Posts Tagged ‘Scott Brooks’

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…)

Without Westbrook, Ibaka Keeps Soaring

VIDEO: Serge Ibaka talks about OKC’s winning ways on Arena Link

OKLAHOMA CITY – How many Western Conference power forwards do you check off before getting to Serge Ibaka?

Blake Griffin. Kevin Love. LaMarcus Aldridge. Dirk Nowitzki. Tim Duncan. Anthony Davis. Zach Randolph. David Lee. Hard to quibble. All are All-Stars, recent past or present.

“There [are] so many good power forwards, and so many good point guards, in the West that he does kind of get lost in the shuffle,” Oklahoma City Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “But we understand what he brings to our team. He’s definitely [at] an All-Star level in my eyes and what he does for our team: He rebounds, he blocks shots, he alters shots, his rebounds have gone up, his shooting percentage is high, his points have gone up.”

Ibaka is also only 24 years old, which makes his progression to a career-best 15.0 ppg (11th in the league among power forwards), career-best 8.8 rpg (8th), 2.5 bpg (2nd) and 19 double-doubles (10th) midway through his fifth season seem astronomical, and his potential off the charts. That the chiseled, 6-foot-10 force of nature, taken 24th in the 2008 Draft (his first NBA season was 2009-10), is under contract with the Thunder through the 2016-17 season at a rate that never eclipses $12.35 million is another feather in management’s already blooming cap.

Ibaka and Russell Westbrook have developed such a lethal connection that when the point guard left the lineup after the Christmas Day game to undergo a third surgery on his right knee, there was some trepidation that Ibaka’s offensive contributions would suffer.

That has not occurred because Ibaka and Kevin Durant have been terrific together. Durant’s has assisted on one-third of (54-for-160) Ibaka’s baskets since Westbrook went down. Since, Ibaka has averaged 15.9 ppg on 56.7-percent shooting.

“We have a better connection in the halfcourt offense,” Ibaka said of he and Durant whereas he and Westbrook work so well together in the open floor. “He has confidence in me. I know when he is going to pass to me. I just have to catch the ball. My first part of this is I owe it to him to get him open, so when he can get open, the defense starts to go to him, so then I know, ‘OK, now it’s my turn.’ I am going to get open and I know he is going to pass it to me, so I am going to make plays for myself and for my teammates.”

Ibaka’s midrange game continues to be one of the best in the league. He is hitting 47.8 percent of his shots taken outside the paint and inside the 3-point arc. Coming off a screen, Durant typically gets doubled and he finds Ibaka for the pick-and-pop jumper he loves from the top of the circle, or Ibaka rolls to the basket, an aspect of his game Brooks says has vastly improved.

“When he does roll, he’s ready to catch and finish right away and he’s seeing the pickers much quicker,” Brooks said.”That sounds easy and looks easy, but there’s a lot of work that goes into that. You have to be able to catch the ball on the fly and put yourself in a position not to get a charge and, if there is a guy, you have to make sure you make the right pass, and you have to do that all within a second.

“He’s understanding, with all the work that we’ve put him through in practice to simulate those opportunities, and I think it’s really paying off.”

Ibaka’s true shooting percentage (adjusted to include the value of 3-pointers and free throws) is 54.0 percent, fourth-best among power forwards behind Amir Johnson, Kenneth Faried and Boris Diaw. But Ibaka averages, at the minimum, four more shots per game and almost five more points per game.

According to NBA.com/stats, Ibaka is connecting on 49.2 percent of his shots from 10-14 feet; 46.3 percent from 15-19 feet; and 38.9 percent from 20-24 feet. He’s 13-for-37 for 35.1 percent from beyond the arc, a percentage plenty of guards could live with.

So, what happens when Westbrook returns as he is scheduled to do after the All-Star break? Ibaka smiles.

“I am going to have Russ and I am going to have Kevin,” Ibaka said. “We are going to be more dangerous. You know, Russ is more go-go, ‘I’m open;’ me and Kevin [are] more halfcourt. I think it is going to be great, man. I can’t wait to have Russ back. I can’t wait.”

