Posts Tagged ‘Perry Jones’

Five questions for OKC after Durant’s surgery


VIDEO: Coach Scott Brooks describes how the loss of Durant impacts the Thunder

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Kevin Durant had surgery on his fractured right foot on Thursday, the team announced. He will be evaluated in six weeks. By then, the Oklahoma City Thunder will be 16 games into a most unusual season.

Durant’s injury obviously will have wide-ranging effects, from whom coach Scott Brooks will start at small forward, which could determine who then starts at the vacant shooting guard spot, to which players with previously limited roles are in line for significantly more playing time.

Durant last season averaged 32.0 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists and led the Thunder in 3-point shooting percentage. He won the MVP. So there’s plenty of making-up to do.

Here’s five questions the Thunder face with their regular-season opener 13 days away:

1. Who will replace Durant in the starting lineup?

Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are the two main candidates. Lamb, the 6-foot-5 wing, is also a candidate to start at shooting guard, although Brooks seems feel most comfortable with the second-year, defensive-minded shooting guard Andre Roberson. Roberson has started all three preseason games, and if he maintains the starting spot — which he manned last season when Russell Westbrook was out and Reggie Jackson took over point guard — that would allow Lamb to start at small forward. Jones is a 6-11 forward and a rare Thunder first-round pick who has yet to earn much beyond spot work in his first two seasons. His shooting range is improving and he’s athletic, but he’d have to prove he can guard NBA wings. The bigger issue with Jones here is he’s not much of an offensive threat, or at least we can’t claim that he is or could be because we just haven’t seen much of him. Without Durant and with Roberson at shooting guard, the Thunder will desperately need scoring threats around Westbrook. That would seem to give the edge to Lamb, an inconsistent shooter to be sure, but a player the Thunder hopes can become a valued slasher and 3-point shooter. His long, lanky frame can also be beneficial on the defensive end.

2. Since OKC needs scoring threats in the starting lineup, what does that mean at center?

Brooks is an extremely loyal coach and he loves to stick with his guys through thick and thin. That is obviously the case with center Kendrick Perkins. For everything you might think Kendrick can’t do — or no longer does well — Brooks will give you two things he loves about him. But Perkins’ starting days should be coming to an end. Even before Durant’s injury, Brooks claimed the starting position was up for grabs. Well, second-year center Steven Adams is grabbing it. He’s been excellent through three preseason games, averaging 18.7 points and 6.0 rebounds in 23.7 minutes. Those are numbers Perkins couldn’t touch even during his heyday in Boston. Not that Stevens could sustain such lofty production, but he continues to show he has great hands to catch-and-finish, he’s developed a nice rapport with Westbrook and he’s not afraid of physical play. Perkins has been out since the start of training camp with a quad injury, which makes only more sense for him to come off the bench as he rounds back into shape. Get ready Thunder fans who’ve been clamoring for Perkins to sit, Adams is making it possible for you to get your wish.

3. How will this affect Russell Westbrook?

Twitter is full of smarty-pants suggesting that Durant’s absence is the point guard’s green light to jack up 40 shot a night. Maybe in his dreams, Westbrook sees himself running circles through defenses like stationary pylons, dunking at the rim, slapping his imaginary guns into his imaginary holster after splashing endless 3s and draining his trademark high-rising free-throw jumper at will as teammates stand and golf-clap his virtuosity. Back in reality, Westbrook just might surprise the masses who doubt he can be a team player. But that’s been the goal even before Durant’s injury. The Thunder, like most teams, want to move the ball, get more players involved, be more, well, Spurs-like. At the start of training camp, Westbrook addressed the topic and even said: “There should be something that you see new from us.” Maybe it was just talk, but Westbrook seems sincere when he talks about getting everybody involved. Maybe Tuesday’s preseason win against Memphis, the first game without Durant, was a preview. Westbrook played 26 minutes and scored 14 points with 12 assists. He took just 10 shots and OKC scored 117 points in a 10-point win. If this is the model for how Westbrook will approach the season, the Thunder could well be a better team when Durant returns.

4. What about Reggie Jackson? He says he badly wants to start. What does this do for that cause?

Not much. Brooks has already declared Westbrook as the best point guard in the NBA, so he’s probably not going to then move Westbrook to shooting guard to allow Jackson to start at the point. As for Jackson starting at shooting guard, it makes OKC small in the backcourt and Jackson’s playmaking and scoring punch is too valuable off the bench. But surely Jackson sees the bigger picture. He’s eligible for an extension at the end of the month, which might not happen (and it’s probably beneficial for his value not to sign an extension), and would make him a restricted free agent next summer. Even coming off the bench, Jackson is going to play starters minutes and finish games. Without Durant he instantly becomes a top scoring option, so he could set himself up for a big scoring season, which will only inflate his value next summer. If Jackson decides to mope about not starting over a less accomplished player such as Roberson or Jones, or even Lamb, the Thunder will have trouble. But Jackson has never shown to be that type of player.

