Posts Tagged ‘Caron Butler’

OKC’s Lamb waits through reduced role

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Jeremy Lamb (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeremy Lamb (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Demotions stink.

There’s no way around it, no matter the line of work. It’s impossible not to take it personally. But hey, that’s life, and a team player, a professional, is expected to bite the bullet and keep on keeping on. It’s particularly true in the delicate world of pro sports.

Welcome to Jeremy Lamb‘s world. For 60 games, the coming-of-age Oklahoma City Thunder wing had served in a 21-minute-a-game role as a reserve. Averaging 9.5 points a game on 43.7 percent shooting and 35.1 percent from beyond the arc in those games, the 6-foot-5, long-limbed Lamb had received praise from most precincts as a valuable member of the Thunder’s strengthened bench.

Only Lamb’s mostly been tied to the bench since early March. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, signed as a free agent after being released by Milwaukee, immediately walked into 28 minutes a game. Butler, 34, can deliver rugged defense, rebounding and a reliable corner 3-pointer — he’s shooting 39.7 percent from deep, if only 36.8 percent overall.

Lamb before Butler Lamb post Butler Butler in OKC
Games 60 12 13
Minutes/game 21.7 14.1 28.0
Points/game 9.5 4.7 9.8
Rebounds/game 2.7 2.0 3.5
Assists/game 1.6 1.4 1.2
FG% 43.7 34.8 36.8
3FG% 35.1 33.3 39.7
FT% 83.9 33.3 85.7
FTA/g 0.9 0.5 0.5

Perhaps it’s just a case of bad timing for Lamb, who was mired in a shooting slump over the last two weeks of February, going 9-for-38 from the floor (23.7 percent) and 5-for-21 from 3-point range (23.8 percent) over a six-game stretch. In the 12 games he’s played since the rotation change, his minutes have plummeted, his overall shooting percentage is 34.8 (and 33.3 percent from beyond the arc) and he’s averaging just 4.7 points a game. An 83.9-percent free-throw shooter, Lamb’s missed four of the six he’s attempted since Butler’s first game on March 4.

“Of course it’s not easy, but it’s doable to try to stay ready because I don’t want to get in a game and let my teammates down and let my coaches down,” Lamb said last Tuesday before the Thunder played the Dallas Mavericks. Lamb didn’t get off the bench at all in that game, recording his only DNP-CD of the season. In fact, it is the only game this season he hasn’t appeared.

“I try to stay ready, try to stay on top of my game,” Lamb said. “Coach [Scott Brooks], he still gives me opportunities, he still trusts me, but Caron is on the team now and he’s been playing good. It’s all just a learning experience for me.”

That’s what Lamb, 21, thought last season was all about when he played in just 23 games after coming to Oklahoma City with Kevin Martin as part of the James Harden trade shortly before the start of the 2012-13 season.There’s also an added ego hit to this. Lamb, the 12th overall pick of the Rockets in 2012, has seen his reduced role come at a time when starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder’s top perimeter defender, is sidelined by injury. Defensive-minded rookie Andre Roberson, long and active at 6-foot-7, has started  the last nine games and averaged 17.6 minutes a game. He produces little offense, about only a third of Sefolosha’s 6.7 points a game, but in a starting lineup with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, the Thunder’s larger need is at the other end.

“His minutes have been a little up and down but it’s not that he’s going to be a forgotten man,” Brooks said of Lamb. “He’s going to get opportunities. He just has to stay ready and stay confident, and that definitely is difficult for any player let alone a younger player. There’s areas he’s going to be able to continue to work on. He’s not on the bench permanently, he’s just going to have to be ready when his opportunities come.

“There’s times where in anybody’s career if you’re not playing you still have to improve and find ways to get better, and we’re going to continue to work with him and prepare him for opportunities to play. And he’s going to get them.”

In the last two games, blowout wins over Sacramento and Utah, Lamb played 33 minutes and 22 minutes respectively. Against the Jazz his minutes were split evenly between halves. Against the Kings he played 16 minutes in the first half.

But he’s also logged seven minutes or less five times in the Thunder’s last 13 games, including the DNP-CD at Dallas. Eight times he’s been limited to 14:20 or less. That happened just four times prior to Butler’s arrival.

“I definitely talk to Jeremy. He’s a confident young guy,” Westbrook said. “You always got to be ready, that’s all I can tell him. Just be ready, work on your game everyday and you never know when your number’s going to be called. He’ll be ready. My job is to help him do that, to stay confident and think positive thoughts about himself and his game.”

The Thunder have nine games remaining in the regular season with a home date against San Antonio next on Thursday. There remains no certainty of Sefolosha’s return or how a rotation will shake out from there. For Lamb, there’s only one thing he can do.

“My teammates they always encourage me. I just try to work hard,” Lamb said. “Coach still communicates with me telling me to stay ready, keep going. That’s what I’m trying to do.”Stay ready.”

Morning Shootaround — March 25


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played March 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers find life at top tough | Butler delivers for OKC | Grizz shift into playoff mode | Dragic weighing national team decision | Charlotte hoping for All-Star Game bid

No. 1: Pacers finding life at the top hard — Expect to read more on this today from our Steve Aschburner, who was at last night’s Pacers-Bulls tilt from the United Center. But as Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com points out this morning, the Indiana Pacers — who are just two games ahead of the Miami Heat for No. 1 in the East — have had a rough time since about February of maintaining their torrid early-season winning pace:

Somewhere along the path to a magical season the Indiana Pacers lost their innocence. Now they’re losing their way.Monday night the Chicago Bulls beat the Pacers with one of their signature defense-based wins 89-77, avenging a loss in Indianapolis last week. It was the seventh time in the last 12 games the Pacers have gone down. Previously, they’d lost seven times over a span of 28 games. They didn’t even have their seventh loss of the season until Jan. 8.

“We started off this season so great and we were excited for the end,” Pacers star Paul George said. “But we forgot about the middle and the middle is the toughest part.”

But the Pacers have so far been slow to readjust their comfort zones. Instead, they’ve been slowly getting frustrated with each other in the classic mode of a team that is underachieving.

Several Pacers players have pointed to February when things started turning for them, a month when Larry Bird signed Andrew Bynum and traded long-tenured Danny Granger for Evan Turner in an effort to bolster the roster heading into the playoffs. The Pacers’ players, however, were stunned by both moves. Granger’s departure was treated like a mini-funeral.

“Larry is the man is charge,” Hibbert said. “He made the decisions and we have to go out on the floor and figure it out.”

Then, two weeks ago, Bird lashed out publicly at his players and his coach. Vogel has built a reputation for being positive, sometimes coming off as downright cocky. He has an air of assurance about him that he’s passed to his players, the sort of vigor that had them talking about getting the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference back in the first days of the season.

