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Friday Bolts: 4.6.18

Zach Buckley (B/R) breaks down the updated playoff picture: “No. 3 Portland Trail Blazers vs. No. 6 Oklahoma City Thunder / As things stand, this would be the only first-round matchup where a pair of top-10 scorers go head-to-head at the same position. Damian Lillard (26.7 points per game) and Russell Westbrook (25.6) rank fifth and eighth, respectively, and they combined to score 158 points the three times they faced off this season. Beyond the spotlight each commands, they’d have extra incentive to one-up the other after Westbrook took a thinly veiled shot at Lillard’s All-Star selection in January. While discussing teammate Paul George’s initial snub (he was later added as an injury replacement), Westbrook complained about “guys complaining about getting snubbed until they get in,” per ESPN’s Royce Young. This wasn’t even two weeks after Lillard voiced his frustrations about not being selected the past two seasons to ESPN’s Chris Haynes.”

Nick Gallo recaps yesterday’s Thunder practice session: “With three games left in the regular season for the 45-34 Thunder, every opportunity on the court is a step toward a potential playoff berth, and specific seeding. Most other teams remaining in the playoff race have four games remaining. The Utah Jazz, San Antonio Spurs, Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans, Denver Nuggets and LA Clippers are all within three games of one another in the standings – eight teams duking it for six playoff spots. The Thunder isn’t scoreboard watching, however. They understand that winning the next game in front of them is the only thing they can worry about. “We just have to worry about ourselves,” Grant said. “As long as we take care of what we have to take care of, we’ll be fine.”

Erik Horne on Raymond Felton being a missing piece to the Thunder playoff puzzle: “When the postseason kicks off next week, if the Thunder is in, Felton — not Paul George or Carmelo Anthony — will be the biggest difference from last season’s ineptitude without Westbrook at the point. Yes, the Thunder still has to earn its way into the Western Conference playoffs, but this season has already been a marked improvement with Felton backing up Westbrook. What Felton could provide when Westbrook was off the floor was a talking point between the Thunder and Felton when the 33-year-old signed with Oklahoma City for the veteran’s minimum in July.”

Royce Young was on The Lowe Post podcast to discuss the Thunder’s season: “Zach talks to ESPN’s Royce Young about the Thunder’s strange season, Paul George’s shooting slump, Carmelo Anthony’s down year, Billy Donovan, and playoff hopes.”

Paolo Ugetti picked Steven Adams as the player who unlocks everything for his team in The Ringer’s Other NBA Awards: “Adams is a savant of the pick-and-roll, and he’s the perfect steady, guiding force to pair with a rampaging Russell Westbrook. Adams is shooting a career-high 62.7 percent from the field on a career-high nine shots a game this season, but scoring is not his forte. He’s a rebound hound, totaling 28 double-doubles this season—12 more than last season—and posting a career-high 16.6 offensive rebound percentage. Adams isn’t so much a glue guy as he is an oil guy who keeps the engine running, and for a team with three ball-dominant players, that’s incredibly valuable.”

Brett Dawson on Paul George working through his shooting slump: “After the Thunder wrapped practice on Thursday, Paul George put in some work behind the 3-point line. He gave up the ball, got it back and launched. He took a hard dribble and stepped back into a 3. It was the sort of effort Billy Donovan encouraged from George. The Thunder coach said he told George “the more you can generate game-speed shots into your routine,” the better it’ll be for finding a rhythm. George “was getting the work in” before and after practice, said Donovan, who added that he hasn’t seen any mechanical issue in George’s shot.”

Grant Hughes (B/R) has the Thunder ninth in his latest power rankings: “There’s something mechanical in my shot,” George, mired in a gruesome shooting slump for weeks, told reporters afterward. “I don’t know what it is. It feels funny. Shooting the ball feels funny. So I’m going to work with the trainers and try and figure that out.” Despite this protracted stretch of off-target shooting, George is still topping Anthony from the field (42.8 percent to 40.3 percent) and from long range (39.7 percent to 35.8 percent). With three games left, one of which comes against the Grizzlies, Oklahoma City is all but assured of a playoff berth. But with George’s shooting issues and four losses in their last five games, the Thunder aren’t closing the regular season on a promising note.”

Berry Tramel on if OKC is better off missing the playoffs entirely: “Seven days left in the NBA regular season, and the Thunder staggers to the finish line. The Thunder, currently in seventh place in the Western Conference, still could climb all the way to fourth and secure homecourt advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Or the Thunder could drop all the way to ninth and miss the playoffs. Such a collapse would qualify as a disaster. Or would it? If the Thunder misses the playoffs, it gets to keep its first-round draft pick. That’s no small thing.”

Around the League: Kyrie Irving is done for the season…. The Pacers completed a season-sweep of Golden State…. The Nuggets won their fourth straight last night…. Jimmy Butler was available but didn’t play for the T-Wolves last night…. A look at “Playoff LeBron”…. 10 things Zach Lowe likes/doesn’t like…. LeBron endorsed the idea of female NBA head coaches.