Oklahoma City in shock-and-awe mode against Golden State

Billy DonovanBy DERON SNYDER

No one saw this coming, but Oklahoma City has stolen Golden State’s thunder.

The 73-win defending champions, darlings of the regular season, are dazed and confused, just like everyone else watching the Western Conference finals. The Warriors aren’t simply losing the series. They’re being trampled, stomped as if they don’t belong in the same league, let alone on the same floor.

Not surprisingly, the proceedings have raised questions from observers who never were completely sold on Golden State. They have found their voice after a season of murmuring.

Is Steph Curry really the NBA’s best player? Did they win last year simply because Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love were injured? Is the Warriors’ carefree brand of ball an evolution or short-term solution?

Golden State was so dominant during the regular season, never losing back-to-back games. Now it has been routed in consecutive contests by 28 and 24 points. The confidence and swagger has disappeared. The crisp passing and player movement are nonexistent. Just as shocking, the swarming defense has been shredded, with OKC posting a 72-point first half in Game 3 and again in Game 4.

Curry has looked like a mere mortal – even feeble – after playing Superman all year. The injured knee and ankle that cost him six games this postseason seem to be factors, though he and coach Steve Kerr downplay the notion.

“He’s coming back from the knee, but he’s not injured” Kerr said after Tuesday’s blowout. “He just had a lousy night (6-of-20 from the field with six turnovers). It happens, even to the best players in the world.”

Asked about the possibility of being hampered, Curry declined to make his health an issue: “No, I’m fine,” he said.

That’s more than we can say about the Warriors’ current condition.

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Phil Mickelson’s insider trading case indicative of a problem (or two)

Phil_MickelsonBy DERON SNYDER

According to the PGA Tour, Phil Mickelson has earned $79.5 million in his career as a professional golfer. According to Forbes, “Lefty” earns more than $40 million from endorsements.

Suffice it to say Mickelson shouldn’t be desperate for money.

That’s why revelations about his insider trading are so confusing.

The Securities and Exchange Commission says Mickelson received a tip from legendary sports gambler Bill Walters, to whom Mickelson owed money. When the ill-gotten information paid off one week later, to the tune of $931,000, the proceeds were used to help relieve his debt to Walters.

Here’s the part that gets me: Authorities say he purchased $2.4 million worth of stock in Dean Foods after being urged by Walters – who was privy to info from a Dean Foods executive, another indebted gambler.

Why would Mickelson need help paying his gambling bill? Why wouldn’t he simply use the $2.4 million to pay Walters? How much did he owe and what kind of betting is he doing?

Whatever the answers, they cast Mickelson in a bad light, puncturing his good-guy reputation with yet another round of dubious activities. He was a defendant in the SEC case and escaped criminal charges due to a loophole, but has to repay the $931,000 plus $105,000 in interest.

“The complaint does not assert that Phil Mickelson violated the securities laws in any way” said a statement from his legal advisor Gregory Craig. “On that point, Phil feels vindicated. Phil was an innocent bystander to alleged wrongdoing by others that he was unaware of.”

Craig needs to improve his lie.

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Memo to Steven Adams: ‘Rabbits’ or ‘squirrels’ next time

StevenAdamsBy DERON SNYDER

An MRI can’t help. Neither can an X-ray. Sonograms are completely useless in this area, too.

Medical technology simply is incapable of revealing what you truly believe in your heart and actually think in your head.

Those places can harbor the ugliest feelings and seamiest beliefs, yet go undetected if a person speaks and acts otherwise. Like when someone smiles and holds the door while inwardly cursing your existence and inferiority.

“Have a good day!”

Words can be deceiving and actions can lack sincerity. Or they can be accurate reflections of your essential nature. We never know.

But we have nothing else to go on.

Oklahoma City center Steven Adams referred to two players of African descent – Golden State’s Steph Curry and Klay Thompson – as “quick little monkeys” after Game 1 of the Western Conference finals.

Did he realize the pain in such analogies? Was he aware of centuries-old implications? Did he know that blacks worldwide are demeaned as being equated to primates?

