Morning Shootaround — Jan. 20


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 19

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant’s beautiful mind | Heat hunting for inspiration | Magic hit the floor to end skid | Dragic has to sustain his energy for Suns

No. 1: Durant’s got it between the ears, too – Seven straight games with 30 or more points from the greatest scorer in the game should surprise no one. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant can do 30 a night with his eyes closed. And when you are a scoring genius and think through the game the way Durant does, eyes opened or closed … it doesn’t matter. At least that’s the way Thunder coach Scott Brooks explained (sort of) to Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman after Durant and the Thunder dismantled the Sacramento Kings:

Durant hit his scoring average, needing only 15 shots (and 10 makes) to score 30 points for a seventh straight game.

But his nine assists — the most he’s recorded in the last 25 games — was a more encouraging and revealing sign of the Thunder’s impressive night.

“I just love the way he thinks,” Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks said of Durant. “He thinks about the team … He took 15 great shots and made 10 of them. Everybody else got involved and had an opportunity to score.”

The biggest benefactor was Serge Ibaka, who scored 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting. But he wasn’t the only one.

For the first time this season, OKC had six players in double-figures: Durant, Ibaka, Reggie Jackson (16), Thabo Sefolosha (10), Jeremy Lamb (10) and Nick Collison (10).

“When we move the ball like that,” Durant said of the Thunder’s 23 assists, “everybody touching it, that helps our defense as well.”

And so it did on Sunday night, allowing OKC to stifle every King not named Isaiah Thomas (a career-high 38 points), holding Sacramento under 100 points for only the third time in its last 16 games.

“They, for years, do a great job of turning you over,” Kings coach Mike Malone said, pointing to his team’s 20 giveaways. “But more importantly, (they) convert them.”


VIDEO: Check out Kevin Durant’s seventh straight 30-point outing for the Thunder

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No. 2: What’s Miami’s motivation at this point of the season? – The two-time defending champion Miami Heat have a problem. They cannot seem to locate the proper motivation at this stage of a regular season that they know means little if they don’t finish it off with another parade. They have the luxury of not being pressed about finding it immediately, courtesy of a weak Eastern Conference playoff field that includes just the Indiana Pacers and Heat at the top. But, as Joseph Goodman of the Miami Herald points out, they still have to find something to motivate them, some sort of rallying cry for the second half of the regular season:

Last February, the Heat watched the Super Bowl in Toronto, listened to Shane Battier give a theatrically hilarious, yet poignant speech on the team bus, and then won 27 games in a row. The streak was such an important part of the Heat’s season that the team’s ownership inscribed the accomplishment on the championship rings.

Players have called that day in Toronto one of the most memorable of their careers, and Sunday in Atlanta was a similar experience.

Of course, up until now, little has been memorable about this season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the Heat is 29-11 through the first 40 games of the season. Last season, before the streak, the team was 28-12 at this point, and on the way to 28-13.

On Monday, the Heat plays the grand finale of an unconventional six-game road trip that has dragged on for 11 days. Miami has played five consecutive games against teams with losing records and will end the road trip against the Hawks (20-19), who have the fourth-best record in the East, but are without their best player, forward Al Horford, for the remainder of the season.

The Heat’s overtime victory against the Bobcats on Saturday salvaged the six-game swing, which began with back-to-back losses to the Knicks and Nets, and gave Miami a chance to break even on a road trip that began with three consecutive losses.

“We haven’t lost three in a row in a very long time, so we got to put together a run and head into this All-Star break and this is the way to do it,” said Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who had 10 rebounds against the Bobcats. “You look at the two teams that we’ve beaten, they’re young, they’re energetic, and even though their record doesn’t say so, those are the teams we struggle with, the teams that are .500 and below, so for us to come out here and be professional and get this win says a lot.”

Of the Heat’s 11 losses, nine have been to teams currently with losing records. The Bobcats were in position to become the 10th team on that inglorious list, but a staunch defensive effort by the Heat forced overtime, and the Heat dominated the extra period for a 104-96 victory.

“We were really upset with ourselves and we had to be honest,” Chris Bosh said of the Heat’s first-half effort against the Bobcats. “Charlotte is a good team, but 60 points in a half is too much. I don’t care if you’re playing the best offensive team in the league, that’s too much.

