Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Durant’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 3


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 2

NEWS OF THE MORNING

No payoff yet for KD, Thunder | Van Gundy: Pistons are a ‘messed up’ team | Kobe refuses to complain about these Lakers | Wizards’ style impresses Bosh

No. 1: No big payoff yet for Thunder in Durant’s return — Things were supposed to be all better in Oklahoma City last night, what with the return of reigning MVP and franchise superstar Kevin Durant. The New Orleans Pelicans didn’t get that message, though, and spoiled Durant’s season debut in a 112-104 win in Louisiana. As our John Schuhmann points out, there was plenty of rust to be seen in Durant’s first game back:

Kevin Durant is back, but that doesn’t mean the Oklahoma City Thunder are immediately one of the best teams in the league.

Instead of starting their climb up the standings in Durant’s 2014-15 debut on Tuesday, the Thunder fell another notch, losing to a team they might be battling for a playoff spot come April. OKC fell to 5-13 with a 112-104 loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Durant scored 27 points in 30 minutes in his first game back from a fracture in his right foot, shooting 9-for-18 and hitting three of his eight 3-point attempts. That’s a nice line, but there was some clear rust, as he committed five turnovers with a pretty sloppy handle whenever he tried to dribble through traffic.

Russell Westbrook was even sloppier in his second game back from a broken hand, shooting 6-for-20, getting blocked six times and committing seven turnovers, seemingly unable to deal with Anthony Davis‘ wingspan on several plays.

Really, offense wasn’t the problem, because the Thunder allowed the Pelicans to score 112 points on 100 possessions (40 on 28 in the second quarter). It was all a reminder that, even with their stars back, the Thunder aren’t really at full strength yet.

Another positive was the play of the Thunder bench. The absences of the two stars provided other guys the opportunity to play and get better. And on Tuesday, the reserves got OKC the lead early in the second quarter and cut down a big deficit early in the fourth. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb combined for 32 points on 12-for-21 shooting.

So everything the Thunder have gone through could ultimately make them a better team. For now, though, they’re still trying to regain their footing, even with the MVP back in uniform.


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks was unhappy with his team’s defense in KD’s debut

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No immediate payoff for Thunder in Durant’s return


VIDEO: Durant Hits from Deep

HANG TIME NEW JERSEY – Kevin Durant is back, but that doesn’t mean the Oklahoma City Thunder are immediately one of the best teams in the league.

Instead of starting their climb up the standings in Durant’s 2014-15 debut on Tuesday, the Thunder fell another notch, losing to a team they might be battling for a playoff spot come April. OKC fell to 5-13 with a 112-104 loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans.

Durant scored 27 points in 30 minutes in his first game back from a fracture in his right foot, shooting 9-for-18 and hitting three of his eight 3-point attempts. That’s a nice line, but there was some clear rust, as he committed five turnovers with a pretty sloppy handle whenever he tried to dribble through traffic.

Russell Westbrook was even sloppier in his second game back from a broken hand, shooting 6-for-20, getting blocked six times and committing seven turnovers, seemingly unable to deal with Anthony Davis‘ wingspan on several plays.

Really, offense wasn’t the problem, because the Thunder allowed the Pelicans to score 112 points on 100 possessions (40 on 28 in the second quarter). It was all a reminder that, even with their stars back, the Thunder aren’t really at full strength yet.

We did see a Westbrook-Durant pick-and-roll (more like a fake screen and flare) for a Durant 3 to keep OKC in the game late. And KD did throw down a dunk …


VIDEO: Durant Drives and Dunks

Another positive was the play of the Thunder bench. The absences of the two stars provided other guys the opportunity to play and get better. And on Tuesday, the reserves got OKC the lead early in the second quarter and cut down a big deficit early in the fourth. Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb combined for 32 points on 12-for-21 shooting.

So everything the Thunder have gone through could ultimately make them a better team. For now, though, they’re still trying to regain their footing, even with the MVP back in uniform.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 179) Featuring Kevin Love

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – While the outside world sees chaos, confusion and constantly changing chemistry in Cleveland, Kevin Love loves sees clearly.

