The Oklahoma City Thunder seem to be the forgotten contender out West. They’ve got Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka healthy, a strong set of role players, they should be in the mix. There are questions — can Billy Donovan elevate this team as the coach? — but they should not be left off the list.
“It was really cool,” said the president of the fraternity, fellow by the name of Kevin Durant. “It was fun, good to see everybody. Haven’t seen all the guys since the end of the season.”
Durant chatted on the phone for a few minutes Thursday about the off-season workouts he and his pals put together this week. Ten Thunder players are working out together in an old gym on the UCLA campus. Working on their games. Connecting and reconnecting with teammates and coaches, new and old….
“Feels like we’re coming in at the same time,” Durant said. “We always want that tight-knit family atmosphere. We’ve had that (in the past). It can always get better. This week was a step in the right direction for us. We all enjoy being around each other. That was the best part of it.”
NBA players, sometimes teammates, getting together in a small group (maybe three) is not uncommon. Especially at UCLA, which has one of the best off-season runs going. However getting 10 teammates together, working out and bonding in July, is very rare.
It’s a good sign in you’re a Thunder fan.
The Thunder need to stay healthy after a season where they got more than their fair share of injuries. They need Donovan to bring a modern offense to the table. They need their defense to be elite. They need the Enes Kanter/Steven Adams center rotation to work. They need some breaks to go their way in a West stacked with contenders (the Warriors, Spurs, Clippers, and Rockets are in the mix, too).
But 10 guys getting together in July? That’s a very good place to start.
LOS ANGELES — This loss stung. More than the first two. Because the win was in LeBron James‘ hands and…
The Lakers are 0-3 to start the season.
For much of the first 47 minutes Monday night, the Spurs out-executed the Lakers and exposed their porous defense. The Lakers ran enough, and got hot from three for a stretch, to keep themselves close, but then a LaMarcus Aldridge jumper had the Spurs up 128-120 with 1:10 left in regulation. Frustrated fans headed for the exits. The game looked over.
Then a JaVale McGee dunk and a Kyle Kuzma three (he had 37 points on the night) set up LeBron James forcing overtime in a classic LeBron fashion.
Overtime was the reverse of regulation — it was the young Lakers’ turn to make plays and dominate. A LeBron James driving and-1 had the Lakers up by six, 142-136, with just :55 seconds left. LeBron was on the doorstep of his first win as a Laker… then Bryn Forbes hit a driving layup, and after a Kuzma miss the Lakers gave up the one thing they couldn’t — a three. To Rudy Gay. Uncontested in any meaningful way. That made it a one-point game with 12 seconds left. LeBron was fouled instantly on the inbound pass but then missed two straight free throws, setting up Patty Mills for the heroics.
LeBron had one last chance to get his first win as a Laker… and nothing.
“I got to my spot, I got the shot I wanted, it just didn’t go down,” LeBron said.
For the third game in a row another team executed better than the Lakers when it mattered most, this time it was the Spurs, who pick up a 143-142 win. LeBron and the Lakers fall to 0-3 to start the season.
It was always going to be a process for these Lakers, but it’s going to take longer than fans and most pundits expected.
The same problems from the first two games remained for the Lakers — on defense they allowed 125.7 points per 100 possessions (it’s very early, but the Lakers are bottom six in defense so far). They struggled to slow LaMarcus Aldridge (37 points on 22 shots) and DeMar DeRozan (32 points), which happens to a lot of teams, but Laker defenders lost guys on back cuts and struggled with the Spurs ball movement. Los Angeles gives up too many easy buckets and fouls too much. Offensively the Lakers were impressive in transition and got their buckets in the paint (74 points), but shot 4-of-10 between the paint and the arc, and were 9-of-32 on above-the-break threes (L.A. hit 5-of-7 from the corners, a definite improvement).
“We’re going to continue to get better. I like the direction we’re going it,” LeBron said. “Obviously, we don’t have too many wins right now, but it’s such a long process. We had our chances…
“We want to defend, we know that’s going to be our staple. We know we’re going to defend. When we defend and rebound, we’re very good, we’re just trying to figure out how to defend without fouling.”
