Jan 12, 2013, 9:30 AM EST
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.
Dec 13, 2013, 8:00 AM EST
By Brett Pollakoff NEW YORK – It was only a week ago that the Nets were a sinking ship on the verge of capsizing completely, following consecutive losses at home where the team didn’t even seem capable of competing much less staying close enough to win for anywhere near the requisite 48 minutes. Jason Kidd may…
Dec 13, 2013, 2:50 AM EST
Our quick look around the association on a busy Thursday night, or what you missed while worrying about what could happen to Santa’s home due to global warming… LaMarcus Aldridge, Portland Trail Blazers. I’ve been saying he is the best power forward in the game all season (yes, better than Kevin Love) and he showed…
Dec 13, 2013, 12:12 AM EST
There was a time when “Deron Williams or Chris Paul?” was a legitimate question worth debating. Not for the past few years however — D-Will has hobbled around with injuries while CP3 has assumed the title of best point guard in the game (with reason). But for a night, the debate could be on again.…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:46 PM EST
NEW YORK – Things were going almost perfectly for the Nets by the time the team suffered its latest injury blow, a sprained ankle to Brook Lopez that prematurely ended his night. Lopez returned to the game briefly after coming out to get the ankle looked at with four minutes or so remaining in the…
Dec 12, 2013, 9:41 PM EST
NEW YORK – Deron Williams began the night by falling to the floor after being victimized by a crossover from Chris Paul. The fact that he stepped on the foot of teammate Brook Lopez was what ultimately caused him to crumble, but Paul’s action at least sent Williams sliding in that direction. In the second…
Dec 12, 2013, 8:30 PM EST
After trying to play through it for a month and it not really working, Golden State’s Jermaine O’Neal is going to have surgery to repair the torn ligaments on the outside of his right wrist, the team announced Thursday. 1 of 2) @jermaineoneal will undergo arthroscopic surgery tomorrow to address a torn ligament in his…
Dec 12, 2013, 5:45 PM EST
We don’t need to tell you the Pacers are doing just fine without Danny Granger — they have the best record in the NBA (19-3) and knocked off the Miami Heat this week. Yet with Granger, they either will improve or they will have a potential trade piece to shop around at the deadline (or…
Dec 12, 2013, 4:43 PM EST
The Lakers, already without Steve Nash and Jordan Farmar due to injuries, will now be without Steve Blake until likely the start of February at least. Blake has a torn ulnar ligament in his right elbow at least six weeks, the Lakers announced. Speaking with the media, Blake said if he were a baseball player…
Dec 12, 2013, 3:25 PM EST
Glen Davis, even down to the lowest weight of his career, is big. After games, he’s big and sweaty. So, FOX Sports Florida’s Dante Marchitelli faced quite the challenge of staying focused during this, literally, touching interview. That man deserves a raise! Marchitelli, not Davis. Davis is paid just fine, and at least it’s his…
Dec 12, 2013, 3:05 PM EST
The Nets and Knicks have been the NBA’s two most underwhelming teams this season, but some statistical models predicted New York would slip. Few, if any, expected Brooklyn to struggle like this. From afar, I recognize Brooklyn’s troubles, but like most, I’m mostly numb to them. That’s certainly not the case for Kevin Garnett certainly,…
Dec 12, 2013, 2:33 PM EST
Rajon Rondo’s high school coach said Carmelo Anthony was recruiting Rondo, a 2015 free agent, to New York. As Kurt wrote, those types of conversations happen all the time. Of course, nobody publicly admits to them while they’re ongoing (except Chandler Parsons, who bragged about recruiting Dwight Howard to the Rockets). Anthony, via Ian Begley…
Dec 12, 2013, 2:32 PM EST
The Knicks need help on offense — a shot creator besides Carmelo Anthony — and they are looking at another point guard to get it. Multiple reports say the Knicks are now talking with the Toronto Raptors about getting Kyle Lowry, who became available when the Raptors picked up Greivis Vasquez in the Rudy Gay…
Dec 12, 2013, 2:00 PM EST
Tom Thibodeau is represented by Creative Artists Agency. We have to start there. CAA and the Knicks enjoy an extremely harmonious relationship. The Knicks actually made Mike Woodson fire his agent and retain CAA, according to Howard Beck of Bleacher/Report. Ken Berger of CBSSports.com: Once Woodson switches his representation to CAA, the agency will control…
Dec 12, 2013, 1:58 PM EST
It’s your game fans. The NBA All-Star Game is an exhibition filled with the players you vote to see. Whether those players deserve the honor based on their performance the first half of the season or not. Sometimes the most deserving guys don’t make the cut while guys hobbling through the season do. Which brings…
Dec 12, 2013, 1:25 PM EST
We present this to you with very little commentary on our part. Jim Brown is an NFL legend and an outspoken man about the African American community and how it fits in with overall American society. Brown was on the Arsenio Hall Show on Tuesday night and was asked to comment about Kobe Bryant’s return…
Dec 12, 2013, 12:35 PM EST
A lot of players have friends or family in the Los Angeles area (a shocking number live there in the off-season), so when they come to play the Lakers or Clippers they are looking to buy a few extra tickets to get those people in the door. There is always a scramble. Rudy Gay is…
Dec 12, 2013, 11:36 AM EST
It’s not that Brandon Jennings can’t play defense. He can. If you remember Jennings from the first couple seasons he was a solid defender on the perimeter. But that has changed over the years — he doesn’t seem to care about that end of the floor now, save for gambling for steals. He shows flashes,…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:56 AM EST
Zach Randolph has had his fair share of off-the-court issues over the years, but this is also a guy who gives back. He won the NBA’s Community Assist award for November for example: “As a part of the NBA’s Season of Giving, Randolph distributed 900 Thanksgiving food baskets at Booker T. Washington High School and…
Dec 12, 2013, 10:18 AM EST
The Knicks got an important victory on Wednesday over an undermanned Bulls team, because despite the fact that New York blew a 23-point lead before hanging on to win over the final few possessions, it relieved some of the pressure on head coach Mike Woodson. New York has been without key players due to injury…
- The Extra Pass: Deron Williams is the difference for Nets; plus Thursday’s recaps 0
- Thursday night NBA grades: Any more questions for LaMarcus Aldridge? Didn’t think so. 2
- Lakers’ Steve Blake out at least six weeks with elbow injury 9
- Report: Knicks, Raptors talking Kyle Lowry trade 21
- Tom Thibodeau to the Knicks? Well… 6
- NFL legend Jim Brown takes shot at Kobe Bryant, Kobe fires back (64)
- Why question “When did basketball get so bad?” misses mark (62)
- Pacers win first Conference Finals rematch vs. Heat (50)
- Raptors trade Rudy Gay to Sacramento for multiple players (47)
- Adam Silver: NBA to consider doing away with divisions (39)