Thunder center Steven Adams shaves mustache and is unrecognizable

Steven Adams, is that you?

The Thunder center has shaved off all his facial hair and teammate Enes Kanter revealed a picture of the new Adams on Twitter.

OK, now that the caveat is done with, we can say this: There is a lot to be excited about in this year’s rookie class coming out of Summer League play, far more than we’ve seen in recent Julys. Despite a minor ankle injury to No. 1 pick Markelle Fultz, the top picks almost to a man comported themselves nicely. And the vaunted depth of the 2017 draft seemed to be validated by some stellar showings by lower picks.

Putting Irving in a lineup with Kristaps Porzinigis sounds intriguing, particularly when you consider Irving wants to be the focal point of the offense and escape LeBron James’ shadow. Assuming Porzingis stays and Carmelo Anthony is dealt, Irving would eat up a good portion of Anthony’s volume and score more efficiently.

In terms of touches last season, Derrick Rose (78.8), Porzingis (60.5) and Anthony (60.4) led the team. Rose is now on the Cavs, and Anthony would be gone in this scenario. Irving would likely see an increase from his touches last season with the Cavs (79.0) if he did get traded to the Knicks and find more opportunities to put on those spectacular dribbling displays fans love to see. Irving was actually most efficient scoring when taking seven dribbles or more, as FiveThirtyEight’s Chris Herring noted in his breakdown of Irving as a No. 1 option.

Still, the Knicks are the Knicks. New York has made the playoffs only four times since the 2001-02 season, and it’s been an organization full of dysfunction under James Dolan, most recently culminating with the firing of Phil Jackson. If Irving wants to head to NYC, that’s fine. He shouldn’t expect to reach the NBA Finals (or the first round) every season.

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Twitter had too much fun thinking of Kyrie Irving deals in ESPN’s trade machine

ESPN has a useful tool on its website called the NBA Trade Machine. It allows normal people to pretend to be a GM for a while and make trades around the league just to see if they would work, financially.

Of course the tool isn’t perfect. You can’t include draft picks, which can be essential in finalizing deals. Also, just because a trade can work doesn’t mean anyone in real life would actually agree to it. But the tool is fun to use, especially in moments of chaos like Friday afternoon.

The city that now adores him had given its loyalty to Gilbert back in 2010, in the wake of The Decision. Cleveland fans applauded Gilbert for saying out loud (in comic sans, of course) what was in their hearts.

James chose to go back to work for that man, in the city that embraced him.

Not that it turned out to be a bad tradeoff. James’ image is starkly different than it was seven years ago — pretty normal for anyone passing from his mid-20s to early-30s, in sports or anywhere else. Mission accomplished for the championship, his place in Cleveland lore and in its heart. Nothing Dan Gilbert says or does now can take that away.

But everybody had to hope the bill was not going to come. It’s here. The owner went owner again.

There should never have been so much as a crevice opening up for James to ever play anywhere else. Now, it’s too easy to see a door flung wide open. This time, nobody would blame him. They know better now.

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NBA referee Danny Crawford retires after 31 seasons

After 31 NBA seasons and more than 2,000 regular season games, referee Danny Crawford is calling it a career.

Crawford announced his retirement Wednesday through the NBA Referees Twitter account.

Dan Crawford, one of the most accomplished referees in NBA history, is retiring.

Crawford had worked 23 consecutive NBA Finals, including the final game of his career in June as the Warriors beat the Cavaliers to clinch the NBA championship. How long has Crawford been around? In the first of those Finals, Hakeem Olajuwon and the Rockets knocked off Shaquille O’Neal and the Magic.

The veteran earned praise throughout the league for his work on the court. notes that in a 2015-16 survey asking NBA players to name the best referee, Crawford finished first by a wide margin. And following the announcement of Crawford’s retirement, NBA players checked in with their well wishes on social media.

