Posts Tagged ‘Kendrick Perkins’

Locker Room Etiquette: Perkins Is Right


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew shares their opinions on the Perkins-Noah incident

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Oklahoma City Thunder center Kendrick Perkins wanted no part of his Chicago Bulls counterpart Joakim Noah hanging out in his locker room after they had just battled on the floor.

Noah had been escorted in by friend and Thunder shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha with media members still conducting interviews. Perkins was dressing at his locker when he spotted Noah in what he believed to be a violation of the Thunder’s inner sanctum.

According to the Daily Oklahoman, Perkins shouted at Noah: “They just let anybody in the locker room?” The two engaged in a brief back-and-forth with Noah finally saying, “If you want me to wait outside, I’ll wait outside.” Perkins then said, “Get yo’ (expletive) up out of here, (expletive).”

We all know that professional athletes are far chummier these days than they ever used to be. But has it come to this, where foes feel free to mingle in each other’s locker room after a game?

Not so fast.

“It’s not normal,” Mavericks forward and 15-year veteran Shawn Marion said. “It’s like basically bringing someone in the [bathroom] with you.”

Players and coaches I talked to at Friday night’s game between the Raptors and Mavs certainly believe the locker room is for team members only.

“Kendrick is known for being protective of his house, his team, his teammates, so I’m sure Joakim Noah would have done the same thing to him if he had gone through Chicago’s locker room,” Raptors fourth-year point guard Greivis Vasquez said. “So I think it’s part of that competition level and just protecting your house and you’re not going to just let anybody come in like we’re best friends. I like that attitude, to be honest. Even if it is after the game that really doesn’t matter. We play for different teams. We can call, we can text.”

Thunder beat writer Darnell Mayberry said Perkins received support from teammate Russell Westbrook. In a conversation Mayberry had a little later with the All-Star point guard, Westbrook told him it’s a matter of respect to stay out of another team’s locker room. Mayberry asked Westbrook if he would ever bring, for example, friend and fellow UCLA Bruin Kevin Love into the Thunder locker room. He answered, no.

For old-schoolers like Raptors coach Dwane Casey, it’s not even up for debate.

“That’s your sanctuary. You shouldn’t have opposing team players in the locker room. I agree with Perkins,” Casey said. “I don’t know how he went about it, but you want it be your sanctuary in the locker room. But today’s NBA is different than 20 years ago when I first came in the league. You used to see them after the game or go have a beer or whatever after, but not in your locker room.”

Casey said he knows there are still players who would have done the same as Perkins.

“There’s quite a few. K.G. [Kevin Garnett] I know would say something,” Casey said. “You have some old-school guys that still would feel that way. In our locker room it is. There’s a lot of things we talk about, we keep in the family and it should be where you can go and relax and get away from things and feel like this is us, right here.”

Still, things are different in today’s NBA. As Mavs coach Rick Carlisle noted on his weekly local radio show Friday, visiting teams are now permitted to use the home team’s weight room and other facilities prior to games. At the American Airlines Center, the Mavs’ locker room is a square area separated from a much larger space by partition walls. On the other side of the walls is the weight room, making it virtually impossible for opposing players to come in contact.

Still, Carlisle chuckled when asked if the old Celtics teams he played for in the mid-1980s would have welcomed an opposing player into their locker room.

There seems to be only one legitimate reason for a visiting player to wander into the home team’s locker room, and even then players say those visits are typically made before games, not after.

“I was with New Jersey, it was my first game against Dallas (after being traded),” said Mavs guard Devin Harris, who’s in his ninth season and returned to Dallas this season as a free agent. “I walked in, said hello to [head athletic trainer] Casey [Smith], Dirk [Nowitzki], Josh [Howard]. I’m not going in there unless I know people, the majority.”

Marion also said that he’s made pregame visits to the locker room of his former teams where he knows the majority of the players and staff. But never, he said, has an opposing player escorted him into their locker room as Sefolosha did with Noah.

“It’s a little weird,” Harris said.

The Risk-Reward Of Russell Westbrook


VIDEO: Westbrook goes coast-to-coast

OKLAHOMA CITY – “Blessed.”

It’s the one word Russell Westbrook could summon. And maybe there is no other way to explain his bionic-like bursts to the bucket, his laser-beam thrust from the free-throw line to the rack.

So, blessed be he.

Westbrook (Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

Russell Westbrook
(Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE)

“Yep,” Westbrook said following a recent practice. “Some of that’s just learning some kind of creativity. But some of that’s just been blessed. Both of my parents were athletic, fast. It’s a gift to be able to do some of those things. Some of it you can’t practice. You just have it, or you don’t.”

Since returning from last April’s meniscus tear in his right knee without a hint of drag on his unique capabilities as a point guard (he missed only three games at the start of the season), his game  – as aggressively unrefined as heavy metal, yet as complexly interwoven as a symphony — has been on full display. His Oklahoma City Thunder, owners of the league’s best record, are 21-4. They’ve won 15 of 16, eight in a row and rank in the top six in the league in both offensive and defensive efficiency heading into Saturday’s showdown at 21-5 San Antonio (8:30 p.m. ET, League Pass).

In recent weeks, the 6-foot-3 Westbrook has played at his jaw-dropping best, dropping dimes at will, scoring points with drives and his patented, high-rising pull-up free-throw-line jumper, defending with purpose and rebounding like a power forward.

