Posts Tagged ‘DeAndre Jordan’

Summer Dreaming: D Player of the Year

Oklahoma City's Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

Oklahoma City’s Serge Ibaka led the NBA in total blocks in 2013-14. (Richard Rowe/NBAE)

There are so many different ways to fully embrace the dog days of summer. One is to fire up the grill and start cooking. Another is to keep that blender full of ice.

Here, we’re talking basketball. The season openers are still more than two months away, but it’s never too early to look ahead. So here are my Summer Dreaming choices for 2014-15 Defensive Player of the Year.

Send me your picks.

Serge Ibaka, Thunder — If you don’t think he’s a game-changer, then you weren’t paying attention last spring when the Serge Protector missed the first two games of the Western Conference finals and the Spurs were able to run a virtual lay-up line through the heart of the OKC defense. When Ibaka returned from a calf injury, all of a sudden it wasn’t so easy for Tony Parker and his friends to get to the basket and the series was quickly tied up 2-2. Ibaka protects the rim, contests jumpers and puts the bite into the Thunder. He’s continuing to blossom as an offensive force, but it’s his defense that is the glue of the Thunder. He led the league in total blocks for the fourth straight time last season and has been voted to the All-Defensive first team three years in a row. It’s finally his turn to get the big hardware.

Anthony Davis, Pelicans — Was it really fair to bring him into the league carrying comparisons to the legendary Bill Russell? Well, maybe if you watch the highlight video from last season. With coach Monty Williams taking the shackles off his playing time, A.D. showed many of the skills that made him the No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft. For all that he was able to do with the ball around the basket, it was the defensive plays that dropped your jaw to the floor. He guarded the paint. He cut off baseline drives. Davis seemed to swoop in from out of nowhere to reject even 3-point attempts from the corner. No place on the court was safe from the ballhawking shot-blocker. Now with rim-protecting center Omer Asik at his back, Davis might really cut loose challenging shots. That’s just scary.

Dwight Howard, Rockets – He practically owned this award, winning it three straight times from 2009-2011 in Orlando, but that was before everything went south with the Magic and he had to overcome back problems and questions about commitment to the game. Howard arrived for his first season in Houston fit and ready to re-establish himself. By the end of 2013-14 there were no more questions about his health and desire to get back to the old form. Howard’s 2.83 blocks per game led the league as he returned to being a stopper anyplace around the basket. He’s got 10 years of NBA experience but is still just 28. There’s no reason that the Rockets can’t count on him to be the defensive anchor in their push to be true contenders in the Western Conference.

Joakim Noah, Bulls — Defense can’t always be measured by numbers and quantified with stats. As the 2013-14 Defensive Player of the Year, Noah blocked just 1.4 shots per game. But he had a nose to go after every shot at the rim, was firm in guarding the pick-and-roll and with his sheer energy and physical force was as disruptive as a twister to any opposing offense. He’s hungry, he’s relentless, he’s challenging the ball anywhere on the court, he’s the epitome of the attitude that coach Tom Thibodeau wants and is at the heart of the Bulls defense that ranked No. 2 in the league last season. You can’t ever ignore Noah. He simply won’t let you.

DeAndre Jordan, Clippers – The Clippers’ big man got special attention from the boss in coach Doc Rivers’ first season in L.A. and it paid off tremendously. Rivers expected more from Jordan, demanded more … and usually got it. Jordan’s sixth NBA season produced dramatic improvement as he accepted responsibility to be a core performer. He finished second in the NBA in blocked shots per game (2.54) and third in rebounding (12.5). One of the main reasons that point guard Chris Paul can spend so much time jumping passing lanes looking for steals and the Clippers can be so aggressive on the perimeter is because they know they’ve got Jordan watching their backs with those long, lethal arms.

Clips rejoice as Hurricane Steve blows in

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Steve Ballmer get the Clippers’ crowd fired up at the team’s pep rally

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Los Angeles Clippers won’t be changing their name. But if they were, Hurricanes would be appropriate.

L.A. is known for earthquakes, not howling tropical storms. But the latter is exactly what comes to mind after the franchise’s new owner blew into the city Monday afternoon.