We get an update on all things Cavs from Love on Episode 179 of the Hang Time Podcast, including Love’s transition from community and franchise pillar in Minneapolis to the same role in Cleveland.

A good start is his work with the Dick’s Sporting Goods Foundation and their “Pay It Forward” campaign. Love teamed up with the foundation for #GivingTuesday, donating basketball rims kids in the area, part of the #HolidayHoops initiative that will see hoops donated across the country during this holiday season.

Love’s Tuesday work could be overshadowed by the season debut of Kevin Durant, the Oklahoma City Thunder star and reigning NBA MVP is set to make his season debut against the New Orleans Pelicans.

It remains to be seen if his return, along with last week’s comeback by Russell Westbrook, is the boost that will push the Thunder back up among the elite in the Western Conference and the league …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the new best sound designer/engineer in the business,  Andrew Merriam.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Kevin Love joins the Hang Time Podcast crew on #GivingTuesday

Time enough for Thunder to rise in West? For Durant to repeat as MVP?


VIDEO: Does KD have an honest shot at the 2014-15 MVP?

With Christmas Eve and Christmas morning coming for the Oklahoma City Thunder both early and separated by 96 hours this year – getting Russell Westbrook back last Friday vs. New York and Kevin Durant in time to play at New Orleans Tuesday night – the best way to assess the Thunder’s situation is:

A) No worries.

B) In the nick of time.

C) Too late to matter.

The same set of answers can apply to two questions spinning off the Thunder stars’ comebacks: Is 65 games enough time for the OKC to position itself as a championship contender in the rugged Western Conference? And does Durant have a legitimate chance to repeat as the NBA’s Most Valuable Player?

Here at Hang Time HQ, the first question seems easier to answer than the first. The 5-12 Thunder woke up Tuesday in 12th place in the West standings. They were 4.5 games behind No. 8 Phoenix (10-8). For a team as playoff-savvy as Oklahoma City, just qualifying for the postseason would put them in position to push toward The Finals – they’d just have to do it without either homecourt advantage or a relatively easy first-round matchup (since this is the West, we stress relatively).

OKC also was eight games out of a Top 4 berth, where it would enjoy home court for at least one round. Realistic to think the Thunder could climb over that many rivals? Durant, Westbrook, coach Scott Brooks and the rest have won 72.1 percent of their games the past three seasons. If they were to win at that clip over their final 65 this season, they’d finish about 52-30.

Only once in the last eight years would that record be good enough to finish fourth or higher. And that worked out for Utah in 2006-07 because its 51-31 finish was good enough to win the Northwest Division, earning it a Top 4 berth even though No. 5 Houston went 52-30. The same sort of thing occurred in 2005-06 (Denver’s 44-38 earned homecourt over Memphis’ 49-33).

Also, the Lakers and the Grizzlies secured the Nos. 3 and 4 slots in the post-lockout 2011-12 season by finishing 41-25 (.621), the equivalent of 51-31 in an 82-game season.

So it’s not too late for the Thunder. How ’bout Durant?

If OKC does push toward a playoff spot or a top seed, odds are good that the NBA’s 2014 MVP will have something significant to do with it. He’ll already have on his side the unofficial criterion of how his team did/does without him: the Thunder are a 5-12 team in his absence. If they were to turn that around and go 45-20 or 47-18 with Durant after his return from foot surgery, that would be compelling apart from his individual stats.

The MVP field has no early runaway favorite: Marc Gasol has gotten attention for Memphis’ start, Stephen Curry is a possibility from Golden State and LeBron James always is a factor. Durant would face a particular hurdle in an injury-shortened season: Would MVP voters consider a player who missed so many games?

Only three previous Most Valuable Players, out of 59 in NBA history, appeared in fewer than 70 games in a full season. Boston’s Bob Cousy played 64 of a possible 72 in 1956-57, his teammate Bill Russell played 69 of 72 the next year and Portland’s Bill Walton played in just 58 of 82 in 1977-78 – with most of his absences coming at the end, missing the Blazers’ final 22 games. Portland went 48-10 with Walton, 10-14 without him.

