Posts Tagged ‘Erik Spoelstra’

Even Heat feel the heat in San Antonio

LeBron James is just 1-4 in his career in San Antonio (Noah Graham/NBAE)

LeBron James is just 1-4 in his career in Finals games in San Antonio (Noah Graham/NBAE)

SAN ANTONIO — There are nights on the long NBA regular season grind that you circle on the calendar the day the schedule comes out.

Sunbelt climes during a long, cold, snowy winter. Cities with family and friends. Places like Staples Center in Los Angeles and Madison Square Garden in New York, where the spotlight is extra bright and the courtside seats are filled with A list celebrities.

Then there’s San Antonio, where it might be nice to sip a tasty margarita on the Riverwalk. But the hangover from a visit with the Spurs can feel like a mule kick to the head for the Miami Heat, which is why their first trip back to the AT&T Center (Thursday night at 8 ET on TNT) since The Finals last June is more apt to make most of them flinch than celebrate.

While they eventually wrapped up back-to-back championships by beating the Spurs in seven games, Miami won just once in the three games played in San Antonio in The Finals last season. LeBron James is just 1-4 all time in Finals games played in the Alamo City, having been swept by the Spurs when he was in Cleveland in 2007.

“There’s memories, of course,” said James. “We just played them in The Finals and obviously just going, there is always a place of horror. I haven’t had a lot of success there in my career. But it’s always fun going against a very, very well coached, very well-machined organization and team with so many great players. It will be fun.”

Dwyane Wade tries to score against Tim Duncan (left) and Kawhi Leonard last June (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Dwyane Wade tries to score against Tim Duncan (left) and Kawhi Leonard last June (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

This has been another season when the Spurs, led by a 37-year-old Tim Duncan, 36-year-old Manu Ginobili and 31-year-old Tony Parker , were supposed to be too old to contend. Yet in spite of a rash of nagging injuries, San Antonio is 44-16, just 1 1/2 games behind the Thunder for the best record in the Western Conference.

“I never buy into that,” James said. “I always been asked about that. I never bought into that. I never bought into the Celtic team with Ray [Allen] and KG [Kevin Garnett] and those guys that they talked about was too old, and the next thing you know, they’re in the Finals again. So I never bought into it.”

Dwyane Wade shrugged.

“It’s another tough game for us,” he said. “We have to step up to the challenge. We lost the first one on the road trip [Tuesday in Houston], and that’s a place where obviously everyone has a tough time playing. But we’ve shown that we can win there, so we got to go in there and play a great game for 48 minutes to win it.”

It did take about all the Heat could summon to squeeze out the one win they needed at the AT&T Center last June. They got a 109-93 win in Game 4 that was sandwiched between a couple of their most dismal games of the entire playoff run. They were hammered 113-77 in Game 3 when the Spurs bombed them with 16 3-pointers and then lost 114-104 in Game 5. Those are the kinds of performances that stick with a coach much longer than the wins.

“We don’t necessarily have really good memories of there,” said Erik Spoelstra. “We did drop two out of the three. The last game that we had there was a tough one. It was probably the worst game that we had over there. We had to really collect ourselves to go and have that energy to go and win two games at home.

“But you know, the train goes on. We’ve got to collect ourselves. We’ve got to get some rest. We’re not making any excuses … They’ve dealt with a lot of adversity this season and yet you look at their record and they’re right there in the mix. It’s amazing.”

What might be more amazing is that Shane Battier is actually looking forward to getting back into the teeth of the Spurs vise.

“I always enjoy playing the Spurs,” Battier said. “It goes back to my Memphis days, my Rockets days, when I played a lot of games in San Antonio. Just because there’s no better mental challenge than playing the Spurs. Because they’re gonna put you in tough situations. It’s a thinking man’s game when you play the Spurs and that’s my kind of game.

“Ooooh, we knew last year it was going to be a very, very, very, very close series. That’s four ‘verys’ and it was probably closer than that. They’ve been the gold standard for a long time. It’s not so much physical with them. It’s the mental duress they put you under. To go through a series like that, when you come out you’re just exhausted, win or lose.”

The question is whether even NBA players and coaches and front office people ask the same question as the general public: When will the Spurs finally be too old?

“No question,” Battier said. “Yeah, you ask that all the time, every year. What’s in the water in San Antonio? The fact that they’ve done it for so long and everyone is just waiting for them to fall off and they haven’t — not that they care what everyone else thinks — it’s awesome. And I don’t have any answers.”

LeBron Rewriting His(Own)story!

VIDEO: LeBron James tries his best to explain his historic night

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – What do you do for an encore of one of the greatest months in NBA history? When you’re LeBron James you turn in one of the greatest nights of your storied career.

The Heat star had a February for the ages, becoming the first player since Shaquille O’Neal in 2003 to average 30 or more points and eight or more rebounds while shooting better than 57 percent from the field for an entire calendar month (a minimum of five games played). Toss in LeBron’s seven assists a game in February and only Wilt Chamberlain, in February of 1966 has had a wicked stretch of that sort.

That’s why LeBron going for a career-high 61 points in the Heat’s 124-107 home win over the Charlotte Bobcats on Monday ranks right up there among his greatest performances ever. He did it with a mask on, protecting his recently broken nose. He did it with Dwyane Wade resting in street clothes, as part of ongoing maintenance program. And he did it with work from all over the floor, including a career-high tying eight made 3-pointers.

He needed just 33 shots, 22 makes, to notch the 10th game of 50 or more points of his career and his first outing of 60 or more. He’s one of just five players to reach the 60-point plateau shooting better than 65 percent since the 1985-86 season — joining Carmelo Anthony from earlier this season, Shaq in 2000 and Tom Chambers and Karl Malone (both in 1990) as the only players to accomplish that feat.

Oh, and unlike high-scoring escapades by superstars in recent seasons (you know who you are, ‘Melo and Kobe Bryant), LeBron made sure to stick to his usual formula (he did have an assist or two … or five, to be exact) on his outlandish scoring night. The fact that he’s still rewriting his own history this deep into his career speaks volumes about the sort of competitor and player he is now and really has always been.

How many other guys can get 60-plus points without it becoming an absolute hysterical exercise from one basket to the next? If you watch the highlights, it looks just like any other night from LeBron … save, of course, for the 3-point storm he rained down on the Bobcats.