Still, no point guard in recent seasons has stirred such conflict over his mode of attack. Brilliant or befuddling?  Calculated risk or risky beyond reason? Enter Westbrook’s World: Eternally dissected and debated, at once lauded and scrutinized, awesome and blasphemous.

OKC’s second-round exit from the 2012 playoffs — with Westbrook watching from a suite high above the floor, crutches by his side — may not have solved such debates. But it certainly revealed Westbrook’s worth as the the Thunder’s engine and emotional firestarter, flaws be damned.

“Russell gives our team swag,” center Kendrick Perkins said.

Westbrook is averaging 21.0 points a game, but is shooting 41.6 percent; he is attempting more 3-pointers than ever before, but his percentage, modest as it was, is falling; he averages nearly as many shots as teammate Kevin Durant, yet is nowhere near as efficient; he is averaging 6.9 assists a game, down from last season, but turns it over 4.1 times a game, up from last season.

As he studied the playoff action unfolding below his perch as if in slow motion rather than in the millisecond-to-millisecond frenzy of the heat of battle, Westbrook had his own revelation. He made a vow to return this season a smarter player. The interpretation was that Westbrook had become enlightened to all those aspects — shot selection, decision-making, ball-movement – that make his critics palm their foreheads and moan under their breath. Russ being Russ.

“I think sometimes you people [the media] say that without saying what the person really wants to say because a lot of times they mean to throw it out to be negative,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “We want Russell to be aggressive. I do not want Russell to play like I played. It would not look good. We want Russell to be aggressive. We’re a good team when he attacks, we’re a good team when Kevin [Durant] attacks. By attacking, it doesn’t mean being selfish. By attacking, it’s drawing attention to you that opens up some of the finishers that we have.”

With fears allayed that Westbrook will be schooled into a fundamentally sound, below-the-rim Brooks, is the three-time All-Star a smarter player?

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook (Garrett Ellwood/NBAE)

“Yeah, definitely,” Westbrook, 25, said. “I’ve learned as this season goes along to pick my spots better, learning and seeing the game a lot slower than I used to see it. Seeing the game from a different view gave me a different point of view of each individual player, what they see and how they see the game as well.”

As with everything else about Westbrook’s game, the multitude of stats available, from traditional to advanced to the public debut of the SportVu tracking system, show two sides to the Westbrook coin. Even though Westbrook’s assists are down, the team is averaging a bit more than a half-assist more than last season. That’s due to Durant (4.9 assists a game) and the emergence of reserve point guard Reggie Jackson (3.4). Their assist ratio and assist percentage are basically the same from last season.

One of the Thunder’s goals this season is to get more points within the flow of the offense to complement the natural isolation that comes with having two supremely gifted playmakers in Westbrook and Durant. Is Westbrook creating such opportunities? Again, it’s up for interpretation. Westbrook ranks 18th in assist opportunities per game at 12.7. Chris Paul is No. 1 at 21.1. As for points created by assist per game, Westbrook ranks 13th at 15.8. Brandon Jennings ranks eighth at 17.9 and LeBron James is 14th at 15.7.

“I tell Russell and our team, to be a good passing team, it doesn’t mean your point guard has to be the only passer,” Brooks said. “You have to have everybody involved, and by doing that you have to have everybody understanding what the offensive set means, how we can get open, the spacing, and the hard, forceful cuts that help our passing.”

There’s also the interesting numbers found in the touches/possession category via SportVU. Westbrook ranks way down the list of players who touch the ball the most during a game. Westbrook falls behind 14 other starting point guards and is 16th overall. Yet, he’s also behind forwards Joakim Noah and Spencer Hawes in passes per game, a category headed by six point guards.

“We’re doing a good job of moving the ball around, moving the ball at a good pace and doing a great  job of just finding open guys,” Westbrook said.

In one of the most recognized statistical measures of an effective offense, OKC ranks sixth in offensive efficiency, averaging 105.9 points per 100 possessions. That’s down a bit from last season’s juggernaut that included Kevin Martin. But this Thunder team, with Jackson averaging 12.2 poonts on 48.2 percent shooting and Jeremy Lamb hitting 40 percent of his 3-point attempts off the bench, is closer than any version to having five players average at least 10 points apiece. Lamb, averaging 9.6 points a game, would be the fifth.

And just watch the games. The ball is moving, often whipping around. The Thunder amassed a season-best 34 assists in last week’s win over the Lakers. They had 26 assists on 43 baskets in Thursday’s win over Chicago to get to 13-0 at home.

“I don’t think our guys receive enough credit for being high IQ basketball players,” Brooks said. “They’re young and they’re athletic and they’re a fun group, and I think everybody kind of builds on that, ‘Ah they’re just alley-oops and isolations and crossovers and between the legs.’ You don’t win NBA basketball games doing that night-in and night-out.

“I think our guys have done a great job of moving the basketball. We have plays that they run that the offense scores for them, and then we also have plays where we use their athletic ability to break down and make decisions very tough on the defense. I think this year we’re definitely improving in that area, just with the experience that we’ve gained over the last three or for years.”

Over their current eight-game win streak, Westbrook has produced five double-doubles — four including assists and one including rebounds — and has averaged 21.5 points. He’s shot 50 percent or better in five games. He’s averaging 9.1 assists and 7.3 rebounds a game.

And, of course, 4.6 turnovers.

Russ being Russ.