Hurricane Steve.

Clippers players on stage at Staples Center on Monday couldn’t help but smile wide and long as they welcomed new owner Steve Ballmer. Some covered their mouths as they chuckled under their breath. Others cocked their heads in wonderment as this big, bouncing, balding billionaire bellowed into the microphone during a rally attended by nearly 5,000 fans.

The fans were issued T-shirts that read, simply: “It’s A New Day.”

Hurricane Steve barreled out of an arena tunnel like a bull unleashed in the streets of Pamplona. Eminem’s raucous “Lose Yourself” blared as he fervently clapped his hands, slapped high-fives with fans and double-pumped his fists as if he’d just been called to come on down as the next contestant on the “Price is Right.”

“When he came through the crowd, I literally had goose bumps,” said Clippers All-Star forward Blake Griffin, who was joined by coach Doc Rivers and teammates Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Matt Barnes and others on stage. “I don’t know if there’s one good word to describe him. I know all our guys are excited about the energy he brings. It’s completely different.”

Ballmer’s price to acquire the team from banned-for-life former owner Donald Sterling was huge, a record $2 billion. This for a franchise that for most of Sterling’s 33 years of ownership was labeled as the worst-run organization in all of sports.

But that started to change over the last few years. Sterling paid Griffin. He paid Paul. He paid to get Rivers from Boston to ensure keeping Paul. Before that he paid $50 million to build a state-of-the-art training facility in L.A.’s upscale Playa Vista neighborhood. There were other signs of fiscal change, too, that raised curiosity within the organization.

Former Clippers center Chris Kaman was drafted sixth overall by L.A. in 2003 , playing there for eight seasons before being traded to New Orleans in the deal that gifted Paul to the Clippers in December 2011, following the lockout. In a 2012 interview, a year after the trade, Kaman reflected on how far the franchise had come:  “The worst possible franchise in NBA and all sports history … to one of the top ones.”

He then quipped that such a transformation could really go the distance, “if Sterling sold the team.”

Well … hey.

Ironically, after decades of stinginess, the surfacing of Sterling’s better judgment in running the team has set up the giddy Ballmer with the most talented, most championship-ready roster in the franchise’s history in L.A. Paul and Griffin are locked in for the next four years. Rivers isn’t going anywhere. Ballmer, the former Microsoft CEO from Seattle, promised Clippers fans the team isn’t going anywhere either. He said he loves Seattle, but he loves L.A., too, and he won’t move the team “for a hundred reasons.”

He said at least a hundred more things that drew applause as his booming voice grew hoarse.

It is a new day in Clipperland. A much different day.

Hurricane Steve will take it from here.

CP3 boycott talk is doomsday scenario


VIDEO: What happens to the Clippers if they have to play without Chris Paul next season?

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — If the Donald Sterling affair didn’t have your undivided attention before, it should now.   

The Los Angeles Clippers’ ownership drama has taken a sinister turn. Clippers superstar and Players Association President Chris Paul is throwing out the possibility of a boycott if Sterling remains owner of the team.

The mere mention, in a probate court hearing, of Clippers president and coach Doc Rivers wanting to go elsewhere if Sterling stays was bad enough. But Paul leading a boycott of his team is a doomsday scenario no one wants to see. If Paul, All-Star Blake Griffin and the rest of the Clippers refuse to take the court when training camp begins, this situation takes on an entirely new dynamic.

Paul and Rivers have discussed what might happen if Sterling remains in control of the team that former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has agreed to purchase for $2 billion. Jeff Goodman of ESPN.com caught up with Paul Thursday after he finished up coaching his AAU team in Las Vegas:

“That’s something me and Doc are both talking about,” Paul said Thursday after coaching his AAU program, CP3. “Something has to happen, and something needs to happen soon — sooner rather than later.”

Interim Clippers CEO Dick Parsons testified earlier in the week in state court that Rivers told him on multiple occasions that he doesn’t think he wants to continue coaching the team if Sterling remains in control of the franchise.

“We’re all going to talk about it,” Paul said. “We’re all definitely going to talk about it. Doc, Blake [Griffin], DJ[DeAndre Jordan]. It’s unacceptable.”

