Thunder’s Russell Westbrook focused on playoffs, not historic season

2 Comments

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Shortly after the Thunder wrapped up their regular-season finale, Russell Westbrook grew weary of talking about individual accolades.

The Thunder guard happily answered questions about Oscar Robertson’s MVP endorsement , and he answered a few questions about his record 42 triple-doubles in the regular season before his mood soured. When he was asked about winning his second scoring title in three years , he hesitated, then simply replied: “Next question.”

Westbrook understands none of that matters now.

He is squarely focused on what’s ahead: the Thunder’s playoff series with Houston that begins Sunday night – and postseason success.

“The group of guys that we have, especially going into the playoffs – we’ve got to make sure we come ready to play, because we know they’re (Houston) going to be ready,” he said.

Westbrook has gone into most of the high-stakes games in his career with Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka at his side. But Durant left for Golden State in free agency last summer, and Ibaka, one of the league’s best defensive players for much of his career in Oklahoma City, now plays for Toronto.

Westbrook will have to help one of the youngest teams in the NBA get acclimated to playoff basketball. He said there won’t be any special conversations about what to expect.

“Just play, man,” Westbrook said. “Best thing you can do. It’s what I did. Just go out and compete at a high level, and the game will tell you what to do. Obviously, the stakes are higher, but at the same time, still got to put the ball in the hole. Still the same basketball, same court. I just go out and compete.”

Still, this journey will be much different for Westbrook.

“I think he’s excited from a leadership role to try to help guys that don’t have that kind of experience, haven’t been through it or are going through it for the first time, to try to help those guys,” Thunder coach Billy Donovan said. “I think he’ll be the same as he always is. As the season’s gone on, I really haven’t seen a whole lot of change in Russell from the first day of training camp to now.”

Westbrook doesn’t want to talk about the triple-doubles, but they are a critical component for the Thunder. Oklahoma City went 33-9 this season when Westbrook registered a triple-double and 13-26 when he didn’t. The Thunder are 4-1 all-time in the playoffs when Westbrook gets a triple-double.

He’s facing another player who gets triple-doubles in bunches. James Harden, Westbrook’s former teammate in Oklahoma City, collected 22 this season.

It’s the most intriguing first-round series of the playoffs.

Westbrook said the fact that Oklahoma City is matching up Harden does add a little something to the matchup. They are the front-runners for the MVP award, and they last played together for the Thunder in 2011-12, when Oklahoma City lost to Miami in the NBA Finals.

“It’s definitely cool,” Westbrook said. “It’s a great experience. Something that we can talk about later on down the line. Definitely, it’s good.”

The Thunder have played relatively well against Harden this season, holding him to 20.5 points per game on 34 percent shooting in the four meetings. Westbrook said there are other threats for the Rockets, who set the NBA record for 3-pointers made this season. Harden, Lou Williams, Eric Gordon, Ryan Anderson, Patrick Beverley and Trevor Ariza each made at least 110 3-pointers this season.

“Obviously, they’re a great offensive team,” Westbrook said. “Transition, they do a great job of getting threes. You’ve got to protect the 3-point line.”

Westbrook has lit up the Rockets, averaging 36.3 points, 9.0 rebounds and 9.3 assists in four meetings, but Houston has won three of the four games.

Westbrook averaged 34.6 minutes per game in the regular season and shouldered a large amount of the load for the team, especially late in close games. He isn’t sure how Donovan will manage his minutes in the playoffs.

“I just go out when my name is called,” he said. “I go on the floor and play.”

Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/CliffBruntAP .

Report: First-round draft prospect says Phil Jackson fell asleep during his workout

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
5 Comments

Like I said, there are better reasons to criticize Phil Jackson than him saying his priority was the Knicks and that he had discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis.

Jay Williams of ESPN:

A top-15 draft pick told me the other day, because we were involved in this out of this conversation about Phil Jackson and the Knicks, and he said, “Phil Jackson was falling in and out of sleep in my workout.”

Yes. “Falling in and out of sleep at my workout.” This is what this guy told me.

Especially given Jackson’s salary and reputation for not being a diligent worker, this story is too good to check out.

O.G. Anunoby invited to NBA draft, Harry Giles declines

AP Photo/Darron Cummings
Leave a comment

The NBA’s invitations to the draft are a good indicator of when players will get drafted. The league samples executives, who are more likely to be honest here than in leaks to the media, about how they rank players. So, the list is worth monitoring.

The players who will attend tonight’s draft nearly match the leaks – with one exception. O.G. Anunoby is going, and Harry Giles isn’t.

Here are the players who will be at the draft – a reasonable placeholder for the players most likely to get picked in the top 20 – via A. Sherrod Blakely of CSN New England:

Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress:

Harry Giles declined his invite sources told DraftExpress.

Did Giles decline his invite because, with his extensive injury history, he feared falling too far? Or did he just prefer to watch elsewhere?

Was Anunoby simply 21st on the NBA’s list of players to invite? Or was the league too unsure of his medical status to include him until getting a stronger grasp now?

I don’t know, but the possibility that Giles could slip or Anunoby is more secure alters my perception of their draft stock (Anunoby up, Giles down).

Report: Knicks’ asking price for Kristaps Porzingis ‘massive’

5 Comments

What has Phil Jackson actually done? He discussed trading Kristaps Porzingis with other teams and called the Knicks, not Porzingis, his priority. That’s it.

At face value, this is fine. It’s what devoted executives, not always Jackson, should do.

Jackson hasn’t traded Porzingis for meager return. He hasn’t traded Porzingis at all.

Everyone up in arms should take a deep breath.

Adam Himmelsbach of The Boston Globe:

David Aldridge of NBA.com:

I wouldn’t rule out the Knicks trading Porzingis. The No. 1 pick got traded, after all. I wouldn’t rule out them trading Porzingis for too little return. Look at Jackson’s track record running the front office.

But wait until they do before bashing Jackson for not understanding Porzingis’ value.

There are plenty of better reasons to criticize Jackson, including overseeing the toxic culture that led to Porzingis skipping his exit interview and setting this latest “crisis” into motion. Publicly discussing trading Porzingis won’t endear Jackson to the budding star, but the problem is how it reached this point. Players in sound organizations can handle this. Jackson has engendered little confidence from his players, the distrust existed well before this round of trade talks.

Lonzo Ball recruits LeBron James to Lakers (video)

5 Comments

Lonzo Ball doesn’t play for the Lakers. LeBron James isn’t a free agent.

But they’re headed that way – and Ball is already embracing it.

The Lakers are expected to draft Ball No. 2 tonight, and rumors are heating up about LeBron leaving the Cavaliers in 2018.

Why should LeBron join Ball in Los Angeles?

Ball on ESPN:

LeBron, I like to win. I know you like to win. I think our games can help each other out a lot. Any time you want the ball, just let me know. It’s going to be there.

Ball was asked to to pitch LeBron, so it’s not as if Ball is out here talking so brashly on his own. But answering the question was a rookie mistake.

Besides, I’m not sure Lonzo Ball can undo the bad blood between LeBron and LaVar Ball.