Lamb Boosts Surging Thunder Bench


VIDEO: Jeremy Lamb finishes off the Thunder transition with the sweet left hand

OKLAHOMA CITY – Thunder coach Scott Brooks doesn’t get the sudden fuss over his bench.

“We’ve always played 10 guys. I’ve done it for many years,” Brooks said. “All of a sudden we’re all getting credit that we’re playing 10 guys. It’s baffling that we’re all of a sudden talking about it.”

The fuss isn’t so much over the number of guys coming off the bench, but rather the numbers those guys are putting up. For a team so reliant on its two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, the Thunder bench is scoring more this season than at any time during the Big Three era with super sixth man James Harden, as well as last season when Kevin Martin replaced the Houston-bound Harden.

This Thunder bench (according to hoopsstats.com) ranks 11th in the league in scoring (33.8 ppg) and is statistically blowing away past incarnations in a number of categories: Sixth in rebounding (17.1), eighth in offensive rebounding (4.7), 11th in assists (7.2), third in field-goal percentage (47.4) and ninth in minutes (19.2). That’s a top-11 ranking in six key categories.

Last season’s bench ranked in the bottom 11 in five of those categories (field-goal percentage, 45.2, being the lone exception).

Outside of stalwart forward-center Nick Collison, this is largely a new-name bench. Third-year point guard Reggie Jackson has been excellent and his ascension from 14.2 mpg last season to 24.8 mpg this season was somewhat predictable after his 2013 playoff breakout as Westbrook’s stand-in. More doubts centered around 6-foot-5, second-year shooting guard Jeremy Lamb and his ability to handle a hefty bench role for the first time in his career. Averaging 9.8 ppg and shooting 41.1 percent from beyond the arc in 20.7 mpg, so far, so good.

Add 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams, OKC’s at-the-time unheralded 12th pick in the Draft, spot minutes for 2012 first-round pick Perry Jones and a still-healthy dose of court time for everlasting point guard Derek Fisher, and the Thunder’s bench is producing at previously unseen levels. Three-point percentage (33.9), ranking 20th in the league, is the only lacking category.

The emergence of Adams (4.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.0 bpg in 16.1 mpg) has allowed Brooks to limit starting center Kendrick Perkins‘ minutes to 18.1 a game. Jackson, averaging 12.2 ppg and 3.4 apg, and Lamb (plus Fisher’s 13.4 mpg), have kept Westbrook down to 33.0 mpg coming off knee surgery. That’s about two fewer minutes per game than last season.

When the Thunder advanced to the 2012 Finals, Fisher was the most heavily used reserve guard beyond Harden. In the previous seasons, Harden was flanked by Eric Maynor (averaged 14.6 mpg in 2010-11) with Daequan Cook adding inconsistent minutes (and production) at shooting guard. This is the first time Brooks has trusted his personnel enough to regularly employ two young and athletic reserve guards.

“The trust came with all the work that he put in last season,” Brooks said of Lamb, who is shooting 48.7 percent overall. “When you don’t play as a rookie, you have a choice to make: either pout or get better. And he chose the one that we helped him choose. But it’s on him. He wanted to get better.”

No doubt that the 22-year-old Lamb was the wild card for a highly functioning bench. In Sunday’s win over Orlando, he played in his 23rd game of the season to equal his rookie total. He went 7-for-10 from the floor for 16 points, his 12th game in double figures and fourth in a row. He was 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, giving him 30 made 3s on the season, the number he attempted all of last season.

In his last three games, Lamb is averaging 15.0 ppg and is 6-for-10 from downtown. Even at his impressive clip, Lamb said he’s not happy with his long-range accuracy (30-for-73).

“I haven’t been hitting the 3 like I want to. I don’t know (a specific percentage), but I’ve missed a lot of wide open shots, some big shots. Those have to go down,” said Lamb, a 34.8-percent 3-point shooter during two seasons at Connecticut. “There’s been games where I’ve had open shots in overtime; open shots whether it’s the first quarter or overtime, I want to make them.”

Lamb and Harden are both 6-foot-5, but inherently different players. Lamb, lanky and with exceptionally long arms, is a pure shooting guard, while Harden, stockier and listed 35 pounds heavier than Lamb, is a rare backcourt hybrid. Harden possesses extraordinary skill to drive to the basket, and therefore to get to the free throw line. Still, Lamb is measuring up well to Harden’s rookie season with OKC when he averaged 9.9 ppg, shot 40.3 percent overall and 37.5 percent from 3-point range in 22.9 mpg.

With Lamb on the floor, the Thunder’s offensive rating is an excellent 110.1 (points scored per 100 possessions — only Portland has a team offensive rating better than 110.0; OKC’s is 105.9) and their defensive rating is a solid 99.0 (points allowed per 100 possessions — only six teams have ratings below 100.0; OKC’s is 98.0). When Lamb is on the bench, their offensive rating dips to 102.9 and the defensive rating is quite comparable at 97.3.

“Last year I had to change my mindset,” Lamb said. “I came in thinking, ‘OK, I’m going to get some minutes.’ But once I realized that I wasn’t going to get any minutes, I just tried to stay positive. I decided to keep working because I knew at some point I was going to get that chance, and when I got that chance I wanted to be ready.”

So, coach, that’s what the fuss is about.

Be Careful If Underestimating Thunder


VIDEO: The Beat discusses the impact of Russell Westbrook’s return

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Because James Harden and Kevin Martin left Oklahoma City within a year means Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook somehow emerged weakened?

