Posts Tagged ‘Patrick Beverley’

Rockets could miss the pest of Beverley


VIDEO: Rockets GM Daryl Morley makes a bold prediction

A few weeks ago when the Rockets brought members of their 1994 and ’95 back-to-back championship teams into town for a 20-year reunion, Vernon Maxwell’s chest burst with pride and his eyes lit up with glee at the memories of rattling opponents in head-to-head confrontations.

“Get under their skin, baby,” said Mad Max. “You do that and you got more than half the battle won.”

When the Rockets announced Monday that point guard Patrick Beverley would undergo surgery to repair torn ligaments in his left wrist and be lost for the season, the general reaction around the league was that the Rockets could press on and survive without him. General manager Daryl Morey even went so far as to say in an ESPN radio interview that the Rockets could win the NBA championship without Beverley.

Indeed, as pieces of the starting lineup go, Beverley’s skills as a point guard are the most replaceable. The Rockets will go with the veteran tandem of Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni and by the numbers won’t suffer a drop-off. In fact, entering Monday’s game at Toronto, the Rockets are 9-0 this season with Terry in the starting lineup. The numbers also say Rockets are seven points better per 100 possessions with Beverley off the court and James Harden than they are when the two starters play together.

Beverley, of course, is not the kind of offensive force at his position that many other Western Conference contenders possess — no Stephen Curry or Chris Paul or Russell Westbrook or Damian Lillard or Tony Parker or Monta Ellis or Mike Conley. Beverley’s numbers are even down from the past two seasons. He’s shooting just 38.3 percent from the field and his PER of 11.4 is the lowest in three NBA seasons.

The Rockets’ offense thrives in the fourth quarter because they put the ball in the hands of the MVP candidate Harden and let him make the decisions and make the plays.

So there are legitimate reasons why the Rockets might not miss an offensive beat without Beverley in the playoffs.

But then there is the defensive end, where Beverley has staked his claim and earned his very place in the NBA. He’s tough, he’s rugged, he’s physical, he’s aggressive to the extreme, maybe even a little dirty. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that. Not in the playoffs. Not where every slightest edge can make a difference.

Two years ago Beverley’s aggression took Westbrook out of the playoffs. While OKC won the first-round series, it derailed the Thunder’s title hopes. Now in virtually any round and any matchup, the Rockets could face a team — Golden State, Portland, San Antonio — where the point guard is the primary scorer that makes the offense go.

There are times when having an utter nuisance in your lineup can make a difference.

Ask Westbrook. Ask Mad Max.

Getting under their skin is a valuable talent, too, baby.

Report: Rockets’ Beverley out for season

The Houston Rockets’ injury issues continue. Just days after getting Dwight Howard back from a 26-game absence with a knee injury comes the news that point guard Patrick Beverley is going to miss the remainder of the season after having surgery on his left wrist.

Rockets MVP candidate James Harden serves as the Rockets’ facilitator and catalyst routinely. But Beverley’s work as a defender will no doubt be missed. The Rockets also have depth at the position in the form of veterans Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni.

Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more on how Houston might offset the loss of its starting point guard:

Rockets guard Pat Beverley has opted to have surgery to repair ligaments in his left wrist injured last week in Indianapolis, a person with knowledge of the decision said.

The surgery will force Beverley to miss the remainder of the season, including the post-season regardless of how far the Rockets advance in the playoffs.

The Rockets’ starting point guard the past two seasons, Beverley has had multiple injuries, struggling through last season’s playoffs with a knee injury and going out this season after two games with a hamstring injury.

Beverley will be a free agent after the season, his third since the Rockets signed him in January 2012 as a free agent playing in Russia.

With Beverley out, the Rockets have started Jason Terry, going 9-0 in games Terry has started. He has split time at the point position, with the Rockets often using Trevor Ariza, Corey Brewer or rookie Nick Johnson to match up with opposing point guards.

