NEWS OF THE MORNING
Durant driven to win title | Noah says he’s ready for opener | Nash may rest on back-to-backs | Granger out for 2 games | Woodson pondering Bargnani’s role
No. 1: Durant learning not to ‘obsess’ over title run — Whether you are an Oklahoma City fan or not, NBA followers cannot deny the passion that Thunder star Kevin Durant has for the game. From attending WNBA games in the offseason to playing in random pickup/pro-am leagues in the offseason, Durant is all about basketball and improving himself on the court. Such a fact comes shining through in a recent interview Durant has with Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, where OKC’s star delves into what drives him in a season that has some doubting the Thunder:
A sweat-drenched Kevin Durant sauntered over to a row of black leather seats just off the adjoining courts inside the Thunder’s training center, plopping down in the first bolted-in chair, finally taking a load off following another day at the office, another practice session that ended with him as the last player on the court, another 15 extra minutes maniacally adding more weapons to his arsenal.Over the next 17 minutes, Durant opened up about his career in a sit-down interview with The Oklahoman, discussing his trials, tribulations and triumphs, failures, focus and future.
By the time he was done, Durant left no doubt where his mindset is as he enters his seventh NBA season. It was as clear as the sweat-stained imprint the back of his No. 35 practice jersey left on that leather seat.
“I want to be the greatest,” Durant said. “I want to be remembered as one of the greatest. When they redo that top 50 players (of all time), I want to be a part of that.”
“This whole thing is a fraternity. But it’s a different fraternity when you’re staring at a group of guys that won championships, MVPs, and you can say you’re on that level with them in your career,” Durant said. “It’s only a handful of guys, maybe 15, 20 guys, that you can get in that conversation with. And I’m nowhere near there yet. So that’s where I want to be.”
Durant spent his first six seasons proving he was a stud. Now he wants to be known as simply a champion. The past two seasons showed Durant just how elusive a title can be. In 2012, the Thunder took a 1-0 lead on Miami in the NBA Finals before losing four straight. Last season, the Thunder’s playoff run was derailed by a season-ending knee injury to Russell Westbrook.
It’s not that those setbacks sparked a heightened sense of urgency for Durant. It’s just at this stage in his career, championships are now all that truly matter.
“It’s always been important to me. I always was one of those guys that played to win,” Durant said. “But, first coming into the league, I was a little confused because it’s so many great teams every night. It was no cupcake games like it was in high school and college. Every night, you got to come to play because these are great players. They were all something coming in. And my thoughts coming into the league was, of course, to win, but once I got on the court it was to establish myself. That’s what I thought. Grow as a player and then worry about that.
“But now, I’ve played in the All-Star Games; I’ve scored 30 points, 40 points before; had a triple-double before. I feel individually, like stats and stuff, I feel like I did my job with that and I established myself. But it’s about winning championships, and the first thing I got to get out of my head is ‘I.’ It’s like, ‘I want to win a championship.’ It’s not about that because one guy doesn’t win it, two guys don’t win it, three guys don’t win it. So it’s about the whole team, the whole organization winning a championship.”
No. 2: Noah ’100 percent’ ready for opener — Bulls All-Star center Joakim Noah appeared in just one preseason game and was sidelined the rest of the exhibition season with a groin strain that left his availability for Tuesday’s season opener against Miami (8 p.m. ET, TNT) up in the air. But following Sunday’s practice in Chicago, the big man declared himself ready to go for Tuesday night, writes our own Steve Aschburner:
Noah had made just one preseason appearance after slipping in practice and suffering a groin strain early in camp. Several days earlier, both he and Hinrich seemed like longshots at best to face the Heat, from listening to coach Tom Thibodeau. But Noah told reporters at the team’s practice facility Sunday that missing the final tune-up against Denver Friday was a precaution only.
As competitive as he is, and as aware of the inevitability of getting through the two-time defending champs if his team hopes to chase a title, Noah figured to be straining at the leash if he had to sit out.
“Every time you play against Miami, it’s a statement,” Noah said. “In the beginning of our season, we’re a hungry group. It’s one of 82 but we know that every time we play against Miami it’s important.”
Noah didn’t seem concerned about a drop in his conditioning, though that seems likely to cut into his minutes after his limited October play. Hinrich, who suffered a concussion Oct. 18 and also was coping with a sore shoulder, endured a rigorous practice Sunday without setback.
No. 3: Nash may sit out second game of back-to-backs — Lakers point guard Steve Nash entered training camp saying how he was feeling better than he was last season, when he missed 32 games with various injuries and was a shell of himself. But Nash averaged just 4.0 ppg and 3.6 apg in 18.4 minutes during the preseason and coach Mike D’Antoni says he may consider giving Nash more rest this season, writes Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com:
Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said he is considering not having Nash play through the entire early schedule, which includes a back-to-back this week at home against the Clippers and on the road against the Golden State Warriors, followed by a third game in four nights back in L.A. against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.
“There’s a possibility,” D’Antoni said of Nash sitting out against Golden State. “We have to talk about it. I haven’t talked to him. Obviously we’ll see how he feels in the next couple of days, but it’s very possible that he sits out.”
D’Antoni said he and Nash likely would determine the point guard’s playing status as each of L.A.’s 19 sets of back-to-back games come up in the schedule, rather than map it out beforehand and be married to the plan.
