Jan 12, 2013, 9:30 AM EDT
Kevin Durant is a better player today than he was when the Thunder lost Game 5 of the NBA finals last season. His ball handling has improved allowing him to take on more playmaking. His defense is better. He is rebounding more.
Russell Westbrook is more of a floor general. His play seems crisper, more confident. And he’s still one of the most athletic players in the NBA.
Serge Ibaka might win the NBA’s most improved player award this year — he has developed a very reliable midrange catch-and-shoot jumper and is shooting 57.1 percent on the season. He used to play only for his defense, now he starts because you have to guard him.
But the Thunder today are a better team, a hungrier team than the one the Heat beat in the finals last season. Their defense is about the same but their offense is 3.5 points per 100 possessions better this season — it is the best offense in the NBA.
That growth is because Durant and Westbrook are just 24 years old and still on a steep improvement curve. Ibaka is 23. With every new experience — like losing in the finals — they learn. They get better.
“When we made the (Harden) trade, we knew that we were still going to be a good team…” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said. “Our players are better. They came back better this summer. I thought the Olympic experience for all of them, even Serge with Spain, I thought everyone came back a little better.”
All of that showed in a rout of the Lakers Friday night. The Thunder defended and got out on the break to get some easy buckets. They moved the ball, made the extra pass, got good looks and then their shooters knocked them down.
Kevin Durant showed a mean streak, scoring 42 points and seeming at points to really enjoy taking it out on the Lakers. At one point he drove baseline and dunked over Antawn Jamison, then glared with a fire he rarely makes so public. Westbrook had 27 points but also 10 assists. The Thunder role players get their jobs and execute them.
And they are not tolerating lapses — up more than 20 with 9:42 left in the fourth quarter, the Lakers scored back-to-back buckets on lazy defense by the Thunder. Brooks called time out and chewed out his team. He put the starters back in for a few minutes to fully seal the game. And to send a message about effort and building good habits.
The Miami Heat are not building good habits, they are coasting through this season. Which is still enough to lead the Eastern Conference. It’s not easy to imagine a scenario where another team comes out of the conference. The Heat are the defending champs, if you want a ring you have to go through them.
Oklahoma City might just be a team that can do that. Because their stars are better than they have ever been.
May 20, 2013, 1:28 PM EDT
Fans of every lottery team have a simple solution for how to operate in a historically weak draft: Trade down. Of course, if you think this is a weak draft, other teams probably do too, and they’re not going to be so keen on trading up. But there might be one team interested in trading…
May 20, 2013, 1:25 PM EDT
It’s Dwight Howard silly rumor season. Everyone knows the Lakers are still the front-runners in this race but the latest reports have the Rockets and Mavericks at least in a good stalking position to make a move once this race moves into the home stretch. Other teams may try to get into the mix as…
May 20, 2013, 12:44 PM EDT
The Bobcats would receive the Trail Blazer’s first-round draft pick this year – a remnant of the Gerald Wallace trade – in the .001 percent chance Portland lands the No. 13 pick in tomorrow’s draft lottery. But Charlotte is doing a lot of work based on just that .001 percent chance. Rick Bonnell of charlotteobserver.com:…
May 20, 2013, 12:28 PM EDT
Bryan Colangelo is still going to be with the Toronto Raptors. But he is going to be on the other side of the building (at least metaphorically). By today the Raptors had to come to a decision on picking up Colangelo’s option as the franchise’s general manager and decision maker. And he is out in…
May 20, 2013, 11:52 AM EDT
The video above was a reminder to Alonzo Mourning that there is no privacy anymore. Not anywhere. (And if you think Jordan’s legacy would be the same in today’s world of cell phone video and 24-hour news/blog cycle as it was in his era… you should ask Steve Kerr about that rock show on the…
May 20, 2013, 11:03 AM EDT
There are a lot of coaching interview rumors right now — basically the same handful of guys interviewing for every open job while those fan bases dream of Phil Jackson and Stan Van Gundy. What follows is a wrap up of the weekend news from the coaching searches going on. • The Suns are going…
May 20, 2013, 10:33 AM EDT
If you watched Carmelo Anthony at all as he tried to carry the Knicks through the playoffs (often too single-handedly, but that’s another issue for another day), you could tell that his left shoulder was really bothering him. So it’s not a shock that a team doctor is about to have a look at it,…
May 20, 2013, 9:22 AM EDT
Zach Randolph recovered the opening tipoff in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, and he didn’t touch the ball again until the possession following the Grizzlies’ first timeout. Moments after cameras caught Randolph and Tim Duncan sharing a laugh coming out of that timeout, Randolph ran a seemingly designed pick-and-pop with Mike Conley, caught…
May 20, 2013, 8:45 AM EDT