 

Morning Shootaround — March 30


VIDEO: Highlights from game played on March 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Morey confident Rockets win it all this season | Report: Mullin mulling St. John’s job offer | Lakers’ Davis unhappy about sideline stint | Report: Magic ready to extend Hennigan’s contract

No. 1: Morey confident Rockets win it all this season — The MVP and a NBA title? It could happen this season in Houston. James Harden is working on snagging that Maurice Podoloff Trophy. Rockets general manager Daryl Morey insists his team is working on the latter, sounding extremely confident that his bunch, with Dwight Howard back in the mix. Calvin Watkins of ESPN.com has more:

Morey’s team is currently the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with nine games remaining in the regular season. In order to reach the NBA Finals, the Rockets will have to overcome several health issues.

Forwards Terrence Jones (lung) and Donatas Motiejunas (lower back pain) have been out recently, and Morey expects them to return before the end of the regular season.

Starting center Dwight Howard has played the past three games under a minutes restriction after missing nearly eight weeks with swelling in his right knee. Howard will not play in Monday’s game at the Toronto Raptors.

Starting point guard Patrick Beverley has a torn ligament in his left wrist and is contemplating surgery. Morey said the team will make a final determination on Beverley’s status on Monday, but if they don’t have him, it won’t deter the team’s goal of trying to win a championship.

“We think we can win the title with or without Beverley,” Morey said on ESPN Radio’s Basketball Insiders show. “Obviously it gets more challenging without Beverley; he’s the key to our ability to guard a lot of these very good point guards in the West.”

Morey said the Golden State Warriors, who own the NBA’s best record and swept the season series against the Rockets this season, should be the favorites to win the title.

“We won’t go in as the favorite,” Morey said. “I think Golden State, deservedly so, gets to be called the favorite. They’ve had a very historic season. I think the Golden State training staff hasn’t been talked about enough this year. That team has been healthy and really that showcased everyone in Golden State. Coach [Steve] Kerr has done a great job. We won’t go in as the favorite. We do feel like we can beat anybody in a seven-game series, and we’re pretty excited to get going with the playoffs.”

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Rockets gain one, could lose another


VIDEO: Howard return to get back on the court

Dwight Howard returns tonight in New Orleans for the Rockets after a 26-game injury layoff, which is welcome news for a team that somehow stayed among the top-4 in the West without him. Credit their defense, the addition of Josh Smith and of course, those MVP fumes James Harden is inhaling.

“I wish we had more time for him to practice,” said Rockets coach Kevin McHale. “You need practice and rhythm. He’s going to have to do that during the game.”

Howard will help with rebounding and badly-needed interior offense but he can’t play point guard, too, which is a bit troublesome for the Rockets, since they could be without Patrick Beverley until … when, exactly?

Houston won’t know the extent of Beverley’s left wrist injury for another week. Initially diagnosed a sprain, it’ll be up to a specialist to get a more accurate reading on his time off and required treatment. Yahoo reported he could miss the rest of the season although the Rockets weren’t saying Wednesday, saying they needed additional information.

Beverley was the Rockets’ starting point guard although, in a sense, that’s a bit misleading. The ball mainly belongs to Harden in the Rockets’ offense and he dictates what happens next. Still, Beverley’s toughness on defense will be missed and the Rockets must now turn to a committee of replacements to do the job.

But Howard’s return is paramount. His swollen knee is no longer an issue and suddenly, the Rockets have size and a presence near the rim. The Rockets were out rebounded in 16 of those 26 games he missed. Depending on how well Howard adjusts — and he’ll be on a minutes ration initially — he could be the difference-maker for Houston in the playoffs. Especially against the Warriors, who don’t offer much inside.

Remember, in the playoffs last year, Howard was the best player on the floor for Houston. And yes, Harden played that first-round series against the Blazers, which the Rockets lost in heartbreaking fashion when Damian Lillard dropped a buzzer-beating catch-and-shoot 3-point dagger that remains an all-time playoff highlight. Howard averaged 26 points, 13.7 rebounds and almost three blocked shots in those six games.

“I’m just ready to play,” he said. “I haven’t played for a while … anytime you miss a lot of games, you’re anxious to get back on the floor.”