5. Is there a wild card on the Thunder roster?

His name is Anthony Morrow. As Brooks mentioned at the start of training camp, the team actually has a player with a higher 3-point percentage than Durant. The Thunder could have used him last season, but better late than never. Morrow has never been able to stick with any one team during his career, but the Thunder offers a unique situation where he really can solely focus on shooting 3s (and mix in a little defense). With Durant out, defenses will focus on Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka, who has become one of the best mid-range, pick-and-pop shooters in the league, and if Morrow can knock down 3s at his career rate of 42.8 percent, he could certainly see more minutes than his career average of 23.7, at least until Durant returns. Through three preseason games, Morrow is averaging 16.7 points and is 8-for-14 from beyond the arc. He’s also managed to get to the free-throw line, making all 14 of his attempts. Morrow’s accuracy could be the single most effective weapon in replacing Durant’s scoring.

Reeling Thunder seem out of answers

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Inside the NBA crew hands out some advice for struggling Thunder

SAN ANTONIO — The Thunder had to feel pretty good. Relatively speaking. No, they hadn’t shot it well and the offense remained a combination of two overburdened superstars and haphazard execution.

But they had also stemmed another early San Antonio paint party and were getting enough hustle and grit from role players off the bench to survive Kevin Durant sitting out the first 5:42 of the second quarter, darn near a vacation for Mr. Inexhaustible during this postseason.

As the MVP checked back into the game between Tim Duncan free throws, the first tying it 36-36 and the second giving the Spurs back the lead, 37-36, the Thunder did have to like what was happening. They were hanging in, defending well enough that the Spurs, shooting under 40 percent, had to earn their looks.

Coming out of a timeout with 2:37 left in the half, San Antonio went up 47-42. Then the hurricane hit with a devastating wallop. First a Danny Green 3-pointer followed by a Boris Diaw reverse layup and then another quick-trigger Green 3 as Durant lunged, helplessly out of position to contest.

Suddenly it was 55-44 — an 8-2 explosion in 81 seconds.

Durant and Westbrook exchanged words heading to the bench for a timeout — leaders getting on one another, Westbrook explained, “what leaders do” — although it’s doubtful either could hear what the other had said.

The ascending roars inside AT&T Center reverberated off every seat in the house until the place felt as if it was going to blast off. For the Thunder it must have felt like the roof had caved in on them, leaving them stumbling through choking clouds of rubble. At least that’s how they played on the Spurs’ next possession.

First Diaw grabbed Ginobili’s missed layup. Then Ginobili snuck inside of Durant and rebounded Tony Parker‘s errant 3. Ginobili dribbled freely all the way out beyond the arc as if taking it back behind an imaginary line on his driveway, lined up a 27-footer and buried it with 33 seconds left in the half.

It was 58-44, a 22-8 burst being the precursor to a second consecutive blowout, 112-77.

“You can’t go from down 5 to 14, not in two minutes,” Thunder center Kendrick Perkins said.

“I messed the game up at the end of the second quarter,” Durant said. “I got hit on the screen and Danny Green got open for a 3. I overhelped and he got another 3, and then Ginobili hit the 3. All those plays was on me … We shouldn’t have been down that much at halftime, but I made three bonehead plays.”

Durant sounded a lot like Chris Paul after the Clippers’ Game 5 loss at Oklahoma City. Paul shouldered blame for a series of bungled plays. This one obviously had much more time to play out, but just as the Clippers never recovered, there’s an undeniable dire feeling attached to this so-far non-competitive Western Conference finals.

Durant and Westbrook could have combined for 60 points and it still wouldn’t have been enough. Shooting guard Thabo Sefolosha was held scoreless again. He, Perkins and Ibaka fill-in Nick Collison have combined for nine points in the two games. Only Jeremy Lamb off the bench cracked double-digits and those points came after this one was long over.

With 5:41 to go in the third quarter the Spurs led 76-50. “Sweet Caroline” played over the audio system during a timeout and 18,581 swaying fans turned the arena into a rollicking sing-a-long.

With 1:47 left in the period, the margin stretched to 87-58 after a Kawhi Leonard layup, another layup that accounted for 54 point in the paint, 120 in the series. Durant slammed the ball to the floor and Thunder coach Scott Brooks threw in the towel. Durant, just 6-for-16 for a playoff-low 15 points, and Westbrook, 7-for-24 for 15 points, watched the rest of it from the bench.

Inevitably, the Thunder’s 2012 West finals comeback when they went home down 0-2 to the Spurs and then steamrolled them with waves of athleticism in four straight, became a popular line of postgame questioning. And OKC’s players all answered as they should, that they’re not giving up the fight.

