Warriors to even series
LOS ANGELES -- After getting knocked down in their playoff opener, Blake Griffin and the Clippers answered with a dominant performance in shutting down the Warriors as soon as the game began.

Griffin scored a career playoff-high 35 points without a foul and Los Angeles led all the way in a 138-98 rout Monday night to even their first-round series at a game apiece.

"We were really aggressive on our defense," Griffin said. "When you play more aggressive you stay out of foul trouble."

Chris Paul added 12 points and 10 assists for the Clippers, who started the game on a 14-4 run and kept on going, maintaining a sizeable double-digit lead through the final three quarters. They finished with franchise records for points and largest victory margin in a playoff game.

"When we play with that force and thrust, it's hard to defend us," Paul said.

Game 3 is Thursday at Oakland (see full recap).

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

Noel, Brown have had open dialogue about Sixers' big man situation

GALLOWAY, N.J. — Nerlens Noel’s recent comments on the logjam of big men on the Sixers' roster did not come as news to head coach Brett Brown. While Noel had not been this publicly outspoken on the issue, he and Brown have been having open discussions about it. 

“I have been talking to Nerlens a lot and I have a fondness for him,” Brown said Tuesday on the first day of training camp. “I don’t begrudge Nerlens Noel at all for what he said. I don’t have any problems with it.”

The Sixers' crowded frontcourt this season is a continuation of last season’s conundrum in which Brown was tasked with playing Noel and Jahlil Okafor, two natural centers, together. The depth has increased with the return of Joel Embiid and additions of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons. 

So when Noel doubled down on Monday by saying, "I don't see a way it can work,” Brown recognized where the center's opinions were coming from as he enters his fourth season in the NBA. 

“I feel if we do anything well, we communicate with our players freely,” Brown said. “It is one hundred percent transparent — hard conversations ahead, easy conversations ahead. I have spoken with Nerlens about this a lot. 

“My messaging and my mood and attitude and things that come out of my mouth haven’t changed once. I feel very confident that I’m giving him the advice that he should hear from me and it still allows me to do my job. 

“We have talked about it freely, like I have talked about it with Jahlil and Joel. Those situations are part of pro sports. They’re ever-present with me and us right now.”

Noel has been a rare mainstay among a revolving door of players over the past three years. He is in a unique situation with Brown in that the two have experienced a long list of the team’s ups and downs together. Noel feels comfortable talking honestly with Brown about his viewpoints. 

“I’ve known Brett probably longer than most guys here and we’ve built a different type of relationship,” Noel said. “It’s been very front and forward and we talk and we keep it real. That’s what he’s been doing with me and that’s why I’m able to continue to talk to him about myself and him just telling me what position I’ll be in — he’ll try to put me in — to succeed.”

With Brown having an understanding of Noel, his focus is on what Noel can bring to the team this season. He believes Noel has an edge over Embiid and Okafor for minutes early on because Noel is the only one among the trio starting camp without restrictions from previous injuries. 

There is a tough competition for playing time among the bigs, and camp is about proving oneself through basketball, not through personal opinions. Brown was impressed on the first day of camp by the manner in which Noel approached the morning practice amid the comments.

“He has handled it with me and in the training session today like a pro,” Brown said. “He came to mean it. He didn’t back down at all. There was no moping or sulking or him being stubborn. He played. That’s what he has to do. I think that’s a real reflection of anybody of how you handle adversity. Today he handled it like a true pro and a true competitor.”

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

Bovada projects Nets, not Sixers, to finish at bottom of division, conference

The Sixers finished in the basement of the NBA standings last season with a league-low 10 wins. But with the influx of young talent and addition of a couple veterans to the roster, the Las Vegas oddsmakers are betting on the Sixers to make some strides upward in the 2016-17 standings.  

Last week, the WestGate Superbook in Las Vegas set the Sixers' over/under for wins this season at an optimistic 27½, which was the fourth-lowest projection in the league.

Similarly, while Bovada is projecting another season of basketball filled with mostly losses in Philadelphia, the sportsbook doesn't view the Sixers as a shoo-in to finish as the league's worst team for the second consecutive year.

Per Bovada, the Sixers have the fourth-longest odds (125/1) to capture the Atlantic Divison title for the first time since 2001-02, beating out the Nets (250/1) by a considerable margin.

The favorite to win the division is the Celtics at 20/21, trailed closely by the defending division champion Raptors (21/20). The Knicks are between the Raptors and Sixers at 10/1.

The Sixers (150/1) also edged out the Nets (200/1) in odds to win the Eastern Conference championship. The two teams in the conference directly ahead of the Sixers in that futures bet are the Hornets (100/1) and Magic (50/1).

The Cavaliers are the favorites to come out of the Eastern Conference at 5/11, followed by the Celtics (5/1) and Raptors (14/1).

Least surprising of all futures odds, Bovada has the Sixers tied with four other teams for the longest odds to win the NBA title. The Nuggets, Kings, Nets and Suns were tied with the Sixers at 500/1 odds to win the Larry O'Brien trophy.

The early favorites to win it all are the same two teams that met in the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors are alone at top with the shortest odds at 4/5 trailed by the Cavaliers at 3/1.