Posts Tagged ‘Oklahoma City Thunder’

Morning shootaround — Dec. 19


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Kobe not recruiting KD to L.A. just yet | Report: Trade talks for Stephenson fizzle | Malone reflects on Kings days

No. 1: Kobe not recruiting Durant to Lakers just yet — Former MVPs and scoring champions Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant have developed a mutual respect for each other on and off the court over the last few seasons. Would the two take to playing together in L.A.? While the prospect of that is a ways off and would hinge on Durant not re-signing with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Bryant addressed the notion of playing with KD in Lakerland yesterday. ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Baxter Holmes has more:

Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant has openly praised Kobe Bryant, saying he’d love to play with the Los Angeles Lakers shooting guard.

And while Bryant said he hasn’t yet recruited Durant, who is set to become a free agent in 2016, Bryant didn’t rule out trying to lure last season’s MVP to the Lakers either.

“No, I think we know each other pretty well,” Bryant said Thursday at the Lakers’ practice facility here, leading into Friday’s game between the Thunder (12-13) and Lakers (8-17) at Staples Center.

“I don’t think it’s a discussion that you have in terms of coming here. But I think it’s more of an understanding how to play with each other.”

Said Bryant, “If the opportunity came up, then that’s the time to have that discussion.”

It’s no secret that the Lakers are among many teams that plan to pursue Durant when he hits free agency.

Bryant praised how much Durant has changed his game since joining the NBA.

“When he first came into the league, he was more of a perimeter player,” Bryant said. “He’s since evolved his game to now being a great post player, a great passer out of double teams, a great mid-range game. His evolution as a basketball player just keeps getting better and better.”

Bryant was asked if adding Durant — or any star — would entice him to extend his career beyond next season, when his two-year extension worth $48.5 million is set to expire.

“I don’t know. Maybe,” Bryant said. “But it’s really my call, man. If I want to play, I’ll play. If I don’t, I don’t. If I don’t want to play anymore and go through the process of getting my body ready day in and day out, I’m not going to play.”

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Durant suffers ‘mild’ ankle sprain, misses 2nd half against Warriors


VIDEO: Kevin Durant turns his right ankle against the Golden State Warriors

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — What had the makings of a record night for Kevin Durant ended before halftime against the Golden State Warriors for the reigning MVP.

Durant turned his right ankle on a drive to the basket with 2.4 seconds to play before halftime and did not return for the second half. Precautionary X-rays taken at the arena in Oakland during halftime were “negative” according to TNT sideline reporter Louis Johnson and the injury was classified as a mild ankle sprain. The news spread quickly on social media.

Durant had piled up 30 points in 20 minutes before going down, making him the first player since the NBA/ABA merger to do so. A fractured foot on that same leg cost Durant all but the Thunder’s last eight games. And he was still playing on a minutes restriction to safeguard against his previous injury.

The Thunder led by 17 points early with Durant leading the way against the Warriors, but trailed 65-63 at halftime.

UPDATE: Durant’s X-rays came back negative.


VIDEO: Durant says injury not big concern, will be cautious

Morning shootaround — Dec. 12


VIDEO: Highlights from games played Dec. 11

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too | Wall ranks top PGs | Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare | Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’

No. 1: Carmelo got cake, wants to eat it too — Maybe a better version of the old “cake” proverb in this case would be: Carmelo Anthony can’t have his Big Apple and beat it, too. Or can he? The Knicks’ scoring star had a chance to sign – unencumbered – as a free agent with one of several legitimate NBA contenders over the summer. Instead, after wining and dining, he went about re-signing for the biggest paycheck – a five-year, $124 million deal – returning to New York despite an obvious rebuilding plan under new boss Phil Jackson and new coach Derek Fisher. So now Anthony is whining, or at least is glum enough to consider “dropping his no-trade clause.” We’ll offer the standard “reader beware” warning on this one because it’s one of those nebulous, unprovable, “so-and-so might be thinking about” types of stories. And it has been labeled “a fiction” by one of the New York Post‘s competitors. But here are the details, regardless of how untradeable Anthony’s contract might be or how unappealing his lack of leadership through these tough times makes him:

For now, Anthony has no desire to be traded, but his willingness to consider giving up the no-trade clause shows how frustrated he has become with the Knicks’ historically bad start to the season.