But three key differences make this time feel a whole lot different: James Harden plays in Houston, Serge Ibaka is on crutches and this souped-up Spurs team, humming at top efficiency, is even better than that one.

Game 3 in Oklahoma City is not until Sunday night, leaving Brooks 72 hours to dissect this two-game train wreck and seek solutions to questions that seem unanswerable. Ibaka’s athleticism to defend Duncan in the post, meet Parker on penetrations and step out for 15-foot target practice on the offensive end, appear too much to overcome.

Brooks went small in Game 1 and he tried to go big in Game 2. He got by with again starting the second quarter without Durant and Westbrook on the floor. At the 9:13 mark, Westbrook returned with OKC up one. They’d keep it right there over the next three minutes when Durant returned to anchor another newly concocted lineup with Westbrook, Collison, Perry Jones and Steven Adams.

They got flattened. Now comes three days of introspection before the Thunder puts their season, their championship dreams, on the line in Game 3.

“It’s hard to do, but like I said, we can do it,” Durant said. “Of course everybody is going to try to spread us apart these next few days, but we’ve never been a team that front-runs. We always stick together no matter what. We’ve just got to go out there and do it.”

“Spurs killer” Jackson on Pop’s radar

By Fran Blinebury, NBA.com

“Every time I see Ibaka or hear the name, 11-for-11 goes through my head.”

That was Gregg Popovich talking to reporters early on Friday afternoon.

So you figured the Spurs coach was relaxing with his feet up with a nice Malbec in his hand once word spread that Thunder forward Serge Ibaka could have been lost for the rest of the playoffs with a calf injury?

Of course, that would only mean you need to enroll in a course of “Remedial Pop” before the start of the Western Conference finals on Monday.

The last thing Pop wants to hear about is the door being pushed open wider for his Spurs to return to The Finals. He only sees trapdoors.

Even before the loss of the shot-blocking whiz, Popovich and his staff were fretting over Reggie Jackson.

While everyone knows Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook will get theirs, it’s Jackson who has been a huge problem for the Spurs in losing all four games to OKC this season.

“If anybody watched our games, they watched Reggie Jackson basically be the Spurs killer any time we played them,” Popovich said.

Over the course of the entire season, Jackson averaged 13.1 points, 2.7 assists and shot 43.1 percent from the field. But in those four Spurs losses, Jackson averaged 21.2 points, 4.3 assists, shot 67.3 percent from the field and connected on 66.7 percent of his 3-pointers.

Of course, Ibaka’s loss will be felt most on the defensive end, where he has the ability to control the paint and prevent Spurs point guard Tony Parker from getting to the spots where he can do the most damage. The sheer numbers show that San Antonio averages 108 points per 100 possessions, except when Ibaka is on the floor. Then the Spurs production drops to 93 per 100 possessions.

There is virtually no way the Thunder will be able to cover up for the absence of Ibaka on defense. Nick Collison is older and slower. Perry Jones and Jeremy Lamb are younger and untested and have not been prepared. Can you really expect Steven Adams to knock over the furniture for 35-40 minutes per game? Can you ask much more from Durant?

For the Thunder to win now will most likely require a lot more offense. And that’s where Jackson comes in.

Ask Pop and his mouth will pucker like he’s taken a sip from a wine bottle with a twist-off cap. The Spurs killer has left a bad taste behind.

Talking Defense With Scott Brooks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thunder defense, last four seasons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OKC Ready To Adjust To Westbrook’s Return


VIDEO: Thunder coach Scott Brooks talks about Russell Westbrook’s potential return

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Russell Westbrook picked a heck of a game to make his return.

The Oklahoma City Thunder point guard has been cleared to play Thursday night for the first time since Christmas Day against the revenge-minded and LeBron James-fueled Miami Heat on TNT (8 p.m. ET). It was just three weeks ago that Durant and the Thunder, minus Westbrook, torched the Heat on their turf. As of Wednesday, Westbrook is officially listed as a game-time decision.

OKC stunned the league in the weeks without Westbrook, climbing to the top of the Western Conference behind Durant’s magnificent performances that have vaulted him ahead of James to the top of the MVP race. Now the Thunder will be whole again for the first time since Westbrook underwent a third surgery to his right knee after Christmas.

“You have to worry about one superstar and then you bring in another,” James said Tuesday night after scoring a season-high 42 points, his first 40-point venture of the season, in a win at Dallas.

Between Westbrook’s anticipated return and another showdown between the game’s two biggest stars, Miami-OKC, a potential NBA Finals preview, is must-watch TV.

“Is it a statement game?” James asked rhetorically. “It’s not a statement….we don’t need to make a statement. We want to continue to play at a high level like we have been playing.”

