NEWS OF THE MORNING
It’s all in Thunder’s heads | K.D. looms over champs | Cavs have need for speed | Can Porzingis be tops? | Kings deflated
No. 1: Westbrook says Thunder need mental toughness — All through the playoffs we saw what the Thunder could do with their extraordinary length and athleticism and speed and ability to dominate on the glass. But after blowing a 3-1 lead to the Warriors in the Western Conference finals, All-Star guard Russell Westbrook says that for OKC to be able to take the next step to winning a championship they have to get stronger in that one other key area — their heads. Westbrook made those observations to Berry Trammel and Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:
“Mental toughness,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten very, very well at that point, but I think to make the next step, we have to constantly do that throughout the whole season, not just late in the playoffs, because I thought we turned the page when it got to this time of year, but I think if we constantly keep that from start to finish, it makes it easier for us in certain situations.”
No. 2: Durant is on minds of Warriors — That might be LeBron James and the Cavaliers standings squarely in front of them. But the fact is that the specter of Kevin Durant’s free agency is something on the minds of the Warriors even as they bid for a second consecutive championship. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper caught up with several key figures who admitted that K.D. looms in the Golden State locker room:
“Guys have definitely asked questions,” center Andrew Bogut told NBA.com. “We’re not immune to it. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen the rumors, heard the rumors, all that kind of stuff. Different guys at different times have been scratching their head and thinking, ‘Why?’ The only way we can dispel all that stuff is maybe we’ve got to win five straight. Who knows? It’s one of those things we can’t really control, but we can control trying to make them make a tough decision.”
It clearly hasn’t been a problem that’s reached the level of distraction — again, check the Warriors’ recent resume — but the potential of a major roster jolt to the best team in the league, even for Durant, has been on players’ minds.
“Guys obviously ask questions at certain times,” Bogut said. “We’ve had two good years. Guys definitely find it interesting. But we understand that it’s a business and you’re not going to be able to stop. If an owner or a GM wants to do something, they’re going to do it.”
No. 3: Lue tells LeBron to pick up the pace — After scoring a playoff-low 89 points in Game 1 of The Finals and showing an offense that was stagnant and ineffective, Cleveland coach Tyronn Lue had a simple solution after reviewing the game film. He told LeBron James to pick up the pace, according to Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com:
“I just told LeBron I need him to play faster,” Lue said Friday. “I need him to pick up the pace for us offensively, getting the ball out and just beginning to play faster.”
James put up a strong stat line with 23 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists in Thursday’s Game 1. But the Cavs scored only 89 points, and their offense lacked the flow that saw them rip through the Eastern Conference playoffs with a 12-2 record. The Warriors slowed them with their ability to switch defenders and force the Cavs into deliberate isolation sets. Twice in the first half the Cavs were called for 24-second violations, which is rare for them.
Lue’s message was reminiscent of January, when his first order of business when taking over the coaching job from David Blatt was to make a point of the Cavs’ need to put their foot on the gas. It contributed to the Cavs turning into the No. 1 offense in the league in terms of efficiency over the last two months of the season.
“They make you stagnant and make you play one-on-one basketball because that’s all you can get,” Lue said. “So if we pick up the pace and play with a faster tempo offensively, I think we’ll be fine.”
No. 4: Hornacek says Porzingis could be NBA best — Do you think Jeff Hornacek knows how to drum up headlines on the back pages of the New York tabloids? On his first official day on the job as the new boss of the Knicks, Hornacek is saying that second-year forward Kristaps Porzingis can be a top-five player and maybe the best in the league, according to Ohm Youngmisuk and Ian Begley of ESPN.com:
“His ceiling -– wow,” Hornacek said after his introductory news conference when asked about Porzingis’ potential. “I don’t want to put pressure on the kid, but let’s face it: At that size and his skills and his abilities — why can’t he be a top-five player in this league?
“Why can’t he be the best player in this league? He’ll continue to grow over these years. He’s 20 years old. He’s got a lot of things he’ll learn just from experience, and I’m sure five to six years from now you’ll be saying, ‘Look how good this kid is.’ He’s already good.”
No. 5: Non-firing of Karl finished Kings season — Ever since they lost to the Lakers in the playoffs way back in the early part of the last decade, it’s never been a good time to be a member of the Kings. But when the rumors of coach George Karl being fired before the All-Star break didn’t come to pass, things hit a new low in the locker room. That’s what veteran Caron Butler told the gang on ESPN’s First Take, as related by James Herbert of CBSsports.com
“As players, from All-Star break and everything, I mean, as far as we knew, he was fired,” Butler said. “We’re in Philadelphia a game before All-Star break and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘You’re not moving [on], I’m coming back.’ It was deflating to the locker room, it was deflating to the guys, and we tried to move forward and tried to do the best that we possibly could. But that was deflating to the team, it was a big blow and it was tough to move forward.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Even the Cavaliers felt ripped off by the price of tickets to see them lose Game 1 in Oakland… Charles Barkley says he’ll own up to being wrong if the Warriors win title again…Gordon Gund is selling his 15 percent share of the Cavaliers to Dan Gilbert…A young LeBron James was amazed by Muhammad Ali…Ex-teammate Anderson Varejao says Matthew Dellavedova needs to do those things to stay in the NBA...David Blatt is back as a head coach in Istanbul, Turkey…Who you gonna call?