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

OKC Gets Minor Victory Over Miami, May Have Major Lineup Breakthrough


VIDEO: Kevin Durant leads OKC past LeBron and his Heat

MIAMI – Those who came or tuned in seeking some odd, early resolution to the NBA’s Most Valuable Player race probably left or went to bed disappointed. Entertained, exhilarated even, but disappointed because the slim gap between Kevin Durant and LeBron James didn’t widen more, based on their individual performances Wednesday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Based on the outcome – a 112-95 Oklahoma City victory, in which the Thunder bungeed from 18 points down early to 25 points up late – Durant probably did pull a few extra chips to his side of the table. But in practical terms, there wasn’t much to choose between: Durant’s 33 points on 12-of-23 shooting with seven rebounds, five assists and four turnovers vs. James’ 34 points on 12-of-20 shooting, with three boards, three assists and three turnovers.

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.

Now, we’re not suggesting that Brooks be handed the bronze trophy with the little Red Auerbach on it, not on the strength of one game or even half the season. He was named Coach of the Year in 2010 and, for some voters, having a legit MVP candidate at one’s disposal is an small argument against that coach taking home hardware.

It wasn’t as if Brooks necessarily had a “Eureka!” moment, either, given the way Miami jumped on his starters for a 22-4 lead in the game’s first 5:40. Perkins had subbed out when it was 15-2, after which Oklahoma City outscored its hosts 53-35 through the end of the second quarter.

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.”

Veteran guard Derek Fisher had found the bottom of the peach basket (hey, that’s how he learned it) for 15 points by the time OKC led 101-76, compared to a Miami bench that had scored just 11 by then. Jeremy Lamb scored 18, combining with Fisher to hit 9 of his 11 3-point shots. The Thunder were uncanny from out there, hitting 59.3 percent compared to 47.2 percent of their 2-pointers.

Miami was, well, the opposite, going 3-for-19 from the arc. Then there were those 21 turnovers worth 25 points. Just four steals to OKC’s 13. Seventy points allowed in the second and third quarters combined. Not much flow from the champs. And so on.

“There were a lot of different issues,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Our offense got us in trouble tonight – it was uncharacteristic. Even in our right plays, we were fumbling it. Our guys were zigging, they were zagging. … But again, you have to give them credit.”

OK, here’s some: Oklahoma has won nine consecutive games, edging closer to the franchise mark of 12 set early last season. And Durant ran his string of 30-point performances to 12, longest in the league since Tracy McGrady stacked up 14 late in 2003.

Durant is averaging 38 points during the streak, shouldering the load left by Westbrook’s absence. He’s shown no serious wear, and he had fun in his back-and-forth with James, both with the ball and in some “slick stuff” they chattered on the floor.

Still, he sounded as if he enjoyed more the work of his teammates, chipping in against about the toughest competition they could face. Most times Durant carries them, but to a considerable degree Wednesday, guys like Lamb, Jones and Fisher carried him and the Thunder. It’s the sort of flexibility that allows them to adapt to Westbrook going and, sometime after the All-Star break, coming back, a better “acquisition” than any other team will get at the trade deadline.

“There are going to be games where guys are going to play more minutes and games where guys are going to have to sacrifice a little bit. And that’s what we did,” the NBA’s leading scorer (31.3) said. “Them young guys are gamers, man. They want it. They want that opportunity. When you mix ‘em out there with Fish, who’s probably the biggest gamer of us all. He doesn’t care what the moment is, he’s going to come out and play the same way. And Nick [Collison] is the same way as well.

“I’m proud of them.”


VIDEO: Kevin Durant and LeBron James discuss the Thunder-Heat game

MVP Ladder: Good Luck Catching KD!



VIDEO: Good luck trying to catch Kevin Durant on or off the court this season

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Is it too soon to declare this race over?

If Kevin Durant keeps it up, someone better find that checkered flag because no one will catch the Oklahoma City Thunder star on the KIA Race to the MVP Ladder. And that includes Miami Heat star LeBron James, who like the rest of us has admitted to marveling at Durant’s exploits this season.

Durant has already established himself as the most diabolical scorer of his generation, an absolute assassin capable of destroying opposing defenses from basically anywhere on the floor. But his current run of nine straight games with at least 30 points, not to mention his preposterous 37.0 scoring average for the month of January, has helped vault him into the all-time great category alongside the likes of James, Kobe Bryant, Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, Nate Archibald and Oscar Robertson.

His coach, Scott Brooks, has even crossed sporting lines by comparing him to an all-time great from the NFL.

“Kevin Durant, Peyton Manning,” Brooks said Tuesday night. “You just look at the parallels between the two. They just come in, they do their job every day. They don’t have to tell the world what they do, they just do it every day and it seems to work perfectly fine.”

It certainly does!