It could be good timing for the Heat to keep their momentum flowing. Since losing to the Thunder on Jan. 29, Miami’s reeled off six of seven, including three in a row, with James reminding all that until further notice he is the four-time MVP with averages in those seven games of 30.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg and 7.6 apg. The lone hiccup came at Utah during an otherwise sparkling, 4-1 all-Western Conference trip bridging the All-Star break. The road finally ends in OKC.

Now they’ll get a Thunder team in their first game after the break and back in adjustment mode, working in their three-time All-Star point guard with their do-it-all superstar, a talented crew of role players that have stepped up big. Thunder coach Scott Brooks called Westbrook’s impending return a “time for sacrifice.”

“When Russell comes back, there’s roughly 35 minutes that have to be taken away from players,” Brooks said. “There’s going to be shots that are going to have to be taken away, there’s going to be fourth-quarter minutes that are going to be taken away from players. But when you give players minutes, it’s not easy to relinquish the minutes, it’s not easy. It’s a lot easier if it’s a one- or two-game sample size. They’ve had a big chunk of the season with a lot of extra minutes. There’s going to be sacrifices, everybody. KD’s going to have to continue to make sacrifices, Russell, Reggie [Jackson], Jeremy [Lamb], but we have a team that does that.”

There will be scrutiny, too, instantaneous and often irrational if the Thunder — 20-7 during this stretch without Westbrook — slip. Critics will pounce if Westbrook is perceived to be shooting too much or stalling the offense or generally getting in the way of Durant’s MVP path, one that would prevent James from becoming the first three-peat MVP since Larry Bird some 30 years ago.

The easy-going, eager-to-serve Durant, as usual, brushed off any concern of being able to put it all back together on the fly with his partner of six seasons now.

“I don’t think it will be too much of an adjustment,” Durant said. “He’s a dog, man, you just got to let him go out there and be him. He has great intentions, he’s a team first guy, so it’s going to work. I’m excited to have him back and I know he’s excited to play again. We’ve just got to ease him into it a little bit. He’s been out 31 games, I think, so just make sure his body is right and his stamina is up, he’s a high-energy guy.”

Through his unexpected absence, Brooks effectively utilized his young bench, starting Jackson at the point as he did in the playoffs after Westbrook went down. Second-year swingman Jeremy Lamb, who came over from Houston in the James Harden deal and watched from the bench last season, has emerged as an effective sixth man and rookie center Steven Adams and second-year forward Perry Jones have been solid contributors.

Now Jackson will run the point with the second unit, and at times play with Durant and Westbrook, who was averaging 21.3 ppg, 7.0 apg and 6.0 rpg before he went down. Through it all, OKC is the lone team to rank in the top six in both offensive and defensive efficiency. In December, when they really got things rolling with Westbrook, the Thunder ranked in the top three in both categories and No. 1 in defensive rating.

And in January, as the Thunder kept rolling and Durant kept soaring and stealing the headlines, James, the four-time MVP and reigning two-time champion was taking notice, subtly, and not-so-subtly dropping hints that he’s watching it all.

As Westbrook returns, his best basketball might be a bit down the road, but for tonight it only adds to the tantalizing intrigue of this final regular-season showdown between two mesmerizing MVP candidates who can only meet again in June.

Trust Binds Brooks, Young Stars To OKC


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

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

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

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

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

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

Now here they are again.

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

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

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

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

Durant’s Streak Ends, Thunder Still Good


VIDEO: Thunder rout Nets for 10th straight win

BROOKLYN – Kevin Durant‘s streak of 12 straight games of scoring 30 or more points came to an end on Friday, because his team is just too good. Durant scored 26 points on just 12 shots in the first three quarters, but sat the entire fourth of a 120-95 blowout of the Brooklyn Nets.

And maybe the thing that has gone under the radar — as Durant has been shooting the lights out and establishing himself as the MVP favorite — is that the Oklahoma City Thunder are the best team in basketball right now.

Friday’s rout — in which Brooklyn set an NBA record for fewest rebounds (17) in a game — was OKC’s 10th straight win. It’s been a hard earned streak that has included wins over Houston (on the road), Golden State, Portland, San Antonio (on the road), Miami (on the road) and Brooklyn (on the road), who had the league’s best January record entering Friday.

They’ve absorbed Russell Westbrook‘s latest setback and have played their best ball of the season. Their All-Star point guard has played just 25 of their 48 games and they hold the best record in the NBA at 38-10. They’re one of two teams that rank in the top five in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

You don’t do that behind the performance of just one guy. Yes, Durant has played better than anybody in the league this season. But the Thunder have proven to be much deeper than anyone could have predicted, with Perry Jones being the latest young reserve to make the most of an opportunity to play.

Throughout the night on Friday, the Nets tried to get the ball out of Durant’s hands, doubling him almost every time he caught the ball, as they did late in their Jan. 2 win in Oklahoma City. The plan mostly worked, but it just allowed one of Durant’s teammates to make a play.