VIDEO: LeBron makes it rain 3-pointers against the Bobcats

LeBron setting his own career-high for points and breaking Glen Rice‘s Heat franchise record of 56 (against the Orlando Magic in 1995) is just another milestone he can add to his overflowing collection. It’s a reminder, though, that the great ones will dial up the unthinkable when you least expect it.

Who knew a Monday night game against the Bobcats would serve as one of LeBron’s finest moments? 

Just so we’re clear about what kind of run he’s on right now, LeBron has scored 187 points on 68 percent shooting from the floor over his last five games. The last time someone did that in the NBA was when Michael Jordan did it November of 1988.

And that envy he spoke of regarding the January exploits of one Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder … well, if February and the early days of March are any indication, LeBron wears envy as well he does the black mask he wore in his comeback outing (a 31-point treat dropped on the New York Knicks last Thursday on TNT).

This stretch run and race for the MVP between LeBron and KD should also serve as the ideal appetizer to whatever they have in store for us come playoff time, too.

Get your popcorn ready!

VIDEO: LeBron’s demolition of the Bobcats

LeBron Puts Charge Into Thunder, MVP Race

VIDEO: LeBron, Miami thump Thunder in Thursday’s showdown

OKLAHOMA CITY – Weeks before Russell Westbrook knew he would need a third knee surgery, back when he was rolling right along with his Oklahoma City Thunder, and so too were Portland and San Antonio, he was asked to rank his team’s prowess in the Western Conference.

“I think we’re the best team in the NBA,” Westbrook said. “I don’t think about the West or the East. We’re the best in the NBA.”

The Thunder entered Thursday night’s showdown against the Miami Heat boasting the league’s best record. But anointing a best team isn’t something to be done in December or February. And so it was on OKC’s home floor, on the night Westbrook made his long-awaited return to a standing ovation, that LeBron James provided this stark reminder to all: He is not only the reigning two-time MVP, but the two-time reigning Finals MVP to boot.

He delivered an overwhelming start, scoring the Heat’s first 12 points, deflecting passes, running the floor and dunking with no remorse as Miami roared to a 34-17 lead after one quarter. The Thunder made several runs, got as close as five points, but each time the Heat, led by a LeBron growing more menacing by the game, answered with force.

Whatever has James fired up, whether it’s Durant’s frontrunning MVP candidacy, the Mount Rushmore volcano, the whipping Oklahoma City wind, he is using it to his advantage. Thursday’s game-high 33 points in 33 minutes on 15-for-22 shooting — 14-for-17 inside the arc — was his 13th 30-point game since Jan. 1, and his fourth in a row. He has seven of them in the last nine games going back to the Jan. 29 home loss to the Thunder that put on exclamation point on Durant’s stupendous MVP run.

The only way the Thunder found to stop the bleeding was to actually make James bleed. He got clobbered with about six minutes left as he aggressively attacked Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka at the rim. Somehow he made the bucket, then crashed to the floor with blood flowing from his nose. He left the game and wouldn’t return, but the damage was done as Miami held on for a 103-81 rout.

He was ruled free of a concussion after the game, and will have until Sunday to recuperate before the black-and-blue Chicago Bulls come calling in Miami. The Heat will take a four-game win streak into that game as they completed a six-game all-Western Conference road trip 5-1, ringing up West contenders OKC and the L.A. Clippers, plus West playoff teams Golden State, Phoenix and Dallas with James shooting 57.1 percent on the trip.

If this is Durant’s MVP to lose, at least now we must consider the race officially on.

Of course, the regular-season MVP award is secondary to a Heat three-peat or the Thunder capturing their first championship, but history is attached to this MVP. No one has won three in a row since Larry Bird did it from 1983-86. Before Bird it was Wilt Chamberlain from 1965-68. And before Wilt it was Bill Russell from 1960-63.

Chicago’s Derrick Rose spoiled James’ first run at three in 2011, and now Durant is threatening to do it again. Westbrook, who has watched every mesmerizing performance from the bench as he recovered, said Durant is clearly the MVP as of now.

“It’s obvious, it’s obvious,” Westbrook said. “I mean he has so many different stats throughout the season that nobody has done. He’s done a great job of leading us as a group. He’s done it in a way that I don’t think nobody has done it this year.”

It wasn’t so obvious Thursday. Durant finished with 28 points on 10-for-22 shooting, but he was just 1-for-6 from beyond the arc and he even missed three of his 10 free throws. As James attacked early, Durant played it passively, perhaps hoping to give Westbrook an opportunity to gather his legs and find his touch. Whatever it was, the Heat defense walled him off. Durant turned it over three times and was 0-for-2 six minutes in; James had 14 points, six on dunks and Miami was off to a 20-8 start.

“He did what very few can do, that’s impact and set the tone on both sides of the court,” Spoelstra said. “He’s an absolute, true throwback in terms of being a two-way player and understanding how important it is. While he wasn’t necessarily on Durant to start, he was very active with his hands and blowing up pick-and-roll coverages with his speed and his awareness, and obviously he was just so aggressive with that mentality, everybody just gained confidence from that.”

James has the Heat surging, and quietly now just 1 1/2 games behind Indiana. Meanwhile, the Thunder face a period of transition as Westbrook and Durant work on the fly to regain the form that led to a 21-4 record before their three-time All-Star point went under the knife again.

It will all make for a fascinating stretch drive and a very meaningful race for MVP.

“I’ve never put pressure on myself to receive the [MVP] award,” James said. “I just went out and played my game. That was what happened out of it. And obviously, for me, I try to be the MVP every night for our team and just try to put us in position to win.”

He did so, emphatically, Thursday night.

VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew discuss the Heat-Thunder matchup

LeBron Busts Nose, Free Of Concussion

VIDEO: LeBron James goes down after taking hit to nose and finishing the play

OKLAHOMA  CITY – LeBron James left Thursday night’s showdown against the Thunder midway through the fourth quarter after getting clobbered in the nose on his way to completing a highlight-reel play at the rim.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said James’ nose was swollen and bleeding, but confirmed that he passed concussion tests. Asked if James had X-rays on his nose, Spoelstra would only say that his superstar will be checked out Friday back in Miami. The Heat just finished a six-game road trip and don’t play again until Sunday against Chicago.

