Kurt Helin

Russell Westbrook with triple-double, Kevin Durant scores 24 in Thunder win

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This game was close into the third quarter, when a frustrated Kevin Durant seemed to push the Oklahoma City Thunder on a 13-2 run, and OKC went on to manhandle the Heat, winning 99-74.

Westbrook was solid all game — 13 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists in 34 minutes — and Durant ended the night with 24 points.

Durant said he thinks the Thunder are contenders that should be mentioned in the same breath with the Spurs and Warriors. They haven’t earned that yet in my mind, but they are clearly one of the NBA’s top five teams and when they get rolling even good teams like Miami cannot hang.

Inconsistent Hawks showing only glimpses of last year’s form

Atlanta Hawks head coach Mike Budenholzer speaks during a timeout in the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans in Jacksonville, Fla., Friday, Oct. 9, 2015. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
Associated Press
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ATLANTA (AP) — Kyle Korver stared at his sneakers, breaking into a slight smile as he thought back to a year ago.

The Atlanta Hawks were in the midst of a perfect January and a 19-game winning streak. They were on the way to having four players and their coach claim spots in the All-Star Game. They were setting themselves up for a 60-win season and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

A rout of the hapless Brooklyn Nets brought back some good memories.

“It felt like we were playing so great,” Korver said late Saturday night, sitting at his locker after the 114-86 blowout. “Things were really clicking.”

Unfortunately for the Hawks, they’ve struggled to maintain the form that made them one of the NBA’s most surprising teams last season. There are nights like this one, when they dismantled the Nets in the second half with the sort of fast-breaking, team-first, always-making-the-extra-pass style that once had them being touted as an East Coast version of the Golden State Warriors.

But, while the Warriors went on to capture the NBA championship and have taken their game to an even higher level, the Hawks faded down the stretch last spring, were blown out in the conference finals by LeBron James and the Cavaliers, and are now trying to figure out a way to separate themselves from a pack of teams in the improved East.

The Hawks reached the midway point of the season at 24-17 – nine wins worse than their mark at this time in 2015.

“The word that I think’s been coming up is a little consistency, or lack of consistency,” coach Mike Budenholzer said. “We’ve shown at times we can be a very good team. But the team that does it the most often – whether it be within a game for 48 minutes, or game to game, week to week, month to month – those are the teams that kind of emerge through the season.”

The most noticeable drop-off has been from Korver, who underwent a pair of offseason surgeries and has struggled to regain his shooting touch. He is hitting just 36.2 percent of 3-point attempts, a significant dip from his league-leading 49.2 percent last season. Without Korver providing the sort of outside threat that requires constant attention, defenses are able to sag off the arc, clog up the passing lanes and focus on disrupting the point guard duo of Jeff Teague and Dennis Schroder.

Outside of Korver, transition defense has been a problem at times. The Hawks are giving up 100.6 points a game, a jump from last year’s 97.1, and it’s easy point to the loss of defensive stopper DeMarre Carroll in free agency as the reason. But Carroll’s replacement, Kent Bazemore, is a high-energy, overachieving player who has done an admirable job stepping into the starting lineup, so that’s certainly not the primary issue.

Also, Atlanta’s major offseason additions haven’t added much. Tiago Splitter has battled nagging injuries and missed 13 games. Tim Hardaway Jr., acquired on draft night for a first-round pick, has hardly been a factor at all. He played in just four of Atlanta’s first 35 games and did several stints in the D-League, struggling to adapt to Budenholzer’s style of play.

More subtly, the Hawks are going through a period of adjustment, as they try to deal with opponents who take them much more seriously and have painstakingly dissected the style that made Atlanta so unstoppable not so long ago.

“We have a little bulls-eye on our backs,” Teague said.

The past eight days were a microcosm of the Hawks’ season.

They turned in one of their most impressive performances in a 15-point win over Chicago, only to lose to both Charlotte and Milwaukee, two of the worst teams in the East. Then, after being tied with lowly Brooklyn early in the third quarter, the Hawks suddenly transformed into last year’s version.

“We’d all like to be better,” Budenholzer said, sounding more than a bit frustrated. “But if we knew the answer, if it was in a pill or something, we’d take it.”

Despite their up-and-down play, the Hawks still have high hopes for this season. Cleveland has built a fairly comfortable lead in the East, but the second seed is up for grabs. When Bazemore looks ahead, he pointedly mentions playing into June – the time for the NBA Finals.

“We’ve been on the cusp of something great,” he said. “It’s just a rough patch of the journey.

 

Michael Beasley scores 63 in Chinese league All-Star Game (VIDEO)

Milwaukee Bucks v Miami Heat
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The Chinese Basketball Association has a reputation as a defense-free league. All-Star Games are exhibitions where guys back off on their defensive efforts even from their regular season levels. So you can imagine what the Chinese All-Star Game looks like.

You don’t have to imagine, we have the video of former NBA No. 2 pick Michael Beasley dropping 63 to win the MVP of that game. Beasley also had 19 rebounds, which is a surprise only in that there were enough missed shots to get 19 rebounds.

This is a repeat performance, Beasley had 59 points and won the MVP in this game a year ago.

Jeremy Lin’s hair pokes Jerryd Bayless in eye (VIDEO)

Jeremy Lin
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Jeremy Lin‘s spiked hair may have been a bigger conversation topic around the league this season than his solid play — he’s averaging 12.3 points a night off the bench for Charlotte, and he was a vital part of their strong play earlier in the season (they have struggled of late, dropping nine of their last 10).

Lin’s hair is just fun and games — until someone loses an eye.

Sorry to sound like your mom, but look at this video from Saturday from the Hornets’ game against the Milwaukee Bucks, where Lin’s hair almost poked Jerryd Bayless‘ eye out.

Okay, this is never going to be a real issue, and if it is I want you to be the one to tell the Birdman to tone down his mohawk.

Joakim Noah’s injury likely changes Bulls’ plans at trade deadline

Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah runs down the court with an apparent injury to his left shoulder during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in Chicago. The Nets won 105-102. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
Associated Press
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The Chicago Bulls were expected to be sellers at the trade deadline. They had already reportedly tested the trade market for Joakim Noah, Pau Gasol, and Taj Gibson. With Nikola Mirotic on the roster (but struggling) and the emergence of rookie Bobby Portis, the Bulls could move one of their bigs to get help on the wing.

Now Noah is out for the season following shoulder surgery.

Not only does that mean the Bulls are without their best rim protector, but also it changes what the Bulls are thinking at the trade deadline, suggests Sam Amick of the USA Today.

Noah’s injury also closes whatever window there was on the Bulls’ desire to trade him. They were exploring what they could get for him as the February trade deadline approached….

The Bulls were also quietly checking into deals for Pau Gasol, who will opt out of the final year of his contract after this season. But Gasol, who played in Friday’s loss to the Mavericks, is also battling injuries (shoulder, Achilles) and has a short list of teams he will sign with, making it difficult to trade him for a valuable asset.

Gibson, both because he is rock solid on the court and will make an affordable $8.9 million next season, was always the most likely Bull to be moved if they wanted real quality back. But now, can the Bulls afford to get rid of another big? Or, would they want to try to bring in another big man in a trade, one under contract who will be around longer? Would the Bulls be willing to move a wing such as Tony Snell to get the deal done?

The Bulls are going to undergo a lot of roster changes the next couple off-seasons. It will be interesting to see how they construct a team to fit around Bulls’ coach Fred Hoiberg’s system (which didn’t love Noah, so he was moved to the bench).