“We knew what they were going to do in terms of doubling on the catch,” Durant said, “and we were moving the ball quick, and guys were knocking down shots.”

Durant tallied seven assists as five of his teammates scored in double figures. Serge Ibaka shot a perfect 12-for-12 from the field.

“Durant has been the guy getting the headlines,” Paul Pierce said, “but if you look across during the winning streak, they’ve had a number of guys step up.

“That’s just a great player making his other teammates better.”

So, in a game in which he shot a mere 10-for-12 and had Barclays Center buzzing from the opening minute, Durant’s streak came to an end. He’s fine with that.

“Man, I’m glad that’s over with,” he said. “I’d much rather take the win. That’s my type of game, just playing how the game is played. If they double, make the pass. Just play easy. I wasn’t trying to force anything. That streak was good while it lasted, but that was the least of my concerns.”

“If he cared about the streak,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks joked, “he should’ve made those two shots.”

Thunder record and efficiency

Timeframe W L OffRtg Rank DefRtg Rank NetRtg Rank
10-game winning streak (since 1/16) 10 0 116.2 1 103.4 9 +12.9 1
Since Westbrook surgery (12/27) 15 5 110.0 4 101.2 7 +8.8 1
Season 38 10 108.0 4 99.2 3 +8.8 1

OffRtg = Points scored per 100 possessions
DefRtg = Points allowed per 100 possessions
NetRtg = Point differential per 100 possessions

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 30


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 29

NEWS OF THE MORNING

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

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

So, set aside the MVP debate for a while, at least until these teams meet again Feb. 20 in Oklahoma City. Focus a little on the COY — Coach of the Year — because the Thunder’s Scott Brooks accounted for the biggest highlight move of the night.

Understand that Brooks hasn’t had his preferred starting lineup for a while, not with All-Star guard Russell Westbrook (right knee meniscus surgery) sidelined since Christmas. But the one he started Wednesday has been his next-best option, with a record now (15-5) that’s nearly as good as OKC’s ‘A’ team (17-2).

So, coming out of halftime, Brooks pulled a lineup from column C. He sat down center Kendrick Perkins and inserted backup forward Perry Jones. Jones is listed at 6-foot-11 but he’s a quarter-horse compared to Perkins’ Clydesdale and the switch effectively rendered the Thunder small. Serge Ibaka was the default center, Durant the ersatz power forward.

It worked wonders. OKC outscored the two-time defending champions 36-25 in the third quarter. A 91-75 lead ballooned to its max with 8:45 left when the Thunder opened the fourth on a 10-1 run. Miami fans might have learned their lesson in The Finals about leaving early when things look bleak but this time, there really was little reason to stay.

So Perkins/bad, small ball/good was plain to see on this night. But Brooks dared to tinker with a mostly pat hand (Perkins has started all but two games), in a properly ballyhooed game, in front of an ESPN audience. He went with Jones and left him in for all 24 minutes of the second half. He made sure the Thunder used their mobility especially to get back on defense, choking off any Miami notions of transition buckets (OKC won that battle, getting 20 fast-break points to the Heat’s eight).

And he sold it on in real time, with nary a pout – who can tell with Stoneface Perk anyway? – nor a ripple.

“I thought to win this game, we had to make a decision,” Brooks said. “It’s just this game. It’s not something we have to do all the time. Perk brings so much to us. We’re not going to make it a small lineup/big lineup [issue]. ‘We’ won the game. It’s always been about ‘us.’ We have a bunch of guys who are always about ‘team’ and tonight was a prime example of that.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


VIDEO: Giannis Antetokounmpo finishes strong vs. Phoenix


VIDEO: Blake Griffin takes flight on a breakaway jam

Morning Shootaround — Jan. 4


VIDEO: The Daily Zap for games played Jan. 3

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Collison to step in and up for CP3 | Cavs have multiple options for Bynum | Smith’s latest blunder costs Knicks | Lakers Nash eyeing a February return

No. 1: Clippers need Collison, and others, to step in and up for Paul — Clippers point guard Chris Paul will be sidelined for anywhere from 3 to 5 weeks, and potentially even longer, with a separated shoulder, which puts his back up, Darren Collison, into the pressure cooker for the next month or so. That would be the same pressure cooker he was in Friday night when Paul went down and the Clippers needed a huge effort from him and others (DeAndre Jordan on this night) to save the day against his former team, the Dallas Mavericks. It’s a tall order, filling the shoes of the MVP candidate and team leader, but one that the Clippers need Collison to tackle every night. As Broderick Turner of The Los Angeles Times reports, Collison’s time is now:

Jordan scored a career-high 25 points on 11-for-14 shooting. He also had 18 rebounds and two blocked shots.

“DJ was great,” Clippers Coach Doc Rivers said. “DJ got deep post position, and that’s where he’s effective. If he can get them deep, he can score.”