“He’s got a swollen nose right now, it’s bleeding. We’ll evaluate him when we get back to Miami,” Spoelstra said. “It’s sore, he took a shot; probably should have been at the free throw line after that, but he was aggressive and it was a heck of an attack right there. He got hit pretty good though in the nose, so we’ll just have to see when we get back.”

James put on a dominant performance and outplayed MVP frontrunner Kevin Durant in the Heat’s 103-81 thumping of OKC. James had a game-high 33 points in 33 minutes on 15-for-22 shooting — 14-for-17 from inside the arc. He scored Miami’s first 12 points of the game and was a menace from the start on the defensive end as the Heat led 34-17 after the first quarter.

With the fourth-quarter clock ticking down to the six-minute mark, James drove to the basket and appeared to get walloped in the nose as he blew through the lane. James soared across the front of the rim, left to right, against Thunder power forward Serge Ibaka looking for a right-handed slam, Ibaka kept him far enough away that James couldn’t stretch far enough for the dunk. High above the rim, James still managed to score before crashing to the floor.

Game action resumed at the Thunder’s end as James squirmed on the Heat’s baseline. It wasn’t until play stopped on an OKC travel call that Heat guard Ray Allen made it back to the other end and was first to reach James. As soon as he saw him, Allen waved for the trainers.

Heat players circled around James and everybody in Miami black held their breath.

“You just don’t know what it is,” Spoelstra said. “I’m like everybody else, you’re used to seeing him like Superman and get up and sprint back even after tough hits and tough falls, so you knew something was up.”

James was finally helped to his feet. He walked slowly while holding a towel over his nose and eyes. He was first seated on the Heat bench before escorted to the locker room to be further examined.

OKC Gets Minor Victory Over Miami, May Have Major Lineup Breakthrough

VIDEO: Kevin Durant leads OKC past LeBron and his Heat

MIAMI – Those who came or tuned in seeking some odd, early resolution to the NBA’s Most Valuable Player race probably left or went to bed disappointed. Entertained, exhilarated even, but disappointed because the slim gap between Kevin Durant and LeBron James didn’t widen more, based on their individual performances Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Based on the outcome – a 112-95 Oklahoma City victory, in which the Thunder bungeed from 18 points down early to 25 points up late – Durant probably did pull a few extra chips to his side of the table. But in practical terms, there wasn’t much to choose between: Durant’s 33 points on 12-of-23 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists and four turnovers vs. James’ 34 points on 12-of-20 shooting, with three boards, three assists and three turnovers.

So, set aside the MVP debate for a while, at least until these teams meet again Feb. 20 in Oklahoma City. Focus a little on the COY — Coach of the Year — because the Thunder’s Scott Brooks accounted for the biggest highlight move of the night.

Understand that Brooks hasn’t had his preferred starting lineup for a while, not with All-Star guard Russell Westbrook (right knee meniscus surgery) sidelined since Christmas. But the one he started Wednesday has been his next-best option, with a record now (15-5) that’s nearly as good as OKC’s ‘A’ team (17-2).

So, coming out of halftime, Brooks pulled a lineup from column C. He sat down center Kendrick Perkins and inserted backup forward Perry Jones. Jones is listed at 6-foot-11 but he’s a quarter-horse compared to Perkins’ Clydesdale and the switch effectively rendered the Thunder small. Serge Ibaka was the default center, Durant the ersatz power forward.

It worked wonders. OKC outscored the two-time defending champions 36-25 in the third quarter. A 91-75 lead ballooned to its max with 8:45 left when the Thunder opened the fourth on a 10-1 run. Miami fans might have learned their lesson in The Finals about leaving early when things look bleak but this time, there really was little reason to stay.

Now, we’re not suggesting that Brooks be handed the bronze trophy with the little Red Auerbach on it, not on the strength of one game or even half the season. He was named Coach of the Year in 2010 and, for some voters, having a legit MVP candidate at one’s disposal is an small argument against that coach taking home hardware.

It wasn’t as if Brooks necessarily had a “Eureka!” moment, either, given the way Miami jumped on his starters for a 22-4 lead in the game’s first 5:40. Perkins had subbed out when it was 15-2, after which Oklahoma City outscored its hosts 53-35 through the end of the second quarter.

So Perkins/bad, small ball/good was plain to see on this night. But Brooks dared to tinker with a mostly pat hand (Perkins has started all but two games), in a properly ballyhooed game, in front of an ESPN audience. He went with Jones and left him in for all 24 minutes of the second half. He made sure the Thunder used their mobility especially to get back on defense, choking off any Miami notions of transition buckets (OKC won that battle, getting 20 fast-break points to the Heat’s eight).

And he sold it on in real time, with nary a pout – who can tell with Stoneface Perk anyway? – nor a ripple.

“I thought to win this game, we had to make a decision,” Brooks said. “It’s just this game. It’s not something we have to do all the time. Perk brings so much to us. We’re not going to make it a small lineup/big lineup [issue]. ‘We’ won the game. It’s always been about ‘us.’ We have a bunch of guys who are always about ‘team’ and tonight was a prime example of that.”

Veteran guard Derek Fisher had found the bottom of the peach basket (hey, that’s how he learned it) for 15 points by the time OKC led 101-76, compared to a Miami bench that had scored just 11 by then. Jeremy Lamb scored 18, combining with Fisher to hit 9 of his 11 3-point shots. The Thunder were uncanny from out there, hitting 59.3 percent compared to 47.2 percent of their 2-pointers.

Miami was, well, the opposite, going 3-for-19 from the arc. Then there were those 21 turnovers worth 25 points. Just four steals to OKC’s 13. Seventy points allowed in the second and third quarters combined. Not much flow from the champs. And so on.

“There were a lot of different issues,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our offense got us in trouble tonight – it was uncharacteristic. Even in our right plays, we were fumbling it. Our guys were zigging, they were zagging. … But again, you have to give them credit.”

OK, here’s some: Oklahoma has won nine consecutive games, edging closer to the franchise mark of 12 set early last season. And Durant ran his string of 30-point performances to 12, longest in the league since Tracy McGrady stacked up 14 late in 2003.

Durant is averaging 38 points during the streak, shouldering the load left by Westbrook’s absence. He’s shown no serious wear, and he had fun in his back-and-forth with James, both with the ball and in some “slick stuff” they chattered on the floor.