“Unacceptable” is the most appropriate term for the ongoing hijacking of the Clippers’ championship window. They didn’t deserve to have their 2013-14 season irreparably damaged in April when Donald Sterling first was caught on tape making racist and derogatory comments, remarks that led NBA Commissioner Adam Silver to ban him from the league for life.

Paul’s dual role as leader of the Clippers and the players’ association requires him to take a dramatic stand if  Sterling is in control of the team when training camps start in early October. Solidarity is a must. A potential boycott may be the only leverage available to players to voice their disappointment in a matter that is going to be decided in the courtroom,  not on the court.

The Clippers considered a boycott when the news of Sterling’s comment broke during the first round of the playoffs in April, but decided to play instead and stage a formal protest by not wearing the Clippers name across their chests during warm ups before Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors.

“It was a real consideration,” Jamal Crawford told us on the Hang Time Podcast after the Clippers’ season ended. “We were all ready to stand strong and do whatever had to be done.”

Rivers is the one who convinced Crawford and the rest of the Clippers to play on. Now, this talk about Rivers bolting and the players boycotting if Sterling remains illustrates the seismic shift in the mood around the organization as the court proceedings continue. Parsons, appointed by the NBA to be the interim CEO of the Clippers, testified in court that the franchise could fall into a “death spiral” if Clippers fans, sponsors, players and coaches flee the scene should Donald Sterling remain the owner.

The closing arguments in the current legal fight — determining whether Sterling’s wife, Shelly Sterling, was within her rights to sell the franchise to Ballmer for that record $2 billion — come Monday in probate court. That’s when we’ll find out if the agreed-upon sale to Ballmer will proceed or all involved will be plunged into even deeper legal waters. (And even if the sale is allowed, there’s a good chance that Donald Sterling will appeal the ruling.)

Deadlines for the sale to be finalized have shifted with each and every legal turn. The initial date was July 15, before the extension to Aug. 15. The NBA will resume termination proceedings if the sale is not closed by Sept. 15. That could provide Paul and his teammates just weeks to decide what they’re going to do before training camp begins.

Based on what he said in Vegas, Paul is still formulating a plan. But it seems as if he and the rest of the Clippers are ready to dig in for a long, hard fight.

L.A.’s roller coaster came to weary end

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Doc Rivers speaks after the Clippers’ Game 6 and series loss

LOS ANGELES — Through all the ugly, unwanted daily questions that started with the name Donald, Clippers coach Doc Rivers maintained a sense of humor to the end.

In the postgame news conference moments after his team succumbed for the last time to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 6 of the Western Conference semifinal series, Rivers was informed of the latest, jaw-clenching news of the day that broke shortly before tip-off: Banned-for-life Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling asserted he will not pay the $2.5 million fine levied last month by NBA commissioner Adam Silver and vowed to fight the league’s intention to force him to sell the team.

Seated at the dais in front of a microphone, Rivers threw up his hands: “I’m not paying my $25,000 fine either,” he deadpanned.

Rivers was fined by the league Thursday morning for his criticism of the referees following the controversial call at the end of Game 5, a game L.A had in its back pocket before a calamity of errors allowed a seven-point lead to evaporate in the final 49 seconds.

The standing room-only crowd of reporters burst into laughter. Rivers, his suit coat long gone and his tie and top button of his white dress shirt loosened, flashed a fatigued smile just as his players in the adjoining room slumped at their lockers in painful silence.

Sterling had not been permitted inside the Staples Center since the first round. But his specter never left the building.

“The locker room was not very good after the game, in a very sad way,” Rivers said. “Just watching our guys, it just felt like all of this stuff that they’ve gone through, they kind of released all of their emotions. That was tough. That was tough for me to see as one of their leaders. I wish I could have done more for them.”

Rivers, in his first year with the Clippers following the rare coaching trade that released him from Boston’s rebuilding job, has been hailed as the perfect man for such a uniquely dispiriting turn of events. Throughout the playoffs, Rivers spoke openly and honestly about how he and his players were feeling and thinking without once losing his cool during the daily drudgery of such an unexpected mission.