The Knicks have lost 10 straight games — two shy of a team-record — and at 4-20 have the most losses in the NBA, one more than the laughingstock Sixers.

On Wednesday, it was revealed Anthony got into an on-court scuffle with teammate Tim Hardaway recently, which resulted in a players’ only meeting on Saturday.

Anthony can be traded beginning Monday — the unofficial start of trade season when all free agents and draft picks signed over the summer can be moved.

A trade to a contender would be a financial boon to Anthony as he has a trade kicker attached to his contract that is worth 15 percent of the remaining value at the time of the deal. That kicker was put in place by Anthony’s handlers to deter teams from approaching the Knicks about Anthony. He would receive a lump-sum payment of roughly $17.5 million if he is traded Monday.

“He thought things would be better than this, but he still wants to stick it out for now, ’’ a source said. “He trusts Phil, but I think he’s afraid of Phil.’’

***

No. 2: Wizards’ Wall ranks top PGs — We’ve been through this before, as far as NBA players ranking themselves atop some particular pile. OKC’s Kevin Durant did it again this week when he said he believes he’s the best player in the league. Houston’s James Harden did it in the offseason when he proclaimed he was the best player in, what, the world? The universe? Anyway, Washington’s John Wall was asked about the league’s current crop of point guards and acknowledged that, yes, in his mind, he’s No. 1. Remember now, CSNWashington.com asked Wall, he didn’t volunteer it. His next four, in order: Stephen Curry, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. And it all had to do with the start of 2015 All-Star Balloting and Wall’s desire to start for the East squad (notice where his other top PG picks play):

[Wall] has made it clear that he will deserve to start for the East when the All-Star Game is played in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15.

“Yeah, I think so,” Wall told CSNwashington.com on Thursday, when balloting opened for fans to select two guards and three frontcourt players as the starters. “You definitely want to be the starter in the All-Star game because you want to be able to play them last six minutes of the game. Last year, I was itching to get out there. I was playing good and they had to sub me out. I was like, ‘What?” I’m used to being in in those situations. You definitely want to be a starter.”

Wall had to wait to be voted in as a reserve to make his first All-Star appearance, playing behind Kyrie Irving who was the more popular choice but wasn’t the most deserving in terms of accomplishment. Wall had a better team, leading the Wizards to 44 wins and a second-round playoff berth. Irving, who was the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2011 which was the year after Wall went in the same spot, never led his team to the postseason.

“As an individual that’s one of my biggest goals. It’s a big honor for me to go back if I get the opportunity,” Wall said. “It all comes from me helping my team to play the right way and win games. Everybody has got individual goals.”

***

No. 3: Cavs exhale after Irving injury scare — When the TNT broadcast of Cavaliers-Thunder went to the “Inside The NBA” crew at halftime, the tone was somber enough to have all those holiday poinsettia plants on set swapped out for black crepe and lilies. Cleveland point guard Kyrie Irving had just gone down – and out – with what looked, in repeated and unpleasant video replays, to be a serious knee injury. But a surprise put the fun back in funereal moments later when Irving was shown running before the third quarter started. He played nearly 23 minutes after halftime and scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the loss in Oklahoma City. Clearly, the Cavs (already without LeBron James for the night due to knee soreness) had dodged a major mishap, and our own Fran Blinebury wrote about it:

“Fear. Worry. Concern,” [coach David] Blatt said when asked to describe his emotions at the moment when Irving hit the floor with 1:31 left in the second quarter Thursday night. “And hope. Which ultimately won the day.
“There’s a great saying in Russian, which means: ‘Hope dies last.’ And thank goodness he got up and he was able to play.”
It is no exaggeration to say those who did watch the replays with eyes uncovered inside Chesapeake Energy Arena were shocked to Irving standing back on the baseline bouncing all around and loosening up before the end of halftime.

