Posts Tagged ‘Serge Ibaka’

OKC shopping should start with Carter

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

The aging Vince Carter still has enough in his tank to put a contender over.

The aging Vince Carter has enough in his tank to give a title contender a significant boost.

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – As the free agency clock ticks down, the spotlight is shining brightest on Miami’s Big Three, on Carmelo Anthony‘s decision and on the Lakers’ wishful pursuit of a superstar (or two).

And then there’s that little ole team on the Oklahoma prairie that no one’s talking about. The one with the league MVP, the All-Star point guard and the game’s fiercest shot blocker. The one that’s played in three Western Conference finals in the last four years and if not for key injuries in these last two postseasons might have built upon its lone NBA Finals appearance in 2012.

The one that’s missing one final piece.

Oklahoma City Thunder enter free agency, not as big spenders and not needing much, but with a silver bullet in-hand (the full mid-level exception worth $5.3 million) and a specific target: A hired gun.

Signing a veteran knock-down 3-point shooter is crucial for this franchise on the doorstep. A Big Three of sorts that specializes in the long ball is set to hit the open market at the stroke of midnight: Vince Carter, Mike Miller and Mo Williams.

The 37-year-old Carter arguably stands as the most intriguing of the three, a reformed skywalker as he beats back Father Time and now a dead-eye 3-point shooter who has been called the league’s best bargain and most underpaid player during his three seasons with Dallas.

Carter, who has hit 40 percent of his 3s in the last two seasons with Dallas, and averaged 11.9 ppg last season, has stated his desire to remain with the Mavs, and Dallas wants him back. But Carter will also be pursued by a handful of contenders and teams on the verge of contending. A league source indicated that Oklahoma City, Miami, Toronto and Portland will give Dallas competition for Carter’s services.

Any one of those three free agents would be a boon to the Thunder’s second unit and each could play a key role spacing the floor and splashing open 3s while on the floor with league MVP Kevin Durant and point guard Russell Westbrook, who was headed to a fourth consecutive All-Star berth until another knee surgery forced him out just after Christmas.

The Thunder’s core — Durant, Westbrook and Serge Ibaka — is obviously set and they rely heavily on drafting and player development to fill key roles. Reggie Jackson has emerged as a terrific reserve point guard. Shooting guard Jeremy Lamb could potentially move into the starting lineup next season. The Kendrick Perkins problem was lessened last season with the emergence of 7-foot rookie center Steven Adams.

However, the 3-point shooting issue remains. Thabo Sefolosha lost his touch from the deep all season and specifically in the postseason. The Thunder’s defensive-minded starter the last five seasons is now a free agent, and will likely move on. Veteran small forward Caron Butler, an early March addition, shot poorly in the postseason and he, too, will likely be headed elsewhere. Jackson, although an improving 3-point shooter, was still just 33.9 percent last season. And Lamb, at 35.6 percent, struggled in the season’s second half and lost his job to Butler.

OKC does believe it could find in-house help from second-year stretch-4 Grant Jerrett, a 2013 second-round draft pick, who shot 36.4 percent from deep for the Thunder’s D-League affiliate in Tulsa, Okla. But the 6-foot-10 project out of Arizona didn’t play a minute for the big club once he was signed in April.

The 6-foot-8 Miller almost signed with OKC last summer after Miami used the amnesty clause to set him free, but he ultimately returned to Memphis, which finished last in the league in 3-point attempts per game. So he might relish a chance to play with two superstars in an offense that will guarantee him more looks.

Williams, who opted out of his final year in Portland at $2.8 million, is a terrific shooter and can switch between the 1 and 2. He lacks the size of the other two, but was a big part of the Portland’s surge last season.

Other free-agent candidates include Jodie Meeks, Nick Young, P.J. Tucker, Josh McRoberts and C.J. Miles.

Here’s a look at my top three:

 

Vince Carter 

Age: 37 (Jan. 26)

2013-14 salary: $3.18 million

2013-14 stats: 81 games; 24.4 mpg; 11.9 ppg; 3.5 rpg; 2.6 apg; 40.7 FG%; 39.4 3FG%

Pros: Has adjusted his game with his age to become a knock-down 3-point shooter — and he can still get to the rim more often than expected; a solid locker-room leader for a young team that probably grew up watching him in dunk contests; and Mavs coach Rick Carlisle has consistently lauded his defensive effort.