It was a game all about pace (which ties to the Laker defense). In the first quarter Spurs put up 40 points and shot 72.7 percent, and with that made the Lakers take the ball out of the basket time after time. Los Angeles couldn’t run and trailed by as many as 16 in the quarter. In the second quarter the Spurs shots didn’t fall, and the Lakers were off and running getting 34 points. For the game, the Lakers had 41 fast break points.
It just wasn’t enough.
Lakers’ coach Luke Walton earned himself a fine after the game with his frustration with the referees, something that has been a running theme with the Lakers for a couple of games now.
“It’s 70-something points in the paint to 50-something (74 to 50), again they outshoot us from the free throw line, 38 free throws (the Lakers had 26),” Walton ranted after the game. “Watch the play — watch the play where I got a technical, watch what happens to LeBron James’ arm. It’s the same thing that James Harden and Chris Paul shot 30 free throws on us the night before. Then LeBron pulls up on a screen and somebody’s trying to fight over it, same thing they shot free throws on. Same thing.
“We are scoring 70 points a night in the paint. We’re putting pressure on. Josh Hart, watch how plays the game, played 40 minutes tonight, all he does is attack the rim — zero free throws tonight. Zero. I know they’re young, but if we’re going to play a certain way then let’s not reward people for flopping 30 feet from the hole on plays that have nothing to do with that possession. They’re just flopping to see if they can get a foul call. And then not reward players who are physically going to the basket and getting hit. That’s not right.”
We’ll see if Walton gets his money’s worth with that rant when we see the calls Los Angeles gets in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Boston offense stumbles, Orlando’s Nikola Vucevic scores 24 in Magic upset win
Kyrie Irving led the Celtics (2-2) with 22 points. Al Horford had 15 and Gordon Hayward 11. Irving and Hayward each missed a 3 in the final seconds. Boston shot 9-of-40 from three on the night and 40.7 percent overall, looking out of sync as they have much of the season (and preseason).
The Celtics, who never led in the game, trailed by at least five points from the midway point of the final quarter until Jaylen Brown nailed a 3-pointer from the left corner, closing it to 89-86 with 71 seconds left.
But Isaac answered with a foul-line jumper on the next possession.
Horford and Irving then had consecutive baskets 32 seconds apart, slicing it to 91-90 with 14.2 seconds to play.
With Boston forced to foul Evan Fournier after Orlando inbounded the ball after a timeout, he stepped to the line and made both free throws with 7.8 seconds left.
Irving then missed his 3 from the right corner, and after Horford grabbed the rebound and fed it out – Hayward’s rimmed out just before the buzzer sounded.
Orlando had pulled ahead by 13 points twice late in the third quarter before Boston closed the period by scoring 10 of the final 12 points to slice it to 75-70 at the break.
Watch Stephen Curry get the volleyball set assist from his mom during warmups
Don’t confuse this with “DeMarcus Cousins is almost back on the court.” The Warriors are going to be CSPAN call-in show host patient in bringing Cousins back, and a return date is still well down the schedule. There is no official timetable.
Cousins is, however, making progress and will be part of some segments of team practice shortly, the Warriors announced Monday.
“DeMarcus continues to make good progress with his rehabilitation program. After spending the last few weeks doing various individual on-court activities and drills, he will, in the near future, be integrated into controlled aspects of team practices, although not scrimmages at this point. Additionally, he will continue with his off-court strength and conditioning program.”
The Warriors want to keep Cousins happy but also know they don’t fully need him yet — they need him in the playoffs as another option to punish switches. Golden State needs Cousins healthy, back in shape, rust off and ready to go in April, but he doesn’t need to be on the court in October, or even by Christmas, to get there. Cousins wants to play, but as a guy looking to get paid next summer, he needs to come back right and show what he can do, not come back too early and damage his stock. It’s a fine line.
The Warriors and Cousins are moving closer to that line, but there is still a long way to go.