Still, he sounded as if he enjoyed more the work of his teammates, chipping in against about the toughest competition they could face. Most times Durant carries them, but to a considerable degree Wednesday, guys like Lamb, Jones and Fisher carried him and the Thunder. It’s the sort of flexibility that allows them to adapt to Westbrook going and, sometime after the All-Star break, coming back, a better “acquisition” than any other team will get at the trade deadline.

“There are going to be games where guys are going to play more minutes and games where guys are going to have to sacrifice a little bit. And that’s what we did,” the NBA’s leading scorer (31.3) said. “Them young guys are gamers, man. They want it. They want that opportunity. When you mix ‘em out there with Fish, who’s probably the biggest gamer of us all. He doesn’t care what the moment is, he’s going to come out and play the same way. And Nick [Collison] is the same way as well.

“I’m proud of them.”

VIDEO: Kevin Durant and LeBron James discuss the Thunder-Heat game

Forever Linked By 2007 Draft Order, Durant, Oden Cross Paths Again

VIDEO: Kevin Durant has truly shown off his full talents this season

MIAMI – Kevin Durant and Greg Oden were on the same court again Wednesday for the first time in 1,549 days.

[We pause here while you insert your own obligatory cultural reference point – the price of a gallon of gas back then, for instance, or the top grossing Hollywood movie that weekend – but let's just all agree: It was a long, long time ago.]

You’ve got to go back to Nov. 1, 2009, to find an NBA game in which both Durant and Oden played — a road victory for Oden’s Portland team at Oklahoma City. He had 12 points and 10 rebounds. Durant scored 16. Five weeks later, Oden went down in a heap – again – and their paths split. Stayed split for more than four years, too.

Until Wednesday, when they at least warmed up at opposite ends.

Forever linked by their status atop the 2007 NBA Draft, Oden (No. 1 that night) and Durant (No. 2 to the then Seattle team) hardly could be at more divergent points in a basketball player’s career. Durant is a leading contender for 2014 Most Valuable Player, carrying the Thunder’s competitive load in injured teammate Russell Westbrook‘s absence while dazzling even casual NBA fans with a string of remarkable scoring performances.

And Oden? “Heh. For me, it’s just walking off the court not injured again,” he said about an hour before tipoff between Oklahoma City and Miami, his new basketball home.

Oden, 26, is trying to salvage his career after five knee surgeries and the Heat are giving him the chance. Their hope is that, as he builds him back into game shape and chisels off years of rust, he’ll eventually be durable enough to counter some of the big men they’ll face (a.k.a., Roy Hibbert) in a quest for a third consecutive NBA title.

So far so good – and so slow. Through Miami’s first 44 games, Oden had appeared in just five. He made his debut on Jan. 15 after a half season of work on the side and, in time, in practice. Oden hasn’t scored more than six points, grabbed more than five rebounds or logged as many as 13 minutes. Prior to Wednesday, he was averaging 3.4 points on 6-for-14 shooting with 2.0 boards and 8.4 minutes.

“His spirit is fantastic right now,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Just to think about where he’s been the last four years, just to be able to get back on the basketball court, for a team like this, there couldn’t be more gratification. It’s been a long road. There’s still a long ways to go.

“There isn’t a grand master plan – we put together a plan just to get him back out on the court and then from here, it’s got to be day to day. Ultimately we just don’t know.”

The unknowns of Oden’s comeback attempt are preferable, at least, to the alleged knowns of what preceded this. The 7-footer’s inability to endure the rigors of NBA play seemed to doom him individually and serve as another sad chapter in the Portland franchise’s history of hobbled stars (Bill Walton, Sam Bowie, Brandon Roy).

“It’s been so long where I can even walk on the court,” Oden told “If I can go out there, play a couple minutes, just do something, even be a presence out there and walk off healthy, for me that’s good enough.”

Is he pain-free? “I wouldn’t go that far,” he said. “Nothing I can’t handle.”

As for the rust and atrophy in his skills, Oden said: “Fundamentals, everybody has that. I definitely have that. For a lot of guys in this league, it’s confidence – once they play a year or two, they start to figure it out. So for me, it’s four years off. Just figuring it out yet. This is, what, game [6]? So it’s still going to take some time, but it’s going to come back.”

Much of the NBA is pulling for him, though Oden said he wasn’t really aware of that. “I don’t know. There’s been so many times when I’ve heard people not pulling for me,” he said. “So I just play and try not to think about it.”

His new teammates have his back, certainly, beyond any self-interest.

“One thing about trying to make a championship run is, everybody’s going to play a huge part, whether they know it or not,” Miami forward Chris Bosh said.  “With G.O., eventually we’re gonna call on him. He’s going to have to play big, consistent minutes for us, no matter how many there are. And he’s going to contribute and do a great job.

“We’re bringing him along slowly. He’s had to work out after years and years of rehabilitation, then he has to sit for weeks with us putting him in a little bit. But all that stuff is going to pay off for him.”

Oden needed to know, too, that his old friend Durant – the name critics never let him forget, for how differently things have gone for the No. 1 and No. 2 draft picks – has his back, too.

“As a friend, I’m excited he’s back in the league,” the three-time NBA scoring champ said after the morning shootaround. “He’s overcome a lot in his career. It’s a great story that he has – five knee surgeries, and he was thinking about retirement before [age] 25. But he came back and he’s out there playing extremely well. It’s fun to see him back.”

Oden could resent all of Durant’s success – and good health. Heaven knows he has been reminded of Portland’s folly, his lousy luck and the Thunder star’s ascension among the NBA’s elite, oh, about 1,549 times since they last played.

But the big fellow is polite and generous about the situation. Leave the ill will for Portland fans who wish the Blazers had drafted Durant – and for lingering Seattle NBA fans who wish the same thing, so that their relocated franchise might be the one stung by Oden’s fate.

“I’m beyond happy for him,” Oden said. “He’s one of the best players in this league. He’s one of the first guys who texted me whenever something had happened before, with my knee, and when I signed. He’s just a good dude and he’s playing amazing.”

As for the crossroads they hit in their careers and the separate paths since, Oden said: “I wish things would have worked out a little differently. But we’re both here. He’s doing his thing and I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Red Circle Night For James, Durant

VIDEO: LeBron James and Kevin Durant have had some epic battles

MIAMI – Fans have it easy. The schedule comes out and with it, the red pens or black markers or yellow highlighters. A few circles, underlines and exclamation points later, it’s posted on the wall, loaded into the phone, set up on the tablet with the proper alerts. The best of the best? Plain to see, week by week, games and matchups stretching out over six months.