Though its defense has been a little less consistent than desired in the second half of the season, what is causing the team the most angst is its offense. In losses to the Grizzlies and Bulls in the last few days, the Pacers have failed to crack 80 points in back-to-back games for the first time in seven years.

There are slumps abounding. Over the last 15 games, Hibbert is averaging just nine points and shooting just 44 percent. After he shot 56 percent in February, David West is shooting just 46 percent in March. George is shooting just 37 percent in March and averaging 19 points, well below his season average.

It’s also not hard to miss how annoyed some Pacers are with Lance Stephenson, the young sparkplug guard who was a huge key to their early season. Stephenson has four triple-doubles this season but at times he’s been too focused on getting those stats, robbing rebounds from teammates and generating some frustration.

Other times he flat-out hogs the ball. And while this happens with many players on every team, the tolerance for the younger and rougher Stephenson is much less than for the veterans elsewhere on the roster.

On Monday, Stephenson had no assists and four turnovers in 30 minutes in the loss. When he drops his head and ignores open teammates, heads shake and shoulders slump visibly. After averaging nearly six assists a game in the season’s first three months, Stephenson is averaging only three assists over the last two months.

“We have [guys trying to be heroes] at times and we choose the wrong moment at times,” George said.


VIDEO: Pacers players discuss the team’s loss to the Bulls in Chicago

***

No. 2: OKC’s bench delivers vs. Nuggets — With their All-Star tandem of Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook — as well as solid contributions from Serge Ibaka — the Oklahoma City Thunder’s starting lineup never seems to be lacking in scoring punch. But once the bench crew steps into the game, how well OKC’s offense fares can be a game-by-game roller coaster ride. That instability might be nearing its end, though, especially if new addition Caron Butler puts in performances like he had last night against the Denver Nuggets. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman has more on Butler’s play:

For the final month before the All-Star break, without Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant captured headlines with his fantastic play and his team’s surprising success.

But the Thunder’s impressive late January run was about far more than Durant. He was the catalyst, but the consistent roster-wide contributions helped spur the 10-game win streak and the 15-2 close to the first half.

For the first 11 games after the break – an anemic 5-6 run – that was missing. But of late, it has returned, an impressive four-game win streak culminating in a 117-96 domination of the Nuggets on Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena.

Durant, predictably, was the leading scorer with 27. But on a night where he shot below 50 percent (10-of-21), his team shot above it.

Reggie Jackson had an efficient 16 points and 11 assists, needing only six shots. Steven Adams scored in double-figures for the first time since January. And even Nick Collison dropped in 10, including a corner 3-pointer that drew the loudest ovation of the night.

But Caron Butler shouldered the biggest non-Durant end of the scoring load. In 29 minutes, Butler had his best offensive performance since joining the Thunder, going for 23 points on 10-of-19 shooting.

“He’s getting more and more comfortable every single game,” Durant said of the Thunder’s newest member.

But Butler’s most important offensive contribution on this night – and the most encouraging sign moving forward – was his ability to take advantage of mismatches in the low post.

With so much length and size at rare positions, the Thunder forced the Nuggets to throw smaller defenders at Butler. He exploited it on multiple occasions, dropping in easy short range jumpers.

“He had that post-up working tonight,” Durant said. “They have that smaller guy on him, and he takes advantage. That’s what we need him to do.”

On Monday, the Thunder played with the kind of confidence, effort and balance that allowed them to not only survive, but thrive without Westbrook before the All-Star break.


VIDEO:
Reggie Jackson and others discuss OKC’s blowout win against Denver

***

No. 3: Grizz getting into playoff mode? — Since the All-Star break, the Memphis Grizzlies have rolled up a 13-5 mark that has included wins over the playoff-bound Clippers, Bulls, Bobcats, Blazers and Pacers. After last night’s wire-to-wire drubbing of the faltering Minnesota Timberwolves, Memphis has amassed 10 straight wins at FedEx Forum and is looking more and more like a powerful playoff team, writes Ronald Tillery of The Commercial-Appeal:

Memphis’ 109-92 victory Monday night accounted for its 10th straight in FedExForum, and perhaps sent a message to the teams floating around them in the Western Conference standings. The Grizzlies look like a team that’s moved beyond simply trying to make the playoffs to one seeking to steal a higher seed that didn’t seem possible two months ago.

The Griz improved to 42-28, ensuring that they will finish with a winning record for a fourth consecutive season. That, however, is something the Griz expect to make a footnote in this campaign. Memphis sits a half game ahead of Phoenix in the seventh spot and remains within striking distance of the fifth and sixth seeds. The Griz are just 2½ games back from fifth place.

The Griz improved to 31-3 when leading after three quarters while the Timberwolves fell to 3-24 when they trail at the start of the fourth. Minnesota entered the game averaging 106.5 points, fourth-most in the NBA. This was the 11th straight game that the Timberwolves allowed their opponent to score 100-plus points.

***

No. 4: Dragic weighing decision on national team – The Phoenix Suns are staying in the thick of the Western Conference playoff chase thanks to the play of star point guard Goran Dragic. It’s been a banner year for the Slovenian standout and while he’s hoping Phoenix can complete its playoff push, he’s still weighing whether or not to suit up for his country’s national team in the World Cup in Spain this September, writes Paul Coro of The Arizona Republic:

With the Suns enjoying a 6-1 stretch, Dragic’s results are back to the norm of his outstanding season by no coincidence. He is shooting 53.8 percent overall and 46.2 percent on 3-pointers over the past seven games with averages of 18.1 points and 4.7 assists.

The team success makes him feel emotionally better but the physical wear and tear still exists and makes him consider not playing for his Slovenian national team this September at the World Cup in Spain.

“Sometimes, it is too many games,” Dragic said. “I still have to sit down with my national team and talk with them about making a decision if I’m going to play or not. I’m thinking more toward not playing and trying to get my body some rest to be fresher for the next season.

“That is hard because, back home, all the people judge you that you have so much money and you’re a star and now you don’t want to play for the national team. That bothers me a little bit but those people don’t know how the season goes, how many games it is and being in a different hotel every night. I’m more on the plane than in my car.”

Playing for Slovenia when it hosted last summer’s European Championship helped Dragic come into the season in a good rhythm but he is feeling the effects of nine consecutive months of basketball at times as the Suns’ playing time leader and primary point guard most of the season.

“I think I feel pretty good, especially my legs are not so heavy like 15 games ago,” Dragic said. “Even if you’re tired for the last 12 games, you have to go through that and try not to think about it so much.”


VIDEO: Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic lead the Suns to a win in Atlanta

***

No. 5: Charlotte needs arena upgrades before it can host All-Star Game — It’s been 23 years and counting since the city of Charlotte hosted the NBA All-Star Game … and it might be a few more years before it gets to host it again. Commissioner Adam Silver was at last night’s Houston Rockets-Charlotte Bobcats game at Time Warner Cable Arena and said while he’s hopeful that a basketball-mad city like Charlotte will host a future All-Star Game, some upgrades to the arena must take place first. Rick Bonnell of the Charlotte Observer has more:

First, he said, the city must upgrade Time Warner Cable Arena, which needs $41.9 million of work, according to a list of needs compiled by the Charlotte Bobcats and the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority.