Dive in here for more on who made the cut on this week’s KIA Race To The MVP Ladder!


VIDEO: The Inside crew on the current state of the MVP race

Brooks Equates KD’s Work Ethic To Denver Broncos QB Manning’s


VIDEO: Anthony Slater of The Oklahoman joins GameTime to discuss Durant’s hot streak

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Thunder coach Scott Brooks marvels at the barrage of points, the evolution of the pinpoint passes and all that Kevin Durant does on a basketball court in front of 18,000 people 82 nights a year.

Mostly though, he finds himself blown away by Durant on those days in between, in the gym, working, relentless. No crowds going bananas, no flashing bulbs, no glory. Only guts.

This is when Brooks equates Durant with a certain Super Bowl quarterback.

“Kevin Durant, Peyton Manning,” Brooks said Tuesday night. “You just look at the parallels between the two. They just come in, they do their job every day. They don’t have to tell the world what they do, they just do it every day and it seems to work perfectly fine.”

Durant is the Thunder’s tone-setter on game day and especially so on so-called “off” days.

“I’m just having fun out there,” Durant said Tuesday night after dropping 46 points on the Trail Blazers. He followed up Wednesday night with 36 in a road win over the Spurs. “It’s a player’s game, so every moment I’m on the court is fun for me.”

Lately it’s been a barrel of laughs. Durant has now gone nine consecutive games scoring 30 points or more, a career-best stretch. During the Thunder’s five-game win streak — victories over Golden State, Houston, Sacramento, Portland and now San Antonio — Durant’s all-around dominance borders on mind-boggling: 40.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg and 6.2 apg in 39.1 mpg. He is shooting 59.5 percent overall and 56.3 percent from beyond the arc (for the nitpickers, he’s coughing it up 6.0 times a game).

As Blazers coach Terry Stotts noted after Tuesday’s game, nothing about Durant’s game at the moment is forced. He isn’t ball-hogging. He isn’t chucking. He’s taking what’s given and delivering the entire package with supreme efficiency.

“Kevin, I say this all the time, he doesn’t want to be known as a scorer, and I give him a lot of credit for that,” Brooks said. “Some guys say that but they really, their moods are predicated on how many points they score the night before. Kevin’s not like that. He was equally as happy the next night [after scoring 54 points against Golden State last Friday] when he had nine assists [and 30 points against Sacramento on Sunday].”

Durant, a leading MVP candidate now averaging 31.0 ppg on the season, salted away Wednesday’s win at San Antonio with a pair of late 3s. He did the same thing the night before to bury the Blazers. He went 6-for-7 from deep in that one.

“When he’s shooting the ball well from 3, that opens up a lot for him,” said Nick Collison, Durant’s teammate back to the the franchise’s Seattle days. “He’s unguardable when he’s able to hit 3-point shots.”

After the final dagger against Portland, a straightaway swish, he looked toward a thunderous home bench and seemingly reluctantly, almost bashfully, uncorked a smile.

“You look to the bench and you see your teammates so happy for you, all I could do is smile because I know they’re genuinely happy for me and for the team,” Durant said. “It’s a great feeling just knowing you have a group of brothers out there supporting you no matter what. So that’s what I was smiling for.”

Durant and his team are on quite a roll following a rough patch immediately after the unexpected injury departure of All-Star point guard Russell Westbrook. His projected return remains around the mid-February All-Star Game. While some might have predicted Oklahoma City to drop in the post-Christmas standings without Westbrook, the opposite has occurred: The Thunder sit atop the Western Conference.

They’re 10-5 during this Westbrook-less stretch. Wednesday’s win kicked off a tough seven-game stretch with six on the road. Just don’t expect Durant and Co. to easily crack.

“We just do our job every day,” Brooks said. “I tell our guys, the pressure is to play as hard as you can, play for your teammates. It’s not making shots, it’s not doing anything other; but if you play as hard as you can, play for your teammates, the pressure is that. We’ve always been a team that we just focus on doing our job every day.

“I think all the good teams do that in all sports. The great players do the same thing.”

Durant Buries Blazers, Makes MVP Case


VIDEO: Durant scores 46 to lead Thunder past Trail Blazers

OKLAHOMA CITY – They’re piling on the Kevin Durant MVP bandwagon now as it barrels through Western Conference contenders with reckless abandon. Its latest victim, the Portland Trail Blazers, was left to dust off a 46-point onslaught and doff its cap as it rode out of town.