Collison scored a season-high 20 points on six-for-10 shooting.

Collison played all 12 minutes in the fourth quarter after Paul went down in the third.

“Darren was terrific tonight,” Rivers said. “We just kept him aggressive. He obviously doesn’t see the floor like [Chris Paul]. There’s only one guy like that and that’s CP. But [Collison] has great speed and pace and he has a big heart. That’s what we needed tonight.”

Jordan said his job is to be a defender, not to score.

“It’s not really my first priority or second priority,” Jordan said. “I want to be the best defensive player out there. If I can go out there and control the paint for us and only have two points but grab 20 rebounds and a couple of blocks for our team and I play well defensively … that’s my only concern.”

Collison will perhaps have the toughest job going forward.

He’ll have to fill in for Paul while the All-Star point guard is out three to five weeks recovering from injury.

“It’s going to be tough because he’s our engine,” Collison said. “He’s our leader. He does a lot for us. But at the same time, this team is very talented. We have the depth to overcome this. We’re all hoping that CP comes back as soon as possible.”


VIDEO: Doc Rivers talks about Chris Paul’s injury and what it does to the Clippers

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No. 2: Cavaliers have multiple options on Bynum trade front — One door closes for the Cavaliers on the Andrew Bynum trade front while another one seemingly always opens where the big man behemoth is concerned. With the chances of a Bynum-for-Pau Gasol swap fading in recent days, the Cavaliers have moved on and are exploring other options, according to Marc Stein and Brian Windhorst of ESPN.com. Those options include a potential deal that would require Richard Jefferson to pack his bags and relocate from Utah:

Sources said Utah Jazz veteran swingman Richard Jefferson has emerged as a new trade target for the Cavaliers after ongoing talks with the Los Angeles Lakers on a deal centered around the swap of former teammates Pau Gasol and Bynum remained at an impasse Friday.

A deal with Utah that would send Jefferson to Cleveland and likewise allow the Jazz to acquire and waive Bynum before the other half of his $12.3 million salary this season becomes guaranteed is one of three primary options for the Cavaliers. The other two, sources said Friday, are continuing talks with the Lakers this weekend in hopes of hashing out trade terms both teams can stomach, or electing to keep Bynum beyond Tuesday’s deadline and then reshopping him as a trade asset before the Feb. 20 trade deadline, or, if necessary, again in late June and early July.

Any team that has Bynum on its roster Jan. 7 can immediately wipe $6 million of its books this season by waiving him that day by 5 p.m. But sources said that Cleveland is strongly weighing the idea of keeping Bynum if it can’t trade him by then, despite the fact it would fully guarantee the former All-Star center an extra $6 million.

In that scenario — even if he never played another second for the Cavs — Bynum theoretically could be an attractive trade piece in connection with the June draft or immediately after it because his $12.5 million salary in 2014-15 is fully nonguaranteed. Any team that has Bynum on its roster in July can erase the $12.5 million as long as he clears waivers by July 10.

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No. 3: Smith’s ill-advised 3-pointer costs Knicks in loss to Rockets — If it was anyone else other than J.R. Smith and the New York Knicks, you might be surprised. But it’s not. And there is little left to the dark side of the imagination when it comes to the blunders committed by the Knicks during this time of horrors. Smith forgot the score late in Friday night’s game in Houston and hoisted a bone-headed 3-pointer with the game tied and the outcome still hanging in the balance. He later acknowledged that he’d forgotten the score and took that shot thinking the Knicks were trailing. It’s just the latest in a season-long series of miscues for a Knicks team that, as Frank Isola of the New York Daily News points out, cannot afford many more of these sorts of gaffes before someone gets run out of town:

Last month, the Knicks lost a home game to Washington when they failed to use one of their three remaining timeouts after the Wizards had taken a lead in the closing seconds. Within days, [Andrea] Bargnani nearly blew a game in Milwaukee by attempting a 3-pointer with the Knicks leading by two and the shot clock turned off.

“It was déjà vu,” said Anthony, referring to Smith’s and Bargnani’s untimely shots.

As for Smith’s brain freeze, Mike Woodson said he was “surprised” by the shot but added that “we wouldn’t be having this conversation if he had made it.”

The Rockets, who improved to 22-13, certainly weren’t at their best. Dwight Howard was outplayed by Chandler, while Lin scored all of his 14 points in the first half. James Harden was electric and lethargic at times. He scored 37 points on 10-for-19 shooting and went 12-for-12 from the line. But he also committed five turnovers, one of which led to Chandler’s game-tying free throws with 1:02 left.

[Carmelo] Anthony finished with 25 points — on 23 shots — and eight rebounds and spent much of the game wincing. Before Thursday night’s win in San Antonio, he had missed three straight games

with a sprained left ankle, and having to play 37 plus minutes in two consecutive games took its toll.

