Posts Tagged ‘Thunder’

Westbrook gets scoring title, not playoffs


VIDEO: Thunder guard Russell Westbrook nets 34 points in first half at Minnesota.

All things considered, Russell Westbrook would have rather the situation had been reversed.

While the Thunder wonder poured in 37 points Wednesday night to keep the NBA scoring title in the family, it wasn’t enough to lift injury-plagued Oklahoma City into the playoffs.

Meanwhile the man he beat out for the crown — ex-teammate James Harden — got the bigger payoff as his Rockets used a win over Utah to claim their first division title in 21 years and jumped up to the No. 2 seed in the final Western Conference standings.

Westbrook’s 28.1 points per game average finally closed out the race with Harden, who finished at 27.4 ppg after playing the role of facilitator in the regular season finale, hanging up his fourth triple-double of the year with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists.

Coming after the title by Thunder teammate Kevin Durant, Westbrook’s feat marks the fifth time in the last six seasons that the scoring crown will reside in OKC.

But it also was the end of five straight playoff seasons for the Thunder.

In season when the Thunder were constantly hamstrung by injuries to Durant, Serge Ibaka and himself, Westbrook waged what at times seemed like a one-man battle through the last month of the season in an attempt to get OKC into the post-season. But the Thunder lost out for the final spot in the West by tie-breaker to the Pelicans.

Since Durant was the scoring champion last season, Westbrook’s taking the crown this season was a rarity. It was the first time since 1952 and 1953 when Paul Arizin and Neil Johnston of the Philadelphia Warriors that teammates claimed the title back-to-back.

Westbrook became the first point guard to lead the NBA in scoring average since Philly’s Allen Iverson’s  three times, the last in 2005. Hall of Famer Tiny Archibald did it in 1973 and the great Oscar Robertson  in 1968. Dave Bing  was the official scoring champ in 1968, based on total points scored.  The method for determining the official scoring champion was changed from total to scoring average in the 1968-69 season.

In addition, Westbrooks career-high 8.6 assists per game is the highest per-game figure since Archibald led the league in both categories in 1973, averaging 34 points and 11 assists.

Hang Time Podcast (Episode 197) Changing The Game

HANG TIME HEADQUARTERS — Russell Westbrook‘s exploits on the basketball court this season have wowed us all.

The fury, focus and fearlessness he has displayed is truly awe-inspiring.

But is the Oklahoma City Thunder superstar playing an outdated style for today’s NBA? For all of his hard work, Westbrook will likely find himself on the outside looking in when the MVP votes are tallied — giving way to either Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors or former teammate James Harden of the Houston Rockets, or both — due to conditions beyond his control.

The iso-era of the NBA is over, having been replaced by a universal embrace of a pace and space game that lends itself to teamwork as much as it does individual star power. The San Antonio Spurs used the system to perfection last season to dethrone LeBron James and the Miami Heat in The Finals. And the Golden State Warriors and Atlanta Hawks have used it to rise to the top of the standings in the Western and Eastern Conferences, respectively.

The game is changing before our very eyes … but is one of the league’s most mercurial talents paying attention? We debate and discuss that and so much more on Episode 197 of the Hang Time Podcast: Changing The Game.

While Rick Fox is “on set” for one of his many potentially award-winning roles, the rest of the crew dives in on the playoff possibilities, the business of ballots that come with the end of the regular season and a vigorous debate about the shape-shifting of the game of basketball from the NBA all the way down to the grassroots level (the good and the bad changes).

You get it all and more on Episode 197 of The Hang Time Podcast … Changing The Game …

LISTEN HERE:

As always, we welcome your feedback. You can follow the entire crew, including the Hang Time Podcast, co-hosts Sekou Smith of NBA.com,  Lang Whitaker of NBA.com’s All-Ball Blog and renaissance man Rick Fox of NBA TV, as well as our new super producer Gregg (just like Popovich) Waigand and the best sound designer/engineer in the business, Andrew Merriman.

– To download the podcast, click here. To subscribe via iTunes, click here, or get the xml feed if you want to subscribe some other, less iTunes-y way.


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook just doesn’t care what you or anyone else thinks about the way he plays the game

Westbrook on style of play: ‘I don’t care what nobody thinks’

NBA.com staff reports

Westbrook's shot chart vs. Pacers

Westbrook’s shot chart vs. Pacers

Once again Russell Westbrook left it all on the court for the Thunder tonight in Indiana — scoring a career-high 54 points — and, as has happened more often than not lately, Oklahoma City ended up coming just short of a much-needed win.