Write off the Thunder and the championship mettle of their unguardable duo at your own shortsightedness. Is there plenty to prove? Heck yes. And why shouldn’t there be? But as you close that window on a title run, watch those fingertips.

The most driven second fiddle in the league, Durant is again side-by-side with his thoroughbred point guard Westbrook, leaping and bounding and spitting fire since his return from a torn meniscus in his right knee. They could be about to go gangbusters on the Western Conference.

Midway into the second week of the season, bowed-up West contenders in L.A. and Houston have proven they’ve got work to do. Hell, Barkley’s already read Dwight’s Rockets and Doc’s Clippers their last rites on live TV. That leaves the immovable San Antonio Spurs, galloping Golden State and perhaps an undetermined dark horse to keep the Thunder from recapturing their 2012 glory.

Yet some are already writing harbinger headlines of Durant’s exit for the big city three summers removed — an eternity for team stability in today’s NBA. The truth is this Thunder team, with a core of Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — could quietly be at their most complete since hitching up in OKC.

Even if the offense takes time to integrate new bench players (and it has yet to fire on all cylinders), defense separates the Thunder. Flash-quick and long, it still seems overlooked even though they’ve been among the most disruptive forces in basketball. Top three last season, OKC ranks fourth in the league in defensive rating (allowing 95.2 points per 100 possessions) and is allowing the seventh-lowest effective field goal percentage (46.2 percent, adjusted for made 3-pointers being more valuable than a 2-point shot). That’s with Westbrook missing the first two games.

With the trigger-switch Westbrook, key reserve guard Reggie Jackson just shakes his head at the possibilities.

“The pressure that we put on people with our defense can be hard to explain,” Jackson said prior to the season. “Russ, the way he jumps lanes, the way he’s so tenacious on defense; me, K.D., just the length of the team, it’s something scary.”

The perceived weakness is the bench the bearded Harden once ruled. His individual offensive versatility served the Thunder well, all the way to the 2012 Finals before he petered out in what would be the swan song for OKC’s Big Three. Martin, while erratic last season, was a proven veteran scorer. This season the Thunder brass is undeniably placing faith in newbies to fill out a bench unit still captained by ever-steady power forward/center Nick Collison.

But look what’s happening. Coach Scott Brooks is going deep, using 11 players for at least 13.0 mpg through the first four games. The combo-guard Jackson has started slowly, but is quick, fearless and opportunistic, a breakout candidate on a number of preseason prediction lists. Jeremy Lamb, the lanky 6-foot-5 second-year wing with so much outside pressure foisted upon his shoulders, has erased a shaky preseason by averaging 10.3 ppg in 18.8 mpg. His 38.5-percent shooting from beyond the arc has fueled games of 13 and 16 points.

Rookie center Steven Adams (4.5 ppg, 6.0 rpg in 17.5 mpg) could prove a hugely significant addition and a gift to Thunder fans low on patience with Kendrick Perkins. The armor-clad Stevens is just scratching the surface yet his all-business approach is already validating the front office’s expectations when they nabbed him with the No. 12 pick. Thunder fans initially raised a questioning eyebrow.

“I think we probably got the steal of the draft in my opinion,” said Perkins, the man Stevens will eventually replace. “A lot of people probably don’t know too much about him, but he can play.”

OKC’s forgotten 2012 first-round pick, 6-foot-11 forward Perry Jones III out of Baylor, is logging 13.0 mpg. Derek Fisher, the ultimate safety valve, can return to on-call status with Westbrook back.

Brooks will find out what works and what doesn’t, and will eventually tighten the rotation. But gaining experience now for young players will help later. There is skepticism, and demands for Thunder general manager Sam Presti to prove he’s still got it by making a trade for veteran know-how by the deadline. Give it some time and he might not have to. This club is poised to make a run this season, and positioned to keep Durant happy well into 2016.

“I like the progress of individuals, how everybody came back and made their games better,” Durant said on the eve of training camp. “I’m excited for the season. I’m excited for the opportunities our new guys are going to get. I’m excited for the opportunity I’m going to get as a leader, [to] step into a different phase as a leader, and just see what happens.”

It’s not a popular prediction at the moment, but who knows, a parade might happen.

Delay Of Game: Refs, Players Adjusting


VIDEO: Bulls’ delay of game

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The NBA’s newest rule crackdown has created quite a stir. Players are reprogramming their actions, some quicker than others. Some announcers are misconstruing the rule’s intent. And fans are wondering why a delay of game penalty seems only to be causing further delay.

“Right now, it’s slowing down the game because of all the stoppages,” Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau said. “But these players are great and they always adapt. As they get used to it, they’re going to leave it alone and it’ll work out. So whatever the rules are, that’s what you go by. And I think it got to the point where it was too much.”

Too much, as Thibs says, was constant under-the-basket interference with the ball. Players on the team that had just scored were too often grabbing the ball as it dropped through the net and either casually flipping it to the official or tapping it any which way but to the opposing player waiting to get his team running up the court.

A growing number of teams — the Houston Rockets, for one — prefer to push the ball up the floor after made baskets to catch the retreating defense at a disadvantage. The stall tactic of catching the ball or knocking it away after a made basket buys the scoring team a second or two to set up defensively.

“I used to hit the ball a little bit to give me a second or two,” Pacers center Roy Hibbert admitted. “But now you can’t.”

