Posts Tagged ‘Darren Collison’

Middle class getting rich in free agency

The Lakers brought back Jordan Hill (left) and Nick Young for a combined

The Lakers brought back Jordan Hill (left) and Nick Young (right) for a combined $39.5 million

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Early into this free-agency period there was hand-wringing over the alleged travesty that superstars commanding the highest salaries were being prodded to take less money for the good of the team.

And certainly under the current salary-cap structure of the collective bargaining agreement, if highly paid players want to band together, but also expect to have funds available to sign quality role players, the price (as dictated by the current salary-cap structure) is settling for less than market value.

James Harden didn’t want to settle so Oklahoma City traded him to Houston. In Miami over the last two weeks, we saw how steep of a cut each of the Big Three (and really Chris Bosh and Dywane Wade) were in for if the group was to stay together and have a legitimate shot at signing a difference-making-type player such as Kyle Lowry or Marcin Gortat.

If superstars opt not to form super powers and the top-tier talent spreads to more teams (the goal of ownership in this CBA) than they can all collect their max money. LeBron James is expected to get his max deal, roughly $21 million next season by leaving Miami for Cleveland. Bosh’s loyalty to the Heat (aided by not having to pay James) was rewarded with a maximum $118 million over five years and Carmelo Anthony will accept a deal close to the max, reportedly about $120 million over five years, from the New York Knicks.

The next tier of talent has also done quite well this summer. Lowry re-upped with Toronto for $48 million over four years, almost doubling last season’s take. Gortat re-signed with Washington for $60 million over five years. He made $7.7 million last season and is 30 years old. Not bad if you can get it.

The Utah Jazz on Saturday matched Charlotte’s aggressive offer sheet of four-years and $63 million for 24-year-old small forward Gordon Hayward. He’ll earn more next season, about $14.7 million, than he did in his previous three seasons combined ($11 million). The Dallas Mavericks have made Chandler Parsons, 25, a rich man with their three-year, $45 million offer sheet that Houston has until Sunday night to match or pass. Neither player has ever been an All-Star, yet both will get paid like one.

It’s theme of the summer. Players at every level of the talent hierarchy are cashing in big. Why? It’s simple: The big fish, as long as they swim their separate ways, are going to get paid, while this league-wide run for cap space has greatly inflated salaries for a widening middle class. It’s produced eye-opening contracts such as these: Jodie Meeks (Detroit), three years and $19 million; Jordan Hill (L.A. Lakers), two years and $18 million; Darren Collison (Sacramento), three years and $16 million; Nick Young (L.A. Lakers), four years and $21.5 million; Chris Kaman (Portland), two years and $9.8 million; C.J. Miles (Indiana), four years and $18 million; Ben Gordon (Orlando), two years and $9.8 million.

The CBA hammered out during the lockout of 2011 placed a premium on cap space. Harsher luxury tax penalties and tighter controls designed to restrict roster flexibility for tax teams has created a much larger pool of teams than ever before that strategically plan to create maximum cap space each summer to dive into free agency and chase max-level free agents.

Only there aren’t that many big fish, far fewer than there are now teams ready to pay team. It leaves an overload of cap space around the league that must be spent and this summer role players — the league’s middle class — are reaping the benefits.

Any player it seems who has been in the league a handful of years can turn his nose at any offer starting at less than $4 million. Thirty-seven-year-old Vince Carter wanted to return to Dallas, which was offering $2.73 million for next season. So he took the $4 million ($12.2 million over three seasons) Memphis showed him.

And then there’s free-agent shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha coming off an awful year shooting and who twice fell out of the Thunder’s rotation during the playoffs. He secured a raise from Atlanta — three years and $12 million.

Felton (again) out to prove he’s got it

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Raymond Felton‘s recruitment of former teammate Carmelo Anthony to join him in Dallas apparently fell on deaf ears. One must wonder if yet another Felton attempt to solicit belief in a fresh start will, too.

“I just have to show everybody that I’ve still got it, I still can play,” Felton said on a conference call with Dallas reporters Tuesday. “I still can play the game at this level. I still play as an elite point guard at this level. That’s just all. When you come off a season like I had last year, there’s always a point where you’ve got to prove yourself coming back the next season. And trust me, I look forward to it.”

