Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant

Strain of change leading to concerns about Thunder chemistry

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It has been a strange thing to see — barking and bickering among the tight chemistry of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

It’s come up every game so far this season, Darnell Maryberry of the Oklahoman described Sunday’s incident in a loss to the Hawks.

At the end of the first quarter, Thabo Sefolosha and Russell Westbrook had to be separated from exchanging words as they walked to the bench. It was a show of anger that surprisingly was also seen from the same two as they walked off the court at halftime Friday night.

In other moments Kevin Durant has barked at Serge Ibaka, and Kendrick Perkins and Ibaka have pointed fingers.

It’s odd because it wasn’t something we saw the past few years as this team made its runs, eventually all the way to the NBA finals. Not that everything was puppy dogs and rainbows around the Thunder, but there was not a lot of public tension.

This isn’t just about James Harden being traded, although that certainly is part of it because it was a big change to the chemistry of the team. Harden had grown up with the Thunder. It was a blow to Durant and Westbrook.

But you can add to that change the strain of expectations. Oklahoma City is no longer the young underdogs everyone wants to see succeed — they are a team that has been to the NBA finals, a team people expect to return to the biggest NBA dance and win it this time.

A team that expects itself to succeed.

All that has led to some tension, some strain on the family feelings around the team.

But don’t expect this to be a long-term concern. Not with Durant and Westbrook in charge — there is no doubt whose team this is (and was even before Harden was sent away). That super duo is going to figure it out, the team will get over this bump.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks and the players there told Royce Young of Eye on Basketball not to worry.

“I’ve never once went into a practice or a game thinking ‘Oh my gosh, I’m really worried about our chemistry tonight,” Brooks said. “[Chemistry] was never a question. It really wasn’t. I think when you talk about chemistry with our group and if you question it, I don’t think you’ve been around our group as long as I have.”

“You can’t duplicate it,” Westbrook said of chemistry, “but we have a group of guys that have been here for a while. We’re switching the team up a little bit but every year we’ve had a different team and we’ve found a way to incorporate guys and make sure everybody knows what it takes for us to win. So I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”

It’s not. Perceived problems (or success) gets overblown the first couple weeks of a season (see Lakers for more info). Things find their level and even out, as will happen with the chemistry of the Thunder. They are figuring it out. They will get there and be who we expect as the season moves on.

Report: No additional fine, punishment for Draymond Green after kicking flagrant

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Draymond Green picked up a flagrant foul after flailing his legs – this time catching James Harden in the face — and once again it’s become the topic of the day in the NBA.

If you didn’t see it (video above), Kevin Durant missed a three and Green made a good hustle play to get the offensive board and go back up, where he was fouled by James Harden. The foul threw Green off-balance and, as he does, he flailed his legs up, and his right leg caught Harden in the face. The replay center reviewed the play and called the original common foul on Harden, but a Flagrant 1 on Green for the kick. It mattered because it was overtime of a close game and that both evened out the free throws and gave Houston the ball again.

However, the league didn’t see this as the kind of intentional, malicious foul that gets extra attention, according to Chris Haynes of ESPN.

That outcome seems about right to me. This was not the Steven Adams situation. Green went up, was fouled by Harden which did disrupt his balance, and he threw his leg up. Whether he did that intentionally, just instinctively looking to draw a foul, or if it was simply a move to keep his balance is irrelevant — he got his foot up high enough to hit James Harden in the face, that’s a flagrant foul. It wasn’t severe enough to warrant a suspension or fine in my opinion, but players are responsible for their bodies on the court and if you kick a guy in the face that comes with consequences. Like a high boot in soccer, there is no room for debate here.

Is Green being watched for this more than other players? Duh. Of course he is, this is seven incidents I can think of without bothering to go to Google. Yes, other players do it too, but Green has the reputation. And the league is cracking down on it. Hence the flagrant.

PBT Extra: Cavaliers hit mini-malaise, schedule maker isn’t helping things

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The Cleveland Cavaliers have gotten smacked around two games in a row — first in Milwaukee and then by the Los Angeles Clippers on nationwide television — and they haven’t shown a lot of fight in either. Before that they had to come from behind and barely beat the Sixers. That’s an aberration, a championship hangover, we know the Cavaliers have fight — they came back from down 3-1 in the Finals. But they are in a mini-slump.

The schedule maker isn’t making things easier — they have a back-to-back against the Bulls the night after that big Clippers game. Then the Cavs get a couple of days off and travel to Toronto.

The Clippers had to play Friday in New Orleans. Houston won a dramatic game against Golden State Thursday in double OT, then has to play Denver the next night.

It all comes together in this latest PBT Extra.

LeBron James makes good on bet with Wade, dons Cubs’ uniform for game in Chicago

CLEVELAND, OH - NOVEMBER 02:  Richard Jefferson and LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers react in the eighth inning in Game Seven of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on November 2, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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It was a brilliant World Series bet between Chicago native Dwyane Wade and Akron/Cleveland guy LeBron James: Loser had to show up to a game in the other team’s city wearing the uniform of the World Series champs.

As if we need to remind you, Chicago showed Cleveland what it’s like to be on the other end of a blown 3-1 championship series lead, coming back to with the World Series.

Friday night as the Cavaliers went to take on the Bulls, LeBron made good on his bet.

LeBron is wearing Ryne Sandberg’s 23 — classy.

This is one of my favorite sports bets ever.

Derrick Rose: “I want to play the rest of my life” in New York

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 28:  Derrick Rose #25 of the New York Knicks dribbles up court against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the second half at Madison Square Garden on November 28, 2016 in New York City. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
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When a player says he doesn’t want to stay in a city — *cough* Rudy Gay *cough* — it’s news. Aside from that, a player saying he want to spend the rest of his career with the team he is currently on is right out of the Crash Davis/Bull Durham book of clichés.

Derrick Rose has read that book. He’s said those words before. However, it sounds like he was sincere in telling Peter Walsh at SLAM he likes what he sees with the Knicks and wants to stay in the city that doesn’t sleep.

“We’re building the culture,” Rose said. “We’re building the foundation now. I’m under a one-year contract so of course I want to play the rest of my life here. But it takes time, it takes patience to figure out how every one is going to fit, if it is going to fit and going from there.”

Here’s the question Phil Jackson (or whoever is in charge next summer should he opt out) needs to ask with every player/personnel move made going forward:

How does this person fit with Kristaps Porzingis?

That man is the future in Madison Square Garden. Frankly, he’s the present, too — he’s better than Carmelo Anthony right now. The Knicks need to make moves going forward that highlight Porzingis’ strengths (like playing him at the five).

Rose should fit fairly well with that right now as a pick-and-roll point guard to pair with Porzingis’ ability to pop out to the arc or roll to the rim. That said, when Rose and Porzingis have been paired on the court this season, the Knicks have been outscored by 3.9 per 100 possessions, mostly because the team defense has been a disaster. That doesn’t mean it can’t work, so long as you’re not going to run a lot of triangle, Rose understands he needs to feed Porzingis a lot, and there are other shooters on the floor. Rose can be a solid point guard for the Knicks going forward. At least as long as he can stay healthy.

Whether he comes back to New York will really come down to money — the Knicks should make a fair offer for a solid starting point guard in the NBA, then if another team comes in over the top live with it.

But for Rose, he’s in a New York state of mind.