Posts Tagged ‘jeremy lamb’

OKC shopping should start with Carter

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The aging Vince Carter still has enough in his tank to put a contender over.

The aging Vince Carter has enough in his tank to give a title contender a significant boost.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the free agency clock ticks down, the spotlight is shining brightest on Miami’s Big Three, on Carmelo Anthony‘s decision and on the Lakers’ wishful pursuit of a superstar (or two).

And then there’s that little ole team on the Oklahoma prairie that no one’s talking about. The one with the league MVP, the All-Star point guard and the game’s fiercest shot blocker. The one that’s played in three Western Conference finals in the last four years and if not for key injuries in these last two postseasons might have built upon its lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

The one that’s missing one final piece.

Oklahoma City Thunder enter free agency, not as big spenders and not needing much, but with a silver bullet in-hand (the full mid-level exception worth $5.3 million) and a specific target: A hired gun.

Signing a veteran knock-down 3-point shooter is crucial for this franchise on the doorstep. A Big Three of sorts that specializes in the long ball is set to hit the open market at the stroke of midnight: Vince Carter, Mike Miller and Mo Williams.

The 37-year-old Carter arguably stands as the most intriguing of the three, a reformed skywalker as he beats back Father Time and now a dead-eye 3-point shooter who has been called the league’s best bargain and most underpaid player during his three seasons with Dallas.

Carter, who has hit 40 percent of his 3s in the last two seasons with Dallas, and averaged 11.9 ppg last season, has stated his desire to remain with the Mavs, and Dallas wants him back. But Carter will also be pursued by a handful of contenders and teams on the verge of contending. A league source indicated that Oklahoma City, Miami, Toronto and Portland will give Dallas competition for Carter’s services.

Any one of those three free agents would be a boon to the Thunder’s second unit and each could play a key role spacing the floor and splashing open 3s while on the floor with league MVP Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who was headed to a fourth consecutive All-Star berth until another knee surgery forced him out just after Christmas.

The Thunder’s core — Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — is obviously set and they rely heavily on drafting and player development to fill key roles. Reggie Jackson has emerged as a terrific reserve point guard. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could potentially move into the starting lineup next season. The Kendrick Perkins problem was lessened last season with the emergence of 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams.

However, the 3-point shooting issue remains. Thabo Sefolosha lost his touch from the deep all season and specifically in the postseason. The Thunder’s defensive-minded starter the last five seasons is now a free agent, and will likely move on. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, an early March addition, shot poorly in the postseason and he, too, will likely be headed elsewhere. Jackson, although an improving 3-point shooter, was still just 33.9 percent last season. And Lamb, at 35.6 percent, struggled in the season’s second half and lost his job to Butler.

OKC does believe it could find in-house help from second-year stretch-4 Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round draft pick, who shot 36.4 percent from deep for the Thunder’s D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. But the 6-foot-10 project out of Arizona didn’t play a minute for the big club once he was signed in April.

The 6-foot-8 Miller almost signed with OKC last summer after Miami used the amnesty clause to set him free, but he ultimately returned to Memphis, which finished last in the league in 3-point attempts per game. So he might relish a chance to play with two superstars in an offense that will guarantee him more looks.

Williams, who opted out of his final year in Portland at $2.8 million, is a terrific shooter and can switch between the 1 and 2. He lacks the size of the other two, but was a big part of the Portland’s surge last season.

Other free-agent candidates include Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, P.J. Tucker, Josh McRoberts and C.J. Miles.

Here’s a look at my top three:

 

Vince Carter 

Age: 37 (Jan. 26)

2013-14 salary: $3.18 million

2013-14 stats: 81 games; 24.4 mpg; 11.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 2.6 apg; 40.7 FG%; 39.4 3FG%

Pros: Has adjusted his game with his age to become a knock-down 3-point shooter — and he can still get to the rim more often than expected; a solid locker-room leader for a young team that probably grew up watching him in dunk contests; and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has consistently lauded his defensive effort.

Cons: He’s prone to forcing too many contested jumpers; at some point the body is going to give out and Carter, although extremely well-conditioned, does turn 38 during the season.