It’s the second time in three years the point guard is coming off an awful season. He showed up for his first season in Portland after the 2011 lockout out of shape and never rounded into form. He quickly became the butt of pudgy point-guard jokes and the poster child for players who relaxed for too long during the work stoppage. He and was basically run out of town.

The Knicks brought him back in 2012 and Felton made similar pleas about fresh starts and being motivated. But his second season in New York was a disaster on and off the court. His divorce was recently finalized and in June he reached a plea deal to avoid jail time stemming from gun charges. In February, Felton’s then-estranged wife alleged he threatened her with a loaded, semi-automatic handgun.

“I was just fighting with a lot of injuries, and I was fighting with a lot of mental stuff off the court, but like I said earlier, I don’t make any excuses,” Felton said. “Last season was all my fault. It was nobody else’s but mine. I take the blame for it totally. Like I said, I look forward to this year. I’m putting all that behind me last year. I’m looking forward to this year with the Mavs.”

Dallas is putting as positive a spin as possible on the potential for Felton taking over as the starting point guard. It’s not as though he was their hand-picked choice. They badly wanted back center Tyson Chandler, their fiery, defensive anchor during the 2011 championship season, but to get him in last month’s trade, Knicks president Phil Jackson foisted Felton upon them to complete the deal.

“He’s an enthusiastic, high-energy, aggressive type of guy and I know he’s going to be extremely motivated,” Mavs coach Rick Carlisle said. “I’ve known him for many years and I’ve had positive experiences working with him and watching him play. He’s going to have a terrific year.”

The Mavs surrendered popular and steady veteran point guard Jose Calderon, speedy point guard and 2013 first-round draft pick Shane Larkin, starting center Samuel Dalembert, shooting guard Wayne Ellington and two second-round draft picks.

Since Jason Kidd left after the 2011-12 season, Dallas has burned through backcourt combos. The tandem of Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo was a bust in 2012-13, while Calderon and Monta Ellis, with Devin Harris off the bench, worked pretty well last season.

Harris this week agreed to a three-year deal to stay in Dallas, and will likely back up Felton, who last season averaged a career-low 9.7 points and 5.6 assists. That duo enters as one the worst shooting point-guard combos in the Western Conference. Felton shot 39.5 percent from the floor (31.8 percent from beyond the arc) last year and Harris shot a career-worst 37.8 (30.7 percent from 3).

Although Felton, who turned 30 last month, hasn’t escaped the body-image jokes, he denied that conditioning was an issue for him last season. He said at this point of the summer, his physical conditioning is as good as it has been in the last five years.

He is owed $3.8 million this season and has a player option for next season at $3.95 million.

“I’ve got a lot of things that motivate me this summer,” Felton said. “I’m just really getting after it, just working extra, extra hard. I’m not really doing anything different, just doing it more and working at it harder.”

It’s just not the first time Felton has had to make such claims.

Report: Farmar, Clips agree on 2-year deal

Jordan Farmar

Jordan Farmar will replace Darren Collison as Chris Paul’s primary backup.

From NBA.com staff reports

Free-agent point guard Jordan Farmar is staying in Los Angeles … but switching teams.

Farmar is moving from the Lakers to the Clippers after accepting the team’s bi-annual exception, a two-year deal worth $4.2 million that was first reported by the Los Angeles Times. The second year of the deal is a player option, according to reports.

The 6-foot-2 Farmar, a seven-year veteran, averaged 10.1 points and 4.9 assists in 41 games with the Lakers last season, shooting 43.8 percent from beyond the 3-point line.

With the Clippers, he primarily will back up Chris Paul, replacing Darren Collison, who agreed to a reported three-year, $16 million deal with the Sacramento Kings over the weekend. Farmar and Collison were teammates on UCLA’s 2006 Final Four team.

Losing Collison is not the only problem the Clippers are facing

Darren Collison's move to the Kings is just the beginning of the Clips' challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE via Getty Images)

Darren Collison’s move is just the beginning of the Clips’ new challenges. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

At least it is basketball adversity now instead of You Know Who turbulence. But it’s still the Clippers in what could become an increasingly difficult time, wanting to take the next step after reaching the Western Conference semifinals last season but seeing offseason challenges all around them.

