Posts Tagged ‘Kendrick Perkins’

With Sefolosha’s return, OKC starting to return to full strength

By Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com

(Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

After missing 17 games, Thabo Sefolosha is back in the Thunder’s lineup. (Rocky Widner/NBAE/Getty Images)

SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Business as usual.

“I thought Thabo was good,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks was saying Tuesday night at Sleep Train Arena, after his shooting guard, Thabo Sefolosha, returned to action in a 107-92 victory over the Kings. “It’s hard to do in this league, to miss six or so or however many games or weeks he missed and come in and play an NBA game, but I thought he did a good job. He was moving well. He was active on defense. Those are the things we love about Thabo.”

Sefolosha made a pretty smooth transition after missing 17 games with a strained right calf. Russell Westbrook has still not been cleared for back-to-backs in the recovery from the lingering problem with his right knee, but his time restriction has been increased to about 34 minutes, or close to no time restriction unless Oklahoma City plays two nights in a row. And, Kendrick Perkins has been in the lineup three games in a row, albeit for no more than 14 minutes, after sitting 17 games himself because of a strained left groin.

The playoffs are coming, and so are the Thunder. Wins in eight of the last 11, including against the Spurs and in Chicago on the second night of a back-to-back, a big meeting tonight with the Clippers (10:30 ET, ESPN) with No. 2 in the Western Conference in play, Westbrook at 24 points and 48.3 percent from the field his last five appearances and expected to play in Los Angeles, and the health. Of course the health.

Sefolosha’s absence didn’t get nearly the attention of OKC missing Westbrook, understandably, or Perkins, because Sefolosha doesn’t usually get attention. Eight years in the league, 5 ½ as a Thunder starter, an important part of the defense. Just no spotlight.

“He has a mindset,” Brooks said. “He has a great knowledge on players that he plays against, teams that he plays against. He’s a long defender. He’s a multiple-position defender. He can guard some fours in the league and he’s done a great job. He’s one of the premier defenders in this league. Obviously his experience and his toughness adds to our team. He has been that guy for us for a lot of years.

“I think it’s just good to have your entire roster together. We’re moving in that direction. Perk came back a few games ago, Thabo’s coming back, Russell will be back. Thabo gives us another very good defender, and we all know we have to defend as a team and we can obviously do a better job of that than we have in the past. But I like where we’re going, I like how the spirit of our team is right now. It helps when we have all of our guys.”

Sefolosha said he had no pain or discomfort during his 15 minutes against the Kings and may even jump right into back-to-backs by playing tonight in Los Angeles. From there, he thinks he will be able to get his game legs in time for the playoffs. He thinks, in other words, it will be possible to make the same contribution this postseason as in the past.

“Basically the same impact I’ve been having with this team for the last four, five years,” he said. “Playing defense the way I play defense and communicating with my teammates and spacing the floor while making shots.”

So, basically business as usual.

“Business as usual.”

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

KD Keeps Streaking As Russ Blasts Off


VIDEO: Durant pours in 42 points in Thunder’s rout of Sixers

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST –LeBron James scored a career-high 61 points on Monday night. How would Kevin Durant answer a night later in what’s becoming a must-see, game-by-game, blow-by-blow MVP race?

Durant totaled 42 points on 14-for-20 shooting, nine rebounds and three assists in a mere 32 minutes in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 125-92 dismantling of the moribund Philadelphia 76ers. It was an individual performance that stacked up more to a Sixer of another era, The Answer, as in Allen Iverson, than to LeBron.

For the 26th consecutive game, Durant scored at least 25 points, the third-longest such streak in the last 25 years. The two players who’ve gone longer? Durant did it for 29 consecutive games during the 2009-10 season. And Mr. Iverson, the man who watched his No. 3 Philadelphia 76ers jersey raised to the rafters Monday, got it done in 27 consecutive games during the 2000-01 season. That’s it. Those two. No LeBron to be found.

In fact, after Tuesday’s 106-103 loss at Houston, James has sandwiched his 61 — his second game of the season of 40 points or more — with games of 20 and now 22. Durant, meanwhile, notched his 10th game of 40 points or more and his fourth in the last nine games. He made his first seven shots and was 8-for-11 with 21 points by halftime. Then came 21 in the third quarter on 6-for-9 shooting and his night was done.

Had he not unnaturally struggled at the free throw line, going 12-for-18, Durant probably would have hit 50 for a second time this season.