“I’d love to bring the All-Star Game back here,” Silver said before the Bobcats game with the Houston Rockets. “This is a wonderful community, a hotbed of basketball, not just pro but college as well.”

He added: “There are some upgrades to the building that are needed. I know those discussions are underway right now. It’s part of the understanding here that the building remain state-of-the-art. Nothing dramatic is needed. But certainly an upgrade to the scoreboard, some things with the suites and the lighting.”

The Bobcats’ 25-year arena lease calls for the city of Charlotte to keep Time Warner Cable Arena among the league’s most modern. After the first seven years, the lease requires the city to make improvements, so long as half of other NBA facilities have them.

The team has requested money to upgrade suites, overhaul restaurants, build a new play area for children and move the ticket office, among other improvements.

The city said it will scrutinize the list of requests to see what is required under the lease agreement.

Charlotte Mayor Patrick Cannon said the prospect of hosting the league’s All-Star Game shouldn’t make the city spend more money than necessary.

“The city should only be guided by what it’s obligated to do by way of the agreement,” he said.

City Manager Ron Carlee said the city must study the “business case” for possibly making additional upgrades to the arena.

“What kind of opportunity will there be (for improving the arena)?” Carlee said.

Silver said awarding the 2017 event should come in about a year. Then he reiterated his link between Charlotte’s chances and those upgrades.

“The team has time,” Silver said. “The first order of priority is making sure the building issues are dealt with.”


VIDEO: Adam Silver discusses what it would take for Charlotte to host a future All-Star Game

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Tim Duncan says he’s taking it “game-by-game” about whether or not he’d retire at the end of this season … Five minor investors have been added to the Hawks’ ownership group … The New Orleans Pelicans might have found a go-to combination in the duo of Anthony Davis and Tyreke Evans … Lakers guard Nick Young says close to $100,000 worth of clothing, jewelry, shoes and luggage were stolen from his house during a home game … Good little chat with Steph Curry about his golf game, the Warriors-Clippers rivalry and more … What kind of chance does Mitch Richmond have at the Hall of Fame? Our Scott Howard-Cooper examines it … Former high-flying Raptors swingman Jamario Moon is thinking about an NBA comebackBrandon Jennings is hitting his stride at long last for the Pistons …

ICYMI of the Night: Sometimes a play can personify the style of play of a team. Such is the case with this defensive sequence by the Bulls and a hustle follow-up jam by Taj Gibson


VIDEO: Taj Gibson follows up the Jimmy Butler miss with a power jam

Mental game opens new vistas to Durant

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant had 35 points and 12 rebounds against the Bulls on Monday night (3/17)

CHICAGO – Kevin Durant had just done it again. The Oklahoma City thin man had just taken on one of his profession’s most stifling defenses, five (pick ‘em) of the Chicago Bulls’ most physical and resistant players and 22,000 partisans happy to enjoy Durant’s talents but determined to see him lose by night’s end, and he had beaten them all. Again.

Durant had spent a chunk of the pregame period with his legs encased in long black sleeves, hooked up to a contraption meant to promote circulation and healing. After all, he not only leads the NBA in scoring (31.8 points a game) but in minutes played (2,534) and arguably in workload shouldered.

Yet, 24 hours after a miserable 23-point home loss to Dallas, Durant dialed it up again and fended off the Bulls at United Center. He subbed back in mere seconds before Chicago drew within 76-75 with 10 minutes left and sparked OKC on a 13-0 run over the next six minutes that buttoned up the outcome. Durant finished with 35 points, 12 rebounds and five assists, and stretched to 32 games his streak of scoring 25 points or more. That’s the longest such streak since Michael Jordan did it for the Bulls in his breakout 1986-87 season.

Durant has averaged 34.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists during the streak, while shooting 51.7 percent (39.2 percent on 3-pointers). The Thunder are 21-11 since it began, with a dip (6-6) coming since teammate Russell Westbrook returned from right knee surgery and triggered a readjustment.

“Russ goes down, Russ isn’t playing, Russ comes back in – you know, the constant is him,” said veteran forward Caron Butler, whose appreciation of Durant has only grown since joining the Thunder March 1. “He remained the same. To keep guys going, keep everybody on point.”

Durant, 25, has been performing at an MVP level all season, displaying all the skills and attributes with which NBA fans have grown familiar: Silky smooth shooting, remarkable vision thanks to his 6-foot-10 height, impeccable timing and touch to his passes and occasional explosions to the basket that can surprise everyone in the gym.

But he has added a consistency, owing to an ever-sharpening mental approach, that has taken it all to new heights.

Kevin Durant (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Kevin Durant (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

“What impresses me the most is two things: His consistency and his ability not to worry about [a scoring streak],” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said late Monday. “I know when I had a three-game streak of four [points], I was worried about that next game and how I had to make my first shot. He’s not worried about it. He’s worried about playing hard and playing the correct way and finding ways to help his team win. He’s amazing and so consistent, he’s done this from Day 1, from November all the way through March 17.”

Said Durant: “It definitely takes mental toughness, especially on the road.”

You wouldn’t have known about his growing seriousness and depth from the wildly colored boxer briefs and socks with Pete Maravich’s photo on them Durant wore after Monday’s game. But it’s a topic that lately has been on his mind, one might say. While opposing teams cope with the mental pressure of facing an assassin like Durant, accounting for his every movement across 38 minutes or so, Durant more and more plumbs the depths and possibilities in his game that aren’t strictly by-products of his physical gifts.

It was something he talked about in a Wall Street Journal magazine feature (March 2014) in which several celebrities or reputed authorities were asked about their notion of power. Here’s what Durant said:

“Something that’s often overlooked in basketball is mental power. A game is 50 percent mental—mental toughness. Going through ups and downs during a long season, you have to really set your mind to have the power over everybody else—over opponents, fans, bad refs, tough games. You gotta fight through that. When I was young, I was always the skinny kid and got pushed around a lot, and my mental toughness goes back to that.”

And:

“…There will always be someone taller, someone stronger, somebody quicker. Having that willpower and extra fight is what’s going to set you apart. On the court there’s trash talk, you can hear fans trying to disrespect you, but just being quiet, never being too high or too low, is the most powerful place to be in a game.”

All NBA players have mental toughness to one degree or another, said OKC guard Derek Fisher, or they wouldn’t have made it this far. But when Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau talks about that trait in legendary players such as Jordan, Larry Bird, Patrick Ewing and others, it isn’t just hindsight. Mental toughness dripped off those guys like perspiration.