“They just seemed to be scoring at will, and we wanted to change that. We didn’t do a very good job of defending in the first half, but we picked it up in the second and got the win.”


VIDEO: The top five plays from Sunday’s action around the NBA

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No. 3: Magic hit the floor to end their skid – When you are mired in a complete free-fall, any solution to get out of that mess needs to be considered. For the Orlando Magic, a team that endured a 10-game slide before ending it with a win over Boston Sunday, elbow and knee pads were the solution. Actually, they didn’t sport the elbow and knee pads, but they could have used them with the way they hit the deck repeatedly against the Celtics, according to Josh Robbins of the Orlando Sentinel:

After their losing streak reached 10 games, Orlando Magic players and coaches realized something fundamental needed to change. Not X’s-and-O’s, but something intangible.

Players and coaches talked together when they gathered for practice Saturday.

Whatever they had been doing during the first half of the season, and especially during their 10 consecutive losses, wasn’t working. They faced a choice: Either they would make a change and modify their collective spirit, or the second half of their season would devolve into a freefall of epic proportions.

They made that adjustment Sunday night. Magic players repeatedly dove to Amway Center’s parquet floor to collect loose basketballs. They covered for each other when they made defensive lapses. And that sustained intensity and improved cohesion, they said, played a direct role as they beat the Boston Celtics 93-91 and ended their losing streak.

“I could feel no personal agendas,” Arron Afflalo said after the win. “I could feel nothing but five guys who were on the court and the two guys who came off the bench really looking for a way to get a victory tonight.”

Afflalo scored 20 points, tied a career high by grabbing 13 rebounds and dished out six assists.

He also provided one of the game’s key baskets, tying the score 89-89 on a driving layup with 1:08 remaining.

After Rajon Rondo missed a jumper on Boston’s ensuing possession, Jameer Nelson drew a foul with 35.3 seconds left and hit a pair of free throws.

Boston’s Jeff Green countered a few seconds later, scoring on a layup as Afflalo fouled him. But Green missed the foul shot, and Victor Oladipo fell to the floor to corral the loose ball.

“When you have a mindset of just playing hard from the jump, you just continue to play hard,” Oladipo said. “When your teammates have your back, when they’re positive throughout the game, it’s hard not to be involved and it’s hard not to be focused and locked-in all night.”

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No. 4: No slowing down for Dragic without Bledsoe – Goran Dragic doesn’t have the luxury of slowing down at the catalyst for the Phoenix Suns, not without Eric Bledsoe healthy and in the lineup. That means the veteran point guard has to keep his motor cranked constantly for a Suns team trying to stay afloat in the Western Conference playoff chase. Dragic’s ability to sustain his high level of energy could very well be the key to the Suns’ season. He has to hold up. Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic explains:

It is becoming taxing for Suns point guard Goran Dragic to take on more playmaking and more of the burden to score with more defensive attention on him. All the while, he is guarding the playmaker on the other side, a duty that usually fell to Bledsoe.

“I’m not thinking about that,” Dragic said. “If I’m going to think about how I’m tired, then it’s going to be even worse for me. I just try to battle. I try to be positive. I’m from Slovenia so back home it’s no excuse if you’re tired. Even when I was growing up, my father always said there’s going to be some hard days so you have to go through that. You can sleep after the thing that you do, if it’s work or a basketball game. Now, I’m feeling tired. But when the game is going on, I’m not thinking about it so much.”

Dragic had averaged 41.3 minutes over the previous three games entering Sunday night’s game against Denver. He does not back off his effort and now has a collapsing defense concentrating on him too.

“That’s always a concern, trying to keep an eye on a guy’s minutes and seeing if he’s getting worn out,” Suns coach Jeff Hornacek said. “We’ve had a pretty tough stretch of games where they haven’t had a lot of rest. When we’ve had days off between games, we’ve limited them from really doing anything trying to get their legs back. As we move forward, it doesn’t get any easier but we’ve got to get through that time.”