Cons: He’s prone to forcing too many contested jumpers; at some point the body is going to give out and Carter, although extremely well-conditioned, does turn 38 during the season.

 

Mike Miller

Age: 34 (Feb. 19)

2013-14 salary: $884,293 million (owed $12.8 million by Heat for 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons)

2013-14 stats: 82 games; 20.8 mpg; 7.1 ppg; 2.5 rpg; 1.6 apg; 48.1 FG%; 45.9 3FG%

Pros: Still a deadly 3-point shooter as Thunder fans can attest during the first round as they gasped in fear every time he lined up from the top of the arc; Just being on the floor would space it better than with any combination OKC put on the court last season.

Cons: He’s been susceptible to back issues, but he stayed healthy last season and played in all 82 games while still logging 20 minutes a game. He’s risky, but as just a threat to make 3s, is worth it.

 

Mo Williams

Age: 31 (Dec. 19)

2013-14 salary: $2.8 million

2013-14 stats: 74 games; 24.8 mpg; 9.7 ppg; 2.1 rpg; 4.3 apg; 41.7 FG%; 36.9 3FG%

Pros: He’s acknowledged he’s on the back portion of his career, so he knows his rightful place is coming off the bench and sparking a team with instant offense — exactly what the Thunder needs; can play the 1 and 2, and is a good passer.

Cons: His size could be a detriment since the Thunder are likely to let the 6-foot-5 Sefolosha walk in free agency and already have the 6-foot-3 Jackson likely coming off the bench. If Lamb proves he’s not ready to be a starter, OKC could prefer a two-guard with more size.

Lamb, OKC’s rare 1st-rounder it didn’t select, needs to shine

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Jeremy Lamb addresses the media during his exit interview

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – The Oklahoma City Thunder have built a reputation as smart talent evaluators, having built a perennial contender on both lottery and late first-round draft picks. For now they hold onto the No. 21 and No. 29 picks in tonight’s NBA Draft.

That could change as the day progresses as plenty of teams without first-round picks want in on this deep and talented pool of players.

For the Thunder, the first-round pick they’re eager to see succeed is the rare one they didn’t select. Jeremy Lamb, the lanky, 6-foot-5 shooting guard with the sleepy eyes, was taken 12th overall in 2012 by the Houston Rockets. He came to OKC before he ever put on Rockets red as part of the James Harden trade prior to the 2012-13 season.

Now Lamb, 22, has the opportunity to be a significant, if not transformational, player for a Thunder team that desperately needs a strong perimeter shooter.

On a team-friendly deal for the next three seasons, Lamb has the size, speed and length to be a nuisance defensively, although last season he was largely a liability on that end. He got off to a solid start offensively (he shot 35.6 percent from beyond the arc), but his production started to tail off in the second half of the season and once the Thunder acquired veteran small forward Caron Butler off waivers in early March, Lamb lost his spot in the rotation.

Butler, 34, will be seeking employment elsewhere next week, and so could free-agent-to-be Thabo Sefolosha, the Thunder’s defensive-minded starting shooting guard for the last five seasons. But as Sefolosha lost his ability to can corner 3s in the postseason, he was benched in the first round against Memphis and in the West finals against the Spurs. He was not a part of the rotation in OKC’s final four West finals games.

There have also been persistent rumors since last season’s trade deadline that OKC is interested in trading for 6-foot-5 New York Knicks shooting guard Iman Shumpert.

The cost-conscious Thunder are never big players in free agency. With Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka locked into eight-figure contracts, there simply isn’t space to squeeze in an impactful free agent, and the cost-conscious franchise has no plans to venture into the luxury tax.

It puts the onus on player development, an area OKC prides itself, and rightly so. Players such as Durant (2nd overall), Westbrook (4th), Ibaka (24th), Harden (3rd), Reggie Jackson (24th) and Steven Adams (12th) all made significant strides after being drafted by the Thunder.

They believe Lamb, entering his third season, can also make a significant leap — whether that means winning a starting job or coming off the bench as the seventh man.

“He didn’t play much at all his first year; he had a pretty good second year,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said during the team’s exit interviews following the West finals. “We’re going to challenge him to continue to get better. He has the ability to be a really terrific offensive player. Defensively we’re going to have to continue to develop that part of his game. As he puts work into his body to get stronger, he’s going to be able to be a much better player.”