“It’s the reason why we talk about them the most,” Fisher said. “Because there are certain things they do that seem to mentally take themselves to a level other guys can’t. Everybody can’t show up night in and night out, from a mental standpoint and perform at a high level.”

It’s not just Kobe Bryant baring his teeth after a clutch shot in a close game.

“It’s in the daily preparation,” Fisher said. “The willingness to be the first guy at practice and the last one to leave. Taking the time to get extra shots up. Studying the game. Watching film. Taking care of your body. Kobe’s history of playing through injuries, that requires it.

“Kevin is exhibiting mental toughness every night. Not just showing up and, at the end of the game, he has 20 points but you didn’t really know he was there. He’s impacting the game at both ends every night.”

And stealthily getting 35 before folks feel the sting of his presence.

Nick Collison, another Thunder veteran, has been with Durant from the start back in Seattle. He’s an eyewitness to the growth, externally and internally, in the scoring star’s game.

“”When he first came in the league, he was like all guys – you’re just trying to find your way,” the backup forward said. “Now he’s at the point where he’s thinking, how can he help everybody be better? It’s not just in his play, it’s not just in his decision-making. It’s trying to talk to guys and trying to lift the team up. All the phases of the game, he appreciates the importance of that stuff now.”

One Western Conference advance scout Monday said he has noticed a peace in Durant’s game this season, compared to 2012-13′s edginess. “Last year I thought he was trying too hard. He was getting some techs doing things that were out of character, complaining,” the scout said. “Now he’s toned that back some, and he’s a beast. Maybe he felt he needed to get respect from referees or other teams or something. He’s got the respect. Now it’s all coming together.”

Said Collison: “We’re all human. We have things going on in our lives and we all have those stretches. But I think this year, his mind is free. He’s having a good time. And he’s more mature. That’s a big part of it too. He’s been around – he’s 25 now – and we all get a little more perspective as we get older.”

Where does Collison see the gain? In how locked-in Durant is now.

“More possessions being engaged,” he said. “Fewer possessions of spacing out. I think that’s all of us. It’s a long season, 82 games, and to avoid the distractions and always be engaged in the play that’s right in front of you… the more possessions you have like that, the better you are. A sign of that with him is, defensively, he’s taking less plays off. He’s in the right spot.”

Durant, asked about this before the game, admitted he still has work to do.

“That’s half of the game to me, is mental,” he said. “My focus every time I step on the court is, what am I thinking about?

“To be honest, there are some games where I think about what I have to do instead of what the team has to do, and that takes my focus off the big picture sometimes. But just staying conscious of what we need to do as a team and how I can help that is something I tell myself every time I step on the floor.”

And yes, he has sought counsel on this aspect, from some of the very best.

“I’ve talked to Karl Malone – he’s been a big help to me. George Gervin, those guys. Larry Bird, I’ve talked to him before,” Durant said.

“Just trying to see what their thoughts was in shootarounds and practices and games. See how they approached it and what they were thinking about when they were going out there performing. Just picking the brains of the greats can definitely help. I’m looking forward to growing as a leader, as a player mentally. I have a long ways to go, so I always ask questions.”

Which will leave his opponents with questions of their own. Mostly along the lines of, How are they going to stop this guy now?

Butler talks Thunder, titles and KD


VIDEO: Caron Butler talks about joining the Thunder

OKLAHOMA CITY – Birthdays present the perfect time to reflect on the past and look toward the future. It’s especially true for Caron Butler, who celebrates his 34th birthday today as a happy new member of the Oklahoma City Thunder following an unpredictable upheaval of a summer in which he was traded from the Los Angeles Clippers to the Phoenix Suns and then to his hometown Milwaukee Bucks.

In his 12th season, Butler’s career has certainly taken a winding path since the Washington Wizards traded him to the Dallas Mavericks at the 2010 deadline. He won a ring with the Mavs in 2011 although he watched it all behind the scenes while he relentlessly rehabbed — but could never make it back — from a gruesome knee injury earlier in the season.

The quest to make another championship run was at the root of Butler’s request for a buyout from the foundering Bucks. Then, in another unexpected turn, Butler chose to head west to join Kevin Durant and Oklahoma City when so many seemed to believe he would go east with LeBron James and the Miami Heat, the team that drafted him 10th overall in 2002.

Butler sat down with NBA.com following Tuesday’s Thunder victory against the Houston Rockets in which he contributed salty defense, 11 points (including three 3-pointers) and five rebounds in 29 minutes off the bench. In four games with the Thunder, Butler has helped fill the void left by injured starting shooting guard and defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha.

In short time, Caron Butler is impressed by teammate Kevin Durant. (Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

In short time, Caron Butler has been impressed by new teammate Kevin Durant. (Noah Graham/NBAE/Getty Images)

NBA.com: First off, you’ve only played in 38 games between Milwaukee and Oklahoma City. How is your health?

CB: I had a bad ankle sprain earlier in the season so that bothered me a little bit. But coming here and getting in a routine really helped.

NBA.com: A lot of people seemed to think you would go to Miami. Why did you choose OKC?

CB: I’m playing. I looked at it as an opportunity to play and play for a great organization. I looked at the pieces and I knew that I fit in with this group.

NBA.com: Thunder head athletic trainer Joe Sharpe held a similar position at UConn when you played there. Was that a factor in your decision?

CB: It had a lot to do with it. He took care of me a lot at the University of Connecticut, so to link back up with him, I knew I was in good hands from a physical standpoint.

NBA.com: You moved your family to L.A. and then Phoenix to Milwaukee. Will they come with you to Oklahoma City?

CB: It was an easy move to Milwaukee because I already had a house there, about 10 minutes away from the practice facility. They’re staying there. The kids are in school and everything. They never got in school in Phoenix.

NBA.com: What does it means to be on a team considered a favorite to get to the NBA Finals, and this time, knock on wood, be able to compete?

CB: It means a lot. Looking back at so many opportunities in my career and great organizations I played for, to be healthy and to be going into this run means a whole lot. I’m going to give whatever I have physically, mentally, to put us over the hump and just keep us moving forward. I love the position we’re in and I’m excited about the future.

NBA.com: How do you view the 2011 title? You got the ring, but didn’t play that season after the Jan. 1 knee injury.

CB: It felt good, but at the same time that was one that I got obviously when I wasn’t healthy. You know I got the No. 2 on my [Thunder] jersey — I’m chasing No. 2. It would mean a lot to be a part of this team and this young group. That’s what it’s about, winning. Obviously we don’t talk about championship and everything, but it would mean a lot to me just to be on that stage.

NBA.com: You’ve come in and averaged 26.8 mpg. Any surprise that you’ve garnered that playing time so quickly?

CB: Unfortunately Thabo went down. When I signed, he went down the next day so it was just a situation where coach put me in the rotation coming off the bench and there was a need for a little experience out there.