His blowup after Game 5 might have been less about a call that didn’t go his team’s way than it was a month’s worth of emotion bubbling to the surface.

“I’ve said this before, and I’m not trying to show humility or anything like that,” Rivers said. “I think any coach in this system would have been the right coach, the right man. I just think you had to be. It’s not like we had a choice in it. None of us was chosen for this. None of us signed on for this. But this is what happened. The way I looked at it, it was my job to do everything that I thought was right.”

Soon after the Sterling audio was released, when emotions were at their rawest, Rivers said he didn’t know if he could coach the team next season if Sterling remained as owner. On Thursday night he made it clear that he will be back.

“I have no plans of going anywhere, as far as I know,” Rivers said.

For point guard Chris Paul, another season ended without advancing beyond the second round. His series of costly miscues in the final 17 seconds of Game 5 ate at him intensely. He wasn’t shooting it well in Game 6, but he was doing everything else as the Clippers maintained a lead until the end of the third quarter when an OKC burst tied it, 72-72.

Paul’s jumper with 7:59 to go tied it at 80-80, but the Thunder bolted on a 10-0 run and never looked back. Paul’s 14-point quarter accounted for more than half the Clippers’ points in the period, but it wasn’t enough.

The seven-time All-Star never pointed to the officiating after Game 5, only shoveling blame on his own shoulders. And when it was all over, he didn’t even lay the team’s exhaustive second-round loss at the feet of the disgraced owner, only at his own shortcomings.

Asked in the postgame news conference for his thoughts if Sterling is still owner by the start of next season, Paul shook his head and decided he was better off not answering at such an emotional moment, only to say that Sterling — who Paul and teammate Blake Griffin addressed only as “him” — is being paid too much attention.

“He’s the spirit of our team. Right now his spirit is broken,” Rivers said of Paul, who averaged 22.0 ppg, 12.0 ast and shot better than 50 percent. “He’s going to have all summer to work and get ready for next year. But he’ll be back. He’ll be ready.”

Most of the 2013-14 Clippers that won a franchise-best 57 games, will be back. The club has nearly $72 million tied into Paul, Griffin, DeAndre Jordan, J.J. Redick, Matt Barnes, Jared Dudley and Reggie Bullock. Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford is under contract next season for $5.45 million dollars, but the full amount is non-guaranteed.

Even with Paul missing six weeks of the season with a separated right shoulder and Redick limited to less than half the season with multiple injuries, the Clippers earned the No. 3 seed in an ultra-competitive Western Conference.

Rivers predicted the coming summer to be “messy” as the Sterling fight enters the next phase. For now, it appears the Clippers’ coach and players are content to allow that drama to play out on the periphery while they focus in on a brighter day and renewed goals come next October.

“We had a really, really good team, a great team,” Paul said. “Before the game, Doc talked about it. I told somebody at halftime, ‘It’s crazy, you play all season long, and the last few games we really started to figure out who our team was and how to play.’

“And it’s crazy that it’s over.”

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

24-Second thoughts — May 9

By Sekou Smith, NBA.com


VIDEO: The Conference semifinals kicked off with some hardware being handed out and much more

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Five straight nights of this and I’m not sure how anyone who has watched every second of these conference semifinal games is functioning normally.

My sleep schedule is shot and I blame all of these teams for my addiction.

Go ahead, you can blame them, too!

Let’s get it … Friday Night Lights!!!

If you knew three games into this Pacers-Wizards series these guys would be featured on the marquee …

we need to hit the store and play those Mega Millions and Power Ball numbers ASAP!

24 – Thank you Luke Russert!

Plus, where else can you can get Kristen Ledlow of NBA TV and Inside Stuff dunking with Marcin Gortat?

23 – A little point guard tale of the tape for tonight’s second game …

22 – Strange things going on at the Verizon Center and we don’t even have tip-off yet …

It’s not often I agree with a Michigan State Spartan, but Mateen Cleaves is spot on. You have to go with your real horses in the playoffs …

21 – Did the dog check with Kobe first?

20 – We’re going to take a moment to appreciate the contract year grind that is Trevor Ariza‘s performance early on in this game and throughout the playoffs. #going in #hemadeit …


VIDEO: Hey Trey Kerby, way to shave the beard for a good cause!