But if you’re LeBron James, the big games and key clashes – the real highlights – are harder to come by. In an NBA sense, if anyone in recent memory had a right to go all Alexander the Great on us and weep because there were no more worlds to conquer, it’s been James. Two-time NBA champion, four-time Most Valuable Player, SI Sportsman of the Year, renewed likability, restored marketability and on and on.

While fans and even other NBA players make mental and physical note of their (and their favorites’) games against James and the Miami Heat, he has to look longer and harder to find the potential peaks in his regular season. Well, even the Heat’s star forward could circle in red the game he’ll play Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Oklahoma City at Miami. Possible 2014 Finals preview.

Kevin Durant vs. LeBron James. Probable 2014 MVP showdown.

Yeah, James sounded as into the matchup with the Thunder’s ridiculously potent thin man as anyone who’ll be stuffed in a sofa, crammed into the stands or working hard on the hardwood alongside them.

“It’s not secondary, it’s first-dary,” James said, coining a word for reporters after practice Tuesday to stress the urgency of containing Durant’s offense in order to beat OKC. “Absolutely, he’s one of the toughest covers. Between him and Melo [Carmelo Anthony], it’s the toughest covers for me individually.

“So it’s a game within a game. You want to win but you also want to do your part against who you’re going against. I like going against the best. He’s definitely right up there.”

That stuff matters. Chamberlain had Russell, Magic had Larry – with rivals, the elite often can push themselves higher. Imagine if Michael Jordan, in all his greatness, had had that one undisputed challenger; instead, he had many, each diffused a bit and slightly off. Like Reggie Miller, Clyde Drexler, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon, the Detroit Pistons’ defense and the New York Knicks. And of course everybody else he named at his HOF induction speech.

Tiger Woods, at the peak of his powers, had … who, David Duval? Something gets lost, that little extra gets left on the table, without a perfect rival.

That little extra was what everyone was excited about heading toward Wednesday. Including James, who only gets to face Durant twice each season due to their opposite-conference endeavors.

As the hype swelled Tuesday, driven by Durant’s breathtaking string of scoring outbursts, James said: “Don’t get it twisted thinking that he hasn’t been a great all-around player. As you play more and more games, you get more and more comfortable in this league. You start to expand your game. It’s the same if you ask ‘How is Paul George now better?’ He’s just more comfortable. … And when you have talent and you work at that talent, things become second nature for you to go out and play.

“So KD rebounding and making plays for his teammates is something he’s always been able to do. He’s just getting more comfortable at doing it.”

As effusive in his praise as James was of Durant’s pyrotechnics at one end of the court, he got intriguingly tight-lipped about any progress or impact the Thunder forward has defensively.

“Uh, he’s more comfortable playing on that side of the floor,” he said. “That side of the floor is why I really take a lot of responsibility in. I don’t like to do too much comparing when it comes to defense.”

What, he’s supposed to give up everything to Durant? Flip him the access code to the house, the keys to the Ferrari and the TV remote, all at once, just like that?

Anyone reading between the lines of James’ response might expect lockdown mode in some form, at some point, from the proud Miami player. Something akin, maybe, to the way he helped hold George scoreless in the first half of their Dec. 10 game in Indianapolis.

The top two consensus MVP candidates don’t lock horns like this very often. Anyone snoozing on Durant as a deserving alternative to James hasn’t been paying attention.

“All you’ve got to do is turn on the TV and there he is,” Heat forward Chris Bosh said. “He’s on a great tear right now, one of the greatest tears of all time.”

Said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra: “Obviously you see the video game numbers he’s putting up, but at the heart of it, he’s a fierce, fierce competitor. So what he’s doing right now is notable because they could have come up with a lot of excuses why they couldn’t compete in that Western Conference at the level they are. He’s raised his game and it’s pulled their team right along with him.”

All-Star teammate Russell Westbrook‘s latest knee injury left Durant with a choice: Endure and survive till he returns and push toward the postseason. Or hit the shift paddles and dive over to the far-left lane, blinker be damned.

All this MVP chatter comes from the latter.

“I’ve got to go with KD at this point,” Minnesota’s Kevin Love told this week. “He’s been absolutely unbelievable – and that’s not taking anything away from LeBron. But KD has been absolutely out of his mind since Russ went down.”

It’s not about overlooking the swell seasons being offered up by Love, George, LaMarcus Aldridge, Chris Paul until he got hurt or anyone else. It’s about acknowledging that Durant, already formidable, has turned lethal.

“Right now, most definitely it’s got to be one of those two guys,” veteran Charlotte big man Al Jefferson said. “LeBron James, he’s gonna be at the top of the conversation every year just because of the things he does for his team. I just haven’t seen no one put a show on in the last month like Kevin Durant. Without his sidekick, and they’re still consistent winning, and he’s averaging 30-plus points the last 10, 11 games. So I mean right now, I think he’s got the edge.”

Kevin Durant and LeBron James (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

Kevin Durant and LeBron James (Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)

In his last 13 games, Durant has averaged 37.8 points on 53.7 percent shooting. He had a triple-double against the Sixers and hung 54 points on the Warriors. He scored 40 or more four times and at least 30 in 11 consecutive games. His current 31.3 scoring average, if maintained, would be the highest since Kobe Bryant averaged 31.6 seven years ago. And if his stats line holds up, he’ll join just six others in NBA history to average at least 31 points, seven rebounds and five assists. The others: Chamberlain, Jordan, Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and James.

“He’s 6-11, he can get his shot off the majority of the time,” Miami’s Dwyane Wade said. “And he has a very easy shot to shoot for him, at a very high percentage. I don’t think going into the game scoring is his concern. He was born to score.

“For a defense, you have to be concerned about what his teammates are doing.

KD is going to get an opportunity to score 30 a night. That’s the talent he has, the position he’s been put in. You’ve just got to try to make those 30 a little tougher and at the same time be aware of everyone else.”

Durant’s range extends from under the rim to the VIP parking lot, so a defense like Miami’s that normally seems six- or seven-players thick gets thinned. “He extends your defense out four or five steps further out than it is normally used to,” Spoelstra said. “At times that court is going to look big.”

