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Friday Bolts: 4.13.18

Ryan McDonald (Deseret News) looks back at the Thunder/Jazz regular season match-ups: “Utah and Oklahoma City played each other four times during the regular season, but it’s been a long time since the final game of the season series, which took place back on Dec. 23. As such, both teams look considerably different because of injury and the trade that brought Jae Crowder to the Jazz. Nevertheless, here’s a look back at each game of the season series.”

Brett Dawson on Corey Brewer planning to play in Sunday’s Game 1: “Corey Brewer has a sprained knee, but a report on Thursday said the Thunder guard intends to play on Sunday when his team opens the playoffs. Yahoo Sports reported on Thursday that Brewer will receive treatment on his sprained knee and “plans to play” on Sunday, when Oklahoma City hosts Utah in Game 1 of a first-round Western Conference playoff series. The Thunder did not confirm that report. A team spokesman confirmed that Brewer has a right knee sprain, but declined to provide a timetable for his return.”

ESPN Insiders break down the first round of the NBA playoffs: “Oklahoma City vs. Utah. This is easily the closest series on paper, with ESPN’s Basketball Power Index giving the Thunder a narrow 53-47 advantage in projected chances to win by virtue of home court. It’s also probably the best two combined teams; the Jazz finished fifth in point differential and Oklahoma City seventh, meaning whoever wins this series could give the Houston Rockets a scare in Round 2.”

FiveThirtyEight picked Thunder/Jazz as the best first round match-up in the Western Conference: “The closest matchup of the first round is the aforementioned clash between the Thunder and Jazz. Oklahoma City is a slim favorite at 52 percent, by virtue of having home-court advantage. But these teams are very evenly matched: Both posted 48-34 records, and only 5 points of CARM-Elo separate their ratings. This one might be a referendum of sorts on the importance of playoff seasoning — the Jazz are the least-experienced team in the postseason field, while the Thunder rank fourth-highest behind only the Cavaliers, Warriors and Spurs. That edge might be enough to push OKC over the top, although whoever wins the prize likely has a date with the Rockets in the next round. Enjoy these teams while they last.”

The Ringer’s NBA staff discussed best/worst case scenarios for every Western Conference playoff team: “OKC Best Case: Advance to the NBA Finals. Really. The Thunder will have the two best players on the floor in their first-round series against the Jazz. Russell Westbrook and Paul George can blitz any team in the league, so, on paper, Utah shouldn’t be much of a problem if OKC is playing to its potential… Worst Case: Losing in the first round to a rookie-led team that wasn’t expected to make the playoffs going into the season would certainly qualify.”

Game 1 shirts have been unveiled:

Patrick Redford (Deadspin) on the Thunder’s response to Brian Davis’ insensitive remark: “We think obviously the use of that term was offensive and inappropriate, and I expressed that to Brian last night,” Mahoney said Thursday. “Brian assures me that it was not meant in any derogatory way, and he apologizes. But again, we feel strongly that it’s inappropriate and offensive.”

Jon Hamm (B/R) on Russell Westbrook’s triple-double critics: “He also happens to be an outstanding rebounder. What is often overlooked is how Westbrook pursues defensive rebounds from well outside the paint. Instead, people latch onto the idea of teammates boxing out for his statistical benefit. That doesn’t exempt Westbrook from all criticism. It’s fair to wonder how much his desire for rebounds outweighs his desire to play defense. There have been occasions when Westbrook has played late into already-decided games in order to notch extra stats. Some may wonder if his teammates are really fine with the game plan. “He steals rebounds sometimes,” Anthony said Tuesday with a wry smile, “but anytime you have a guard like that, that can rebound the way he does, we want to push the break. When he gets it off the rebound, he’s able to jump-start the break. And a lot of good things happen from that.”

Grant Hughes (B/R) has OKC ninth in the final regular season NBA power rankings: “If Paul George’s recent shooting is any indication, he seems to have snapped out of his slump at just the right time. He hit eight of 14 long-range shots on the way to 40 points in Wednesday’s win over the Grizzlies and was 16-of-34 on threes in OKC’s three wins this week. With George rolling, the Thunder are suddenly a much more dangerous team.”

Devin Gordon (GQ) spoke to James Harden about a lot of things — including his time in OKC: “In 2012, Oklahoma City shocked the league by trading Harden to Houston, at once ending the Thunder trio and immortalizing it. By this summer, all three should have MVP awards; two of them wouldn’t if the Thunder had stayed together. And yet Harden says he still thinks about that team every day. “It was the perfect puzzle,” he tells me, reliving the end for the thousandth time. “How do you give that up? How do you let that go?”

Around the League: The Warriors & Rockets were given the best odds to win the title…. Enes Kanter may opt-out of the final season on his deal…. Lonzo Ball discussed LeBron/PG13 in his exit interview…. A Q&A with Ben Simmons…. Kobe Bryant’s new show takes you inside his basketball mind…. The NBA set attendance records for the fourth straight season…. Dirk Nowitzki’s impact on these playoffs/today’s NBA.