In another common theme, the Thunder point guard found himself defending his style of play in the postgame media scrum. And defend it he did, adamantly so …


VIDEO: Westbrook ‘don’t care what nobody thinks’ about game

Morning Shootaround — April 6


VIDEO: Highlights from games played April 5

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Paul George makes Pacers better right now | James Harden is the ultimate facilitator | Noah, Bulls would love a piece of Cavaliers in the playoffs

No. 1: Paul George makes Pacers better right now — The future can wait. Paul George is back and ready to lift the Indiana Pacers right now. That chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference race got a lot more interesting after George made his triumphant return from injury. Will it be enough to lift the Pacers past the crowd and into that last spot? Gregg Doyel of the Indianapolis Star tackles that question and more:

Paul George makes the Indiana Pacers better, not in the future but right now. And not a little better, but a lot better. At both ends. The Paul George that came back Sunday night against the Heat came back a star in full, scoring 13 points in 15 minutes, making a mess of the Miami Heat’s half-court offense, breaking the game open with consecutive 3-pointers early in the fourth quarter.

This game was not going to be easy for the Heat, not without injured center Hassan Whiteside and not playing their second road game in 24 hours and their third in four days, but it wasn’t going to be this ugly. It wasn’t going to be a 112-89 blowout for the Pacers, except for one guy.

And the guy isn’t Luis Scola.

All due respect to Scola. He had 23 points and 12 rebounds in 19 minutes. He was sensational. But he was not the point of this game, not the spark, not the havoc-wreaking agent at both ends that Paul George was in his return after missing 76 games following that gruesome broken leg in August with Team USA in Las Vegas.

The Pacers are better with George, but how much better? Good enough to pass the Boston Celtics, who are a game ahead for the Eastern Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot? I asked Pacers coach Frank Vogel exactly how much better this Paul George, rusty as he may be, makes the Pacers for the final five games.

“Tough to measure,” Vogel said, “but certainly we’re a lot better with him. We missed him on both ends, but what he’s able to do on the defensive end is almost unparalleled in the NBA. Certainly we’re a lot a stronger on that end, and (with) the scoring punch he gives us on the offensive end as well.”

Boston has the tiebreaker on Indiana, so the Pacers have to not only catch the Celtics but pass them to make the playoffs. Each team has five games left. Time is running out. But it’s like Vogel said.

“There’s no bad time to get a Paul George back,” he said.


VIDEO: Paul George’s return was a hit for the Pacers

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Morning shootaround — March 29




VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 28

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Warriors are No. 1 | Knicks hit bottom | Kanter rips Jazz | Sixers look ahead

No. 1: Warriors clinch top seed in playoffs — Ho-hum. Another night, another landmark in a season full of them. Just 24 hours after flexing their muscles in a heavyweight win at Memphis, the Warriors rolled into Milwaukee and rolled the Bucks. It was Golden State’s ninth straight victory, gave the franchise 60 wins for the first time ever and, more important, locked up home-court advantage all the way through the NBA Finals. But the Warriors weren’t celebrating, because they’ve got their sights set on bigger goals, according to Diamond Leung of Bay Area News Group:

“It’s good to break records and do all that, but I think we have that kind of feel that we haven’t done anything in the playoffs,” center Andrew Bogut said. “So we’re kind of doing all the right things leading into the playoffs, and hopefully it carries in.”

The Warriors, after winning their ninth straight, once again cited their focus.

“Guys have been fantastic all season long just with their commitment to each other, to their work and joy, and it’s been so much fun,” coach Steve Kerr said. “It’s great to rack up these milestones as we go.

“We have a good work ethic every day. We have a ton of fun. Our guys play hard. They play for each other. They laugh. That’s the whole goal, I think, as a goal, is improvement and enjoyment, and they often go hand in hand, and I think that’s what I’m most proud of this year.”

One of the longest-tenured Warriors players, David Lee, credited the first-year coaching staff.

“The hardest part sometimes when you’re playing the way we’re playing is to stay focused every single game, and I think in years past we’ve had problems losing to teams that we’re ‘better than,'”‚” said Lee, who started the game and has been in and out of the rotation this season. “Or losing games that we shouldn’t’ lose. Or losing games at home that you should never lose.

“That always goes back to the coaching staff keeping us on our toes and telling us we need to get better.”

Said Kerr with a laugh: “Fortunately when I got the job that the team was a lot more talented than they’ve been most of their history.”