As for other individual stats, Durant shouldn’t have much trouble grabbing voters’ attention. Since his rookie season, he has averaged 28.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 38.9 minutes, while shooting 48.7 percent from the field and 38.5 percent on 3-pointers.

And actually, if someone were to begrudge Durant his raw numbers, consider this: A scoring average of 28.6 played out over 65 games would get him to 1,859 points – the equivalent of a 22.6 average over 82 games. Fourteen NBA MVPs averaged less than 22.6 in their hardware-winning seasons.

None of this, of course, addresses the likelihood of Westbrook splitting votes with his freshly healed Thunder teammate. Fresh off his hand surgery, Westbrook grabbed a 1-0 lead in OKC impact by scoring 32 points and sparking the Thunder past the Knicks last weekend.

Brooks: Durant to face Pelicans tonight

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (right) will play together tonight for the first time this season.

Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook (right) will play together tonight for the first time this season.

Kevin Durant will make his 2014-15 NBA debut in New Orleans Tuesday night, according to Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks in comments to media at the Thunder’s shootaround. Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman, who first reported the news, has more:

Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks announced this morning that Kevin Durant will play against the New Orleans Pelicans tonight – Durant’s first game action since fracturing his right foot in the preseason.

Durant participated in a full week of practices leading up to Tuesday’s announcement from Brooks. Durant’s last five practice sessions all involved contact with no setbacks, per The Oklahoman’s Darnell Mayberry.

Durant makes his debut against a Pelicans team that is currently 7-8 – fifth in the loaded Southwest Division. The Thunder is third in the Northwest Division, eight games behind first-place Portland (13-4).

As expected, Twitter was also abuzz about OKC’s turn in fortune:

For the 5-12 Thunder and their fans, this has to feel a little like opening gifts on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning. They got Russell Westbrook back on Friday, and the irrepressible point guard, who had surgery on a broken bone in his right hand just two games into the season, scored 32 points with eight assists and seven rebounds in just 24 minutes in a blowout victory over the Knicks.

Now it’s Durant, the 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player, who has been out since undergoing surgery to repair a Jones fracture in his right foot in mid-October. The 6-foot-10 forward won his fourth NBA scoring title last season, averaging 32.0 points with 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists to help OKC go 59-23 and reach the Western Conference finals.

Morning shootaround — Dec. 2


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 1

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Durant could be game-time decision | Report: Cavs submit bid to host All-Star Game | Green shining for Golden State | Faried’s game off the mark

No. 1: Durant could be game-time decision Tuesday — The Oklahoma City Thunder got All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook back from injury last week and he looked more than fine in his debut, roasting the New York Knicks to the tune of 32 points, eight assists and seven rebounds. Could his All-Star partner in crime (and the reigning MVP) Kevin Durant be back from his injury as soon as tonight in New Orleans (8 ET, League Pass)? We likely won’t know until OKC holds its morning shootaround, writes Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman:

Scott Brooks stopped and thought about the question before answering.

“Any lineup changes?” the coach was asked Monday.

Brooks began with an “Um” before proceeding with a pregnant pause that left all in attendance at the end of the Thunder’s practice wondering if this would be the moment he announced Kevin Durant is back.

“No,” Brooks then said, finally. “Nothing as of yet.”

The “as of yet” part left Durant’s timetable up to interpretation, and it’s looking and sounding more and more like the reigning MVP is extremely close to making his season debut, perhaps as early as Tuesday at New Orleans.

It’s not out of the question that Brooks will announce Durant as a game-time decision at the team’s Tuesday morning shootaround. Traditionally, the Thunder has preferred to see how players coming back from injuries respond to that light morning session before penciling them into the lineup. In rare cases, like Andre Roberson at Denver on Nov. 19, the Thunder will even wait for a player to go through a final pre-game workout before determining whether he will suit up that night.

But in the case of Durant, all indications are that he’s set to return from a season long absence caused by a broken right foot. He appears to be so close that any game from here out could be the night. If he doesn’t take the court Tuesday night at New Orleans, it would be surprising if he doesn’t play Friday at Philadelphia. If he skips the Sixers game, we’d be shocked if he doesn’t make his debut Sunday at Detroit.