For as much as Blake Griffin has already accomplished in his NBA career, we have yet to see him tap into his full potential for an entire season. It may not look that way when you consider he has led the Clippers in scoring each season since he’s been drafted — he’s also been their leader in usage rating in all but two seasons — but playing alongside Chris Paul has prevented Griffin from becoming the full-time point forward he seemed destined to be from the start.

Fortunately for Griffin, he has an opportunity to take over that role as he enters the first year of his $173 million extension. Not only is Paul now a member of the Rockets, the evolution of positionless basketball has paved the way for power forwards like him to be a team’s primary creator. While the Clippers acquired a pass-first point guard in Milos Teodosic this offseason to replace some of Paul’s production, it’s Griffin who will be expected to both facilitate and score in volume for them to compete with the best teams in the Western Conference.

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‘NBA 2K18’ puts previous versions to shame with incredible player, uniform upgrades

Improved graphics are expected with every new release of a sports video game. However, where the efforts are directed can help determine whether those improvements make a real impact that consumers immediately recognize and find valuable.

Durant will earn $25 million for the upcoming season. To put that in perspective, it’s $1.5 million less than he earned in his first season with the Warriors, and it’s a staggering $9.5 million less than he was eligible to receive. Durant has a player option worth $26.25 million for the second year.

I wanted to keep the team together and I thought it was going to help the ownership bring all the guys back, Durant said. And on top of that, it’s my money. It’s my decision. I can do what the hell I want with it.

Durant admitted he’d seen other NBA stars accept salary cuts for the sake of their team in recent years, and it inspired him.

It wasn’t that I wanted the praise, Durant said. I’ve learned from Tim Duncan and Dirk Nowitzki and how it has helped them over the years and I thought, if they did it, why can’t I? Why shouldn’t I sacrifice? People wanted the money to break us up and I didn’t want that to happen.

Tournament officials were given the official OK to play the game only moments before the scheduled tipoff, as fans, some of whom had waited hours, stood six and seven deep to see Williamson’s SC Supreme defeat the LaVar Ball-coached Big Baller team, 104-92.

LeBron James reportedly had planned to watch the showdown from courtside, but — according to ESPN, which cited an unidentified source — he didn’t get out of his vehicle after he arrived and talked with people connected to the tournament. He opted to avoid the situation, citing security concerns, ESPN’s source said.

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NHL playoffs 2017: Colton Sissons plays hero as Predators party on into first-ever Cup Final

Nashville knows a good party, but it’s never thrown one quite like this before.

Riding an unlikely run unseen in this newfound hockey town, the Predators will play for the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 18 seasons after defeating the Ducks 6-3 Monday to win the Western Conference finals in six games.

Colton Sissons, a sparsely played role contributor thrust onto Nashville’s top line due to injuries, scored a hat trick, the first of his career. In the absence of Ryan Johansen, lost for the balance of the playoffs, the 23-year-old took over to center Filip Forsberg and Pontus Aberg and the three contributed four goals and combined for seven points.

An onslaught of injuries rendered Anaheim sitting ducks. Jonathan Bernier, starting in net for the first time in his playoff career in place of No. 1 goalie John Gibson, surrendered four goals on 16 shots. Top forward Rickard Rakell and Patrick Eaves didn’t make the trip to Nashville.

The deficiencies were exploited early on by an opportunistic Predators offense, which needed just three shots on net to open a 2-0 lead.

The Knights flipped the No. 24 overall pick to Winnipeg in exchange for the No. 13 overall pick and a third-rounder in 2019, allowing the Jets to keep 22-year-old forward Marko Dano and defenseman Tobias Enstrom. Thorburn is a pending unrestricted free agent.

Through his fair share of postseason struggles, Washington’s prized rental defenseman all but redeemed himself by scoring the biggest goal of the Caps’ season 3:13 into the extra frame for a 3-2 win. The power-play goal, a seeing-eye wrister from the point, throws the second-round series between the NHL’s top two teams into flux.

