Oklahoma City Thunder vs Miami Heat

Wednesday night NBA grades: I, for one, welcome our new Kevin Durant overlord


Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while freaking out about how much time you wasted on Facebook….

source:  Kevin Durant, Oklahoma City Thunder. What is there left to say? Call him KD like he prefers, call him the Slim Reaper, call him whatever you want just make sure you add MVP race leader to the sentence. Durant got his first half points mostly in transition as LeBron James and the Heat defense made things tough, but in the second half Durant was the guy we have watched the last dozen games (the streak for 30+ is up to that) — he drained a 27 foot three to silence the crowd when Miami threatened a run. Then he drained shots from everywhere this side of Epcot Center on his way to 33 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists to lead the Thunder to their ninth straight win. Durant is playing the best ball of his career right now, and that is saying something.

source:  Rudy Gay, Sacramento Kings. This is not just about his 23 points on 16 shots (although that is a good night), rather it’s that his 23rd point gives him 10,000 for his NBA career. We’ve poked fun at Gay’s efficiency in the past (he’s been much better in Sacramento) but the guy can score and 10,000 points in the NBA is a milestone to be celebrated.

source:  Kyle Lowry, Toronto Raptors. Too bad the voting is already done because Lowry made his “put me on the All-Star team” statement against the Magic with 33 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds. He was on fire in the first quarter with 17 points on 8 shots. As for getting his ticket punched for New Orleans, he either makes the team or is one of the guys talked about as a snub — he’s right on the bubble.

source:  Al Jefferson, Charlotte Bobcats. While you haven’t been watching Al Jefferson has been playing well — he’s averaged 26.9 points a game on 55.7 percent shooting, plus 11.9 rebounds a game his last 10 games — and against the Nuggets he had 35 point points on ¬ not many doubles were coming and Jefferson made the Nuggets pay for that.


51Q: Does Ty Lawson vault the Rockets into the top tier of championship contenders?

DENVER, CO - MARCH 07:  James Harden #13 of the Houston Rockets controls the ball against Ty Lawson #3 of the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center on March 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado. The Rockets defeated the Nuggets 114-100. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
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I see five clear upper-echelon championship contenders –  Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, Thunder and Cavaliers.

Do the Rockets belong in that group, or do they fill the next tier by themselves?

Ty Lawson – acquired for pennies on the dollar – could put Houston over the top.

But, really, this premise might not be fair to the Rockets. They earned the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference last season and reached the conference finals last season. James Harden finished second in MVP voting. Dwight Howard looked like a star during the playoffs. The supporting cast – Trevor Ariza, Terrence Jones, Donatas Motiejunas, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer and even Jason Terry – played better than anyone expected. Young players like Clint Capela, K.J. McDaniels, Sam Dekker and Montrezl Harrell could make a leap at any moment.

There’s a case to be made we should have taken Houston more seriously even before trading for Lawson.

I didn’t, though, and I don’t think many others did either.

I suspect one of the biggest reasons is the Rockets’ balance. Houston – 12th in points scored per possession, sixth in points allowed per possession – was one of only two teams to win more than 51 games last season without ranking top five in either category. Of the seven teams with so many victories, the Hawks – sixth, seventh – were the only other. Atlanta was a darling team, winning 60 games after going 38-44 the season prior. The Rockets’ modest win increase, from 54 to 56, drew less attention.

But balance shouldn’t be punished. Houston’s surprisingly strong defense should be celebrated. Lawson might push its middling offense over the top.

There are reasons to question that, though.

The biggest is Lawson’s sobriety. If he’s not focused and engaged, this all goes out the window. His comments about going to rehab only because it was court-ordered raise doubts, though they hardly foretell anything.

Let’s say Lawson’s off-court problems are behind him. How big of an upgrade is he? The Rockets already had a pretty good point guard who fit well with Harden in Beverley. Lawson is a clear offensive upgrade, but in the biggest moments, the ball will still run through Harden. At that point, would you rather have Beverley or Lawson on the floor? Beverley is a far superior defender, and his off-ball offensive game isn’t far from Lawson’s. Beverley is is a fine spot-up shooter, and Lawson’s strengths involve having the ball and creating. Lawson’s biggest boost could come when Harden sits, but that was fewer than 12 minutes per game last season.

Sure, a secondary ball-handler could ease pressure on Harden throughout a long regular season. Lawson and Harden can take turns running the attack.

But we’re talking about title contention, and in those high-leverage situations, it’s Harden’s show. How much does Lawson matter then?

The Rockets have a chance to win a championship. As good a chance as the NBA’s five best teams? I’m not so sure.

UNLV following Kentucky’s lead with combine for NBA scouts

Goodluck Okonoboh, Patrick McCaw
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Kentucky held a two-day combine last season for NBA scouts.

Now, LSU and UNLV are following suit.

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports:

The Runnin’ Rebels will hold their event on October 23rd and 24th at the Mendenhall Center, UNLV’s practice facility, sources told NBCSports.com. The expectation is that all 30 NBA teams will be in attendance.

LSU has potential No. 1 pick Ben Simmons and another first-round prospect in Tim Quarterman.

UNLV features lottery prospect Stephen Zimmerman.

This won’t replace scouts attending games and watching practices, but the fact that all 30 teams plan to attend shows how seriously the pro league takes these. No college team wanted John Calipari to have that competitive advantage in recruiting, so the smart ones are leveling the field with their own combines. Soon, more college teams will follow.

As the calendar gets packed, NBA teams might have to pick and choose which they attend. At that point, we might get little clues about which prospects they’re scouting hardest.