19 – I’m all for a good c-o-n-spiracy theory, but …

18 – The Pacers just don’t seem to have any consistency on the offensive end. They don’t have a point guard that can break down the defense and create for anyone else. And apparently, they don’t always know their plays anyway …

17 – Good call Smitty!

16 – Don’t worry, there will be plenty of time to talk about “upside” when your team (whichever team you choose) is on the clock at the real Draft next month …

15 – It’s not a typo!

Did we mention how strange things have been all night in D.C.?

14 – It’s like someone unplugged the Wizards. They were playing lights out basketball basically every night out and then they fell flat …

13 – The blowout themes continue in the conference semifinals. Pacers take a 2-1 lead, outscoring the Wizards 51-30 after halftime. Wizards stink up their own building, finishing with a franchise low in points (the previous baseline was 75 points). They managed the fourth fewest points in the playoffs in the shot clock era, folks. How does this happen to a team that played as well as the Wizards have for so long?

12 – Bet these guys combine for more than 67 points by halftime, especially doing stuff like this …

11 — Caron Butler doesn’t deserve your hate, not in Los Angeles or anywhere else …

10 – Rihanna can show up whenever she wants, just as long as she shows up …

9 – Seriously, the Thunder and Clippers could play a best-of-27 and I wouldn’t get tired of watching it. I can’t think of two teams with better individual matchups that keep you on the edge of your seat. This series will more than make up for the relative snoozers going on elsewhere in the conference semifinals. Everybody’s watching  …

8 – Not sure where you come down on the CP3-KD spat from the second quarter. Looked like some choice words were used between great friends but fierce competitors. I like it, no, I love it. I don’t even mind the expletives (little heat-heat-of-the-battle language is harmless).

Easy!

1. Zeke 2. Stockton 3. CP3

7 -- It’s called living up to the hype! These teams are legit. Scary thing is one of them has to go home at the end of this series while the other one is not guaranteed anything but a chance to lock horns with another elite outfit #surviveandadvance #winorgohome #focusonthenow …

6 – This is an absolutely ridiculous showcase of some of the league’s elite superstars showing us what all the fuss is about. The MVP is operating with surgical precision and CP3 is matching him play for play and that Westbrook fella is no joke! It’s mesmerizing to watch …

5 – We’ve got a bleeder!

4 – It’s just a suggestion after all of the whistles being blown here …

3 – Precisely …

– MONSTER WORK FROM SERGE IBAKA AT CRUNCH TIME …

2 — Westbrook and Durant with back-to-back daggers!

1 — Home court snatched right back. #ThunderUp Big time effort from the Thunder to go into LA and come away with what has easily been the best game of the conference semifinal round. Clippers were 35-0 this season (regular and postseason) at home when ahead on the scoreboard heading into the fourth quarter. Caron Butler huge off the bench, the 3-pointers in the fourth were clutch!

Again, BIG TIME win for the Thunder, Ibaka, Westbrook and, of course, the “MVP” …


VIDEO: Durant and Westbrook are a two-man machine that no one can handle right now

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

Warriors search for lineup options

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

VIDEO: Clippers vs. Warriors: Game 4 preview

OAKLAND – The coach had something of a threat.

Mark Jackson, his team down 2-1 and unable to stand up to the Clippers in play or intensity, said Friday he was considering a change to the Warriors lineup for Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, hoping to find big men who will at least match the aggressiveness of Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.

“I could make a change,” Jackson said. “I won’t say whether I will or with who. But it’s possible. We’ve got to figure out a way to present some resistance. I think things are going a little too smoothly right now for Blake.”

The starting power forward had a guarantee.

David Lee, given a quick hook by Jackson in the third quarter of Game 3 for defensive failings as Griffin asserted his will without a Golden State stand, took ownership of the showing and pledged a response in the matinee at Oracle Arena.

” … I know other guys guarded him, but to start the game, I need to set that tone,” Lee said. “I’ll be better on Sunday, I can promise you that. I can promise you he’s played two games in a row, but this series is not over. I’m a guy that’s going to keep battling, that’s for sure.”