Houston is No. 3 in the West, just ahead of the Blazers, and went 17-9 without Howard. That’s likely where they’ll stay; they’re only 2 1/2 games behind the Grizzlies but there’s just 12 games left. They could be staring at an all-Texas first-round matchup, either against the Mavericks or Spurs.

 

Morning shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron has no issue with Love’s MVP vote | Golden State wraps up Pacific | McHale expecting worst with Beverley’s injury; Howard may return tonight

No. 1: James not faulting Love for his MVP choice — Cleveland Cavaliers power forward Kevin Love has been in the spotlight a little bit after some recent interviews. He recently told ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike” how his relationship with Cavs star LeBron James is ‘evolving’ and, in a chat with “The Dan Patrick Show”, Love said that if he had an MVP vote, it would likely go to Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (and not his teammate, James). So is James miffed over who Love would pick if he could vote? Not in the slightest, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com:

“I don’t really think too much of it, really,” James said after Cleveland Cavaliers practice on Tuesday. “I don’t really get involved in that. I think the voters are going to decide who is the MVP. I think what Russ has been doing, his numbers have been pretty crazy keeping those guys afloat in the West in his play. Steph Curry can make a case, for sure, what he’s been doing — James Harden and myself, as well. So, Kevin has his own opinion of who he believes is the MVP. No one should fault him for that.”

Love was a guest on “The Dan Patrick Show” on Monday and was put on the spot to pick either Oklahoma City’s do-everything guard or Cleveland’s captain for the NBA’s most prestigious individual award.

“I would just say because of time spent on the court, you know ‘Bron took those few games off and those couple of weeks off. … They’re both having MVP-type seasons, but I’m going to go with Russell Westbrook because every single night you’re looking at his stat sheet, they’re fighting for a playoff spot even with Serge Ibaka going down now, Kevin Durant potentially being out the rest of the year and [Westbrook] still going out there and really fighting for his team and them winning and fighting for that seventh and eighth spot in the playoffs,” Love told Patrick. “I think Russ is arguably having the better season.”

Love expanded on his choice on Tuesday when asked if he was surprised all the attention his answer caused.

“If you choose to get the little three or four second clip,” Love said, believing his answer was controversial only when taken out of context. “In my whole answer I said LeBron could very well be the MVP. Steph Curry, James Harden — those are guys that you all talk about. You know very well all of them could be named (MVP).”

James said he doesn’t judge this season for him based on his previous MVP campaigns, but rather on his impact he’s made in the games he’s played.

“When I’m on the floor, you judge me by when I’m on the floor and my winning and do I win?” James said. “And when I’m on the floor, do I play at a high level? And that’s all I care about. When I’m on the floor, is my team winning? Because I think that has a lot to do with it. And, how are my numbers when I’m on the floor? Judge me by that and then when I’m not on the floor.”


VIDEO: LeBron James talks after practice about Kevin Love’s MVP comments

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Harden vows to add ‘D’ to his ‘A game’


VIDEO: Kevin McHale, James Harden and Dwight Howard discuss the upcoming season

HOUSTON — If there’s one thing the Rockets tired of more than seeing replays of Damian Lillard’s lethal dagger over the summer, it was hearing the criticism of James Harden’s defense. Or what there was of it.

The All-NBA first team guard was a virtual pin cushion on social media for his lack of commitment to the part of the game that didn’t involve his trying to put the ball into the basket.

“I hear it,” Harden said at the annual Media Day gathering on Monday. “I don’t pay attention to it. I’m not a really good defender. At times I can be really bad.

“A lot of stars, their defense is bad. That’s a category I know I have to get better at. For us to go and reach our potential, that’s something that has to be done. That’s one of the things I’m excited about this season. I have no choice.”

Harden raised some eyebrows when he told an interviewer that he regarded himself as the best all-around player in the NBA.

“I wasn’t saying that to be cocky,” he said. “I’ve just put such hard work and effort into my craft. Obviously we know there’s a lot of great talent out there in this league.”

Perhaps Harden even made the statement to set the bar even higher to motivate himself.

“Probably, to play the way I know I can play,” he said. “My teammates know I can play. Like I said, I got to get better at both ends. It’s just me focusing on all possessions. Being able to concentrate on small things.”