“It’s his fault,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks kidded. “I would’ve ran one more play for him to get 50 if he would’ve made his six free throws.”

But get this: Kevin wasn’t the story of the night. Because Russ ended up being Russ.

Russell Westbrook, in his sixth game back from a third right knee surgery since last April, ripped the 76ers for a triple-double — 13 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds — in a land speed record of 20 minutes, 17 seconds. At least it’s the fastest anyone’s accumulated a triple-double in nearly 60 years, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

“He’s just physically so gifted and he is so competitive,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “You know, there is a — and I say this respectfully — there is an angry competitor that wills his way into doing stuff, and I say that with the utmost respect, and so you saw those physical abilities along with just such a strong mind. It’s a powerful combination.”

Westbrook racked up eight assists in his first stint of six minutes, 34 seconds.

“Fourteen assists in 20 minutes,” Brooks marveled. “I mean, potentially if he had played more minutes, he probably could have had 20 assists tonight.”

That’s now 40 assists for Westbrook in his last five games, and perhaps the best sign that his knee is feeling fine is the 10 rebounds. He had 12 in the previous four games. The triple-double was his second of the season. The first came on Christmas Day at New York, his unsuspecting final game before being summoned back to the operating table.

“It is crazy,” Westbrook said of his rapid-fire filling of the box score. “I’m just trying to get my groove back. It is crazy to be able to do that in such a short amount of time, but it was fun.”

“I’m super proud of him,” Durant said of his buddy during a TV interview after the game.

It’s a great sign for the Thunder (46-15), who have now won three in a row since losing their first three games of Westbrook’s return out of the All-Star break. They are without injured starters Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but they did welcome newcomer Caron Butler into the rotation for the first time.

Bought out by the Bucks last week and signed by the opportunistic Thunder, the veteran small forward logged 26 minutes off the bench and contributed two points, an assist and five rebounds. He received a warm welcome from the home sellout crowd.

“I was just excited to be in that environment,” Butler said. “It felt like being at UConn again.”


VIDEO: Westbrook tallies triple-double in just over 20 minutes

Will Thunder Miss Perkins Or Not?

The Thunder are losing one of their vocal leaders in Kendrick Perkins. (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images)

The Thunder are losing one of their vocal leaders in Kendrick Perkins. (Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE/Getty Images)

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – That’s one way to get Kendrick Perkins out of the lineup. Analytics faithful have long called for him to sit and so, too, has a growing segment of the league’s friendliest fans.

The Oklahoma City Thunder’s 6-foot-10, 280-pound brute is probably more renowned now for his imposing scowl than for his imposing, no-holds-barred approach that helped the Celtics win one title and might have cost them another when an injury forced him out of Game 7 against the Lakers in 2010.

On Tuesday, the Thunder announced Perkins will miss up to six weeks after undergoing surgery on his left groin, an injury that occurred in the third quarter of Thursday’s loss to the Miami Heat. On Sunday, the Thunder lost again to the Los Angeles Clippers, and afterwards Perkins’ former coach Doc Rivers couldn’t help but give Perkins some good-natured ribbing.

The Clippers torched the Thunder for 72 points in the first half with 27 coming on the fastbreak. Rivers was asked if OKC missed Perkins’ defense considering the plodding center probably wouldn’t have been much help chasing Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan down the floor.

“He was good for us,” Rivers said regarding Perkins in those Boston days. “That was in his younger days when he ran the 40 [yard dash] in 4.5 [seconds], I think. Now he might run it in 44.5, but I’m not sure — maybe 50, I don’t know.”

Rivers got a good chuckle out of it, but will the Thunder and their fans be laughing without the polarizing big man to pick on? Here’s Rivers again, this time being a bit more serious about the less visible impact Perkins has on his team.

“Where he helps you, even if it’s not that [in transition], he’s a voice that tells you you’re not getting back,” Rivers said. “People don’t understand how important those voices are when you have a guy talking your defense, holding people accountable, you miss that. They missed that [Sunday].”

The Thunder will likely replace Perkins in the starting lineup with impressive, 7-foot, 250-pound rookie Steven Adams, 20, a raw talent, but a physical player and a hustler. Veteran Nick Collison will likely see a bump in minutes and rising, two-way power forward Serge Ibaka will likely see more time at center in smaller lineups.