The Warriors spent Thursday on adjustments, both strategic and mental, to at least slow Griffin (83 points in 93 minutes) and Jordan (averaging 15 rebounds a game). It’s not quite desperate times calling for desperate measures, but did Hilton Armstrong just come up as a possible solution?

Among the problems: Golden State doesn’t have many options. Injured center Andrew Bogut has yet to return to practice, let alone get close to game action. Lee is saying all the right things, but approach and attitude have never been the problem and he was saying all the right things a week ago before the Griffin avalanche started.

The splashiest adjustment would be a change to the lineup. Maybe Lee out and Draymond Green in. Green, after all, helped spark the comeback that fell short in Game 3. Maybe Jermaine O’Neal to the bench, Lee to center and Green elevated to starter that way. But something.

Something all the way to possibilities that could include Armstrong and/or Marreese Speights and maybe even Ognjen Kuzmic. They have six fouls each to spend, and Jackson needs someone who can so much as break Griffin’s rhythm. So there will be some thought given to reaching deep into the bench at a time when all options must be on the table.

“Some serious thought,” Jackson said. “Especially the fact that some of those guys are better defenders. So there’s some thought to it and we’ll figure it out and look forward to Sunday. There’s some serious thought to it.”

They wouldn’t be expected to stop Griffin, just lean on him a few times, maybe fall down and become a human speed bump. Something. Anything.

“It’s been strange because we’re winning the points in the paint battle and winning the rebounding battle, but it seems like I’m seeing the same you are, that we’re having trouble attacking DeAndre at the rim,” Lee said. “And obviously defensively [from by the Warriors], Blake and DeAndre both had a good Game 3. It’s something that we need to continue just to attack and get to the body.

“Whether we’re getting calls at the rim or not, we need to continue to attack and do a better job, whether it be a guard driving or one of the bigs being aggressive. We just need to continue to attack, attack, attack. I feel like we’re letting DeAndre, especially the last game, be too much of a presence in there and deter too much of what we’re doing. It wouldn’t be as much of an issue if we were making a bunch of jump shots. But I think at this point we need to attack first and go from there.”

Adjust first. Then attack.

Noah turns intensity into DPOY landslide

By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com


VIDEO: Joakim Noah named Defensive Player of the Year

LINCOLNSHIRE, Ill. – If there’s one image this season that captures Joakim Noah officially as the NBA’s top defensive player and arguably as its most passionate and intense, it came in March. That’s when the Chicago Bulls center, switching off screens in a game against Miami at United Center, found himself squared up a couple of times against none other than LeBron James.

Noah, at 6-foot-11, did everything short of licking his chops. He bent low, locked James in a laser gaze and clapped his hands almost in the dangerous Heat star’s face.

There aren’t a lot of men his size who could make that look good. But Noah knows a thing or two about defensive stances when facing opponents big and small. He even teased a little about the one atop the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award, which he received Monday: Too flat-footed, a little unbalanced and obviously giving up some serious height.

Poking fun at the little bronze dude didn’t get in the way at all, though, of Noah’s appreciation of the honor, the first of the five Kia Performance Awards to be presented for NBA achievements in 2013-14.

Noah, 29, shared thoughts and stories with a ballroom of reporters and cameras, expressing gratitude to his family, all in attendance – his father, former tennis pro Yannick Noah; his mother Cecilia Rodhe, Miss Sweden 1978; and his siblings. He talked of the DPOY as a team award, giving shout-outs to his Bulls teammates for the adversity they’ve endured this season.

He dedicated the award to Tyrone Green, his basketball mentor and second-father figure during the years Noah grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. With his parents divorced, it was Green – a widely known figure in youth basketball in New York – who got credit and in time love from Noah for toughening up the gawky teenager of privilege he’d been. Green died unexpectedly last week at age 63, causing Noah to take a brief personal leave from the Bulls on the brink of their first-round series against Washington.

“This award goes to somebody who I’ll never forget, somebody who just passed and meant so much to me,” Noah said, acknowledging it still was hard to talk about his friend. “Somebody who believed in me. Mr. Green, I love you and I appreciate you, and I know you’re smiling down right now, really proud. This award goes to you.”