In those first few seconds, after all the worst thoughts raced through his mind, Irving was able to calm himself down.

Steve Spiro, our head trainer just coming out there and letting me know the necessary steps to take and when to bend my knee and how to control my body to make sure I’m alright,” Irving said. “He takes a look at it and asks me if this is OK and that’s OK and just make sure I can get up and walk to the locker room.

“When we came back in the tunnel the Thunder’s doctor looked at me. I told our training staff as I was walking back and LeBron and D. (Damon) Jones were helping me, I kinda started walking on my own and we did some tests and decided to go back out there.”

Irving nodded at the memory of James literally being there to pick him up and support him.

“It meant a lot, just that he sprinted out in just his tights and his t-shirt,” Irving said. “It’s just great. He’s awesome and sincerely cares and that’s just the relationship that we have going around this whole entire locker room. We’re more than teammates. We’re friends and to know that your teammates care about you like that, it goes far.”

***

No. 4: Durant doesn’t ‘give a damn’ — About the perceived woes facing his team in Oklahoma City, that is. Or about your sympathy for the Thunder’s plight, created by both Kevin Durant‘s and teammate Russell Westbrook‘s injury absences. Or about the criticism that might come his way anyway if OKC doesn’t reach and make serious noise in the postseason. Michael Lee of the Washington Post spoke this week with the 2014 MVP, just revving up in an NBA season that began 17 games late for him:

Kevin Durant is in a hole that is mostly not of his own doing but he has been around long enough to know that he won’t be forgiven if another season ends without the Oklahoma City Thunder capturing an NBA championship.

Durant, the reigning NBA MVP, doesn’t want or expect to get a pass with his eighth season starting at a decided disadvantage after he suffered a broken right foot in the preseason, Russell Westbrook broke his right wrist on opening night, and the Thunder piled up more devastating injuries than wins in the season’s first six weeks.

“I really don’t give a damn what people got to say,” Durant said. “I really don’t care if they cut me slack or they don’t. I’m not looking for no sympathy from nobody. I’m not looking for no praise from nobody. It’s all good, either way with me. I just look for respect from teammates as a player and as a man. That’s what I want. All that other stuff, I learned how to tune that stuff out and not worry about. I used to think about it. ‘Are they going to cut me slack? Do they love me if I play this way.’ I really don’t give a damn.”

Durant, 26, has developed more of an edge as he’s matured in the league, hardened by the disappointment that has come from losing in the NBA Finals in 2012 and having injuries to Westbrook and Serge Ibaka derail Oklahoma City’s chances of getting back the past two seasons. He also understands that four scoring titles and an MVP trophy won’t shield him from criticism after depositing seven seasons into his career without winning a championship ring.

“You can’t please everybody,” Durant continued. “I can go out there and average 50 points a game, it’s always going to be something people say. If you don’t like me for it, so what?”

And:

Oklahoma City entered training camp as a team seemingly poised for a title breakthrough. James broke up with Miami and got back with his first love and San Antonio got a year older after making it through a six-game series with the Thunder last postseason. With Durant under contract with Oklahoma City through 2016, the pressure for the organization to win a title has been magnified, with each wasted opportunity sure to increase speculation about his future.

“Everybody wants to tell you when your window is closing. Everybody want to tell when they think you can win a championship or ‘you will never win.’ It’s not about the outside noise,” Durant said. “We feel as though, in this organization, we can compete every year. Injuries have hit us, but it’s a part of the game, and we’re going to push through that. But when you start listening to people who aren’t experts of the game of basketball, who have never been inside a huddle … you can’t listen to that stuff. Even if they tell you you’re a great player or it’s your turn to win. We’re not going to worry about windows here.”