Anyone need a 6’9” floor-stretching forward who hit 44.2 percent of his threes last year? A lot of teams could, which is why Mike Dunleavy Jr. is starting to draw some interest around the league, reports the Journal-Times. Apparently, Dunleavy’s fine playoff showing after a quality regular-season performance has impressed some other NBA folks as…
May 20, 2013, 7:58 AM EDT
Veteran NBA swingman Terrence Williams, who played last season with the Celtics, was arrested Sunday, according to multiple reports. The charges stem from a domestic violence dispute in Kent, Washington (a city between Seattle and Tacoma that is part of the metropolitan area near where he grew up), according to the Kent Reporter. The victim…
May 20, 2013, 1:26 AM EDT
I’m not sure about some of you. Did you really think Kobe Bryant was going to allow the last image of him on an NBA court to be that of him limping off after his Achilles injury? Does that seem like him? At all? Yet, when Kobe said he was going to make a major…
May 20, 2013, 1:02 AM EDT
When Lionel Hollins and the rest of the Grizzlies coaching staff put together the new game plan for Tuesday’s Game 2, job number one has to be stop Tony Parker and his penetration. Parker carved up the Memphis defense Sunday, as you can see in the video above. Hollins said after the game the Grizzlies…
May 19, 2013, 10:01 PM EDT
In getting to the Western Conference Finals, the Grizzlies played two teams that couldn’t put together solid execution on the offensive end of the floor anywhere near consistently over the course of those playoff series. A lot of the credit for that goes to the Memphis defense, of course. But in the first round, the…
Report: Dwight Howard will consider multiple teams in free agency, is said to be most intrigued by the Rockets
May 19, 2013, 8:34 PM EDT
We already know what we’re in for in terms of the steady stream of reports and rumors that will flood us leading up to the free agent decision of Dwight Howard this summer. It even has a nickname, and although he’s technically not a free agent for another six weeks or so, the Dwightmare has…
May 19, 2013, 7:11 PM EDT
When the Spurs started the 2010-11 season with a 17-3 record – on their way to a conference-best 61-21 finish – Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated profiled a team that no longer resembled previous San Antonio squads. Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili had played together under Gregg Popovich since the 2002-03 season, and…
May 19, 2013, 6:35 PM EDT
The San Antonio Spurs are never the “it” team. Never the sexy squad with high-flying stars casual fans gravitate toward in the postseason. The collective national will was behind Stephen Curry and Golden State last round. Then a whole lot of prognosticators — very smart, good ones — picked Memphis this round. The Grizzlies were…
May 19, 2013, 5:07 PM EDT
In honor of the way Tony Parker is currently carving up the Grizzlies in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, here’s a look at a compilation of his top 10 plays of the 2012-13 regular season. And just think — this doesn’t even include the circus shot he hit over the Warriors, which would…
May 19, 2013, 3:34 PM EDT
Now that the Conference Finals are upon us and there are just four teams left for both local and national media to cover, the amount of focus on each, along with everything that’s said will be magnified exponentially. Our first case study of this postseason comes out of Miami, where reporters talked to Heat players…
May 19, 2013, 2:01 PM EDT
PBT continues profiling likely first-round draft picks in the upcoming NBA Draft. Today we look at a key member of the NCAA title team in Louisville. Rim protection matters. It mattered in college at Louisville and it matters in the NBA. And that is what Gorgui Dieng brings to the NBA — and can bring…
May 19, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
J.R. Smith had an incredible regular season for the Knicks, and was every bit deserving of the Sixth Man of the Year honor he was given for that performance. He also was brutal in the postseason, struggling to find his shot ever since he was suspended for Game 4 in the first round of the…
- Report: Dwight Howard not going to Clippers… did we need a report for that? 2
- Alonzo Mourning says Scottie Pippen says LeBron would “kick Jordan’s ass” 17
- Spurs shut down Zach Randolph in Western Conference Finals’ first major strategic move 0
- Report: Terrence Williams arrested in domestic violence case involving threats with a gun 5
- Kobe was never going to retire this summer, says so on twitter 19
- Knicks predictably drop Game 4 to Pacers, fall behind 3-1 (93)
- Report: Dwight Howard will consider multiple teams in free agency, is said to be most intrigued by the Rockets (91)
- Kobe Bryant responds to Michael Jordan comparison from Phil Jackson (84)
- Bradley Beal said he’d lose respect for a teammate who acted like Derrick Rose (67)
- LeBron James shrugs off claims he’s a flopper (64)
- Once the best, Pujols now irrelevant
- PFT: Brady says he's 'never felt better' throwing the ball
- PHT: Stalberg returns to Hawks' lineup for Game 3
- PHT: Hawks look to boost intensity vs. Wings
- HBT: Dodgers manager Mattingly could be on the hot seat
- OlyTalk: Pistorius rules out racing in 2013
- Parker carves up Grizzlies as Spurs roll in Gm. 1
- Play Video: Grizzlies ready for 'running' Spurs
- Play Video: Durant won't 'compromise himself' like other stars
- Play Video: Knicks avoid elimination
- Play Video: Heat finish off Bulls, James 'has no energy left'
- Play Video: Health woes make Heat vulnerable
- Play Video: Good news for Sacramento, Kings stay