Is Westbrook’s perceived ‘selfishness’ a result of Brooks?

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Russell Westbrook has caught a lot of heat over the past couple weeks for his perceived “selfish” play, with many Twitter commenters suggesting the best defense against Kevin Durant is the fact he plays with Westbrook.  And while Tuesday’s 3-for-15 shooting performance isn’t going to help Westbrook’s cause, Durant’s struggles against Memphis, or the fact he took fewer shots than Westbrook did, were necessarily the result of Westbrook being a selfish, uncontrollable gunner.  

Scott Brooks was an NBA point guard and said recently that when a team struggles, the point guard and coach will inevitably take the blame.  And while the Thunder escaped an incredibly tough series against the Grizzlies, the point guard and coach for the Thunder have indeed been under a microscope.  I am a known Westbrook apologist and predicted a Thunder vs. Heat Finals at the start of the playoffs, but even so, was irritated watching him dribble around for 20 seconds and then forcing a shot up as his four teammates stood in their designated corners and watched him work.  But was that style of play really on Westbrook, or was Brooks to blame?

After watching Durant fight like hell on defense, and then stand in a corner, literally not moving, on offensive posession after posession against Memphis, it appears that he and Westbrook were just carrying out Brooks’ orders, or ‘master plan,’ if you will.  Brooks assumed that Durant wasn’t going to be able to create or be effective on offense with Tony Allen and Shane Battier draped over him, and thought that moving him out to the boonies would clear space for Westbrook to drive and create his own shots.  So while Westbrook was looking like the most selfish gunner of all time, I feel fairly confident that he was just carrying out orders from his coach.  In other words, Brooks thought his best chance to win was to with the ball in Westbrook’s hands at all times.

And now that Durant is free from the restraints of Allen and the Memphis D, maybe things will return to normal for the Thunder. Which means Westbrook will take his standard 17 shots per game, Durant will get his 20 shots, and the Thunder will give the Mavericks all they can handle.  Dirk Nowitzki gave the Thunder all they could handle in Game 1, putting on one of the great all-time individual playoff performances we’ve ever seen, yet the Thunder were still hanging around at the end – despite all of Westbrook’s misfiring.  And you have to give Brooks some credit for throwing his whole team, as well as the kitchen sink, at Dirk last night.  Durant, Serge Ibaka, Thabo Sefolosha, Nick Collison, Kendrick Perkins and James Harden all tried (and failed) to stop Dirk, while I think I might have even seen Shawn Kemp and Jack Sikma out there at one point trying to slow him down. 

I didn’t necessarily appreciate the coaching job Brooks did against the Grizzlies, and am not sure anyone did, but I think I at least understand it (although Harden should have started over Sefolosha that entire series, which is probably a topic for another time).  Now he’s got a whole new set of problems on his hands, starting with stopping Dirk.  The Twitter world might say that it’s too bad Westbrook doesn’t play alongside Dirk, or maybe all of Brooks’ problems would be solved.  But one thing is clear after Game 1.  Rick Carlisle is going to make sure that his best player is option No. 1 (and 2), regardless of who is trying to guard him.  And we can only hope that Brooks makes sure that Durant, and not Westbrook, is his No. 1 option going forward.

Watch Stephen Curry drain shots from center-court logo during warmups like it’s nothing

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In case you need any kind of reminder that Stephen Curry is a flat-out ridiculous shooter — particularly during warm-ups, well, you’re in luck.

Check out this pregame video of Curry knocking down shots from the center-court logo at Oracle like it’s nothing.

The man changes the game. Even in warmups.

James Harden being out clouds latest Rockets-Warriors clash

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — The Houston Rockets have had the Golden State Warriors’ number this season. However, when the teams meet on Saturday, the Rockets will have to play without the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player.

Houston guard James Harden is out due a cervical neck strain. Harden was bothered by soreness Thursday during the Rockets’ 111-106 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. He was seen receiving treatment to the neck and right shoulder during the contest.

The Rockets have used different means to beat the two-time defending champs in their first two head-to-heads since Golden State prevailed in a seven-game conference finals last May.

Houston held a Stephen Curry-less Warriors team to 86 points — Golden State’s lowest output of the season — and just 42 percent shooting in a 107-86 home win in November.

The Rockets then turned Harden loose in the January rematch at Golden State, watching him pour in 44 points — including a game-winning 3-pointer — in a 135-134 overtime thriller.

More than a month later, that game still weighs heavily on the mind of Curry, who countered Harden with 35 points of his own that night.

“They just made one more shot,” he noted to reporters after the Warriors Thursday win over the Sacramento Kings. “We understand how talented they are, how well James has been playing. It’s going to be a dogfight … a defensive test for us.”

