Thunder “Storm” Approaching??

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OAKLAND — We should first wrap our collective conscious around the idea that the Oklahoma City Thunder can absolutely win this series. They have two (healthy) superstars in their prime combined with a rugged frontline and a coach who apparently saved all of his genius adjustments for the postseason.

They have now won four straight games against the Spurs and the Warriors with two of those wins coming on the road. And they have done so in a manner that speaks to a renewed defensive commitment matched with a crunch-time poise they had not always exhibited previously.

We all knew that coming into the conference finals and while it wasn’t exactly shocking that OKC could walk out of Oracle with a 108-102 win in Game 1, it was still rather jarring to see them rally from a 13-point halftime deficit and make enough plays down the stretch to steal a game that was eminently winnable. Maybe we shouldn’t be so surprised anymore. They certainly weren’t, which was why their postgame celebration was muted.

I mean, what’s to celebrate? We didn’t win the championship,” Kevin Durant said. “We’re playing in the Western Conference finals against a great team. We got a W the first Game 1, but there is a lot of basketball to be played, so we can’t be too excited. It was a good win for us, but we’re not going to be jumping up and down, chest-bumping on the court. We’ve got a lot more basketball to play.”

The Thunder scored 38 points in the third quarter and held Golden State to just 14 in the fourth. They battled the lineup of death to a draw and controlled the boards and the pace. One of their stars — Russell Westbrook — balanced a horrendous first half when he shot just 1-for-8 with a sublime second half that included 19 third quarter points. Their other star — Durant — missed numerous makeable shots down the stretch before finally sinking the backbreaker late in the fourth. As always, stars solve problems.

Yes, Westbrook traveled and it was yet another blatant missed call in a postseason that has come to be defined in part by the last-2-minute reports the NBA releases. But he didn’t throw the ball away or make bad decisions. That was the Warriors’ doing and when you put yourself at the mercy of a whistle, sometimes it’s not going to go your way.

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Spurs Want Durant

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The most consistently successful NBA team of the last two decades reportedly will look to land one of the league’s best players this summer.

ESPN.com’s Marc Stein reported Friday that the San Antonio Spurs will be in on the Kevin Durant sweepstakes if the former NBA MVP does, in fact, decide to test his worth on the open market.

“The stately Spurs, league sources say, are just as intrigued as Golden State by the thought of making a run at Durant come July 1,” Stein wrote.

Playing alongside Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge and Tim Duncan — and for arguably the league’s best coach in Gregg Popovich — is an alluring possibility, but Durant will have plenty of options if he chooses to leave Oklahoma City.

“All signs continue to point to Washington, Miami, Boston, Houston, New York and naturally both of the L.A. teams doing everything they can to romance Durant as if he were coming out of Montrose Christian School in Maryland all over again,” Stein wrote.

Stein also noted that the outcome of the Thunder-Spurs second-round playoff series that’s currently in progress could go a long way toward determining Durant’s future.

“As well as Durant and his close-knit tandem of representatives, Rich Kleiman and Charlie Bell, have done in terms of keeping their intentions mysterious, there is a working assumption among KD’s would-be suitors that a second-round Thunder exit essentially cinches the notion that he’ll indeed walk away and look for the best external situation that positions him to win that elusive first championship,” Stein wrote.

Durant, who’s spent his entire nine-year career with Oklahoma City/Seattle, averaged 28.2 points per game during the regular season, good for third in the NBA behind James Harden and Stephen Curry.

Mariners Continue Winning Ways

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For Seattle manager Scott Servais it’s easy to see why Robinson Cano is so successful with runners in scoring position.

”He uses the whole field,” Servais said. ”He’s not trying to hit homers. He’s not trying to kill the ball. He’s just using his hands.”

He did that again on Thursday night, driving in four runs including a tiebreaking three-run double in the ninth inning to lift the Mariners to their fourth straight win, 6-3 over the Houston Astros

The bases were loaded with one out in the ninth when Cano cleared them with his double off Luke Gregerson (0-1) that sailed just out of reach of center fielder Carlos Gomez.