Jackson, a 6-foot-3 point guard, assumed the starting shooting guard spot upon Sefolosha’s West finals benching. While the Thunder had success with the lineup, both Brooks and Westbrook seemed only lukewarm when asked if a Westbrook-Jackson starting backcourt is optimal for next season. Coming off the bench, Jackson could compete for Sixth Man of the Year honors.

OKC also has Andre Roberson heading into his second season. He started 16 games as a rookie during Westbrook’s injury absence. He’s a solid defender, but lacks a jump shot. Lamb has the shot, but must improve defensively.

“It’s a player I feel confident going forward with,” Brooks said of Lamb. “I like what he does. His future is very bright with the work that he puts in.”

On LeBron opt-out, KD says back off

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com

HANG TIME SOUTHWEST – Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant believes friend and rival LeBron James made the only prudent move he could by exercising the early termination option in his contract earlier this week.

“I don’t know what the big deal is,” Durant said Wednesday at a Washington D.C. event promoting the release of his new Nike shoes, the KD7.  “As a player, I think that’s the best way to go about it. You have all your options. It’s better for you as a player to opt out. You can get a bigger deal, get more years, you never know what happens. If you opt in, you pass up on that. I didn’t know what the big deal was. I’m sure it was a decision that he made, something that he was thinking about for him and his family.”

We don’t know with which team or co-star James, who opted out of the final two years and nearly $43 million on his Miami Heat contract, will prefer in the coming weeks. Could it be Miami and a return of the Big Three? Cleveland and Kyrie Irving? Chicago and Derrick Rose or, maybe, L.A. and Kobe Bryant? But we do know which team and with whom he won’t — the Thunder and Durant.

Durant has two more years remaining on his contract in Oklahoma City and the cost-conscious Thunder and have no room to add a player of James’ stature. Interestingly, when Durant signed his five-year deal in 2010, he specifically did not request an early opt-out. He wanted to fulfill the full five-year obligation.

But he said players who do choose to exercise their contractual right to opt out and look at opportunities elsewhere, or even switch teams, should not be subject to criticism. For instance, a billboard recently put up in San Antonio reads: “LOYALTY > ROYALTY”. The “O” in LOYALTY is the face of Spurs star Tim Duncan, who has spent his entire 17-year career with the franchise and just won his fifth championship. The “O” in ROYALTY is the face of James.

“He switched teams; he’s not the first guy to do it,” Durant said. “He decided to opt out; he’s not the first guy to do it. Sometimes a lot of people criticize him a little bit too much for doing normal things, doing stuff that everybody has done. [Even] Tim Duncan went into free agency before. He got courted by quite a few teams. We’ll see what happens with me, but everybody’s done the same thing. He’s not the first.”

Durant’s free agency already has front offices around the league planning ways to create cap space to offer the 2014 league MVP a max contract in the summer of 2016. If the Thunder captures a championship before then, it would seemingly greatly increase the odds that Durant would stay in OKC.

However, if the Thunder continue to fall short, it could force Durant, who will have completed his ninth year in the league and will have turned 27, took look around. OKC advanced to its third Western Conference finals in three years. Key injuries have plagued it the last two seasons. Point guard Russell Westbrook injured his knee in the 2013 first round and missed the remainder of the playoffs. The Thunder lost in the West semifinals.

This season, power forward and defensive anchor Serge Ibaka sustained a calf strain and missed the first two games of the West finals against the Spurs. He played through pain for the final four games of the series, but he was far from healthy.

“Being MVP and all that stuff is cool, but I have bigger goals in mind, bigger team goals,” said Durant, who recently got a tattoo on his right calf of a what looks to be a fearsome-looking saber-toothed tiger on the prowl. “I think just working on every aspect of my game and bringing it back to my group is what I’m most excited about. And I have a lot of work to do.”

Westbrook eyes All-Defensive team

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Preparing for Heat-Spurs Finals clash

OKLAHOMA CITY — Russell Westbrook showed throughout the playoffs that when he puts his mind to it, with his quickness and size — 6-foot-3 and 200 rock-hard pounds — he can be an elite defender.

During the Oklahoma City Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday, one day after being eliminated from the Western Conference finals, Westbrook said the impact of his defense during the playoffs showed him he can bring a more intense disposition to that end of the floor more consistently.