Thursday, backup point guard Darren Collison jumped to the Kings for a three-year deal worth a reported $16 million and, he told Dan Woike of the Orange County Register, because “Sacramento is giving me the keys to help this team and try to turn it around.” The Kings gave him a clear path to the starting job, in other words, an important consideration for Collison while understanding he would always be behind Chris Paul in Los Angeles, not to mention a development Isaiah Thomas will obviously keep in mind as a restricted free agent who just saw his job in Northern California given away again.

If it was Collison alone, the Clippers could take a deep breath and move ahead with the conviction that they simply were not going to spend more than $5 million a season for a reserve behind the best point guard in the world. As much as Collison helped a 57-win team, they could grab another free agent for less with master recruiter Doc Rivers. The Clips will wish him well on the payday and the opportunity they could not match.

But if this turns out to be one of several hits, obviously depending on the outcome at backup point guard, the Clippers will have a lot more to prove than whether they can get beyond the second round.

These are also the days of Pau Gasol considering Oklahoma City and San Antonio as free-agent destinations, even though it would mean a bigger pay cut than he was already facing. The defending champs getting Gasol on the cheap or the Thunder landing Gasol at a bargain rate — that’s a problem for the rest of the league in general and in particular anyone trying to come up on them in the crowded West. The Clippers, and the Rockets and the Trail Blazers and the Warriors, need Gasol to chase the money more than the ring.

Plus, the Clippers continue to search for help at small forward. They drafted Reggie Bullock in the first round in 2013, but he wasn’t ready and, based on the phone calls being fired off to free agents, still isn’t. They signed Danny Granger and Hedo Turkoglu for the stretch drive last season, but that was a patch job with little chance to last into 2014-15.

So they’re still looking. Maybe Paul Pierce, Rivers’ guy with the championship Celtics, maybe others through free agency or trade, but small forward is essentially unmanned, to where Collison knew that opening was impacting his own place with the team.

“I was a priority for them to sign, but I wasn’t the top priority,” Collison said told the Register. “And that’s understandable.”

A few days into free agency and the Clippers are confronted with several issues, trying to solve their own issues on the wing and now at backup point guard while taking a seat in the front row of the watch party on Gasol’s decision. They still have time and money, but if the offseason goes bad, they will also have a lot of doubts to answer as camp opens. That’s understandable too.

24-Second thoughts — May 13

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: Bradley Beal and the Wizards stayed alive

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Quick Change is my favorite halftime act at NBA games.

Has been for years.

And they will be until something or someone comes along to dethrone them …

They are also our honorary moniker for tonight’s action, because things do indeed change quickly in the conference semifinals. Just ask Roy Hibbert.

Game 5s for both the Pacers and Wizards and later on the Thunder and Clippers will show us exactly how all four teams react to the quick change that has come in their respective series.

Things changed so quickly in both the last time we saw them all on the floor, with both the Clippers and Pacers rallying back from huge deficits to win Game 4s on Sunday.

This very easily could have a been a night for closeouts. The Pacers have that chance, up 3-1 and playing on their home floor. The Thunder, of course, are deadlocked at 2-2 after the Clippers’ miraculous Game 4 comeback.

So while it’s win-or-go-home night in Indy for John Wall and his Wizards …

The Clippers and Thunder are guaranteed to go at it again, no matter what happens tonight.

Get your popcorn ready …

24 – Unbelievably sloppy start for the Pacers and especially the Wizards (seven turnovers in the first quarter), and yet they still lead after the first. It helps when your big man, Marcin Gortat, is working harder than anyone else on the floor during that span (11 points, six rebounds, one steal, one block and 12 hustle plays).

23 – Wait a minute, Luis Scola time! A 10-0 Indiana run gives the home team 27-25 lead …

22 – The Wizards are not playing like a team in the midst of their defining moment. So careless with the rock. Playing like it’s a preseason game …

21 – Hey, guess who’s on his way bizzzack to the bench (and more)?