Like Rivers, Thunder coach Scott Brooks has long praised Perkins for delivering the less-heralded, but necessary aspects of the game like hard-nosed defense and bone-jarring screens that spring Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and others for open looks.

Durant, too, has always had his teammate’s back.

“He’s one of those guys that sacrifice and puts it all on the line for his team,” Durant said of Perkins prior to this season as the 11th-year center returned from hefty criticism following last year’s second-round loss to Memphis. “He’s a guy that I go to war with every single night and a brother for life, so I’m behind him 110 percent.”

But by any metric it becomes increasingly difficult to defend Perkins’ 19.7 mpg, which ranks as his lowest in the last eight seasons. His inclusion against smaller, quicker lineups such as the Heat is even harder to defend. Perkins is averaging 3.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg and is shooting 44.2 percent, low for a player who attempts nearly 80 percent of his shots from within eight feet.

The Thunder’s offensive efficiency is 102.7 points per 100 possessions with Perkins on the floor and it soars to 110.1 with him off. Their defensive efficiency barely fluctuates with him on or off the floor.

The Thunder traded for Perkins in February 2011 believing they’d need him for years to come to battle the Los Angeles Lakers’ frontcourt combo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Obviously that didn’t last and utilizing smaller lineups has become the trend throughout the league.

OKC’s regular starting lineup of Westbrook, Thabo Sefolosha, Durant, Ibaka and Perkins has played 287 minutes together with an offensive rating of 96.7 and a defensive rating of 104.2. The likely new starting lineup with Adams replacing Perkins has played 82 minutes together with an offensive rating of 100.4 and a defensive rating that nose dives off the chart at 122.0.

Numbers are meaningful, but can also be interpreted in different ways when comparing lineup combinations. All we can do now is watch the games and try to determine if the Thunder indeed miss Perkins’ nearly 20 minutes a game, or if he’s really been more of a hindrance all along.

Talking Defense With Scott Brooks

VIDEO: Serge Ibaka turns defense into offense vs. the Hawks

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – When you think of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Kevin Durant‘s scoring comes to mind first. He leads the league by a wide margin, after all. But the Thunder have been a better defensive team than offensive team this season. Heading into Thursday’s matchup with the Heat, they rank sixth in offensive efficiency and third in defensive efficiency.

To be a true title contender, you have to be good on both ends of the floor, and the Thunder are the only team that has ranked in the top 10 in both offensive and defensive efficiency each of the last three seasons.

That’s a credit to head coach Scott Brooks, who spoke with NBA.com for a few minutes at All-Star weekend in New Orleans.

NBA.com: When looking at teams, I usually evaluate their offense and defense separately. Do you look your offense and defense like that, or is there more a relationship between the how well you play offensively and how well you play defensively?

Brooks: I look at it in a bunch of dimensions. One, I look at it as strictly an offensive team and a defensive team. And I look at it combined, hand in hand. I believe you have to be able to be a be a two-way team in order to have success. Especially in the West, there are so many great teams.

And that’s the thing I take pride in. I know there are so many times when we have to focus on defense, defense, defense, and there are holes. We have to try to repair it. And we do that and the offense becomes stagnant, and you try to fix that up. That’s just part of coaching. You have to find balance, fix the problems as you see them, and try to envision problems before they even happen.

NBA.com: We always think that good defense leads to better offense, but I once asked Jerry Sloan how his team could get better defensively, and he said it started with better floor balance on offense. For your team, does one end of the floor help the other more than vice-versa?

Brooks: We say that the start of good defense is a good shot. Also, we say that the start of a good offense is a rebound off a miss. So they go hand in hand. Our guys really believe that. They’ve done a good job of focusing on making teams miss and trying to score in transition before the defense is set. And then, focusing on getting a good shot and having good floor balance, so you can get back in transition and get set before the offense attacks you.

NBA.com: Do you value certain things defensively more than others? Do you care about forcing turnovers?

Brooks: I don’t look into forcing turnovers. If we’re in a defensive mind set, we’re going to get our fair share of steals. I’m really concerned about making sure that every shot is contested. For basketball players on all levels, it’s proven that if you’re shooting contested shots, you have less of a chance of making them. So we focus on that. And we focus on making sure we rebound. Our rebounding numbers have gone up the last few years.

