Kurt Helin

Russell Westbrook with the high-flying putback dunk (VIDEO)

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Note to Emmanuel Mudiay: If you ball watch and don’t put a body on Russell Westbrook, things like this happen. Damn.

Westbrook threw down these two of his 15 points in the Thunder’s comfortable 117-93 victory over Denver Sunday night. Kevin Durant had 25, and the Thunder remain undefeated on the young season.

By the way, not a fan of these Thunder alternate jerseys. The team called that color “sunset”, but I would say it’s closer to the color of Sunkist soda. And I don’t like Sunkist soda. But we get to see these 17 more times this season, so break out the sunglasses.

Five Takeaways from an NBA Sunday: Houston is 0-3 and it’s ugly

Kevin McHale
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Sunday you likely were parked out the couch, recuperating from Halloween, mindlessly watching Kansas City win one for George Brett, and maybe not paying as much attention to the NBA as you should have been. Here are five yet things you missed (reported live from Staples Center).

1) Houston is 0-3, and all three losses are by 20 or more points. First, I refuse to use the easy/cheesy Apollo 13 line here. Second, we are just three games into the start of a long season, it is way too early to reach for the panic button.

But if Rockets fans are feeling nauseous after watching their team blow a 21-point lead to Miami, lose by more than 20 again, and drop to 0-3 on the season, you can’t blame them. ESPN Stats noted no NBA team ever had started the season with three losses of 20 points or more — until the Rockets just did it. And it all starts with James Harden being in a horrific shooting slump to start the season, hitting just 22 percent of his looks. A shot chart can be worth 1,000 words.

harden three game shotchart

The Rockets’ defense has been inconsistent — they gave up 14 points in the second quarter to Miami Sunday, and then 65 points on 58.5 percent shooting in the second half of that game (while scoring just 29). Through three games, Houston is allowing a ridiculously high 109 points per 100 possessions.

It’s far too early to panic in Houston, but this leaves wondering what has to happen for Houston to start winning? Harden has to find his stroke from three and knock down some shots, Dwight Howard needs to get on the court and just play, defense needs to be more of a focus for everyone, Ty Lawson has to have an impact, and I could go on but all that would be a start and get them some wins.

2) The Bucks defense has not been pretty to begin the season. Last season, Milwaukee’s freakish length and defense propelled them to the postseason. It marked them as a team on the rise. To start this season we have seen none of that, and it has been ugly — the Bucks are 0-3 with a defense allowing 117.1 points per 100 possessions. The defensive rotations seem slow, especially out at the arc which has led opponents to shoot 46.4 percent from three against them. Opponents are grabbing 14.9 offensive rebounds per game. The Bucks are not doing a good job getting back in transition defense. They are fouling too much. Some of these are early season aberrations, and others are easily fixable, but until they do the Bucks are going to struggle.

3) Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili are now the winningest trio in NBA history. We covered this earlier, but with the Spurs’ win Sunday over Boston Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Many Ginobili have won 541 games together — passing Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parrish for the most all time. As great as that trio was (and Magic/Kareem/Worthy or Russell/Cousy/Jones) the Spurs three should go down as the greatest trio ever. It’s jut about consistency — the three have never won fewer than 50 games in a season, never missed the playoffs, and together have four titles. We’re going to miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe of more interest to Spurs fans, LaMarcus Aldridge had 24 points and 14 rebounds, his first big game for the Spurs. Through his first two games, he had averaged just 11.5 shots per game, but they found him and got him in a groove on Sunday.

4) Kenneth Faried had the block of the young season. Sorry Kyle Singler.

5) The NBA family gathered Saturday to remember Flip Saunders. Mavericks’ coach Rick Carlisle was one of the guys on Mark Cuban’s plane to the Saunders’ memorial Saturday, and before his Mavericks carved up the Laker “defense” Sunday night, he gave this assessment of the event.

“I would characterize it as a perfect ceremony for one of the great people that I’ve ever known in the league. It was attended by so many people that cared, so many people that he touched. His son gave just a fantastic talk about Flip and his life, his relationship with his son. Flip’s one of these guys we can’t forget, that’s why we’re going to be wearing pins all year long. To remember what he did as a coach over a period of two decades, and what he meant to us as a human being. Because along with being a great innovator, and a great creative guy, and a great competitor, he had an amazing way with people, and that touched many of us.”`

Kobe Bryant on his play so far: “I freaking suck”

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LOS ANGELES — Through three games, Kobe Bryant has looked older, slower, without the same lift after his injuries, and not willing to accept any of it. He’s averaged 17 shots a game, hitting 31.4 percent of them (20.7 percent from three where he’s launching more than nine shots a night), and he’s struggling on defense. It hasn’t been pretty.

Kobe was more succinct assessing her performance after a 3-of-15 shooting night in a loss to Dallas Sunday.

“I’m 200th best player in the league right now. I freaking suck.”

That’s a reference to ESPN’s NBA rank, an effort by the site to rank nearly every player in the NBA, and they had Kobe 93rd best this season. Kobe always used that kind of doubt for fuel, but that only works if you play above the expectation. Kobe has not, as evidenced by his shot chart so far this young season (notice all the threes).

Kobe 3-game shotchart

As always, Kobe is not afraid to launch a shot with a defender in his face — nine of his 17 shots per game have been contested (a defender within four feet), and he is shooting 25.6 percent on those, according to the NBA’s Sports VU cameras.