The Warriors, who have set a franchise record for road wins and have only lost twice at home, are also in good position to earn home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. They took a five-game lead over Atlanta for the NBA’s best record with nine games left.

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No. 2: 60th loss sets Knicks record — At the other end of the spectrum from the beautiful game played by the Warriors in their march into the record books, is the misery at Madison Square Garden as the Knicks make a different kind of history. Loss No. 60 came Saturday night in a 31-point thumping at Chicago and Mike Lupica of the New York Daily News reminds that Knicks fans and executives who couldn’t wait to run Mike Woodson out of town can now look back at those good old days:

It is always worth remembering that since the start of the 2001-02 season, all Knicks coaches who weren’t Woodson are more than 200 games under .500. He was 30 games over .500 in his two-plus years coaching the Knicks, and gave the team its only victory in a playoff series since Jeff Van Gundy was still here, back in the spring of 2000.

But then you were supposed to believe that the Knicks coached themselves when Woodson was here. “Fire Woodson!” they chanted at the Garden. Jackson did that the first chance he got, because he needed a disciple, even though Jackson’s coaching tree actually looks like a tree that misses its leaves in wintertime. He thought Steve Kerr would jump at the chance to come here, and the money Jackson was prepared to throw at him. Kerr wised up and went to Golden State and may win a championship there, and do it this year. So he threw $25 million at Derek Fisher instead.

Now a full season into the Phil Jackson era, and despite all the praise Jackson has heaped on Fisher, we still don’t know if Fisher has the chops to coach an NBA team anymore than we know if Jackson has the chops and energy and vision to build one.

Woodson, who now sits next to Doc Rivers in Los Angeles, was in town the other night as the Clippers did everything except throw the current edition of the Knicks off that Chase Bridge and said, “Hopefully (the Knicks) can rebound this summer and put some pieces together and get back to winning basketball games.”

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No. 3: Kanter goes off on Jazz — It wasn’t exactly a happy homecoming for Enes Kanter in Salt Lake City. Not unless you like your homecoming guests to come bearing a sledgehammer and start immediately to break up the furniture. After languishing on the bench in Utah for 3 1/2 seasons, Kanter feels like he’s been reborn in Oklahoma city and held nothing back in his criticism of his old team and city. Royce Young of ESPN.com has the details:

“I love it,” Kanter said before the game of his change of scenery. “It’s a team I’ve never experienced before and I actually like playing basketball there. I’m just so comfortable and everything is in the right place. I’m just really happy to be there.”
And it showed, as he continued his hot streak with 18 points and 11 rebounds in a 94-89 loss to the Jazz.

Kanter was booed during introductions and every time he touched the ball. He even egged on the crowd at the start.

“I didn’t really care. I like pressure, the boos didn’t mean nothing to me,” Kanter said. “It was just a regular game. I never felt like I was a part of this thing, so it was just a regular game. We came and we leave and that is it.

“I am not taking nothing back.”

Kanter has been an offensive revelation for the Thunder, putting up a double-double in eight consecutive games — the longest streak for the Thunder/Sonics franchise since Shawn Kemp had 10 straight in 1996, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I think the difference is, I like playing basketball there,” Kanter said. “I think that’s the most important thing. I never liked playing basketball before in my NBA career, and this is the first time I felt like playing basketball there, for my team, for the fans, for my teammates for my coaches, for everybody. So, that’s the first time.”

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No. 4: Embiid, Noel could team up in summer — After suffering through two long seasons of piling up losses, the Sixers might give fans their first glimpse of brighter future this summer. A decision hasn’t yet been made, but coach Brett Brown told our own Scott Howard-Cooper that Philly’s last two No. 1 draft picks — Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid — might take the court together at the NBA Pro Summer League in July:

Embiid playing at all will be an important update after sitting out all 2014-15, barring a shocking change of plans by the Sixers in the final couple weeks, because of a stress fracture in his right foot that led to surgery, just as Noel was sidelined all last season by a torn ligament in his left knee. The chance to see Embiid, the No. 3 pick, with Noel, though, would provide extra value as an early look at 2015-16 as Philadelphia works to figure out how the two centers fit.

“It’s hard for me to go on record and say for sure,” coach Brett Brown said when asked about Embiid playing in July, “but everything is pointing toward that and I’d be very disappointed if he wasn’t on the court with us in summer league.”

As for Noel playing as well, Brown said he has not broached the topic with Noel yet, but said, “Personally, I’m open to it. If it’s something that he really wants to do, we’ll talk about it. If you put a gun to my head right now, I don’t know if I’m going to make him play in summer league.