Thunder defense, last four seasons

Season DefRtg Rank OppeFG% Rank DREB% Rank OppTOV% Rank Opp FTA/FGA Rank
2010-11 104.0 13 49.3% 11 73.6% 17 14.5% 19 .307 19
2011-12 100.0 9 46.5% 4 72.1% 23 14.6% 23 .270 13
2012-13 99.2 4 46.9% 2 73.4% 17 15.2% 17 .254 8
2013-14 99.3 3 47.8% 4 75.5% 9 15.3% 16 .286 13

DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
OppeFG% = Opponent (FGM + (0.5*3PM)) / FGA
DREB% = Percentage of available defensive rebounds obtained
OppTOV% = Opponent turnovers per 100 possessions

NBA.com: Defense has been a big part of your bench success. Your best defensive numbers have been with your reserves on the floor. Is that just about them playing against other reserves, or is there more to it than that?

Brooks: We have some toughness on our bench. There’s no question. I think people don’t give our toughness, as a team, enough credit. They don’t look at guys like KD and say “That’s a tough guy.” He’s so athletic. He’s slender. But he’s tough.

With our bench, we feel that [Derek] Fisher, [Nick] Collison, Reggie [Jackson], Jeremy [Lamb], Steven [Adams], and Perry [Jones] bring that type of toughness. Obviously, when you’re going against the other team’s bench, that kind of negates the difference. But I think our bench has done a good job.

I try not to really look at our team as two units. I know, as a player, it kind of bothered me that … “Hey, bench guys go over there and shoot” or first team and second team and all that. If you’re going to talk about the first team and second team, don’t talk about “team” to me. That was kind of my mind set as a player.

So I look at our group as a team and with the flexibility that we have, we can mix and match our starters and the guys that come off the bench and form a pretty good unit.

NBA.com: On that note, your defense has been very good (in 234 minutes) with Russell Westbrook and Jackson on the floor together. Does your defense start on the perimeter or on the interior?

Brooks: That’s a question that I go back and forth on. I come up with the conclusion that all five guys have to be engaged. We have to have Serge [Ibaka] and [Kendrick Perkins] ready to protect the paint. We have to have Russell, KD and Thabo [Sefolosha] ready to man the perimeter. I think both perimeter and interior guys have to be ready to play. There are too many skilled players in this league to relax at one position.

NBA.com: And when Russell and Reggie are on the floor together, can you be more disruptive?

Brooks: I haven’t really dove into those two playing together. That’s something that we can always go to. I like it more as an offensive unit, because Reggie gives us a third penetrator.

You just have to understand who they can guard. Russell can guard just about any guard in this league. And Reggie, you have to be able to pick and choose who he can guard. One of them’s going to have to guard a bigger guard. Some of the guards in the league don’t post up, but some do.

Trust Binds Brooks, Young Stars To OKC


VIDEO: Take a closer look at Scott Brooks’ coaching style and strategy

OKLAHOMA CITY – Scott Brooks does a bad job of bragging. As he continued to redirect credit for Oklahoma City’s ongoing success to a meticulous organizational structure and its young stars, the Thunder’s coach, self-deprecating to a fault, spotted Wilson Taylor in the distance.

Taylor is the club’s 30-year-old manager of team operations. The morning shootaround had ended moments earlier and Taylor was busily attending to some normally behind-the-scenes tasks at the other end of the team’s sprawling, immaculately lit training facility eight miles north of downtown. Like Brooks and multiple members of OKC’s staff — general manager Sam Presti, superstars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, roster rock Nick Collison – Taylor’s been with the team since it opened shop here in the summer of 2008.

“People don’t talk about this, but Sam has done a great job hiring, not necessarily me, but everybody in this building,” Brooks said in an interview last week with NBA.com. “You talk to Wilson right there, he understands that his job is to get our players better. And we all have the same mentality, from our therapists, from our sports scientists, from our trainers, from our equipment managers; we all understand our job is to get our players better, and I take pride in all those guys.”

Still, Brooks, 48, is the coach. And he’s overseeing one of the most unique and potentially historic team-building processes in the modern, free-agent-frenzied NBA. From the start of his career, Brooks has been coaching a rising icon (Durant), a perennial all-NBA player (Westbrook) and a roster that boasts, even after Jeff Green and James Harden‘s departures 20 months apart, seven homegrown players and six who are 25 or younger.

In the last four seasons, the Thunder have challenged the Lakers in the first round, made the West finals in 2011 and the NBA Finals in 2012 before last season’s hope got short-circuited in the West semis after a Westbrook knee injury.