 

Mike Miller

Age: 34 (Feb. 19)

2013-14 salary: $884,293 million (owed $12.8 million by Heat for 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons)

2013-14 stats: 82 games; 20.8 mpg; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 1.6 apg; 48.1 FG%; 45.9 3FG%

Pros: Still a deadly 3-point shooter as Thunder fans can attest during the first round as they gasped in fear every time he lined up from the top of the arc; Just being on the floor would space it better than with any combination OKC put on the court last season.

Cons: He’s been susceptible to back issues, but he stayed healthy last season and played in all 82 games while still logging 20 minutes a game. He’s risky, but as just a threat to make 3s, is worth it.

 

Mo Williams

Age: 31 (Dec. 19)

2013-14 salary: $2.8 million

2013-14 stats: 74 games; 24.8 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 4.3 apg; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%

Pros: He’s acknowledged he’s on the back portion of his career, so he knows his rightful place is coming off the bench and sparking a team with instant offense — exactly what the Thunder needs; can play the 1 and 2, and is a good passer.

Cons: His size could be a detriment since the Thunder are likely to let the 6-foot-5 Sefolosha walk in free agency and already have the 6-foot-3 Jackson likely coming off the bench. If Lamb proves he’s not ready to be a starter, OKC could prefer a two-guard with more size.

Lamb, OKC’s rare 1st-rounder it didn’t select, needs to shine

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeremy Lamb addresses the media during his exit interview

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Oklahoma City Thunder have built a reputation as smart talent evaluators, having built a perennial contender on both lottery and late first-round draft picks. For now they hold onto the No. 21 and No. 29 picks in tonight’s NBA Draft.

That could change as the day progresses as plenty of teams without first-round picks want in on this deep and talented pool of players.

For the Thunder, the first-round pick they’re eager to see succeed is the rare one they didn’t select. Jeremy Lamb, the lanky, 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the sleepy eyes, was taken 12th overall in 2012 by the Houston Rockets. He came to OKC before he ever put on Rockets red as part of the James Harden trade prior to the 2012-13 season.

Now Lamb, 22, has the opportunity to be a significant, if not transformational, player for a Thunder team that desperately needs a strong perimeter shooter.

On a team-friendly deal for the next three seasons, Lamb has the size, speed and length to be a nuisance defensively, although last season he was largely a liability on that end. He got off to a solid start offensively (he shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc), but his production started to tail off in the second half of the season and once the Thunder acquired veteran small forward Caron Butler off waivers in early March, Lamb lost his spot in the rotation.

Butler, 34, will be seeking employment elsewhere next week, and so could free-agent-to-be Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder’s defensive-minded starting shooting guard for the last five seasons. But as Sefolosha lost his ability to can corner 3s in the postseason, he was benched in the first round against Memphis and in the West finals against the Spurs. He was not a part of the rotation in OKC’s final four West finals games.

There have also been persistent rumors since last season’s trade deadline that OKC is interested in trading for 6-foot-5 New York Knicks shooting guard Iman Shumpert.

The cost-conscious Thunder are never big players in free agency. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka locked into eight-figure contracts, there simply isn’t space to squeeze in an impactful free agent, and the cost-conscious franchise has no plans to venture into the luxury tax.

It puts the onus on player development, an area OKC prides itself, and rightly so. Players such as Durant (2nd overall), Westbrook (4th), Ibaka (24th), Harden (3rd), Reggie Jackson (24th) and Steven Adams (12th) all made significant strides after being drafted by the Thunder.

They believe Lamb, entering his third season, can also make a significant leap — whether that means winning a starting job or coming off the bench as the seventh man.

“He didn’t play much at all his first year; he had a pretty good second year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said during the team’s exit interviews following the West finals. “We’re going to challenge him to continue to get better. He has the ability to be a really terrific offensive player. Defensively we’re going to have to continue to develop that part of his game. As he puts work into his body to get stronger, he’s going to be able to be a much better player.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-3 point guard, assumed the starting shooting guard spot upon Sefolosha’s West finals benching. While the Thunder had success with the lineup, both Brooks and Westbrook seemed only lukewarm when asked if a Westbrook-Jackson starting backcourt is optimal for next season. Coming off the bench, Jackson could compete for Sixth Man of the Year honors.

OKC also has Andre Roberson heading into his second season. He started 16 games as a rookie during Westbrook’s injury absence. He’s a solid defender, but lacks a jump shot. Lamb has the shot, but must improve defensively.