He said he’s eyeing an All-Defensive team selection next season, even if he’s a bit miffed as to the criteria to qualify for the honor.

“The way the defensive team is made now,” Westbrook said through a series of chuckles, “it’s based on, I guess if you steal the ball, or, I don’t know how it’s made up because, to me, you know, there should be guys on the defensive team that should be on there; there’s guys that should not be on it. If people watch the games, then they will know those things.”

Westbrook’s comment came the day before the NBA announced its All-Defensive first and second teams. He didn’t name names, and it’s not known if he might have gotten an early glimpse at the selections. A three-time All-Star (who would have made it four consecutive appearances if not for a right knee injury) and a three-time All-NBA second-team selection, Westbrook has never made an All-Defensive team in his six seasons in the league.

This year he received just five total votes — fourth on his own team — with one for the first team. The voting panel consisted of 123 writers and broadcasters from the United States and Canada. Teammate Serge Ibaka was named to the first team, Kevin Durant received 10 total votes with one for the first team and Thabo Sefolosha received eight votes, including one for the first team.

Los Angeles Clippers point guard Chris Paul secured his sixth All-Defensive team appointment and his fourth — and third in a row — on the first team. Paul, who received the most votes among guards, happened to be the league-leader in steals (2.5 per game). Westbrook finished tied for fourth (1.9), which also tied his career-high from 2010-11.

Golden State Warriors wing Andre Iguodala (148 total votes, 57 first team) made his second appearance on the All-Defensive team and first on the first team.

Westbrook’s 2.16 steals per game in the playoffs was second to Paul’s 2.85, but Westbrook’s strong two-way play against the Clippers in the second round helped to knockout Paul in the second round.

“Coming out of college, I take it personally, coming in and defending every night based on who I’m guarding,” Westbrook said. “And obviously through the playoffs you can see it a lot more through [each] series. You can see how much it can impact the game, and I’m definitely going to make more of an effort. That has to start next year to go throughout the season.”

The two second-team guards were Chicago’s Jimmy Butler (29 first-team votes) and Westbrook nemesis Patrick Beverley (44 first-team votes) of the Rockets. He made the team for the first time in his second season.

Beverley careened into Westbrook’s right knee during the first round of last year’s playoffs trying to make a steal as Westbrook slowed up near the Thunder bench to call timeout. Westbrook tore his meniscus on the controversial play and was out for the remainder of the playoffs. Two additional surgeries were needed in early October and then late December, limiting him to 46 games this season.

It was easily the most challenging season of Westbrook’s career. He had never missed a regular-season game until the 2013-14 opener. After a quick return early in the the season, he was playing some of the best basketball of his career just prior to undergoing a third surgery days after Christmas. He returned after the All-Star break in late February and was on a minutes restriction up until the end of the regular season.

Westbrook, 25, still finished the regular season averaging 21.8 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds. He boosted each category during the playoffs, averaging 26.7, 8.1 and 7.3.

“Thinking positive thoughts take you a long way, I constantly say that,” Westbrook said. “You can easily be down on yourself when you have surgeries, injuries, have bad games, anything. You can easily think to yourself that you did something wrong or you can’t do it. And, you know, the whole time throughout the season — I’ve never been hurt — it was different for me, but I stayed positive.”

Now he plans to get defensive.

Durant: Open, honest and still growing

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks during the Thunder’s exit interviews on Sunday

Kevin Durant mesmerized the basketball world with a regular season for the ages — 50-point games, impossible buzzer-beaters and statistical anomalies that flipped the record books back to Michael Jordan.

It all seemed to happen so easily, so naturally for him.

But on Sunday, barely 12 hours after his Oklahoma City Thunder bowed out of the Western Conference finals, the league’s Most Valuable Player, in a very honest moment, admitted that the season’s many adversities had stretched his psychological boundaries.

“It felt like everything was being thrown at me as a leader, just talking about myself,” Durant said. “It just felt like everything was being thrown at me to try to get me to quit, and there were nights where I didn’t think I could do it, where I didn’t think I could lead these guys.”

With co-star Russell Westbrook sidelined for nearly half of it with a knee injury, and later two more starters, Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, each missing six weeks with their own ailments, Durant said the burden of leading and lifting his team throughout these last seven months tested his resolve through multiple sleepless nights.