The Thunder will have two more days between the Pelicans game and the Sixers game, and that’s just additional practice time and rest to ensure Durant is acclimated and ready if he doesn’t play Tuesday night.

Both the signs and the Thunder’s schedule are lining up.


VIDEO: OKC players and coaches talk after Monday’s practice

(more…)

Morning shootaround — Dec. 1


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov. 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe’s fire still burning | Free speech in New York | Pistons fading fast | KG tries to take a bite out of Noah

No. 1: Lakers get triple-double from Koke, beat Raptors — The showcase is not over for Kobe Bryant and perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers. That was clear in Sunday’s win over the Eastern Conference-leading Toronto Raptors, who saw Kobe school them for a triple-double (which including his career 6,00th assist). Even after all of these years, Kobe can still dial up a performance for the ages. Mike Bresnahan of The Los Angeles Times explains:

His game was nearly flawless, his numbers showed a triple-double and he became the first player in NBA history with 30,000 career points and 6,000 assists, gliding over the latter plateau with a third-quarter pass to Wesley Johnson that led to a successful 12-footer.

“It’s a huge honor. It means I pass more than people say,” Bryant said after accumulating 31 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds at Staples Center.

The most important number could not be overlooked amid the backdrop: 36 years old.

Bryant shoved the momentum firmly toward the Lakers with a three-point play, making a 15-footer while moving left and getting fouled by James Johnson with 2:23 left in overtime.

Before shooting the free throw, Bryant took a long walk toward the other basket and pounded his chest with his right fist before heading back to the free-throw line.

“It’s crazy,” said Wesley Johnson, who had 13 points. “Especially seeing how he’s doing it. He’s still going at it. It’s not like he’s slow-footed or he still can’t get to the rim. He’s starting to play like his old self. This is definitely going to be something to tell my kids.”


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant drops a triple-double on the Raptors

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No. 2: Fisher fine with Stoudemire speaking his mind — Derek Fisher has more important things to worry about than the opinions of his players. The New York Knicks’ rookie coach has a season to worry about, a career even. Plus, he’s clearly a patriot and a believer in the freedom of all people to speak their mind, and that includes the sanctity of the locker room. That’s why Amar’e Stoudemire is free to weigh in on things in New York without retribution. Barbara Barker of Newsday has more:

“I think it shows some leadership from Amar’e, that he’s expressing how he feels about the team and his teammates and where we are as a group,” Fisher said. “I think it’s correct in terms of the assessment. And guys sometimes do that.

“It’s their locker room, so it’s more about how they feel than about how I feel about it. As long as guys continue to do the best they can, which I think Amar’e is trying to do, then sometimes you know some things may need to be said.”

Stoudemire ripped the Knicks after scoring a season-high 20 points against OKC. The problem was that no one else on the team scored more than 11 as the Knicks made only 38.7 percent of their shots in a 105-78 defeat.

“They played like they wanted it more,” Stoudemire said of the Thunder. “At this point, I don’t see how a team wants it more than we do. It’s unacceptable. We should be in desperation mode. We’re a team that’s fighting for a win. Right now, we got to have a higher sense of urgency and more enthused and mentally involved.”

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No. 3: Warriors hand reeling Pistons eighth straight loss — The alarm in Detroit should have gone off by now. The reeling Pistons have lost eight straight games under Stan Van Gundy, the franchise honcho and the coach. This team is worse than its immediate predecessor, meaning whatever changes Stan Van was going to implement have yet to take hold. How bad is it? Vincent Goodwill of the Detroit News tries to make sense of it all:

With his young center playing lifelessly and picking up his fourth foul early moments of the third quarter, Stan Van Gundy was incredulous, yelling “Fight! Fight!”, as the game predictably slipped away.

One has to wonder if it was then, or at any point in the game where Van Gundy’s thoughts drifted to what could have been, had he taken over the team he watched give the Pistons (3-14) their eighth straight loss and 11th and 12, the Golden State Warriors.