“The guy is the best player in the world right now. What can you say about him?” said Blazers forward Nicolas Batum, a salty defender who fended off the pain of a broken left middle finger better than he could Durant, the league’s runaway leading scorer halfway through the season. “When you watch him on TV, like, he is the best. When you guard him in the game, sometimes you have two guys on him and he makes the shot anyway.

“He’s the MVP. He’s the MVP,” Batum repeated, fiddling with his aching finger. “I mean, six years I have been in this league I have never seen a [performance] like that. Six years.”

Durant’s hot zone is the entire court. He blistered Portland for 11 points in the final 3:23, including a terrific drive through traffic and consecutive 3-point daggers from the top of the arc to give him six long balls on seven attempts. The Blazers’ 95-90 lead went up in smoke as did their lead in the Northwest Division. The Thunder (32-10), clamping down with an underrated or under-appreciated or simply under-talked-about defense, pulled out the 105-97 victory for their fourth consecutive win after briefly regrouping following Russell Westbrook‘s latest setback after Christmas.

They’ve knocked down Golden State, Houston, an improving Sacramento squad and now the Blazers (31-11).

Set up Wednesday night in San Antonio are the Spurs (8 p.m. ET, ESPN) with first place in the West on the line.

And as if anybody needs reminding about the Thunder’s potential, that bespectacled, young fellow wearing skinny jeans and a form-fitting sport coat cheering on the Thunder bench will eventually return.

For now, Durant is putting together a run for the ages. Since Westbrook was lost to a third knee surgery, Durant has padded a resume that today has him atop the MVP race he’s run a strong second for several years to LeBron James. Tuesday’s ultra-efficient 46 points came on 17 made baskets on 25 attempts.

But then that’s becoming old news, too. When he put 54 on the Warriors he did it on 19-for-28 shooting. He only needs a couple percentage points from the free throw line to again be in 50-40-90 territory.

“I’m not just being biased, he’s at an MVP-type level,” teammate Kendrick Perkins said. “Right now, if you had to give an award away today you’d have to give it to Kevin Durant.”

Tuesday’s 46 marked the fourth time in the last 10 games he’s scored at least 46. He’s also hit 48, twice. He’s scored more than 30 in the last eight games, the longest such streak of his career. In the last 14 games without his superstar buddy at the point, Durant has averaged 36.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 5.6 apg and just 2.9 turnovers in 38.1 mpg. He’s coming off being named the West’s Player of the Week and has already been named the conference’s Player of the Month for the first two months.

Durant, classically and predictably, downplayed his brilliance and praised teammates for doing the hard work to set him up to finish things off.

“You know Perkins giving his body up for me, Serge [Ibaka] is giving his body up, Nick [Collison] and Steven [Adams] , our bigs are doing a great job of getting me open and, like I always say, it’s on me to finish,” Durant said. “So I have to put in the work before and after practice, shootarounds, in order for me to make those shots. My teammates do a great job of setting me up. It’s far more than just me; it’s a small part actually. What I do is more so plays coach [Scott Brooks] calls and the screens being set and the passes being sent. I think the end result is just on me, just trusting in the work and believing in the work to knock those shots down.”

Most impressive is Durant, who also had five rebounds and four assists, is forcing nothing. Everything is coming within the offense. At the half, Jackson had 12 shot attempts to Durant’s 11. Ibaka had nine. Jeremy Lamb had six. Durant scored 15 points in 12 minutes of the first quarter; five points in five minutes in the second; 12 points in 12 minutes in the third; and 14 in nine minutes in the fourth.

“MVP performance,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “I mean, to score 46 points on 25 shots, 6-for-7 from 3s; I think he got two of his shots blocked. I mean it was a remarkable performance. He made shots when they mattered, he took his time, he didn’t force it, he just took what was there and made some great shots.”

For much of the game, Stotts’ own star, LaMarcus Aldridge, went punch-for-punch with Durant, finishing with 29 points and 16 rebounds, but Thunder center Kendrick Perkins held him to 1-for-8 in the fourth quarter. Maybe the Blazers, who won in OKC on New Year’s Eve with a late comeback, simply ran out of gas playing a third game in four nights and the second of a back-to-back.

Even so, the Thunder took the game and again sounded the alarm that they are a team in every sense of the word — deep, together, defensive and determined. Durant is a monster and a title run is going to require a full-throttle Westbrook, a reality that now only seems a matter of time, but this is arguably the most complete team of the Thunder era.