Bryant put it more simply Sunday, “I’m just playing like s***.”

He added he’s getting the shots from the spots he wants (such as the elbow area), that rookie D'Angelo Russell is doing a good job setting him up, and that he’s healthy. Kobe has an effective field goal percentage of 44.1 on his 5.7 catch-and-shoot opportunities a game so far, but just 28.9 percent on his 6.3 pull-up jumpers a game.

“You know it’s fun,” Kobe said of playing with the young Lakers. “D’Angelo’s putting me in the right spots. I just have to capitalize better, that’s all.”

Kobe admitted being out a couple of weeks at the end of the preseason with a calf injury may have thrown off his rhythm, but he wasn’t making excuses or pulling punches. He was honest and demanding about his game, as he is with everyone else.

Kobe added he is frustrated. As you’d expect. At points he tries to play through it and take over like he used to — getting the ball on the wing in isolation, pounding the rock looking for an opening or a place to pull up and shoot. None of it has gone well. It will go better at some point, but he’s been off early.

What’s the fastest way to turn things around?

“Well, if I’d make a damn shot, that would help,” Kobe said.

He added he believes that will happen soon, that he had felt in a good rhythm in the preseason before he got injured, and he thinks he can recapture that groove again quickly. Kobe never lacks for confidence, that hasn’t changed.

However, other things change. In recent seasons, the offense ran more through Bryant, and he could become more of a facilitator and not just a scorer if the occasion called for it. Kobe admitted he’d like to do that again, but the young Lakers’ guards need to have the ball and learn how to run a team. Even if it’s the hard way.

“Sure (I’d like to facilitate), but no, you can’t” Bryant said.

As bad as the Laker offense has been, that’s been the better side of the court for them. Their defense has surrendered 111.7 points per 100 possessions through three games (third worst in the league) — and they haven’t played the real offensive powerhouses of the West yet.

Kobe, how would you describe the Lakers’ defense Sunday.

“S***.”

That sums up the feelings of a lot of Lakers’ fans through three games.

Sixers’ affiliate trades rights to J.P. Tokoto to Thunder, he’s headed to D-League

Los Angeles Lakers v Philadlephia 76ers
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J.P. Tokoto is very athletic.

He just has to learn how to fit that into the NBA game, ideally as a lock-down defender. But there is some work to do, which is why the Sixers cut him at the end of training camp.

Tokoto signed to play with the 87ers, the Sixers’ D-League affiliate, but they traded him to the Oklahoma City D-League team, reports Shams Charania of Yahoo Sports.

Sixers’ coach Brett Brown said when cutting Tokoto that he could get into the NBA on his defensive skills with some work — that’s what the D-League is for. It’s also for guys looking to develop some shooting range, another Tokoto need.

Some players need more time to develop; the Thunder organization is willing to take a low-risk chance they can make that happen.

Heat rally from 21 down, rout Rockets 109-89

Hassan Whiteside
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MIAMI (AP) — Udonis Haslem didn’t play a single second for the Miami Heat on Sunday night.

Instead, he dominated halftime.

Haslem’s fiery speech – replete with some profanity from the tri-captain and a couple bottles getting angrily spiked into the red locker room carpeting for emphasis – led to a Miami turnaround, the Heat outscoring Houston by 41 points in the final 23 minutes and rolling past the Houston Rockets 109-89.

“Absolutely awesome,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said about the speech. “That’s what leaders do. By the time I got in there, he was already halfway through it and there wasn’t much that was needed to be said after that.”

Miami was down 65-44 early in the second half. The Heat outscored Houston 65-24 the rest of the way.

“At times, I can be kind of harsh,” Haslem said. “But it’s harsh reality … and it just comes out the way it comes out.”

Said Heat guard Dwyane Wade: “It was all bleep, bleep, bleep.”

Hassan Whiteside had 25 points and 15 rebounds, Wade scored 20 points and Luol Deng scored 14 for Miami – which enjoyed its biggest comeback win since a 27-point rally at Cleveland late in the 2012-13 championship season. Tyler Johnson scored 11, Chris Bosh had all 10 of his in the fourth and Justise Winslow added 10 for the Heat.

Marcus Thornton scored 21 points for Houston, and James Harden had 16 on 2 for 15 shooting – 0 for 10 from 3-point range. The Rockets have dropped each of their first three games by exactly 20 points each.

“You can’t have a stagnant offense and not get stops,” Harden said. “That’s a sign of disaster, which happened in the second half.”

Dwight Howard sat out to rest on the first night of a back-to-back. He’s expected to play when the Rockets host Oklahoma City on Monday night.

“We have not played well all preseason. We have not played well in the first three games,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said. “No one feels sorry for us. We just have got to go out and find our rhythm and keep on playing.”

 

HARDEN IN MIAMI

There is something about Miami that doesn’t bring out the best in Harden.

He struggled in two NCAA Tournament games at AmericanAirlines Arena, endured plenty of rough moments in three NBA Finals games there with Oklahoma City in 2012, and the regular-season hasn’t always been kind to him in Miami either.

Harden is now 44 for 117 in Miami as a pro, and 20 for 65 from 3-point land. His two NCAA games were even worse, with him shooting 3 for 18, 1 for 8 from 3-point range and scoring 19 points in two games.