“There were nights where I didn’t think I could do it because sometimes I was going as hard as I could and it still wasn’t working,” Durant said. “But I just stayed confident and just knowing that there’s going to be good and bad days, days when you struggle, days when you do well. Just knowing that helped me out a lot, and it prepared me a lot for this season and hopefully for the future. I’m thankful for those times that I can grow through them and get better from them.”

In the end, Durant and the Thunder reached their third West finals in four seasons, but ultimately fell short of their ultimate goal of winning a championship.

Still, the team remains young, immensely talented and intact. This season, with its many hurdles the team faced for the first time — including the blow of losing power forward Serge Ibaka for the first two games against the Spurs — might come to be looked upon as the moment on the timeline when Durant and OKC’s core came of age.

“Physically, I think I can compete with anybody; you put me on the court with anybody, I can hold my own, that’s just how I feel,” Durant said. “But mentally, everything being thrown at you, from Russell getting hurt — from him never being injured before — to having to be out there and being our source of energy for everybody on our team, giving everybody confidence from Serge to Nick [Collison] to Steven [Adams] to Thabo to Perk, from everybody looking at me and looking for confidence and looking to feel confident in themselves.

“Once I saw that I could do it, I kind of saw it from there in terms of having confidence. It was a great season as far as learning for all of us and being part of such a great group of guys that accept me no matter what, on my good and bad days.”

Durant won his first MVP in his seventh season. He averaged career-highs in points per game (32.0) and assists (5.5), plus 7.4 rpg. He was one of the game’s most efficient scorers, shooting 50.3 percent overall and 39.1 percent from beyond the arc.

When Westbrook received the stunning news that he would need a third surgery on his right knee just hours after posting a triple-double at Madison Square Garden on Christmas Day, the job of keeping Oklahoma City near the top of the West standings fell on Durant.

He bettered his season averages through 26 games without Westbrook — 35.0 ppg (52.7 percent shooting, 39.9 percent on 3s), 7.5 rpg and 6.3 apg) — and virtually made the MVP award his to lose. Oklahoma City surged to the top of the West. An adjustment period upon Westbrook’s return eventually led to the Thunder finishing with the No. 2 seed and 59 wins, one off the previous season’s win total and the franchise’s highest since moving to Oklahoma City.

Durant’s scoring efficiency dipped in the postseason (29.6 ppg on 46-percent shooting, 34.4 on 3s) and his performances from game to game, starting against Memphis’ suffocating defense, were uneven as he averaged a team-high 42.8 mpg.

In Game 6 against the Spurs, the magic he performed all season eluded him. Trailing 100-99 in the final 27 seconds of overtime, Durant looked to make a move past defender Kawhi Leonard from a few feet above the top of the arc, but he slipped to the floor and lost the ball for his seventh turnover.

Finally, with a chance to tie coming out of a timeout, Durant missed an open 3 from the wing with 15 seconds left. It was his sixth misfire on eight 3-pointers in the game, and his last shot of a long, taxing season.

And one Durant will glean plenty of meaning from as he exits into the offseason.

“I’ve learned a lot,” Durant said. “And I’m very appreciative of the opportunity I had this season to grow as a leader and a man and a basketball player.”

He will be back.

Brooks and the power of continuity


VIDEO: Kevin Durant talks with the media on Sunday afternoon

OKLAHOMA CITY – The fickle and volatile nature of the NBA coaching business swept aside four 50-game winners the last two seasons. Memphis’ Dave Joerger nearly became the fifth last month, and the second in a row with that franchise.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks‘ job security always seems to be a topic fluttering in the breeze. He’s overseen three Western Conference finals appearances in the last four seasons, yet his critics continue to howl. Saturday’s Game 6 overtime loss to the San Antonio Spurs ended a second season of falling short of a return to the Finals.

However, it didn’t stop the franchise’s superstar, the league’s MVP from endorsing his coach.

“That’s our guy,” Durant said of Brooks during Sunday’s exit interviews, “and I’m riding with him.”

It would seem owner Clay Bennett and general manager Sam Presti would, too, but then Lionel Hollins, George Karl, Vinny Del Negro and Mark Jackson – fired 50-win club members — are still tidying up their resumes.