It is, inarguably, the most ferocious defensive team in the Western  Conference. In the final moments of the Thunder win, Ibaka collected blocks four and five on the same possession. The much-maligned Perkins made a crucial block, got a late steal and buried a 14-foot baseline jumper for a 99-95 lead with 1:36 left.

“I just like our approach to the game,” Durant said. “We’re just playing hard. We’re moving the basketball. We missed some shots, but that happens. We’re just playing for each other. We just have to stick together no matter what. Defensively, I think we’re doing a good job of using our length. They hit some 3s and tough shots on us, but we haven’t gotten down on ourselves, we haven’t felt sorry for ourselves, we just kept playing and tonight is another case.”


VIDEO: The Starters discuss Kevin Durant’s MVP chances

Rockets Marking Time, Not Progress


VIDEO: The Inside the NBA crew break down Dwight Howard’s play vs. OKC

HOUSTON — Cross that off their bucket lists.

Now the Rockets know what it’s like to step into an empty elevator shaft. Or out of a moving jet. Or off the roof of a tall building.

The last time anything went over an edge this fast, it was an anvil that wound up landing on the head of Wile E. Coyote.

The rootin’ tootin’, fastest-shootin’ bunch in the NBA filled up the hoop for a season-high 73 points in the first half Wednesday night against the Thunder. Then scored 19 in the second half.

For the anomaly inclined, it was the largest point disparity (54) between halves in league history.

Ordinarily to see such a rapid reversal from feast to famine, one has to go out for double cheeseburgers with one of those bony supermodels.

In the end, what we have is a clear line of demarcation between an honest-to-goodness Western Conference title contender and a team that just likes to flex in front of the mirror.

After a middling 5-5 record since Russell Westbrook underwent another surgery on Dec. 27 — including five losses in the span of eight games and three in their last four — the Thunder may have been tempted to write another one off after Houston’s dozen first-half 3-pointers.

Instead, coach Scott Brooks took them to the movies at halftime, showing video replays of the horror show defense that led to almost every single one of those 3-pointers.

Some were from gaps in the defense. Some were the result of switches. Some were just lazy. But no matter what, the Thunder decided they’d had enough.

“Hell yeah, it was a statement win,” crowed Westbrook above the through that had gathered around Kevin Durant after his 36-point game.

The kind that said even without one of the twin engines to their offense, Thunder have the know-how, the wherewithal and the grit not to simply throw up their hands and write another one off as a bad night.

“We just stuck with it,” Durant said.

It was also a statement about the Rockets in the 41st game of a season that hasn’t seen much difference or overall improvement from the 11th, 21st or 31st.

When the Rockets are raining 3-pointers and using the gaps created to also attack the basket, as they did in the first half, they are virtually unbeatable. But when the shots stop falling –  as they did in the second half — the Rockets can be unwatchable and don’t seem like a bunch that could navigate the marathon of a deep postseason run. Or even the first round of the playoffs.

It’s an act they’ve got memorized like the lines of a long-running Broadway play.

Coach Kevin McHale shakes his head and talks about the ball “sticking” in the offense and bemoaning the fact his team can’t play with consistent energy all game.

James Harden, the supposed closer who did not score a point in the second half, churlishly challenges the notion that anything at all went wrong except a couple of shots not falling.

Dwight Howard, after five-point second half, sits in front of his locker mumbling responses to questions, as if the whispering lets the outside world know that, by gosh, he’s taking this one seriously. That’s after another night of Howard reverting to form as the frustrated, stifled big man who can’t score and falls back into pushing, shoving and getting slapped with double technical fouls.

“We’ve got to play the right way if we want to win,” Howard said. “Once we figure it out, we’ll be fine.”

It wasn’t even a week ago when the Rockets blew a 25-point lead to the lowly Wizards, but had enough to fight back and win. The difference, of course, is that the thoroughly mediocre Wizards of the laughably horrid Eastern Conference are not in the same class as the Westbrook-less Thunder.

So while they have shown a propensity for often making a bunch of shots, the Rockets have not shown an inclination or an ability yet to reach for the next level of concentration and execution.

Whose fault is that? Howard’s? Harden’s? McHale’s?

“We’re good, Harden said. “We missed layups, a couple of errant turnovers that we could have converted in transition,” said Harden. “Just small things.”

Like that first step off the rooftop.


VIDEO: Is Dwight Howard still a great player in the NBA?