VIDEO: Highlights from Sunday’s games
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Durant calls Oklahoma City ‘home’ — The speculation won’t stop anytime soon. That’s just the way it is when a superstar like Kevin Durant is approaching free agency. So reading between the lines is the only thing Oklahoma City Thunder fans can do until July. They can take solace, though, in the fact that Durant continues to show love to the city he calls “home” right now. Royce Young of ESPN delivers the latest bread crumbs for those trying to figure out Durant’s thinking on Oklahoma City and what it means to him:
When the Oklahoma City Thunder visited New York a couple months ago, Kevin Durant was asked specifically what he thought about the city. When Durant was in Boston last week, again, he was asked about the city. The premise is easy to understand: Big market, big team, big future free agent. You can piece that puzzle together.
But on Sunday, standing on a red carpet next to his mom outside the front doors of his restaurant in Bricktown, just a few blocks from the arena he currently plays in, Durant stopped to answer a few questions.
One of which being: You get asked about all these other cities, but what about this one?
“It’s home,” he said. “It’s home.”
Like any other answer he’s given over the last few months, that’s no more a breadcrumb leading to answering what he’s going to do come July 1, but it is a reaffirmation of Durant’s affection for the place he’s called home the last seven years.
“I’ve always felt that this place meant so much to me,” he said. “It has a special place in my heart and my family’s heart as well. And we want to do our justice by giving back and giving to the less fortunate. That’s how I was raised, that’s how my mom taught me, how my grandmother taught me, is to give back. I’ve been blessed with so much I want to be a blessing on someone else.”
As is the case whenever the Thunder do anything, virtually the entire organization was present for the event, including Russell Westbrook, Serge Ibaka, Nick Collison and Steven Adams.
“Since I’ve been doing this job we’ve walked into the same building every single day,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said of Durant, who he drafted at the age of 18. “I can honestly tell you there’s never a day that goes by that I take for granted that I work in an organization that has Kevin Durant representing it. His evolution as a person has been as steady, consistent and impressive as his evolution as a player. And that’s quite the statement.”
No. 2: Lakers’ youngsters will finally get to play through mistakes — Better late than never. That has to be what the Los Angeles Lakers’ youngsters are thinking now that they will finally being allowed to emerge from the shadow of Kobe Bryant‘s farewell tour and play through their mistakes. Sure, the season is lost already, their playoff pipe dreams dashed long ago. But opportunity knocks for D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, courtesy of Byron Scott, writes Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:
Fans attending recent Lakers games have not only missed out on seeing Kobe Bryant but also, in critical moments, the young players expected to replace him.
For the second time in three games, D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle were all benched for the fourth quarter of Friday’s loss to the Phoenix Suns. After a light practice on Sunday, Coach Byron Scott said he plans to play the young stars in the final period of the 13 remaining games “no matter what.”
“That’s my goal,” Scott said, “is allow them to be out there and play through the mistakes and play through when they’re playing badly. They have to figure out how to come together as a group.”
After Scott watched his team fall into an early hole against the New York Knicks last week, Scott leaned on a lineup anchored by Marcelo Huertas, Lou Williams and Brandon Bass.
Solid pros, those three, but they aren’t exactly the reason Staples Center is still sold out every night, despite a 14-55 record.
As for the fresh faces of the Lakers future, Scott turned heads Friday when he said Russell, Randle and Clarkson had gotten “enough experience” playing late in games and that “sometimes they’ve got to understand that when that (second) unit is in there playing well … I am going to go with them.”
By Sunday, Scott had reversed course, although he said he did not regret playing veteran reserves over his starters.
He said the less-experienced group had a chance to watch what worked for the reserves, now it’s their turn.
“We’ve seen it on tape and we’re going to show it again,” Scott said. “Watch how they play and hopefully that visual, sitting there watching them will resonate a little bit more.”
Scott has not been afraid to draw a hard line with the three young players. In December, Russell and Randle were moved out of the starting lineup and Scott has openly used time on the bench as a motivator.
Randle played 26 minutes against the Suns, while Clarkson logged 25 and Russell just 21.
Reduced playing time hasn’t been totally arbitrary. All three players have seen their production dip significantly. Clarkson has made just 15 of his past 57 shots. Scott has cited “trust” issues with the starting group as the cause for slow starts.
“If we get down six points, eight points,” he said, “then they all try to do it on their own instead of trying to do it together – which is what the second unit does.”