”I’ve been looking for my pitch,” Cano said. ”I’m not trying to do too much. Even if you can get one run at a time, sometimes as a hitter if you’re trying to get two or three, that’s when (bad) things happen. I’m just trying to work the middle of the field.”

Houston manager A.J. Hinch was disappointed that his bullpen put Cano in the situation to come up with such a big hit.

”Cano … is a dangerous hitter,” Hinch said. ”He gets even more dangerous as the stakes get a little higher.”

Cano, who had three hits to give him at least two in five straight games, also drove in a run in the third inning to give him four RBIs and an American League-leading 30 this season.

”If you look at the at-bats he finds a way to get into good counts,” Servais said. ”He’s aggressive but he’s looking for his pitch.”

Nick Vincent (2-1) pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings for the win and Steve Cishek allowed one hit in the ninth for his ninth save.

Jose Altuve homered and tied a career-high with four hits and had two RBIs for the Astros.

Tyler White snapped a 0 for 16 skid with a double to start Houston’s seventh and Jason Castro walked with one out. Altuve hit a double, which landed on Tal’s Hill in center field, scoring White to tie it at 3-3, but Castro was tagged out at home.

Norichika Aoki greeted Tony Sipp with a single to load the bases in the seventh before Seth Smith’s groundball single rolled just out of reach of a diving Altuve and into right field to score two and make it 3-2.

Altuve, who leads the Astros with nine homers, gave them an early lead when he sent Wade Miley’s third pitch onto the train tracks atop left field for his second straight leadoff homer and major league-leading sixth this season. His six leadoff homers are the most by an Astro since Craig Biggio also had six in 2006.

Cano’s RBI single tied it at 1-1 in the third inning. The Astros took a 2-1 lead on an RBI single by Evan Gattis in the sixth inning.

Houston starter Chris Devenski allowed six hits and one run in six innings in his second start and eighth major league appearance.

Miley allowed five hits and two runs with five strikeouts in six innings.

SECOND BASE ADMIRATION

Cano is a big fan of fellow second baseman Altuve and said he enjoys watching him play. ”He’s a guy that anytime he swings you know something good is going to happen,” Cano said. ”It’s always fun to watch guys, especially at second base, be (as) successful as he’s been the last 3-4 years. He’s great.”

 

No One to Wear #24

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The Seattle Seahawks appreciate everything Marshawn Lynch helped them accomplish over the past six seasons, and they plan to express their gratitude by not letting anyone wear his jersey number in 2016.

Over the weekend, Doug Baldwin sent a tweet after the draft asking Pete Carroll to not allow any new players to wear No. 24. Seahawks GM John Schneider was asked about Baldwin’s request on Monday, and he said the wide receiver does not need to worry.

“One of my last conversations with Marshawn was that nobody was going to wear No. 24 this year in the regular season,” Schneider told 710 ESPN Seattle’s Brock and Salk show. “I appreciate [Baldwin’s] input. I’m glad he wants to help distribute jersey numbers.”

There have been rumblings that some Seahawks players expect Lynch to keep playing, but Schneider says the team plans to get his retirement papers at some point in the near future. Plus, they made a pretty nice gesture toward the running back by letting him keep this.

Lynch seems to have parted ways with the Seahawks on good terms.

Top 10 Drafting Teams…According to Peter Schrager

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1. Tennessee Titans: A+

Maybe my favorite draft class in recent memory. The Titans, knowing they already had a quarterback of the future in their back pocket, leveraged the first overall pick for a haul of others, and then worked back into the top 10 to get a right tackle that they believe can be a starter for the next decade in Jack Conklin. Kevin Dodd dominated the national championship game and had a huge 2015. I like him in the second round, love Austin Johnson in Tennessee’s 3-4 base, and thought both Derrick Henry and Kevin Byard fit what Tennessee is building and can make a difference right away. GM Jon Robinson looks like a draft mastermind, and with the haul they got from Los Angeles paying off the next two years, the best could still be yet to come.