“It’s hard to make a definitive answer right now because if one of my other point guards tweaks his ankle, he’s playing,” D’Antoni said of Nash. “If one guy has the sniffles, he’s playing. So, we’ll see how the team goes and we’ll see where we are — where we are in the schedule, where we are in the standings — and see how he does. But the idea is to cut down the number of games and keep the minutes consistent for him, but the number of games come down.”
D’Antoni said Nash definitely would play against the Clippers. Nash did not speak with reporters Sunday, but addressed the Lakers schedule out of the gate following L.A.’s 111-106 win over the Utah Jazz in their preseason finale Friday.
“I just look at the first one and see how it goes,” Nash said then. “Who knows, right? I think you have to be open to anything, but for me, I am just preparing for that first game of the year. I want to have a great game and then see what happens after that.”
No. 4: Granger out for Pacers’ first two games — (UPDATE: Granger will now be out 3 weeks instead of the two games originally written here) … Save for five games last season, swingman Danny Granger spent the entire 2012-13 campaign rehabbing and recovering for a troublesome knee injury. The knee hasn’t proven to be a problem for Granger in the preseason, but a strained calf injury has made life difficult for him now. Pacers.com’s Scott Agness reports that Granger will miss the Pacers’ first two games of the season with the injury:
Pacers forward Danny Granger continues to be bothered by strained left calf and it’ll keep him out at least the first two games, Pacers coach Frank Vogel declared Sunday after practice. The Pacers open the regular season on Tuesday against the Orlando Magic, and then they play in New Orleans on Wednesday.
“He’s just doing some light shooting and stuff,” Vogel said. “As long as he’s feeling anything down there, [the training staff is] going to be cautious with it.”
This wasn’t exactly surprising. Vogel said on Friday that Granger was unlikely to play in the season opener.
No. 5: Woodson open to Bargnani as sixth man — The Knicks’ ideal starting lineup in the frontcourt is a big one that features Carmelo Anthony, Tyson Chandler and new addition Andrea Bargnani all playing alongside each other. Bargnani, though, has struggled to get into a groove in New York and his trademark 3-point shooting has been off as well. Those issues — plus Bargnani’s well-documented defensive struggles — have Knicks coach Mike Woodson pondering a Metta World Peace-for-Bargnani swap in the starting lineup, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:
Carmelo Anthony repeated several times Saturday that Andrea Bargnani’s transformation as a defensive-minded Knick won’t “happen overnight.’’ However, Knicks coach Mike Woodson said he won’t wait a long time for the 7-foot Italian to make it as full-time starting power forward.
If he has to change the big frontline of Tyson Chandler, Bargnani and Anthony by Wednesday’s season opener against Milwaukee, Woodson will. The obvious change would be to send Bargnani to the bench for small forward Metta World Peace.
“I’ll experiment with [the big frontcourt], but I’ve got options this year,’’ Woodson said. “I can always go small, with Melo at the 4 with small teams and throw Bargnani in there when we got big teams. It’s not a matter of who starts, it’s what you do with the minutes that you’re in there. That’s the message I’m sending everybody on the team. You got to give productive minutes on the floor if you want to play.’’
Bargnani’s preseason was disappointing after a very sharp opener. He finished a minus in the plus-minus category in each of the last six preseason games — totaling a minus-72. He still is learning both the offensive and defensive systems, Woodson said.
Bargnani hasn’t been a good rim protector or rebounder in his career, and he extended that reputation this October.
“It’s not going to happen overnight,’’ Anthony said. “We had a preseason together. He’s still getting his feet wet as far as adjusting to New York. He’s still trying to adjust to New York. On the court with us, he’s still trying to adjust to that and we’re still trying to adjust to him.’’
Anthony said Bargnani’s teammates are understanding.
“The eventual goal is everyone’s clicking with one another,’’ Anthony said. “It’s not going to happen overnight. He’s not going to adjust to the New York style, New York way of living, New York way of life overnight. I’m not asking people to be patient, but as teammates we’re very patient with him. We understand a guy coming to this New York situation and what it actually takes to be here in New York.’’
Bargnani is a man of few and simple words. But he recognizes he needs more time.
“Of course everybody’s learning,’’ Bargnani said. “The main focus is defense and defensive rebounds. That’s the main thing coach wants for us. The offense is going to come.’’
World Peace gives the Knicks a more rugged defensive unit, with Anthony at the 4. So far, World Peace is even badly outshooting Bargnani from 3-point land — 40.9 to 20 percent.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Jazz and forward Gordon Hayward remain far apart on a contract extension … Sixers forward Thaddeus Young is well aware his name is likely to be in trade rumors … Rockets likely to waive veteran Marcus Camby this week … NBA commissioner-in-waiting Adam Silver backs the advanced-stats movement … Magic rookie Victor Oladipo faces tough transition to point guard position
ICYMI Of The Night: Preseason is a time when teams try out wacky lineups, give major minutes to their reserve players and in general experiment across the board. We wonder if this wild over-the-head and-one shot by Zaza Pachulia is part of the Bucks’ plans for 2013-14 …
VIDEO: Pachulia nails over-the-head and-one shot