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Kobe Bryant did a whole lot of cursing at teammates, but it was just old Kobe being young Kobe. … Golden State’s David Lee did some 3-on-3 work in the Warriors’ practice but has a ways to go before he’s playing again, post-hamstring injury. … The Spurs got some good news in the negative about forward Kawhi Leonard‘s sore hand. … Sam Cassell lured Paul Pierce to Washington, then abandoned him there. It sounds like D.C. political intrigue. … Former Phoenix player Richard Dumas has run afoul of the law again. … Is there anyone who would protest against a shortened NBA preseason? Anyone? Bueller?

NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 Starts Now

HANG TIME BIG CITY — It’s time to get out the vote.

With about a quarter of the NBA season in the books, and the 2015 NBA All-Star Weekend about two months away, voting begins today for the 2015 All-Star Game thanks to NBA All-Star Balloting 2015 presented by Sprint…with a decidedly new twist.
For years, fans have been able to cast All-Star votes for most of their favorite NBA players. But this year, for the first time ever, they can vote for literally any NBA player. In years past the ballot contained 60 players from each conference who were determined by a panel of broadcasters and media members. While fans will continue to select two guards and three frontcourt players when selecting starters, with the new online ballot they have the ability to choose from the entire NBA player pool.

Another wrinkle new to the ballot is SAP, which will integrate daily stats into the online ballot. Fans will have the ability to sort players by their current stats from NBA.com/stats powered by SAP HANA.

Updating the official ballot on NBA.com to include all NBA players will complement the options afforded by the NBA’s all-digital voting program, which also includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, SMS, NBA Game Time and NBA Game Time from Sprint applications, as well as Sina Weibo and Tencent Microblog in China. Balloting concludes on Monday, Jan. 19, and starters will be announced live on TNT on Thursday, Jan. 22, during a special one-hour edition of TNT NBA Tip-Off presented by Autotrader.com at 7 p.m. E.T.
Last season, LeBron James was the leading overall vote-getter with 1,416,419 votes, although this season he may see his voting power base shift from South Florida to Ohio. Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder finished second last season with 1,396,294 votes.

Although he didn’t play last season while recovering from Achilles tendon surgery, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant has the chance to make his 17th All-Star roster, which would put him two games behind all-time leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

While this has been one of the most competitive early seasons in recent memory, there may not be much room for new All-Stars. Last season, Stephen Curry, Anthony Davis, Damian Lillard, Paul Millsap and John Wall all made their All-Star debuts, and thus far this season, all would seem to be on paths toward returning. With so many incumbent All-Stars reprising their performances early on this year, it bears watching to see if a player like Sacramento’s DeMarcus Cousins, who is currently tied for the lead league in rebounds per game at 12.6, will be able to play his way on to the roster. Similarly, Boston’s Rajon Rondo, a four-time All-Star who missed last season’s game while recovering from injury, currently leads the league at 10.8 assists per game.

At least one starting position on the Eastern Conference team will be up for grabs, as 2014 starter Paul George from the Indiana Pacers is out recovering from a fractured leg. Toronto’s DeMar DeRozan also made last season’s Eastern Conference roster as a reserve, but is currently out and hasn’t played since November 28 after suffering a torn tendon.

A strong contender for George’s starting spot may come from Cleveland. Last season, then-Minnesota forward Kevin Love was voted to the Western Conference starting line-up, but his off-season trade to Cleveland not only shifts his Conference allegiance, it also opens a starting spot for the Western Conference. Love narrowly beat out Houston’s Dwight Howard for that starting position in 2014.

The 64th NBA All-Star Game will be played in New York City’s iconic Madison Square Garden, home of the New York Knicks, on Sunday, February 15, 2015. The BBVA Rising Stars Challenge, Sprint NBA All-Star Celebrity Game and State Farm All-Star Saturday Night — including the Sears Shooting Stars, Taco Bell Skills Challenge, Foot Locker Three-Point Contest and Sprite Slam Dunk — will be held at Barclays Center, home of the Brooklyn Nets. The recently-debuted uniforms feature nods to all five boroughs of New York City.