Now, such actions result in a delay of game penalty. The first draws a warning. The second results in a technical foul and a free throw for the other team.

Everybody received a heaping dose of the new rule during the preseason.

“It’s the right thing and it’s pretty clear,” said Mavericks coach Rick Carlisle, a member of the league’s nine-member competition committee. “If you touch it you know you’re getting hit, so just leave it alone.”

Said Pacers coach Frank Vogel: “Guys are learning to ‘hot potato’ it. They tell us to treat it like a ‘hot potato’ and move on.”

The Rockets were the most vocal agent for change. Their frustration came to a head during their first-round playoff series with Oklahoma City, who, the Rockets believed, were intentionally messing with the ball after made baskets to slow them down. In fact, under the new rules, the Thunder were nailed three times for the infraction in their season-opener against Utah and Wednesday against the high-pace Mavericks. Center Kendrick Perkins used his big right paw to intentionally swat the ball away, drawing a whistle for delay of game.


VIDEO: Thunder delay of game

Some announcers, ironically including Houston’s, have explained the rule as being designed to shorten the duration of a game. But it’s really about the pace at which the game is played.

Houston led the NBA last season in pace (possessions per 48 minutes). The club calculated that it had scored 1,131 points on the initial shot taken in 10 seconds or less after a basket by the other team. No team came close. The Lakers were second with 972 transition points after made baskets. Getting the ball up the floor quickly, even after made baskets, was paramount to the Rockets’ offensive strategy.

“A team like us that plays an up-tempo pace, it [the new rule] definitely should favor us,” Rockets forward Chandler Parsons said. “We want to get up. We want to get the ball out as fast as we can. Not having teams do that and slow us down on the break is definitely going to help us a lot.”

While the Rockets were out front on the issue, they were hardly the only ones arguing for the league to take action. The push gained steamed throughout last season, according to Rod Thorn, the NBA’s president of basketball operations. The NBA decided to take a closer look during the 2013 playoffs and found that, in a sample of 78 playoff games, the new delay of game penalty could have been enforced 306 times, or 3.9 times a game.

“It had been talked about before that it was a detriment to the offensive team if the team that had just scored was taking the ball and knocking it away or holding the ball and was allowing the defenses to get back and get set up, and that that was not a good thing for our game,” Thorn said. “So that was the genesis for why it was put in. A lot of teams like to move the ball up and down the floor so we want to give them every opportunity.”

The penalty was one of five officiating points of emphasis for this season. A crackdown on illegal screens has produced a spike in those calls, according to the league. The league also has seen a rise in delay of game penalties. Everybody’s noticed. How could you not? The preseason was littered with the call, and officials have kept a tight watch during the first week of the regular season.

According to the league, through the first 59 games last season, 22 delay of game penalties were called. Through 59 games this season (through Tuesday’s games) 85 delay of game penalties were called — 70 being a result of the new rule.

“You have to play with great discipline to be a good player in this league,” Bobcats coach Steve Clifford said. “To not be able to bat the ball away when it goes through the basket should not be that hard of a thing, especially when it costs your team points.”

The fear  is that the rule will be enforced to the letter of the law and that an untimely touching of the ball late in the game could cost a team a valuable point. During the preseason, players were concerned that they’d get tagged with a penalty for making incidental contact or for an instinctual catch of the ball and quick toss to the referee.

“It is instinctual to reach for it, that’s why I said, even if the ball hits you when you’re right by it and it does touch you, they can’t call it,” said Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, who nonetheless thinks players will quickly adjust to the rule.

According to Thorn, if a player catches the ball and quickly drops it, play will continue. Same for incidental contact.

“I think they’ve kind of, maybe, toned it down a little bit as they realized that, ‘OK, some of the calls that were being made were not in the truest sense of the law,’” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “I think the referees in the league have done a great job of making it a point of emphasis and then analyzing it and saying, ‘OK, is this what we want?’ They’ve kind of adjusted how they’ve called it, I think, a little bit as well.”


VIDEO: Delay of game, Lakers

Many who observe the league have seen new rules implemented and enforced early in the season, only to see them fade away into rules oblivion. Thorn believes the rule will not be an ongoing source of game delays because players will quickly adjust. And the rule, Thorn said, will not go by the wayside. It will continue to be enforced throughout the season and postseason to ensure the faster pace that players and fans want.

“I’m confident that it will,” Thorn said.

Scott Howard-Cooper, Fran Blinebury, John Schuhmann and Steve Aschburner contributed to this report.

Ibaka Beefs Up Pockets As Well As Game

 

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Serge Ibaka‘s four-year, $49.4 million extension kicks in this season just as James Harden digs into his five-year, $78.8 million free-agent contract.

The former Oklahoma City teammates will forever be linked. Ibaka is the Thunder’s shot-blocking frontcourt specimen, an emerging two-way force whose ascending trajectory seems as limitless as his team’s once did. Harden is the Houston Rockets’ uniquely gifted combo guard poised to be an All-Star for the next decade.

With paydays coming and the collective bargaining agreement tightening OKC’s purse strings to a hard-line course, general manager Sam Presti in August extended his big man, the less-expensive option, and in late October traded his sixth man.

How wise a strategy it was will be debated until the day the Kevin Durant-Russell Westbrook-Ibaka trio hoists the Larry O’Brien trophy. If Harden, flanked now by Dwight Howard for the next four seasons, wins one first, well, the case will be slammed shut.

