Kurt Helin

Kevin Durant

Kevin Durant no fan of free agency talk. Especially his.

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Tuesday night, Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder travel to our nation’s capital to take on the Washington Wizards — and for many Wizards’ fans the game is almost secondary.

Ever since LeBron James chose to go back home to Cleveland, there has been hype in D.C. that Durant would choose to come back to his hometown Wizards when he becomes a free agent next summer. The Wizards have cleared out cap space to make sure it’s a possibility. Durant’s free agency next summer is the story of the NBA season, but the hype and expectations are approaching unreasonable levels in D.C.

Durant hates that.

And he hates how his trip to Washington was treated last year (where the focus was on him coming as a free agent, not the game). He doesn’t like how free agency is its own season, he told Sam Amick of the USA Today.

“(The Jan. 22 visit last season) was kind of disrespectful, in my opinion, because you’ve got a great team there already that deserves your full 100% support,” said Durant, who – among many other things – was featured on the Wizards’ jumbotron wearing a ‘Washington’ jersey during the game. “I wouldn’t like that if I was on that team. I didn’t like that, but it comes with it nowadays.

“Free agency is like a season now, and it shouldn’t be that big. Me, I feel, is you should focus on who you have on your team. It’s easy to get your hopes up, and expect a guy to come to your team or whatever – and I’m not talking about myself, I’m just talking about free agency in the past years and in the future – you get your hopes up as a fan, and then they let you down and you end up not liking the player. There’s a little bit too much emphasis on that type of stuff, but it’s part of the game.”

Durant is howling at the moon here, but I understand his frustration.

Kevin Durant doesn’t know what Kevin Durant is going to do next summer, but the smart money is with him staying in OKC. For one, as good as John Wall and Bradley Beal are (and they can be special), they are not as good as Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka. Sure, the Wizards have the easier path to the Finals through the East, but if KD wants to play with the most talented team, then he stays put (and that may be the best chance to make the Finals again).

One other note: Not every player wants to go home. There are more distractions, more people angling for time, and more pressure to win. That’s not for everyone.

We’ll have to see if it’s worth it to Durant.

Andre Drummond, Reggie Jackson lead huge Pistons comeback win (VIDEO)

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Portland led by as many as 17 points in the third quarter and were up by 11 with 12 minutes to go. The Blazers were in control at home Sunday night against the Pistons.

Then Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson took over.

The pair sparked a 41-11 fourth quarter that led Detroit to a massive come-from-behind victory, 120-103. Jackson had 26 points on 10-for-11 shooting in the fourth. Drummond finished the game with 29 points, 27 rebounds and three blocks (his defense has improved dramatically this season). Drummond and Jackson are showing some real chemistry together, and the Pistons are now 5-1 on the season.

Knicks beat Lakers, spoil Kobe’s potential MSG finale

Kobe Bryant, Carmelo Anthony
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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony scored 24 points and the New York Knicks spoiled what might have been Kobe Bryant‘s last game at Madison Square Garden, beating the Los Angeles Lakers 99-95 on Sunday.

Bryant finished with 18 points, far off the 30.7 per game he had been averaging here and fewer than half the 40 or more he managed on three occasions during a series of highlights in the arena.

The 37-year-old superstar, who hasn’t said if he will retire after this season, missed two shots and twice fouled Anthony during New York’s 11-0 run that turned a three-point deficit into a 98-90 lead.

Jose Calderon, Robin Lopez and Langston Galloway all scored 14 points for the Knicks, who snapped a three-game losing streak with their first home victory of the season.

Galloway made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 2:01 left and Bryant missed from behind the arc about 20 seconds later. He then fouled Anthony, who made both free throws to make it 94-90, and later fouled him again on a jumper as the lead grew to 98-90.

Bryant played until the finish, waving his arm to the crowd as he exited into the tunnel to loud cheers.

He scored his first NBA point here on a free throw on Nov. 5, 1996, in his second game. He played in his first All-Star Game here in 1998, and scored 61 points here on Feb. 2, 2009, a record since surpassed by Anthony.

He slightly led Kevin Durant for the highest scoring average among active players, but in his first game here in three years, was just 6 for 19 from the field.

Bryant can’t deliver now the way he did in so many previous trips to New York as he battles his way back from a preseason calf injury, but plenty of fans wanted him to. He was serenaded with “MVP! MVP!” chants while shooting free throws and fans were noticeably bummed when he missed shots – which must’ve seemed strange to Anthony, who was often defending him.