#CantWait

20 – Wizards outworking the Pacers big time in the second quarter and pushed their lead to 10 (45-35). Hard to figure these Pacers out. No killer instinct on close-out night is a strange sign. Wizards fighting for their playoff lives, however, is what you love to see …

19 – Gortat and Co. destroying the Pacers on the glass!

18 – QUICK CHANGE!!!!!!!!!!!!

17 – BBQ Pierogi Alert … it’s a dumpling Shaq, not a sausage. Underdog, put that on a T-shirt!

16 – It’s a make or miss league and right now, John Wall is making ‘em. Seventeen and counting for the Wizards’ All-Star PG …

Meanwhile, the Pacers are doing it again …

Or better yet, Gortat is doing it to them …

15 – Freud couldn’t figure these Pacers out …

14 – Marcin The Machine!

13 – Welp!


VIDEO: Magic Johnson responds to Donald Sterling with Anderson Cooper

12 – Looks like the winner of the Early Game 4 Hangover Sweepstakes goes to …

11 – Stan Van Gundy coaching the Pistons makes plenty of sense. His front-office credentials, however …

10 – No hometown love for Blake Griffin, not five games into this series …

9 – Thunder rolling right now, with CP3 out of the mix with the two fouls …

8 – But BG stayed hot and J.J. Redick kept the Clippers in front at the half. Impressive stuff from the road warriors in this series once again …

7 – Amen!

6 – Officials in this night-cap are taking a bigger beating in the social media universe than even the Pacers …

5 – @JCrossover  is the master of the and-1

4 – KD needs to go ahead and join that kid’s framily, anything to escape this shooting nightmare tonight  …

3 – Oof!

2 – Huge box out and rebound of a BG miss on the second of two free throws leads to a CP3 dagger with 49.2 seconds left. Clippers hanging on to a 104-97 lead. Serge Ibaka failed to box Big Baby out properly. Crucial mistake in a game filled with them for the home team … if only KD and Russ weren’t there to rescue your bacon in the final minute. #giventhawaygame4takethawaygame5

1 – Good luck trying to make sense of this finish … CRAZY!


VIDEO: The wild Game 5 finish sees the Thunder serve up revenge for Game 4

Durant says Thunder have got to move it

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Thunder blow a 16-point fourth quarter lead in L.A. Sunday

HANGTIME SOUTHWEST – Twenty-four hours later and 1,300 miles from the scene of the crime, Kevin Durant was still trying to dispel the notion that little-bitty Chris Paul successfully mugged the MVP in the fourth quarter of the Los Angeles Clippers’ incredible comeback victory in Sunday’s series-evening Game 4.

“Everybody keeps saying Chris Paul guarding me. It wasn’t just Paul,” Durant told reporters following the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Monday practice back at their training facility. “He’s physical, he’s smaller than me, of course it was  harder when little guys get up under you. But they’re not just going to let Chris Paul play me one-on-one. That’s a team game. Basically they got three guys watching me, got a guy behind me so when I caught it they double-teamed as soon as I caught it, and when they didn’t double-team, I scored.

“So people always got something to say about the one-on-one matchups, which never happens in this league, especially with me. I got to figure out ways to cut harder and make harder movements because if they’re going to put two guys on me than my teammates are going to be open.”

Durant said the solution to the Thunder’s troubles after leading 82-66 with nine minutes left in a game they appeared to have under control — and would have given them a commanding 3-1 lead in this West semifinals series heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 (9:30 p.m. ET, TNT) — is simple.

They’ve got to move.

“We can’t just sit there and just try to force it to me because that’s what they want me to do,” Durant said. “They want those guys to front and get up under me. By the time we sit there and just force-feed it down, time is running off, so by the time I passed out of it, there’s two or three seconds left on the shot clock. I’ve got to move around a little bit more and not try to demand the ball when there’s basically two [defenders] going to guard me, so got to make their defense move.”

Durant said spacing the floor and putting the Clippers’ smallish backcourt of 6-foot point guards Paul and Darren Collison in pick-and-roll coverage should work to their advantage. He said when the ball was forced into him and teammates stood around and watched, L.A.’s small guards were like gnats swarming his long arms and preventing from him passing out.