The immediacy isn’t lost on Ibaka, 24, who enters his fifth NBA season saddled with enormous responsibility. The backbone of the Thunder’s top-four defense must also step up as its third scorer, a task made even more essential early on as Westbrook’s recovery from two right knee surgeries is expected to drag four to six weeks into the season.

Three weeks, Ibaka said, is all the time he allowed to step away after last season’s playoff disappointment. Three weeks and he was back in the gym with an agenda to expand an offensive arsenal that last season introduced a dangerous mid-range, pick-and-pop jumper. It worked to increase his usage from 15.5 percent in 2011-12 to a career-high 18.0 percent last season, and raised his scoring average from 9.1 ppg to a career-best 13.2 ppg.

His usage should rise even higher and the Thunder will need his points to as well.

“I’m working on my game and creating my own shot,” Ibaka said. “That is something I’ve been doing all summer, so I hope it will pay off. … I’ve been working on putting the ball on the floor and post moves.”

To suggest an offense that has been nothing short of a juggernaut the past few seasons could struggle to score beyond its big two might seem odd. But those past teams included the dynamic Harden and last year featured Kevin Martin as the sixth man. As streaky as Martin was, he delivered 14 ppg and better than 42 percent shooting from beyond the arc, on top of Ibaka’s production.

Martin’s in Minnesota and OKC promoted from within, expecting second-year shooting guard Jeremy Lamb to join third-year speedster Reggie Jackson to fill some of the scoring void off the bench (Jackson will start at point guard until Westrbrook returns). Lamb has had a sluggish start to the preseason, only heightening concerns that OKC will field enough firepower around Westbrook and Durant.

If the chiseled, 245-pound Ibaka, the reigning two-time shot-block king, can establish himself as a presence around the offensive rim, it would give the nearly unguardable duo of Westbrook and Durant a previously unavailable option. The lack of a low-post game with Ibaka and the offensively limited Kendrick Perkins has long been a glaring void, and a constant criticism, of the OKC attack.

“You know,” Ibaka said, “I’m sure I will be better than last year because I put a lot of work in this summer.”

Ibaka will take home more than $10 million than he did last season, and he’ll be asked to earn it. His shot attempts jumped from 7.42 a game in 2011-12 to 9.73 last season. During the playoffs they spiked to 12.2 a game. In the nine playoff games without Westbrook he took 10 or more shots eight times and 12 or more in six games.

Through two preseason games without Westbrook, Ibaka is 5-for-8 from the floor for 15 points in 27 minutes, and 9-for-16 for 18 points in 36 minutes.

The latter stat line, which included 11 rebounds and three blocks, likely resides in the neighborhood that will define success over failure for this edition of the championship-or-bust Oklahoma City Thunder.

“That’s why this summer I decided to only take three weeks,” Ibaka said, “and go back to work on my game and try to get better for next season.”

After Poor Playoffs, Thunder’s Perkins Looked Self ‘In The Mirror’

 

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The postseason got so gruesome for Kendrick Perkins that the friendliest fans in all of sports began to taunt him with the kind of menacing scowls the big man is known for directing at the enemy.

The Oklahoma City Thunder center seemingly couldn’t hold onto a pass. Rebounds slipped through his grasp. He didn’t defend as much as foul. He was slow to get put-backs up, and the bunnies he did more often than not hopped out. All this came to a frustrating head during the second-round loss to Memphis when the Russell Westbrook-less Thunder needed everything they could get from anyone not named Kevin Durant.

Perkins’ 11-game playoff slog would go down as historically ugly. He finished with a negative player efficiency rating (PER), something no other player who had logged 200 playoff minutes had ever done. He averaged 2.2 ppg and 3.7 rpg in 19.1 mpg. His 13 combined blocks and steals were 10 fewer than his 23 turnovers, which were one fewer than his 24 total points. His 41 total rebounds were two more than his 39 fouls. His four free throw attempts were six fewer than his 10 total field goals on 38 attempts.

“Perk is a veteran, he’s been through it all,” Durant said in Perkins’ defense at OKC’s Media Day. “He’s confident in himself. He knows just like any other player you’ve got to work hard, you’ve got to get better. He’s come back and he’s worked his tail off this summer to get where he needs to be and I think he’s going to get there. I have confidence in him.”

While fans pushed for Thunder general manager Sam Presti to play the amnesty card that would cut ties with Perkins and his $18.1 million salary cap hit over the next two seasons, it was never a consideration for the front office. Largely untradeable because of his expensive contract, Perkins will be back in the starting lineup for his third consecutive season opener with the Thunder, expected again to set brick-wall screens, defend the rim, rebound and every so often stick one back.

Maybe it’s his southeast Texas roots, but the 6-foot-11, 280-pounder is as honest and forthright as pro athletes come, unafraid to call out a spade in his slow drawl, especially when the spade is him. Earlier in the summer he told the Daily Oklahoman that he was “embarrassed about the way I played.”

He followed up on that subject during the team’s Media  Day.

“A long time ago KG [Kevin Garnett] told me that there’s nobody in the NBA or nobody in the world that don’t have flaws,” said Perkins, who underwent another arthroscopic right knee surgery during the summer, a minor clean-up as he called it. “So the thing is every offseason you try to clean up your flaws. I definitely went into the gym trying to work on getting my shot up quicker, worked on my touch around the basket. I spent a lot of time in the weight room as far as strengthening my legs and just all-around work. I didn’t take any short cuts around anything and I just addressed any situation.