Knicks coach Derek Fisher, Bryant’s friend and longtime teammate in Los Angeles, was ejected in the third quarter for arguing after rookie Kristaps Porzingis was called for fouling Bryant on a 3-point attempt.

TIP-INS

Lakers: Bryant was held below 30 points for the second time in his last nine trips to MSG. … Roy Hibbert also scored 18 points.

Knicks: Calderon came into the game shooting 25 percent for the season. … Lopez played a few possessions with only one sneaker after it fell off while he was playing defense and play didn’t stop to give him a chance to get it back. … Porzingis had 12 points and 10 rebounds.

 

Toronto’s DeMarre Carroll already battling plantar fasciitis

DeMarre Carroll Nemanja Bjelica
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The Toronto Raptors are off to an impressive 5-1 start, in part due to a defensive turnaround — they are ninth in the league in defensive efficiency. DeMarre Carroll deserves credit for some of that turnaround — he gives them an elite perimeter defender, plus he has been at the heart of the mentality change on that end of the court north of the border.

Which is why this is not good news — he is already battling plantar fasciitis. He skipped practice on Saturday and talked with Mike Ganter of the Toronto Sun about it.

“People don’t really know,” Carroll said, “but I’m just trying to give what I can to the team. I feel like me going out there and doing what I can to help this team and if that’s me at 70% then I’ll give them 70%. It might already be to the point where I have to start listening to my body.”

“I got to worry about 82, so I got to be smarter, but me just being who I am and being a competitor I just want to go out there and give my all to my teammates and give my all to the coaching staff.”

The only real cure for plantar fasciitis is rest. That may not sit well with Carroll, but this is something that just lingers if not given time to get healthy. It’s November, there are 76 games left on the Raptors schedule — he shouldn’t be pushing through too much now for the sake of a couple wins (which this team may be able to get without him). It’s about the next 76, and then the first round of the playoffs after that. He needs to just get healthy. Take a book out of the Popovich playbook — and almost everybody else now — and rest.

It’s not like anyone in the Atlantic Division is going to catch them anyway.

Durant says Thunder still adapting to new defensive system

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - OCTOBER 28:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder shakes hands with Head Coach Billy Donovan of the Oklahoma City Thunder during the game against the San Antonio Spurs on October 18, 2015 at Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. 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. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2015 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images)
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The Oklahoma City Thunder are a bottom 10 defensive team right now — ranked 22nd in the NBA in defensive rating allowing 103.3 points per 100 possessions. Teams are shooting fairly well against them (eFG% of 48.2 percent, 18th in the NBA) but the bigger issue is the team is dead last in the league at creating turnovers.

This roster has top 10 defense talent, so what gives? Kevin Durant said it’s not just the offensive schemes that changed and needed adjusting to, as reported by Royce Young at ESPN.

“It’s a different defense for us,” Kevin Durant said. “The schemes are great, it’s perfect for us. We just have to continue to figure out what we want to give up and what we want to take away and just keep working at it.”

Is the scheme that different? Sam Amick of the USA Today asked a scout about the Thunder defense, and he saw a lot of the same things that didn’t work well for them last season.

I haven’t seen much of a difference (from last season). You’ve got a couple of guys who are known as defenders on the team, and then everybody else is looking to score. I don’t see a difference….

“The guards are still pressing and fighting over screens and stuff, but as a team they’re not on the same page defensively. The bigs are too far back, sagging too far back I think. They’re not impacting the ball enough, because the other team’s guards are able to score and do what they want to do. It’s ‘You score, (they) score.’ And then whoever goes on the run in the fourth quarter wins the game. People talk about Kanter, and sure he’s a bad defensive player. But basketball is a team sport, and it takes everybody. I mean he’s not the one giving up all the points. It’s a joint effort.”

 

Enes Kanter is a bad defender, make no mistake. The weak Thunder defense is still 4.6 points per 100 possessions worse when he is on the court this season, and when you get to the playoffs he will get targeted. Kanter typifies the “you score, we score” mentality of this team mentioned by the scout.

That said, patience should be the word of the day in Oklahoma City.

OKC is a work in progress under Billy Donovan. Russell Westbrook praised the space he found in the new offense, and the Thunder have the second best offensive rating in the league (behind Golden State). But the defense has yet to catch up, and the bench play has varied from erratic to just plain bad. Donovan is still figuring out how to work the rotations, including who is the best two-guard to go with the starters/closers on this roster.

For OKC, it’s going to take some patience. The 3-3 start will be long forgotten if by Christmas (or even the All-Star break) they find their defensive groove and hit their stride entering the playoffs. That’s when the success or failure of all the changes will be judged. For now, just be patient.