2. Los Angeles Rams: A

The Rams wanted a franchise quarterback to start the organization’s re-invigoration in Los Angeles and did whatever was needed to go get him. They were sitting at the 15 spot in this year’s draft, wanted Jared Goff, knew they’d need to give a lot up to get him, and then just went for it. I love that. Five years from now, the football gods will tell us if they went for the right quarterback or not, or if they gave up too much, but in the present, how do you not appreciate a team laying it on the table and just saying, “Let’s go for it”? I don’t know how you can rant and rave and praise the selection of backup cornerbacks and guards in the second and third round — guys the Rams couldn’t take because of trading picks — until we see what Jared Goff becomes. GM Les Snead has built a wonderful young team in Los Angeles, minus one position. The quarterback. So, they just put their franchise and many of their legacies on the right arm of the kid they wanted. In a league where everyone’s trying to get better and emerge from the dreaded world of 7-9 and 8-8, the Rams took a big swing to someday get to 10-6 or 12-4. For that alone, it’s an A.

Best value pick: None

3. Buffalo Bills: A

The Bills didn’t resemble a Rex Ryan team on defense last year, and if you’re going to employ Rex (and brother Rob), you might as well give the defense some thumpers up front. Shaq Lawson — if his shoulder checks out — can be the top pass rusher in this class, while Reggie Ragland is the perfect inside linebacker for a Ryan brother defense. I liked the selection of big boy Adolphus Washington up front, and can already envision Cardale Jones getting on the field at some point in 2016. I liked the value and the needs fulfilled with the first four picks in this draft, and think Kolby Listenbee, a late-round flyer, could be a decent threat in the deep game.

Best value pick: Reggie Ragland, ILB, Alabama, 41st overall

4. Philadelphia Eagles: A

Similar to how I feel about the Rams, I love the Eagles going up and making the moves necessary to get their guy at No. 2. You can’t win in this league without a quarterback, and if the Eagles view Carson Wentz as that kind of quarterback, they weren’t getting him at 13 or 8. As Sam Bradford doesn’t show up to voluntary minicamp and sends messages through his agent, Carson Wentz now comes to Philadelphia, ready to compete and be the best player he can be. I also loved Chase Daniel welcoming him with open arms. It’s as if Bradford is being told, “Hey bud, we’re good here. Are you in or are you out?” And with a quarterbacks room that’ll include Doug Pederson, Frank Reich, and John DeFilippo, it’s hard not to feel good about a young, whip-smart quarterback’s chances for success. I liked the aggressiveness of GM Howie Roseman here, but also liked some of the Day 3 picks, including Halapoulivaati Vaitai, Jalen Mills, and local product Wendell Smallwood.

Best value pick: Halapoulivaati Vaitai, OT, TCU, 164th overall

5. Arizona Cardinals: A

I’d feel less comfortable with other teams taking Robert Nkemdiche in the first round, but the Cardinals are a different beast. There’s an infrastructure in place, and the people in the building — from owner Michael Bidwill to GM Steve Keim to head coach Bruce Arians — are strong enough to handle any potential off-field pitfalls the young man may come across. Tyrann Mathieu is the blueprint. Now Nkemdiche — whom I had listed as my No. 1 prospect in this draft before the college season started — just needs to execute. I’m including Chandler Jones — traded to Arizona in a package that included the Cardinals’ second-round pick — as a part of this draft class and think he’ll be an absolute superstar next season. I also think Evan Boehm, a stout center/guard out of Missouri, can contribute right away.

Best value pick: Evan Boehm, C/G, Missouri, 128th overall

6. Cincinnati Bengals: A

Value, value, value. Hats off to Duke Tobin, Marvin Lewis, and the rest of the Bengals’ decision makers on this one. Cincinnati stayed true to its board and with seemingly every pick and took guys who produced in the college game. The first-round selection of William Jackson III was not one for need, and it stung their division-rival Steelers, who had the pick right after. Tyler Boyd could be a good complement to A.J. Green; he isn’t a burner, but is a tough, smart route runner. Andrew Billings was a disruptive force who I saw as a second-round pick. Cincinnati got him in the fourth, and offensive guard Christian Westerman is a big body who could have gone on Day 2. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander will get the very most of him.