“But,” Perkins continued, “the first step, you just got to be honest with yourself and look yourself in the mirror and just work on what you need to work on.”

Through two overseas preseason games, we haven’t seen much of Perkins, who only turns 29 next month even if it seems he must be going on 40. He dislocated a finger in Saturday’s opener at Istanbul, practically freaking out a Fenerbahce Ulker player who got a bit too close, and did not play Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers in England.

So what else is on Perkins’ mind as another championship-or-bust season cranks up? Here’s a glimpse:

Q: What is your early impression of 7-foot first-round draft pick Steven Adams?

A: Steven is a great addition. I think we probably got the steal of the draft in my opinion. A lot of people probably don’t know too much about him, but he can play. He’s very physical and the sky’s the limit.

Q: What did the team learn playing without Russell Westbrook?

A: We learned not to take people for granted. That’s the biggest thing that I learned, don’t take people for granted. You never know until they’re gone what you’re missing from certain individuals. I’m not just talking about Russell going on, scoring 30 points and dishing out 10 assists. I’m talking about the other little things he brings to the table. Russell gives our team swag. He gives me swag, I feed off of him. I know this at all times, if I’m on the court and I got a frown on my face, I know one other person for sure who’s got a frown on his face and that’s Russ. In the playoffs I couldn’t find him, I couldn’t find him. And you just don’t take people for granted. It’s not the big things, it’s the little things that matter.

Q: What is different about Durant coming into this season?

A: Every year he grows. We’re all watching Kevin growing into a man, he’s becoming a man. Not to say he wasn’t before, but he’s becoming his own man and Kevin wants to be the best. He wants to be the best player in the NBA. So I watch him, I watch him work, he could literally go play basketball for eight hours a day, every day, pick-up all day long. That’s what he wants to do. He wants to be the best player in the NBA.

Q: We mostly see only the humble side of Kevin Durant. Is he different in the locker room, behind the scenes?

A: He got to keep his humble image up. But behind the scenes sometimes you’ll see a different Kevin Durant a little bit. Sometimes he’ll turn it on and you know, but we embrace that. I actually love that. I told him sometimes it’s alright to be the bad guy in certain situations. So I think he’s balancing out the two. I think he’s learning how to turn it on for us when he’s getting more tenacity about himself. I could tell he’s a guy, he reads everything that y’all write about him, so he wants to see the good and he wants to see the bad. I know Kevin, man, he just wants to come out here and show the world who he is.

Griffin, Clippers Retire Lob City



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HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Those critics who claimed the Los Angeles Clippers were all style and no substance last season will have to find something else to nit-pick about the reigning Pacific Division champions.

Because “Lob City” is finished. No more. History.

One of the central figures in the movement, Clippers All-Star dunk machine Blake Griffin, has declared it D.O.A. under coach Doc Rivers. The new coach is all about substance in his effort to take the Clips from an exciting, playoff-regular group to an actual championship contender. With a new, defensive-minded focus and significant shift in how they’ll play on offense, there is simply no room for the flash that was Lob City, as Griffin detailed to ESPN’s Shelly Smith:

“Lob City doesn’t exist anymore. Lob City is done. We’re moving on and we’re going to find our identity during training camp and that will be our new city. No more Lob City.”

The fun police can blame Rivers. He won’t mind. As long as his team is grinding on both ends and playing up to its potential, he’ll be pleased. Fans who had grown accustomed to the “Lob City” mentality, though, will need time to adjust. I know I will after enjoying Griffin and DeAndre Jordan‘s slam-dunk finishes off tosses from Chris Paul and Jamal Crawford the past couple of seasons.

But it’s a necessary change, Griffin said, for the greater good:

“Our offense is going to have a totally different look this year,” said Griffin, who added that he’d done a lot of work in the offseason on his face-up game from 10 to 15 feet. “Our offense is going to have a lot of movement and floor spacing. I’m looking forward to it.”

Of course, not everyone will feel the same way about the end of Lob City.

Griffin, the 2010 NBA Slam Dunk champion, said he gets that.

“People will still wear T-shirts,” Griffin said. “I can’t really go to people’s houses and take their T-shirts and cut them up. But we [will] have a new identity as a team and that’s going to be what we work out during training camp.

“We’ll take about two or three weeks and really come up with something good.”

This news will be greeted with smiles by guys like Brandon Knight, Kendrick Perkins, Timofey Mozgov and countless others who have found themselves on the wrong end a highlight from an encounter with the Clippers.

R.I.P. “Lob City” … it was fun while it lasted!

Rivers Laments End of Pierce, KG Era

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There’s irony in Doc Rivers, the Celtics coach who left that team amid some serious he-said, he-said rancor, lamenting the end of the Boston eras for Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.

Rivers, after all, is mere days away from his fresh start as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, rather lamentable in the opinion of many for this alleged upholder of Celtics traditions and the creator of the 2008 championship team’s “ubuntu” ethos.

But genuine is as genuine does, and Rivers — back at TD Garden for a charity basketball event Wednesday night — spoke with affection about Garnett and Pierce’s legacies in Boston.