Now here they are again.

The bedrock for all this success lies deeper than shrewd drafting. It lies with the bond Brooks forged early on with his two divergent stars. That put the youthful crew on a developmental fast track and put OKC on the map.

On Sunday, Brooks will coach the Western Conference All-Stars in the 63rd All-Star Game in New Orleans because his Thunder sit atop the heated Western Conference with 42 wins in 54 games. Holler if you called that following Westbrook’s third knee surgery the day after he dropped a Christmas Day triple-double at Madison Square Garden.

The only team in the league to rank in the top five in offensive and defensive rating? The Thunder. They’ve popped East powerhouses Miami and Indiana by a combined 41 points.

This is arguably the deepest OKC squad ever and, assuming Westbrook resumes his season in the coming days, the Thunder are the favorite to win the West. (more…)

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

OKC’s adjustment pays off vs. Heat | Rivers lobbying for Jordan to be an All-Star | Myers dishes on Warriors’ rebuild

No. 1: OKC’s halftime adjustment proves crucial vs. Miami — In Wednesday night’s much-anticipated Thunder-Heat game from south Florida, OKC found itself down 30-21 after the first quarter. At one point, Miami’s first-half lead swelled to 18 points, but the Thunder rallied and by halftime had a 55-50 lead. How OKC maintained that lead in the second half en route to a 112-95 rout of Miami had a lot to do with coach Scott Brooks‘ decision to sit starting center Kendrick Perkins in the second half and insert Perry Jones, thus giving OKC a quicker (if smaller) lineup that caused Miami fits, writes our own Steve Aschburner:

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.

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.”


VIDEO:
OKC fans watch, celebrate the Thunder’s win in Miami

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No. 3: Rivers pushing hard for Jordan to make All-Star team — This time of year, many coaches will lobby other coaches within their  conference to vote for a player as an All-Star reserve. The general thought, though, is that this happens during pregame conversations or informal talks amongst NBA coaches. That’s one level of lobbying. Then there’s what Clippers coach Doc Rivers is apparently doing to get center DeAndre Jordan to the All-Star Game. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Arash Markazi has more on Rivers’ lobbying efforts:

Before the season began, Los Angeles Clippers coach Doc Rivers said his team had a “big three”: Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan.Rivers now would like to see his big three in New Orleans for the NBA All-Star Game and has gone as far as lobbying his fellow Western Conference coaches to include Jordan in their vote to make the team as a reserve.

“I got a great response,” Rivers said. “But that’s why you go under a curtain when you’re stumping and they vote real because [they say], ‘Yeah, I’m going to vote for him,’ and then they shift that other lever.”

Rivers said many of the coaches he called said they would vote for Jordan while others said they liked him without saying whether they would include him.

“Yeah,” Rivers said when asked whether he was hopeful Jordan would be named an All-Star. “But it’s a lot of guys at that position.”

Jordan currently is leading the NBA in field goal percentage at .645 and rebounding with a 13.9 per-game average, and is fourth in blocked shots with 2.38 per game. He also is averaging a career-high 9.5 points per game.

“I’m looking forward to [the announcement]; whatever the coaches vote, I’m going to respect it,” said Jordan, who had 14 points and 17 rebounds against the Washington Wizards in a 110-103 win Wednesday night. “If I make it, I make it and I’ll be really excited, but if not, it’s another chip I can add on my shoulder and just continue to keep playing like I’m playing this season.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about L.A.’s win on Wednesday over the Wizards

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No. 3: Warriors GM dishes on building a contenderJust two seasons ago, Golden State was a 23-win team in the midst of what would become its fifth straight season without the playoffs. Much has changed since then, what with last season’s run to the Western Conference semifinals and this season contender for the Pacific Division crown. BasketballInsiders.com’s Nate Duncan caught up with Warriors GM Bob Myers, who talked in detail about crafting a long-term plan to make Golden State relevant again:

You talked about the timeline. When you came on in roughly early 2011 and then going into that summer and after the lockout, what did you perceive this team’s timeline for contention to be at that point?