“It’s a player I feel confident going forward with,” Brooks said of Lamb. “I like what he does. His future is very bright with the work that he puts in.”

Morning Shootaround — June 9


VIDEO: Heat handle Spurs, take Game 2 of The Finals

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bosh saves day in Game 2 | Parsons wants to stay in Houston | Van Gundy defends J-Smoove | OKC’s Lamb vows to improve defense

No. 1: Bosh delivers when it matters for Miami Throughout his time on the Miami Heat, Chris Bosh has always seemed to be the one member of Miami’s “Big Three” who gets to be the butt of jokes most often. While LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are revered among Heat fans and respected among NBA fans for their accomplishments and play, Bosh often draws the short straw on both of those topics for many. But as our Steve Aschburner points out, Bosh was the man of the hour in Game 2 last night and took another step toward silencing his many doubters:

When LeBron James wasn’t talking about cramps in the two days before Game 2 of The 2014 Finals, he was explaining why he considers himself the “easiest target in sports.” (Short answer: Nonstop media coverage and inflated expectations since he’s been 15 years old.)That led to a natural follow-up question Sunday night for Chris Bosh, James’ teammate with the Miami Heat. After all Bosh, even in flattering coverage, ranks third among the Heat’s Big 3. In the snarkier accounts, or Shaq‘s occasional wise-guy remarks, he’s the Fredo of this particular Corleone crew behind James and Dwyane Wade.

“I’m probably the second [easiest target],” Bosh said after Miami’s 98-96 victory to even the best-of-seven championship series at 1-1. The 6-foot-11 forward scored 18 points and, despite his meager rebound total of three, was active enough defensively that he and Rashard Lewis outscored Spurs big men Tim Duncan and Tiago Splitter by a combined 32-20. Spot San Antonio Boris Diaw off the bench, along with the Heat’s Chris Andersen, and Miami still had the edge, 35-27.

Then there was Bosh late. He took a pass from James in the right corner for a 3-pointer with 1:18 left, turning a 1-point lead into a 2-point advantage. On Miami’s last offensive possession, it was Bosh who drove inside, drawing the defense and dishing to Wade for a dagger layup to make it 98-93 with 9.4 seconds left.

And sure enough, Bosh was talking about validation afterward. Because after years as Toronto’s cornerstone and go-to guy, he is and remains third on this team. He’s the butt of social media jokes, a source of frustration for the Heat fans with paper-thin loyalty and just sensitive enough to process all the noise.

“I think validating yourself is a constant process,” Bosh said, before adding, “I really let that go a long time ago. I don’t care about those things. I focus on the game and what we’re supposed to do with it. We have a chance to compete for another championship. That’s all that matters to me now.”

It’s gone this way for most of their four seasons together: James shouldering the biggest load, Wade reminding and sometimes surprising people that his knees and game aren’t dead yet, and Bosh coming through at the 11th hour, providing just enough to a) earn his keep or b) push the Heat over the top.

In a sense, Bosh has been resilient just like they have as a group – Miami has lost playoff games but has gone 47 now without losing two in a row. It has fired back from defeats with victories 13 consecutive times. Oh, and they’re 5-0 in series in the Big 3 era after dropping Game 1.

“Everything plays a role in it,” Bosh said, “Yeah, you do have a healthy dose of fear and it makes you focus more, makes you play better, play harder. When your back is against the wall, it’s a very unique feeling.”

“I don’t really care about the criticism,” he said. “If it doesn’t help me, then I don’t listen to it. … Everybody gets criticized, and I understand that. I’m not immune to it. To know that that’s happened before, I’m not the first, I won’t be the last. This team won’t be the first or the last. Each guy gets picked on.

“But I think it makes you stronger as a person and I believe in my craft. I work hard at my game and that’s all that matter.”


VIDEO: Chris Bosh comes up with the key late assist to seal a Game 2 win

(more…)

Spurs find it easier to be hard



VIDEO: Behind Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, San Antonio collects Game 5

SAN ANTONIO — Figuring out this wildly divergent Western Conference finals is getting harder than calculus after the Spurs’ 117-89 win over the Thunder on Thursday night gave San Antonio a 3-2 series lead.

There was a lineup change. There was a personality change.

There were tactical adjustments. There was an attitude adjustment.

