LeBron outplayed by Durant in Game 1

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LeBron outplayed by Durant in Game 1

From Comcast SportsNet
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- Kevin Durant delivered the fourth quarter LeBron James never could last year. So forget those NBA Finals jitters at the start. Durant and the young Thunder showed they have already figured out how to finish. Durant scored 17 of his 36 points in another nightmarish final period for James and his team, leading a Thunder storm that overwhelmed the Heat and gave Oklahoma City a 105-94 victory over Miami in Game 1 on Tuesday night. "That's what they do, they keep on coming," Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. "They're relentless." Teaming with Russell Westbrook to outscore the Heat in the second half by themselves, Durant struck first in his head-to-head matchup with James, who had seven points in the final quarter and was helpless to stop the league's three-time scoring champion. "Well, those guys, they came out on fire. They were passing the ball well, knocking down shots. We just wanted to continue to keep playing," Durant said. "It's a long game, and every time our coach was just saying play harder, play harder, and that's what we did." Westbrook turned around a poor shooting start to finish with 27 points, 11 assists and eight rebounds for the Thunder, keying a strong finish to the third period that gave the Thunder the lead for good. Durant took over from there. Scoring in nearly every way possible, Durant finished 12 of 20 from the field and added eight rebounds. He and Westbrook outscored the Heat 41-40 over the final two periods, showing that maybe this time it will be offense that wins championships. James finished with 30 points, his most in any of his 11 finals games, but had only one basket over the first 8:15 of the fourth, when the Thunder seized control of a game they trailed for all but the final few seconds of the first three quarters. James averaged just three points in the fourth quarters of the Heat's six-game loss to Dallas last year, taking almost all the heat for Miami's finals failure. He was good in this one, Durant was just better. "They didn't make many mistakes in the fourth quarter," James said. And when fans chanted "MVP! MVP!" late in the game, they weren't talking about James, the guy who won the regular-season award. They meant Durant, who is in a race with James for his first ring -- and maybe the title of best player in the game. Game 2 is Thursday night in Oklahoma City. Dwyane Wade had 19 points but shot just 7 of 19 for the Heat, while Shane Battier provided some rare offense by scoring 17 points, his high this postseason. Turning to a small lineup late in the third quarter, the Thunder improved to 9-0 at home in the postseason. Defensive ace Thabo Sefolosha helped defend James during the Thunder's comeback, relieving Durant of the burden so he could focus on his scoring. And right now, nobody does it better. Spoelstra said his team, pushed to seven games against Boston in a grueling conference finals the Heat finally won Saturday, preferred this quick turnaround. But perhaps they ran out of gas against the young Thunder, whose core players are all 23 and younger and look as if they could keep playing all night. "Honestly, I think we just came out with a lot more intensity on the defensive end. Made them feel us a little bit," Westbrook said of the second half, when the Thunder outscored the Heat 58-40. James and Wade both were bent over, hands on knees, during one stoppage with about 7 minutes remaining. Durant kept pouring it on, racing down the court to throw down a fast-break dunk and later adding a 3-pointer that pushed it to 87-81 with 6 1-2 minutes remaining. The Heat got within four points, but Durant hit two quick baskets and Westbrook added another for a 10-point lead with 3:35 to go. "They just made more plays than us," Wade said. "They got a couple offensive rebounds that kind of hurt us. Got a couple of open shots and from that point we were kind of playing from behind." It's been a rapid rise toward the top for the Thunder, who started 3-29 in 2008-09, their first season here after moving from Seattle. Fans were clearly embracing the finals' arrival in Oklahoma City, where cars, buildings and even fans' hair seemed to be painted some form of orange or blue. Fans standing until the Thunder's first basket didn't have to wait long, Durant knocking down a baseline jumper 70 seconds in. He made his first three shots, including two 3-pointers, but his teammates missed their first six attempts in falling into an early hole. Durant made sure they were fine at the end. Both superstars tried to downplay their individual matchup, Durant insisting it was about the team and James adamant that he didn't care about the best player in the game argument. It was James' supporting cast that stepped up bigger to start, the Heat hitting five of their six 3-point attempts in jumping to a 29-22 lead after one quarter. Spoelstra kept Chris Bosh as a reserve, the role he has played since returning from a nine-game absence with a strained lower abdominal muscle. Smart decision, as Battier hit his first three 3-point attempts in the opening minutes to spark Miami's strong start. Durant took only one shot in the second quarter, and it wasn't until 9 minutes had passed. By then, the Heat had built a lead as large as 13 points, keeping it in or near double digits most of the period before the Thunder sliced it to 54-47 at halftime. Seemingly every fan was wearing the blue shirts hung on their chairs before the game -- an exception being rapper Lil Wayne, who caused a stir during the Western Conference finals when he posted on Twitter that the Thunder wouldn't let him into their arena, with the team saying simply that he needed to buy tickets if he wanted to come. He did, he and his guest both wearing black. The sea of blue around the court looked like the scene last year in Dallas, where James struggled so badly when it mattered most. He said he let his team down, vowing he would have no regrets about his performance this time around. Unfortunately, the result was all too familiar to the Heat. James quickly answered after Oklahoma City tied the game for the first time at 60-all midway through the third, banking in a shot and powering in for a layup and a quick four-point lead. The Heat pushed the lead back to five but the Thunder kept coming, finally pulling ahead for the first time when Westbrook darted into the lane and was fouled while scoring with 16.4 seconds remaining, the free throw making it 74-73. Baskets by Durant and Sefolosha to open the fourth pushed it to a five-point lead, and the Heat never recovered. Notes: Battier's 13 first-half points equaled his high for the postseason. He and Westbrook were also called for double technical fouls after Westbrook's basket with about 30 seconds left in the half. ... The Thunder, 23-59 in 2008-09, duplicated the feat of the Heat, who also reached a finals within three seasons of a 25-win season. Miami was 15-67 in 2007-08 before playing for the title last year.