Myers: Well what’s left from when I started is our two players, David Lee and Steph Curry. So of the 13 or 14 guys three years ago, we’ve kept two. So it’s a total overhaul of the entire roster, whether it’s through draft, trade or free agency. We have I would say, right now 13 new players in two years, which is a big turnover. Ideally you’d like to have more continuity, but we weren’t having success with the roster that year, obviously. We did believe last year, we hoped we put together a team that could make the playoffs. So our goal this year, last year it was to make the playoffs, this year was to make a good showing in the playoffs, and maybe next year it’s more than that. But we try to be realistic about where we are, we want to go beyond the goal of last year, which was just making the playoffs, and this year maybe advance in the playoffs. Maybe advance further than we did last year. So you’re always trying to build. A lot of things factor into your success in the postseason. We do our best in the front office and as an organization to put together the most talented team, and trust in our coaching staff to develop the players we give them. And then we go from there, and see what happens.

In 2011 you’re 36-46 and there’s this sort of truth, we can debate how truthful that actually is, that you kind of don’t want to be in the middle, that that’s the worst place to be. Was there any thought that you might have to bottom out a little bit to improve in that 2011 timeframe?

Myers: Well, the goal was to upgrade our talent from that team, that was the goal all along. We didn’t have a ton of assets to deal via trade. One of our assets, who happened to be our best player at the time, was Monta Ellis. One of the philosophies of the organization was to get bigger. We really wanted to try and be big. This organization has been small for so long and has had some success in that way, but from ownership on down, we feel like size is imperative to compete consistently in the NBA. So we had an opportunity to trade a guard for a center, and I think those opportunities are rare, and we took advantage of it. And Bogut happened to be hurt at the time. I’m not sure we could have got him if he was healthy. If he was healthy that would have been fine, maybe that would have allowed us to make a push towards the playoffs. But the fact that he was hurt allowed us to see what the team was with a lot of our young assets. Every day we come to work, we’re trying to find ways to improve our roster. Whether that’s through current assets or future assets or developing organically through the players we have here. Every day we want to leave work a little bit better than when we came in.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: For the second time this season, Evan Turner hit a game-winning buzzer-beater … Historically, the Jazz don’t do so hot on the nights they retire jerseys … Ex-Mavs coach  Spurs coach Gregg Popovich says, like it or not, the “Hack-a-Shaq” strategy is part of the NBA now

ICYMI(s) of The Night: There were two standout breakaway dunks last night, so it was hard for us to pick just one. Which one was better: Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s or Blake Griffin‘s? …:


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo finishes strong vs. Phoenix


VIDEO: Blake Griffin takes flight on a breakaway jam

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

Durant Buries Blazers, Makes MVP Case


VIDEO: Durant scores 46 to lead Thunder past Trail Blazers

OKLAHOMA CITY – They’re piling on the Kevin Durant MVP bandwagon now as it barrels through Western Conference contenders with reckless abandon. Its latest victim, the Portland Trail Blazers, was left to dust off a 46-point onslaught and doff its cap as it rode out of town.

“The guy is the best player in the world right now. What can you say about him?” said Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, a salty defender who fended off the pain of a broken left middle finger better than he could Durant, the league’s runaway leading scorer halfway through the season. “When you watch him on TV, like, he is the best. When you guard him in the game, sometimes you have two guys on him and he makes the shot anyway.

“He’s the MVP. He’s the MVP,” Batum repeated, fiddling with his aching finger. “I mean, six years I have been in this league I have never seen a [performance] like that. Six years.”

Durant’s hot zone is the entire court. He blistered Portland for 11 points in the final 3:23, including a terrific drive through traffic and consecutive 3-point daggers from the top of the arc to give him six long balls on seven attempts. The Blazers’ 95-90 lead went up in smoke as did their lead in the Northwest Division. The Thunder (32-10), clamping down with an underrated or under-appreciated or simply under-talked-about defense, pulled out the 105-97 victory for their fourth consecutive win after briefly regrouping following Russell Westbrook‘s latest setback after Christmas.

They’ve knocked down Golden State, Houston, an improving Sacramento squad and now the Blazers (31-11).

Set up Wednesday night in San Antonio are the Spurs (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) with first place in the West on the line.

And as if anybody needs reminding about the Thunder’s potential, that bespectacled, young fellow wearing skinny jeans and a form-fitting sport coat cheering on the Thunder bench will eventually return.

For now, Durant is putting together a run for the ages. Since Westbrook was lost to a third knee surgery, Durant has padded a resume that today has him atop the MVP race he’s run a strong second for several years to LeBron James. Tuesday’s ultra-efficient 46 points came on 17 made baskets on 25 attempts.