Coach Kevin McHale, with his pedigree as player, knows about the small and large things that go into the making of champion, including getting defensive effort from even the biggest offensive gun.

“We talked about all that,” McHale said. “We’ve constantly been challenging James to take on challenges. He knows he’s got to improve in areas. We asked him to do a lot last year. We’ll ask him to do a lot this year. There’s a lot of offensive pressure on him to deliver every night, but you still got to go out there and play the other side of the ball.

“He’s a young guy that’s growing into being a leader, growing into who he is. We won 54 games last year. He was first team All-Pro. I know there’s not anything above first team. that’s about as good as you get. He must have done a lot of really good things. Like all our guys, he’s got to improve in areas. He knows that. He’s not afraid to work.

“Your defense is based on help and help principles. But if (a teammate) gets beat every time, I say, ‘Oh, my God I got to get over and help again.’ If (a teammate) shuts down his guy, there’s a calmness in me. I’m not over-helping. I’m not thinking, ‘Oh my.’

“It’s a trust factor of doing your job on defense. It’s not always relying on the trust that is built in. Your object as a defender is to not use that help all that time. Use it when guys make great moves. You can’t get beat on average moves. You can’t get beat on just average stuff. You gotta just make guys work hard to beat you. It’s simple things.

“In the end, if you play on a team that is championship caliber team, there is a huge amount of trust. That trust comes from you doing your job night after night after night after night, so that everybody can trust each other.”

The Rockets are hoping that a lineup that includes three players — Dwight Howard, Trevor Ariza and Patrick Beverley — who love to sink their teeth in on defense can rub off and put some bite into Harden’s defense.

“It’s not the fact that I can’t do it,” he said. “I’m a pretty good defender. It’s me being focused on the small things that I lose track of. I know that. Like I said, in order for Rockets to reach potential, I got to get better at that end.”

Rockets back to spinning wheels again

HOUSTON — This is the game the Rockets have chosen to play. Go Fish at a high-stakes poker table.

It was less than a week ago when Dealin’ Daryl Morey bet on a starting lineup that would have included Dwight Howard, James Harden, Chris Bosh, Chandler Parsons and Patrick Beverley.

Sometimes you draw to a busted flush.

Bosh spurned the Rockets’ $88 million, four-year offer to stay in Miami for $118 million. Simple math.

Now Parsons walks up I-45 to Dallas for $46 million over three years. Simple gaffe.

The Rockets could have kept Parsons for the upcoming season for the final year on his rookie contract, roughly $964,000. But the team chose not to pick up the option in order to keep the right to match any offer that he received. Then they didn’t.

Nice season the Rockets had there in 2013-14. They won 54 games, grabbed the No. 4 seed in the Western Conference and were feeling pretty good about themselves until nobody covered Damian Lillard with 0.9 seconds to play.

But when the heartache of that Game 6 loss and sudden ouster in Portland finally faded, there was reason to look ahead. Until this. Now the Rockets are back on the hamster wheel making no progress.

No offense to Trevor Ariza, but he doesn’t move the Rockets up in the West pecking order, doesn’t move the overall program forward.

Then again, the Rockets don’t actually have a program other than to keep swapping names and players and draft choices and salary cap spaces like trading cards. For a fellow who looked like the smartest guy in the room last summer when he landed Howard, Morey celebrates the first anniversary of that coup by telling Houston fans: “See you next summer. Please.”

While the Spurs win their fifth championship in 15 years by building a sense of family and togetherness, the Rockets are like the guy dealing three-card monte on the sidewalk, looking to just outsmart all of the other saps. They’re not looking for a path to long-term stability and success, just shortcuts to the top.

The Rockets brass reportedly also did not believe that a core lineup of Howard, Harden and Parsons was a championship contender. They wanted and needed Bosh with his champion’s pedigree because there remain serious questions about whether Howard or Harden can ever be the lead horse to pull a wagon. So how good is that lineup without Parsons?

The Rockets did not match the Dallas offer to Parsons because they did not want it to eat up too much of their payroll, so they could jump back in and play this game again next summer.

