Associated Press

Three Things to Know: Despite ugly loss to Magic, too early to panic for Thunder

6 Comments

Every day in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, so every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA.

1) Oklahoma City had some ugly losses this season, but Wednesday to Orlando is a new low… and it’s still not time to panic. Every time you think “this is as ugly as the Thunder’s start to the season can get” they find a way to dig the hole just a little deeper. The Thunder had their shovels out Wednesday.

The Orlando Magic had dropped nine in a row when the Thunder came calling, but it didn’t matter. A resurgent Aaron Gordon dropped 40 points on OKC’s vaunted defense, and a 13-0 Orlando run late in the third, followed by another 13-0 one to start the fourth, made Russell Westbrook’s 20 points in the fourth quarter moot. Orlando got the win 121-108, handing Oklahoma City its third straight loss and seventh in a row on the road.

A team with this much talent as OKC should not be 8-12 and be looking up in the standings at a Rudy Gobert-less Jazz team. Coach Billy Donovan is frustrated — you know he has drawn up plays to use some combination of Westbrook, Paul George, and Carmelo Anthony to force defenses into difficult decisions, but they don’t run/execute them at all, and just play isolation ball.

And it’s still not time to panic.

The Thunder have lost close games and had ugly fourth quarters on both ends, but they still have the point differential of a team that should be 13-7. They are playing better than their record indicates, and most importantly the Thunder still have the third-best defense in the NBA. Those fundamentals point to the Thunder turning things around, likely sooner rather than later.

On offense, the Thunder are still trying to put the puzzle pieces together. They lead the league in isolation sets, and those have too often ended with a long midrange jumper or a contested shot closer to the basket. They don’t leverage all that star power to play off one another and get better looks.

I have written/said before (and I am far from alone) that this Thunder team looks like the 2010-11 Miami Heat when LeBron James first joined that team — those stars played next to each other, not with each other. “You take a turn, then I’ll take a turn.” It took them a long time (really until the middle of the following season) to learn to make the sacrifices needed to win. That team got off to a slow start over 20 games, 12-8, looked sloppy, and had tongues wagging about what was wrong.

That Heat team finished with 58 wins and made the NBA Finals.

I’m not saying these Thunder are destined for those heights (the Warriors are still in the way in the West), but there are 62 games left and plenty of time for the Thunder to find its groove, start moving the ball, use their stars together in plays that leave defenses without good options, and for the players to make sacrifices to win. The Thunder defense is already there, the offense will improve, and this team will rack up plenty of wins. No need to panic yet.

2) Anthony Davis ejected for first time in his career. If you’re going to get ejected and fined by the league office, be sure to get your money’s worth. Anthony Davis did just that.

Davis was frustrated by the lack of a call on his shot from the post (going against Karl-Anthony Towns), and he got his first technical arguing the lack of a call. Then when he was called for a foul on an attempted blocked shot on the other end, Davis lost it, and he got run.

Davis is going to get a healthy fine for this from the league, but he at least he got his money’s worth.

3) Hack-a-rookie: Wizards send Ben Simmons to free throw line NBA record 24 times in one quarter. And it almost worked. Down 24 points to the Sixers, Wizards coach Scott Brooks decided to make the desperation play — hack-a-Simmons. The Wizards started intentionally fouling Simmons every time down, and he went to the line an NBA record 24 times in the fourth quarter, hitting 12.

Here’s the thing — the strategy almost worked. The Wizards cut the 76er lead down to 3 and had a chance to steal a win, but couldn’t close it out.

When Dwight Howard/DeAndre Jordan/Andre Drummond (can’t do it to him anymore) were hacked in recent years, they usually were pulled by their coach because the strategy often worked. Philly coach Brett Brown said he left Simmons in for the learning experience, which is interesting. The way to stop “hack-a” is to make your foul shots, and that’s not something that has to be learned in game (as opposed to, say, properly defending a pick-and-roll at full speed). And as long as the Sixers held on for the win, Brown can say it was a learning experience and get away with it.

But hac-a-Simmons worked, so you can bet the Sixers will see it again.

Nikola Mirotic and Bobby Portis still not talking off court

AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast
Leave a comment

The Bulls are 5-0 since Nikola Mirotic returned from an injury suffered when Bobby Portis punched him in the face during a preseason practice. Mirotic and Portis are both excelling individually, and Chicago has outscored opponents by a whopping 34.3 points per 100 possessions when those two share the court.