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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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

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Morning shootaround — Nov. 27


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played Nov. 26

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Stephenson not a star yet | Suns point guards slow to adjust | Butler has risen against the odds | Lopez a perfect fit in Portland

No. 1: Stephenson not a star yet — With a 4-12 record and the second longest losing streak in the league, the Charlotte Hornets have been the most disappointing team outside of Cleveland. The arrival of Lance Stephenson was supposed to give their offense a boost, but they rank 25th on that end of the floor and have regressed defensively. Stephenson is still starting, but has seen his playing time drop quite a bit in the last week. After he logged just 23 minutes in Wednesday’s loss to the Blazers, Hornets coach Steve Clifford provided a dose of reality regarding his team’s new “star,” as Michael Wallace of ESPN writes:

Hornets coach Steve Clifford believes Lance Stephenson’s problems adjusting during his first season in Charlotte are partly due to the guard’s struggles to live up to external expectations.

“To be fair, one of the things that’s made it more difficult for him is that he came here and people proclaimed him as the next superstar,” Clifford said Wednesday. “He’s not a star. He’s a guy that has talent to become a star. To be a star in this league, you have to do it over years.”

Clifford’s comments came after Stephenson was left on the bench for the entire fourth quarter for a second consecutive game, this time during Wednesday’s 105-97 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers that extended the Hornets’ losing streak to seven straight games.

A combination of preseason injuries and struggles since then to find his rhythm and a consistent role in Clifford’s offense has made Stephenson’s transition much more difficult than some anticipated.

***

No. 2: Suns point guards slow to adjust — At 10-6 after a win over the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday, the Phoenix Suns are in a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference. But they’re still trying to find their way, especially offensively, where they’ve taken a small step backward. One adjustment is the addition of point guard Isaiah Thomas, who joins Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic in an unconventional backcourt. Though the team is winning, it’s impossible for all three to get their deserved playing time every night. As Thomas tells CBS Sports‘ James Herbert, that can be tough to deal with:

With the Kings, he was shuffled in and out of the starting lineup, especially in his first two seasons. He watched Tyreke Evans, Aaron Brooks, Greivis Vasquez and Jimmer Fredette play the point in front of him. Thomas has learned that he can’t worry about the things he can’t control. Still, this is challenging. Thomas has proven he’s capable of producing like an All-Star, and so have Dragic and Bledsoe.

“It’s a tough situation,” Thomas said. “But you’ve just got to be ready for whatever circumstances coach puts you in. You gotta be ready when your name is called, but I’m not going to sugarcoat it. It’s tough.

“It’s not what I expected,” Thomas continued. “But coach has a tough job. Putting all of us on the floor and trying to mix up the minutes, it’s tough for him. So it’s not just tough for us as players, we just gotta be ready when our name’s called and just know, I mean, coach is trying to do what he thinks is best for the team to put us in a position to win. But the key word is it’s a tough situation. For all of us.”

***

No. 3: Butler has risen against the odds — The Chicago Bulls have one of the most improved offenses in the league, despite the fact that Derrick Rose has played just 6 1/2 of their 15 games. One reason is the continued development of Jimmy Butler, who has the best field goal percentage of the five players in the league averaging at least 20 points, six rebounds and three assists. Butler was the 30th pick in the 2011 Draft out of Marquette, where most teams didn’t see much talent in the 6-7 guard. ESPN’s Nick Friedell profiles Butler and his path to becoming a big piece of a title contender:

Jimmy Butler isn’t supposed to be here.

He’s not supposed to be in the NBA. He’s not supposed to be a key member of a Chicago Bulls team that has championship aspirations. He’s not supposed to be in the midst of an All-Star type season — the best of his career — in which he has carried the Bulls on both ends of the floor at various times. And he’s certainly not supposed to be on the verge of cashing in on a contract offer at season’s end that will likely pay him well over $50 million over the next four seasons.