But wait, there’s more!

“He’s added more to his tool kit,” the Heat coach said. “He can make any shot in the book right now. From deep, from inside. He’s got the midrange. He has the floaters. He works you in the post. And he’s an improved passer. He’s at a career-high clip right now setting up his teammates and that makes their team even more dangerous.”

Defensively? “He’s a multi-positional defender now,” Spoelstra called him. “Impacting the game on both sides of the court. But somebody of his length and knowledge and experience, it was a matter of time.”

A matter of time before Durant crowded into the MVP conversation for real, after finishing second to James by a respectable margin in 2010, 2012 and 2013.

The criteria for that award can get tricky, weighted with tangibles, intangibles, advanced analytics and personal biases of the voters. But team records appear to be a big factor – only once in the past five seasons has the MVP gone to the guy whose team won fewer games than the runner-up’s team (James in 2012). That was one of the reasons Derrick Rose wrested the Podoloff trophy from James in 2011.

Then there are head-to-head clashes like the one Wednesday. They tend to stick in voters’ craws. The teams meet again Feb. 20 in Oklahoma City.

Beyond the differences in their games, Durant and James offer MVP voters almost a blue-state, red-state gap in public personas and personal styles. One plays in one of the NBA’s flashiest, more alluring destinations, the other in the middle of flyover country, eh, somewhere out there. People save for years hoping to afford a dream vacation to south Florida. Most might take a minute to even spell OKC much less travel there.

James and his people staged that worldwide telecast in July 2010 so he could announce which job offer he was going to accept. Durant … does he even have “people?”

He quietly re-upped with the Thunder that same month – players’ second contracts (rookie extensions) typically are more quiet than their third ones, when true free agency looms – but at $56.9 million from this season through 2015-16, Durant will be paid within a few Bentleys of James’ $61.7 million (if the Miami star were to let his deal run full term).

So one can earn in Oklahoma. It appears, save for the rings yet, that one also can win. The issue at hand is whether one can win MVPs there, too.

Seriously, with all the obsession with market size – the fan base, the media rankings, the traffic jams, the inflated property values and tax rates, and so on – could Durant be that much “bigger,” in terms of famous, than he already is playing in OKC?

Some great players don’t get the full-blown famous treatment until they go to the bright lights, like Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen or Bosh. But Dwight Howard didn’t really need to leave Orlando, if only he’d committed to sticking and ushering the Magic back to The Finals a couple more times. It wasn’t James leaving Cleveland that shot him up the celebrity scale – winning titles did that. Ditto, most likely, for Durant in OKC.

Durant also has never heard the sort of criticism, borne of expectations and hype dating back to grade school, that was heaped on James. Torch a No. 35 Thunder jersey? You get the sense that if Durant ever did leave as a free agent, fans in Oklahoma City would line up to shake his hand and thank him for the thrills. The 6-foot-11 shooter might lead the league in fewest lusty boos rained down on an opponent, almost generally considered one of the league’s “nicest” guys.

Just don’t assume that means a deficiency of ruthlessness.

“It’s funny,” said Love, a good friend of Durant. “I laugh when KD talks to the media, ‘Aw, what I’m doing, you guys really shouldn’t gawk at or think that it’s a big deal.’ I do believe that he thinks that way – in a way – but he wants to be the best player in the game. He has a fire inside him. I see it when I work out with him the whole summer. He’s a big-time player but also, he wants to be the best.

“He’s very humble. The ego is harder to find. But at the same time, he exudes that extreme confidence. He’s unbelievable.”

Love smiled as he spoke, amused at what Durant gets away with, cloaking his competitive fire at times.

Heat fans won’t be letting him off the hook, of course, in his only regular season trip to Miami. This game, this night is different. For them and for their resident – but temporary? – reigning MVP.

Blogtable: Wondering About Miami

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.

Questioning the Heat | Easy offense | Most intriguing team

VIDEO: LeBron James laments the Heat’s lack of defense

At what point do you start to wonder about the Heat’s chances of repeating? Are we there yet?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.comNot there yet. The postseason is a different game, literally and figuratively, and only Miami has proven its ability to master it. But here are three scenarios where I will start to wonder: 1) Some team goes up by two games on the Heat in a best-of-seven; 2) The Pacers or someone else plays at home vs. Miami in a Game 7, or 3) One of the Heat’s Big 3 goes out with a season-ending injury.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comOnly when I hear that LeBron James, Dwyane Wade or Chris Bosh has an injury that will keep them out of the rest of the season and the playoffs.  If they’re all healthy, the Heat are still the team to beat.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.comThe day the Heat face a playoff elimination game is the day I start to worry about the Heat’s chances of repeating. There’s simply no urgency at the moment to be peaking. Right now it’s all about pacing.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.comIt’s fair to wonder now because of the competition, not fair to think their time has passed. The Pacers are, of course, the real deal. The opening statement of the 2013 Eastern Conference has continued into 2013-14 with consistent play at such a high level that it’s a reasonable conversation to wonder not only about the Heat’s chances of another title but to question whether they will get to the championship series. And that doesn’t even get into the quality of the opponent Miami would face in The Finals. There are challenges. Just don’t confuse that with the Heat needing to scramble.

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

Miami coach Erik Spoelstra (Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.comWe’re there already, because the Pacers are really, really good. Like, best defensive team in history good. That’s a bigger issue for the Heat than how they’re playing themselves, though there is obviously concern with their defense. It goes beyond their inability to play that scheme over 82 games with Wade in and out of the lineup. Teams have seen that Miami defense for a couple of years now and are doing a better job of executing against it.

Sekou Smith, NBA.comAs the San Antonio Spurs and the rest of us found out last year, you do NOT count the Heat out. And if you are foolish enough to do so, you do it at your own risk. So there is no point that doesn’t include a trophy presentation involving another team. We are not there yet. Whatever doldrums they are fighting through in January honestly have no specific bearing on what might be months from now. Are their current struggles real? Absolutely. Will they last? Perhaps, for a few more games. But not for the remainder of this season. All that said, I am reminded of the warning TNT’s Steve Kerr mentioned before this season began about it being just too taxing for any team to grind it’s way back to The Finals four a fourth straight season. He made a great point about the emotional and physical fatigue that comes with repeated championship campaigns. The Heat may very well succumb to that pressure somewhere along the line. But I’m not ready to predict when and where that happens.