That’s typically not the case for a coach who has won better than 70 percent of his games in each of the last three seasons. Brooks has two years left on his contract at what is believed to be between $8 million and $9 million. The Thunder are not a franchise that takes a cavalier approach to paying one man not to work while paying another to fill his position.

Yet, Mike Brown is out in Cleveland with $16 million owed to him.

Is it possible the Thunder believe Brooks has taken this team as far as he can?

“It’s something that I don’t even consider. I do my job every day,” Brooks said. “I’ve had a lot of valuable lessons in my life from my mother and she’s always told me this: You do your job every day and you live with the results. ‘They say,’ you can’t worry about what ‘they say’; you never ever meet those people. I have many stories that I can tell you about my mom and that’s one of them — don’t worry about ‘them.’ Those are the people that told me I wasn’t going to make it as a 4-11 freshman in high school. My dream was to be an NBA player. If I would have listened to ‘they’ I would never have been able to make it.”

Presti won’t listen to ‘they.’ He’ll make up his own mind, if there’s even a decision to make. He spent Sunday conducting exit interviews with players and he will soon talk with Brooks, who Presti hired as an assistant onto P.J. Carlesimo‘s staff in Seattle and then promoted when he fired Carlesimo after a 1-12 start in Oklahoma City.

Soon after, Brooks elevated No. 4 pick Russell Westbrook to starting point guard. If Brooks and Westbrook have anything in common, it’s that criticism never strays far.

“Ever since I’ve been here and Scotty became the head coach, he’s done a great job of having confidence in me personally,” Westbrook said. “There’s times where things have gone south and he’s the only one that always, always, regardless of what happened, always had my back; regardless of people saying I was doing this, I was doing that, I was being selfish, being that, he always was the first person to step up and have my back and support me regardless of what’s going on. He does a great job of always staying positive and trusting in our guys and trusting in each and every person we have and in the organization.”

Brooks said the Thunder’s No. 7 -rated offense must continue to evolve around his two superstars, to become a better passing team with higher assist totals and fewer turnovers and periods of stagnation.
“I know I have to get better and I know our team has to get better,” Brooks said. “And we’re excited about moving forward together as a group as the summer unfolds, and coming back in October with a better team.”

If scheme isn’t Brooks’ forte, as his critics will claim, forging relationships is a strong suit. He’s helped develop a team of talented youngsters at the ages of 20 into perennial contenders now at 25. Before the All-Star break, Durant called Brooks the coach of the year for steering the team through Westbrook’s multiple knee injuries.

The Thunder remain as well-positioned as any club to challenge for Western Conference supremacy for at least the next two seasons, and beyond that if Durant re-signs when he can become a free agent in the summer of 2016. Westbrook and power forward Serge Ibaka have three years left. Reggie Jackson is eligible for an extension this summer.

The 2013-14 season was a struggle from the start of training camp when Westbrook was told he needed a second surgery on his right knee. He tore the meniscus in the second game of the first round last season and missed the remainder of the postseason. Westbrook had to undergo a third surgery in December just as he and the team were rolling. He was out through the All-Star Game.

Then OKC lost defensive-specialist, and now unrestricted free agent, Thabo Sefolosha and starting center Kendrick Perkins each for six weeks with injuries.

The Thunder still finished with 59 wins and Durant won the MVP. They beat Memphis in the first round and Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and the Clippers in the second round before falling to the Spurs. Both Westbrook and Perkins said the key area of improvement for next season isn’t personnel, but sharpening their mental approach to the game, specifically limiting careless turnovers that can turn a game or even a series against a team like San Antonio.

Changes will be made on the periphery of the roster, but the core is set for another run at a first title. It would seem the coach is, too, for a general manager and a franchise that place high value on continuity.

“You can easily say we lost the season because we didn’t win a championship,” Durant said. “But I don’t look at it that way because we learned so much throughout these years, throughout these last few months, especially, and it’s going to help us towards the future. When you look at it that way it stings not playing, but you also know that you’re just building the journey up, and hopefully one day you’ll look back at it and just enjoy what we went through.”


VIDEO: Scott Brooks talks about his future in OKC and more

24 – Second thoughts — May 31


VIDEO: Ginobili steps up in crunch time for the Spurs

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS – Next man up.

The Spurs Way.

Sheer basketball beauty.