NBA.com: Was your production in the win against the Rockets Tuesday indicative of what you think you can deliver: defensive intensity, 3-point shooting, a little rebounding?

CB: I’m just going to be aggressive on the defensive end, space the floor; obviously they’ve got a great thing and a great chemistry and I’m just finding my way and trying to do the little things that matter.

NBA.com: It’s only been four games, but what’s it like to play with Kevin Durant?

CB: Him and Russell [Westbrook], man, they’re amazing. I played with some great players and he’s one of the best scorers I’ve ever played with. And you know he’s a willing passer, too. That says a lot about him at this point of his career, a young guy who’s a superstar that is willing to pass the ball and make other people better. Now, at this point in his career, that’s amazing.

Westbrook handles emotions, dominates Beverley, Rockets


VIDEO: Fan Night crew breaks down the Westbrook/Beverley battle

OKLAHOMA CITY – Loud City vented on the Rockets’ alley cat of a point guard Patrick Beverley, who returned to the scene of the crime for the first time Tuesday night bearing no remorse, no regrets and certainly no apologies.

He did come looking to scrap and claw and needle his nemesis Russell Westbrook, and it took only 44 seconds into it for the lid to pop off with the first of three intense entanglements between the two before this wild and woolly game throughout, won by the Oklahoma City Thunder, 106-98, was barely seven minutes old.

With six minutes to go in the opening quarter, Beverley solidified his role as No. 1 villain in these parts with a bold, deja vu move, running up on Westbrook as the Thunder point guard dribbled toward the OKC bench to call a timeout, just as he had done in that fateful Game 2 of the first round of the 2013 playoffs. Instead of Beverley going low as he did last April, a move that tore the meniscus in Westbrook’s right knee and landed him on the operating table — and then back there twice more — and OKC’s championship dreams on life support, Beverley went high, practically body bumping Westbrook and planting both his palms on Westbrook’s chest.

Westbrook bowed up, Beverley didn’t back down and tempers revved on both sides. The officials huddled and emerged with a technical foul on Beverley.


VIDEO: Patrick Beverley and Russell Westbrook get into a scuffle in the first quarter

Was the ballsy play a message from Beverley?

“No, no messages,” the 6-foot-1, 185-pounder said. “That’s how I play against everybody. No personal battles out there today, just try to go out there and fight and do what I do to try to help my team win a basketball game today.”

That didn’t happen. Beverley had a forgettable night, finishing with as many fouls (five) as points and assists combined. Westbrook dominated this round with 24 points, seven assists and four rebounds. He got to the free throw line 14 times, six on two bad fouls by Beverley behind the arc.

When Westbrook checked back into a 34-28 game in favor of OKC with 7:42 to go in the half, Brooks kept calling Westbrook’s number. He attacked the smaller Beverley, beating him off the dribble and launching to the basket. He scored nine consecutive points and 11 of 15 that put OKC ahead 56-41 at the half, a lead the Thunder would have to work to protect, and Kevin Durant made sure they did with a spectacular second half, scoring 25 of his 42 points and four of his five 3-pointers.

“He took advantage of every opportunity,” Durant said of Westbrook. “Posting little guys up, getting to the cup, getting to the free throw line, so he was great.”

It was Westbrook’s night, facing Beverley again, staying cool when the Houston guard tried to stir it up and producing a mostly composed effort that included no turnovers in 15:31 of action in the second half. Before and after the game, Westbrook was short on words, saying he held no grudges, that he’s only out to win. His coach, Scott Brooks, had more to say.

“You guys know I love Russell, and this is why I really love him — he doesn’t like the 58 point guards that he plays against,” Brooks said. “He’s not out there to make friends, he’s not out there to be anybody’s buddy and he competes with everything he has in his body. He’s about playing the right way, about playing a game that we as a coaching staff, as fans, as an organization can be proud of. And that’s what he does every single night. I will never ever think anything else that he does, he just plays the way it’s supposed to be played.”

What did Brooks think about Beverley lunging at Westbrook near the sideline again?

“You saw the same thing I saw,” Brooks said. “There’s really not much to talk about. We played a good basketball game and I’ll just leave it at that. I’m not worried about what they do and don’t do. I’m worried about what we do.”

What OKC did was end an ugly slide that was making the natives restless, and cool off a Rockets team that had won five in a row and 15 of 17. The Thunder had lost two in a row — allowing 242 points to the Suns and Lakers — and five of eight coming out of the All-Star break. Never mind that Westbrook was playing in just his ninth game and still on a minutes restriction since a near-two-month recovery from a third surgery related to the initial injury. Plus perimeter defensive stopper Thabo Sefolosha and heavyweight center Kendrick Perkins are both out with injuries.

It made this third consecutive win over the Rockets this season all the more impressive. Dwight Howard, up against rookie Steven Adams and Serge Ibaka, had just nine points and 10 boards. Ibaka had 12 points and 16 rebounds. Newly signed Caron Butler, who has quickly supplanted youngster Jeremy Lamb, brought spurts of tenacious defense plus 11 points and five rebounds in 29 minutes.

“We went in there soft tonight,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said.

Former Thunder sixth man James Harden started slowly and couldn’t quite bring his team back despite 28 points, nine assists and eight rebounds. He acknowledged that the high emotion delivered early, and arguably recklessly, by Beverley threw off the Rockets.

There was no doubt Beverley came in bearing fangs, but Westbrook ultimately provided the much bigger bite.


VIDEO: Durant, Westbrook lead the Thunder past the Rockets

KD Keeps Streaking As Russ Blasts Off


VIDEO: Durant pours in 42 points in Thunder’s rout of Sixers

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –LeBron James scored a career-high 61 points on Monday night. How would Kevin Durant answer a night later in what’s becoming a must-see, game-by-game, blow-by-blow MVP race?

Durant totaled 42 points on 14-for-20 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists in a mere 32 minutes in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 125-92 dismantling of the moribund Philadelphia 76ers. It was an individual performance that stacked up more to a Sixer of another era, The Answer, as in Allen Iverson, than to LeBron.

For the 26th consecutive game, Durant scored at least 25 points, the third-longest such streak in the last 25 years. The two players who’ve gone longer? Durant did it for 29 consecutive games during the 2009-10 season. And Mr. Iverson, the man who watched his No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers jersey raised to the rafters Monday, got it done in 27 consecutive games during the 2000-01 season. That’s it. Those two. No LeBron to be found.

In fact, after Tuesday’s 106-103 loss at Houston, James has sandwiched his 61 — his second game of the season of 40 points or more — with games of 20 and now 22. Durant, meanwhile, notched his 10th game of 40 points or more and his fourth in the last nine games. He made his first seven shots and was 8-for-11 with 21 points by halftime. Then came 21 in the third quarter on 6-for-9 shooting and his night was done.