But then that’s becoming old news, too. When he put 54 on the Warriors he did it on 19-for-28 shooting. He only needs a couple percentage points from the free throw line to again be in 50-40-90 territory.

“I’m not just being biased, he’s at an MVP-type level,” teammate Kendrick Perkins said. “Right now, if you had to give an award away today you’d have to give it to Kevin Durant.”

Tuesday’s 46 marked the fourth time in the last 10 games he’s scored at least 46. He’s also hit 48, twice. He’s scored more than 30 in the last eight games, the longest such streak of his career. In the last 14 games without his superstar buddy at the point, Durant has averaged 36.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 5.6 apg and just 2.9 turnovers in 38.1 mpg. He’s coming off being named the West’s Player of the Week and has already been named the conference’s Player of the Month for the first two months.

Durant, classically and predictably, downplayed his brilliance and praised teammates for doing the hard work to set him up to finish things off.

“You know Perkins giving his body up for me, Serge [Ibaka] is giving his body up, Nick [Collison] and Steven [Adams] , our bigs are doing a great job of getting me open and, like I always say, it’s on me to finish,” Durant said. “So I have to put in the work before and after practice, shootarounds, in order for me to make those shots. My teammates do a great job of setting me up. It’s far more than just me; it’s a small part actually. What I do is more so plays coach [Scott Brooks] calls and the screens being set and the passes being sent. I think the end result is just on me, just trusting in the work and believing in the work to knock those shots down.”

Most impressive is Durant, who also had five rebounds and four assists, is forcing nothing. Everything is coming within the offense. At the half, Jackson had 12 shot attempts to Durant’s 11. Ibaka had nine. Jeremy Lamb had six. Durant scored 15 points in 12 minutes of the first quarter; five points in five minutes in the second; 12 points in 12 minutes in the third; and 14 in nine minutes in the fourth.

“MVP performance,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I mean, to score 46 points on 25 shots, 6-for-7 from 3s; I think he got two of his shots blocked. I mean it was a remarkable performance. He made shots when they mattered, he took his time, he didn’t force it, he just took what was there and made some great shots.”

For much of the game, Stotts’ own star, LaMarcus Aldridge, went punch-for-punch with Durant, finishing with 29 points and 16 rebounds, but Thunder center Kendrick Perkins held him to 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter. Maybe the Blazers, who won in OKC on New Year’s Eve with a late comeback, simply ran out of gas playing a third game in four nights and the second of a back-to-back.

Even so, the Thunder took the game and again sounded the alarm that they are a team in every sense of the word — deep, together, defensive and determined. Durant is a monster and a title run is going to require a full-throttle Westbrook, a reality that now only seems a matter of time, but this is arguably the most complete team of the Thunder era.

It is, inarguably, the most ferocious defensive team in the Western  Conference. In the final moments of the Thunder win, Ibaka collected blocks four and five on the same possession. The much-maligned Perkins made a crucial block, got a late steal and buried a 14-foot baseline jumper for a 99-95 lead with 1:36 left.

“I just like our approach to the game,” Durant said. “We’re just playing hard. We’re moving the basketball. We missed some shots, but that happens. We’re just playing for each other. We just have to stick together no matter what. Defensively, I think we’re doing a good job of using our length. They hit some 3s and tough shots on us, but we haven’t gotten down on ourselves, we haven’t felt sorry for ourselves, we just kept playing and tonight is another case.”


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Kevin Durant’s MVP chances

Making A List, Checking It Twice …

We’re making a list, checking it twice. On Christmas Eve, it’s time to remember who’s been naughty or nice in the first two months of the 2013-14 season:

Naughty — Nets — There isn’t enough coal in Newcastle to fill up the deservingly drooping stocking that hangs over a forlorn and underachieving mantle in Brooklyn. Why would anyone think it would make sense to trade for 37-year-old Kevin Garnett, 36-year-old Paul Pierce, 36-year-old Jason Terry as part of $102 million-payroll and put the whole thing in the hands of a guy who had never coached a game in his life? Then Jason Kidd gets extra naughty by intentionally spilling a drink when he doesn’t have a timeout against the Lakers. They have a mediocre offense and the 29th-rated defense. Now they lose Brook Lopez to a broken foot. So it won’t be a Happy New Year either, Billy King.