Like Durant said, when he didn’t have the little-man trap nipping at him he still managed to score 10 of his game-high 40 points in the fourth quarter. Only the double-teams came often and he had no assists while playing the entire fourth quarter. He had just one more field goal (four) on five attempts than turnovers (three).

“Mostly [Sunday] every time I passed the ball there was a guy on my arm,” Durant said. “I’m 6-9. There’s no way two 6-footers are going to get the ball, so you do the math. … “I have to do a better job catching the balls and passing out of double-teams better and being stronger with the ball.”

The math in this series now shows two games apiece. The Thunder were nine minutes away from playing to close out the series on their home floor. They say they’ve thrown out Game 4 and are ready to move on. They’re confident they’ll continue to score at the high rate they have against the Clippers — 111.8 points per 100 possessions — and that they won’t get tripped up again by a lineup and defensive tactic that even Clippers coach Doc Rivers described as “desperate.”

“I do understand this, Kevin has seen every type of defense,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “They’re not going to guard Kevin with a small and keep a small on him, they’re going to guard him with multiple guys and that’s what they did. We have to do a better job of being able to react to those double teams and be able to capitalize on their decision to double team Kevin or Russell [Westbrook] 17, 18 feet out.”

Or as Durant put it: “We’ve got to move it.”

24-Second thoughts — May 11

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The final frantic seconds of the Clippers’ epic Game 4 comeback win over the Thunder

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Greatest playoff comeback ever?

Ah, we’ll argue about it later. (And for the record, there is a huge difference between the “biggest” and “greatest” anything, so keep that in mind. More on this later …)

Greatest comeback in the Los Angeles Clippers’ franchise history?

No diggity, no doubt!

Down 16 in the fourth quarter, the Clippers unleashed the Mother’s Day comeback of the century. After watching them take punch after punch from the Thunder with their season on the line I offered up a simple question via Twitter …

The rest, as they say in Hollywood, is history!

24 – Oh, Metta. You’re going to miss an epic finish fella!

And give them a few minutes, Sir!

23 – No way the Thunder let up. No way. Not when they were crushing the Clippers for so long …

22 – Darren Collison has officially morphed into #newschool Vinnie Johnson and taken over the game on possession after possession. Competitive fire is coming out of his ears as he stages a one-on-one game within the game with his former UCLA teammates Russell Westbrook

21 – Clips back in this for one reason and really one reason only, D-E-F-E-N-S-E-! Doc Rivers switches Chris Paul on the MVP Kevin Durant (with plenty of double-team help) and it actually works …

20 – I believe this about any team, in any sport, at any level …

19 – Now, about this comeback from 22 points down in the game. It was the Clippers’ fourth-largest comeback in the past five seasons, per Elias. So no, it wasn’t a franchise record. They came back from 27 down in the 2012 playoffs to beat the Memphis Grizzlies, 24 down that same postseason to defeat the San Antonio Spurs and from a 23-point hole in the 2011 playoffs to beat the Portland Trail Blazers.

18 – Fine choice of words Mr. Green!


VIDEO: Darren Collison can go ahead and say it, “Im’ the man, I’m the man, I’m the man”

17 – “Madness, I say. Madness!”

… Haha!

16 – Fitting image for an epic finish!

15 – Some folks, CJ Paul, had much better seats than others for the epic comeback …

14 – Doug Collins nailed the one issue that many of us have with the two-faced nature of the KD-Russ dynamic and how it impacts the Thunder, negatively, sometimes (and particularly at critical times) …

13 – Interesting, might be Steve Kerr to the Knicks after all …


VIDEO: CP3 and Lil’ Chris at the podium

12 – No pressure or anything Pacers and Wizards. No big deal. You’re just following one of the best games of the entire #NBAPlayOffs.

No pressure …

11 – Don’t we have to be concerned about the big fella no matter what?

10 – Is anyone ready to forgive yet?

And a quick piece of wisdom from the Basketball Whisperer

9 – My main man #BigThirst Al Harrington with an appearance tonight for the Wizards. one of my favorite cats of all time. Good to see him out there …

… #MOTHER’SDAYSHOUTOUTS

8 – What he said …

7 – Wizards running circles around the Pacers at halftime and they’re the team with all the “old heads” … and that Wall fella!