The Spurs contested harder on defense. They battled harder for every rebound. They scrapped harder to come up with every 50-50 play. They worked harder at keeping the ball moving and at staying within their carefully constructed offensive identity.

And it worked for San Antonio. Again.

Five games in this series, five blowouts, all by the home team. The average margin of victory is 20.4 points. The Spurs have won their three home games by 26.6 points per game.

“You’re serious? You really think I can explain that?” Spurs coach Gregg Popovich asked.

For those obsessed by the Xs and Os, the Spurs replaced Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup with Matt Bonner and all through the game kept a stretch-four on the court to keep Serge Ibaka from making the low post and all of the paint his own personal dinner plate.

The Spurs switched defensive assignments, using the bigger Kawhi Leonard to block the tracks of the runaway train that can be Russell Westbrook and trusting Danny Green to give away a half a foot to league MVP Kevin Durant and not be overwhelmed.

They also made the most of Boris Diaw’s broad palette of skills, knocking down 3-pointers, moving shiftily inside for hoops and using a magician’s sleight-of-hand to slide the ball to all of his open teammates.

“It definitely helped,” said Tim Duncan, who broke free for a Throwback Thursday effort of 22 points and 12 rebounds. “Boris shot the ball really well and just the threat of Matt being out there, I think, helped us to keep [Ibaka] out of the lane a little bit and spread him out a little bit. It was a great move by Pop, a little adjustment there, and it obviously worked.”

But only because the Spurs also adjusted the way they played the game — going from lost and timid in OKC to ferocious and confident back home at the AT&T Center.

None of San Antonio’s best-laid plans would have meant a thing if Duncan hadn’t turned back the clock again to do practically hand-to-hand combat to get his dozen rebounds, if Leonard had not thrown off the dazed look of Games 3 and 4 to become locked in, if Diaw didn’t play perhaps the most feverish and significant playoff game of his career.

And if Manu Ginobili hadn’t once more bounced and banged all over the court like a funnel cloud clearing out everything in its path.

Often you can waste time trying to break things down to their smallest parts, rather than sit back and take in the beauty of the entire beast.

“Probably they were not aggressive and we were,” Ginobili said. “Today we were just sharp. We were smart and that’s what we were talking about. It’s the only way we have a shot.”

The Thunder are still younger, swifter and stronger and if the Spurs let them turn this into strictly an athletic affair, they won’t be making a return trip to the NBA Finals, even with the home-court advantage still in their hip pocket.

But a couple of possessions were a perfectly drawn blueprint of exactly what they must do:

  • Once Tony Parker drove the ball down under the basket, whipped a pass all the way back out top to Diaw, who gave a glance at the basket, but then passed the ball on to Leonard in the right corner for a 3-pointer.
  • On another occasion Ginobili raced downcourt in transition  while being dogged and contested by second year man Jeremy Lamb of OKC. He waited as Lamb got up in his face, then he waited some more while other Spurs caught up to the play and offered other options. He waited until Lamb finally took the bait and took a half-step away and then calmly and simply raised up and buried a killer 3 from the right wing.

The Spurs played smart. They played poised. They played hard.

None of that may translate to Game 6 on Saturday in OKC, where San Antonio has lost nine consecutive games. But two nights after not even running in a single fast break play in OKC, the Spurs outran the Thunder 14-4. They devoured the Thunder 48-35 on the backboards. They cleaned up on the inside with 17 second-chance points. For the first time in several years, they thoroughly neutralized Ibaka at both ends of the court.

“It was two things,” Popovich said. “What matters in a game is execution and mental toughness. You have to execute and you have to play with passion. So it’s like the old Dean Smith-Larry Brown thing — play harder than your opponent.”

The rest is easy.

Spurs letting Thunder party like it’s 2012


VIDEO: Thunder wax Spurs in Game 4

OKLAHOMA CITY – It’s deja vu all over again.

Hello, 2012.

Can Obama win a second term? Can the Spurs win another game against the Thunder?

There was no need for postgame locker room fireworks this time. Things got explosive early in the third quarter when coach Gregg Popovich and Tim Duncan went jaw-to-jaw over another uncertain pass that led to another sure-thing dunk at the other end.

It’s no longer just about the inspirational presence of Serge Ibaka in the Thunder lineup.

