Brayan Villarreal’s family escaped an attempted kidnapping Friday night in Venezuela

Brayan Villarreal’s family escaped an attempted kidnapping Friday night in Venezuela

Tom Gage of the Detroit News has gathered the few details that have been made publicly available: The Tigers confirmed Sunday that the family of relief pitcher Brayan Villarreal was the target of an unsuccessful armed kidnapping on Friday night in Venezuela. No members of Villarreal’s family were harmed, however, and the incident won’t require…

Kevin Durant appears headed down same path as Dirk Nowitzki

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Kevin Durant appears headed down same path as Dirk Nowitzki

The propensity to call everything a “choke,” especially in the postseason, has gone overboard when it comes to Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

They didn’t choke. They lost a seven-game series to the No. 1 overall seed in the NBA playoffs in the Golden State Warriors, a team that won a record 73 regular-season games, has the two-time MVP in Steph Curry, the deadliest shooting guard in the league in Klay Thompson and that jack-of-all-trades tweener that 29 other teams covet in Draymond Green. The 2015 Finals MVP Andre Igoudala is a good chip to have in the back pocket, too.

Yes, the Thunder still should’ve won. They led 3-1 and in their last two losses, winnable games in the crunch, reverted to who they’ve been for years -- an isolation team that lacked the discipline under the duress.

This is vindication of sorts for Scott Brooks, who was fired before this season for unspecified reasons though he had one NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

Billy Donovan didn’t achieve better results for his No. 3 seed Thunder but they wore down the 67-win San Antonio Spurs in six games (Brooks accomplished this, too) and stole home-court advantage from Golden State in Game 1. They showed what they could be when at an optimum level but maintaining that posture is even more difficult.

The Thunder had the size to go with that versatility to push the Warriors in ways that seemed unthinkable. Durant and Russell Westbrook were unstoppable. They were able to switch bigs such as Serge Ibaka and Steven Adams onto Curry and Thompson and it worked. Then the clock struck midnight and the carriage leading them to the NBA Finals turned into a pumpkin. The Splash Brothers figured out how to exploit the matchups as three-pointer after three-pointer blazed the nets. 

For his part, Durant didn’t recognize that he was being led into a traps as Igoudala defended him man-to-man while Green was playing zone coverage. What appeared to be clear paths to the basket turned into dreadful shot attempts.

The Thunder didn’t have a single turnover in the final 12 minutes of Monday’s series-defining 96-88 loss – only three in the second half in all -- but the errant shots that had no prayer of going into the basket might as well have been.

In a Game 6 loss, Oklahoma City shot just 5 of 19 (26.3%). Durant and Westbrook combined to shoot 3 of 14.

Durant is an MVP (2014). Westbrook, who tied an NBA record set Magic Johnson with 18 triple-doubles, was in the discussion and garnered more votes than his teammate for the award after the 2015-16 regular season.

They still weren't a match for history. Regardless of whether or not these Warriors could’ve beaten the Michael Jordan-led Bulls that won 72 games in a seven-game series, they're a special group. If it were so easy to replicate what they're doing, they would've lost more than nine regular-season games and surely wouldn't have stood a chance at coming back from a 3-1 deficit.  

The cliche questions about Durant as he enters unrestricted free agency will grow louder: Can a team win a championship with him as their best player? Does Durant shrink when the moments get bigger? 

After completing his ninth NBA season, he better get used to it. It happened to Dirk Nowitzki, who won a championship for the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, four years after his MVP season on a 67-win team ended in a first-round playoff exit. It took Nowitzki 13 years to get there and he left with the MVP trophy by disposing of LeBron James.

Julius Erving played 12 years as a pro, including ABA, to win an NBA crown and his failures that preceeded it were every bit as heartbreaking. His Philadelphia 76ers led the Boston Celtics in the East finals 3-1 and they lost the next three games by a total of five points.

For some, that moment of redemption will never come like this. It could be that Durant and Westbrook can't maximize their greatness with each other because of their styles. As important as having talent is when it comes to winning titles, so is that talent being the ideal fit with each other. 