For instance, as reported by WEEI.com’s Justin Barrasso, Rivers bemoaned the fact that only those within the team’s inner circle ever fully saw and could appreciate Garnett, so outwardly cantankerous in his public persona:

“Fans never got to see Kevin’s personality,” Rivers said. “I wish the city got to know Kevin more. He’s the single best athlete that I’ve ever been around as far as being a team guy. He’s as ‘team’ of a star as I’ve ever seen …

“He did a lot of good things that people don’t know,” Rivers said. “When rookies came in, he would bring them up to my office. He’d sit them down, and then he would bring his tailor in and say, ‘If you want to be a pro, you’ve got to dress like a pro.’ And he would buy each rookie two suits, and he did it every year. To me, that says a lot about Kevin Garnett as a teammate.”

Rivers, looking back, said the Celtics’ trade of center Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City for forward Jeff Green was a mistake for how it impacted Garnett. “The one thing we did by losing Perk was we removed Kevin’s protector,” the coach said. “I didn’t think it was a coincidence that, after Perk left, that Kevin got into all those little flicks with the other teams. Perk deflected all that.”

A different sort of mistake, in legacy terms, was the trade that shipped Pierce, the lifer Celtic, with Garnett to Brooklyn, Rivers said:

“That was a tough one for me. Even when I was here and it was being talked about — my thing is, Kobe [Bryant] is going to end up being a Laker for life. Dirk [Nowitzki] is going to be a Maverick. That’s the one thing that, if we didn’t do right, that was the one right thing we didn’t do for Paul.”

Certain Boston fans will quibble with Rivers’ license to ever again use the “we” word when talking about the Celtics. His own clumsily handled “trade” to the Clippers, from a team and a city for which he professes much love after nine years there, still irks and puzzles many.

But the fact that Rivers was back in town in mid-September for a charity event, his NBA responsibilities on hold way out on the other coast, suggests some piece of his heart forever will be on the parquet.

Clippers’ Jordan Relishing USA Basketball Summer, Fresh Start In L.A.



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LAS VEGAS – DeAndre Jordan didn’t waste his time with the trade rumors that kicked off his summer. He had more important things on his mind, work to do and progress to make no matter what name was on the front of his jersey.

Jordan is still the Los Angeles Clippers’ center. He never made it to Boston, where he was rumored to be heading in a deal that would have included Kevin Garnett, had it ever come to fruition.

This week, there are just three letters splattered across his chest: U-S-A. And Jordan couldn’t be happier with his current assignment, as one of several standout young big men in USA Basketball’s minicamp for the Men’s Senior National Team, or the one that awaits back in Los Angeles with the Clippers and new coach Doc Rivers.

Rivers has already stated that he’s going to raise the bar of expectations for both Jordan and All-Star forward Blake Griffin in every facet imaginable, and that’s something Jordan said he’s looking forward to in his sixth NBA season.

“Once I talked to Doc, I knew what kind of season we were going to have because Doc is definitely a player’s coach,” Jordan said. “He definitely gives you that confidence. I talked to him on the phone for about 15 or 20 minutes that first time and I hung up and I was confident. I was like, ‘yeah, we’re going to win it.’ He’s such a great motivator. I can’t wait to get to work with him.”

The more intriguing prospect is for Rivers, who will be working again with a young and rugged big man still in the early stages of his career the way Kendrick Perkins was in Boston when Rivers took over there. But Jordan is off-the-charts athletically and has the potential to be a defensive menace and a rebounding machine under the tutelage of a coach like Rivers.

He’s drawn the praise of many observers here, including U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski, for his energy and nonstop motor. While no one is playing for an actual spot on a team that will compete this summer, the big man action has been fast and furious in each and every drill and scrimmage.

It’s exactly what Jordan said he needed, this minicamp that feels a lot like a boot camp, an environment that will push him to the max.

“When you are working at home, and no disrespect to them, but guys who are in college or playing overseas or whatever,” Jordan said. “But being here with USA Basketball, this is straight NBA guys or guys you know you’ll see in the league down the road, top of the line, the best young guys in the league and competition everyday. Me playing against DeMarcus CousinsAnthony DavisAndre DrummondDerrick FavorsTyler ZellerGreg Monroe and Larry Sanders is something I can’t get at home.”

The feeling is mutual.

“He’s absolutely right,” Favors said. “This is the ultimate environment for a big man or any young player. You get a chance to go against the best of the best. You don’t get a second to rest out here. You back off for a moment and somebody is pushing you out of the way. We’re all pushing each other.”

The pushing and shoving will continue for Jordan the minute he leaves here. The work doesn’t end when you’re bent on redeeming yourself for being knocked out of the playoffs in the first round the way the Clippers were against the Memphis Grizzlies.

“We’re solid on paper, but we have to build that chemistry up,” Jordan said. “We’ve got most of our regulars back but we’ve added J.J. [Redick], Jared Dudley and guys like that, just signed B.J. Mullens. We have to get that chemistry and come together a little bit. We’ve just got to get to work.”

As for his own development, Jordan has improved steadily. He had his best year yet last season, averaging a career-high 8.8 ppg, 7.2 rpg and 1.4 bpg in just 24.5 mpg.

That won’t cut it next season, not with Rivers and Chris Paul demanding more and more from the frontcourt tandem of Griffin and Jordan.

“I feel like my progression has been, well, steady. I don’t think I’m going up and down or taking any steps back,” he said. “It might not be as fast as some people want it to be. But as long as i feel like I’m getting better and my teammates feel like I’m getting better and taking the right steps, I’m happy with where I am and the work I’m doing to get to that next level.”