At the time of Curry’s statement, the extent of Harden’s injury had not been made public. The NBA’s leading scorer at 36.5 points per game, Harden was bothered by a left shoulder strain prior to the All-Star break but didn’t miss any contests. He has played in 55 of Houston’s 58 games as he missed three games early in the season due to a hamstring injury.

In the overtime win at Oakland, Harden complemented his 44 points with 10 rebounds and 15 assists for a triple-double.

While there was no triple-double against the Lakers, Harden did extend his streak of games with 30 or more points to 32.

The Rockets lost their second in a row and fell to 33-25, a full 12 games below where they stood at this point last season. It’s gotten some analysts grumbling about the club’s style of play and reliance on Harden.

Houston coach Mike D’Antoni labeled such talk “absurd” before the Thursday game.

“I don’t know if they watched last year,” he said of the naysayers. “Nobody else can do what he does. … If you’re a ball-stopper, usually you’re inefficient. He’s very efficient. So when the ball stops, it’s a good thing.”

The Rockets earned the home-court advantage over Golden State in last year’s playoffs by finishing seven games ahead of the Warriors during the regular season.

That almost surely won’t be the case should they meet again this postseason. The Warriors (42-16), with the best record in the West, have a nine-game advantage over Houston, currently in the No. 5 seed.

Golden State won for the 17th time in its past 19 games by surviving a late rally from the Kings on Thursday in a 125-123 home decision. Curry finished with 36 points, making 10 of his 16 3-point attempts.

Harden (276) and Curry (246) enter the game ranked first and second, respectively, in the NBA in 3-pointers made.

Harden also led the league last season with what was then a career-best 265.

Curry got the better of his rival in 3-pointers in last year’s playoff showdown, however, making 27 of 75 (36 percent) while Harden was harassed into 19 of 78 (24.4 percent).

Curry saved his best for last in the series, going 7 of 15 on 3-point tries in a 27-point effort in Golden State’s 101-92 win at Houston in Game 7. Harden went just 2-for-13 from long range on his 32-point night.

 

James Harden fined $25,000 for calling referee Scott Foster ‘rude and arrogant’

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“Scott Foster, man. I never really talk about officiating or anything like that, but just rude and arrogant. I mean, you aren’t able to talk to him throughout the course of the game, and it’s like, how do you build that relationship with officials? And it’s not even that call [Harden’s sixth foul, ending his night]. It’s just who he is on that floor.”

Houston’s James Harden knew the fine was coming before he even uttered those words following the Rockets loss to the Lakers Thursday night, in which Foster called two offensive fouls on Harden, one that limited his minutes early and another that set him up to eventually foul him out of the game.

Harden got what was expected on Saturday, the NBA fined him $25,000 for “public criticism of the officiating.”

Harden wasn’t alone in his frustration. Chris Paul fouled out and picked up a technical, and coach Mike D’Antoni picked up a technical as well.

For the game, Foster called 12 fouls on the Rockets and six on the Lakers. This season in games Foster has officiated, the Rockets are 1-1.

The Rockets are not the only team to have frustrations with Foster, he has a reputation around the league for a short fuse that doesn’t let you question calls. LeBron James‘ Heat teams and others have felt how Harden does.

Lakers’ Lonzo Ball could be out longer due to bone bruise in ankle

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Lonzo Ball has missed the last 11 Laker games. In that time the team is 4-7 with a bottom 10 offense and defense, and they have been outscored by 9.4 points per 100 possessions. Granted, LeBron James was out for a number of those games as well, but even LeBron is talking about how much Ball is missed in the rotation.

The Lakers could be missing him a while longer.

While we are starting to approach the ballpark return date projected for Ball’s Grade 3 ankle sprain, he could miss more time due to a bone bruise in the ankle, reports Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times.

Ball moved quickly through the early stages of his rehab. He used crutches for about a week and wore a protective boot on his left ankle for less time than that.

Ball began running on an underwater treadmill two weeks ago and last week he began work on an antigravity treadmill, but was limited because of the bone bruise.

Ball injured his ankle back on January 19 and it looked bad when it happened.

The Lakers could use him as they make a push down the stretch to get into the playoffs — the Laker defense is 3.4 points per 100 possessions better when Ball is on the court this season. The Lakers, 29-29, enter Saturday as the 10th seed in the West, three games back of the Clippers in the eighth seed and final playoff spot. The Sacramento Kings are also between the Lakers and the postseason — to get in the Lakers are going to need to go on a LeBron-led run. Ball would help with that, but it may be a little while longer before we see him on the court.