Had he not unnaturally struggled at the free throw line, going 12-for-18, Durant probably would have hit 50 for a second time this season.

“It’s his fault,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks kidded. “I would’ve ran one more play for him to get 50 if he would’ve made his six free throws.”

But get this: Kevin wasn’t the story of the night. Because Russ ended up being Russ.

Russell Westbrook, in his sixth game back from a third right knee surgery since last April, ripped the 76ers for a triple-double — 13 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds — in a land speed record of 20 minutes, 17 seconds. At least it’s the fastest anyone’s accumulated a triple-double in nearly 60 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“He’s just physically so gifted and he is so competitive,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “You know, there is a — and I say this respectfully — there is an angry competitor that wills his way into doing stuff, and I say that with the utmost respect, and so you saw those physical abilities along with just such a strong mind. It’s a powerful combination.”

Westbrook racked up eight assists in his first stint of six minutes, 34 seconds.

“Fourteen assists in 20 minutes,” Brooks marveled. “I mean, potentially if he had played more minutes, he probably could have had 20 assists tonight.”

That’s now 40 assists for Westbrook in his last five games, and perhaps the best sign that his knee is feeling fine is the 10 rebounds. He had 12 in the previous four games. The triple-double was his second of the season. The first came on Christmas Day at New York, his unsuspecting final game before being summoned back to the operating table.

“It is crazy,” Westbrook said of his rapid-fire filling of the box score. “I’m just trying to get my groove back. It is crazy to be able to do that in such a short amount of time, but it was fun.”

“I’m super proud of him,” Durant said of his buddy during a TV interview after the game.

It’s a great sign for the Thunder (46-15), who have now won three in a row since losing their first three games of Westbrook’s return out of the All-Star break. They are without injured starters Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but they did welcome newcomer Caron Butler into the rotation for the first time.

Bought out by the Bucks last week and signed by the opportunistic Thunder, the veteran small forward logged 26 minutes off the bench and contributed two points, an assist and five rebounds. He received a warm welcome from the home sellout crowd.

“I was just excited to be in that environment,” Butler said. “It felt like being at UConn again.”


VIDEO: Westbrook tallies triple-double in just over 20 minutes

Butler’s Reported Addition To OKC Provides Boost To Durant, Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Caron Butler has sidestepped the King and a three-peat bid to serve the noble cause of delivering Kevin Durant title No. 1.

The veteran forward, bought out by the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday, had been speculated to join the Miami Heat, the team that drafted him 10th overall in 2002 and, in ’04, traded him to the Los Angeles Lakers in a package for Shaquille O’Neal. Instead, the 6-foot-7 Butler intends to play for the Western Conference-leading Oklahoma City Thunder when he clears waivers, multiple news outlets have reported.

Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski, who was among the first to report the news, has more:

Caron Butler has chosen to sign with the Oklahoma City Thunder over the Miami Heat, league sources told Yahoo Sports.

Butler informed teams of his decision on Friday morning, a league source told Yahoo Sports.

After securing a contract buyout from the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday morning, Butler is expected to clear waivers on Saturday at 5 p.m. ET, and will sign for the rest of the season to play with Thunder stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Despite close relationships and history with the Miami Heat, Butler decided that his best opportunity to make an impact and chase a championship belonged with Oklahoma City. Miami has lost out on the top two free-agent buyout players in Danny Granger and Butler.

The fact that Oklahoma City stopped pursuing Granger several days before his Los Angeles Clippers commitment led many in the NBA to believe the Thunder were confident of securing Butler as a free agent.

Butler, who turns 34 on March 13, will be a significant veteran pick-up for the youthful Thunder, who will benefit from Butler’s rugged, perimeter defense in isolated matchups. His addition allows Durant to occasionally lessen his defensive load, and Butler is a capable shooter from mid-range to the 3-point arc.

OKC is light on wings with starting shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha being a defensive-minded player and reserve Jeremy Lamb only his second season and first as an integral part of the Thunder’s rotation.

Butler won a title with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011, knocking off James’ Heat in their first Finals as the Big Three, but Butler was inactive for the entire playoffs after suffering a gruesome knee injury on Jan. 1 during a game at Milwaukee. The Mavs, inspired by Butler’s commitment to work his way back, although ultimately he could not, dedicated their postseason run to him.

He signed as a free agent with the Los Angeles Clippers for the 2011-12 season and broke his hand early in the playoffs. He manged to continue playing, saying he wasn’t going to allow another injury to take him out of a second consecutive postseason.

After last season’s first-round exit, the Clippers traded Butler to the Phoenix Suns along with guard Eric Bledsoe. The Suns, more interested in a youth movement, moved Butler to the Bucks, allowing him to play close to family and friends in his hometown of Racine, Wisc.

But the Bucks have been awful and agreed to buy him out of the final year of his contract that pays him $8 million. Butler has been nicked up throughout the season and has played in 34 games with 13 starts. He’s averaged 11.0 ppg and 4.6 rpg in 24.1 mpg. He’s shot just 38.7 percent overall, but a healthy 36.1 percent (53-for-147) from beyond the arc.

Butler is no longer the high-minute, All-Star-type small forward he was a few seasons ago. But in spurts off the bench, he can bring the Thunder the toughness and scoring punch they need.

Meanwhile, the West continues to get even more competitive with Butler headed to OKC and former Indiana small forward Danny Granger committed to joining the Clippers after being bought out by the Pacers.

Buyout Business: Where They Fit Best




VIDEO: Caron Butler lights it up off the bench for the Bucks, where will he do it next?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Last week’s NBA trade deadline was just Phase 1 of the late-season player grab for contenders looking to upgrade in certain areas and give themselves a push in the right direction with the playoffs on the horizon.

Phase 2 is the buyout market, when teams lock up veteran help at an area of need when teams start purging their rosters of players that were moved last week or veterans on lottery-bound teams in search of work with a contender. And that means we switch our focus from superstars who were rumored to be traded (yes, you Rajon Rondo and Pau Gasol) to those players who were actually moved or probably should have been (guys like Danny Granger and Caron Butler, headliners in the buyout market).

Now it’s just a matter of matching the right player with the right team …

DANNY GRANGER TO THE … LOS ANGELES CLIPPERS

The Pacers didn’t have any use for Granger with a younger and much cheaper option available in Evan Turner, but plenty of other teams are interested in adding him to their mix for the remainder of the season and playoffs. He reportedly spoke, via phone, with five different teams Thursday, per Marc J. Spears of Yahoo! Sports. Granger explored the possibilities with the Clippers, San Antonio Spurs, Miami Heat, Houston Rockets and Chicago Bulls. A free agent-to-be this summer, Granger knows that the work he does between now and June, should it last that long, is as a temp. He’ll have time to find the long-term fit in the summer, which takes some of the pressure off right now.

ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne has more on why Granger picked the Clippers:

Former All-Star forward Danny Granger has decided to sign with the Los Angeles Clippers, according to a source with knowledge of the situation.

The San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks all made a run at Granger, but ultimately he chose the Clippers late Thursday night because they offered him the best opportunity to play meaningful minutes for a contender.

Granger hopes to play Saturday when the Clippers host the Pelicans, a source said.

By signing with the Clippers, he will become the second veteran player coach and senior vice president of player personnel Doc Rivers has recruited to the team in a week. Last week Rivers outrecruited several other teams to sign forward Glen Davis, after he was bought out by the Orlando Magic. Davis played for Rivers in Boston, where they won the 2008 NBA championship and lost in the 2010 Finals.

The Clippers traded Byron Mullens and Antawn Jamison last week to create roster spots to pursue players such as Granger and Davis, who were likely to be bought out. They also backed out of late trade discussions with the New York Knicks for injured swingman Iman Shumpert and guard Raymond Felton. Both decisions look prescient a week later.

The unique thing for Granger is he’s going to get work with the Clippers the same way he would have gotten it with the Pacers, off the bench as a veteran scorer-for-hire. Granger coming off of that Clippers’ bench alongside Jamal Crawford and others is a dangerous proposition for the opposition. And if J.J. Redick‘s injury issues linger, Granger could always work as a starter alongside Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, giving Rivers a boost no one saw for the Clippers before Granger was sent to Philadelphia at the final hour of last week’s trade deadline.

***

CARON BUTLER TO THE … OKLAHOMA CITY THUNDER

The race for Butler’s services has turned into a battle between two teams that could very well end up battling for the ultimate prize this season. The Oklahoma City Thunder and Miami Heat, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, are the leaders for Butler. They both have a need for a quality veteran to help work on the perimeter. Butler’s career began in Miami and he has institutional knowledge of how to operate in the Heat’s system. He could slide right into the mix with LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, Chris Bosh and crew and fit in well. But the chance for more meaningful minutes might actually come with the Thunder, where Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook could use another wise vet with a championship ring (Butler won his with Dallas) to help with some of the heavy lifting.

Butler was not on the active roster when the Mavericks won that title in 2011 (and the Mavericks went through both the Thunder and Heat to snag the Larry O’Brien trophy that year). Butler would bring some balance to the Thunder’s attack and his ability to defend on the perimeter would also take some pressure off of Durant, depending on the matchup, in critical situations. He’s a good fit in both place but needed more in Oklahoma City.

***



VIDEO: Jimmer Fredette works his magic against the Knicks

JIMMER FREDETTE TO THE … CHICAGO BULLS

The rumblings of a Fredette move to the Bulls started early Thursday, courtesy of a report from ESPN’s Marc Stein. It would be an odd marriage considering the Bulls’ defensive-minded focus and Fredette’s allergy to anything defensive during his time with the Sacramento Kings. But if Fredette wants to continue his playing career in the NBA and not abroad, proving himself as a contributor and key component for a rugged playoff outfit coached by Tom Thibodeau would do wonders for his cause.

The Bulls need the scoring help, particularly on the perimeter and from a shooter with Jimmer’s range. And he’ll get a chance to learn the fine art of true team defense playing for a coach and a team, led by All-Star center and defensive backbone Joakim Noah, that could very well save the No. 10 pick from the 2011 Draft.

***

METTA WORLD PEACE TO THE … SAN ANTONIO SPURS

World Peace has nine NBA lives. Who’d have thunk it a decade ago when his career was hanging in the balance? This is admittedly more of a guilty pleasure exercise for us than it is a necessity for the Spurs, but the potential World Peace and Gregg Popovich chemistry experiment is one that would keep social scientists up at night trying to figure out how it works. Metta proved during his run with the Lakers that he was capable of folding himself into the fabric of a championship outfit. He could do it again with the Spurs and Pop, who has made an art form of integrating veteran role players into the right spot in the rotation.

Seemingly every contender on both sides of the conference divide need help at the three, so Metta could see the interest in his services pick up when Granger and Butler make their decisions. He’s not necessarily a great fit in Miami or with the Clippers, but he’d be an intriguing fit with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and the Spurs.


VIDEO: Danny Granger shows that he still has some bounce left in those legs

Morning Shootaround — Feb. 26


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Feb. 24

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Report: Sixers, Granger mulling options | Ainge, Rondo chat delayed | Turner impresses in Indy debut | Blazers’ Robinson hurts knee in Denver | Report: Butler, Bucks working on buyout

No. 1: Report: Granger, Sixers still talking over future — Another day, another day closer to a buyout for Danny Granger with the Philadelphia 76ers? Team officials and the small forward continue to talk over what the next move will be: a buyout in the coming days or, perhaps, Granger sticking with the Sixers for the rest of the season. ESPN.com’s Ramona Shelbourne and Marc Stein have more on what may come next for Granger:

Newly acquired Danny Granger and the Philadelphia 76ers continue to discuss a possible buyout, according to sources close to the process.

Sources told ESPN.com on Tuesday that a buyout consummated before Saturday’s midnight deadline for Granger to be waived and remain eligible to appear in this season’s playoffs with any team he subsequently signs for remains the most likely outcome.

But sources also said Granger continues to weigh other options, including staying with the 76ers for the rest of the season, as the deadline draws near.

Sources said Tuesday the San Antonio Spurs and Granger share a mutual interest if the former All-Star comes to a buyout agreement with the Sixers by the weekend.

It’s believed the Los Angeles Clippers will be another leading suitor for Granger’s services should he become an unrestricted free agent next week.

***

No. 2: Ainge says Rondo chat likely won’t happen soon — As we reported in this space yesterday, Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo is expected to be called into team president Danny Ainge‘s office to explain why he didn’t travel with the team to a game in Sacramento. Apparently that conversation is still going to happen … it just won’t happen for a few more days. Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald has more on the issue:

Though Danny Ainge plans to talk to Rajon Rondo about the guard’s decision to celebrate his 28th birthday in Los Angeles last Saturday while the team flew to Sacramento for a game against the Kings, the meeting might not take place for a week.

Ainge departed on a college scouting trip before the team’s return to Boston. Though the president of basketball operations still plans to discuss the issue with Rondo, he won’t return until next week.

A team source stressed that “it’s not that big a deal around here,” though Ainge hasn’t ruled out fining Rondo for not receiving official permission. The guard, who still is not playing on the second night of back-to-back games as he returns from ACL surgery, was not scheduled to play Saturday night in Sacramento. He chose to remain in Los Angeles for a birthday celebration that was attended by his wife, children and mother.

Rondo, who rejoined the team Monday in Utah, told the Herald he had talked with management about staying behind in Los Angeles, and that there was nothing further to discuss. Ainge, however, said he planned to discuss the matter with Rondo once the team returned yesterday.