VIDEO: Joakim Noah thanks his teammates, family and former coaches

Noah also spoke of the bond forged between him and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau, away from the bright lights and the fans’ eyes, in all its nasty after-hours glory.

“I remember one day,” Noah said, “Thibs was putting me through a real brutal workout. I said, ‘If we weren’t winning games, I would really, really hate you.’ He said, ‘Trust me, Jo. I would feel the same way about you.’ “

It’s a symbiotic relationship, though, of the NBA’s most revered defensive coach and his surrogate on the court, now the league’s acclaimed best defender. No wonder Thibodeau was beaming like he needed to be passing out cigars.

“You can’t have a great defense without having great defensive players,” Thibodeau said. “He has a very unique skill set. And he’s a hard guy to measure statistically. But when you look at his athleticism, his intelligence, his ability to communicate and guard every position on the floor, that gives you a lot of weapons. And he helps sell it to the team. To me, that’s huge.”

Noah received 100 first-place votes from the panel of 125 NBA writers and broadcasters who cast ballots and got 555 points of a maximum 625 for any player. Indiana’s Roy Hibbert and the L.A. Clippers’ DeAndre Jordan each got eight first-place votes and finished second (166 points) and third (121), respectively.

Chicago ranked second in the NBA with a defensive rating of 100.5 points allowed per 100 possessions, second in defensive field-goal percentage (43.0) and first in points allowed per game, 91.8. Noah had a league-best defensive rating of 96, according to basketball-reference.com, while averaging 11.3 rebounds, 1.51 blocks and 1.24 steals.

Ironically, Noah earned the defensive award – he’s the first Bulls player to win it since Michael Jordan in 1988 – in a season in which his offensive game blossomed. With Derrick Rose suffering a second season-ending injury in November and leading scorer Luol Deng getting traded in January, the Bulls turned Noah as a “point center.” His passing ability, his court vision, his ball handling and the way he runs the floor reached new levels, and his awkward jump shot – dubbed “The Tornado” for its sideways rotation – has become more reliable by the day.

Still, it is Noah’s work at the other end that gives the Bulls their foundation and earned the DPOY. He protects the rim, sure, but his help defense is so schooled as to become instinctive, and he can switch onto smaller players as well as any big man since Kevin Garnett in his prime.

Some of the attributes Noah flexes defensively come from training he did as a boy alongside his father, the tennis great. “Subconsciously, I think it taught me a work ethic,” Noah said. “My father taught me how to jump rope, and I don’t think a lot of big guys are jumping rope.”

His years in New York with Green made him humble – he was a ball boy at the famous ABCD youth camp in New Jersey, fetching rebounds for James and other more-heralded kids – but set him on his path to the University of Florida and two NCAA titles with the Gators.

That’s where the basketball public caught a glimpse of Noah’s burning, team-first intensity, which still flames up on NBA courts on crucial defensive stops or at the final horn in victories. Distilling the emotions from his performances wouldn’t leave much – they’re vital, Thibodeau said, in the way he moves, in the way he recovers.

“Like the thing he talked about with his dad, he’s got unbelievable feet and great, great stamina,” the Bulls coach said. “So what it leads to is his ability to make multiple efforts. You’ll see three, four, five. There are balls he can get to that, when you’re watching, you’re amazed. He gets hit, he’ll keep going, he’ll dive out of bounds, he’ll save it.

“Those things to me are the best leadership that you can have. When another player sees that kind of effort, that does nothing but unite and inspire your team. That brings energy to your team.”

Being contagious on that end might give Noah his greatest defensive satisfaction.

“You have to really commit, sacrifice,” he said. “I just think about so many plays defensively that some of my teammates made. You might even think about a guy like Mike Dunleavy, he’s not known for his defense. There was a time during the year where he got a big gash on his head, got like 10 stictches, and came back in the third quarter. First play he takes a charge.

“He’ll never be remembered as a defensive player, but that means everything. Somebody who’s ready to sacrifice his body to win.”