6 – We’ve been burned once today with a hot start. It would be foolish to assume this one is over, but the Asch Man makes it hard to think this one is heading anywhere but over …

5 – Jeff Teague is not a man of many words. But the Hawks’ point guard is usually spot on with his observations …

More Sterling drama (sorry, but unfortunately it’s news) overshadowing the work of the Clippers on the floor. NBA response to Shelly Sterling‘s desire to retain her ownership stake of the Los Angeles Clippers:

In response to statements made by Shelly Sterling, wife of Donald Sterling, NBA spokesman Mike Bass stated:  
 
“Under the NBA Constitution, if a controlling owner’s interest is terminated by a 3/4 vote, all other team owners’ interests are automatically terminated as well.  It doesn’t matter whether the owners are related as is the case here.  These are the rules to which all NBA owners agreed to as a condition of owning their team.”

4 – Drew Gooden, Harrington and Andre Miller are ballin’ again … let that sink in for a second. They are the old man superhero brigade in D.C. It’s as crazy as it is entertaining watching the “Old” Wizards go to work …

Meanwhile, the Pacers come all the way back and tie the game up and then promptly get outscored 6-0 … and trail by six again 80-74 with 8:36 to play. #SMH #realpacerspleasestandup

https://twitter.com/JCameratoNBA/status/465672561884692481

3 – Win or lose, Wiz Bench and Paul George are exempt from the blame game tonight. Couldn’t have asked for from any of them …

2 – Dancin’ Roy Hibbert with a huge turnaround jumper for a 94-91 Pacers lead in the final 90 seconds. (Yeah, he traveled but it wasn’t called. What can you do?) If this holds, Hibbert will go from the scapegoat to hero in just days. Such is the roller coaster of life in the #NBAPlayoffs …

1 – Emotional crusher for the Wizards. Down 3-1 after losing the 19-point third quarter lead and dropping Game 4 to the Pacers with the late-game stumbles. Maybe they weren’t as ready for prime time as it seemed after Game 1?


VIDEO: Paul George was the man on the spot all night for the Pacers, who are suddenly in control again in this series

Westbrook’s Game 2 one for the books

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Westbrook steps up in Game 2 as Thunder even series

OKLAHOMA CITY – It took Memphis coach Dave Joerger seven games to finally shake his head and throw up his arms.

“I have no idea why he takes the flack that he takes,” Joerger said. “This man can play.”

This man is Russell Westbrook. Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers needed just two games and a third playoff triple-double from the Oklahoma City Thunder point guard to say the same.

“He gets criticized a lot, but I don’t know why,” Rivers said. “The dude plays hard.”

Still, the dude gets piled on, so much so that Kevin Durant felt compelled to address it in his MVP acceptance speech: “A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player…”

Criticism revolves around a Westbrook tendency to go off on volume-shooting binges. The theory goes his poor judgment steals shots from Durant, the more natural scorer who should always finish with more attempts.

Lost in this simplified dissection is that Durant is a four-time scoring champ, and now the MVP in six seasons playing alongside Westbrook. Together they’ve made two Western Conference finals and one NBA Finals. Had Westbrook, 25, not torn the meniscus in his right knee in last year’s postseason, well, who knows?

Westbrook’s full-throttle, yet totally in-control Game 2 performance for a third triple-double in five games thrust him into elite company. Only four other players have produced three or more triple-doubles (but no more than four) in a single postseason going back to 1985: Magic Johnson had four in 1991 and three in each 1986 and 1987; Larry Bird had three in 1986; Rajon Rondo recorded four in 2012 and three in 2009; Jason Kidd had four in 2002; and LeBron James had three last season.

Just a reminder: The Thunder and Clippers are only headed into Game 3 of the second round (Friday, 10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

Westbrook’s Game 2 mega-performance of 31 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals is a four-category combination so rare in the postseason that only three other players have managed it: Charles Barkley (32 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists, three steals) in 1993; Gary Payton in 2000 (35 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, six steals); and James in 2013 (32 points, 10 rebounds, 11 assists, three steals).