It’s about the entire energetic, athletic, run-til-the-cows-come-home Thunder lineup. And a Spurs lineup that, just as it did two years ago, suddenly looks like the morning after.

This is no longer a matter of simply asking Tony Parker to play better. It’s about finding a way for the Spurs to regain their poise and effectiveness against an OKC team that in the last two games has come at them like a rolling bundle of butcher knives.

There have been four games played now and four blowouts. But no matter what the series score sheet says, it doesn’t feel like the Western Conference finals are tied at 2-2.

You could say the Spurs have been put back on their heels, if it didn’t look like they were flat on their backs. It’s looking just like two years ago, when the Thunder spotted San Antonio a 2-0 lead and then roared back for a reverse sweep.

Remember Games 1 and 2 in San Antonio when the Thunder front line of Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha put up just nine combined points? It pushed Thunder coach Scott Brooks to make a lineup change to get Reggie Jackson on the floor with the starters and Jeremy Lamb into the rotation.

Here was Duncan (nine points) Tiago Splitter (3) and Danny Green (3) managing to squeeze out just a few more drops and the solution is hardly to sound the trumpet for more of Cory Joseph, Matt Bonner and the Desperation Cavalry.

With the young arms and legs of Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant, Lamb and Jackson cutting off angles and jumping into passing lanes, the Thunder have smothered San Antonio’s offense.

With their driving, relentless aggressiveness, OKC has also overwhelmed the Spurs’ defense. Of Westbrook’s 40 points and Durant’s 31, a lion’s share came with them going to hoop and making the Spurs look helpless to do anything about it.

It ended up 21-0 in fast break points. What’s more, in the first half the Spurs did not even run a single transition play. That’s plays, not points.

While Parker came out determined to re-establish his attack mode in the paint, his constant challenging of Ibaka actually took the Spurs out of their offense.

“We didn’t play smart on a consistent basis,” Popovich said. “All of a sudden we were going to see if Serge could block a shot or something. I thought about passing a picture out on the bench. They’d know who Serge was.

“(It was) really unwise basketball … instead of hitting open people that are out there, we started attacking the rim unwisely, and that turns into blocked shots. We have seven turnovers in the first half, but really 14 because of seven blocks. You’ve got to play smarter against such great athletes. They’re talented, obviously, but the athleticism and the length gives you a small margin of error. You’d better be smart the way you play and you can’t afford to screw up as many times as we did.”

At this time of the season with a core of veterans, there are not Xs and Os to be rearranged on the chalkboard that will deliver a solution. That’s the reason why Popovich pulled Duncan, Parker, Manu Ginobili and Kawhi Leonard when the OKC reached 27 points and it was still the third quarter. He needs to conserve whatever is left in those worn tanks for what is left of the series and maybe the season.

“This has got nothing to do with adjustments,” Popovich said. “It’s about playing smarter and harder for more consistent minutes.”

Not doing that has turned Chesapeake Arena into the Spurs’ own house of horrors.

Since the 2012 conference finals, the Spurs have an NBA-best road record of 62-33 against 28 other teams. But they’re also 0-9 in OKC since then, too.

“I think we should not think like that,” Parker said. “Each game is different, each series, each year.”

So how come it feels like 2012 and we already know how the election and everything else turned out?

Ibaka’s absence brings ‘fluid’ lineups

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

SAN ANTONIO – The Oklahoma City Thunder are doing their best sales job to suggest life without Serge Ibaka has to be business as usual. In basketball parlance, it’s simply next man up.

But, with 11:09 left in the second quarter of Monday’s Western Conference finals Game 1 against the San Antonio Spurs, the Thunder pulled out their most unusual lineup, especially for this juncture of the playoffs. Jeremy Lamb checked in for Kevin Durant, but the the little-used, second-year shooting guard getting such early run wasn’t the exceptional part. It was who he was running with: Derek Fisher, Reggie Jackson, Caron Butler and Steven Adams.

Kevin Durant will need some help in Game 2 (Wednesday, 9 p.m.)(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

Kevin Durant will need some help in Wednesday’s Game 2 (9 p.m., TNT)(Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE)

“Our lineups can be very fluid and we have flexibility all year long to have done that,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before Game 1. “We played small a lot and with Serge out, obviously we have more opportunities to play small.”