Explain it any way you can. But know this, the San Antonio Spurs were clearly meant for this, for this moment and for this rematch they have earned against the Miami Heat in The Finals — starting Thursday night in San Antonio.

You don’t go on the road for a close-out Game 6 against the MVP (Kevin Durant) and the force of nature (Russell Westbrook), lose your superstar point guard (Tony Parker) at halftime to ankle soreness and be anything but destined for The Finals.

Ultimately it was the ageless wonder that is Tim Duncan (aka The Big Fundamental, aka Old Man Riverwalk, aka Timmay, aka … you get the point) who went right at Serge Ibaka in overtime for the game-clinching baskets.

He had tons of help. Boris Diaw, Kawhi Leonard, Manu Ginobili and others chipped in to send this crew back to The Finals in back-to-back years for the first time in the #SpursWay era.

Heat-Spurs Round II is on … history in the making!

:1

Let’s do it again San Antonio and Miami … see you Thursday!

:2

They call it the #SpursWay my friend!

(more…)

Westbrook: Ibaka won’t be fooled again

By Jeff Caplan, NBA.com


VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY – The Spurs’ Game 5 strategy to use Matt Bonner and Boris Diaw as “stretch” power forwards to bait Thunder rim protector Serge Ibaka out of the paint worked just like Gregg Popovich drew it up.

Ibaka admitted the ploy threw him off, and he had his first dud since joining the Western Conference finals in Game 3. Yet any notion that the San Antonio’s two role players suddenly present an unsolvable riddle for the Thunder in Saturday’s do-or-die Game 6 (8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) literally made point guard Russell Westbrook shake his head.

“They’re not the first stretch-4s that we’ve played,” Westbrook following the team’s morning shootaround. “We played Dirk [Nowitzki], LaMarcus [Aldridge], Kevin Love, all these different bigs that can shoot the ball at a high percentage, so we know what to do.”

Then Westbrook sort of chuckled thinking of Diaw and Bonner as being the type of gunners he had just listed.

“Boris Diaw, Bonner, man, they can shoot the ball, but that’s nothing we’ve never seen before. We know how to guard somebody that can shoot the ball. Serge knows what he’s supposed to do, we know what we’re supposed to do as a team, so we’re not worried about that.”

And there this was this final guarantee from Westbrook regarding Ibaka’s ability to make himself a presence in the paint in Game 6 assuming the Spurs continue to try to drag him away.

“He won’t be dragged away,” Westbrook said. “He’ll be locked in tonight.”

The home team has been the one locked in through the first five games of a series that coaches and players on both sides have punted on reasons why we’ve yet to see a fourth quarter that matters. Earlier in the playoffs, road teams were stealing games. The Thunder wrapped up their second-round series on the Los Angeles’ Clippers home court.

The Spurs, the regular season’s best road team, are only 2-5 on the road during the postseason going back to Game 3 of the second round at Portland. They’ve also lost nine straight, including blowout losses in Games 3 and 4 of this series, at the Thunder’s raucous Chesapeake Energy Arena. Oklahoma City has won four consecutive home playoff games going back to their Game 1 loss in the second round.

HOME SWEET HOME

The home team has won every game in this series and has dominated all of the key statistics. A look at the Thunder’s production at home versus the road in the Western Conference finals:

Home      Road

FG%                  47.1            42.8

3FG%                34.2           28.2

OffRtg              111.5            94.6

DefRtg              95.6            125.0

FB PTS              16.5             9.3

PITP                   45.0           36.7

Opp PITP         38.0           53.3

Reb                     47.0           36.7

Blocks                9.0            3.0

Steals                 9.5             5.3

Popovich and Thunder coach Scott Brooks both say their teams’ energy and effort have dictated the wild fluctuations of this series more than game-to-game, or even in-game, adjustments.

The home team has simply played with more force and defensive determination for 48 minutes. Consider in their two home wins the Thunder averaged 9.0 blocks (3.0 on the road) and 9.5 steals (5.3 on the road). Those stats go hand-in-hand with their Jekyll-and-Hyde fast-break points that are so crucial to OKC’s offensive success: 33 in two home games compared to 28 in two road games.

Those turnovers and fast-break points work the Thunder crowd into a lather, turning an already hostile environment into one in which visiting teams feel as though the walls are caving in around them.