But the Warriors (14-2) weren’t offering Van Gundy total control this past offseason, and now he has total responsibility to fix this mess, one displayed on a Sunday afternoon for all to observe at The Palace, a 104-93 loss to perhaps the best team in the Western Conference.

Of all the control he has, Van Gundy can’t control the Pistons going 16 of 53 inside the paint, as they made seven of 27 in that range in the first half. As a whole, the Pistons shot 36 percent, a season low.

For the sixth time this season, they scored 40 or less before halftime — and for the umpteenth time, getting back on defense became a chore they were unable to finish.

“When you shoot 30 percent from the paint…if you look at the stats, three feet and in, we’re third in attempts,” Van Gundy said. “And last in field goal percentage. We barely finish over 50 percent of our shots, we’ve got a real problem.”

Whether it was because the hot shooting Warriors can beat you from the perimeter or an indication of his long-term plan, Greg Monroe went to the bench in favor of Kyle Singler. But aside from Kentavious Caldwell-Pope catching fire, scoring 23 while going 12-of-22 from the field, he still hasn’t found the right mix of players or the right scheme to turn this anemic offense around.

“If we had an answer, we’d change it,” said Monroe of the team failing to convert inside. “It’s really no other answer when you’re talking about layups and shots in the paint. I’m probably the culprit of it all.”

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No. 4: Bite-gate is latest dust-up for KG and Noah — For once the Chicago Bulls can talk about something other than Derrick Rose after a game. Kevin Garnett made sure of it with the latest and perhaps strangest move of his colorful career. Apparently KG didn’t get enough of those Thanksgiving leftovers. He was busy trying to get a bite of Joakim Noah‘s hand during the Bulls’ win over the Nets Sunday. According to K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune, it’s the craziest thing Noah has seen in his colorful career, too:

Joakim Noah just smiled and shook his head in disbelief.

“Kevin Garnett tried to bite me. That’s crazy man. It’s unbelievable,” Noah said. “I don’t even know what to say.”

But then Noah said more about the incident, which rapidly circulated via social media following the Bulls’ victory over the Nets.

“I’m happy he didn’t connect,” Noah said. “If somebody tries to bite you, I think it’s a little bit more than trying to get in your head. It’s pretty amazing.”

The two players share a colorful and intense rivalry. Noah has alternated between praising Garnett’s intensity and admitting he respects him to bewilderment.

“I have fun playing against him when we win,” Noah said. “We’ve been doing some winning against him lately.I know how competitive he is and I know it drives him crazy to lose like that. I’m not worried about Kevin Garnett. I’m just worried about us, staying healthy and getting better. That’s really all I care about.”

Garnett laughed when questioned about the incident.

“I know how to bite somebody,” he said. “Obviously I was messing around in that moment. If I wanted to bite him, I’d have just … shout out to Mike Tyson …”


VIDEO: Kevin Garnett appeared to bite at Joakim Noah during Sunday’s game

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SOME RANDOM LINKS: Slimmer and fitter Marc Gasol pushes the Memphis Grizzlies to the top …  The New Orleans Pelicans are taking a look at Dante Cunningham …  Steve Nash and Byron Scott have yet to discuss the Lakers’ situation and that’s apparently fine with Scott … Don’t forget about Dwyane Wade

Russell Westbrook set to return for OKC Thunder

HANG TIME BIG CITYRussell Westbrook will return to the starting lineup tonight for the Oklahoma City Thunder against the New York Knicks, head coach Scott Brooks told reporters this morning. Westbrook had missed Oklahoma City’s last 14 games following surgery to repair a broken right hand.

Though he played just two games this season, Westbrook was averaging 20 points and 5 assists per game before the injury. The Thunder went 4-10 without Westbrook, who was expected to carry a heavy load with Kevin Durant out with a broken foot. Durant’s projected return remains unclear. The Thunder are currently six games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

Blogtable: Does OKC have enough time?

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


BLOGTABLE: Miami 2010 vs. Cleveland 2014 | POR, TOR or WAS? | Tick, tick, tick in OKC



VIDEO: Do the Thunder make the playoffs? The Starters can’t agree, either.