How do you develop real fan loyalty when you keep asking them to trust you and trust you and trust you for a future that’s out there in a world of analytics and promises beyond the stars?

What’s there to sell? Salary cap space, trade exceptions, maybe another video display on the front of the Toyota Center where they could photoshop LaMarcus Aldridge or LeBron James into the jersey of another current player next July.

Hopefully, that cap space and trade exception can come off the bench for some significant minutes, because in all of the grand hustle, an already thin roster became positively anorexic with the leaving of Jeremy Lin, Omer Asik and Parsons.

There was a palpable sense of shock and betrayal in Houston when Bosh — who definitely played the flirting game — did not jump into the Rockets’ arms as soon as James announced his return to Cleveland.

But there is no room here for hurt feelings. The Rockets, just like the Heat with LeBron, have to know and understand this game they like to play is the equivalent of a pickup in a singles bar. Sure, we can have some fun. But did you really think we were getting married?

It’s all those fans that keep going home alone at closing time who get stuck with another tab.

Bosh leaves Rockets on launch pad


VIDEO: Chris Bosh spurns Houston, agrees to re-sign with Miami

The word all along had been that when LeBron James made his decision, the rest of the dominoes would start to fall.

Seems the first one came crashing down on the best laid plans of the Rockets, who had made a four-year, $88-million offer to power forward Chris Bosh.

It was a neat little plan by Rockets general manager Tradin’ Daryl Morey, who had managed to come away with the plums of the past two off-seasons in Dwight Howard and James Harden.

Houston had gone as far trading away a piece of an already thin bench to make room for the All-Star Bosh under the salary by shipping guard Jeremy Lin and a pair of draft choices to the Lakers. What the Rockets took back in that trade was nothing and what they ended up with at the end of the day was just more of it.

Rather than form a new Big Three in Texas, Bosh surprised and spurned the Rockets by choosing to remain in Miami for a reported maximum contract of $118 million over five years.

For the 30-year-old Bosh, it makes all the financial sense in the world and it could be his time to shake off his third-wheel status with the Heatles and go back to the starring role of his Toronto days. He’s a tent-post that club president Pat Riley can build on in reconstructing the Heat again.

While it was well known and publicly stated the Bosh and his family enjoyed living in South Florida, one question is why he stretched out the affair and dragged the Rockets across the dance floor before jilting them. It is, by the way, the second time in four years that Bosh batted his eyes and flirted with Houston only to give the Rockets the kiss-off. Maybe they’ll learn next time not to pucker up.

If you’re keeping score in Houston, that’s no James, no Carmelo Anthony and no Bosh.

So the question becomes: What’s Plan D?

In addition, how do the Rockets respond to the offer sheet three-year, $46 million offer sheet the Mavs gave to forward Chandler Parsons?

When Bosh was in play, the Rockets plan had likely been to dig deep into their pockets to keep Parsons in order to form what, at least on paper, could have been the most solid starting five in the Western Conference — Howard, Harden, Bosh, Parsons and Patrick Beverley.

However, without Bosh to stretch the floor with his shooting and solidify the defense on the frontline, one of the biggest holes in the lineup remains. The Rockets were a 54-win team last season but still with holes and unable to get out of the first round of the playoffs.

Therefore is it worth it to break the bank for Parsons to virtually keep the same together? Of course, the fact that they’re in this predicament is the Rockets’ own doing, since they never had to allow Parsons to become a restricted free agent in the first place. Too cute by half.

According to numerous reports, Morey has spent the past several days talking to the representatives of Luol Deng, Trevor Ariza and Paul Pierce. The other interesting name who might fit in neatly on the front line is Pau Gasol, but indications are that he has shown little interest in Houston.

Deng, Ariza or Pierce would all come far cheaper than Bosh — and even Parsons — but the question is whether a significant commitment to any of them truly moves the Rockets ahead in the rugged Western Conference pecking order.

Morey won’t stop trying to roll the dice and place another bet, because that’s what he does. But in a way, what happened to the Rockets is a variation of what happened to the Heat on Friday. When you play the free agent game, sometimes you get burned.