“I wasn’t thinking straight,” Adams told USA Today in an apology. “I didn’t know it was going to upset anyone, but I’m truly sorry. It was just a poor choice of words. I was just trying to express how difficult it was chasing those guys around.”

“Rabbits” or “squirrels” would’ve been so much better.

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LeBron James all wrong on Steph Curry MVP debate

LeBronStephBy DERON SNYDER

Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:

*HOW WE’LL EVER SOLVE ‘MOST VALUABLE’ VERSUS ‘THE BEST’

Take LeBron James away from the Cavaliers, and Cleveland is just another middling team in the muddled Eastern Conference. Take Stephen Curry away from the Warriors, and Golden State remains an elite contender in the rugged Western Conference. That would be James’ argument if he stumped for the Most Valuable Player award, which went to Curry last week. It’s a never-ending debate.

But Curry was the clear choice this year – on both counts.

*WHY THE NATS FORCED MIKE RIZZO TO WAIT SO LONG

The general manager’s hits-to-strikeouts ratio has been impressive in building a multiyear contender. Only St. Louis Cardinals has more wins since 2011 (465 compared to the Nats’ 443). Rizzo and his staff drafted or traded for virtually every player on the 25-man roster, with some lopsided deals to his credit. Yet ownership left him hanging before picking up his option last week.

He lucked into historic No. 1 picks, but has played his hand superbly.

*HOW TO ERASE BASEBALL’S UNWRITTEN RULES

When does one epic bat flip equal a hit by pitch and a haymaker? When the Texas Rangers get payback on Toronto’s Jose Bautista, seven months and seven games after the fact. Rookie Rougned Odor socked Bautista in the face Sunday after Matt Bush drilled the slugger in the ribs. Bautista didn’t help matters with a super-late slide into Odor, who previously displayed his overhand right five years ago in the minors.

Odor clearly ignores another unwritten rule: No real punches.

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Penn State pathetic in shameless refusal to admit guilt

PennStateBy DERON SNYDER

Our society has a maddening and deplorable habit of cheapening legitimate claims by aggrieved parties. Too many cases are likened to games, in which someone “plays the victim” or “plays” assorted “cards” (race, gender, sexual orientation, etc.).

A popular version involves blaming the media for your own mess. Another is blaming the casualties that you caused. Sadly, when a number of culprits cloak themselves in innocence and the dishonorable claim to be disadvantaged, we become calloused to true sufferers of abused and misused power.

Take, for instance, Penn State president Eric Barron. He makes it sound like the university has been oppressed, not the dozens of youths assaulted by convicted child molester and former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

“Unfortunately, we can’t control the 24/7 news cycle, and the tendency of some individuals in social media and the blogosphere to rush to judgment,” Barron wrote in an open letter Sunday after a judge’s ruling put the scandal in headlines again. “But I have had enough of the continued trial of the institution in various media. We have all had enough.”

If that was the case, if Penn State really were tired of Sandusky besmirching the school’s name, it shouldn’t have sued its insurance company three years ago. Instead of eating the millions of dollars in settlement claims as it knowingly keeping a pedophile on the payroll, the school opened itself to further scrutiny by trying to pass the bill to Pennsylvania Manufacturers’ Association Insurance Co.

The galling litigation has brought the spotlight back to Penn State and the glare isn’t pretty. A school spokesperson told The Associated Press last week that legal settlements with Sandusky’s accusers cover alleged incidents dating to 1971. That’s 40 years before he was arrested.

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Recruiting madness in football a 365-day reality

UrbanMeyerBy DERON SNYDER

The NCAA’s official recruiting calendar includes “dead” periods and “quiet” periods.

But in actuality, the process is always alive and kicking. There’s never a shortage of drama, intrigue or subterfuge, especially in parts of the country where the top three sports are football, spring football and football recruiting.

Millions of dollars and hundreds of coaching jobs hang on the decisions of 17-year-old boys who have difficulty deciding which sneakers to wear, let alone which college to attend. A host of factors are involved, including playing time, exposure, style of play, proximity and tradition. The coach matters, too, but no telling whether he’ll be there when signees arrive or remain through their stay.

