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Tonight, the NBA has some very tasty action for us all. In the early games, the Spurs are going to try to come back from a 2-1 deficit against the Grizzlies. Next, the Mavericks and Trail Blazers are going to duke it out to see who is going to take the lead in their series. And for the night's main event, the Thunder are going to tussle with the Nuggets what in we hope will be one final time. 

Scott Brooks Has Learned Consistency | NewsOK

Carlson writes a good story about Scott Brooks' approach to coaching. Says Nick Collison:

"He's been real consistent with his message all year. You can probably tell by how we talk to the media - we're always saying the same things over and over again - but it's what's preached to us every day."

Ibaka Emerging as Potential 3rd Star |

We've written about Serge Ibaka's play plentifully in this space, specifically as to how he's the most natural and obvious choice for that "3rd scorer" candidacy. I think one of the reasons why he has seemingly gotten better each game out is because the Thunder were patient with him. In the beginning, they just asked him to do two things well - rebound and shoot the 15 footer. As the season went along, they asked him to do just a little bit more each time out, and because it was not radically different on an incremental basis, Ibaka was able to adapt and grow. 

Thunder Nearly Blow the Lead, Or Did They? | ProBasketballTalk

Here is one last look at the controversial miss by J.R. Smith. My only take - regardless of what you see in the play, you always have to keep in mind the context of the play. The referee was not going to make that call at that specific juncture unless James Harden clearly hacked him. Harden did not. Also, once Smith angled to take a step-back 3-pointer, instead of jumping into Harden, Smith removed any sort of advantage he might have  had in the eyes of the referee.

From Hot to Not...Again | Denver Stiffs

The Stiffs take a look at George Karl's playoff history and how it has compared to the regular season. This recollection is promising for the Thunder and not so much for the Nuggets. 

Is OKC Best of West? | Hoopsdata

This post gives similar analysis to what we've been writing about for a while. Early on in the season Charles Barkley infamously argued that the Thunder were not for real because they did not rebound or play defense. We now have a decent sample set that not only do the Thunder do those things now, but they frequently do them better than a lot of other teams that are still playing.

Down 3-0, is Denver the Better Team? | NewsOK

Aaron Afflalo offers some commentary on what it means to be the "better team." He doesn't cede anything, but why should he? It would be detrimental to his team's own efforts. Besides, he's probably right in the sense that when you get to the playoffs, rarely are the team discrepancies large. It is small and incremental differences that accumulate over time that lead to 3-0 leads.

More links after the jump.

Battle-Tested Ibaka Makes Noise | Denver Post

This story is a good run-down on the main points of what exactly Serge Ibaka has had to endure on his way to NBA stardom. 

Thunder's Players Believe Game Four Could Be Difficult | Denver Post

The Thunder are heading into a close-out game with very little collective team experience on how to do such a thing. As they say, it is 50% physical and 90% mental.

Thunder Avert Collapse, Achieve Milestone | ESPN

Hollinger metes out more measured praise for the Thunder. Here is one impressive stat to consider - of the 97 points the team scored on Saturday, 81 of them were scored by players 22 years old and younger.

What Does Game Three Say About Nuggets' Needs? | Denver Westword

This story points out something accurate but mostly missed - streaky shooter J.R. Smith almost brought the Nuggets all the way back to an improbable victory. However, it was also he that helped put them in that hole, missing six straight shots.

Chris Paul Goes Nova | Hardwood Paroxysm  

I do hope you were able to stay up late last night to watch the clinic that Chris Paul performed against the Lakers. It is kind of indescribable what Paul is compared to the rest of the pack whom we consider "point guards." This is what I wrote about Paul earlier this season.

Melo Trade Taking a Toll | Denver Post

If the Nuggets lose tonight, we will have an interesting water cooler debate on our hands. Did their mega-trade really accomplish anything, if both the Knicks and the Nuggets get swept in the first round?

Z-Bo Is the Hero | Sports Illustrated

Zach Randolph, much maligned for most of his career, has found himself while walking in Memphis. Like him or not, I think that there is something pretty cool when a young man like him finally figures it out.

76ers Family Values |

The Miami Heat tried to close out their own sweep of the 76ers last night and failed. This is a great story on a young team that is likely staring at a series defeat, but chose to fight anyway, and in the process are finding themselves. I think Thunder fans can relate to that. 

Playoffs Have Plenty of ASU Ties | AZCentral

This story offers a good snapshot of all the pros still playing and their ties to Arizona State University.

Ranking the Playoff Teams | NewsOK

Tramel ranks from 1-16 the playoff teams' performances. Can you guess who is number one? 

Nuggets Can't Avoid Harsh Truth | Denver Post

More action from Mr. Kiszla. I bet this guy is a blast to have at holiday parties and family gatherings.