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Four Erik Karlssons? Not quite, but Predators’ vaunted D poses toughest test yet for Penguins

Cracking one Erik Karlsson is tough enough. But four of him? Good luck.

Talk out of Pittsburgh ahead of Monday’s Stanley Cup Final opener has centered on how, exactly, the high-powered Penguins offense will fare against a vaunted Predators blue line that indiscriminately shut down its opponents’ top forwards while cutting through the Western Conference. It’s the matchup that should make for an intriguing series.

The trade winds have been swirling around the Avalanche and Matt Duchene for some time now. It makes little sense for both player and team to enter another season with a malcontent on the roster, so it’s high time a deal gets done. Yet here we are.

Avs GM Joe Sakic is asking a lot: a young defenseman plus some combination of top prospects or draft picks and possibly the moon.

The Islanders reportedly offered Travis Hamonic and a first-rounder, but that ship has sailed. Montreal remains a suitor, especially after Radulov’s departure, but may no longer have the assets to meet those demands with Mikhail Sergachev now in Tampa. Columbus is in hot pursuit as well and would seem to be the best fit.

Though Sakic has every reason to hold out for the right return for his 26-year-old star, his rivals can play the waiting game, too.

It was a huge win for the Capitals, who were bounced from the playoffs by the Penguins in the second round of last year’s playoffs before Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup.

He checks a lot of boxes for us, Flames general manager Brad Treliving said after sending multiple draft picks, including a 2018 first-rounder and a pair of future second-round selections, to New York for the 26-year-old Hamonic.

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You thought it was loud today? It’ll be even louder in Game 4.

But the impossible was possible a theme of the Stanley Cup Final so far and the Predators again fed off the unmatched energy of Bridgestone Arena to beat the Penguins 4-1 and even the series at two games apiece as it returns to Pittsburgh.

Unlike Saturday when an early Penguins goal ever so briefly quieted the gold-clad crowd, the Predators struck first when Calle Jarnkrok scored 5:09 remaining in the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan challenged, alleging interference with goalie Matt Murray, but the goal was upheld and Tim McGraw made a second appearance on the jumbotron.

The lone break in Smashville’s newly famous unrelenting chants came 1:06 later, courtesy of Sidney Crosby.

On a breakaway, Crosby deked Rinne on the forehand and tucked a beautiful backhander inside the far post as the Preds goalie was slow to get over in time. It was Crosby’s first goal in a Final game since 2009, a span of 12 such games.

Ryan Poehling (No. 25 overall, MTL): His uncle, Stan Palmer, was drafted 177th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1977 NHL Draft. His older brothers, twins Jack and Nick, played alongside him at St. Cloud State in 2016-17.

Morgan Frost (No. 27 overall, PHI): His father, Andy, is a popular radio host in Toronto and served as the Maple Leafs public address announcer at the Air Canada Centre from 1999 to 2016.

Columbus traded this year’s first-round draft pick (No. 24 overall) and a second-rounder in 2019 as assurance Vegas won’t select forward Alexander Wennberg and Josh Anderson and backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. The Blue Jackets were also able to dump the contract of David Clarkson on the Knights.

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There were free catfish for throwing.

In taking it all in, it’s no wonder the Predators are 8-1 at home these playoffs, a key component to their Western Conference championship. That lone loss came in overtime against the Ducks. They’re outscoring opponents on a 3.33-1.56 average with the backing of the gold-clad, cowboy hat-wearing hockey crazies.

NBC announced a 16.6 local rating for Saturday’s Game 3, an all-time record for the Nashville market.

That figure doesn’t account for the football stadium-sized crowd police said were watching on the jumbo-sized screens outside the arena and the rest of the immediate area. No longer a novelty act, this is the norm in Nashville nowadays.

Since the expansion in 1998, traditions took hold, tailored to the unique country culture befitting a franchise born at the foot of a honky tonk strip. And when it came time to show the rest of the world Saturday, a city long marginalized by hockey purists unabashedly put it on full display to will the Predators back into a Stanley Cup Final that had begun to slip away.