Blogtable: Can’t miss this

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the three most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Memories | One to watch | A surprise champ


San Antonio's Tim Duncan has played in 211 playoff games in his illustrious career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

San Antonio’s Tim Duncan has played in 211 playoff games in his illustrious career. (Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

> A quick look forward: Other than KD and LeBron, who’s your can’t-miss performer for these playoffs?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comTony Parker. No more resting, no more worries about point-guard rankings as individuals. None of that. Parker gets to quarterback the San Antonio push through the playoffs, and given his experience and the tools at his disposal, I think he’s going to remind people how valuable he really is.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comBlake Griffin.  He’s taken his game to the next level and forced his way into the MVP conversation.  If he keeps it up in the playoffs, the Clippers are a real threat in the West.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comChris Paul. He’s the rare superstar lacking a championship who doesn’t get hassled for having not won one. Think about that. That’s all we do is ask when so-and-so is going to finally win a title? CP3’s in his ninth season yet seems to stay removed from that discussion. He’s made it out of the first round only twice, in 2008 with New Orleans on a team with Tyson Chandler, David West and Peja Stojakovic that lost to San Antonio in Game 7 of the semis, and then his first season with the Clippers when they were swept by the Spurs. A run to the conference finals looks like it will take getting through Golden State and then Oklahoma City, a mighty task indeed, but it’s time for this superstar to get there.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comHyland DeAndre Jordan Jr., Clippers. Already putting up big rebounding numbers and on a hot streak with blocks, now he may get the gift beginning of a first round with the Warriors down Andrew Bogut and, still, Festus Ezeli. With the pace Golden State and L.A. play at, a 20-rebound game by Jordan is very realistic. And even if the Clippers open against someone else, Jordan will continue his regular-season impact anyway.

John Schuhmann, NBA.comTim Duncan. At some point, this ride has to end, and we should appreciate the best player of his generation as much as we can, while we can. As a whole, the Spurs are brilliant, but it all starts with Duncan’s leadership and play on both ends of the floor. It will also be fascinating to see if they can get back to where they were last year and somehow redeem themselves for Game 6 and, for Duncan, the missed bunny in Game 7.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: There are a number of players I’m expecting to show up and show out in the playoffs, the leading two candidates for MVP, of course, headline the list. But I’ve enjoyed watching Joakim Noah perform as much as I have any single player in the league this season. His playoff breakout came last year, when the Bulls surprised us with that epic effort in that seven-game series against Brooklyn. Noah’s a better player now than he was then and I can see him chasing a triple-double every night in these playoffs. No one brings more raw energy and effort to the party than the Bulls’ big man.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com All Ball Blog: It’s not exactly like he’s overlooked, but one player I traditionally love watching in the postseason is Chris Paul. The game slows down, offenses become more halfcourt-based, and having a floor general like Paul becomes essential. As great as Paul is during the season, he turns up in the postseason and finds another level. It’s the playoffs where Paul takes over games, threatening triple-doubles and commanding games. And that’s must see TV.

Akshay Manwani, NBA India: Blake Griffin. His mid-range game, his post play and his athleticism all make him compulsory viewing material. Also, Griffin — who has been at the receiving end of some really hard fouls right through the regular season — will have his patience tested, perhaps, more severely in the playoffs. It would be interesting to see how he responds in the pressure cooker environment that are the playoffs. Chris Paul is undoubtedly the nerve center of the Clippers, but Griffin has to play big if the Clippers are to have a great run.

Aldo Avinante, NBA Philippines: I think it will be fun to watch Dirk Nowitzki. He has been relatively healthy all-season long, and after the Dallas’ absence last year Dirk knows he only has a couple of playoff runs left in him. He will surely try to make the most out of it. And with that sweet stroke and unstoppable one-foot fadeaway, it will be fun to watch him torment defenders on the big stage again. DeMar DeRozan is another player to watch out for, the athletic swingman could use the playoffs as his spring board to stardom a la Paul George and provide the fans a showcase of his vastly improved skills.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: I don’t know how we should leave Paul George out of the equation. Especially after last year’s games against the Heat. Or Tim Duncan. He had a phenomenal regular season and it’s really interesting to see if he can carry on his second youth during the postseason.