Nice — LaMarcus Aldridge — From Damian Lillard to Nicolas Batum to Robin Lopez to coach Terry Stotts, there are many contributors to the rousing start to the season by the surprising Trail Blazers with the best record in the league. But no one has done more to elevate his game and his team to the elite level than Aldridge. He labored faithfully through seven seasons with a roster that virtually fell apart around his ears, listened to so much talk of trades and has come back to deliver a magnificent season that has him firmly in the MVP conversation.

Naughty — Knicks — Remember when they used to play basketball in New York? The Manhattan edition of the NBA can’t shoot, doesn’t rebound and Carmelo Anthony is saying the Knicks’ troubles are all in their heads. Would that be the heads of the players and the coach who can’t think to call a timeout in the final seconds to set up a shot? If things don’t turn around fast, Mike Woodson’s going to be the fall guy even though there have been enough injuries to fill an ER and the myth of the Knicks as true playoff contenders entering the season was no more real than a team of flying reindeer pulling a sleigh across the sky.

Nice — Suns — If you went to a Las Vegas sports book during training camp and plopped down a sizable lump of cash on the Suns to beat the over/under prediction of 21.5 wins, you’d probably be only a week or two away from returning to book a penthouse suite with your winnings. First-year coach Jeff Hornacek has his club riding the backcourt pairing of Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic with a rotating cast of other contributors to a 17-10 record and a spot right in the thick of the tough Western Conference playoff race. When the Spurs were in town last week, the entire Phoenix roster had played the same number of NBA games in their careers combined as 37-year-old Tim Duncan.

Naughty — Ricky Rubio — Sure, it’s fun to sit in front of the big screen TV and keep hitting the rewind button on the DVR to replay all of those behind-the-back, no-look, over-the-shoulder, through-the-opponent’s-legs, thread-the-needle, oh-my-gosh, how-did-he-do-that, head-on-a-swivel, slicker-than-a-greased eel passes that get his teammates easy layups and dunks. But come on, two years plus into your NBA career, you’ve got to be able to knock down a wide open jump shot when teams give them to you. Which they do and which you don’t. Which is a big part of the reason why your Timberwolves are healthy and still underperforming.

Nice — Kevin Love — After missing 91 games over the past two seasons to injury, Love’s return to good health and a nightly spot in the lineup has been a sight sweeter than sugar plums dancing in the Timberwolves’ heads. How does a guy who is always a threat to score 30 points and pull down 20 rebounds get better? He becomes a better passer, nearly doubling his assists to 4.2 per game. Outside of The King down in South Beach, there’s just nobody in the league you can count on more every night.

Naughty — Grizzlies — There are more excuses than places to hear the blues in Memphis. But the bottom line is that even before Marc Gasol was sidelined with a knee injury, the Grizzlies were going south. They simply haven’t bought into new coach Dave Joerger, still can’t shoot from the perimeter and Zach Randolph seems to have lost his inspiration. The Grind House was a fun place while it lasted.

Nice — LeBron James — Maybe the only thing that stops him from winning MVP No. 5 — and third in a row — is boredom. Not his. Ours. He’ll never completely win over the entire public the way Michael Jordan did simply because of the times in which we live. The age of social media allows critics to throw stones and pick nits. There has simply never been anyone this big and this strong and this fast and this complete with still such a large part of the meat of his career ahead of him.

Naughty — Westbrook critics — Now that Russell Westbrook has recovered from two surgeries, returned to the Thunder lineup and shown not the slightest loss of his swagger, is there anyone who still thinks Kevin Durant and the OKC franchise would be better off without him?

Nice —Kendrick the Bouncer — It had to bring a smile to the face — if not a tear to the eye — of every old school scrapper who’s ever laced up a pair of sneakers and just gone after it when Kendrick Perkins unceremoniously ran Joakim Noah out of the Thunder locker room. That’s enough of the 21st century touchy-feely, we’re-all-buddies atmosphere that persists these days. Not enough get-outta-my-face growling between rivals. A team’s locker room is its castle and the only thing that could have made it better is if Perk dumped him into a moat.

Naughty — Omer Asik — Let’s see. For two seasons in Chicago you were averaging just 13 minutes per game and getting relative peanuts. The Rockets signed you to a free agent contract that pays $25 million over three years and last season you started all 82 games and averaged a double-double. That’s nice. But then they signed All-Star Dwight Howard in July. He’s much, much better. You’re still getting your $25 million. Didn’t you read the line about you better not pout? So we’re making our list, checking it twice and — ho-ho-ho — you’re definitely on it.