If Smith remembers the score and

Anthony holds for a final shot, the Knicks could have been headed to Dallas with a two-game winning streak. Now, they’re looking to avoid falling a season-high 13 games under .500.

“We had a great opportunity,” Anthony said. “We have to learn from this.”


VIDEO: James Harden goes off for 37 in a win over the Knicks

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No. 4: Report: Nash eyeing a February return to Lakers — Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash back together again, at the same time, too. That would be an excellent New Year’s prize for the Los Angeles Lakers, who don’t have either one of their future Hall of Famers at their disposal right now. Bryant is on the mend from a fractured knee that cost him all but six games this season, while Nash remains sidelined with the chronic nerve issues in his back and hamstrings that have derailed his entire season to date. But sometime in February is the target date Nash has pegged for what, as ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin suggests, could be the two-time MVP’s final comeback attempt:

“At some point, I have to also realize, do the safest thing, the best possible opportunity to play basketball again rather than letting my angst get the better of me and jumping back in there,” Nash said after the Lakers’ shootaround Friday. “I know I can get healthy. It’s a matter of, ‘Can I sustain it?’ And I’m just trying to get that health under my belt for an amount of time where we feel confident that it can be sustainable is the tricky part, and that’s probably going to take a little while longer than I was hoping.”

Nash, the league’s oldest player — turning 40 next month — originally hoped to return to the lineup sometime during the Lakers’ upcoming seven-game Grammys road trip Jan. 15-26, but he has since decided to use that time to go back to Vancouver, British Columbia, for the fourth time this season to undergo rehab with personal trainer Rick Celebrini.

If all goes well, Nash will practice with the Lakers for a week when they return from their extended road trip and attempt a comeback during the first week of February with about 35 games left in the regular season.

“It’s all super speculative at this point because it’s such a weird, tricky dimension when you’re talking about this nerve issue,” Nash said.

Nash exited at halftime of the Lakers’ loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Nov. 10 and has not played since. He is averaging 6.7 points and 4.8 assists per game this season while shooting 26.1 percent from the field. He has two years remaining on his contract with the Lakers, set to pay him $9.4 million this season and $9.7 million in 2014-15.

Nash said that the time away from the team — missing the past 24 games — is starting to wear on him.

“That just eats away at me every day — how far away I am from the game,” Nash said. “It’s been almost two months now. It takes a while to get your rhythm and everything down. So the anxiety and stress over the last eight months have been very unwelcomed.”

After his last trip to Vancouver in early December, Nash was able to participate in three straight days of Lakers practices without a setback. However, two days after the string of consecutive work, discomfort set in.

“My left leg just like shut off,” Nash said. “I remember just shooting and couldn’t feel the muscles working, and it was like fatiguing in like 10 minutes of light shooting. That’s classic neuropathy. Apparently I’ve become a bit of an expert.”


VIDEO: Steve Nash admits that nothing is guaranteed when it comes to his NBA future

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Might the solution to the Knicks’ problems be a discussed Melo-for-Blake Griffin swap — could be?  … This was a scary moment for the New Orleans Pelicans and Ryan Anderson … The Raptors’ revival is real, seriously, it’s legitimate. Just ask the Washington Wizards … They might have to keep it going without Kyle Lowry, though. The veteran point guard is apparently in demand … Thunder swingman Perry Jones is trying to solidify his spot in the rotation by mastering the “corner 3.”

ICYMI(s) Of The Night: Andre Iguodala’s work this season on the Horry Scale has been stellar. And he added to it Friday night at Philips Arena, delivering the Golden State Warriors a victory at the buzzer over the Atlanta Hawks.


VIDEO: Iggy does it again, this time against the Hawks at the buzzer

Orlando Summer League Tips Off Sunday

HANG TIME, Texas — You’ve got rookies often trying to wildly impress, second-year players who have a better understanding of what is expected and a few veterans who are hoping to get another taste of the big time.

The Southwest Airlines Orlando Pro Summer League tips off Sunday with some familiar names from the 2013 Draft and plenty of other hopefuls trying to crack an NBA roster.

NBA Summer LeagueNine first-round picks — led by No. 2 Victor Oladipo, No. 8 Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and No. 9 Trey Burke – will take part in the six days of competition that will take place on the Magic’s practice court at Orlando’s Amway Center. The games are not open to the public and will only be attended by media and league personnel. All games will be shown on NBA TV.

A new format will be added this summer with two extra teams and one extra day added to the schedule. Under the new format, each team will play five games over the six-day event, concluding with a championship day. Standings will be based on a seven-point system for each game — three points for a win and one point for winning each quarter.