The difference, of course, is that Miami has two championships and four straight Finals appearances in its grasp and the Rockets just blistered fingers.

Westbrook eyes All-Defensive team

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Preparing for Heat-Spurs Finals clash

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook showed throughout the playoffs that when he puts his mind to it, with his quickness and size — 6-foot-3 and 200 rock-hard pounds — he can be an elite defender.

During the Oklahoma City Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday, one day after being eliminated from the Western Conference finals, Westbrook said the impact of his defense during the playoffs showed him he can bring a more intense disposition to that end of the floor more consistently.

He said he’s eyeing an All-Defensive team selection next season, even if he’s a bit miffed as to the criteria to qualify for the honor.

“The way the defensive team is made now,” Westbrook said through a series of chuckles, “it’s based on, I guess if you steal the ball, or, I don’t know how it’s made up because, to me, you know, there should be guys on the defensive team that should be on there; there’s guys that should not be on it. If people watch the games, then they will know those things.”

Westbrook’s comment came the day before the NBA announced its All-Defensive first and second teams. He didn’t name names, and it’s not known if he might have gotten an early glimpse at the selections. A three-time All-Star (who would have made it four consecutive appearances if not for a right knee injury) and a three-time All-NBA second-team selection, Westbrook has never made an All-Defensive team in his six seasons in the league.

This year he received just five total votes — fourth on his own team — with one for the first team. The voting panel consisted of 123 writers and broadcasters from the United States and Canada. Teammate Serge Ibaka was named to the first team, Kevin Durant received 10 total votes with one for the first team and Thabo Sefolosha received eight votes, including one for the first team.

Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul secured his sixth All-Defensive team appointment and his fourth — and third in a row — on the first team. Paul, who received the most votes among guards, happened to be the league-leader in steals (2.5 per game). Westbrook finished tied for fourth (1.9), which also tied his career-high from 2010-11.

Golden State Warriors wing Andre Iguodala (148 total votes, 57 first team) made his second appearance on the All-Defensive team and first on the first team.

Westbrook’s 2.16 steals per game in the playoffs was second to Paul’s 2.85, but Westbrook’s strong two-way play against the Clippers in the second round helped to knockout Paul in the second round.

“Coming out of college, I take it personally, coming in and defending every night based on who I’m guarding,” Westbrook said. “And obviously through the playoffs you can see it a lot more through [each] series. You can see how much it can impact the game, and I’m definitely going to make more of an effort. That has to start next year to go throughout the season.”

The two second-team guards were Chicago’s Jimmy Butler (29 first-team votes) and Westbrook nemesis Patrick Beverley (44 first-team votes) of the Rockets. He made the team for the first time in his second season.

Beverley careened into Westbrook’s right knee during the first round of last year’s playoffs trying to make a steal as Westbrook slowed up near the Thunder bench to call timeout. Westbrook tore his meniscus on the controversial play and was out for the remainder of the playoffs. Two additional surgeries were needed in early October and then late December, limiting him to 46 games this season.

It was easily the most challenging season of Westbrook’s career. He had never missed a regular-season game until the 2013-14 opener. After a quick return early in the the season, he was playing some of the best basketball of his career just prior to undergoing a third surgery days after Christmas. He returned after the All-Star break in late February and was on a minutes restriction up until the end of the regular season.

Westbrook, 25, still finished the regular season averaging 21.8 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds. He boosted each category during the playoffs, averaging 26.7, 8.1 and 7.3.

“Thinking positive thoughts take you a long way, I constantly say that,” Westbrook said. “You can easily be down on yourself when you have surgeries, injuries, have bad games, anything. You can easily think to yourself that you did something wrong or you can’t do it. And, you know, the whole time throughout the season — I’ve never been hurt — it was different for me, but I stayed positive.”

Now he plans to get defensive.

Spurs dare Thunder to stop them

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Spurs score 66 points in the paint en route to a Game 1 win over OKC

SAN ANTONIO — A year ago, it was Russell Westbrook being taken down after a contentious run-in with Patrick Beverley that resulted in torn knee cartilage. A player who had never missed a game in five seasons was zapped from the lineup.