“We’re going to talk it through, he and I, and figure it out. It would make a little bit of sense — well let’s have a look with him and Joel together. I understand that reason. But I don’t feel strong one way the another yet. I might after the season. At the moment I don’t. And whatever we do, I’m going to do it with him.”

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Paul George is still hopeful of getting back onto the court with the Pacers this season….Dario Saric is leaning toward staying in Turkey next season….Joe Dumars could be heading back to his native Louisiana for a spot with the Pelicans…After winning another Super Bowl, Tom Brady is playing pickup basketball in the Bahamas with Michael Jordan…Alma mater St. John’s might want Chris Mullin as next head coach.

Westbrook loses his triple-double


VIDEO: Westbrooks’ notable night is now 12, 17, 9

It turns out there is one way to slow down the triple-double machine that has been Russell Westbrook lately. But it took a ruling by the NBA office to do it.

A video review of the game resulted in the league subtracting one rebound from Westbrook’s total from Sunday’s win over Miami, thus wiping out what would have been the Oklahoma City All-Star’s 10th triple-double of the season.

The league said that Westbrook was incorrectly credited with a rebound in the 93-75 victory. The correction means the Thunder point guard finished with 12 points, 17 assists and nine rebounds.

Westbrook now has nine triple-doubles on the season for an Oklahoma City team that at 40-30 entered Monday night with a 2½-game lead for the eighth spot in the Western Conference playoff picture.

Morning Shootaround — March 23


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 22

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Spurs run clinic on Hawks | Thunder rely on defense (Westbrook) for latest win | Carlisle: We don’t play hard all the time

No. 1: Spurs run clinic on Hawks — The teacher schooled the master Sunday at Philips Arena. Everyone saw it. There was no doubt which system ruled the day. The original pace-and-space kings from San Antonio owned the floor against the imprint version that has led the Atlanta Hawks to outlandish success this season. The Spurs rolled to their third straight win by running a clinic on the Hawks. Mike Monroe of the San Antonio Express-News has more:

It was billed as a battle of the Spurs vs. Spurs East, aka the Atlanta Hawks.

Instead, the Spurs ran a clinic on the team that has raced to the top of the Eastern Conference by emulating the Spurs, scoring a 114-95 beatdown to complete a 2-0 season sweep.

Mike Budenholzer, the longtime Gregg Popovich assistant who has incorporated his former boss’ approach since becoming Atlanta’s head coach in 2013, didn’t stick around to watch the destruction, thrown out after getting two technical fouls in the third period.

The win was the third straight for the Spurs, 44-25 and sixth in the Western Conference.

Kawhi Leonard was three assists shy of what would have been the first triple-double of his career, getting 20 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in just 31 minutes and 41 seconds, his presence hardly necessary in the final period of a start-to-finish domination by the Spurs.

Beneficiary of Leonard’s slickest assist of the game — a half court bounce pass that produced a layin — center Tiago Splitter recorded a season-high 23 points. It was the second time in the last two games Splitter scored a season-high.

Ball movement again keyed an efficient Spurs offense. They had 30 assists on 46 baskets and shot 56.1 percent.

The Spurs will go down as the only team in the league the Hawks have not beaten this season. But just as important on this lone trip to Atlanta for Popovich was a chance to catch up with his good friend and TNT’s very own Craig Sager:

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Morning Shootaround — March 21


VIDEO: Highlights of the games played March 20

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news | LeBron leads Cavaliers to playoff spot on rough night | Clippers making their move in the Western Conference playoff chase

No. 1: Westbrook lifts Thunder in aftermath of Durant news — It’s truly Russell Westbrook‘s team now in Oklahoma City. Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with no reasonable expectation that he will return this season, whether the Thunder make the playoffs or not. Whatever the circumstance, Westbrook is bringing the energy and effort needed to lead the charge for Scott Brooks‘ team, just as he did Friday night in the Thunder’s takedown of the Eastern Conference leading Atlanta Hawks. Love him or hate him, right now the underdog is on top after collecting his ninth triple double and pushing the Thunder up the ladder in the chase for the 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman explains:

The Thunder’s already wavering title hopes took a potentially fatal blow on Friday morning with the latest Kevin Durant injury setback.

But by late Friday night, Russell Westbrook and a patched together lineup had already reminded the basketball world that — while a championship run is now hard to fathom — high-level hoops entertainment will remain for the next month-plus in Oklahoma City.