No. 3: Gentry comes to defense of beat up Davis — What was supposed to be a breakout, MVP-caliber season for Anthony Davis has ended prematurely. The New Orleans Pelicans shut the bruised and battered Davis down for the remainder of this season. Davis has a torn labrum in his left shoulder and also needs surgery on his left knee. Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry came to the defense of his star after the team’s Sunday announcement that Davis was being shut down. John Reid of the Times Picayune provides the details:
For Davis, it’s yet another devastating injury setback. Though Davis has emerged as a transcendent star, which includes three consecutive NBA All-Star appearances, he has not been able to avoid injuries.
In all, Davis has missed 52 games since his rookie season and the amount of various injuries have been staggering.
As a rookie in 2012-13, Davis missed 11 games for a stress reaction in his left ankle, three games for a strained left MCL, two for a concussion and one for a sprained left shoulder.
During his second season in 2013-14, Davis missed seven games with a fractured hand, five games were missed because of back spasms and one game for an injured left finger.
Last season, Davis missed a total of 14 games due to injuries that included a chest contusion, sprained right shoulder, a left abductor sprain and left ankle sprain. Davis was unable to play in the 2015 NBA All-Star Game in New York as a starter because of his shoulder injury.
This season, Davis missed two games because of a right hip contusion, one for an injured left shoulder, two for a lower back bruise after diving into the stands to save a loose ball and one after sustaining a concussion.
”It’s amazing when people say he’s soft and they don’t understand that he’s played through a situation with his shoulder the entire season,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. ”This is the most frustrating season I’ve ever been through.
”It’s been awful. It’s frustrating for the players, for the owners, for management and for everybody else. We did not anticipate this season going this way. When I left Golden State to come here, I thought it was the best job available. Of all the jobs out there, if I had an opportunity I still would’ve taken this job.”
VIDEO: Alvin Gentry defends superstar Anthony Davis
No. 4: Mavericks say they owe it to Dirk to make playoffs — Dirk Nowitzki is battling Father Time in ways that some of his future Hall of Fame contemporaries (Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett) simply cannot. But he’ll need some help finishing this season off the right way, namely with a playoff berth. The Mavericks are struggling these days in spite of Dirk’s best effort to keep them afloat in the Western Conference playoff chase. The Mavericks, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN.com, know they owe it to Dirk to secure that playoff berth:
The big German just needs some help.
Dirk Nowitzki, at the ripe old age of 37, keeps doing everything in his power to drag the Dallas Mavericks to the playoffs. Yet their postseason hopes have been dwindling lately despite the sixth-leading scorer in NBA history being in the midst of one of his best statistical stretches since the Mavs’ title season five years ago.
Make it eight straight games with 20-plus points for Nowitzki, who last had such a streak in February and March of 2011. His performance Sunday was his finest so far this season, as he joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Michael Jordan and Karl Malone as the only players in NBA history to score 40 points in a game at such an advanced age.
On this occasion, Nowitzki was able to enjoy his offensive magnificence, a recent rarity considering the Mavs had lost seven of their previous eight games. That’s because Nowitzki got the necessary help to pull out a much-needed 132-120 overtime win over the Portland Trail Blazers, clinching the season tiebreaker for Dallas, which pulled back to .500 and within a half-game of the sixth-place Blazers in the Western Conference standings.
“We owe it to him,” Mavs point guard Deron Williams said. “That’s what we’re here for. I don’t think if you asked him at the beginning of the season, he expected to be playing this many minutes and putting up this type of numbers, but that’s what’s had to happen for us to even have a chance. We’d like to get him some more help. Hopefully, we can continue to do that.”
Nowitzki poured in 40 points on 16-of-26 shooting, highlighted by a personal 8-0 run during a 52-second flurry to put the game away in overtime, but he didn’t include himself among the game’s heroes. The longtime face of the franchise singled out a former All-Star point guard and a rarely used 29-year-old rookie center for that praise.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Journeyman point guard Jordan Farmar is the next man up on the Memphis Grizzlies’ list of remedies for their depleted roster issues … The Spurs need to be careful not to read too much into their big win over the Golden State Warriors … The Wizards are seeing everything Markieff Morris has to offer during their late-season playoff push … Sure, they lost to the Spurs Saturday night, but the Golden State Warriors are still in charge of their own destiny … Inconsistent Cavaliers have no reason to panic …