Best value pick: Christian Westerman, OG, Arizona State, 161st overall

7. Seattle Seahawks: A-

The rich got richer this weekend. Seattle traded back in the first round and still got an offensive tackle they coveted in Germain Ifedi at 31st overall, got big man Jarran Reed — a top-20 talent — in the second round, and two talented offensive players who can make real impacts next year in Nick Vannett and C.J. Prosise in the third round. I see Prosise as a Reggie Bush/Percy Harvin clone. He played wide receiver in college, moved to running back, and did it all in the special teams game. I also like the value they got in Tyvis Powell, an undrafted free agent, who is a tall, rangy safety that left Ohio State early. Perfect fit for the Legion Of Boom.

Best value pick: C.J. Prosise, RB, Notre Dame, 90th overall

8. San Francisco 49ers: A-

I loved the 49ers’ draft, despite a complete lack of flash and/or sizzle. San Francisco needed to get tough and big up front on both sides of the ball and address their defensive backfield. They did that with DeForest Buckner, my top-rated defensive player; Joshua Garnett, arguably the best run-blocking guard in this class; and they got Ronald Blair, a big bull out of Appalachian State — in the fifth round. They also hit that cornerback need with three guys loaded with potential in Will Redmond, Rashard Robinson, and Prince Charles Iworah. I would have liked to have seen them take Connor Cook in the third round, but they waited and got Jeff Driskel in the sixth. A few years back, the young man was the highest-rated high school quarterback in the country. Maybe Chip Kelly can help him fulfill that potential.

Best value pick: DeForest Buckner, DE, Oregon, seventh overall

9. Denver Broncos: A-

Round by round, Denver nailed its picks. If everyone was as hot as it sounds for Paxton Lynch late in the first round, Denver did what it had to do to land its guy. Again, I have the ultimate respect for the teams that make moves to get quarterbacks. I do not believe you can win without one. I also am a big fan of Adam Gotsis, the big Australian defensive tackle, and can see him learning from Derek Wolfe. Justin Simmons and Devontae Booker will have roles in 2016, and Connor McGovern is one of those weight-room freaks who can set the tone if given the chance to polish his skills. This draft will depend on Lynch and his development. I have high hopes.

Best value pick: Devontae Booker, RB, Utah, 136th overall

10. Indianapolis Colts: A-

The Colts’ offensive line was at least somewhat at fault for the shellacking Andrew Luck took last year. After that, Matt Hasselbeck got clobbered, too. To his credit, Ryan Grigson addressed the offensive line and then some over the weekend. I loved the Ryan Kelly pick, making he and Andrew Luck the only quarterback/center combo that has two masters degrees. I also am high on big boy Le’Raven Clark out of Texas Tech and Joe Haeg, the road paver out of North Dakota State. That’s three for three on the offensive line, and for that, I tip my cap.

Best value pick: Le’Raven Clark, OT, Texas Tech, 82nd overall

Round 2 NFL Draft

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Round 2:

1 (32). Cleveland Browns

2 (33). Tennessee Titans

3 (34). Dallas Cowboys

4 (35). San Diego Chargers

5 (36). Baltimore Ravens

6 (37). Kansas City Chiefs (from 49ers)

7 (38). Jacksonville Jaguars

8 (39). Tampa Bay Buccaneers

9 (40). New York Giants

10 (41). Chicago Bears

11 (42). Miami Dolphins

12 (43). Tennessee Titans (from Eagles via Rams)

13 (44). Oakland Raiders

14 (45). Tennessee Titans (from Rams)

15 (46). Detroit Lions

16 (47). New Orleans Saints

17 (48). Indianapolis Colts

18 (49). Buffalo Bills

19 (50). Atlanta Falcons

20 (51). New York Jets

21 (52). Houston Texans

22 (53). Washington Redskins

23 (54). Minnesota Vikings

24 (55). Cincinnati Bengals

25 (56). Seattle Seahawks

26 (57). Green Bay Packers

27 (58). Pittsburgh Steelers

28 (59). Kansas City Chiefs

29 (60). New England Patriots

30 (61). New England Patriots (from Cardinals)

31 (62). Carolina Panthers

32 (63). Denver Broncos

Seahawks Address Needs

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The Seattle Seahawks addressed needs on the offensive line by taking Texas A&M offensive tackle Germain Ifedi with the final pick of the first round of the NFL draft.