The East-leading Atlanta Hawks came to town, packing a potent offense to feast on the Thunder’s slumping defense. Void of Serge Ibaka to clean up mistakes, OKC struggled on that end again.

But as has been common of late, even without double-double machine Enes Kanter on this night, the Thunder went all mid-2000s Phoenix Suns and succeeded in outscoring a scoring machine. The final: Thunder 123, Hawks 115.

“It was like an ABA game out there,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks joked.

With the win, OKC became only the fourth NBA team to ever go from nine games under .500 to nine games over in the same season.

And Westbrook, again, was at the center of it all, finishing with 36 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds for his ninth triple-double of the season.

Instead of an emotional letdown after the latest Durant news, the Thunder came out energized and angry, jumping on the Hawks in the opening minutes. Westbrook had seven of his 14 assists in the first quarter. OKC, at one point, held an early nine-point lead.

But after the Hawks weathered that early storm, OKC’s faulty defense sprung leaks and Atlanta started splashing jumpers from all over the floor. On this night, reserve big man Pero Antic played the role of random dude to roast the Thunder’s perimeter defense, going off for 18 points in 12 first half minutes.

The Hawks led 68-61 at halftime. With two minutes left in the third quarter, that lead had ballooned to 12. Shorthanded, it looked like the Thunder would come up short, fittingly capping an emotionally tough day for the franchise.

But then Anthony Morrow got hot and the tone of the game changed.

With 7:54 left in the fourth quarter, Morrow splashed in his third three of the night, cutting the Hawks lead to four. It was the sixth consecutive game Morrow has hit at least three 3s, one of the hotter stretches of his storied shooting career.

But he was just getting started. Over the next four minutes of game action, Morrow drilled three more 3s, the crowd noise rising and the Thunder’s momentum building with each splash.

“I’ve never experienced (a playoff atmosphere),” Morrow said. “But (Westbrook) said that was close to it.”


VIDEO: Russell Westbrook lifted the Thunder on the night they found out Kevin Durant’s season could be over 

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Morning Shootaround — March 16


VIDEO: Highlights from games played March 15

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron questionable for second return to Miami | Thunder get big win vs. Bulls | Garnett hosts his Brooklyn friends

No. 1: LeBron questionable for second return to Miami — That emotional return to Miami the first time around for LeBron James might not have a second act. The Cleveland Cavaliers’ superstar is questionable for tonight’s game after taking an awkward fall on his right leg in Sunday’s win over Orlando. The Cavaliers have Kyrie Irving to carry the load if LeBron cannot go. But as NBA.com’s John Schuhmann points out, the Cavs are just 2-9 without LeBron this season and have been outscored by 7.9 points per 100 possessions with him off the floor. But missing another game in this particular season wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for James. Joe Vardon of the Plain Dealer explains:

James has already missed a career-high 11 games this season due to injury. Additionally, both he and the Cavaliers have expressed a desire to rest James for some games leading up to the playoffs in April.

But a rematch with the Heat in Miami, where James won two titles in four years and where he was received warmly when the Cavs played there Christmas Day, was not one James planned to skip.

James’ first game in Miami this season was emotional for him and included a video tribute and standing ovation from the home fans.

He cut a video testimonial for Bleacher Report about the emotions of playing against former teammates Dwyane Wade, Mario Chalmers, and others.

On Sunday night, James agreed the next South Beach visit would have a much different feel.

It’d be really different if he didn’t play.

“For me to be able to just finish the game, you know, the way I fell, the way I took that fall, it just goes to my training, the way I approach the game off the floor,” James said. “That time I was able to stay on the floor with my teammates.”

James scored four points and dished out three assists while playing 10 of 12 minutes in the fourth quarter.

It’s also worth noting that James’ best, most athletic dunk was in the final period, when he reached the ball high above the rim as he glided past defenders and crushed it with his right hand with 5:31 left.


VIDEO: LeBron James talks about how he’s feeling after the Cavs’ win in Orlando

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Thunder GM calls Durant trade talk ‘ludicrous’

Of course, it wasn’t the first rumor about Kevin Durant and his impending free agency in the summer of 2016. And it surely won’t be the last. (We could only wish.)

But the recent talk that the Thunder would consider trading the reigning MVP in the wake of teammate Russell Westbrook’s filling up the boxscores with 40-point nights and regular triple-doubles was summarily dismissed by OKC general manager Sam Presti, according to Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman.

Said Presti:

That should settle the rumors. Until the next one.