Lang Whitaker, All Ball blogAt what point do you worry that the sun isn’t going to rise? I’m not saying that the Heat winning a title is a law of nature nor a fait accompli, but when a team advances to The Finals three seasons in a row, I’m more than willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Still, I agree that they haven’t looked as consistently dominant as they have at times over the last few seasons. We always talk about teams thinking they can “turn it on” when the going gets tough, and how that’s not something most teams are actually able to do. But the Heat are special, obviously, and I think they are one of those teams that can turn it on when we get down to the games that matter most in the postseason.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA Greece: Sorry, I am one of those that were listening when Rudy Tomjanovic shouted “never underestimate the heart of a champion”. If you hear anyone wondering, please remind him what coach-T said …

Karan Madhok, NBA India: The Big Three era of the Heat has been here every year in their last three runs to The Finals, reaching a point where critics and fans have questioned their performance and commitment. But the Heat, like always, will be alright, peaking at the right time when Wade is back healthy to join LeBron and Bosh consistently, Oden starts to find his in-game rhythm, and the bench gets their groove again. The difference this year, though, is that Miami’s competition – especially the Pacers – is tougher than before. Ultimately, the title may come down to the performances of Miami’s competition more than the performance of the Heat themselves.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: Given they’re still second in the East and have a nice seven-game cushion over the Hawks, I don’t think we can write them off. They do need to start worrying about a couple of things though, mainly their defense. They’re currently ranked 10th in defensive efficiency, the first time they’ve been that low in the Big Three era. And if they continue to free-fall it will be hard to three-peat. Generally you need to be ranked in the top 10 to challenge for the title. In the last 12 seasons, 22 of the 24 teams that made the Finals were top 10 defenses.

Baby Steps For Heat’s Oden

VIDEO: The Game Time crew discuss Greg Oden’s long awaited return to the court


Big, giant baby steps.

That’s all the Miami Heat can and should expect from Greg Oden now that he’s made his long-awaited return to NBA action as a reserve for the two-time defending champions.

Oden’s dream became a reality Wednesday night in Washington, when the former No. 1 overall pick played his first minutes since 2009. As they say, you cannot coach size. And Oden leaves a huge footprint on the court, even in limited minutes. Oden recorded an offensive rebound, a dunk and personal foul in his first 30 seconds of action. He played 8 minutes and 24 seconds altogether, finishing with six points on 2-for-3 shooting from the floor, 2-for-2 from the free throw line, and grabbed two rebounds in the Heat’s 114-97 blowout loss.

It’s been a long time coming for Oden, who missed what should have been his rookie season with a knee injury and then endured three more microfracture surgeries on his knees.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said before the game that Oden’s appearance was in the master plan and based on months of hard work by the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 Draft. Plus, the Heat need a bruiser now that former starting center Joel Anthony has been traded away.

“He’s been working very diligently,” Spoelstra said of Oden. “It’s been all part of the plan. He’s made great progress. He’s getting stronger. He’s getting healthier. He’s getting his core right. Everything without skipping steps. We’re very patient with him.”

Like I said, baby steps … big, giant baby steps!

VIDEO: Greg Oden talks about his regular-season debut with the Heat

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 6

VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 5


Nets get good news on Lopez | Cavs have no deals for Bynum | Report: Nuggets trying to deal Miller | Report: Barbosa set for 10-day with Suns | Wade is back … to back

No. 1: Nets get good news on Lopez surgery – Not only are the Brooklyn Nets winning games in 2014, but the reeling franchise got some good news about Brook Lopez after he had surgery this weekend on his right foot. He’s still done for the season, but at least there is light at the end of the injury-filled tunnel for the Nets’ big man, according to Mitch Abramson of the New York Daily News:

For once, the Nets received a bit of good medical news when it comes to an injury. Nets center Brook Lopez underwent successful surgery to fix a fractured fifth metatarsal of his right foot on Saturday morning, and Nets general manager Billy King expects Lopez back for offseason workouts this summer, fully recovered. A second procedure — a first metatarsal osteotomy — was also completed on Saturday to “unload and protect the injured area” and to reposition the bone to lessen the strain and reduce the chance for another injury, according to a press release put out by the Nets. Lopez, who was injured on Dec. 20 at Philly, is out for the remainder of the season.

“With this procedure, we both fixed the broken bone (fifth metatarsal) in Brook’s right foot and repositioned another bone, so that his sole of his foot will bear weight more evenly than before,” said team medical director Dr. Riley Williams, one of three doctors who were involved in the procedure.

Still, despite the positive tone of the statement by Williams, King admitted before Saturday’s game to the uncertainty involved with a surgery such as this.

“They said it was going to be a successful recovery, so I mean, we can’t sit here today on Jan. 4 and say what’s going to be when he starts playing (again),” King said. “We can’t speculate and that’s what I’m not going to do.”

“Right now, he had(the surgery), and I expect him to have a full recovery and be playing next year,” King said.

VIDEO: Take a look at Sunday’s Top 10 plays


No. 2: Cavaliers running out of time with Bynum? – The countdown clock is ticking on the Cleveland Cavaliers and their attempts to make something of the mess that is the Andrew Bynum affair. They’ve engaged several teams (most notably the Los Angeles Lakers, for Pau Gasol) in trade talks about their disgruntled center in advance of Tuesday’s deadline, but still have nothing concrete to choose from in terms of options. They’ll obviously push it to the deadline, but there is nothing imminent, writes Jason Lloyd of the Akron Beacon Journal:

Any team that acquires Bynum must waive him by Tuesday in order for him to clear waivers in time to have his salary removed from their cap, but any players the Cavs acquire will have to first pass a physical unless the team agrees to waive it. reported the Cavs and Lakers were hopeful of completing a deal Sunday for Pau Gasol, but that didn’t happen. Gasol played for the Lakers on Sunday night while the two sides continue negotiating. The Lakers are insisting on assets beyond luxury tax relief, but thus far Cavs General Manager Chris Grant hasn’t budged. The Cavs are offering tax relief and little else.

One source described the talks as stalled late Sunday night, but another source said talks have been off and on throughout the negotiations. No deal is considered dead until 5 p.m. Tuesday, when the deadline is reached for Bynum to be waived for cap relief.