Here’s a quick look at roster highlights of the 10 teams that will participate:

Boston Celtics — It’s a whole new ballgame for the Celtics’ rebuilding program and there would seem to be plenty of room for new faces to earn a ticket to Boston now that Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Doc Rivers are all gone. New coach Brad Stevens will be on hand to observe, but leading the team will be assistant coach Jay Larranaga. First-round pick Kelly Olynyk, obtained by trade from Dallas, will be the biggest name on the roster, though last year’s draftee Fab Melo is physically bigger. Avery Bradley is being given a rest from duty and Jared Sullinger is still recovering from back surgery.

Brooklyn Nets – The remade and reloaded Nets will have first round pick Mason Plumlee suiting up for the first time along with a pair of last season’s veterans Tornike Shengelia and Tyshawn Taylor. But all eyes during the week will surely on the rookie on the sidelines. After a 19-year playing career that will surely send him to the Hall of Fame, Jason Kidd is taking no time off and going right to the bench. It will be most interesting to see if Kidd is as good in this transition as he was on the court.

Detroit Pistons — Andre Drummond arrived in Orlando a year ago with something to prove to the doubters and then went back to Detroit and showed that he was not merely a summer fling. Drummond will return, but is not expected to play the full slate of five games. The Pistons will have their entire rookie class of 2013 — Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Tony Mitchell and Peyton Siva. New coach Maurice Cheeks may have his work cut out resurrecting the Pistons at the NBA level, but the summer roster is quite capable.

Houston Rockets — After all their maneuvering and salary cap gymnastics to try to land free agent Dwight Howard, the Rockets did not have a first-round pick this year, but may have gotten first-round quality in point guard Isaiah Canaan. Terrence Jones, a No. 1 from a year ago, will be on the team and continuing to show that he’s a keeper and this Houston bunch is also loaded with Patrick Beverley and Greg Smith.

Indiana Pacers – It seems like much longer than just four years ago that Jonny Flynn was the No. 6 pick in the 2009 draft and maybe that’s because he’s mostly been on the outside everywhere he’s gone, trying to justify that selection and prove that he belongs. Now he’s back from playing in Australia and trying to get that third guard spot with the Pacers, who are also bringing in Donald Sloane. This year’s first round pick Solomon Hill will join holdovers Miles Plumlee, Orlando Johnson and Ben Hansbrough from last season’s roster.

Miami Heat — After winning back-to-back NBA titles, the Heat aren’t taking the summer off. In fact, they’re working overtime, the only franchise to be fielding teams at both Orlando and Las Vegas. Miami didn’t have a first-round pick — remember, it was traded for that LeBron fellow. The rosters will be led by last season holdover center Jarvis Varnado and second-round pick James Ennis, a swingman out of Long Beach State. A couple of high profile college guards, Larry Drew II of UCLA and Myck Kabongo of Texas will play for the Heat. Joining the team in Orlando only are Cedric Jackson, Ian Clark, Dewayne Dedmon and D.J. Stephens.

Oklahoma City Thunder — While three rookies Steven Adams, Andre Roberson and Grant Jerrett will be on hand for their Thunder debuts, most eyes of the coaching staff and back in OKC will be on holdovers from the main roster Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb and Perry Jones. Jackson dazzled with his play in Orlando last summer, giving the first hint that he’d be ready to step into the point guard job when Russell Westbrook went down.

Orlando Magic — When it looked like everybody was losing their minds at the top of the draft a week ago, Magic GM Rob Hennigan kept his eye on the prize and simply chose his man Victor Oladipo. Is he a point guard or a shooting guard? Or is he just ready to do anything the Magic ask in the backcourt? Forward Romero Osby, a second round pick, has a lot of folks saying he’s a sleeper. Second-year men Maurice Harkless and Andrew Nicholson are also on the roster.

Philadelphia 76ers —
While many Sixers fans are still reeling from the draft night trade that shipped out the young All-Star and favorite Jrue Holiday, this will be everyone’s first chance to see how his successor measures up.  Michael Carter-Williams will be given the keys to the offense in Philly when the season starts in October, so consider this his going out to take the test for his driver’s license. Nerlens Noel, the prize that came in the trade for Holiday, will not play as he’s still rehabbing his knee injury.  But Justin Holiday, Jrue’s brother, will be back to see if he can stick with the Sixers again.

Utah Jazz – Top draft pick Trey Burke said on draft night that he hopes to be the Jazz’ starting point guard on opening night next season. So he’ll start to press his case by running the summer show. Rookie center Rudy Gobert hopes to get in a few runs maybe by the end of the show in Orlando. He’s currently trying to work out a buyout of his contract with his French team and will need FIBA clearance. Center Enes Kanter is still recovering from shoulder surgery and neither Gordon Hayward or Derrick Favors will play, because they’re both part of the Team USA camp in August. Jazz fans will get to see a Stockton back in uniform. Hall of Famer John Stockton’s son Michael is a free agent signee.