> Russell Westbrook is coming back soon. KD may not be far behind. Gut feeling: Will their returns be in time for the Thunder to make the playoffs?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: Make the playoffs? I say yes. Let’s do the math: Oklahoma City won 72 percent of its games across three seasons prior to this one (166-64). So might the Thunder be able to win at a 70 percent clip over, say, their final 60? If they did, they’d pick up 42 victories. Add the five or six they should have over their first 22 games and that gets them to 47 or 48. They’ll be dealing losses head-to-head with their rivals for the West’s 8th seed, too, so those games will count double. Of course, if OKC pulls this off, it might be gassed by the playoffs, but that wasn’t the question then, was it?

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook (Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook
(Layne Murdoch/NBAE)

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: It’s getting tougher and tougher each day and every additional loss will mean the Thunder will have to expend more energy.  At this point, I still think they make it, just barely.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Yes. I don’t have any sound evidence to back that up, no home/road splits or back-to-back numbers. It makes sense, though. The Thunder at full strength can make up six games, the distance to catch No. 8, in five months. They won’t get to No. 1 and they may not even get home-court advantage, and then that becomes an issue for their playoff chances. But making the playoffs? As long as Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook return on schedule and the first four weeks of the season don’t turn out to be the start of a season-long epidemic, yes.

Shaun Powell, NBA.com: You take two of the top 10 players off a team for a month and, yeah, we can expect a drastic and perhaps sudden improvement when they finally suit up again. The West is a dangerous place to start slowly and for the most part would prove unforgiving to almost any other team … except one bringing back Westbrook and Durant. Getting a top-four spot seems next to impossible, I’ll admit. That’s a mighty steep climb in a conference with the Spurs, Warriors, Rockets, Blazers, Clippers and Grizzlies. If that’s the pecking order, that means OKC must overtake the Mavericks and Suns, and I like Durant and Westbrook in a fight for the seventh or eighth spot.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: Yes, because I don’t believe the Kings can keep up a 50-win pace. The Suns and Pelicans are good, but not 50-win teams either. So there’s a playoff opening available if Durant and Westbrook stay healthy and can win 47 of their final 66 games, which is the winning percentage they had last season with Westbrook missing 36 games. It should be noted that OKC has played one of the league’s toughest schedules thus far. They’re the only team that hasn’t played an opponent that played the night before.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: They are so upside down right now in the standings, I just don’t see the return of Westbrook soon and KD a little later, will be enough to get the Thunder to the 50-win plateau it will take in the Western Conference to be in the playoff mix. There’s a ton of ground to be made up right now and if they can’t get those guys back healthy and in a groove before Christmas, it’ll be a monumental effort for them to get back into the playoff race. And I’m not dismissing the power of two superstars when healthy. But we don’t know how effective either one of them will be when they return, let alone when they’ll both actually be back and leading the Thunder charge.

Ian Thomsen, NBA.com: They absolutely will make the playoffs. And if they do, they’ll have an authentic chance to become the first bottom-half seed to win the championship since the No. 6 Rockets prevailed in 1994-95.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I was doing the math yesterday during the Hang Time Podcast, and they’d have to go something like 45-22 the rest of the way in order to make it to 48 wins, which was the threshold for making the playoffs in the West last season. But our podcast guest Greg Anthony had a great point: The better way to look at it is that the Thunder are currently six games back of the 8th place team, which as of today is the Clippers. And with 67 games remaining, I think a full-strength Thunder team could absolutely make up that difference the rest of the way. My only concern is that the complementary players, who have been asked to do so much in the meantime, will still have something to give.

Akshay Manwani, NBA.com/India: The sensible reasoning on the Thunder’s chances of making the playoffs appears to be slim. But I disagree. I think OKC will make it, riding on some really sensational, turbo-charged performances by Westbrook and Durant. And it’s not only emotion that dictates gut feeling, but even the numbers don’t seem to be insurmountable. Remember, last season Dallas were the No. 8 seed with a 49-33 record. That leaves OKC requiring to win 46 of their last 67 games i.e. an expected win percentage of 0.686. In their last three regular seasons, OKC has had a win percentage of 0.710 or more (and much of 2013-14 was despite Westbrook’s absence), so 0.686 shouldn’t be that difficult for the Thunder to emulate with both their All-Stars back.