There were free catfish for throwing. Rex and Rob Ryan were among hundreds to take sledgehammer swings at the car parked in front of Bridgestone Arena with a Penguins paint scheme. Alan Jackson, the Country Music Hall of Fame artist whose free pregame concert clogged Broadway, sports the Predators’ Stand With Us mantra as his Twitter avatar.

Before puck drop, Predators players took notice. NHL Network was on in the locker room and some, including PA Parenteau and P.K. Subban, marveled at this never-before-seen energy.

It’s the best atmosphere I’ve ever played in, said Subban, who along with Parenteau once called Montreal’s Bell Centre home ice.

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it’s starting to look like the Rangers’ to lose.

In total, the Sens have held a lead for just four minutes, 11 seconds in the series. Anderson has given up 12 goals on his last 98 shots.

As the series shifts back to Ottawa, it’s starting to look like the Rangers’ to lose.

3. Ryan McDonagh, Rangers Overshadowed by the fine playoff performances by Karlsson and (insert Predators defenseman here), McDonagh has been an unwavering force for the Rangers. He skated another 25:14 in Game 4 and assisted on New York’s fourth goal, his fourth point of the series and fifth of the playoffs.

2. Oscar Lindberg, Rangers Lindberg’s pair of second-period goals effectively crushed the Sens’ spirits. The bottom-six forward now has three goals in his last two games after going the entire postseason with just one assist. That kind of depth production is what will get the Blueshirts to the conference finals.

1. Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers Lundqvist was stellar again to earn his 61st career playoff win, moving into a tie Tom Barrasso for 13th all time. He stopped 22 of 23 shots and would have had a shutout if not for a late Kyle Turris goal.

The other years though: 27th, 23rd, 23rd, 24th, and 22nd in terms of overall rank in 5-on-5 save-percentage, leaving a lot of room for improvement in the blue paint.

The only real constant over that entire stretch was Ondrej Pavelec, the 29-year-old goaltender who had spent his entire 10-year career with the franchise (beginning in Atlanta, continuing with Winnipeg) before he signed with the New York Rangers this offseason. Pavelec struggled badly in 2016-17, even being demoted to AHL Manitoba, and outside of a .920 save-percentage in 2014-15 (that one playoff year for the Jets) he cracked the .910-mark only one time.

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NHL free agency: Maple Leafs’ Patrick Marleau gamble clear win-now move

Patrick Marleau is old. Not quite Jaromir Jagr old, but in an NHL that is increasingly young, age is important.

That’s why it was so shocking Sunday when the Maple Leafs said they had convinced the 37-year-old Marleau, after 19 seasons with the Sharks, to ditch the Bay Area and finish his Hall of Fame career with a franchise that has won one playoff series since 2004. He doesn’t need them and they don’t really need him. Auston Matthews was 14 days old when Marleau made his NHL debut Oct. 1, 1997, and the Leafs’ ascent was already well underway without him.

On the surface, committing $6.25 million annually over the next three seasons to a graybeard seems counterintuitive and a risk not worth taking.

I think I’ve worn out a few carpets pacing around the house trying to make this decision over the last couple of days, Marleau said on a brief conference call with reporters after the deal was announced.

The Vancouver Canucks wasted no time adding free-agent talent Saturday, reportedly reaching deals with center Sam Gagner, defenseman Michael Del Zotto and goaltender Anders Nilsson. TSN reports Gagner and the Canucks have agreed to a three-year deal worth $3.15 million annually. The center tied a career high with 18 goals and scored 50 points last season for the Blue Jackets. Del Zotto’s deal is reportedly for two years at $3 million per year. He scored 18 points in 51 games with the Flyers last season. The 27-year-old Nilsson, who posted a 10-10-4 record with the Buffalo Sabres last season with a 2.67 goals against average, has reportedly agreed to a two-year, $2.5 million per year deal.

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