Going 13-for-22 from the floor (59.1 percent) made Westbrook the first point guard in NBA playoff history to post at least 30 points on 59-percent shooting while also accumulating double-digit rebounds and assists. He’s the first player to do it since Barkley in 1993, and he became only the sixth player since 1985 to accomplish such a stat line, also joining Ralph Sampson (1986), James Worthy (1988), Michael Jordan (1989) and James (2010).

The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Westbrook scored his Game 2 points in a variety of ways — pull-up jumpers, post-ups against his smaller counterparts Chris Paul and especially Darren Collison, full-speed penetrations, plus two 3-pointers on four attempts.

“Just taking what the defense gives me,” Westbrook said afterward.

Hard to criticize that.

OKC’s MVP rains, Westbrook rumbles

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant put on a show in Game 2

OKLAHOMA CITY – Ninety minutes before tipoff, a severe storm warning was issued. A minute or so before halftime, the lights at Chesapeake Energy Arena suddenly dimmed. Lightning, said the reports, struck a transformer.

Forget that. As the Los Angeles Clippers can attest, it was pure Thunder.

“They did exactly what Scotty Brooks said they were going to do,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said after being beaten 112-101, in Wednesday’s series-evening Game 2. “He said they were going to make us feel them, and I thought they did that.”

Chris Paul and company got a double-barrel dose of MVP Kevin Durant and his right-hand man, Russell Westbrook, a man who many still believe the Thunder would be better off without. Six years together and the notion will not be buried. Perhaps, but not likely, one of the most impressive one-two performances in playoff history will do it: In Game 2, Durant and Westbrook ended up one Durant assist shy from becoming the first tandem to record a triple-double in the same game.

On the night he was presented his MVP trophy in front a roaring crowd of 18,203, a group that included his mom and agent Jay-Z, Durant finished with a game-high 32 points on 10-for-22 shooting, a game-high 12 rebounds and nine assists.

Westbrook combined all of his mesmerizing athletic ability into a storm of hyper-activity, bouncing up for mid-range jumpers, diving on the floor, fearlessly leaping at the rim on drives and relentlessly lunging  for offensive rebounds. He closed out the night with a bit of a gift assist from the official scorekeeper, allowing for a third triple-double of the playoffs: 31 points on 13-for-22 shooting, 10 assists and 10 rebounds — six offensive. He had three steals, too.

Some 30 hours earlier, Durant had moved this entire city to tears with a heartfelt MVP speech. He tearfully singled out every one of his teammates, all of whom joined him on the stage, and purposefully saved praise for his point guard for last:

“A lot of people put unfair criticism on you as a player, and I’m the first to have your back through it all,”  Durant told Westbrook. “Everybody loves you here. I love you.”

“I love him like a brother,” Westbrook said after the big win. “We’ve been together since I’ve been here. He’s taught me so much as a player and also things off the floor. I’m really grateful for what he said.”

The emotional, high-strung Westbrook will never be the more naturally affable Durant. But there’s a pretty strong record building that Durant might not have been holding up that MVP trophy Wednesday night without his complex yet uniquely talented sidekick. The two 25-year-olds, seeking a second trip to the NBA Finals in three years, keep tuning out the noise to make more of their own.

“We set the bar high for ourselves, we have a high standard we try to reach,” Durant said. “We both work extremely hard. One thing about Russ, he commands so much out of everybody and he brings the level of the team up, just his intensity, just his effort. It is fun to play with a guy like that who loves the game so much, who wants to win so much. It’s just a great chemistry we have and it’s growing every day.”

Paul’s uncanny patience, skill and a career night splashing 3s dominated Game 1. In Game 2, he got hit with early foul trouble, allowing Westbrook to take advantage of the smaller Darren Collison.

Even when Paul was on the floor, Westbrook’s relentlessness at both ends shaped the direction of the game. He took only four 3-point shots — made two — a clear sign that he wasn’t rushing shots early in the clock or pounding the rock and foregoing open teammates.