Seattle closed out the first round on Thursday after trading down earlier in the night. Ifedi is 6-foot-6, 324 pounds and projects as a right tackle or possibly a guard.

Seattle had the No. 26 pick but traded that selection to Denver, who picked Memphis QB Paxton Lynch. Seattle moved back to No. 31 and picked up the No. 94 overall pick in the third round, giving the team 10 picks in the draft and five in the top 100. It was the second time in three years the Seahawks traded their first-round pick to a team that drafted a quarterback.

It was the eighth time the Seahawks have traded down under general manager John Schneider.

 

Seahawks…Re-Stocking or Re-Loading in the 2016 Draft?

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Every few minutes on Tuesday, John Schneider’s phone would ding while resting next to him on the table.

Another message for Seattle’s general manager in the hours leading up to an important NFL draft for the Seahawks.

Seattle will have nine total picks when the draft begins on Thursday, including the No. 26 overall pick in the first round. After middling draft results in recent years, the Seahawks have needs at a number of positions – most notably on the offensive and defensive lines – that could be solved in the short and long term with a successful weekend of selections.

Since the 2012 draft where the Seahawks landed a bounty of future stars, including quarterback Russell Wilson, Seattle’s draft success has fallen off. But that was a transition year when Seattle went from building a championship contender to now trying to maintain its place among the NFL elite. And with veteran free-agent additions and finding a few undrafted gems, simply getting on the roster for players drafted by the Seahawks has become a challenge.

”It’s been harder to make our team since the ’13 draft, `14 draft,” Schneider said. ”Some drafts are stronger than others – how many of these guys really have a legitimate chance of making our team? It’s been harder for us to figure out who has a legitimate chance to make our team.”

Schneider said he views this draft as the deepest since arriving in Seattle in 2010. That means there could be more late-round gems for the Seahawks to unearth and potentially more options among undrafted rookie free agents, an area in which Seattle has excelled in finding future contributors.

But it’ll be the early rounds where much of the attention will fall on the Seahawks. Seattle has four selections among the Top 100 picks and that’s assuming the Seahawks keep their first-round pick at No. 26. Seattle has not made a pick in the first round since 2012.

”This is our seventh (draft) and this is the most impressive one to us in terms of the sheer number of players,” Schneider said.

Most of the attention has fallen on the needs along the offensive and defensive lines after losing some key starters during free agency. Guard J.R. Sweezy and tackle Russell Okung departed from the offensive line, while defensive tackle Brandon Mebane and outside linebacker/defensive end Bruce Irvin left along the defensive line. And while Seattle has options already on its roster that can fill those spots, coach Pete Carroll’s mantra of always wanting to create competition likely means those positions will be addressed during the draft.

”We don’t grade for the league, we grade for our team. And when you do that, that represents what your board ends up looking like,” Schneider said. ”You’re going to have specific needs at different positions based on people that you’ve lost on free agency or if a guy that you drafted isn’t coming through at a specific position. It’s really a combination of the two.”

NOTES: Carroll said RB Thomas Rawls (ankle) and TE Jimmy Graham (knee) are continuing to recover from major injuries suffered late last season: ”Everything is going well. Everything is in good shape. As they push to get back, we’ll just have to see what the timeline tells us.” … Schneider said the signing of veteran DE Chris Clemons was in part because of the hope that he could take on Irvin’s role as a third-down pass rusher. Carroll added that the Seahawks have a specific plan for how they intend to use recently signed CB Brandon Browner, who was with Seattle through the 2013 season, but he declined to expand on what Browner’s role will be. ”We’re going to do some different things with him you’ll see in the future.”