Dragic gave the Suns control Sunday night with 15 rebounds and six assists and he got some needed rest in return, logging only 24 minutes.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Are there rotation changes coming in Denver? Could be … Jonas Valanciunas gets benched for not producing … The Bucks get yet another lesson, this time from the best in the business … Danny Ainge assess all things for the Celtics at the halfway mark of the season … LaMarcus Aldridge will go left if need be for the Trail Blazers

ICYMI(s) of The Night: DeMar DeRozan has blossomed into a potential All-Star and the scoring leader for the playoff-bound Toronto Raptors. But he’s still one of the league’s elite above-the-rim finishers, as he shows here:


VIDEO: DeMar DeRozan is what we call a finisher, especially above the rim

16 Comments

  1. rei says:

    I think the heat are in a slump or in a super championship hang-over. Pat Riley has a plan coz he wouldn’t release j anthony for nothing. somehow he’s looking for the top teams and then matching it up with his team then recruits a player would be his advantage to these teams. last year they had almost the same record going into the all star break but what happened after? he signed birdman and everything changed. too early in the season and make some predictions for the finals. The heat have been resting dwade for most of the season, any ideas why? For as long as the miami doesn’t drop the 8 then they probably wouldn’t care, beating maimi in a single game is different in beating then in a best of seven series. For now it is just keeping in pace with the top teams and keeping healthy for the playoffs.

  2. Tanker10 says:

    Pacers is so solid right now, but the game is different in the playoffs! I’m a Heat fan, but seeing what pacers doing now, i just like them to beat the heat.. I hope they can go all the way.. PACERS VS THUNDERS!

  3. kevin says:

    all pacers need to do is not panic when heat make there 3rd or 4th quarter surge…just keep pace with your gameplan and play it out…do that and pacers will be sizing there ring fingers :)

  4. Ive loved Pacers last 3 years and think pacers will beat heat. Im just looking at new additions and changes from last year since it was so close and sometimes role players make winning plays and the difference in games/series. Miller made huge 3s at good % last years finals well hes gone and Heat struggle up front with lack of Big men. No J Anthony now so I think Beasley is new addition and so see what he can do on big stage. so im just interested to see what beasley will bring since he new addition- Do I think he will be the answer for Pacers slim to nil chance. will be lebron/wade and bosh possible answer more likely. Udonis played big last year. some1 has to help heat big 3 exspecially defensively. I got pacers this year east champs because they have better all around team and can mix it up better inside out ball

  5. OKC says:

    Yeah Beasley is the answer for the pacers LOL.

  6. dustydreamnz says:

    Henson should be starting for the Bucks, Wolters should be getting more minutes.
    I think it’s far too early to be making Finals predictions yet although if anyone wins East besides Heat or Pacers it would be a major upset. What if LBJ gets injured? Paul George? Dwayne Wade? Roy Hibbert?
    Ish Smith looking good for the Suns-amazed he’s been with 6 teams in 4 years.
    The Magic have been ok at home but they are simply shocking on the road.

  7. Its too far away from playoffs to say there gonna win or lose East conference let alone 3peat. Barring no injuries and Granger continues to get healthier and in better playing condition. Hows Oden going to perform come playoffs if he plays at all in playoffs? What will Beasley bring? Its going to be tough either way and a much anticipated series. Im going for Pacers but theres no need to worry 2 much about Heats mini slump most teams have ups and downs during long season.

  8. okc2014 says:

    I agree, the Milwaukee Bucks are not motivated at all. And the Heat better start heating up or else the trophy will slip form their fingers.

  9. krespino says:

    It can’t be that easy, that the Heat will just let go, will not have the motivation to win again. I’m sure Pat Riley must have a plan.
    It’s strange with the Spurs too that they are losing almost all games against strong teams. Seems like they don’t care. Probably resting the key players just to explode in the playoffs.
    The Bulls used to be the most winning team in regular season and we saw how it ended up in the playoffs.

  10. Jay Gee says:

    The Heat “ain’t” trying to find anything. They’re simply pacing themselves – a page from the great Popovich – while remaining relevant in the very weak East. There’s nothing to see, nothing to report. Simply wait for the playoffs and “Witness” the team’s transformation. It’s not difficult to the “Beast in the East” but the Western Conference is a whole other league. The Heat will 3-peat in their 4th straight Finals appearance.

    • Boston#1 says:

      Keep dreaming, they”re not getting past Indiana. They barely beat them last year and the pacers have improved by leaps and bounds this season. Miami has not improved at all and they have no answer for the pacers. Their only hope is that Oden some how manages to play at Hibberts level and the chances of that are slim to none.

  11. Shawn Kemp No. 1 says:

    The Milwaukee Bucks may be the least motivated team in the NBA right now