The Thunder’s ball movement was on point, with Westbrook sneaking passes into Serge Ibaka and setting up Kendrick Perkins (a rare explosion of eight points and nine rebounds) against the Clippers’ foul-maligned center, DeAndre Jordan. Westbrook penetrated and kicked to Thabo Sefolosha for open 3s. Sefolosha finally started to knock those down just as he picked up a lagging defensive effort early on, and was key to the Thunder’s 33-point third quarter, turning a five-point halftime advantage into a a commanding 94-77 lead.

When Westbrook gets his teammates involved, the pressure forced upon defenses can be overwhelming.  When he has the volume cranked and Durant has space to do his thing, it’s lights out more often than not.

Sometimes it’s hard to guess  if a 10-for-31 or a 10-for-16 Westbrook will show up. Those are his shooting numbers from his first two triple-doubles in these first nine playoff games. Wednesday was another efficient and lethal endeavor. It’s also well worth noting that he logged 41 minutes, his fourth 40-plus-minute game of the postseason, making everybody forget about a right knee that was operated on three times from last April through December.

“I know I’m going to get a competitive Russ, and that’s what I look for every game,” Brooks said. “He’s going to give you everything he has. He’s not going to make every shot, but he’s going to compete, and after the game you know that you’ve played against Russell. And I respect that.”


VIDEO: Westbrook’s triple-double in Game 2

CP3 bounces back with 31 to drop Mavs

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Chris Paul’s big night lifts Clips over Mavs

DALLAS – For years, Mavericks fans dreamed of Chris Paul playing for their team. These days, the Los Angeles Clippers All-Star point guard only gives them nightmares.

Remember his 0-for-12 line in Wednesday’s loss at his former stomping ground in New Orleans? Paul sure did. He headed to the American Airlines Center early Thursday with teammates Reggie Bullock and Willie Green to get some shots up. The result: a game-high 31 points on 9-for-18 shooting overall, 4-for-8 from beyond the arc and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line. He added nine assists in the Clippers’ 109-103 come-from-behind victory that pushed Dallas out of the playoff picture, at least temporarily.

Afterward Paul said what no Dallas fan wants to hear.

“I’ve always loved playing here in Dallas to tell you the truth,” he said. “I saw a couple [shots] go through early and had a nice rhythm.”

Paul had nine points, including two big free throws to seal it with 12.6 seconds left, in the fourth quarter. For the third time this season, the Clippers squashed the Mavs with massive late-game momentum swings. After his field-goal-less Wednesday, Paul buried his first two shots of the game, including swishing a 3-pointer.

“Yeah, you knew,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “Well, I didn’t really know it, but once he made that first 3, we were good, and that was good. It was good to see him — he didn’t hesitate at all. He was looking for his shot and running the team at the same time, and that’s what we want him to do every night.”

Paul was not solely motivated by Wednesday’s rare stinker, but by the intense pain he could practically feel all over again in his right shoulder. The last time he played in Dallas on Jan. 3, he crashed to the floor and separated the shoulder. He’d miss the next six weeks. He said he’s still not all the back. The injury, he said, has messed with his shooting mechanics, still aches, has weakened his back beneath his shoulder blade and makes it difficult to sleep without discomfort.

It didn’t keep him from being ornery. In the third quarter, he shoved Shawn Marion and started a skirmish that netted him, Matt Barnes and Marion technical fouls.

In that Jan. 3 game, Paul had 19 points on 5-for-8 shooting and six assists before the injury occurred midway through the third quarter. The Clippers led 77-75 at the time. They won that one with a late surge with, to rub salt in the wound, a 20-point performance from Paul’s backup Darren Collison, who last season had a less-than-memorable one-and-done stint with Dallas.

Less than two weeks later, with Paul in a suit unable to play, Dallas blew a 17-point lead in the final 4:30.

Paul’s bounce-back game sets up a critical matchup Saturday night at Houston. At stake is the No. 3 seed. L.A. currently holds it down. Both teams have 22 losses. The Clippers won for the 51st time and the Rockets got their 49th win Thursday.

“It was big for us,” Paul said of getting the win. “This would have been a tough loss, especially after last night. Going into Houston is a big game, but it feels good to get a win on this trip.”