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Redskins could face RB decision: Christian McCaffery or Dalvin Cook?

Redskins could face RB decision: Christian McCaffery or Dalvin Cook?

Mel Kiper's latest mock draft has the Redskins selecting Stanford RB Christian McCaffery with the 17th overall pick, while Florida State RB Dalvin Cook remains on the board until the Packers with the 29th pick. 

Both runners put up ridiculous stats in college. Cook posted nearly 5,400 total yards to go with 48 touchdowns in three seasons as a Seminole. McCaffery went over 5,100 total yards to go with 31 touchdowns in three seasons.

Until the NFL Combine, however, Cook seemed certain to go before McCaffery. The Stanford product impressed coaches and scouts, particularly with his 40-time of 4.48, a tenth of a second faster than Cook.

Like many high-profile prospects before him, Cook's game is being picked apart, as is a track record with multiple arrests. From Cook's NFL.com Draft Profile:

Very talented runner with outstanding balance, footwork and burst. Cook lacks the power that you may find with some running backs in this year's draft, but he is a homerun hitter with a resume featuring monster games against his most highly regarded opponents. Cook creates for himself with elusiveness and speed, but his value could be diminished by injuries, character and issues in pass protection. If everything checks out, he could become a rookie of the year candidate right away.

Now is a good time to note that even with the questions, Cook's draft grade from NFL.com was a 6.47. McCaffery's was a 5.99, but has much fewer questions. Additionally, McCaffery might project as a player that could line up as a slot receiver or work on special teams, two things not expected from Cook. 

From McCaffery's NFL.com Draft Profile:

Multidimensional runner with flex appeal for teams looking for a player who can carry the ball 20 times or catch it 10 depending on the game plan. McCaffrey's size, power and speed are just average, but he is able to create yardage for himself with his vision and elusiveness. McCaffrey's ability to return punts and kicks could be the value sweetner that pushes his name into the first round.​

Beyond the draft grades and abilities of each player, the question remains if the Redskins should even consider a running back at 17. The team has much bigger holes on the roster, but, McCaffery or Cook present possible game-changing talents. Going into 2017, Robert Kelley holds the 'Skins RB1 job, with Chris Thompson expected to return as a restrcited free agent.

Matt Jones and Mack Brown are also on the roster. Jones, remember, was a third-round pick in 2015 and held the starting running back job until about the halfway point last season, then was inactive the second half of the year. Drafting an early RB might signal the end of Jones' tenure in Washington. 

Cook? McCaffery? Defense? What should the Redskins do at 17? Let us know what you think in the comments.

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Redskins roster turnover from 2016 likely to exceed 25 percent

Redskins roster turnover from 2016 likely to exceed 25 percent

The Redskins went 8-7-1 last year and finished a half game out of their second straight playoff appearance. Despite that modest success, the organization is undergoing some fairly substantial roster churn that started in the last month or so and will continue right up until the final 53-man roster is set in early September.

RELATED: NFL Mock Draft Version 6.0

Of the 53 players who were on the 2016 Week 1 roster, these nine will not be back.

  • DE Chris Baker (signed with Bucs)
  • WR Pierre Garçon (signed with 49ers)
  • WR DeSean Jackson (signed with Bucs)
  • C Kory Lichtensteiger (retired)
  • DL Ricky Jean Francois (released)
  • WR Rashad Ross (released during season)
  • DL Kendall Reyes (released during season)
  • S David Bruton (released during season)
  • C Austin Reiter (released and then signed off practice squad)

These four players are unsigned veterans and even if the Redskins do bring any of them back they will have to compete for a roster spot:

  • LB Terrence Garvin
  • S Duke Ihenacho
  • DL Kedric Golston
  • CB Greg Toler

That makes a total of 13 players who are unlikely to be on the 2017 Week 1 53-man roster, a 23 percent turnover rate. That initial 2016 roster had 13 players who were new to the organization. It seems likely that the Redskins will surpass that number this year.

There are some other players who were on the roster for a substantial amount of time in 2016 such as S Donte Whitner, DL Cullen Jenkins, and C John Sullivan, who also are unsigned and unlikely to be back. They are not counted in the turnover percentage here but the still represent a degree of roster churn.

Who will replace the departed players? They have signed five unrestricted free agents. Four of them, DL Terrell McClain, DL Stacy McGee, WR Terrelle Pryor, and S D.J. Swearinger, are locks to make the roster. LB Chris Carter was signed but he will have to compete for a spot.

MORE REDSKINS: Redskins mock draft roundup: Will Foster fall?

The team has 10 draft picks and they will sign around a dozen undrafted players. It seems likely that six or seven of the draft picks and one or two UDFAs will be on the final 53 as well.

One other player who is likely to be on the 53 in September is OLB Junior Galette. He spent last year on the non-football injury list. Galette has been on the roster for two years without having played a single snap, preseason or regular season.

Some other roster spots could be filled by players who were on the 2016 practice squad such as DL A.J. Francis.

Still, more than 13 players from last year will be gone come September as there are at least 11 returning players who are on the bubble and vulnerable to having their jobs taken by one of the draft picks, UDFA’s or perhaps by street free agent signees such as CB Tharold Simon or NT Phil Taylor.

Stay up to date on the Redskins! Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.