There’s also no promise that the scholarship will materialize come signing day. Coaches like to hedge their bets, wooing numerous players in attempts to upgrade the roster while ensuring slots don’t go unfilled.

The entire process is similar to making sausage. We just want to enjoy our Saturday games, not study everything that goes into them, the oversigning, pulled scholarships, grayshirting, early signings, etc.

Some observers believe satellite camps leaned toward on the sordid side and the Division I council enacted a ban last month. But the NCAA board of directors overturned the edict shortly thereafter.

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh is packing the Wolverines’ tractor-trailer as we speak, loading up for a cross-country tour of 23 camps in 15 states. “Good news,” Harbaugh told the Associated Press after the ban was lifted. “It’s good for prospective student-athletes, fans, coaches and competition.”

Recruiting is the competition before the games, And no matter what’s said during the process, it’s not over until prospects sign a National Letter of Intent.

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The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story

RealMVPBy DERON SNYDER

Superstar Kevin Durant was sniffling, getting teary-eyed and speaking with a cracked voice toward the end of his acceptance speech in 2014 after winning the NBA Most Valuable Player Award.

And he hadn’t even mentioned his mother yet.

He was talking about his brothers, his friends and his grandmother, thanking them for their love and support as he rose from a suburban D.C. legend to one of the planet’s most recognizable players.

But when he finally got to discussing Wanda Durant – “And last, my mom …” – about 23 minutes into the 26-minute masterpiece, plenty of folks were crying with him.

His expression of affection, emotion and appreciation sparked a viral video (more than 800,000 views) and made national news. It also caught the attention of Queen Latifah, whose Flavor Unit Entertainment produced “The Real MVP: The Wanda Durant Story,” which premieres Saturday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Lifetime.

The movie stars Cassandra Freeman (Inside Man, Single Ladies), who received Wanda Durant’s seal of approval for portraying the young, single mother struggling to raise two boys in Prince George’s County, Md. “She said ‘I cried so much watching you. You are me,’” Freeman tells The Root. “That’s what she told me. She said it was like watching herself.”

Some mothers might think they’re watching their own story and many viewers might know someone in Durant’s situation. Roughly 70 percent of black children grow up in single-parent households according to widely accepted estimates. By the time she was 21, Durant had Tony, Kevin a crumbling marriage. She worked hard to provide a roof, food and clothing for her boys, largely on her own.

“It’s a great story,” Wanda Durant tells The Root. “The beautiful part is it’s not an uncommon story. It resonates with a lot of people.”

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The NBA’s last ‘Last Two Minute’ report should be the last

LastTwoMinuteReportsBy DERON SNYDER

To excel as an NBA official, candidates need thick skin, dull hearing and slow tempers.

They need the ability to tune out frenetic crowds – including spectators mere inches away – screaming about blown calls and defaming refs’ genealogy.

They must live with split-second decisions to blow or not blow the whistle, even as lingering doubts are confirmed via replay on the arena’s big-screens and excoriated by talking heads on smaller sets.

When it comes to an enviable job, this one doesn’t qualify. Between complaining players, argumentative coaches, heckling fans and carping media, refs fully earn their six-figure salaries, first-class travel and luxurious accommodations.

The task is difficult enough. They don’t need the league office piling on to prove it.

In case you missed it, the NBA identified five missed calls – FIVE! – during the final 13.5 seconds Monday in the San Antonio-Oklahoma City series. That might rank second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game among records least likely to be broken.

The mistakes were revealed in a “Last Two Minutes Report,” an initiative launched last season. All calls and material non-calls in the final minutes of close games and the entirety of overtime periods are reviewed and released to the public.

“Our fans are passionate and have an intense interest in understanding how the rules are applied,” Mike Bantom, executive vice president of referee operations, said when the program was announced. “NBA referees have the most difficult officiating job in sports, with so many split-second decisions in real time.

“We trust this consistent disclosure will give fans a greater appreciation of the difficulty of the job and a deeper sense of the correct interpretations of the rules of our game.”

That was wishful thinking.