What would Durant look like next to a more traditional pass-first point guard such as a Mike Conley or John Wall? Unless there's a shakeup in Oklahoma City or he leaves in free agency to find that out, we'll never know.

But this is what is known: Losing in seven games of the conference finals to the best team for the last two years in the NBA isn't a choke but rather a hiccup. And hiccups can be cured.

 

Wieters knows the dangers Caleb Joseph faced

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Wieters knows the dangers Caleb Joseph faced

BALTIMORE—Matt Wieters knows about the dangers of catching. He can identify with Caleb Joseph, who went on the disabled list with a testicular injury on Tuesday. 

“I didn’t really know the severity of it at the time. It happens so often to catchers, you don’t really assume that it’s as severe as it was. He’s a tough kid who’s been through a lot of grinding in the minor leagues, so it takes a lot to be able to get him out of the game. I wasn’t surprised at all that he stayed in. But I definitely wish it wasn’t as bad as it was. Hopefully, everything will be fine once the soreness goes away and he’ll be back,” Wieters said. 

“I think every man can probably sympathized with Caleb a little bit. I’m sure he’s pretty sore today, but talking to him this morning, everything went as well as it could have last night. So, to be able to kind of rest a little bit and then get him back here at full strength will be good.”

RELATED: MACHADO, TRUMBO LEADERS IN FIRST ALL-STAR VOTING

With Joseph out, Wieters will have his 11th backup since he got to Baltimore in 2009. Francisco Pena was recalled from Norfolk to serve as Wieters’ understudy while Joseph heals. 

Pena, who played briefly with Kansas City in 2014 and 2015, is the son of New York Yankees coach Tony Pena. He was with the Orioles during spring training. He was batting .200 with six RBIs at Norfolk.

He understands the dangers of being behind the plate.

“You can’t control that. It’s luck right there. Obviously, you’re wearing a cup, but it’s a matter of luck. You’re concerned, but you’re never thinking about it. You’ve got to be ready to block every pitch. You’ve got to be ready to catch. You can’t be thinking about it.” Pena said.

MORE ORIOLES: JOSEPH GOES TO THE DISABLED LIST WITH TESTICULAR INJURY

Machado, Trumbo leaders in first All-Star voting

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Machado, Trumbo leaders in first All-Star voting

BALTIMORE—In the first release of All-Star Game voting, Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo are the leading Orioles votegetters. 

Machado, a two-time All-Star is leading American League third basemen with just over 630,000 votes, and Trumbo is third among outfielders. 

Kansas City’s Mike Moustakas, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, trails Machado by about 64,000 votes. 

Trumbo, who was an All-Star with the Angels in 2012, is behind his former Los Angeles teammate Mike Trout and Kansas City’s Lorenzo Cain in the voting. Trumbo, who has just under 642,000 votes, leads Boston’s Jackie Bradley, Jr. by about 85,000 votes.

RELATED: JOSEPH GOES TO THE DISABLED LIST WITH TESTICULAR INJURY

Chris Davis, who received the most All-Star votes in 2013, is third among first basemen. He is nearly half a million votes behind the Royals’ Eric Hosmer. 

Jonathan Schoop is in fifth place in the voting for second baseman. Schoop is more than 400,000 votes behind Houston’s Jose Altuve.

J.J. Hardy, a two-time All-Star, who is currently on the disabled list with a fracture in his left foot, is fifth among shortstops and is more than 370,000 votes behind Boston’s Xander Bogaerts. 

Matt Wieters, a three-time All-Star is in third place in the catchers’ voting. He is nearly 800,000 votes behind the AL voting leader, Kansas City’s Salvador Perez.

Adam Jones, a five-time All-Star is ninth and Joey Rickard is 14th in AL outfield voting. 

The All-Star Game will be played in San Diego’s Petco Park on July 12. 

MORE ORIOLES: ORIOLES OPEN BIG RED SOX SERIES WITH BIG LOSS