***

No. 3: Turner fares nicely in Indy debut — Before last night’s Pacers-Los Angeles Lakers game from Indianapolis, coach Frank Vogel said newly acquired swingman Evan Turner would come off the bench and play roughly 20-25 minutes in his Indiana debut. For the record, Turner played 26 minutes and 11 seconds and finished with 13 points and six rebounds in the Pacers’ 118-98 romp over the Lakers. The feeling after the game, according to Candace Buckner of the Indianapolis Star, was that Turner’s debut went about as well as it could:

Turner had the green light to be himself in the Pacers’ 118-98 win over the Los Angeles Lakers. During an offensive torrent when the Pacers (43-13) created season highs in field goal makes and attempts as well as bench points, Turner finished with 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting.

“He’s just a good basketball player,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said. “He has good savvy, good IQ. He understands his teammates. He picks things up quickly and like I said, he looked comfortable.”

Turner, whom the Pacers received in a last-minute trade deadline deal last week for Danny Granger, took as many shots as starter Lance Stephenson. He played 26 minutes of mostly offensive-oriented basketball while still working through the details of the Pacers’ league-best defense. However, as seven Indiana players finished in double digits – led by Paul George’s 20 points – Turner fit right in with a bench unit that produced 50 points.

Turner was admittedly nervous before the game, and even when he heard the applause from many of the 18,165 fans – in spite of their team’s woeful record, many Lakers (19-38) fans still showed up. And he started out looking like a new kid in class. In his first action, Turner set a solid screen that aided in the Pacers’ score off the inbounds play. Then on his first run through a half-court set, Turner stretched the floor and raced back on defense even before a shot went up from the inside. A West moving screen foiled his first touch, then Turner grew confident.

Of all people, Turner understands Indiana’s offensive principle – the man with ball creates the score and when help comes, he shares it – because with the 76ers, his role was to be that man with the ball.

“In Philly,” Turner said. “I could (pass) the ball at the rim.”

So, yes, Turner knows how to shoot. He took those opportunities whenever he caught smaller defenders like Jodie Meeks or MarShon Brooks and backed them down for turnaround midrange shots on the baseline.

“He’s still got to adjust,” David West said. “He’s got to figure out how to play with us. He’s going to have to figure out on the fly here. He’s smart, heady, composed.

“He’s got to get used to the level of talent we have. Guys he can defer to as opposed to feeling he has to do too much.”


VIDEO: Evan Turner discusses his first game as a member of the Pacers

***

No. 4: Blazers’ Robinson suffers minor knee injury — Portland’s frontcourt depth has already been thinned by a recent minor injury to All-Star LaMarcus Aldridge and ones to Joel Freeland (MCL, out several more weeks) and Meyers Leonard (ankle, out 2 more weeks). It wasn’t a great sign last night, then, when one of the last few healthy big men, Thomas Robinson, suffered a knee injury in Denver. Luckily for the Blazers, reports Chris Haynes of CSNNW.com, Robinson merely has a left patella strain:

Thomas Robinson suffered a knee injury in the first half of Tuesday’s game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets.The team is listing it as a left patella strain and says he is day-to-day.

Robinson, 22, sustained the injury when he went up for a dunk attempt. Something occurred on his way down. He was only able to play three second half minutes due to severity of the pain.

“I tried to go back in there but I couldn’t,” he told CSNNW.com. “It was something I’ve never experienced before on this knee.”

His diagnosis is good news, considering how defeated Robinson looked in his locker room stall after the Trail Blazers won 100-95.

Robinson scored 2 points and pulled down 5 rebounds in 14 minutes of action against the Nuggets.

“I’m worried, he said before finding out the results. “I’m just going to rest and put some ice on it and get some rest and hopefully I’ll be able to go tomorrow.”


VIDEO: The Blazers hold off the Nuggets in Denver

***

No. 5: Report: Bucks on verge of buying out Butler — Wisconsin native Caron Butler was plenty excited in the offseason to return to his home state and play for Milwaukee’s squad (as this great video documents), but things haven’t worked out how Butler or the Bucks have hoped. With the team in the midst of a clear rebuilding season, Butler is expected to be bought out of his deal so that he can sign with a contender before the March 1 deadline. ESPN.com’s Marc Stein has more: 

Milwaukee Bucks swingman Caron Butler is scheduled to complete a contract buyout Wednesday that sets him up to become an unrestricted free agent by the end of the week, according to sources close to the talks.

Sources told ESPN.com that Wisconsin native Butler, who is earning $8 million this season on an expiring contract with his home-state Bucks, is on course to be released by Milwaukee on Wednesday and thus clear waivers Friday, well in advance of the Saturday midnight deadline by which time he must be set free to be eligible to play in the playoffs with another team.

The two-time defending champion Miami Heat, sources said, will be at the front of the line to sign Butler, who spent his first two seasons in the league with the Heat and is expected to verbally commit to a team before clearing waivers.

Gery Woelfel of the Racine Journal-Times also confirms that the Bucks and Butler are working on a buyout:

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Jason Collins’ No. 98 jersey was reportedly a top seller at both the NBA Store and its website … The Knicks are set to sign ex-Cavs forward Earl Clark and ex-Lakers and Suns guard Shannon Brown to 10-day deals … According to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, ex-Bucks star Junior Bridgeman has shown interest in investing in a part of the team … Speaking of Mr. Bridgeman, Pistons guard Chauncey Billups explains how Bridgeman’s off-the-court business savy has influenced him

ICYMI(s) of The Night: The Raptors’ Tyler Hansbrough looked like one of the poor guys trying to stick with “Uncle Drew” (aka Cavs All-Star guard Kyrie Irving) during one of his forays to the court for a game of pickup hoops …


VIDEO: Kyrie Irving crosses up Tyler Hansbrough en route to a layup

The Real Story Of Caron Butler

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – When you hear NBA players talk overcoming adversity to reach the highest level of their profession, you have to know that there are different types of adversity.

Some challenges are greater than others. Some obstacles are much larger than others. And then there is the unbelievable saga that is the life and times of Caron Butler, one of the league’s most respected veteran players. Butler almost threw away his opportunity to reach this level as a youngster growing up in Racine, Wisconsin.

A drug dealer at the age of 11, Butler had been arrested 15 times before his 15th birthday. He didn’t discover his love for the game until he was forced to embrace it while serving time in a detention center. He turned his life around, of course, becoming a the Big East Player of the Year at Connecticut, a lottery pick in the 2002 Draft, a two-time All-Star and NBA champion with the Dallas Mavericks in 2011. His story has come full circle with him now wearing the uniform of his (near)hometown team.

However, his humble beginnings and how fortunate he was to overcome them remain the most compelling part of the truly unbelievable real story of Caron Butler (courtesy of Fox Sports Live) …


VIDEO: The real story of Caron Butler of the Milwaukee Bucks