OKC climbed back from a 20-9 hole to 33-30 when Lamb came in for Durant. Exactly three minutes later, Lamb, whose head seemed to be on a swivel defensively as Spurs players raced by him to the bucket, checked out for Russell Westbrook and the Thunder trailed 45-37.

A small lineup that found success late in the second quarter was the unit of Westbrook, Jackson, Lamb, Durant and Kendrick Perkins. That group came together with 1:58 to go and OKC in big trouble, trailing 65-51. An 8-2 run trimmed the halftime deficit to a reasonable eight points, 67-59.

It’s a bad time of year to have to experiment with lineups. After the game, Brooks said he’s going to “have to find lineups that work.”

The Thunder’s best lineups are the ones in which Durant and Westbrook are on the floor together or, at least, with one of them in the lineup. And that’s mostly been the case. Durant logged 40 minutes in Game 1, the 13th time in 14 games this postseason in which he’s played at least 40 minutes, and the sixth in a row.

Brooks has to balance giving each of his stars some rest so they’re not totally gassed in the fourth quarter, but doing so while not putting the team at a severe disadvantage — which the Fisher-Jackson-Lamb-Butler-Adams group did.

There’s little choice for Brooks in deciding a starting lineup. Nick Collison is the only logical choice to fill in for Ibaka at power forward. Collison is a steadier player than the one that showed up Monday night and threw up three horribly off-target shots and was mostly poor defensively. A frontcourt of Perkins and Adams together doesn’t make much sense and Brooks clearly has little faith in 7-foot-3 center Hasheem Thabeet to contribute as a rim protector.

Although Brooks harped on defense after the game, his best bet might be to employ waves of small lineups that include Durant or Westbrook, or both, with Reggie Jackson and simply try to out-run and outscore the machine-like Spurs.

“I have faith in all of our guys to step in and do the job,” Brooks said. “No matter who we put on the floor, they have to be able to compete against this team. They have five guys that can score on the floor at the same time. You don’t have a possession off. Not one. We can’t hide anybody.”

“Spurs killer” Jackson on Pop’s radar

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

“Every time I see Ibaka or hear the name, 11-for-11 goes through my head.”

That was Gregg Popovich talking to reporters early on Friday afternoon.

So you figured the Spurs coach was relaxing with his feet up with a nice Malbec in his hand once word spread that Thunder forward Serge Ibaka could have been lost for the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury?

Of course, that would only mean you need to enroll in a course of “Remedial Pop” before the start of the Western Conference finals on Monday.

The last thing Pop wants to hear about is the door being pushed open wider for his Spurs to return to The Finals. He only sees trapdoors.

Even before the loss of the shot-blocking whiz, Popovich and his staff were fretting over Reggie Jackson.

While everyone knows Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will get theirs, it’s Jackson who has been a huge problem for the Spurs in losing all four games to OKC this season.

“If anybody watched our games, they watched Reggie Jackson basically be the Spurs killer any time we played them,” Popovich said.

Over the course of the entire season, Jackson averaged 13.1 points, 2.7 assists and shot 43.1 percent from the field. But in those four Spurs losses, Jackson averaged 21.2 points, 4.3 assists, shot 67.3 percent from the field and connected on 66.7 percent of his 3-pointers.

Of course, Ibaka’s loss will be felt most on the defensive end, where he has the ability to control the paint and prevent Spurs point guard Tony Parker from getting to the spots where he can do the most damage. The sheer numbers show that San Antonio averages 108 points per 100 possessions, except when Ibaka is on the floor. Then the Spurs production drops to 93 per 100 possessions.

There is virtually no way the Thunder will be able to cover up for the absence of Ibaka on defense. Nick Collison is older and slower. Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are younger and untested and have not been prepared. Can you really expect Steven Adams to knock over the furniture for 35-40 minutes per game? Can you ask much more from Durant?

For the Thunder to win now will most likely require a lot more offense. And that’s where Jackson comes in.

Ask Pop and his mouth will pucker like he’s taken a sip from a wine bottle with a twist-off cap. The Spurs killer has left a bad taste behind.

OKC’s Lamb waits through reduced role

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

Jeremy Lamb (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

Jeremy Lamb (Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Demotions stink.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Westbrook handles emotions, dominates Beverley, Rockets


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

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

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

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

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


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

Was the ballsy play a message from Beverley?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: Durant, Westbrook lead the Thunder past the Rockets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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