Kevin Durant steps up

Kevin Durant leads Oklahoma City to a 2-2 tie with the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals.

Durant is treating the postseason like an extension of his barnstorming tour last summer, when he lit up playgrounds from Harlem to L.A. In the first round of the playoffs, he beat the Mavericks with a game-winner. In the second round, he beat the Lakers with two. And in Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals on Saturday night, when the Spurs cut the deficit to four points in the fourth quarter, Durant embarked on an unforgettable onslaught that cements his status among the NBA’s elite closers.

He scored 16 consecutive points, with a torrent of fadeaways and turnaround jumpers, plus a floater in the lane and an ally-oop from the baseline. He burned through two San Antonio defenders, first Kawhi Leonard and then Stephen Jackson, and when he was done the de facto NBA Finals were tied 2-2. “I just try to take it on, try not to be nervous,” Durant said. “Sometimes it’s nerve-racking playing those games like that. But I just try to calm down and go with my instincts.”

So much for the Spurs being invincible.

This shouldn’t be surprising, however, as we have two excellent teams battling for a spot in the Finals. Now we’ll see if the Spurs can get it back together in Game 5.

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Spurs take game 1 over Thunder

The Spurs found a way to win game one against Oklahoma City despite looking terrible for three quarters.

– Gregg Popovich challenged his team to get nasty with their defense, and Stephen Jackson responded with tough defense on Kevin Durant.

– Russell Westbrook is getting a ton of heat for his lame play in the 4th quarter, but Gregg Doyle just eviscerates him in this column, pointing out that Westbrook’s game is as hollow as the lenseless glasses he was wearing to show off the new nerd look that he and other prima donna’s like Prince James and Dwyane Wade are sporting these days.

Youth is definitely a factor in a series like this. That has to be an advantage for the Spurs, and it’s one of the reasons that Heat-haters like me would rather see the Spurs take on the Heat.

Manu Ginobili came up big for the Spurs in the 4th quater and finished with 26 points.

Five trades that should happen (but won’t)

Phoenix Suns Steve Nash stands next to head coach Alvin Gentry in the second half against the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden in New York City on January 17, 2011. The Suns defeated the Knicks 129-121. UPI/John Angelillo

GMs around the league were worried that there wouldn’t be much action leading up to Thursday’s trade deadline, but once the Carmelo Anthony trade went down, there has been a flurry of activity highlighted by the Nets’ acquisition of Deron Williams.

Here are five more trades that should happen, but probably won’t. They generally include one older player on a bad team that isn’t going anywhere.

Click on each trade’s headline to see it in the ESPN Trade Machine.

1. Steve Nash to Atlanta for Jamal Crawford and two first round picks
Free Steve Nash! The Hawks aren’t the ideal destination for Nash, but the Hawks really need a floor leader and the team has the defensive frontcourt (Josh Smith, Al Horford) to make up for Nash’s weakness on that end of the court. Smith and Horford would work well in Nash’s patented screen-and-roll and he would take the pressure off of Joe Johnson to create as the shot clock is winding down. The Suns aren’t going to get much out of this deal other than cap relief (Crawford’s deal is expiring) and a couple of first round picks, but Nash is 37 years old and deserves to play in the postseason. The Suns aren’t going anywhere anyway.

2. Rip Hamilton to Chicago for Kyle Korver and Ronnie Brewer
Rip can still play. He’s averaging 13.3 points per game and his shooting 40%+ from 3PT even though his minutes are sporadic. He works hard on defense and has kept himself in great shape throughout his career, so he should be able to contribute for the remainder of his contract. His spot up jumper would be a nice fit alongside Derrick Rose in the Chicago backcourt. The Pistons would be rid of the headache of keeping Rip on the roster without playing him and would get a couple of youngish wings in Korver and Brewer that could actually contribute.

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Will Michael Jordan buy the Bobcats?

Part-owner Jordan is on the clock, per Ric Bucher’s sources

Former Houston Rockets president/CEO George Postolos — whose first attempt to purchase the team, according to the Charlotte Observer, fell apart last summer — has made a new offer that Bobcats president Michael Jordan has until the end of February to match, according to sources.

Jordan negotiated a right of first refusal after Johnson made it clear he intended to sell the team, according to a team source. But it was not immediately known whether the group of investors Jordan has assembled has the wherewithal or inclination to match Postolos’ offer.

The Bobcats are sitting above .500 this season and have a good shot at making the playoffs. But the two big moves that put the franchise in this position — the hiring of Larry Brown and the trade for Stephen Jackson — aren’t long-term moves. Brown could retire at any time and Jackson is 31, so I’d be surprised if both are still with the team after next season. Gerald Wallace made the All-Star Game (deservedly), but he’d be better suited to be a sidekick for a dynamic guard. Other than Wallace, the Bobcats don’t really have anyone to build around, so despite their surprising record, Jordan shouldn’t break his arm patting himself on the back.

Besides, Rod Higgins is still technically the GM, right? Here’s a list of all the big moves that the Jordan/Higgins combo executed over the last few seasons, along with a grade for each move:

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Hornets fire Byron Scott

The New Orleans Hornets started the season a disappointing 3-6, and decided to make a change at head coach, firing Byron Scott.

Scott will be replaced by general manager Jeff Bower, with Tim Floyd as his top assistant, the team said. Floyd formerly coached the Hornets and the Chicago Bulls in the NBA and most recently at USC.

Team owner George Shinn thanked Scott for his service, but said Bower “knows this team better than anyone” and gives the Hornets “our best opportunity to reach our goals this season.”

Scott won NBA Coach of the Year honors in 2008 after he and franchise point guard Chris Paul led the Hornets to a 56-26 record and the Southwest Division title. The Hornets then defeated Dallas in the first round of the playoffs and were within one win of the West finals before losing Game 7 at home to the San Antonio Spurs.

Scott hung on to his job after the early exit but couldn’t survive New Orleans’ poor start, even though the many holes on the Hornets’ roster — with no consistent scorer at the wing positions and little depth — appeared to be beyond his control. A number of league observers considered a coaching change inevitable if the Hornets struggled this season.

The team’s biggest problem isn’t Scott — it’s a lack of talent on the wings. Peja Stojakovic was supposed to be the Hornets’ top perimeter scorer, but he has struggled with a bad back and is getting older. The quickest way for the team to inject some scoring into its lineup would be to trade for Stephen Jackson or Rip Hamilton, two sharpshooting wings that are readily available. But that would require a long-term commitment to one of those players as part of the team’s core.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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