Davide Chinellato, NBA.com/Italy: The Thunder need Westbrook and Durant now, at their best, to make the playoffs. Last season, Dallas finished 8th in the West with 49 Ws. OKC has three right now, so they probably need 46 more. In 67 games. They need to start amassing Ws right now, hopefully with Westbrook back starting Friday and KD well before Christmas. Maybe it’s already too late.

Aldo Avinante, NBA.com/Philippines: Yes, they are too talented together to not to make a run at the playoffs. OKC will string together a couple of win streaks throughout the season. KD and Russ are two transcendent players in one team, the Thunder will not be denied an invite in the postseason party.

Stefanos Triantafyllos, NBA.com/Greece: Before the two superstars got injured, we would include the Thunder in the contenders list. So that means that with both of them back, OKC can go out there and get a lot of wins. Their start is awful, but they can still make it to the playoffs. If — and here comes the big “if” — they stay healthy and don’t lose time trying to find their chemistry as a team.

Marc-Oliver Robbers, NBA.com/Germany: It will be hard. If the Thunder would play in the East – no problem! But in the loaded Western Conference it will be a very, very difficult journey. On the first view it’s only five games to the 8th seed. Westbrook and Durant might be back, but they will need time to be back on their top level. It’s the first big injury of Durant and he must learn to handle with it. Westbrook knows how long it takes to get the rust off. Besides that it’s a matter of head. Russell had three bigger injuries in a short time. That won’t leave him untouched. They should try it, but don’t force it. The team is still young and they have one more shot in the next year. And in private: To win the championship they need a better bench anyway.

Morning shootaround — Nov. 24


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Nov.  23

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Wallace: Marc Gasol isn’t going anywhere | Hornets struggling to fix internal issues  | Celtics’ Green dismisses trade chatter | Clippers testy after latest road loss

No. 1: Wallace: Marc Gasol isn’t going anywhere — Count Memphis Grizzlies general manager among the folks in the mid-south tired of discussing the departure of All-NBA center Marc Gasol via free agency. According to Chris Wallace, it’s not going to happen. Gasol won’t see free agency if Wallace has his way.It’s a non-issue in the Grizzlies’ front office, per Edward Santiago of ChrisRadio.com:

The Memphis Grizzlies have been a perennial playoff team, and contender the last four years. This week on Celtics Beat Larry H. Russell gets a chance to talk to Memphis Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace about his days in Boston and how he built the Memphis Grizzlies.

Is there any specific way to build a team? “Well, I think you take what’s given as sort of a sports cliche … we’d love to have a star too that’s a top 3 player in the league. But we can’t stop operations waiting for that Messiah to arrive.” Memphis certainly isn’t a historical franchise like the Lakers or Celtics, and isn’t a free agent destination like Los Angeles or Miami, but they’ve done things right through free agency. the draft, and trades.

The famous trade during the tenure of Chris Wallace in Memphis is the one that swapped the Gasol brothers, and brought Marc over to Memphis for brother Pau. “We had to do what was right for this franchise and it worked out.”

“Sometimes when you move a major player, it’s not the old Mickey Mantle for Hank Aaron type things where we flip baseball cards. Sometimes you have to get a variety of assets and that’s what we did. Draft picks, the rights to Marc Gasol, and cap room.” That was a rare trade that worked for both teams. The Lakers won two championships, and the Grizzlies have been an elite team.

Building a team the way they have the Grizzlies have been one of the most competitive teams in the league the last few years. “Other than the Spurs series two years ago where we were unfortunately swept the other times when we’ve been knocked out of the playoffs it was in the seventh game … Despite the fact that you may not see us frequently on National television, we like to think we have a pretty good team here and a team that will be a challenger in the Western Conference.”


VIDEO: Marc Gasol goes to work for the Grizzlies (more…)