This time around, it’s Serge Ibaka lost for the rest of the playoffs after his legs tangled with Chris Paul in the Game 6 close-out against the Clippers. Another ironman, Ibaka had sat out only three games due to injury over the past four seasons.

Somebody, it seems, keeps holding that door wide open for the Spurs to get their crack at a fifth championship in franchise history.

In Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, playing the role of ushers was the Thunder, who did everything but lay down a trail of rose petals to lead the Spurs to the basket and a 122-105 victory.

Sometimes things turn out exactly the way you expect them. The sun comes up in the East, gravity works when you step out of bed in the morning, water is wet and the Thunder are a vastly different defensive team without their top jumping-jack, shot-blocker and rim protector.

So the Spurs simply went through OKC’s interior like it was an all-you-can-eat buffet line and did everything but stuff a few desserts in their pockets on the way out the door.

If it wasn’t layups, it was dunks. If it wasn’t running floaters through the lane, it was little pull-up jumpers.

The night after a hologram of the late Michael Jackson sang and danced at the Billboard Music Awards, it was 38-year-old Tim Duncan turning back the clock to give everyone a reminder of his greatest hits.

Tony Parker did what he always does — whatever is necessary. Kawhi Leonard ran like a one-man stampede. Boris Diaw made himself right at home in the low post. Even Tiago Splitter at one point simply reached out and ripped the ball out of the grasp of OKC’s Nick Collison, then turned and rammed it through the hoop.

What are you going to do about it?

That was question the Spurs might as well have been asking the Thunder after they rolled to a dominant 66 points in the paint.

And without the long arms and hungry appetite of Ibaka to roam the middle and protect the rim, it was a damn good one.

There is, after all, only so much even the prolific Kevin Durant and Westbrook can do.

The Thunder might not be totally exposed without Ibaka, but let’s just say they might as well be showing up at the prom wearing only a necktie.

“Sometimes it’s hard to focus on something like that and you’re going to do that or you’re going to shoot 3s tonight or you’re going to go in the paint tonight or you’re going to do this,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “You take what’s given, play the game, respect the game and whatever’s there, try to take advantage of that. It just worked out that way.”

Funny how that happens a lot with the Spurs, who play almost every game like it’s part of a coaching clinic, moving the ball from side to side, making the extra pass, finding the cracks in the defense and running through them like water.

In the previous round of the playoffs, the Trail Blazers wouldn’t double-team Parker, dared him to shoot from medium range to beat them and so he did, only stopping to score when his arm got tired.

The Thunder turned an 0-2 deficit to the Spurs into four straight playoff wins and a Western Conference title in 2012 by coming hard at Parker on the pick-and-roll, forcing him to give up the ball and limiting his ability to make plays.

They used the same approach this time around, but were only successful in the first half of the strategy. When Parker gave up the ball, it was to whomever he wanted, wherever and whenever he wanted.

“I don’t know if it was that easy, but we were taking what we were given,” said Duncan, who hit 6 of 7 shots in the first quarter for a dozen of his 27 points. “We knew getting into the middle and being able to attack a little more than we have, that’s kind of what’s been there historically against them and we were just able to make some shots tonight.”

They were able to make those shots because Collison, for all his dogged determination and want-to, is simply not the kind of intimidating force and athlete as Ibaka. Collison and center Kendrick Perkins create a huge deficit on the OKC front line in terms of scoring. When the Thunder went to a small lineup with three guards and two small forwards to boost their offense, the Spurs matched them and then one-upped them with Diaw taking Caron Butler down low and tying him into pretzel knots.

“That’s really what we were focusing on, knowing that Serge Ibaka was not there,” Diaw said. “A team that’s not in the paint is a lot different than a team that focuses on securing the paint.

“Right away, we went to Tim and we did a great job. We scored some baskets…We had a great passing game all night…We scored 120 points tonight. We know it is going to be a better game on Wednesday…We know it is going to be a different game.”

Or will it?

The sun comes up, gravity works, Ibaka is gone, the gaping hole yawns in the middle and that door is wide open for the Spurs.

Sometimes things turn out exactly the way you expect.