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NFL’s fake morality strikes again

LaremyTunsilBy DERON SNYDER

NFL teams are wary of “character problems’ when drafting roughly 250 players each year. But a sliding scale is in place – adjusted for talent. Greater concern is shown early and more indifference appears toward the end.

By the time teams woo hundreds of undrafted free agents, morals and ethics are a virtual afterthought.

When you think about it, the shift doesn’t say much about the NFL’s character … unless being superficial, hypocritical, disingenuous and shallow are ideals.

Jameis Winston was the No. 1 overall pick in 2015 despite being accused of rape. The alleged victim’s lawyer said nobody from the NFL or Tampa Bay Buccaneers contacted the victim for her side of the story. Frank Clark, the Seattle Seahawks’ first pick last year, had an altercation with his girlfriend six months earlier that police said left her motionless on the floor with visible signs of injuries. Clark was the 63rd player selected, penalized by dropping out of the first round.

The Bucs and Seahawks didn’t care about the players’ domestic violence charges. But video of Laremy Tunsil smoking marijuana was enough to scare off some teams this year, as the top-rated offensive lineman slid to the 13th pick, losing about $8 million in the process.

The Baltimore Ravens (at No. 6) and Tennessee Titans (No. 8) both passed in favor of other offensive linemen. Teams that might’ve taken Tunsil as the “best player available” went in different directions. Some teams reportedly removed him from their boards entirely.

A gas mask bong has never cost anyone so much.

The video surfaced minutes before the draft, shaming Tunsil and causing teams to freak out. This is one of the few times we actually believe a celebrity who claims his Twitter account was hacked. No matter what you think about Tunsil smoking or allowing himself to be recorded, he was the victim of a malicious act. Someone with evil intentions transformed Tunsil’s glorious night into an embarrassing nightmare on national TV.

But the aftermath revealed more about the league’s lack of character, not deficiencies in the player.

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With Wizards hiring Brooks, DC trending in sports

WizardsHireBrooksBy DERON SNYDER

The swinging door on the Wizards’ head coach’s office has swung yet again, with Scott Brooks entering the space and meeting new co-workers Wednesday.

That completes the recent cycle of introductions among Washington’s major pro franchises and developments look promising for the hockey, football and baseball teams thus far. Brooks would do well to replicate their success with his new hoops squad.

Of course it’s too early to say much definitively about the Nationals in their first season under manager Dusty Baker, unless the subject is their smooth start on a six-month journey. The grizzled skipper was dealt a strong hand and resembles a man with nothing to lose, exhibiting a relaxed, carefree nature that trickles down and makes baseball fun.

On the rink, the Capitals have reached the playoffs’ second round for the second time in their two seasons with Barry Trotz behind the bench. Another longtime leader who came to town with 15 years of experience (compared to Baker’s 20 years), Trotz was a landslide winner for coach of the year this month in TSN’s anonymous poll of bench bosses.

On the gridiron, Jay Gruden rebounded nicely after an initial campaign that made us wonder if he’d see a third season in Washington. He didn’t have the benefit of a long resume filled with playoff appearances like Baker and Trotz; all Gruden had was 4-12 as a rookie coach and disarray under center. But he found his groove and his QB last season as Washington shockingly won the NFC East.

In a sports market where his counterparts have barely begun their D.C. legacies, Brooks has a great opportunity to carve out space. As with Baker and Trotz, his past achievements provide a sense of assurance that didn’t exist with their predecessors.

Randy Wittman had the distinction of being the NBA’s all-time losingest coach when he took the Wizards’ job. Matt Williams had never managed in the majors before the Nats gave him a shot. Likewise, Adam Oates was a newbie coach when the Caps hired him on the same day he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Brooks brings a .620 career regular-season winning percentage and a ledger that includes trips to the NBA Finals (one) and Western Conference finals (three). His deeds at Oklahoma City arguably would be more impressive if not for untimely injuries to standouts Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka.

He’s the coach who took those youngsters – plus former OKC guard James Harden – and molded them into the stars they’ve become today. The Wizards are counting on him to do the same with their backcourt of John Wall and Brad Beal, plus young wings Otto Porter and Kelly Oubre.

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