“Just because we’re home we can’t relax and think we’re automatically going to win because we’re at home,” Kevin Durant said. “This team [the Spurs] is looking to get to the NBA Finals, so we know how desperate they’re going to be to win the game, how hard they’re going to come out and play. We’ve got to match it. We know the circumstances.”

Spurs need to follow smart path


VIDEO: Spurs-Thunder Game 6 preview

OKLAHOMA CITY — Going into Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, all coach Gregg Popovich wanted to see from his team was fire and aggressiveness.

Now with a chance to close out the Thunder on Saturday night (8:30 ET, TNT), what the Spurs probably need most is smarts.

“If we just want to play crazy and take quick shots, they’re going to beat us,” said Manu Ginobili. “They are more athletic, they are more talented. So we’ve really got to be sharp.”

There’s a good chance that Popovich will again open with Matt Bonner replacing Tiago Splitter in the starting lineup to spread the floor and open up space in the middle of the OKC defense with Serge Ibaka forced to chase on the perimeter.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks could make the next chess move by shifting defensive assignments, putting Ibaka on Tim Duncan to keep him closer to the basket. But that would also mean that Kevin Durant would have to take time guarding the sizable-but-quick Boris Diaw, who came off the bench to start the second half of Game 5 in place of Bonner.

Ginobili says Diaw has just the kind of veteran experience and wisdom that can make a difference.

“He’s smart, he knows how to pass, and he is a great combination of being a good shooter without shooting too much, and a driver, and can post up more as a player,” Ginobili said. “He’s very versatile, and you can change things up with him a lot, and looking at each other, we can make decisions on the fly.”

Morning Shootaround — May 31


VIDEO: Daily Zap for games played May 30

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Pacers-Heat rivalry never really existed | Your move Scotty Brooks | Composed Heeat dismantle Pacers, Stephenson | Phil Jackson asks ‘Melo to opt in, stick with Knicks

No. 1: Pacers-Heat rivalry? It never existedPaul George‘s less than rousing endorsement of “No. 1″ aside, the Indiana Pacers left Miami late Friday night filled with mixed emotions about finishing three straight seasons on the wrong side of the ledger against the Miami Heat. They’d call it a rivalry, their annual tussle with the Heat. Others, however, wouldn’t go that far. Not when the Pacers have fallen in this proposed rivalry in each and every battle that truly mattered. Michael Wallace of ESPN.com points out the differences between a rivalry and what amounts to bullying and why it’s time for everyone to move on:

Make no mistake about it: The Pacers were nothing more than a solid group of antagonists, instigators and irritants that pushed, poked and provoked Miami these past few seasons. But they were never really the Heat’s equal.

At least not when it mattered most.

The East might as well start taking applications now for a new so-called “rival” for the Heat. Because these Pacers were officially relieved of their duties after being dismantled and shoved aside in a 117-92 season-ending loss in Game 6 of the conference finals.

It’s clearly time to move on.

The Heat are headed to the NBA Finals for the fourth consecutive season as they pursue a third straight championship. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh have known no other outcome since they became teammates before the 2010-11 season.

And for the third postseason in a row, including two straight in the conference finals, the Heat propelled themselves into the championship round after breaking down and eventually stepping over Indiana. The Pacers are all too familiar with the bitter flavor they’ve had to taste after being served and dismissed by the Heat.

Considering some of their actions, antics and comments over the course of the series, I completely expected the Pacers to be defiant in defeat when their locker room was opened to the media after the game. But a team that’s been full of surprises and bucked expectations — both high and low — throughout a turbulent season was true to its unpredictable form late Friday.

It’s difficult to describe just how deflated the scene was inside the visitors’ locker room. As reality sank in that the season ended well short of expectations for the 56-win team that held the No. 1 seed in the East, the Pacers were things they hadn’t been all series.

Humbled.

Quiet.

Sullen.

Sadly accepting that their best, despite three seasons of motivation, isn’t good enough. Not against James and the Heat. Not back then, not now, probably not ever.

“We know what they’re going to do in these moments,” Pacers forward David West said of the Heat as he slumped into his stall and stared at the floor. “And [we] weren’t able to, again, match what they’re capable of. I thought they just were the better team. We got right back to where we got to last year, and they’re just a better team. They’ve got a gear that we can’t get to.”


VIDEO: LeBron and DWade at the podium for the 4th straight season after winning the Eastern Conference finals

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