Jack Maloney of CBSSports.com:

When asked if the two former combatants have spoken yet, Mirotic said, “We did on the floor. We’ve always spoken because we need to have good communication.” As for whether they’ve talked off the floor, however, Mirotic was succinct in his response: “No.”

I guess Mirotic hasn’t completely moved on, though he said he did. But that’s fine. How could someone get past a teammate punching him in the face?

Importantly, this is becoming just a regular NBA problem. The extent of that practice punch was practically unprecedented. But plenty of players have loathed teammates while making it work on the court. That happens more than people realize.

Mirotic and Portis can make this their status quo – at least the on-court cooperation. I’m not convinced Chicago will keep winning like this.

Watch Kobe Bryant’s ‘Dear Basketball’ short film (video)

AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek
1 Comment

Kobe Bryant announced his retirement in a letter called “Dear Basketball,” which was made into a short film.

Now, on the day the Lakers retire his Nos. 8 and 24, you can watch it. It’s quite beautiful:

Double number retirement fitting for Kobe Bryant

Harry How/Getty Images
1 Comment

Kobe Bryant’s career truly occurred in two acts.

He was Shaquille O’Neal’s super sidekick for three championships. Then, Kobe led the Lakers to another two titles himself after Shaq departed.

He was an athletic, high-flying slam-dunk-contest champion. Then, he became known for his cerebral play and footwork.

He faced trial for rape in Colorado (the case was ultimately dismissed, and he settled civilly), blame for Shaq getting traded and criticism for being too selfish when the Lakers struggled in the aftermath of Shaq’s departure. Then, Kobe – still beloved by his fans – again became a socially acceptable marketing force.

His 2007 trade request serves as the more accurate intermission point, but his 2006 jersey change from No. 8 to No. 24 works well enough. He had a Hall of Fame career in No. 8 then a borderline Hall of Fame career in No. 24. Think Tracy Mcgrady’s career followed by Bernard King’s – but it was just Kobe followed by Kobe and with far more postseason success.

Here are the win-share leaders with a single franchise during Kobe’s career:

image

So much about Kobe is excessive – his accolades, his shot selection, his reputation as clutch. He had an all-time great career, but the myth outpaces reality.

Yet, Kobe becoming the first player with two numbers retired by the same team – which the Lakers will do at halftime tonight – feels incredibly appropriate. In his 20-year career with the Lakers, Kobe had time to succeed then succeed again in an extravagant way only he could manage.

He was dedicated and disciplined, flashy and fastidious, No. 8 and No. 24

Warriors will watch Kobe Bryant’s numbers get retired, Lakers might not

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Lakers will retire Kobe Bryant’s No. 8 and No. 24 at halftime of their game against Warriors tonight.

The road team won’t miss it. The home team might.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr, via Monte Poole of NBC Sports Bay Area:

“I want our guys to see it,” Kerr said Saturday. “It’ll be a pretty cool moment.

“Just to experience of one of the greatest players in the history of the game getting his jersey retired and we happen to be there? I’m not going to keep them in the locker room watching tape from the first half. The players would look at me like I was nuts.”

Lakers coach Luke Walton, via Harrison Faigen of Lakers Nation:

“I hadn’t thought much about [watching the ceremony],” Walton said Sunday. “We’re still deciding how we’ll approach halftime.

“Our first priority is still the job that we have. I’m sure there’s going to be some halftime adjustments we need to make against the Warriors. We’re toying with a couple different ideas to let guys at least see part of it.”

Kerr seems like a pretty cool guy, someone who understands what truly matters. This will be a historic moment, and that can take priority over watching video for one night in a long season.

But he also has the luxury of coaching an all-time great team. Even with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, Zaza Pachulia and Shaun Livingston injured, the Warriors are favored.

Walton has a young team that needs every break it can get. But he too should embrace the significance of the ceremony. His franchise is.

After reportedly initially being scheduled for pregame, the ceremony will occur at halftime. The NBA implemented a hard 15-minute limit on halftimes this season. Any team not ready will be assessed a delay-of-game penalty. So, lengthy speeches tonight could hinder the current team on the court. And that’s well worth the cost of doing business.

In the same regard, current Lakers watching Kobe’s ceremony would gain pride in being a Laker. There’s real value in that, probably more than in going over adjustments for a December game during a season very likely to end outside the playoffs regardless.