Bynum’s agent, David Lee, said Sunday he has been told nothing by the Cavs. Wherever Bynum is traded, his stay will be brief. He is expected to be released, since only about half of his $12 million contract is guaranteed. Any team that acquires Bynum can waive him without paying him a dollar and shed $12 million off their cap. He will then be free to sign with any team in the NBA, likely for the league minimum.

Cavs coach Mike Brown didn’t want to discuss the trade talks prior to Sunday’s game against the Pacers.

“Those are great questions for Chris,” Brown said. “I’m coaching the guys in the locker room.”

Yahoo! Sports reported Sunday the Lakers were seeking Dion Waiters as part of the trade, but a league source said Sunday the Cavs weren’t interested in parting with Waiters for what will likely be a brief rental of Gasol.


No. 3: Report: Nuggets actively looking to deal Miller  – In a loss to the Sixers last week, Nuggets point guard Andre Miller blew up at coach Brian Shaw during the game in a vocal outburst that was witnessed by practically everyone in attendance. As a result of that outburst, Miller was suspended by the team for detrimental conduct, but the team rescinded that move on Friday. Miller was not with the team as he was granted leave to deal with a personal issue, but it seems more and more unlikely that Miller will ever suit up for the Nuggets once he returns, writes Christopher Dempsy of The Denver Post:

Andre Miller, who was excused from all team activities for four days, won’t be part of the Nuggets for long after he returns.

The Nuggets are actively trying to trade Miller, according to a league source. If accomplished, it would be the second time Denver traded him. He was traded in 2006 in a package that brought Allen Iverson to the Nuggets.

It has been a dicey few days for Miller, who had harsh words for Nuggets coach Brian Shaw during Wednesday’s game against Philadelphia. Miller was initially suspended, but then the suspension was rescinded, in part so Miller would be able to continue getting paid during his time off.

Miller has spent all or parts of seven seasons in Denver, in two stints, this latest one starting in 2011, when Portland traded him back to the Nuggets.


No. 4: Report: Barbosa set for a (10-day) return to Suns  – Eric Bledsoe‘s knee sprain could be the New Year’s blessing Leandro Barbosa was hoping for as he readies to sign a 10-day contract with the Phoenix Suns, according to a report from Paul Coro of the Arizona Republic. The Suns, who remain one of the surprise teams in the league this season, need the added depth in the backcourt and are turning to a familiar face in Barbosa:

Barbosa has not played in the NBA since Feb.11, 2013, when he suffered a season-ending knee injury while playing for Boston when Suns General Manager Ryan McDonough was the assistant GM there. Barbosa was part of a later trade to Washington but the torn ACL made him just a salary-slotting part of the Jordan Crawford deal while he was at home rehabilitating in Brazil.

After going unsigned this season, Barbosa began playing for Pinheiros in Brazil to try to get his body ready for a NBA opportunity. Barbosa averaged 20.8 points, 3.1 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.4 steals in eight games while making half of his 3-pointers.

Barbosa is expected to join the Suns in Chicago, where they begin a five-game road trip Tuesday and where Barbosa made a game-winning shot for the Suns in 2007. The 10-day contract is pending a physical. Barbosa was recently considered by the Lakers, who later signed ex-Suns point guard Kendall Marshall.

Barbosa played the first seven of his 10 NBA seasons with Phoenix, playing a key bench role for the winningest era in franchise history. Barbosa was the 2006-07 Sixth Man Award winner, when he averaged a career-high 18.1 points per game. He averaged at least 13 points for four consecutive Suns seasons and is a 39.1 percent career 3-point shooter.

Barbosa last played with the Suns in 2009-10, when he was bench teammates with current Suns starters Goran Dragic and Channing Frye.

NBA teams can begin signing free agents to 10-day contracts Monday. Signing Barbosa will put the Suns roster at the 15-man maximum.


No. 5:  Wade goes back-to-back, ready for the grind? – Dwyane Wade chose the first weekend of the New Year to test himself and his knees to see if he was ready for the grind of the remainder of this NBA regular season. Wade played on back-to-back nights for the first time this season, gauging his own progress from July shock-wave knee therapy, a process that Ira Winderman of the Sun-Sentinel points out, is believed to take six months to recover from. The two-time defending champs can afford him all the time he needs (it’s easier to do with LeBron James and Chris Bosh healthy and rolling) but Wade is ready to push it now. The Heat, by the way, are 4-4 in games Wade has missed this season:

“I just want to be able to go,” he said of Sunday’s start. “I got a good workout in. It felt OK. There’s no guarantees. But there’s got to come a point where I feel comfortable with trying it. So I thought this would be a good time.” …

“It’s getting better,” he said. “I feel like it’s less sore now in the beginning of January than it was in the beginning of December.

“So, it’s all about continuing to progress. So hopefully it’s better as the months go on.”

He wound up playing 35 minutes in Sunday’s 102-97 victory, after playing 36 in Saturday’s victory over the Magic. He closed with 14 points, nine assists and four rebounds, making a pair of critical late free throws.

“He was competitive, particularly in that fourth quarter,” coach Erik Spoelstra said. “His legs were live and he had to make some defensive plays at the end.”

Wade has missed eight games this season, seven as part of his knee maintenance program.

The last time Wade played both games of a back-to-back set was Nov. 15-16 against the visiting Dallas Mavericks and at the Charlotte Bobcats. He said he felt compelled to play in Charlotte because of the suspension of starting point guard Mario Chalmers due to a flagrant foul the night before. He scored just four points in that game in Charlotte.

Wade later said he regretted playing on those consecutive nights, sitting out the next two games, inactive for six days.

VIDEO: A career night for Reggie Jackson worked wonders for the Thunder


SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant doesn’t want your All-Star votes, and get off his lawn while you’re at it … The Warriors did their best to break the scoreboard Sunday night … Russell Westbrook speaks about his three surgeries since last spring and where he goes from here … The Colts are following the Pacers’ postseason lead in Indianapolis … The Nuggets care, they really do!

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: J.R. Smith continues his weird ways with the New York Knicks, this time checking into the game and promptly going to work on Shawn Marion‘s shoelaces. At least the Knicks won this game without Smith’s antics interrupting their flow …

VIDEO: JR Smith unties Shawn Marion’s shoes at the free throw line