The odds have always been against Butler. His path to the NBA is as unlikely as anyone who plays in the league given that his backstory (of being homeless at 13 before moving in with a friend’s family) reads like the basketball version of “The Blind Side.” No matter how many ups and downs Butler endured in his journey to the precipice of NBA stardom, the 25-year-old never stopped believing in himself. The same drive that helped get him out of Tomball, Texas, and into Marquette University is the same fuel that’s pushed him to average over 20 points a game early this season.

***

No. 4: Lopez a perfect fit in Portland — The Portland Trail Blazers made a 21-win leap from Lottery team to the second round of the playoffs last season, and have continued rolling with a 12-3 start this year. They’ve gotten improvement from all of their high-profile players, but the key to the transformation was the addition of a low-profile center. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian details the importance of Robin Lopez to the Blazers’ success:

After 96 regular season games and one memorable playoff series victory, it’s become clear that Lopez was the missing link for this franchise. A city that has watched the downfall of the beloved yet brittle Bill Walton, and the depressing breakdowns of Sam Bowie and Greg Oden, finally has a stabilizing force at the NBA’s most important position.

And while Lopez’s made-for-Portland personality and rugged, hustle-infused game have made him a Rip City fan favorite, it’s the things you don’t notice — the unselfishness, the unassuming disposition, the way he connects the Blazers’ chemistry — that have made the towering 7-foot, 265-pound center so important.

LaMarcus Aldridge is the Blazers’ best player. Lillard brings the big shots and big plays. Matthews provides defense, leadership and heart. And Batum is the glue, offering a touch of everything.

But Lopez is perhaps the most important piece, the linchpin to one of the most cohesive and talented starting lineups in the NBA. When general manager Neil Olshey shrewdly snatched Lopez in a trade for next to nothing, he didn’t just nab a starting center entering his prime, but also the 21st Century version of Buck Williams, a player plugged into an established core at just the right time that helped catapult the Blazers to the next level.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Carmelo Anthony doesn’t know how long back spasms will keep him out of the Knicks’ lineupThe Thunder waived Sebastian TelfairThe Lakers are close to signing Earl ClarkDavid West hopes to make his season debut on FridayMarcus Smart started, but couldn’t finish practice on WednesdayThe Celtics are going to EuropeMark Cuban wants to join the Eastern ConferenceSome trash talk from Philly fans motivated Kevin GarnettKyrie Irving wants to guard the league’s best point guards … and The New York Times profiled TNT’s “Inside the NBA.”

ICYMI of The Night: Tyson Chandler helped the Mavs to an overtime victory over his old team with 25 rebounds, an NBA high for the season:


VIDEO: Nightly Notable: Tyson Chandler grabs 25 boards

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 178) Featuring Greg Anthony

HANG TIME BIG CITY — It’s snowing right now in New York City — big, wet, white flakes falling from the sky.

According to my iPhone, right now in Los Angeles it’s sunny, with a projected high of 81 degrees.

Meanwhile, in Atlanta, again according to my iPhone, it’s 52 and sunny.

The Hang Time Podcast crew may be spread out across the U.S., which means different weather reports for this holiday weekend, but we’ll each spent Thanksgiving with our families, munching on turkey. Which no matter how you cook it, is something worth being thankful for.

That’s more than some NBA teams can say. A few months back, Rick Fox, Sekou Smith and myself went on a road trip and visited with several NBA teams as they prepped for the new season. On this week’s Hang Time Podcast, with Sekou out on the chilling list, Rick and I went back through some of the teams we’d seen and talked turkey about the Bulls and Derrick Rose‘s injuries, about the surprising start from the Pacers, how the 76ers have been epically awful, and how Lance Stephenson and Hornets are still working through issues.

We were also joined by Turner Sports analyst Greg Anthony, as we expanded the conversation and went through some of the contenders out West, as well as what’s happening with the Clippers and the Thunder.

And oh yeah, if you’re looking for bragging rights, you better talk to me!

Finally, it’s a holiday tradition unlike any other: Rick Fox’s Turkey Dynasty call makes its annual appearance.

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.

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.